By Mark Stebbins
Ever just stare at a bridge and admire it? Most of us have had the experience of moving over a landscape when we suddenly come upon a bridge that is a welcome relief and makes us smile. Their presence inspires and draws us to cross and forge onward.
Bridges may surprisingly stir the soul, often representing feats of imaginative design, daring expanse, and creative access to opportunity. Well-built bridgeworks vary from the simple and unassuming, to those that startle and impress with their intricate, creative, and sometimes whimsical engineering. Their combined form and function offer delightful artistry along with their needed utility.
A bridge’s alien uniqueness breaks the continuity of a local habitat and suggests an exercise of thoughtful problem-solving and unnatural insertion by those preceding us in order to connect both ends of a divide. Whatever our response, a bridge is a welcome travel aid that allows passage.
Not surprisingly, bridge building is a part of the history of ancient civilizations all over the world. It was the Romans, while expanding their empire utilizing 250,000 miles of roads, who broadly employed state-of-the-art bridge building technology. Their expansive use of massive stone arches to build over 900 bridges throughout their empire, allowed them highly mobile access to their far-flung acquisitions. Solid, durable bridges are essential for vital human traffic.
Nowhere in the Bible are bridges mentioned. Bridges might have helped the Israelites cross the Red Sea while escaping Egypt or forge the Jordan River when entering the Promised Land. God, however, supernaturally intervened to dry up these waters to allow transport for the masses. In each case, the “bridge” was a water bed miraculously converted to dry land, efficiently eliminating the need for a physical bridge.
The connecting function of bridges between God and mankind, however, is a common theme in the Word of God. Priests in the Old Testament, and Jesus in the New are clearly identified as bridges to a right relationship between God and man. Group joining, relational mediating, resource accessing, and missional linking are some of the conceptual bridging themes that fill the Bible’s pages.
Separation between men and God give a compelling rationale for bridgebuilding throughout the scriptures. The chasm that divides man from God is vast physically, morally, and spiritually as illustrated in Isaiah 59:2, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”
The idea of “making a way” is a strong scriptural theme. The essential biblical narrative is that of God making his way to people, so that people can make their way to him. Preparing for God’s movement suggests some human engineering, as in Isaiah 40:3, “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.”
Ways to move forward into what God has planned often requires human initiative to be designed and built. God uses people to make ways for the traffic of his purposes.
The apostle Paul excelled at bridging the Gospel to the Gentiles through the matrix of his missionary travels around the known world of his day. Just so today, bridges are waiting to be built into some of the hardest access locations for the Gospel. Many are under construction or newly completed in the Spirit-led ambitions of those dedicated to the Great Commission by building bridges to everyone, everywhere.
The word “way” appears in the NIV version of God’s Word 790 times. It usually implies movement, either about the ways of man or the ways of God. God desires for his ways to be manifest everywhere. They should become evident between people in relationships, in how we conduct our daily affairs, and in our initiatives of good works that he has designed for us all to accomplish, as in Ephesians 2:10, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which he prepared in advance for us to do.”
The ways of God bring about his kingdom coming, and his will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Linkages bridged between God and people allow this transporting of kingdom cargo from heaven to earth, and then from the beachhead of believers to unbelievers throughout the earth. Intentional initiative from God toward man lays the framework for such interconnectedness.
In God’s Great Commission economy an infinite number of pathways, highways, throughways, and byways serve as connectors, or “bridges,” between resources and needs or between ministers and the needy. We who inhabit this enterprise of God, to connect every person at the ends of the earth to Jesus Christ, are the ones designated to build and then cross the bridges of access to those estranged and stranded from God’s wonderful presence. We partner incessantly with God in this critical work of making a way for him to them.
Today, Gospel messengers travel the world crossing oceans and borders utilizing the myriad methods of modern travel accessible to them. Actual bridges might be a small part of trans global travel. Figurative kingdom bridges, however, are still essential in the travel of every Gospel messenger. Intangible bridges of focused, organized human effort must be built to carry the mission of God to all humanity on earth.
In the complexity of God’s global enterprise, those dedicated to his service also need intentional bridging among themselves. Three broad groupings clearly emerge as mission critical. These include mission sending communities, mission receiving outposts, and mission facilitating agencies. The joining of these domains into a superstructure system of bridges to all nations is our ultimate objective.
Gaps that exist among these three arenas call for well-designed inter-linkages or bridges. Each group may have expansive and chronic disconnects with the others. Potential goers from sending communities, for example, may not know which mission facilitating agencies to approach. Mission facilitating agencies may be out of touch with current realities at mission receiving outposts. Mission receiving outposts may have numerous personnel needs, but have trouble finding qualified candidates to fill them from sending communities. Careful gap analysis will inform good bridge placements within and among denominations and mission agencies.
