Bruce Calkins

After his retirement as a Pastor, Bruce visited a man in prison. They prayerfully decided to begin an outreach to the gay community.

After the prison term was completed, the man invited his friends and contacts to a gathering. These were young gay men who felt wounded by their church or who had no church background at all. The men needed a place where they could safely share their pain and anger and their questions about God.

What began as an informal gathering became a faith community. There is now a focus on service and discipleship training. Some of the men are now ready to start new outreach groups so that others can experience God’s love through Jesus Christ.

Bruce is also an avid hiker.  It came as a delightful surprise to him to realize God was opening up another ministry area for him on the side of a mountain among fellow hikers.

How Bridges Emerged

How Bridges Emerged (by Jim Milley, Chief Catalyst)

BL 2

Missionaries Create New Communities of Jesus followers

As a new missionary in Ethiopia, I remember meeting an Ethiopian pastor for the first time. He introduced himself as the pastor of a congregation that had four “preaching places.” It’s the expectation of every Ethiopian congregation to start new communities that follow Jesus. These new members were expected to go through a lengthy discipleship process. During my five years in Ethiopia, the church grew from 2 million members to over 4 million members. Returning to the USA in 2000, I noticed no such expectation in our congregations. When meeting pastors in the USA, they mentioned their numbers: people and funds – but not their new disciples nor their new churches.

A Missionary to the USA?

My mind can’t stop thinking about what new way of doing church might fit better with everyday life and most communities in America. I want to find a way to empower new leaders to try new experiments in church. I am a forced missionary to the USA. I meant to stay in Ethiopia, but now I see more clearly that God has been preparing me to help leaders.

In Ethiopia, I helped leaders start new college ministries. In the USA, my passion is to help leaders make new disciples, to start new ministries, and to form new communities that follow Jesus. My second daughter was born in Ethiopia with Down Syndrome. She caught pneumonia during the rainy season. She needed to be medically evacuated to Nairobi on an intensive care jet. Within a few weeks, my wife and I sold everything we owned (for the second time) and returned to the USA. We went to Ethiopia with 10 suitcases and returned with the same number.

Back in America, I dreamed of an agency that would help leaders in the USA. We do this all the time in sending people to serve overseas. I spoke with leaders of organizations that help the church send workers to foreign lands, but they were hesitant to turn their attention to the USA. As one leader said, “We can’t do everything.” Well, there are now a higher percentage of active followers of Jesus in Ethiopia than in America. I think it’s time to provide our leaders in the USA with all the same tools.

Bridges: the dream

I started dreaming, writing, and planning about Bridges in my home office. I shared my dream only with a few trusted souls. I began sharing with older leaders who had committed themselves for many years to helping the PC(USA) do more church planting. More than one leader told me to expect lots of opposition. In one way or another, they were advising me to turn back. They were speaking from experience. In Ethiopia, we consciously thought of ourselves as a bridge between American Christians and Ethiopian Christians. I spent an hour or more doing emails across the ocean each day. Our role was not simply to serve Ethiopians, but also Americans. We were a bridge:

  • Between cultures
  • Between the powerful and the less powerful
  • Between established congregations and Christian servants serving forgotten peoples
  • Between the richer and the poorer as the world measures wealth

We found that we could be a bridge for all to come together in common purposes–God’s purposes. As a missionary in Ethiopia, I had a lot of tools with which to do ministry. I not only had my local congregation and denominational offices, but also those of the PC(USA). And beyond that, multiple other organizations were part of the effort: from Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship and The Outreach Foundation, to Wycliffe Bible Translators and international NGO’s. Every organization was a tool that God brought to the table. Coming back to the USA, I saw just as urgent a situation, but with fewer tools. So many people wondering about the meaning of it all while feeling isolated and lonely. And the church wondering why people didn’t flock to the church when trouble came into their lives. I interviewed church planters in my presbytery. They talked about feeling alone in their risky adventure of faith and life. I heard their hurt. I felt their pain.

