Dan Kimball is one of many who have written recently about this kind of thing. He’s one of the guys who writes mostly clearly (and arguably sensibly) about the “emerging church” and what the whole movement is all about. In fact, I read his book The Emerging Church for one of my classes at Briercrest.
This book is written for leaders in the church (or people who like to think about cultural shifts like this), so it really should be kept in mind that he assumes the audience is Biblical literate and had a decent grasp of theology and ministry. The book is split up into chapters which reflect his observation and conversations with many unchurched people today in the 18-30 year old category. Unlike a book like UnChristian (Kinnaman & Lyons… which I also recently finished and should do a review of), Kimball isn’t working off of a statistical study, though he did set up formal interviews which he quotes extensively throughout the book. Here are the chapter titles, which outline the basic difficulties that people have with the church:
1. The Church is an organized religion with a political agenda
2. The Church is judgemental and negative
3. The Church is dominated by males and oppresses females
4. The Church is homophobic
5. The Church arrogantly clams all other religions are wrong
6. The Church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally
He’s got some compelling quotes from people who have been genuinely hurt or disillusioned from the church in each of these areas, and I think he’s right on in that the church really needs to listen to and understand the problems that many people today have with the church (especially considering how many of them spent time in the church growing up).
These conclusions aren’t particularly groundbreaking – I’ve read similar conclusions from different people and experienced almost all of these claims in one form or another through media or people I know. I think there are some distinctly American trends to this book – though Kimball claims that these arguments are being told throughout western culture, I think that the Canadian church has shied away from a few of these things (politics, homophobia, fundamentalism – though Bruxy would argue we need to be more fundamentalist in the right ways… see The End of Religion for that one).
I’m encouraged by the dialogue which today’s culture is open to surrounding Jesus. Though people are missing the fact that you can’t take Jesus without the church, at least they know that the important part of the equation is Him. There’s a fine line that we have to walk in encouraging those people to seek Jesus and allowing them to be frustrated with legitimate problems with the church, while trying to help the see God’s intended uses for this broken body of believers.
One of the big take aways for me is that evangelism today no longer involves simply explaining the bridge analogy to people. We first must overcome the gap of Christian subculture through relationship before we can help people see these profound theological truths. Though Kimball draws the bridge diagram with two gaps (one being Christian subculture, one being sin), I wouldn’t go quite so far as to put cultural opinions on the same plane as theological truth, but I do hear his call for the importance of relationship and overcoming negative perceptions which are most often inflated. Another thing which he emphasized which resonated with me was his call to churches to have a more transparent church leadership that makes a place for younger people while still respecting those who have the experience and knowledge that younger people don’t. Most of these problems come down from leaders of churches, and I think Kimball is echoing the call from James to be careful in what you teach. How can we focus less on the personality of our church leaders and more on Jesus?
I really don’t have any quams with what Kimball says in this book. I don’t think some of it applies across the board like he suggests it does, and I think it needs to be understood that he’s writing to a theologically literate audience which needs to hear a call to get back into the community and hear why people aren’t coming to church. There’s also a good chapter on what the church could do to help address these concerns, though Kimball’s best advice is to build relationships with those in your community and listen to what they have to say about what would help them better see Jesus in church.
One very practical thing which he writes about in this book will definitely stay with me. He tries to be out of his church office and studying in coffee shops more. I tried that this week as I was studying for O2, and I hope I keep doing it… it’s a great reminder that we as leaders aren’t just trying to “shepherd our flock,” but to find other sheep who have gotten lost that we can point to the good shepherd.
For those interested, check out Dan’s blog here – it’s a worthwhile read if you’re interested in seeing how one man is helping those who don’t like the church get a better idea of what Jesus inteded it – and our relationship with Him – to be.