Kimball, a pastor at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, CA, has also written several books, including They Like Jesus but Not the Church.
While the word can evoke images of “creepy” Christians, “Evangelism is probably the most important thing the church can be up to today,” he said, adding that evangelism should be lived out in our daily lives.
Kimball spoke of wildfires that broke out near his home in 2008. He and his family had one hour to evacuate, and he was faced with the question of what possessions were most valuable to him. He wondered what God would save and realized that God would rescue people — not The Book of Order.
“People come before anything,” he said. “It’s people who God is most concerned about.”
A sign of spiritual maturity is having God’s primary concerns be our primary concerns, Kimball said. “Do we allow our personal concerns get in the way of God’s concern in mission?” he asked.
He spoke of being concerned that his waitress would bring him his coffee quickly rather than wondering about her relationship with Jesus. Readjusting our concerns in our daily lives is necessary.
Relationships are also necessary for evangelism, Kimball continued, noting that he started up a Christian/atheist book club with some people he met on Facebook. And while he would rather spend more time at home than at this book club, having these conversations is one of the most exciting things he is doing.
Many churches hold so tightly to tradition that they risk losing sight of their true calling, Kimball said. If a tradition gets in the way of mission, it is a sin. But churches continue to fight about tradition because they are afraid of losing control. In doing so, they isolate themselves, he said.
Kimball said the same is true with evangelism methods — the models that worked 10 years ago might not work now.
He spoke about different types of churches he has seen pop up. “Disneyland” churches sell happiness and big attractions, while “Red Cross” churches serve the poor and do other socially acceptable service without bringing new disciples to Christ.
“If you care about justice and compassion, you have to care about evangelism,” he said. Without new Christians, acts of justice and compassion in the name of God will eventually go away.
We must develop a culture where everything is seen as mission, from inviting a new neighbor over to dinner to starting up a Bible study at work. Why do we only get energized about these things while on a mission trip? Kimball asked.
He once asked a group if anyone would like to go on a mission trip to Zurcatnas, Mexico. They would live with a host family, communicate with locals and could even get a part-time job to make some money while evangelizing. People enthusiastically volunteered, but Kimball then told them that the actual mission field was right there at home — Zurcatnas was Santa Cruz spelled backward.
Kimball acknowledged that evangelists go through the wringer. They get tired and pressed hard. But he encouraged them to keep at it.
“Hang in there. Because people are worth it,” he said. “You are, to me, the heroes of the church.”