Should I put my hair up?
Should I take off the earrings and nail polish?
Should I show up in jeans this time?
Every time we headed back to our religious group for one reason or another, I was inundated with questions. And, they were questions without answers. From one point of view, it was better for me to accommodate these people we love, where they were, and their views of what was necessary for holy living. From another point of view, it was legalism and I didn’t want anything to do with perpetuating it, especially not after I’d given up everything to get out from under it.
There is a tension there between what’s right and what’s right for relationships. And, what’s right for now and what’s right for the long-term. And what’s right for me and what’s right for them.
And those answers have changed over the course of the 10 years that we’ve been out. Relationships are fluid and change shape and depth over time, so how we interact can be adjustable as well. This requires grace and humility from all angles.
My point is, bridge-builders need to be willing to live in that tension.
Building relational bridges means doing some things that others aren’t going to understand. Our methods and motives may be questioned. Even fellow Christians may not understand that contextualizing the Gospel is not the same as compromising the Gospel. Living in the tension sometimes means our heart is on our sleeve and a target is on our back; it has meant caring a great deal about those on every side and yet realizing they may not understand and may even turn against us out of insecurity or fear or lack of control.
Living in the tension may mean never quite fitting in. For me, no matter how I’m dressed when I walk back in, I won’t fit and will likely draw some misunderstanding. And, in terms of The Bridge, we won’t fit in the box of church or of non-profit or of mission agency. So, we exist in the tension and bear the weight of the cost of our calling.
Being a bridge-builder doesn’t come without costs.
But remember, in the tension, you may be lonely but are never alone.
Because Jesus, our Intercessor, knew the agony of giving Himself on our behalf and being misunderstood, beaten, betrayed, and rejected. He didn’t fit the image of King that people had imagined, didn’t follow the law as the religious demanded, and didn’t act like the disciples expected. He lived in that. And, He filled the space between God Divine and humanity, calling us to join Him in a space of tension on behalf of others and for God’s greater glory.
For more about living in that tension, here’s a post I wrote in June of 2014:
I spoke with a fellow ministry worker recently. She was concerned about a new effort they were launching to help feed individuals without homes in an inner-city.
“This vision is totally Christ-centered. The only reason we’re doing this is because we believe it’s God’s plan for us. We want to glorify Him,” she paused. “But, I guess I feel confused because I don’t know how to communicate that in a way that includes all people. It needs to be relevant to everyone in our community, yet not compromise the mission.”
Oh, how well we understand.
It’s social justice, yet it’s Gospel-driven. It gains the attention and approval of believers and non-believers alike – yet also becomes the object of criticism. Are we mobilizing volunteers or commissioning future missionaries? Are we doing service projects or missions? Are we “too Christian-y” or “too social justice-y?”
The beauty of this tension is that sometimes it depends on the person’s viewpoint making the statement. Really, it’s not this fellow ministry worker’s issue. And, it’s not my issue.
Before God, I must understand my calling. That is the issue for which I must take responsibility. Others may not understand, agree, or approve.
Some have said The Bridge isn’t “Gospel-centered enough.” Others have said we are too “Gospel-centered.” The cool thing is that we actually received those two opinions from different churches in the same week – literally. And, you know what? I can understand why each holds its opinion. It depends on what aspects they are focusing on – and thankfully, it’s not up to me to change their viewpoints.
As missionaries in the USA, we don’t have the option of packing our bags and ministering in a faraway land, far from the idea of non-profits, volunteer organizations, governmental grants, and churches on every corner (different denominations, mind you.)
Here, we stand in the middle of it all and proclaim Christ. And, we trust God to hold it all in the correct balance.
So, fellow missionaries and ministry workers in the USA: don’t minister in order to gain approval or acceptance of on-looking family, friends, churches, schools, social groups, organizations, etc. This is between you and God. When you’re in the right place, you’ll likely have opposition on either side.
Christ is to be our focus, our foundation. If not, you’ll be forever pulled back and forth in fruitless attempts to win over each side.
This is the tension you need to learn to live with before God.
This month’s series is on being a bridge-builder. In short, it’s about how to be like certain individuals who let God show up in their words and deeds and forever changed our little family. But, it’s not a series about our story; it’s a series about how Redemption made our story useful, even valuable, in a greater story.
If Jay and I know anything about being a bridge-builder, it’s because we were the ones stuck on an island. If we understand anything about the power of meeting people where they are and standing in the gap, it’s because that’s how we were rescued – by God, through average people.