How do we build bridges and at the same time defend the faith? I address this to the church in general. No denomination can claim that it has not relaxed or even in some cases changed the way the traditional scriptural beliefs apply to their church doctrine or tenets. You may refer to it however you wish, for me it became a buzz word……inclusiveness. We have been told we must be tolerant of others and sometimes it is difficult but I believe it to be a necessity of christian character. Notice this definition of tolerance: noun – the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.(New Oxford American Dictionary) As an example the New Oxford American Dictionary lists “the tolerance of corruption” and “religious tolerance.” Interesting to note that along with so many other things religion has now become just another something to tolerate. As I look back, I remember asking the older folks “how you feeling today”? Many times I got the simple answer “tolerable”.
We know that bridges make it easier for us to go to different places and in real time make it easier for people to come to us. Building bridges between church and communities is integral to church growth. I’d like to expand that a bit. Building bridges is important and necessary in order to fulfill our Christian calling.
The Great Commission (Matthew 28New International Version (NIV))
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
A very simple straight forward charge that leaves no doubt as to our focus and task. The problem comes as we decide how best to do this and to what length do we go to get it done. We usually become entangled with various programs and many of you will disagree, the cosmetics of it all, being more concerned with the appearance than the substance. I have read many articles and I settled on sharing with you these six from “Evangelicals for Social Action.” Here are six* suggestions for cultivating an outreach-minded congregation.
BUILDING BRIDGES BETWEEN CHURCH AND COMMUNITY
1. Welcome whoever walks through your door.
A good place to start in cultivating the congregation’s commitment to reach out to
the community is by loving the people in the community who come to you.
2. Network in the community.
Networking is the exchange of information, ideas and resources. The goal of
networking is to build relationships as you gather information, scout out potential allies, and let others know about your church.
3. Cultivate a sense of belonging to the community.
“Your people shall be my people,” said Ruth to Naomi (Ruth 1:16). In the same way, help the congregation to think about residents of the community as “our people.” Find ways of identifying with the struggles of those
in the community. (Heb. 13:3)
4. Incorporate a commitment to outreach mission into church life.
How much does a concern for community outreach enter into the life of your church? Consider ways to enfold a loving awareness of the community of ministry into “ordinary” aspects of church life. The church should be a refuge for members from the bruising realities of the world, but not a fortress where people go to shut out the world.
5. Interweave the interests of church and community.
Help to develop the habit of talking about inward ministries and outreach ministries in the same breath as all part of the church’s mission.
6. Take the church out into the community.
A congregation cannot hope to build loving relationships with the community,
particularly those who are most needy and vulnerable, by “sitting in the four walls of the church.” Develop the attitude that everywhere we go we are the church.
The more your congregation enters into the life of your community, the more the life-giving Spirit can flow through you to your neighbors.
(* I list only six here.)
Here I believe lies the real mystery. If you took the time to check the boxes on the above most all of you would say your church does all those things; I would have to agree with most of you. So what is the problem? Maybe we need to do a better job of telling the story and not being weighed down by the cosmetics. More on this in a future post.
Building bridges between the community and the church will take us to two different worlds. Those who know and follow Jesus and those who do not know Him, each have different needs and require different approaches, or do they? We read this in 1st Thessalonians 1:3
3 This is because we remember your work that comes from faith,[ your effort that comes from love, and your perseverance that comes from hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father.
Faith, love, perseverance and hope and the presence of Jesus Christ and
God the father. Perhaps we should be praying more and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. These early Christians in Thessalonica had been building bridges within their idol-worshiping culture and Paul praised them for that, but more for the way they were doing it. We read this in 1st Thessalonians 1:6-10
6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
It is worth noting how they built this bridge.The bridge they were building had two components: the “word of the Lord” and the example of their faith. It was clear to everyone that they had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (v.9). They preached the truth that was Gospel driven, Giving Hope through a Christ Centered, Jesus Loving, Holy Spirit Led ministry of boldness, zeal and love. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that the greatest things are faith, hope, and love (v.13).and he commends the people of the church in Thessalonica for exhibiting these very traits. They work in faith and labor in love while hoping in Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:3). (Our Daily Bread)
To wrap this up we must acknowledge the need to defend the faith. Christianity is under attack world wide. To put this in perspective, it is really no different than it has always been and to go even further Jesus himself said we would suffer for the gospel. The advent of of the digital age has given the enemies of the faith a powerful tool to distract us from our task, dismiss and demean the message we seek to share and drive us back behind those four walls we tend to hide behind. We are placed in a sometimes unattainable position because while confrontation is sometimes necessary, it should not be a part of our Christian mission. What do we do?
I believe we must get back to telling the story and seeking the Holy Spirit through scripture study.
Acts 17:2-4 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Philippians 1:7 So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News.
2. 1 Peter 3:15 but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
I quote from a Daily Bread article.
“As God declares Himself to those around us by His Word and through our lives, we can become a bridge to those who do not yet know the love of Christ.” If we live the gospel others will listen. After so many words what is being said? The best defense of the Gospel is to tell the story any time and any way we can. We have been called for a purpose and with God’s grace and guidance we will endure.
From The Pew,