Posts Tagged ‘Evangelism’

Review of “They Like Jesus Not the Church” by Dan Kimball

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

This is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I first heard about it when it came out in 2007. I wish I had read it then. It would have helped me a lot in the process of developing the vision for Agape Ann Arbor.

The book is well written. Dan’s style is easy to follow and the stories he chose are both compelling and relevant. Overall, I like the format too. He broke the book down into three sections. The first section sets the context of the book by describing the culture and lifestyle of young adults in the 21st century. Section two focuses on specific views that young adults have of the Christian church. The final section offers advice to churches and Christians based on what Dan has learned over his many years of ministry.

The first section does a very good job describing the situation of a young adult in the 21st century. It describes well the cultural phenomena that have shaped this generation and the behaviors that this generation has developed. The one thing that I struggled with in this section is the overall tone. I’m well aware of the statistics that highlight that phenomenal lack of church participation among the 20 – 35 age group. What I remain unconvinced of is the uniqueness of this phenomenon to this generation. It’s become commonplace to bemoan the lack of religiosity among the younger generation. The builders did regarding the boomers. The boomers did regarding GenX. Now the boomers and GenX do regarding the millennial generation. Yet, I haven’t been presented with evidence that religiosity among the 35 – 50 age group is dramatically less than that group was 10 or 20 years ago. In other words, people have and keep coming back to church.

With that said, I don’t think we should dismiss what Dan and other authors are saying about young adults. Young adults have and will always react to their parents culture. The flappers did in the 20s. The boomers did in the 60s. What we’re experiencing now is the second verse same as the first. Yet with every verse, we have to learn. We have to learn new ways to reach the people who are responding negatively to the way things are today. That is where this book and the others like it are so important.

The phenomenon we’re experiencing isn’t anything new, but we still have to respond to it and do something about it. If we don’t we may experience something new. This group of young adults may not follow the normal pattern and return to the church. Moreover, every person that has ever lived is important to God and as Christ-followers it is our job to point them to his love. With every generation we need to learn to speak a new language that will point them to God’s love.

That’s where the second and third sections of Dan’s book are so important. His experience has been confirmed by a great deal of research and my own anecdotal experience. If you take the time to read the book, I bet your experience will confirm it too. Section two puts words to what we’re experiencing. Dan makes it concrete so we can address it. He provides the opportunity for all of us to open our eyes and understand “these kids” so we can communicate God’s love to them. Finally, he provides some advice on what to do about it.

I highly recommend Dan Kimball’s They Love Jesus but not the Church. Anyone who seriously wants to see God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven needs to read this book and consider seriously what they are going to do about what they learn.

Mission or Business?

Monday, March 26th, 2012

“It’s good for the business of the church but bad for mission.”

That’s what Jen said yesterday as we were talking about the church building as a “third place.” Ministry strategy has been a regular topic of conversation for my wife and I as we launch Agape Ann Arbor. She’s helping me hone the language I use as I communicate what we’re doing.

OK, back to this whole church as the third place thing. The “third place” is a sociological theory popularized by the author Ray Oldenburg. In a nutshell, Oldenburg has observed that in the west we inhabit three places; (1) work, (2) home, (3) and the third place. The third place is the place we inhabit by choice. It is the center of our social life. Think Cheers or Central Perk in Friends.

Many contemporary American evangelical churches have created a ministry strategy around this observation. The philosophy of these churches is that their worship facility should be a third place. The strategy is to create environments and activities in the building that will draw people to the building. The goal is to make the physical structure in which the church meets so attractive that people want to spend time there. It’s great for business. The church members meet at the building for Bible study and buy coffee in the cafe. The church members lives revolve around that physical structure and typically they’re willing to pay for the services they receive in that place.

It’s a good business strategy. It’s a bad mission strategy. The mission of the church is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). You can’t make new disciples if all the Christians are spending all of they’re limited unallocated time with each other in a third place that non-Christians will never choose.

The theory is that if we create cool, comfortable enough environments non-Christians will join us in our cozy little third place. But why would they do that? Do we really think we can compete with Starbuck’s or the comfortable pub on the corner? The only people that want to come to our church buildings are people who are positively predisposed to them. Virtually by definition, this excludes people who are not a part of our Christian community.

This is why Agape Ann Arbor does not inhabit a specific space especially designed for our community. We want to make new disciples. This means we spend time in places where we can meet and connect with people who are not already a part of our community. We inhabit spaces inhabited by people who are not yet Christ-followers. We seek to build relationships there. And, rather than presuming that everyone there is looking for an invitation to be a part of our community we strive to be the kind of people they want to invite into their community.

Think about this: How many stories are there in the Gospels about Jesus inviting people into his community? How many stories are there in the Gospels about people inviting Jesus into their community?

