When the Church Becomes A Bridge

posted in: Come Together | 1

Though I have lived with my family in California for the last nine years, I am born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was fortunate to serve as a high school basketball coach and youth pastor for eleven years as well as serve as a church planter and senior pastor there for almost eight years. I have so many fond memories of my hometown of Minneapolis. Unfortunately, I also have a tragic memory of that same city. 

On August 1, 2007, a portion of the I-35W Bridge connecting the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul collapsed. The eight-lane, 1,907 footlong highway bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed. 1,000 feet of the deck truss with about 456 feet of the main span fell 108 feet into the 15-foot deep river. 111 vehicles were on the collapsed part of the bridge. Thirteen people died that day, and 145 people were injured. A bridge that served as the connector of two major cities and allowed thousands of people daily to get from home to work, home to school, work to home, and school to home was now a site of death, injury, and cries. 

A young man named Nate was working at a construction site nearby when this tragic event took place. In a moment of courage, compassion, and purpose, he ran to the collapse and began to help the injured. He would later be honored publicly by the state of Minnesota for an act of bravery. As I still think back on this tragic event, I can’t help but reflect on the social collapses and divides that exist in our nation. In using the collapse of the I 35W Bridge as a metaphor, I in no way want to make light of the lives lost and the injuries that occurred on that day. I am sure that there are people that are still healing from the loss of family members and friends. Even though physical injuries may have healed, there are surely still bruises and brokenness in the soul from having been through such a horrifying event. I still remember where I was when this tragedy took place. I was at home in a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis. At that time I was taking a seminary class, and on some days I would take a route that would have me cross that very bridge–depending on the traffic. It just so happened that I didn’t take that route on that particular day. But because my wife, Donecia, didn’t know which route I took that day, she called me on my cell phone in tears making sure I was okay. Though not directly impacted, like those on the bridge, we were affected by that event as well. 

So, with deep sensitivity, I think about the collapse of a bridge, and I think of the many social collapses that exist among human beings in our nation across race, class, gender, and politics. Even though we are an ever-increasing multiethnic and multicultural nation, we are also deeply divided. Around the same time that the bridge collapse took place in Minnesota, there was also major attention being given to the class and racial divides in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. This was reflected in a report called Mind the Gap. This report showed that when it came to class and racial disparities, Minnesota was one of the most divided states in the country. An example of the disparities were the social gaps between Black and White people. For instance, though over 80% of Whites families owned homes, only 32% of Black families owned homes. This plays a significant part in a gap when it comes to economic net worth. So, within this social collapse, some business leaders, non-profit leaders, politicians, and pastors decided to take the same approach that young man Nate did with a collapsed bridge. They chose to run to the gaps and build social bridges. As a pastor of a multiethnic and reconciling church called, The Sanctuary Covenant Church at the time in North Minneapolis, I was invited to some of the meetings intended to develop strategies to “Close the Gap.” There are still gap closing and bridge repairing opportunities today all across our nation. 

Sacramento is one of the most diverse cities in America, and yet we have our own gaps. What if the church, represented in so many expressions, decided to be a bridge over the troubled waters of social divisions, brokenness, and collapses in this significant multicultural city? That’s what City Serve is all about. It’s one way of standing in the gaps and repairing bridges so that the lost can be found, the hurting can be helped, and the broken can be blessed. But there is also a major blessing and gift for those that are serving. In alignment with the words of Christ towards the end of Matthew 25, there is an opportunity to experience a greater intimacy with God and realization of what it means to connected to the Kingdom of Heaven by serving the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, and the homeless, and the incarcerated. To not serve the disinherited, marginalized, oppressed, and outcast is to distance oneself from Christ and the Kingdom of God. 

God is a bridge builder. When God the Father, sent God the Son in the form of Christ, a bridge was being built, and at the same time, a bridge was being repaired. When God created the heavens and the earth and created human beings in the image of God there was supposed to be a “bridged” relationship between God the Creator and those created in the image of God. Human beings, under the Lordship of God, were to be stewards of what God created. But sin caused a collapse between God and humanity and between human beings themselves. The reverberation of this has led to the collapsing of families, of ethnic groups, of economic class groups, and what is known today as racial groups. But God the Father rebuilds the bridge by sending His Son Jesus Christ. Christ is the Great Reconciler addressing the gap between God and humanity and well as the divisions within humanity. 

The Church, as an outpost of the Kingdom of God, has a great opportunity to serve as bridge. Bayside Church Midtown strives to be Christ-centered, multiethnic and reconciling ministry in the heart of Sacramento. We have ministries to the homeless, those in recovery, kids in under-resourced schools, and women who are healing from domestic abuse. We desire to more than a worship center by serving as a community and life transformation center. But we do this Kingdom work as part of a larger family. Because Bayside Church is a multi-campus movement with locations in suburbs, smaller towns, and in the heart of the city, we are building bridges by not limiting our direct missional impact. By having a leadership and church development conference like Thrive Leadership Conference, we are building bridges across denominations, churches and para churches, and even into parts of the marketplace sector. And, through City Serve, we are building bridges of compassion, mercy, reconciliation, and justice. This is who we are as a church. We unleash compassion, and we extend of the reconciling love of God throughout the region of Sacramento and beyond. For those wishing to explore this further with me can do so by reading my latest book, Killing Us Softly

Dr. Efrem Smith
2 years at Bayside

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Bayside Church exists to reach people far from God and show them how to follow Jesus step by step.

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  1. Linda Martin

    Pastor Efrem, We pay taxes to support schools, but there seems to be way too much disparity between schools in this state and the country. I am probably naïve to think all schools get the same-size piece of the pie. I know attendance affects how much money a school receives, but what else causes the discrepancies? My husband suggested some schools may require more repairs than another school and some schools have to provide paperwork and translators in multiple languages, depending on their community makeup, which is an added expense. We also know schools in wealthier neighborhoods get more support from community members for special programs and other needs, and unless a poorer school can connect with someone like Bayside to help fund some of those needs they are always “putting out fires” and not making progress. Do you have any ideas how these disparities can be addressed? Certainly, lifting up kids and families in poorer neighborhoods to help them get better-educated and earn better money helps, but it’s so slow. I know it’s a complicated problem, but it’s also frustrating when schools ask for more and more tax dollars every year and we still see a lot of schools struggling and failing to take care of their students, and we all suffer when lives and brains that could have done great things are not given a chance to survive and thrive. Filling up backpacks and donating money through the church or even volunteering makes us feel good for a while, but we don’t see a lot of lasting change occurring. We know the hearts of the greater community and also the hearts of those living in the struggling communities need to change for real change to happen, but again that seems to not happen enough or fast enough. I can’t imagine how frustrating all that is for you as a pastor. I guess we’re just trying to figure out where and how we can all make the biggest and most-lasting impact. Let me know if one (or all) of your books will help answer some of these questions for me. I am 70 years old, but I still can learn. Thank you.

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