In his book, They Like Jesus But Not the Church, Dan Kimball provides a good illustration of our current problem. He writes about the old bridge illustration, which you’ve probably heard. It’s a way of explaining what Jesus did on the cross. The idea is that God and man are supposed to be together, in relationship. But we’ve sinned and there is now a great chasm between us. It’s like our sin dug a grand canyon between us and God, and there’s no way we can traverse it. But Jesus died and His cross provides a bridge over the divide. If we say yes to Him we can (in a sense) walk over the cross and be re-united with God on the other side.
Not my favorite illustration, but in the last era it was somewhat effective. The thing holding people back from coming to God was not understanding their sin and its consequences. So if you could clearly explain the impact of the cross, that person might say yes and come into relationship with God.
But things have changed. There are now two things holding people back from coming to God. One is not understanding sin and its consequences, but the other is Christians. It’s no longer just their sin keeping them from reuniting with God through Jesus; it’s also their image of Christians. Because to accept Christ is to become a Christian, and that may be the very last thing this person wants to be.
So now we need two bridges. Jesus bridged the sin chasm with the cross, but it’s up to us to bridge the image chasm … with our lives. We need to bust the negative stereotypes people have of Christians, and of church. And it won’t be easy.