Here’s a challenge for you. Read through the Gospels this week and notice all the parties that Jesus attended. As you read those stories write down where those parties are held and who hosted them.

What do you think? Is the third place a good mission strategy or a good business strategy?

Not Like Me (Blog Tour with author Eric Bryant)

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

We live in a diverse world filled with unprecedented opportunity. There is a call to move past the barriers that stand between us and those who may be different. Eric Michael Bryant has seen tolerance shown to those who are different than us — racially, religiously, sexually, politically, economically — and believes there must be more. After all, Jesus didn’t just tolerate people; he embraced them all with love.

Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World helps people of faith effectively love, serve, and reach people overlooked by the church.

Using lighthearted humor, engaging personal stories, and a “party theology,” Bryant shows us how to love our neighbors and fulfill the vision Jesus had for the church from the beginning.
Whether that is through building relationships with the help of bounce houses, stand up comedy, or piñatas, followers of Christ will be inspired to actively engage the world around them.

The Fourth Place

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Recently the idea of the “third place” has become popular in ministry circles. I’ll try to give a quick definition of the concept here. In the US, we live in three places; home, work, and the third place. There are a variety of expression of the third place; the local coffee shop (think Friends), the corner bar (think Cheers), the local lodge (think The Flintstones). The third place is where people go to socialize. It’s the hub location for their “tribe.”

In ministry circles there have been a lot of conversation about how we should make the church the “third place.” This, theoretically, is a good idea. If people are spending their “third place” time at the church they can connect to the community and grow spiritually.

I’m a little leery of this idea. If I’m spending all my time at home, work, and church, when do I engage with people who aren’t Christ-followers? Yes, I know work is a good place to do that. The people there are stuck with me. I will also concede that the workplace is part of our “mission field.” But is it the most effective place to share Christ? I find the conversations that most often turn to spiritual things are not at work. They’re at third places with third place people. If the church were to become my third place then when would I have these conversations?

I think maybe the church should be the fourth place. We should carve time out of our schedules to engage at church and in church activities but not let it monopolize our time outside of work and home. Prioritize church but don’t make church your third place. Find a place where you can naturally build relationships with people who don’t know Christ and use that “third place” time as mission time. Here are a couple of examples:

• Coach soccer (or whatever)
• Study martial arts
• Join a book club

Don’t make church your third place. You’ll miss way too much of what God is doing outside the walls of the church building. Besides, if the church is people, can the church really be a third place or any place at all?

What are some other third places where you’ve been able to share Christ and see God working?

A-Bombs, H-Bombs and F-Bombs

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Several months ago, I was enjoying the hospitality of a local coffee house late into the evening as I finished up a paper for school. On this night I had forgotten my ear-buds so I was able to hear the conversations around me much more clearly than usual. Something about what I heard was particularly shocking to me. I’m used to hearing teenagers spew profanities like a drunk sailor, in an adolescent attempt to sound more adult. That didn’t shock me. I was incredibly surprised by the same type of language being spoken by adults. I kind of thought that somewhere in your mid-twenties you grew out of that realizing how stupid you sound by limiting your vocabulary so drastically. I was obviously wrong.

Then it hit me. No, this is not a post about the moral depravity of our society. I’m not going to jump up on a soap box and extol the virtues of clean language. For me, the problem wasn’t the language, although I do think there are more intelligent ways to communicate.

It hit me, why am I shocked by this language when no one around me seems to be? My life is incredibly cloistered. I spend most of time around Christ-followers. This is not a good situation in which to be. What good is salt in a salt mine? What good is light in a well-lit room (Matthew 5:13-15)?
Since then, I’ve tried to be more conscientious about how I choose to spend my time. It’s been hard. Launching a ministry that helps churches (insert shameless plug for Jericho Ministry Solutions). My target market is leaders in the Christian community, most of whom spend the least amount of time among people that are not Christ-followers. Yet as a member of the Michigan Air National Guard, I’ve had several opportunities to get out of my normal community and routine. In those times I’ve had several opportunities to be salt and light and share Jesus. I’ve also failed many times and been an a … er … jerk ☺. In spite of my failings however, in those times I’ve felt closer and more useful to God.

If you find yourself in a similar situation… if you find yourself spending a lot of time in salty well-lit areas, let me encourage you now. Break the routine. Leave the comfort of the familiar and go be who God intended you to be.

By the way, have you ever thought about the fact that salt in large amounts is poison? Or, that light in large amounts is blinding? Just sayin.

Talking About Jesus

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

In my last post, I wrote a review of Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family. A major aspect of all of Tyler Perry’s work is his Christian faith. He is very open about it. It seems to me that Christianity is more acceptable in African-American culture than in white culture. Maybe I’m wrong, but I never hear Christianity ridiculed in African-American art and media the way it seems to be in primarily white media outlets.