Dedicated bridge-building teams are needed in each of the three broad mission domains, who can work well together internally and externally with each other to identify strategic gaps, prioritize them, and solve how to bridge them. Sustained collaborations marked by frequent communications will insure good bridge construction and maintenance. A healthy flow of mission traffic can and should ensue.
Some bridges are doomed by poor design, half-hearted workmanship, over-ambition in construction, hasty progress, inadequate materials, lack of funding, or unforeseen environmental factors. History records the disastrous collapse of bridges flawed with these miscalculations and oversights. The collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940 was caused by the unanticipated effect of high winds causing a twisting, increasing crescendo of failure that gave the bridge the haunting name “Gallopin’ Gertie.” Wise are the builders who lay their foundations and complete their structure with careful attention to these potential threats.
The big three mission partners—senders, receivers, and facilitators–must be cautious not to settle for rickety rope bridges, when more solid structures are needed. Conversely, the threat of over-ambition might backfire into an attempt to create elaborate bridges when a simple pedestrian bridge is all that is required. Under-engineering and over-engineering of appropriate bridges are constant threats to healthy missions.
Sending fellowships, mission agencies, and field receivers must be committed to being absolutely circumspect, cautiously deliberate, and fully gospel-driven in constructing portals and pathways to enable God’s glory to be proclaimed throughout the whole earth. Building missions’ bridges must be a comprehensively collaborative team effort by local senders on one side, receivers on the other, and facilitators in between.
Bridge engineers must first face macro considerations before undertaking bridge building and designing their blueprints. These include priority of need, location, type of design, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability. Those who dream of bridges will eventually be confronted with the hard realities of their implementation. Is it really needed? Can it really be done? Will the resources required to bring it into being be justified by the results?
Those who facilitate mission sending and receiving may benefit most from a careful study of the building of bridges. Conventional construction efforts include drafting blueprints, recruiting skilled personnel, excavating obstacles, organizing resources, and methodically executing assembly. Careful, ongoing testing and maintenance for bridges is also mandatory.
In this spiritual landscape of the Great Commission facilitators will need similar steps and pieces to create effective bridges into the nations. These include recruiting strategy maps that
understand goer demographics in sending fellowships. Clear, frequent, thorough communications systems with senders and receivers must be designed. Outdated field information has frequently led to candidate frustration and disillusionment when previously communicated needs are no longer current, or when assignments are switched upon arrival.
Strong onboarding HR practices should be in place for candidate design and fit assessments. The pillars of thoughtful goer tasking, teaming, and training must be set. Handrails for process structures and pathways from application to wheels up should be normalized. All of these components serve as building blocks for integrated construction into virtual bridges that access and lead to fruitful mission contribution.
Partner selection is highly strategic to ensure shared desired outcomes. Collaborations and teamwork are imperative. These individual partnerships will lead to an array of structures representing assorted missional strategies, plans, and proposals of all varieties, that access nations everywhere. Together, these efforts are the very bridges of God into the final frontiers for transporting the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
As believers move toward the nations, a variety of well-engineered bridges are essential to close daunting gaps within the missional enterprise. These include access and linkage to data, expertise, opportunity, and practical resources. If those, who previously traversed difficult, rugged, costly terrain to accomplish missions on their own, can soon pass quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively on an enduring, jointly built super-structure, it is well worth constructing it.
From one side of the chasm, mission goers are looking for bridges that take them to the doorstep of the neediest of the nations. On the other side, mission fields incessantly want to build bridges back into sending communities right to the doorstep of new goer candidates. As in the early days of Israel’s movement, God’s miraculous intervention to bridge these gaps is acutely needed.
All parties, in fact all believers, must work together to build effective bridges for these travelers, no matter the earthly cost, since the results in the salvation of the lost from all nations hangs in the balance. We must build the bridges and fill them with the traffic of those ready and equipped to go to the ends of the earth in His Name.
The work of missions absolutely requires bridges and bridge-builders. The whole point of a bridge, of course, is to functionally overcome obstacles and provide ease of travel to an intended and desirable destination. There is also a beauty to kingdom bridges that are built with unity, humility, diversity, and strategic collaboration. That added beauty is in acknowledging God as their architect and by increased fame to him.
Mission bridges for the King and his kingdom into all nations should be breathtaking in both form and function. But the ultimate celebration is in the handiwork of God to build them, however he desires, even in unexpected ways that may take the form of dry land to go through the water instead of a structure to go over it.
The ultimate goal of biblical missions’ bridgebuilding is for God to get the credit. In the end, an exaltation of God will result from the access to God afforded by these bridges to everywhere. They will lead to a victorious chorus of eternal worship and glory to God by those reached from every tribe, language, people, and nation. Let’s get building!