Dan Kimball has written a very good book about the problems faced by the American church in trying to reach the emerging generation (anyone between the ages of 18 – 30). I am British, I have lived here my whole life and I have been going to British churches my whole life but I still found this book very challenging even if some of the cultural issues Kimball addresses are very different over the pond.
The book is aimed squarely at church leaders, in particular the full-time variety. Again, this isn’t me but I was still challenged.
The main point that Kimball makes throughout the book is that Christians need to escape the bubble. The “bubble” is Christian/church culture. This is a culture that sees us spending all our time with Christians, listening to Christian music (a personal pet hate for me), watching Christian TV (watched 10 minutes of the God channel the other day and found myself laughing out loud one minute, and shouting in anger the next…), watching “Christian” films, only talking about church or theology, speaking in weird christianese (have you bought your ticket to paradise?) and all sorts of other unnecessary craziness.
I started reading this book as God was challenging me about my Christian lifestyle and how I was rapidly becoming deeply irrelevant to the rest of the planet. So this book has been incredibly healthy for me.
The chapter headings give a clear picture of what Kimball covers:
Part 1: Why emerging generations are changing
- 1. I probably wouldn’t like Christians if I weren’t one
- 2. Why I escaped the church office
- 3. Jesus as Son of God and plastic action figure
- 4. Meeting those who like Jesus
Part 2: What emerging generations think about the church
- 5. the church is an organised religion with a political agenda
- 6. the church is judgemental and negative
- 7. the church is dominated by males and oppresses females
- 8. the church is homophobic
- 9. the church arrogantly claims all other religion are wrong
- 10. the church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole bible literally
Part 3: How the church can respond
- 11. what they wish church were like
- 12. Our two biggest barriers
- 13. A great hope for the future
So I am a fan. His style is very pastoral and it’s obvious he genuinely cares about how non-Christians are turned off by the behaviour of Christians. He is also very careful to make his stronger points with humility which, in the age of Christian “attack dog” blogging, I found quite refreshing.
My only gripe with the book was how all his evidence for the claims he makes are based on anecdotal evidence. Kimball states clearly at the beginning of the book that he wants to communicate people’s heart and statistics don’t do that. I agree with this but felt that maybe some stats about the current age range of the church in America or information about the numbers of people leaving the church would have helped his argument a little. Having said that I agreed with everything he said and was challenged by most of what he said!
I would say that this book is a must for Christians in the UK who need to escape the bubble (that’s probably most of us) and for church leaders who maybe need to look at what their church (and what they) communicate to non-Christians by the things they do or say.
About half way through September the freshers start turning up at Birmingham Uni, Aston Uni and University of Central England (not to mention loads of other higher education institutions in Birmingham). This means that a whole bunch of Christian students (probably 250 ish) arrive in Birmingham looking for a church. Churchcentral probably gets about 100+ freshers coming to check out our church during the academic year and the last 3 years has seen about 30 students each year join us. That’s exciting. It means we ended the last academic year with about 90 ish students, the majority of those who graduated have decided to hang around in Birmingham. That’s very exciting. One of the arguments against putting church resources into students is that they only hang around for three years and then they disappear.
Anyway, all of this means we go crazy for nine months meeting new people, helping them settle into the church, organising student life groups, organising a weekend away, discipling people, organising social events, doing huge roast dinners for freshers on Sundays, training leaders and a whole bunch of other stuff I cannot even remember. We love it. It’s the best thing I have ever been involved in at church.
But this summer I have questioned why we do this. I have been challenged by a couple of books (They like Jesus but not the church – Dan Kimball and The Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll) about my own evangelistic efforts and about what I put my time and energy into as a Christian.
In the last few years of leading the student work at churchcentral we have probably only seen two or three people become a Christian. All of our growth (in the student work) has been through Christian students moving to Birmingham and joining us. This can often mean churches in towns without universities lose their best and their brightest to churches like ours and may never see them again. So are we really seeing growth? If we view ourselves as part of the global church then surely we can’t see the addition of people who are already Christians to churchcentral as growth. It’s just shifting people around.
