PREACHING & Relevant Topics in an Irreverent World

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California continually has some of the most relevant sermons I’ve come across. Here is a link to their latest. If you want to preach in a way that answers people’s questions, you should subscribed to their newsletter (below).

Who is going to win? Who is the greatest? Which one is the best? We are surrounded by people, organizations and cultures who desire influence & power, and it’s easy to get completely swept up in all of that. But what if we have been striving for the wrong thing this whole time?

Join us this Sunday 11/20 to explore what it looks like when we give up power instead of demanding allegiance, when we care for others instead of oppressing them, when we live into the way of Jesus’ upside down kingdom.

**We are excited to be back in our “Gospel According to Luke” series and invite everyone to join us as we continue reading through Luke on a weekly basis.


PRAYER & Creative Ideas That Foster “Spaces for Prayer” at Vintage Faith Church, Santa Cruz, Calif.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/27/15.

The following excerpt from my book, Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press) describes creative ideas that encourage prayer. It looks at how Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California creates “spaces” for prayer.  These ideas can help leaders create a more robust prayer life in a church.

Chapter 5: Vintage Faith Church

The campus of Santa Cruz Bible Church seemed the antithesis of an organic church setting.  Neatly trimmed hedges embraced meandering sidewalks amid beautiful window-laden buildings. Vintage Faith Church had grown out of the college ministry of this congregation, and currently worshipped in this boomer church’s multipurpose worship gymnasium.1  I wondered how Vintage Faith could create in this utilitarian space an atmosphere engendering the mystery and wonder of God so preferred in organic milieus.

The answer arrived as I entered.  Dark curtaining surrounded me on all sides.  Vintage Faith’s simple stage was off center, and thrust into the audience.  Three large media screens were placed along a long wall, and on the ends of the auditorium were two “mood walls” where colorful yet muted images of young people lifting their hands in worship imbued this room with a 270-degree sense of expectation.  A six-foot metal cross graced the center of the stage, flanked by two candles and a large oil painting depicting a stylized cross.  And though this was a bright sunny day, the low lighting, visual images, curtaining, candles, and encompassing artwork transformed a contemporary gymnasium into a peaceful, subdued, and sacred space.2


  • Church: Vintage Faith Church
  • Leaders Dan Kimball (pastor), Josh Fox (pastor of musical worship), Robert Namba (pastor of spiritual formation), Hannah Mello (director of worship arts) Kristin Culman (communications and hospitality)
  • Location Santa Cruz, California
  • Affiliation Nondenominational, though assistance is provided by Santa Cruz Bible Church.
  • Size 375-450  “That’s an estimate,” states Dan Kimball.  “We don’t count people, we count leaders”
  • Audience: Multiple generations, college students, university personnel and faculty, artists, and pre-Christians – people who are spiritually sensitive
  • Website

Let sacred spaces support your mission.

There was nothing wrong with the aesthetics of the Santa Cruz Bible Church auditorium, for it carried the feel of a conference center or a lecture hall.  A boomer predilection for such venues may be due to an emphasis on the church’s teaching role.  However, the lighting, art, mood walls, candles, prayer cove, etc. at Vintage Faith may indicate a Generation X preference for balancing head knowledge with heartfelt experience.  Vintage Faith created a powerful and encircling atmosphere of mystery, wonder, learning and supernatural encounter.

The following are some of the ways Vintage Faith creates sacred spaces.3

Curtains make the institutional feel of a multi-purpose auditorium more intimate and private.  Though Vintage Faith worships in an auditorium that will hold 700+, the encircling curtains help attendees feel they are in a private and personal encounter with God.

Prayer areas are created between the curtains and the outer walls.  Large throw pillows, candles and rugs not only create a 270-degree cocoon of prayer, but also keep prayer a focus.

A prayer cove beyond an arched trellis offers a space for extended times of prayer with intercessors.  I have observed that over time a prayer room’s proximity to the platform can wane, paralleling a distancing of prayer from centrality in a growing congregation.4  Vintage Faith avoids this, by placing their prayer cove near the stage.

