• Bridges to Nowhere?
We have used the word bridge in the church as a verb—“to bridge someone to Christ.” It has become our culturally polite way of describing how we help a person who is in the process to becoming a Christian, without offending them. It appears to give the option of delay—the urgency is postponed. This approach to winning converts is rather opposed to any hard-hitting, gospel preaching, or “respond now” approach.
Reaction to the Extremes
While we can turn well-intentioned seekers away with a confrontational, proclamation approach, it seems to me, there are some problems with both extremes. One can be too hard and other can be too soft. One aims for a quick decision with the first presentation and the other allows for many presentations—with potentially a very long process. One is more gospel content driven and the other is more of a relational process by design.
One might err on giving an invitation on every proclamation. The bridging approach, however, could possibly avoid giving an invitation for salvation, at all.
The Bridge That is Too Long
It appears this bridging approach is a reaction to evangelism stereotypes of the past by people (in my opinion) who are not gifted evangelists, but more gifted as teachers or educators. It is interesting to me that salvation in the Bible comes by exercise of our faith, not by some lengthy drawn out process of crossing some bridge to get to the other side. Using the Bridge metaphor, it is possible in my view, to stay too long on the bridge and never get to the other side. So we can have churches filled with people like in a nursery waiting to be formally given an opportunity to respond to the claims of the Gospel, but when?
The Timidity Theory
Bridging tends to foster timidity or a reticence in our presentation of the gospel. At the risk of offense, we can postpone a response indefinitely or delay a faith response so long that there is no necessity to respond. It is not what we learn and know about Christ, rather it is having a personal relationship with Jesus, the object of our faith. I read that the gospel, by nature, can be offensive to unbelievers, and rightly so. I think we can mitigate the severity of our presentation. However, we cannot hold back on the proclamation of the gospel looking for some mental assent or quiet (nodding of the head) agreement. We are looking for repentance, new birth, life commitment—crossing the bridge!
Crossing the Bridge is the Destination
The term Bridging implies that the object is crossing. Crossing for some is not getting to the other side, but just staying too long on the bridge. We can pull back any effort to present, confront and call persons to repentance. Bridging appears weak in defining sin and confronting sin. It tends to water down the power of the gospel to a small-unlit firecracker and not an explosive stick of dynamite. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.”
The Middle Approach
I think our modern use of Bridging as a strategy is flawed by over reaction and under reaction. As a children’s evangelist, I find working in Bridging Churches problematic. The children are often taught the gospel, over time they might be responsive to the bridging process. Teaching the gospel is more like academic learning, more cognitive content and not personal application. So what I find is a fishing pool of responsive children who respond in repentance and faith with a clear presentation of the gospel when given an opportunity. Balancing our approach is to move towards the middle, not the extremes.
Crossing Over the Bridge
The deliveryman shows up and new birth happens! It is not about manipulation, it is about a welcome invitation to respond to the claims of Jesus. It is not trickery or coercion. It is a demonstration of God’s love at work in the lives of children. It is about the Spirit of God preparing the children to respond to the Good News. Hence, crossing the bridge!
What do you call an attempt at Bridging that stops part way with no crossing over to the other side? A Pier! It is a good effort, as far as it goes, but bridging crosses over some spatial divide. A pier might look like a bridge, but it is merely a journey to end (and back). Would this be like a bridge to nowhere?