But if they trust the messenger, you can do a lot with asking questions, dialoguing more. Where they trust me or whoever it might be, then you start saying, “Well, you know, Jesus taught this,” because then if you show His words about things from the Scriptures they might say, “Oh, I didn’t realize He said that. What do you mean by that?” So it’s an entry point.

I actually don’t mind at all that they might have a Gandhi-like opinion of Jesus to start because that is the entry point into talking further about it. And it’s just like you’re getting to know someone. I’d get to know you if we started hanging out. Our conversations would start getting deeper and deeper, and they may also get deeper and deeper about what you know about Jesus. Not everybody will believe—some people reject the gospel when they hear it. They’ll say, “I don’t want it; I don’t believe that about Jesus.” But then others don’t. They’ve just never heard it like that. That’s why I have so much optimism about what’s going on.

Preaching: How can churches and church leaders respond to this reality?

Kimball: I think the biggest thing a church leader can do is see himself and his church as a missional training center. We’ve got to start thinking, “If our church and our leaders were lifted from whatever town we’re in and put in rural China or somewhere else, we’d probably go about things differently because then all of a sudden we are all missionaries in this foreign culture.”

You would study the people there. You’d study what their values are. You’d study what their religious beliefs are. All of that is very accepted. You probably wouldn’t send people into the streets to start yelling out bad things about Buddha or Mohammad. Most of the ways missionaries work is through relationships. They start praying for someone, meet with someone and start talking.

I think as a church leader, the primary thing we can do is start seeing the people of our churches like missionaries. They need preaching and teaching to equip them and to build them up as believers. They need strong communities so that they’re cared for and they’re prayed for and they have each other for support. But when you train them, that that’s not the end. Our purpose is to be out in the world so that all these perceptions of “not liking the church” can start being broken and the stereotypes can be changed. It’s us getting Christians—who are living out Galatians 5 “fruit of the spirit” lives—out into the world so that people start learning not all Christians are like the stereotypes they have. That’s the most primary thing a church leader can do.

Preaching: Specifically in terms of preaching, how do you see that attitude impact preaching style or content?

Kimball: My first several years in preaching, I mimicked what I was modeled. It wasn’t until I started rethinking things, asking “What does preaching mean?” The word means to proclaim or to herald. Yes, you proclaim and herald with words, but what are other ways? Then I started studying learning styles. If you are a preacher or teacher who wants people to learn, there are a diversity of learning styles out there. Yet we tend to preach only with words, and auditory learning is not for everyone—only 20 percent of people learn best through words only. So as the preacher I started saying, “All right, how can I also incorporate visuals as I am teaching with words? It’s hard in a large worship gathering, but how can I also stop and even have some type of quick input questions? How can we set up alternative places so when the music is going on after the teaching, those that may learn kinesthetically will then be able to go and even interact with some prayer stations about what we’ve just taught?”