Seating includes tables as well as rows of chairs.  Tables allow interaction for those desiring it, while forward facing chairs allow other attendees a degree of anonymity.

The platform was off center, so that a large cross was centered in the auditorium expressing the centrality of Jesus.  Subsequently, musicians and the lectern were not centrally located, nor the focus.

Low lighting and candles create a sense of reverence, expectation and mystery.  The candles are also “symbolic of Jesus as the light of the world,” stated Kimball.  Though lighting was raised slightly during the sermon so notes could be taken, their muted luminosity kept the focus off of the leaders, the audience and other extraneous distractions.

Two mood walls were some of the more creative elements.  To create this, the end walls of the auditorium were left bare above the eight foot high curtaining.  On the white wall above video projectors slowly and appropriately beamed images correlating to the theme of the night.  This worked remarkably well, creating a 270-degree experience (the rear wall was not utilized).

Art of diverse mediums was displayed on the stage and around the room.  Large paintings in genres ranging from classic to post-impressionism ringed the room.  In addition, congregants were encouraged to participate in interactive artwork, which during my visit included a large mosaic that would upon completion be displayed in the auditorium.

A final caveat.  These examples should serve as models to assist others in sketching their own indigenized elements.  They are not to be followed unswervingly, but rather as examples to forge a coalition between church leaders and artists.


1. This multi-purpose gymnasium featured basketballs courts, a stage recessed into one wall, and a cheery, if somewhat industrial, ambiance.  Such boomer predilection for light, airy and multi-use sacred spaces seems a reaction to the builder generation’s stained glass, dark wood and inflexible worship venues

2. Vintage Faith’s goal is to have a ministry center near downtown Santa Cruz and rent a larger worship gathering space.  However, presently they are doing a remarkably adept job at creating a sacred space in a gymnasium

3. Adapted from the Vintage Faith Church bulletin, June 5, 2005.  For exhaustive ideas for creating sacred space see Dan Kimball’s helpful book written with David Crowder and Sally Morgenthaler titled Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004).

4.  See “Missteps with Prayer” in Bob Whitesel, Growth By Accident, Death by Planning: How Not to Kill a Growing Congregation, pp. 43-53

OUTREACH & Santa Cruz, CA motto: “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” inspires Dan Kimball.

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 11/19/15.

A former student joined an elective course I taught with Dan Kimball in Santa Crux, CA.  And the student made the following insightful analysis of how Dan stays connected with the libertine lifestyles of Santa Cruz.  In fact, Santa Cruz is very proud of their oddness and eccentricity (there is a popular bumper sticker they sell in Santa Cruz that states “Keep Santa Cruz Weird”). The student wrote:

Dr. Whitesel,  One of the most impacting methods of understanding Santa Cruz that Dan mentioned were the relationships he maintained with the “weird” citizens of Santa Cruz.  He mentioned having coffee with a man who vehemently resisted and rejected Dan’s stance online concerning homosexuality.  We also met Susan Harding, a unbelieving professor at UCSC who studies churches simply from a sociological perspective.

Dan regularly meets with people who do not hold to the same tenets of reality or religion.  In doing so, he is constantly giving himself exposure to different worldviews, to different ways of thinking, to different perspectives and to different cultures.  In doing so, he is able to identify that culture’s needs, its language, and its symbols.  This enables him to effectively create a church that is unique, maintains its faithfulness to the Gospel, while still communicating in a language and through symbols that reach out to other cultures.

When Dan asked in class, “How many of you regularly meet with non-Christians” I could not raise my hand.  It is my goal now to find a few to hang out with!  Thanks Dan.  Thanks Dr. Whitesel!  – Joel L.

Here is how I responded:

Glad to help.

