By Shannon Baker,
BCM/D National Correspondent
COLUMBIA, Md.—Dan Kimball, a former punk rocker turned pastor, believes that younger generations of Americans have respect for Jesus.
It’s the church that they don’t trust.
Teaching pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, Calif., Kimball was the keynote speaker for a training event sponsored by the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) on May 7. He is the author of several books including “They Like Jesus but Not the Church” and “The Emerging Church.” He writes and speaks about emerging church and culture issues from a missional and evangelical perspective.
In his message, Kimball shared his shock upon learning the hostile attitudes toward the church that he discovered while surveying his community.
Like a missionary who prepares a letter for going overseas, Kimball studied the local population in terms of values, interests, needs and spirituality.
He led his church’s core members to call every single church in their surrounding area. They asked each church how many people in their community are in their church. Of those, how many were children and youth?
It took two people about 30 days to call every church in the phone book. They discovered that 90 percent of the community’s population was not in church. A shocking 96 percent of the community’s youth and children were not in church. Moreover, 97 percent college students were not.
Then they started doing street interviews, asking participants what comes to mind when they heard of Jesus? Church? Christian? They also asked if the participant was involved in a church, and if not, why?
The answers shook him up.
“Today, we [Christians] are seen as bad and evil persons by many,” noted Kimball, whose early experiences as a non-Christian paved a way for him to communicate to the unchurched.
Kimball shared how he had several early concepts of Christians: the “shiny happy people” who wore pastels—the exact opposite of his black, punk rock, Mohawk-hair style—and gathered together to clap hands and sing; or the quiet, somber gathering of people with the weird organ music, orange carpet, chanting, and robed man offering everyone a “cup of wonder” (the body and blood of Jesus); or the angry preacher guy yelling on campus.
Despite these confusing personas, Kimball felt compelled to search for who Jesus was and what the Bible had to say about God. In spite of his friends’ good intentioned intervention—“they said they were afraid I would become a Christian, and they were there to stop me, worried that I would lose all my creativity, because they believed Christians were mindless”– Kimball found himself drawn to a tiny chapel in England.
It had a strange sandwich board with ugly letters, advertising an event on Wednesdays.
Three elderly people sat on chairs in the entryway, including 83-year old Stuart Allen, who smiled and asked, “Here for the study?”
Kimball didn’t want to hurt their feelings so he joined them. And he kept coming back.
“They never once said, ‘Why is your hair like that? Why are you wearing human skull bowties? Where were you last night? Why are you playing in the rock and roll band?’ “They allowed me to ask questions. They never ever once made me feel dumb for asking questions,” Kimball shared.
“It was an 83-year old man with Christ living in him that drew me to a saving relationship with Jesus,” he added, noting that today’s church leaders believe they have got to have a rock and roll band, lights, a young hip guy with cool glasses in order to win today’s generation.
“This was the opposite. The Sunday church was horrible. Stuart played the organ, walked slowly with his walker. But, underneath it’s a guy like him that would reach a guy like me,” he said. “So much are surface things; underneath it’s not really that difficult. Underneath it’s about love and about truth.”
Kimball went on to explain that today’s Christian subculture is actually creating barriers to reaching new people for Jesus. He challenged his listeners to rethink the Bridge Evangelism Illustration.
The classic “bridge illustration” represents when human beings recognize the separation between God and man, and faith in Jesus is “the Bridge” to cross the chasm.
“The problem is that we now have another chasm to overcome, which is the creation of the Christian subculture and the misperceptions people have of ‘Christianity,’” Kimball said, noting that there is no respect for sin and scripture today, and there are many things that people have to overcome.
For instance, many believe that the church and Christianity is an “organized religion” with a right-wing political agenda, he said. It also is equated with church as a ‘business’ and people after power.
“The church on the mission of Jesus does need organization. But organization can be a good thing or a bad thing,” he said. “Teach people that ‘church’ is an organic community. Be ‘organized’ without being organized just as a family dinner is organized; the human body is organized etc.
He also shared that many believe that the church is judgmental and negative, that it is dominated by males and oppresses females, or that the church is hateful to homosexuals.
“May we instead be a positive agent of change loving others as Jesus would and may we be the Church that holds women in the highest respect and involves them in leadership,” he said.
Kimball has worked hard to create the kind of church culture where people can talk about issues such as homosexuality, so that people who struggle can tell others about it. He also teaches what the Bible says about issues.
“When I do deconstruction [of arguments against the Bible], it’s because I want to be able to preempt or provide the right responses when the issues arise,” he said.
“We must rebuild trust and break the misperceptions they have of Christians and the church. This is what Stuart Allen did for me. He built trust with me. He didn’t put judgment on me,” he said. “When you are immersed in the lives of people outside the church, you become sensitive to these things.”