Some of the people that have joined us as a result of coming to Uni in Birmingham have been of incredible quality. These are people who will lead churches, be missionaries (abroad or at home), be major players in the business world, be brilliant teachers, be professional musicians etc etc. So I am clearly grateful that they joined us and I hope that more like them join up.
But, if the truth be known, it’s not enough. We are not growing (much) because of the gospel and we are only growing because other churches are shrinking.
I am off on holiday for a few weeks, so please don’t think I have given up on the blog.
Blogging Newday (here, here, here, here, here and here) meant that I blogged everyday for about seven days, which was a new experience for me and one I thoroughly enjoyed. I will attempt to carry on doing this when I return from my break.
I intend to write more about the student work that Vicki and I run, as well as the broader issues of working with students in a church context. I also plan to keep writing about different areas of popular culture that catch my eye.
If your interested, while I am on holiday I will be reading, “they like Jesus but not the church” by Dan Kimball. The simple pastor has blogged his way through this book and it caught my interest. I am also going to read, “the birth of the church” by Ivor j. Davidson and “American Mafia” by Thomas Reppetto.
Anyways, I shall return.
This blog by Chris Elrod (part 1, part 2 and part 3) caught my eye yesterday. This dude is grumpier than me. He goes off on one about the emergent (or emerging?) church, church networks, worship leaders and churches being slick. I quite like his American honesty/brashness and cant quite imagine what would happen if an English pastor lost it in the same way.
I quite enjoy the way he substitutes swear words for words like rip, tick and bullcrap! Amusing.
Have a read.
This is the myspace site of a christian death metal band!
They describe their music as “Goreship”. The lead singer sounds a bit like a pig being beaten up by a group of very angry toddlers. I absolutely love this.
I wonder if these guys could be booked for next years Newday? Their first album is called “Nailed. Dead. Risen”, apparently Matt Redman and Phatfish will not be making guest appearances. Shame.
So it’s all over.
We had a great time. The weather was good, the worship times were amazing, the preaching was excellent and God moved in power. You cannot ask for a lot more than that.
The highlights for me included PJ Smyth’s preaching (he is an excellent communicator) and the worship leading of Simon Brading. Simon managed to easily combine an obvious passion for Jesus, a love of worship, a clear leadership gifting and an amount of musical creativity. Simon made it feel like there were only 50 people in the room. Very impressive.
You may remember I told you about a friend of mine who had taken a group of 13 youth, only two of whom were already Christians. I bumped into him on the last day and he excitedly told me that all of them had been healed, saved or been filled with the spirit. Needless to say, he was in a very good mood.
Some slightly odd highlights would include: nearly getting into a fight with some youth “leader” who thought it would be funny to fire off water bombs randomly into the campsite using a large catapult (it took three men to operate and they narrowly missed a number of toddlers!), watching some kid run into the fence around the race course (he used his face as a brake and fortunately was unharmed), listening to 6000 people collectively scream at the sky when we all heard the first clap of thunder on Monday and PJ Smyth fall off a running machine. Good times.
What happens next year? On the last night Joel promised Newday would be bigger and better next year.
Sorry for the lack of updates in the last few days. The newday office lost its internet connection. Game over for my blogs.
Anyways, I am home now so I thought I would put a few stats up for you tonight and do a more thorough summary tomorrow.
400+ people were healed on monday evening. Bones grew, vision restored, hearing fixed, dyslexia healed, joints repaired etc etc etc. Wonderful stuff.
250+ people made a first time commitment to jesus on monday evening. A whole bunch more went forward tonight, got no numbers at this stage.
£90,000 was given in the offering. Not bad for a bunch of teenagers. (that didnt include IOUs and possible tax back).
I am going to sleep in my bed. A proper summary will appear at some point tomorrow.