During that course we also had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Susan Harding: .  One of her research foci is “born-again Christianity” (ibid.) and she has penned a book titled “The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics” (Princeton University Press, 2000). It looks at the philosophical outlook and influence of Jerry Falwell.  To have a person volunteering with Vintage Faith Church on her faith journey was remarkable (but it shouldn’t be 🙂

What I found equally powerful, was that she said the love and community she found at Vintage Faith Church had changed her perspective of where she was in her own spiritual journey.  As a result, she helped others get in touch with their spiritual side by serving at Vintage Faith Church. Thus, while she was not leading persons across the waypoint of conversion, she was leading people further along their spiritual journey (across more waypoints) to connect with their spiritual side.  A student in the class made this point, saying “Dr. Harding is actually helping spiritual travelers cross Waypoints 16, 15 and maybe even 14.”  This is why looking at the spiritual journey as a series of waypoints is helpful.  We can see that many people are helping people move along the journey, and that just because they are not helping people cross the “conversion” waypoint, doesn’t mean they are still not helping people with their spiritual quest.  I look at such guides as helpers for a part of the journey. And, I hope that as they travel more on their own personal journey, they will be helped by others further along the trek, to see that the ultimate designation in my view is a return to fellowship with God made possible only by Jesus Christ.  Spiritual Waypoints help us visualize better the process the Holy Spirit is using.


PREACHING & Passing on Sound Doctrine to the Next Gen #OutreachMagazine #DanKimball

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Dan Kimball is not only a friend, but I believe the leading organic voice for making systematic theology relevant to average congregants. Read this excellent article by Dan in Outreach Magazine where he explains how he created a 14-week sermon series that covered classical systematic theology.”


By Dan Kimball • June 3, 2015, Outreach Magazine.


When it comes to the emerging generations, we may need to teach doctrines no one is asking about.

More than 35 percent of our church is college students, so a recent message series felt a little risky.

At a time when you often hear that emerging generations don’t want to hear about doctrine and theology, we designed a 14-week classical systematic theology series to teach to the entire church. Our topics included Christology, the study of God the Son; bibliology, the study of the Bible; eschatology, the study of the end times; and angelology, the study of angels, demons and Satan.

Our Sunday attendance has grown, and lives are being affected. A college student emailed me that her four non-Christian friends have been coming and are fascinated. One Sunday, we taught the doctrine of salvation, defined words like “justification” and invited people to “pray a prayer” of salvation. Many responded and told me afterward that they put faith in Jesus.

Sometimes we can put so much emphasis on doctrine that emerging generations lose interest, but at the same time, I sense a desire among them to learn truth and doctrine. Here are some lessons we’ve learned about teaching it …

Read more at …

APOLOGETICS & Why We Must Teach Apologetics Unapologetically

by Dan Kimball

“I spoke recently about Jesus as the only way of salvation. I explained that it can’t be true that all paths lead to God.

Now, this is a very anti-PC thing to be teaching. I didn’t want to just jump to a single Bible verse to say it.

Instead, I walked through the biblical narrative of creation, explaining how in the beginning people worshiped one God. Over time, other faiths developed, and I showed how Jesus was the fulfillment of prophesy going back to the Garden of Eden.

I stressed that it was not logical that all faiths could be right, since they contradict one another in major ways. I shared why I trust the Bible as the source of truth and put my confidence in Jesus as the One Way.

Afterward, a young woman told me she trusted in Jesus that night because she hadn’t ever heard a pressing argument that showed why the statement of Jesus as the One Way made sense.

Obviously, there were many things leading up to that night, and God had been working in her heart for months beforehand. But it was having a “reason for the hope” laid out and explained that ended up moving her heart to full faith.

I have been in ministry for more than 20 years, much of it focused on youth and college-age, and I don’t think there ever has been a more urgent need to teach apologetics than there is today. Here’s why.”

Read more at …

APOLOGETICS & Old/New Testaments’ Portrayals of the Heavenly Father

By Dan Kimball, 4/27/14 “There is one God and the key in seeing the whole story of the whole Bible not just isolated stories…”

More from Kimball, “Writing a chapter in the ‘Crazy Bible?’ book looking at the way there is a perception that the Old Testament shows a different God than the New Testament. There is one God and the key in seeing the whole story of the whole Bible not just isolated stories. This Simpsons episode illustrated this with Homer holding a photo of God and as he would angle it, the image changed as he would say ‘vengeful God’ “loving God… Just watched the whole episode. Quite fascinating… There is a church that worships in a bowling alley in it.”

Read more at …