A Conversation with Dan Kimball (Jul-Aug 2007)

By Matt Dabbs

by Fred Peatross
July – August, 2007

Dan Kimball was born and raised in New Jersey, and received his BS degree in Landscape Architecture from Colorado State University. He was a drummer in a rockabilly/punk band for many years and lived in London, England.
After the band ended, Dan went to Israel and lived there for several months in Israel studying the Bible.

After Israel, he moved to Santa Cruz where he began attending Santa Cruz Bible Church and got very involved in various ministries at the church. Because he felt he wanted to dedicate all his time to serving in the church, he went to Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, Oregon and graduated with a Graduate Certificate in Bible.

Upon returning to Santa Cruz and graduating from Multnomah Seminary, he became high school pastor and worked with Josh Fox at Santa Cruz Bible Church where they worked with teenagers in what became a large youth ministry. After serving in high school ministry for eight years as high school pastor, Dan (and Josh) felt the need for a worship gathering and ministry that reflected more of the values of the emerging culture and heart of emerging generations. So, they started the Sunday night “Graceland” worship services and ministry at Santa Cruz Bible Church. Graceland initially started as a college ministry, but because it connected with a broader age range became a “young adult” ministry and then eventually became alternative worship gatherings for all ages. After several years, Graceland eventually folded into Santa Cruz Bible Church, as the dream for launching a new church in Santa Cruz was formed. Dan was part of the leadership team that launched the first church plant of Santa Cruz Bible Church when Vintage Faith Church was birthed in February 2004.

Dan’s role with Vintage Faith Church is currently the primary teaching pastor and overseeing the missional aspects of the church.

Dan has been married to Becky since 1990, and they have two daughters, Katie and Claire, and one day hope to have a poodle. Dan loves rockabilly and punk music, comic art and drives a 1966 Mustang that is slowly rusting.

Dan is the author of the book They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations” A book that addresses the misconceptions people have about Christianity. Dan is also involved in some national ministries which are rethinking church for the emerging culture (see Emergent and the Emergent Convention).


Fred: Dan, you have two new books. One already out and the other is to be released in 2008. Man, they have similar titles.

· I Like Jesus but Not the Church: Following Jesus Without Following Organized Religion

· They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations

Tell us the difference between the two books?

Dan:They Like Jesus but not the Church” is for church leaders and for Christians interested in understanding some minds and hearts of those outside the church and their perceptions of Christians and the church. This book takes a look at patterns of what those outside the church, especially in their 20’s and 30’s are perceiving church and Christianity to be like , which unfortunately is neutral at best, but usually quite negative. Yet the irony is they are very open to Jesus and respect of what they know of Him. The general perceptions are:

– The church is judgmental and negative

– The church is homophobic

– The church is organized religion and politically motivated

– The church restricts women

– The church is arrogant towards truth being in other religions

– The church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally

So this book addresses each of these issues and gives examples from churches who do seem to be connecting with those who like Jesus, but not the church. Something to understand about this book is that I personally see it is as a great opportunity when someone is interested in Jesus. They may not understand the biblical Jesus, but at least Jesus is the starting point and through the context of relationship and church community – the biblical Jesus is then taught and understood. So this book is for church leaders as the input and suggestions all are speaking to the context of church leadership and those who influence the direction of Christian communities.

I Like Jesus but not the Church” is a book for the average Christian and those looking for ways to think about these very issues (judgmentalism, homosexuality, women in the church, other religions, fundamentalism and the Bible). It doesn’t come out until Fall of 2008 and we are discussing using a different title, but the I Like Jesus part will remain the sub-title to avoid confusion. But this one is written in a way that a Christian can hopefully be encouraged in ways of responding to someone who believes the church is homophobic. Or it can be given to or read by someone outside the church who has these questions or perceptions about the church and Christians. It is sort of an apologetics book in disguise. I love apologetics, but the problem with most books is that it is so geared for Christians that the language, some of the attitudes and approaches aren’t something I know I would want to give to a non-believer. So hopefully this book will be one we can give to those struggling with these issues about the church and Christianity, without embarrassment.