Bridges: the reality for leaders

I traveled to Houston and Atlanta to listen to church planters and interview those who sought to support them. I stayed in friends’ homes. I heard about two wealthy businessmen who retired at age 55 and found land, chose leaders, and funded efforts. They acted like a 501(c)(3) organization in themselves. These two individuals each gave several years of their lives and 20-30 hours a week of volunteer labor to the effort. Each has had to stop for different reasons not related to funding or passion. I thought, “What if they had incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations, would their work have continued today?” Bridges is the agency we’ve been needing. We need not just one new model, but many new models for many subcultures. This is the cross-cultural approach. We embrace collaboration between organizations all over the world. I am a cross-cultural worker. I want to serve in the USA the same ways that I served in Ethiopia. I love empowering leaders. In Ethiopia, we saw God start college ministries on some 25 college campuses within 5 years. I didn’t do it. I created the tools that already existing leaders needed. I provided the support of presence and belief that they could do it. I brought them together so they could learn from each other. I roused the desire and hope that was within them. We worshiped together. We prayed together. We encouraged one another. We shared God’s word. I cast visions of college ministries on every campus and called them to allow God to use them. God and the leaders and local congregations did the rest.

Leaders wanted

This is the story of the beginning of Bridges. If you’re a leader looking to make new disciples, start new ministries, or form new communities outside of existing church culture, we’d love to invite you to continue the story we’re driven to support. Contact us.

What’s it like to be a bi-vocational Pastor?

This week, we’ll ask Pastor Greg Roth…
Pastor Greg Roth is training chaplains for a homeless shelter serving the mentally ill.

Greg Roth has had a passion and a heart for the homeless for more than three decades. He’s now bringing that passion full circle in partnering with Bridges.

“My connection with Bridges,” shared Greg, “is that Jim Miley was an intern of mine at Glendale Presbyterian and he started a cold weather shelter in the church. We worked together in that effort those many years ago.”

Greg is now the pastor of a church in Fremont in the San Francisco Bay Area. He came to the church because they were looking for someone familiar with homeless ministry. Recently a member of the community wanted to make a large donation to establish a new homeless shelter in the area. “The donor wanted someone to reach out to people with mental health issues and to have a Christian chaplain program to do that,” Greg shared. Greg happened to be speaking at an event where the donor was present. “After I spoke, they said, ‘You are the person.'”

Over the next three years he hopes to identify and train 12 volunteer chaplains to go to the different shelter facilities and to be a chaplain to that particular shelter or apartment building, in addition to street outreach to the homeless and mentally ill.

Why Bridges?GregRoth2 Greg is looking to Bridges to help with the ‘behind the scenes’ aspects such as handling donations and legal work so that the chaplaincy can receive gifts and allocate them, while remaining an entirely volunteer organization.

Greg’s hope is that he and the other chaplains will be able to come alongside those in need and in times of distress.

“Companionship means not trying to fix them, but to come alongside them, to provide spiritual resources, to have someone who knows you by name, and knowing you have a place to go when there is a tragedy.” – Greg Roth

What can it look like to pastor both inside and outside the church walls?

This week, we’ll ask Pastor Norm Gordon…

Norm Gordon has been part of a pastoring team in a Maryland-area church for eight years. Recently he transitioned to pastoring part-time in order to serve as a Bridge Leader to those outside the congregation who have trouble connecting with church.

Norm Gordon“How do I get started?” he wondered. “Who do I start to connect with?” Norm reflected that he had seen a few dozen people over the course of eight years who accepted invites to church but just couldn’t connect to the church culture. Norm wanted to reconnect with these visitors and see if perhaps he could find a way to help them connect to God wherever they are.

So he sat down and drew up a list of names. He found their contact information and began calling them just to catch up and see if they’d found a church home. If they said they hadn’t, Norm invited them to find a time to talk in person. Here’s what happened recently as a result of Norm’s reaching out to someone on his list named Paul.

Norm shares: “When Paul and I sat down, I explained to him what I do as a Bridge Leader and he was very excited and asked a lot of questions about how I’m working with people outside of church culture like him. I said I’m starting from the ground up, doing one-on-one discipleship, Bible study, and if there’s a group, I can help with family devotions.”

One of Paul’s first comments was, “I’ve been praying for a church family.”

