It is has been over 6 years since The Bridge was featured on expressions the dvd - 1. Tim Lea, its leader for nine years, explains what's happening now.
We are still here! We have seen a number of people come to faith from a mixture of unchurched and de-churched backgrounds. Some of them have moved onto other churches, others have stayed with us; some have struggled to keep a faith at all. Ongoing discipleship is not easy, we live a cold climate for seed to grow and bear fruit. We have not been immune from disagreements and misunderstandings.
We got to the point where our growth led us to seek further funding to invest in additional staffing. 'People not buildings' became a common phrase in our vocabulary. As people came to faith we have had to adapt and change, desiring to see people grow and mature as well as to continue reaching unchurched people. It is not an easy path to tread. We are now three years into a five-year funding agreement with the Methodist Circuit, District and Connexion. We have recruited a part-time youth worker who is growing The Bridge organically. We have also just recruited a part-time assistant leader after the previous one left under difficult circumstances for all involved. As a community we have discovered we have a verbal, rather than written, culture based on trust, story and relationships. We only realised this when needing to formalise our values and culture in job descriptions, person specs, etc. It has been challenging.
We have joined a learning community with Lead Academy. Several of The Bridge leadership team have been on a couple of excellent 48-hour sessions led by the Academy and I have been on retreat with them as well. That has been really, really good in helping us focus on the role and functions of our core team and look at changing our leadership structure. But it has also provided us with a language to talk about some of the deeper issues we face.
The Bridge has been going for 17 years in total so we are facing many questions along the lines of, What does maturity look like?, How do you carry on being fresh?, Do you ever get to the point where you stop? I'm its second generation leader so what happens to The Bridge when it comes to the second generation leader moving on? What does it look like when people begin to get comfortable? How do you carry on reaching out to people as well as mature those who have come to faith?
At the moment I don't think we have answers to those questions. The past six to eight months have involved quite a lot of soul searching and a re-analysis of, Are we doing what it says on the tin?
Part of the reason for The Bridge being set up originally was because a lot of people identify with liking Jesus but not the Church. That's why we try to do things differently, including what it means to be church. We see ourselves as a bridge between the community and the church and also between people and God.
It's interesting with The Bridge because we've not been at this stage of the journey before so we don't know what’s going to happen! The danger is that, because traditional forms of church support fresh expressions, there is pressure from these supporting organizations to put us in a 'box' of one kind or another. That pressure can be so overwhelming and, as a result, it can be quite draining.
I wonder whether there is a 'revolution within the revolution' that's happening. That secondary revolution will come about when the unchurched people who become Christians within a fresh expression then reach out to others and form fresh expressions themselves. Unchurched or dechurched people who become committed and missional will develop fresh expressions of church that will break the mould of what's gone before. It raises some massive issues, but is very exciting.
My question would be, How do we help the unchurched people that we see being converted now become missional and set them free to set up fresh expressions? What would that look like? We are still in the place of trying to work that out.
We ran 40 days of prayers and fasting before Christmas to ask, Are we doing anything wrong because we are not being fruitful in terms of reaching unchurched people? Is there anything we need to change?' Our experience has been that it's very important to keep on asking those questions. To keep on being open to what God has to say about it. Never easy, but maybe that is what maturity is.