Well today is hot. Hot hot hot. My car tells me it is 30 degrees. No amount of chocolate brownies and fruitcake seem to be cooling me down. This is probably the first day in the history of Newday that people have been looking for shade from the heat instead of shelter from the rain.
This morning Stef Liston preached and called people to lead lives of purity. About 40% of the 15-19s made their way to the front, desperate to live like Jesus. Stef managed to avoid legalism very well (I remember being taught in the 15-19s at Stoneleigh back in the early 1700s that only sideways hugging was acceptable outside of marriage!) and yet he was passionate and uncompromising.
It was genuinely exciting to watch God move in power across a group of young people. Are we in significant times? Are we about to see God move in our nation? I don’t know, but there is a large group of kids in a field just outside Derby who know God a bit better than they did four days ago. Result.
A good friend of mine is an agnostic who used to be a Christian. He is a lot cleverer than me and I respect his opinion a great deal. So when I look across the big top with 6000 kids praising Jesus I often wonder what he would think. It’s a useful way of trying to view Newday objectively. Is it hype? Is it a social or psychological phenomenon? Or are we brainwashing kids? My only answer to that is that so far this week there have been 2 or 3 occasions when I have known that I am standing near God and it’s been overwhelming.
My wife went to Julian Adams seminar today. She told me that one guy no longer needed his crutches and that any number of people were having their hearing restored. Amazing.
Anyways I am off to spend more money I don’t have on books I probably wont read. More tomorrow.
A short post for the moment.
Saw a band last night called the Gentlemen. They had an interesting Chilli Pepper / Kaiser Chief feel to them. They looked excited to be onstage and the crowd look excited to see them. Everyone’s a winner.
I have been helping run the mobilise seminars (which involves turning up, introducing the speaker and then sitting down). This morning we got PJ Smyth on “Faith in Leadership”. I am a PJ fan. At the risk of sounding like some sort of stalker / groupie, I have thoroughly enjoyed both his talks so far.
He handed out some notes, so I will probably condense them and put them up for your reading pleasure.
One of the youth on our site became a Christian last night. That’s why we bother.
Another Newday day is almost over.
Today was a typical Newday day. I got up way too early, I couldn’t be bothered to shower, I ate cake for breakfast, I met a friend who I haven’t seen since last year and I was blown away by some awesome preaching from PJ Smyth.
The friend I met up with is a gentleman who leads a church in a provincial town in England. He works like a dog trying to impact a housing estate with the gospel. This week he brought 12 ish youth with him, only two of them are Christians. Its guys like that who make Newday brilliant. Newday is not just a Christian backslapping event; there is no sense of trying to isolate us from the world outside in a haze of hype and self-righteousness. Rather, we are constantly reminded of a lost and broken world on our doorstep and throughout the nations.
Tonight we heard PJ speak from Ephesians 2:8-10. If you haven’t heard PJ then you are missing out, he is a fantastic communicator. He preached grace tonight and he pitched his talk squarely at the 12 – 18 age group present and he had me (a 30 year old desperately clinging to his youth) enthralled. I have heard grace preached before so I didn’t particularly hear anything new but I was caught up in PJs use of the scripture, his engaging illustrations and his unquenchable enthusiasm. I came out the meeting happily reminded of my total inability to earn Gods love. Useful stuff.
Whenever I am stood in a meeting of this size (6000 ish) I usually experience mixed emotions. Seeing this many people in the same place passionate about Jesus, his gospel and his church excites me (especially when they are teenagers who our media seem hell bent on portraying as nothing but a menace to our nice middleclass society) but I always feel a frustration that I only get to this sort of crowd see it at a Christian conference. Why not every Sunday in cities and towns across the UK? I think back to my home church in Birmingham and hope to see thousands of us making a noise like the kids at Newday. Every week.
Anyways, my plans for tomorrow are to see a few of the gigs, eat my own bodyweight in chocolate brownies and find a shower with a huge queue.