It’s not for lack of churches in his area. Within a five mile radius, there are three dozen congregations. It’s not that something is “wrong” with these churches. Paul, and many others like him, just don’t connect to the culture of church. That’s where Bridge Leaders like Norm are showing up to bridge the gap and help people connect to God.

Norm picked up on Paul’s comment during one of their conversations that Paul was missing Bible studies. So the next Monday, at Norm’s invitation, the two of them sat down in Norm’s home and began discussing the Gospels. It was a great conversation, and Paul was thrilled with the idea of co-creating the meetings together.

Reflecting on the experience Norm says, “I hope that scenario happens over and over again over this next year. I think it’s freeing for Paul–we’ll see what God develops.”

Missionary Skill 5: Gathering and Leading Groups

Missionary Skill 5:
GATHERING & LEADING Groups in spiritual practices


Bridge Leaders go through a process to learn 6 major skills that missionaries across the world have used for hundreds of years.

What might GATHERING & LEADING look like in context?

3 real Bridge Leader examples:
Bridge Leader, Dave Cameron, Gathers & Leads Pasadena locals in monthly worship services in his home.


bDave1015 Bridge Leader Dave gathers and leads a group of Pasadena locals in Christian spiritual practices like Bible Study, worship and prayer. This group is currently meeting monthly in Dave’s home as a Christ-following community called, “Eucharist.”
The Terans gather and lead groups of friends on their front porch

Can you imagine using your front porch to gather and lead?






Bridge Leaders Jon & Beth Teran gather and lead groups of friends and neighbors in spiritual practices like fellowship, community service and confession. They meet on each others’ front porches and in their backyards.




Bridge Leader Susan uses local high schools aSusan 1015nd churches to gather and lead groups of parenting teens in life skills and spiritual practices

Bridge Leader Susan gathers and leads groups of parenting teens in life skills training and spiritual practices like Scripture teaching and service. They meet in local high schools and churches as “Growing Pains.”

Gathering & Leading groups in spiritual practices looks different for each Bridge Leader and each context. Praise God for variety!
To partner with Bridge Leaders as they GATHER & LEAD their groups in spiritual practices, consider a quick gift to Bridges.

Donate to keep the trainings going!

This contribution is made with the understanding that Bridges has complete control and administration over the use of donated funds.
What’s unique about the “Missionary Posture” of GATHERING & LEADING?

Rather than creating a curriculum, renting a space and putting up flyers to invite people to come to a Bible Study or Worship Service, Missionaries start by forming relationships with the unchurched. These relationships, over time may develop into discipling relationships. When several discipling relationships have begun, it is at that point that the Missionary may experiment with gathering those disciples together so that they may all learn together in a larger group. What this group of disciples focuses on in terms of content and how often and where they meet, emerges from the needs of the group.

How do you develop the skill of GATHERING & LEADING?

Bridge Leaders are provided ACTS Services:  Assessments, Coaching, Training & Support Groups to facilitate their effectiveness in GATHERING & LEADING.

Consider keeping track of how God shows up in your own experiments in gathering and leading:

Possible Experiment 1: Think through who you’re already networked with. Reach out to the 10-20 people who you think may already have an interest in your vision/group. Personally invite each of them to an initial gathering, stating clearly what they can expect. At the gathering, position yourself as a listener, both listening to how the Holy Spirit is leading and listening to what the group members are thinking and feeling. Form a few next steps with your group members. Be sure to evaluate together how things went–what worked and how can you build on it? What didn’t, and what can you try next instead?

Possible Experiment 2: Maybe your group wants to move to a       deeper level. Consider inviting a Bridge Leader to your gathering to share their   story of gathering and leading. It may spark some creative and strategic ideas   for your own group’s unique way forward.

For personalized coaching around GATHERING & LEADING:

Email Jim Milley to have Bridges come alongside you!

The 6-part missionary process is the same one Christ used with his disciples.



JOIN an existing social group
LEARN to speak their language
ADD VALUE to their community
HELP people to live like Jesus did
GATHER & LEAD GROUPS of people in spiritual practices
TRAIN other people to do the above






“Make disciples as you go, submerge them in the Trinitarian reality, and train them to do everything that I commanded you. And look–I am with you until the job is done.”

