The church can often feel like a big zoo where Christians, especially youths, are placed in their safe cages and constantly fed, said popular speaker Francis Chan.
Speaking at the Chinese Missions Convention in Ontario, Canada, on Wednesday, Chan lamented the fact that churches do not understand the power that God has given each believer, and instead keep them in "cages" where the only way they can survive is if someone feeds them.
These cages include the children's ministry cage, youth ministry cage, singles cage, and married couples cage, he noted.
"Let's just put everyone in their cages and let's just feed them every week and our whole job is to just keep feeding you, feeding you, and feeding you when the reality is you were made for something more," Chan emphasized.
The zoo comparison was brought up by a pastor in Brazil Chan had recently met with. That pastor specifically pointed to the 2005 movie "Madagascar," where a zebra who lives in the zoo wants to go to the wild but is surrounded by animals who are content with being in their cages and fed every day.
Chan, bestselling author of Crazy Love, was reminded of a scene where the animals escaped and ended up on an island. There, the lion was able to run, roar and have all of his animal instincts come out unlike when he was living at the zoo.
"He was saying it's such a great picture of the church where you have these people that have so much power inside of them but all we want to do is keep them in these cages," Chan recalled of his conversation.
That's actually how Chan felt growing up in a Chinese church. He felt he wanted to do something more but wasn't given that opportunity as a youth.
"I know how it can be in a Chinese culture," he said. "We can take our kids and go 'You know what? Just study for now, get good grades, we'll do missions later. We'll do ministry later.'
"I just wonder if we have not missed out on some of the people (children) who have the greatest amount of faith in the church and if we missed out on the power of their prayer because we wanted to keep them in a cage till they were 18 rather than raising and releasing the next generation of Kingdom builders."
"We have to start thinking … how do we release them (young believers)? … Or do we just want to keep them in their cage?" he asked conference attendees.
Speaking frankly, Chan, who said his message is not meant to sound condemning, also pointed out that "Chinese churches in America are dying" with "many of them … just trying to keep their doors open and make budget."
"That's not what God has destined for us," he stressed. "Just to be in survival mode? Is that what you get out of this book (Bible)? That we're just survivors? Because what I read is that I'm an overcomer of this world. What I read is I've got crazy amount of power in me."
Chan, who left the California megachurch he founded in 2010 partly because he felt frustrated with thousands of people not using their gifts and simply sitting and listening to his sermons each week, cited Ephesians 1 where the Apostle Paul described the "immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe."
It's the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at God's right hand "far above" everything else, the 50-year-old pastor noted.
That power "is inside of you, it's inside of your kids," he emphasized.
And their faith can be even greater than that of adults, Chan noted, pointing out that faith often declines as people age.
"Yet so often in the church, we're like 'let's protect them … put them in a nice little cage and let's just feed him for the rest of his life. And God wants so much more for us," he added.
"What if we release the kids in the church?"
Chan expressed his hope to see churches teach children that they have this power rather than squashing their faith and closing doors of opportunities on them because of their age.
"I want to see them transform their campuses and I believe they can do it," he said.
"The Bible says that through the Spirit, it's endless what we could do. This is where we have to believe what God says."
The Chinese Missions Convention states that its purpose is "to see people unleashed for God's global glory." Its west coast event kicked off Tuesday and ends Friday.