So, the first book is for church leaders, the second book is for Christians in the church and those seeking answers for the same questions raised in the They Like Jesus book.

Fred: What did you learn in writing them?

Dan: What I learned was how easy it is for Christians and church leaders to ghetto themselves in the Christian sub-culture and bubble and really forget how people outside the church think and how we come across. Or what I learned and was so convicted of personally- which motivated me to write this book- is that most church leaders don’t have ongoing deep friendships with those outside the church. So the irony is that church leaders teach their church to be involved in their non-Christian friends lives, when so many of the church leaders don’t have a single non-believing friend they hang out with regularly themselves.

I also learned the patterns of people experiencing a lot of the same thing being said. That is what I tried to focus on in the book. But it took me building trust in people to hear them. I often heard that the feeling is that Christians only want to talk at you – not listen. I did a lot of listening. But as I listened, I was encouraged because most of the stereotypes that they felt about the church and Christians wasn’t all true. They were impressions from media, and aggressive evangelists etc. But then it got me thinking and I learned that most Christians aren’t engaged in the lives of those outside the church, so no wonder they come to the conclusions they do. We are in the Christian bubble hanging out with each other, while those outside the church then get stereotypes of the loudest Christians out there and what media portrays Christians to be. So I don’t blame them for the conclusions they make and it caused to me understand why they feel the way they do.

Fred: Frost and Hirsch have suggested that we adopt a fully missional stance while expressing serious doubts that the established, conventional, attractional church can be revitalized. Solution: birth new missional communities and leaders.

Frost & Hirsch are from Australia. You’re from America. You travel far and wide across America with your ministry. So, what do you see? Are we so distracted (in other words: so defined institutionally) that we incapable of becoming a fully revitalized missional movement?

Dan: Well, I was part of a wonderful megachurch for 15 years. But we ended up in our situation feeling it was best to plant a new church. So the church I was on staff at, allowed us and supported us to plant a new missional church. The problem is see is that often churches want to start alternative worship gatherings to attract younger people, or develop a ministry extension of the church that has a goal of seeing who the new ministry reaches drawn into the life of the mother church. The lingo of changing the style and approach, but keeping the same DNA as one church. But the issue is that it is a different DNA if it is truly missional. It is far more than just having a nifty Sunday night gathering (like I did at the former church) and create a ministry department for this new gathering. It is a holistic approach to how you view leadership, spiritual formation, evangelism, worship etc. – so this means the elders all need to view it that way and in churches that start something, the upper leadership usually doesn’t really understand it. It is like living in your parents house and you get one room, but invite guests in to the living room which has a totally different vibe than your room. But the living room is the main room and it just feels weird. That is why we move out of our parents house. I know this metaphor, that I’ve come up with off-the-top, has flaws as DNA stays the same for family. But the way we talk about DNA in a church context, it is usually about values and philosophy and that definitely changes in a truly missional church. So I understand why Mike and Alan say that birthing new missional communities is the way to go. I wish it wasn’t, but for the most part I agree.

There may be some rare exceptions of churches who can change. But overall it seems that it is very difficult to make the changes needed. We are experimenting with a partnership with an aging church. We have moved into their building and have joined together and it looks even like we may merge, which would be wonderful as selfishly, it accelerates the whole process of finding place to meet in for worship gatherings, offices etc. and more beautifully it bridges generations who never would meet otherwise. But the difference here, is that unlike many larger churches – this church was desperate (in a good way for the gospel) and humble to realize they literally could die out in several years. So they had a Kingdom mentality and it wasn’t about the senior pastor in this case. It has tremendous difficulties we are still processing, but it is a very wonderful thing and I sure wish churches would be like the aging one and partner with new emerging churches more.

Fred: What practices have you incorporated in your day-to-day ministry that keeps you in touch with non-Christians?