HELPING – Missionary Skills for America – (4 of 6)

Missionary Skill 4:
HELPING people live like Jesus

Bridge Leaders help others live life connected with God.
Here is a real example of HELPING others to live like Jesus:

Bridge Leader Jim asked, “Would you like to focus on your spiritual life with the same type of effort you have put into your work and marriage?” Armand had shared that, despite great effort on his part, he was going through a divorce and his business was not doing well. “I think I’m ready,” repJesus_Helpinglied Armand. Jim asked, “Would you join me in expressing this to God?” Armand responded, “How about you pray for me.” Jim smiled in understanding and said, “How about if I pray some words and you repeat after me.”

Months later, Armand said, “I’m learning to live my life more by my intuition than by seemingly ‘rational’ decisions.” Jim replied, “Maybe your ‘intuitions’ are the same experience that the Bible describes as the work of the Holy Spirit. Maybe that’s God giving you a nudge.”

Helping people connect with God is the help most of us need, both inside and outside the existing church. Just like Jim helped Armand, Bridge Leaders help others connect with God through scripture, talking, listening and community–all empowered by the Spirit.


Bridge Leader Susan helps teen parents connect to God.

Growing Pains 915 1

Bridge Leader Susan Fudge provides the type of community that helps young girls connect with God. Each new parent came to get help practically to care for their new baby. But they get so much more.



Growing Pains 915 2One teenager shared, “I feel like I can talk to God now. I felt the love of God here through all the love and help Susan and my new friends give to me.”


What’s unique about the “Missionary Posture” of HELPING?

A missionary comes alongside someone right where they are. Right where they are spiritually and geographically. Maybe you’re waiting in line at the bank or on a bench at the park.

Maybe the person next to you is a well-researched atheist or a Christian struggling with trusting God in the midst of pain. By listening simultaneously to the Holy Spirit and the person, the missionary offers on-the-spot, in-the-moment support.

Grounded in Scripture and anchored in a wider Christian network, the Missionary can confidently be present with those around him and expect God to give the words and prompting to action that will help. Our God is an ever-active, practical, hyper-contextualized God. Bridge Leaders join him in this kind of work moment by moment everywhere they are.


The 6-part missionary process is the same one Christ used with his disciples.

JOIN an existing social group
LEARN to speak their language
ADD VALUE to their community
HELP people to live like Jesus did
GATHER & LEAD GROUPS of people in spiritual practices
TRAIN other people to do the above

“Make disciples as you go, submerge them in the Trinitarian reality, and train them to do everything that I commanded you. And look–I am with you until the job is done.”

Where’s the sanctuary? Where the people are!

 Where’s the sanctuary?

Where the people are!

Rev. Clark Cowden

with-craig-williamsIncreasingly, ministers are recognizing God’s action in American neighborhoods and networks, outside of the church walls. Clark Cowden is one of them. He recently said “Yes” to joining God inside AND outside the building.

In this interview with Bridge Leader and Presbyterian denominational leader Clark Cowden, we discover hope for the future of “church” in America.

So why Bridges, and why now?

“When I heard about Bridges I really liked what I heard and what I saw – this focus on what the church needs to be doing right here in the United States, not just ‘over there’ in the foreign mission field.”

After a decade and a half as a denominational leader and as a coach and consultant to congregations, Clark Cowden sensed God calling him to do the things that he kept encouraging other people to do. Things like helping an existing congregation move outside the walls of the church building and into the community.

“I was drawn to partner with Bridges because of their realization that the US has become a mission field itself and that it is time to begin approaching ministry differently than has often happened in the traditional pastor-church relationship,” said Clark in a recent conversation about his new calling.

He and his wife Kim just recently relocated from San Diego, California, back to their home town of Terre Haute, Indiana to begin working with two existing congregations. Clark is excited to be moving back into the community and congregational setting. “Both churches that I will be pastoring want to do more outreach into the community and connect with people who aren’t going to church.”

It’s something that Clark can’t wait to be a part of.Indiana

Terre Haute has the fourth highest poverty level in the state, the third highest level of meth labs, and a stagnant economy with mostly low wage jobs. The two churches that came together to offer Clark the position of leading them still can’t afford to pay a full time salary. So Clark will also be partnering with Bridges for training on raising his own support and engaging people outside the church.