So my question to you: Why is that? Why is Christianity more acceptable in African-American culture? And, what, if anything, should we do about it?

Penn on evangelism

Friday, December 19th, 2008

If you haven’t seen Penn talk about proselytizing, you need to. This should be very encouraging and convicting to anyone who says they are a Christ-follower. It’s one thing to hear a pastor say stuff like this. It’s totally different when you hear it from an atheist that doesn’t have a problem making fun of Jesus or his followers.

What is the gospel?

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you’ve seen several posts wrestling with the nature of the gospel and the polarization that is happening between the emerging and evangelical views. This is something that I’ve been working through for a while as I try to be true to God’s call and be more effective at communicating who Jesus is. There is a recent post on the Acts 29 blog by Tim Keller that addresses this. It is a very well thought out critique of the topic. If you’re at all interested in know more about the gospel or learning how to better communicate it to those around you, this post is a must read.

Monkey and the Fish

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

Dave Gibbons’ “Monkey and the Fish” is both thought-provoking and inspiring. In it Gibbons presents a new metaphor for ministry. He focuses on the concept of third-culture. Third-culture is a phenomenon that is noticed in the children of missionaries and military families that live in different countries. To survive and thrive in the new culture these children learn to adapt to different cultures by assimilating into the new culture without rejecting their original culture. Such children tend to adapt and thrive easily in differing contexts because of this third-culture ability.
Gibbons argues that the church should reflect this third-culture and be able to adapt and thrive in any context. One of the great historical weaknesses in the church’s mission has been the meshing of Christianity and culture. There is a tendency for missionaries to expect new believers to conform to their culture. George Hunter III describes this of the Roman Church’s method of evangelism ca. 400 AD in “The Celtic Way of Evangelism.” The Roman missionaries expected the Germanic and Celtic people to become Roman before they could become Christ-followers because they believed that their culture was inferior and unable to mesh with Jesus’ teachings. This is the same problem many evangelical churches have today. They confuse their culture with the content. They confuse how they communicate the gospel with the gospel. A third culture church sees value in other cultures and seeks to become a part of the new culture to communicate the life-giving, life-changing message of Jesus in that context.
There is one concept in Gibbons’ book that I’m struggling with; his emphasis is on multi-culturalism and investing in the under-resourced. This has much to do with his background personally and in ministry. Third-culture is not just a way to get more diversity in a primarily white suburban church. Third-culture is a new metaphor to describe what in the past was known as incarnational ministry. The goal is to present Jesus and his love to people where they are at, whether it’s the single mother in a subsidized apartment, a corporate executive living in a large house in the suburbs, a Midwestern farmer, or a tea grower in East Asia. All are loved by God and we need to reach them with the message of Jesus where they are at, not bring them into our western culture then share Jesus with them.
With that said, “Monkey and the Fish” will encourage you to reach out to the people around you in new and fresh ways and give you practical steps to help you focus yourself and your ministry on the gospel and how to communicate it no matter the culture into which God is calling you.

Transformational Architecture

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Transformational Architecture by Ron Martoia is a must read for anyone serious about trying to help people connect with God.  Ron takes a serious look at the way most people today communicate the to others about Jesus and offers a counter-point to the way most people that follow Jesus have been taught to share what that means.  The major thesis of the book is that we’ve been taught to start too late in the story.  Rather than starting with the fact that we’re all dealing with sin, Transformational Architecture argues that we should start with the fact that we’re all created in the image of God.

For Ron, being created in the image of God means that there are three fundamental yearnings built into the architecture of our existence that provide the key launching points to help us connect with God.  By utilizing these launching points we have ample opportunity to have profitable conversations about God and faith.

My struggle with Ron’s work deals with an issue that I’m still wrestling with in my mind as well.  I’m not sure if I agree with him or not but I’d like to hear him elaborate on the point.  One of Ron’s major critiques of the way a lot of people view following Jesus is that most people try to set up a way to tell if someone is “in or out.”  Ron argues that it is not for any of us to know but only God.  I want to agree with him on this but I’m not sure I can.  In one sense I will never know if you are in or out and you will never know if I am.  Yet, if you come to me and ask if I’m in, I feel very confident in saying yes.  With that, I feel I should be able to guide you to discover if you are (Isn’t that the point of having these conversations?).  Moreover, I think that God has given us some clues to help us see in ourselves and others if we are truly following Jesus or just paying him lip service (i.e. the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5).  It is also my presupposition that there is a point when we cross from death into life (Romans 6:13) and become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).  I wish that Ron would have addressed these issues.  Perhaps, they were out of the scope of this book but these are unanswered questions that I have to continually work through as I share Jesus with those around me.