jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

the church as a bridge

Skye Jethani is reporting live from Shift over on Out of Ur (this blog rocks, by the way!). He tells about Brian McClaren’s session here. I was really struck by the analogy that Brian used. A few years ago there was an unimaginable storm in Honduras (over 100 inches of rain in a week) that caused catastrophic mudslides. These mudslides literally changed the physical landscape in many areas. He used that imagery to compare to the seismic cultural, philosophical, and religious shifting that we have been experiencing during the last 15-20 years or so.

He tells about a bridge in one location, which now spans over dirt. During the storm the river that the bridge once spanned changed its course. Now the bridge has no significant purpose. He credits the bridge and its impressive engineering for being able to withstand the storm. But no one’s really sure what to do with a bridge that spans dry land.

This is a striking image of the church (the institution that is, not the people or Big C). The institutional structure that has been built has served its purpose well. It’s engineering is impressive. It has held up under the cultural storms that have ravaged it in recent years. The problem is that after the storm, our cultural course has been so altared that the institution has lost the ability to function in a way that serves the purpose for which it was created. I have no need to demolish the old structure. Perhaps it is harmless to leave it standing (then again, deserted structures can become a hazard for wayward children). However, neither do I have a desire to renovate a structure that serves no real purpose.

As for me, I am committed to getting back to the river and figuring out the best way to span the old river with its new course. And I hope that we can discover how to navigate that river in a way that will allow us once again to change course when the next big storm hits. I guess I’m done pouring time, money, and energy into these proverbial materials of concrete, metal, and wood. I’m done with rigid structures that cannot shift with changing times. I want to see us get back on-mission.

13 comments on “the church as a bridge

  1. Don
    April 11, 2008

    Brian McLaren should have told the story of the Sunshine Bridge in Louisiana, which didn’t go much of anywhere when it was built!

    I’m not a big fan of McLaren, but some of his music is interesting, as I posted here (I get a lot of downloads on this track).

  2. Jonathan Stone
    April 11, 2008

    Don, I don’t ‘get’ the Sunshine Bridge reference. Do tell.

  3. Scott
    April 11, 2008

    I’m here at Shift and I’m not sure when Brian talked about the bridge but it wasn’t during the general session (unless I was snoozing).

    But what he did speak about struck a chord with me. Yes, our culture has changed. The world has changed. The world is riddled with problems from security to economy to population to global weather concerns.

    And the church keeps saying Jesus is the answer to everything. But we fail to remember that Christians have a responsibility in this too. We can’t sit by and expect Jesus to do it by himself.

    Over on my blog I posted about his session.

  4. Jonathan Stone
    April 11, 2008

    Hey Scott, thanks for chiming in. That’s awesome that you’re able to be there. I look forward to more updates over on your blog. BTW, did you get a chance to catch Kara Powell’s session on missions? I have not had a chance to dig into it yet, but her framework of dichotimizing Shallow Service with Deep Justice is extremely provocative and helpful in my mind!! I’d love to hear more about it if you caught it!

  5. m.d. mcmullin
    April 11, 2008

    I love the analogy.

    It reminds me of a graphic I saw that suggested we must perhaps build a bridge over the church that allows others to Christ.

    image here

  6. Johnny Taylor
    April 11, 2008


    Why was the church trying to get “over” the culture anyway? Perhaps we should have never built a bridge to begin with?


  7. Chris Goins
    April 12, 2008

    Thanks for the provocative image… Structures, systems and “steel” aren’t nearly as important as purpose and mission.

    Thanks for reminding us to focus on our mission, instead of the systems and structures we’ve created that once served to help fulfill the mission, but now seem to require energy and maintenance that should be directed to the mission, instead of systems and structures.

  8. Don
    April 12, 2008

    Jon: Johnny Taylor hit on it. The Sunshine Bridge, like too many transportation project, addressed a problem that didn’t really exist (or at least in a quantity large enough to build a span over the lower Mississippi!) We see this all to often in the church world as well.

  9. Hunter
    April 12, 2008

    Jon: the picture of the bridge is amazing. Thank you for sharing it. Jet was also right on with what he pointed out. Jesus prayed in John 17 that we would not be taken out of it all, but remain “in it.” Following that he simply prayed: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”

    So, what does if this is the case, and the church has been just trying to build over “it” instead of being in “it” then, what does it really look like to be IN the world or culture, but not be of it?

    It seems to me that it just means that we shouldn’t be so disconnected from culture that we cannot relate to it. We shouldn’t live in such a way to create and entire sub-culture that is not connected or completely irrelevant from the rest of society, we should be in the world. However, we should think quite differently. That is the picture we get from Jesus anyway. He lived among the rest of society, thought very different, but was very connected with the world around him. He not only knew people outside of the church that we not believers, he was their friend. So, i guess the challenge to all of us who are in “professional” ministry is… How many non-christians do you know that don’t come to your church?

  10. Jonathan Stone
    April 13, 2008

    Well, I’m officially introduced to ‘middle class American’ life. I’ve cut grass that I actually own for the first time, invested in patio furniture, and made a sand box for my daughters (well actually my therapist did that part). Anyway, it’s been a busy couple of days and kept me from responding to you guys. So, here we go.

    To Mike:
    Thanks for the image. It’s pretty cool how it shows the first gap to overcome as being the Christian sub-culture!

    To Chris:
    Thanks. I think you hit on the most provocative part of the imagery. That is, why would we continue to pour resources into a structure that lays outside of our purpose? In the context of this analogy it really seems rediculous!

    To Johnny, Don, and Hunter:
    Yes, the analogy breaks down when you start asking the questions and raising the points that you guys made. We were never suppose to be ‘avoiding’ the river in the first place. Hunter, I guess the best image we could have of being ‘in’ the culture instead of spanning ‘over’ it is one that Jesus already gave us in Scripture. That is, nets that will not break.

  11. Gene
    April 16, 2008

    “Perhaps it is harmless to leave it standing (then again, deserted structures can become a hazard for wayward children). However, neither do I have a desire to renovate a structure that serves no real purpose.”

    I love this. The last two paragraphs of this post are awesome.

    The structure should have never been built in the first place. Church was never meant to be an institution.

  12. darrellbjr
    April 17, 2008

    Sorry to join this post late.

    I see the problems with old bridges and I see the need for new bridges. There is no argument from me that the Church needs to be in the community…that’s my heart.

    An interesting book on churches as bridges from another perspective is The Church of Irresistable Influence. It likens intentional engagement with the community to building bridges between Christ and the community.

    If we are talking about bridges that simply go over the community without engaging them, I would call that more of an “Overpass”. But if we are talking about building intentional relationships that will allow pre-Christians to cross over into the Kingdom, that to me is what should be a “Bridge”.

    I would argue that most churches were built to be an overpass, but Christ always intended for the Church to create bridges through the lives of those who are in the world but not of it.

  13. darrellbjr
    April 17, 2008

    Don’t know why the link didn’t go through. Let me try it again


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This entry was posted on April 11, 2008 by in issues, missional, sustainability, trends, vision.
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