Sharing Faith in a Way that Connects Part 2

Building Bridges

Unfortunately, one of the greatest obstacles to Christian communications has been Christians. Speaking to people who have left the church they almost always tell me the reason they left was due to the way they were treated, or because of how certain Christians acted, not because of doctrine. This is why to effectively communicate the gospel we are going to have to repair, and in some cases rebuild, relational bridges that have been burned down. In one of the churches that I pastored, a good friend of mine Rhea was an engineer who would inspect bridges. He looked for stability, compromises, and cracks in the structure to make sure people can make it safely from point A to point B. As Christians, we need to do the same thing when it comes to relational bridges.  Because all too often we are giving out information but very little is getting through, because there is no bridge, or because the bridge has become damaged.

In a recent article Jerry Falwell Jr told Vanity Fair, “He never had much use for his father’s church anyway,” (1). Here is someone who was often using religion as a way to advocate for his preferences and political affiliations. However, he has now come out and said very little of it had to do with religious conviction. He was using religion for his own personal agenda. Sadly, whenever we do that we put up walls instead of building bridges. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus.  We all make mistakes. We all have done things that have misrepresented the Kingdom of God, (Lord knows I have).  But too often it isn’t the Christianity of the Bible that people reject, it’s the Christianity of some self-proclaimed Christians. 

In the book, Uncommon Ground, Shirley Hoogstra says that building a bridge means “cultivating a mindset that allows us to absorb cognitive dissonance, span paradox, and balance competing interests or complexity for the well-being of ourselves and others,” (2). We want to shorten the space between ourselves and others not widen it. We want to look for similarities instead of differences. Do my Facebook posts accurately reflect Christ? Am I building bridges or walls?

In the book, “Uncommon Ground”,  Shirley Hoogstra gives us four ingredients to becoming a bridge builder.

  1. Respect
  2. Humility
  3. Consistency
  4. Love

First, let’s talk about respect. You cannot build a bridge between yourself and people who are different than you without genuine respect for that person.  If we are going to call ourselves the people of the book we need to stick to the script, right? According to the Bible, all of humanity was created in the image of God.  If we really believe this, then it requires our respect for people, (yes this includes those who are radically different than us)!  This is one of the most beautiful powerful, untapped weapons of the church.  God wants his church to be a melting pot of cultural, racial, Socio economical, diversity. The church is supposed to be a beautiful bridge connecting heaven and earth. When John gets a vision of heaven he sees every nation, kindred, and tongue surrounding the throne of God.  This is why we can’t have church when we’re alone. When we’re alone we only get a small glimpse of who God is, (just the image of God in us).  But the more diverse the church is the bigger, more diverse, our image of God is. When we look for the image of God in people it demands our respect. We cannot look down on them, or discredit them. We may not agree with everything someone does, but we still need to respect than as a creation made in the image of God. As Shirley Hoogstra says, “respect isn’t a synonym for agreement, but it does impact the way a person disagrees.” Until we learn to respect everyone we will not be able to build a bridge with anyone.

Secondly, we need humility if we’re going to become bridge-builders. When we practice humility we understand that we’re not better than anyone else. As CS Lewis said, “humility doesn’t think less of itself but it thinks of itself less.”  Humility is an accurate view of oneself, of both strengths and weaknesses. Practicing humility allows us to be teachable and understand that our views, culture, style of worship, may not be the only way.  When we practice humility we are learners and listeners.  We know we don’t have all the answers. Humility is the antidote to the human tendency to think too highly of oneself.  Humility is the essence of Christianity!

Philippians 2:6–8 “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. But emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” If God was willing to be discomforted on the cross in order to reach us we need to be willing to be discomforted in order to reach someone else. Only when we practice humility will we build bridges instead of walls.

Thirdly, if we want to be bridge-builders we need to be consistent. We need to be a consistent light in a dark world.  We can’t act like Christians on the weekends and like the world on weekdays. We should not act one way when we’re holding the good book and another way when we’re posting on Facebook.  We need consistent Christians who are listening, who are learning, who are practicing humility and respecting other people, (especially when they’re radically different than us).

This leads us to the last ingredient for becoming a bridge builder, love. Building bridges is in itself an act of love.  Read 1st Corinthians 13 and ask yourself if this is how you’re loving people. Loving God and our neighbor is not just a suggestion but a Christian imperative. We are called to be a bridge for people on their journey with God, drawing them closer not pushing them further. Loving your neighbor is easy when your neighbor does everything the way you do it.  But that’s not love. In fact, it’s loving yourself.  It is easy to love ourselves.

Matthew 5:43–47 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

Yes, the smaller the distance between you and the other person the easier it is to build a bridge. But the Bible doesn’t say build bridges that are easy. We’re called to build bridges with everyone. In John 15:13 Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Check it out, Jesus is saying that love is laying ourselves down for someone else, (becoming a bridge). Laying down your preferences, our time, our attention, our way of doing things in order to draw someone closer to God. The call of bridge-builders is to imitate the love of Christ.  We are called to lay our lives down as Christ laid down his life for us on Calvary. Start respecting other people by remembering they are created in the image of God. Practice humility by remembering you don’t have all the answers and listening. Be a consistent citizen of God’s Kingdom sharing the light and love of Christ in dark places. Finally, practice love. I’m talking about real love which means laying down your life, your wants, your time, your preferences, for someone else. Then, and only then, will we become bridge-builders and effectively communicate the gospel in a way that connects.

  1. Sherman, Gabriel, Vanity Faith, January 24, 2022
  2. Hoogstra, Shirley, Uncommon Ground by Timothy Keller & John Inazu, Nelson Books, Nashville TN 2020

You can see this presentation on my youtube channel: https://youtube.com/channel/UC7TjgyTiaKit_74F3m-zQkg

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