Bridge People

Railroad trestle along the James River, Richmond, VA. Photo by author.

I love ministry.
My kids asked, “Dad, if you had to change jobs what else would you want to do?” I honestly couldn’t think of anything else. This is my calling.

I also hate ministry.
Plenty of times over the years I’ve wanted to quit and do a clock in/clock out job with regular hours. Some seasons of ministry have left me and my wife gut punched and gun shy.

So why the schizophrenic response? One reason was that early on – unconsciously – I thought I had a lot more influence, charisma, and wisdom than I actually did. I knew ministry was going to be hard, but c’mon, I was built for this. I wouldn’t have told you I had something to prove, but deep in my heart I certainly did. Lovingly, God used the fires of ministry to bubble my insecurities to the surface. More on that in a later blog post.

But another reason is this: I, like many other pastors, missionaries, and ministers did not fully understand the role to which I was called. I was called to be a bridge person. To represent the message and character of a loving, reconciling God to a (sometimes) hostile, skeptical audience. To stretch into the void between the kingdom of God and the context of my mission. To build trust between alienated parties. To change my culture and lifestyle in order to become a person of peace. To do the work of racial and spiritual reconciliation. To change so much from my home culture as to be unrecognizable to “my people,” yet never enough to truly be “one of us” to the culture to which I was sent. To be a bridge.

TO GET WALKED ON.

No, I’m not suggesting that I reconcile people to God; Jesus ultimately and only does that. But I bear the message of reconciliation (which incidentally, if you’re a believer, you do, too). See 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. This isn’t just a job for vocational ministers.

I confess that I sometimes hoped to get more enjoyment out of connecting worlds – maybe even be celebrated for it. Being a bridge felt more like death.

And yet, death was what I most needed. It was where personal ambition was crushed and new identity with Jesus was formed. For Jesus was not only reaching people across the chasm, he was reaching me.

Jesus is a Ladder Person. In his famous dream, Jacob saw the heavens opened and angels of God ascending and descending on a ladder. “Surely God is in this place!” he cried (Genesis 28:10-22). Generations later, Jesus shed light on Jacob’s vision in a conversation with Nathanael in John 1:43-51. Jesus told Nathanael that he would see “greater things” – the heavens opening and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Jesus is the ladder. Jesus, the ultimate reconciler, forgiver, substitute, and mediator was the ladder bridging the Father’s heart to the world he loved. The angels – those sent to do God’s bidding – walked on Jesus. The angry crowds walked on Jesus, too. This didn’t just feel like death, it was death.

Nathanael, you, and I are seeing greater things. God is doing his reconciling work through the death of Jesus: bringing the far, forgotten, and written-off into the fold of grace. And he’s sending bridge people to bear the message of the Ladder.

This is ministry.



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