The Pacific Southwest District held their annual Spring Event recently. This year’s speaker was Dan Kimball. Dan at Spring Event.

Dan was asked to speak on the topic, They Like Jesus But Not the Church. His presentation was one of the most engaging ones we’ve had in the history of this event. He began by talking about how most Christians live within a “Christian bubble”. They shop at Christian stores, listen to Christian music, fill their calendars with Christian activities (inside and outside their local church) and hang-out with their Christian friends. While some may think this is a great life-style, Dan points out how this isolates us from those whom Christ is calling us to reach. The more we are isolated from them, the less we understand how they think and what we might do to actually reach them. In his book by the same title he writes, “Christians are now the foreigners in a post Christian Culture and we have got to wake up to this reality. . .”

He continued his presentation by sharing how we need to think of ourselves as missionaries in our neighborhoods. He also writes in his book, “When missionaries enter another culture, they listen, learn, study the spiritual beliefs of the culture, and get a sense of what the cultures’ values are. They may try to discover what experiences this culture has had with Christians and what the people of the culture think of Christianity. Missionaries in a foreign culture don’t practice the faiths or embrace the spiritual beliefs of that culture, but they do respect them, since the missionaries are on the other cultures’ turf. . .”

For the rest of the presentation, he touched on the following points in his book of why people don’t like the church. Though we may not agree with the following points, Dan shares that these are the perceptions of what others have on the church.
1) The church is an organized religion with a political agenda.
2) The church is judgmental and negative.
3) The church is dominated by males and oppresses females.
4) The church is homophobic.
5) The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.
6) The church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.

I met with Dan in February and the night before the event to help him understand who the Brethren are and what might best work in his presentation (I had seen it twice before.). Of this list, the idea that we oppress females isn’t true in this district. In fact the two largest churches have women as pastors. Since the PSWD has had difficulty in dealing with the homosexual conversation in years past, I encouraged him to touch on the topic, show the video interview he has, stress how we need to be hospitable to all people, and move on.

At this point of the day, his coffee really started kicking-in. After he shared his material on how others think of the church as homophobic, he asked, “How does this issue play-out in the Church of the Brethren? How do you deal with the issue?”. For a moment, fear kicked-in. We had people from open and affirming congregations and people from the other side of the issue both present. What happened over the next 45 minutes was totally a gift from God! Dan led a discussion where people lovingly and respectfully discussed the issue of gay and lesbian involvement in the church and how we should reach out and care for them. It was a totally amazing time!

If you or others struggle with evangelism or being missional, I would highly recommend his book. This material can be helpful in changing our attitudes towards those outside the church and give us understanding on how they might be thinking. Zondervan has also created a DVD curriculum to teach the materials in the book in 6 small group sessions. It also has sermon outlines and shorter video clips to play in a worship service.

It was great to be surprised and blessed by God at the PSWD Spring Event!