Last week I picked up Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations. You can find Dan Kimball’s blog here. Dan Kimball is a pastor in Santa Cruz, California at Vintage Faith Church, and has published The Emerging Church and Emerging Worship. He is also one of the contributors to Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches. Another contributor to Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches is Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill in Seattle. Driscoll mentioned this book in a talk I was listening to on-line, and among the many things he said when talking about Kimball was that he is “a Christian.” In context it was funny. Anyway, I felt compelled to provide you with these links to Kimball’s corpus partly because I did not buy the book–I picked it up at the public library and read it in a couple days. Sorry Dan. Perhaps one of my readers will help you out and purchase a copy. In my opinion, any church leader would be wise to pick up this book and listen to what Dan Kimball has to say.
There are three important emphases threaded throughout this book. First, Kimball encourages his reader to be present in spaces where they can meet non-church people–to be in a position outside the church office where they can befriend non-Christians, develop relationships with them, and know what is going on in their lives so that they can be prayed for. For example, Kimball has found ways to escape the “Christian bubble” by spending a couple of days during the week preparing his sermons at a local coffee shop. Over time he has befriended other regulars and the employees there. He doesn’t see these new friends as evangelistic targets, but human beings who need the ministry of the church. Through developing relationships with people outside the church, he has found that emerging generations are extremely open to talking about Jesus and what Christians believe. Most people Kimball spoke to dislike the church based on their perceptions gained from news media presentations, street preachers, and televangelists. Their impressions are from afar. Kimball is challenging church leaders to present a compelling alternative within local contexts–many of the people Kimball spoke with couldn’t name Christian people they knew personally.
Second, Kimball identifies the following perceptions which emerging generations have of the church:
The church is an organized religion with a political agenda.
The church is judgmental and negative.
The church is dominated by males and oppresses females.
The church is homophobic.
The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.
The church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.
Kimball is talking about perceptions that non-Christian people have of the church. He is listening. Kimball carefully explains the reasons why people outside the church have these perceptions. In regard to homosexuality and women in pastoral leadership, Kimball challenges his readers (both liberal and conservative) to know the reasons behind their theological positions. This portion of his work is incredibly helpful for Christian people who are trying to better understand the cultural landscape and engage as an effective witness for Jesus and his Kingdom. This is an invaluable dialogue that could be recreated in any city. Which brings me to Kimball’s final important contribution in this book.
In what could be a revolutionary idea, Kimball challenges us to listen to people in our city and respond in how we be the church. Sounds like common sense. He doesn’t recommend that we compromise our integrity as the people of God in responding to what we hear. For example, one critique of the church that Kimball had heard is that it can become personality-driven–centered more on the pastor than on Jesus. As a response, Kimball’s church has made the cross the centerpiece of their worship space, with the worship leaders and the pastor addressing the audience from a lower stage slightly off to the side of the cross. Kimball challenges leaders to give a carefully thought out, biblical response to what is heard from those outside the church.
Kimball has reasons for hope in the future of the church. I tend to agree with him. He sees the emerging generation’s interest in Jesus as a great opportunity for Christian people to engage, share the gospel about Jesus, and invite people into a life of discipleship. I think this is on point.
Pick up this book. Read it. Write in the margins (unless you pick it up from a library). Agree. Disagree. This book will sharpen your thinking, broaden your understanding of the world we live in today, and challenge you to invite other people to follow Jesus. It is a valuable contribution to the church that I pray more people will come to not only like, but love.