Dan: I try to once a week meet in some context with someone outside the church relationally. I have a list of 7 people I pray for regularly and keep in touch with. I spend two days outside the office in local coffee houses to be out in the world and there do sermon prep or hold meetings with people. So I do have days at the church building and office, but I bridge it with spending time in other locations. It is weird pastors spend all their time locked up in a room studying, when we can be out among the people doing the same thing studying next to university students in a coffee house, getting to know the baristas, hearing little bits of conversations, sensing what is going on in our culture rather than only being in the Christian bubble all week long. I also try and make any opportunity I can to develop friendships with those outside the church. The girl who cuts my hair is not a Christian. I hope to join a bowling league, but it won’t be a Christian bowling team. I want to be with those outside the church. I might have a friend join me, but why do we constantly surround ourselves with Christians when the world around us needs the gospel? I just talked to a really great guy who was telling me about a Christian car club he is part of and that they meet once every two weeks or something like that in a coffee house to chat about cars. I didn’t say it, but I wanted to say “Why don’t you and another Christian join a non-Christian car club?” That way you can be with unbelievers and have them get to know you? Why isolate yourselves in this way, when you can have those who have poor stereotypes of Christians learn that not all Christians are homophobic, judgmental etc.” I didn’t say anything, but next time I see him I think I will. It’s this type of thing that I think is the source of what is happening out there, where we really have created a non-missional way of thinking and living out our lives as followers of Jesus.

Fred: A few years ago I attended a racial reconciliation conference. The speaker had a great idea when she posted 15-20 large posters on the walls of the room with a heading over each poster. (A few examples of her headings were Christians, Muslims, Jews, blacks, etc.) She then asked everyone to take a marker, come to the front and write the first things that came to mind; on each poster.

Every word under the heading-Christians-was negative: hypocrite, judgmental, narrow-minded, out-of-touch, etc.

Needless to say I was saddened. Through the decades, these are the impressions we’ve left with the people Jesus misses the most. It’s of our own doing. Jesus must be sad. Your first thoughts? Any similar experiences?

Dan: That doesn’t surprise me at all. No matter where I travel I hear the same exact things, repeated over and over again. Yes, there are pockets in the US which still have a strong church presence and there might be more of a neutral to positive things about Christians as they are immersed in Christian community themselves. But when you step outside that, the exact words you shared in this story are the same ones I hear from New Jersey to California.

Fred: Are you optimistic about the church’s future in western society? If so, why?

Dan: I am really, really, really, really positive and optimistic about the church’s future in western society, in particularly the USA. The reason is that I do sense an awakening to the fact that we better not be going about business as usual as it is becoming more and more obvious that so many younger people are not part of churches today at a national level. As we humble ourselves, we then become more desperately dependant on God in prayer and we do what Jesus said and ask the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into the harvest field. I think that is happening. From megachurches taking risks and being vulnerable to seeing younger leaders empowered, to a ton of church plants happening who are planted understanding the culture and mission. So I believe there is a sense of getting over our own personal prejudices about what church is supposed to be like, and moving towards a missional mindset and heart for the gospel that transcends the egos, traditions, denominations etc. that can get in the way of a church truly being missional. So I think that the Spirit may be igniting many leaders hearts in the same way which is exciting to think about and experience. As leaders hearts are ignited, it will be a matter of time then before more and more people’s lives will then be ignited in this way too. I am sure there are those who won’t. But I have hope that as people see how much compassion Jesus had for those who were “lost”, that we will then do whatever it takes to represent Him and His compassion and saving gospel to the world all around us in every day life, not just on an overseas missions trip.New Wineskins

Fred PeatrossFred Peatross lives, works, romances his wife and exudes deep feelings of love, awe, and admiration for his Creator while living in the heart of Appalachia. For over two decades Fred has resided in Huntington, West Virginia where he has been a leader in the traditional church. He has been a deacon, a shepherd, and a pulpit minister. But his greatest love is Missio Dei.

Long before thousands of missionaries poured into the former Soviet Union Fred, in a combined effort with a Christ follower from Alabama planted a church in Dneprodzerhinsk, Ukraine. Today Fred lives as a missionary to America daily praying behind the back of his friends as he journeys and explores life alongside them. [Fred Peatross’ book Missio Dei - In the Crisis of ChristianityMissio Dei: In the Crisis of Christianity, reviewed in New Wineskins]. He blogs at [Abductive Columns].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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