Both of the congregations that he will be serving understand that a significant amount of his time won’t be spent with them at all but with people out in the community in neighborhoods, schools, and other community organizations.

“In Jeremiah 29:7 God says to seek the welfare of the community where I have sent you, for in its welfare you will find yours.”

How can I help to lead churches to get more involved in the community, to be a blessing, to connect with people who don’t ever think about entering the doors of a congregation? These are the questions that are on Clark’s mind as he follows God’s lead into this new adventure.

“As a pastor, I know I have to lead by example. I have to befriend and disciple people outside the church walls. I need to live like a missionary so that everyone in the congregation can figure out what that means for them. It’s a new way to do church together. Bridges wants to help all of us expand into new ways of being the church in the US and apply the best missionary practices to that – that’s something I want to be a part of.”

12 Characteristics of a Christ-following Community

Bridge Leaders, like foreign missionaries, create Christ-following communities.
What are the 12 attributes and goals of those communities? They all:
  1. Train to follow Jesus across generations
  2. Pray and study scripture
  3. Express love to one another in actions
  4. Have an identified leader(s)
  5. Give financially
  6. Share the good news
  7. Practice hospitality, justice, and reconciliation
  8. Make a difference in your community
  9. Gather for worship and ministry training
  10. Practice Baptism and The Lord’s Supper
  11. Self-identify yourselves as a Christ-following community
  12. Send out Bridge Leaders to plant themselves
Over time, Christ-following communities increasingly take on these characteristics as they grow together in the image of Jesus.

A central task of the missionary is to create safe & holy space.

Bridge Leaders James & Rebecca Farlow founded “Sanctuary” to create safe and holy space around issues of church and sexuality.
james rebeccaAbout a year ago, Fuller grad, James, and worship leader, Rebecca, discerned the need to come alongside church leaders and congregations nationwide to help them engage sexuality issues in the church. They launched “Sanctuary”, a non-profit and Christ-following community that helps to create safe spaces for all to worship. James and Rebecca consult with churches and leaders across many denominations to support them as they process through divisive issues in a way that is Spirit-led and effective. They provide networking, worship experiences, resources and on-the-ground facilitation to groups and individuals nationwide. As consultants, they are able to reach a great number of stakeholders and focus on facilitating the most relevant kinds of support for each context.


The underlying conviction of Sanctuary is that we can worship together even though we don’t agree. This is difficult for the Protestant Church, which historically privileges right belief and splitting when we disagree. In fact, there are now 33,000 denominations of Protestantism. Contrast this with the Orthodox and Catholic streams of Christianity where union is primary. Beliefs are important, but are subservient to staying in community with each other.

When unity of the body is primary, the need for healthy and contextual communication models emerges. This is one of the primary needs that Sanctuary meets. Churches just don’t talk about sexuality. It’s a really uncomfortable topic. But congregations are realizing that it can’t be avoided. Through Sanctuary, James and Rebecca bridge conversations between the gay and straight communities, between leaders from multiple denominations, between church leaders and their congregations. They do not have an agenda to get people to a “right belief” on sexuality issues, but instead seek to facilitate their engagement with the issues in respectful, loving ways that include all voices.

How are these safe and holy spaces created?

Primarily through sanctuary_guitarlistening. By treating everyone, regardless of their stance on issues, with respect. Instead of aiming to “win,” they encourage people to be reconciled and see each other as part of one body, even when they disagree. The aim is to find common ground at the foot of the cross, at the communion table and as we sing. This is opposed to ignoring or excluding the people who have different ideas. And their ministry is making a difference in the lives of Christian leaders, Christian congregants and members of both the gay and straight communities.

One church leader they partnered with had this to say of Sanctuary:

“I can’t thank God enough for how they brought calm and clarity through our strenuous season of transition.”
The Farlows offer us this encouragement:

“It’s OK to be afraid and to not know where to go or what to do. It’s OK to not know if you’re getting it “right.” If you’re seeking God and to love others, God is really pleased with that. When you’re doing your best, there’s grace in that moment. If we mess up, God will pick us up.”

To find out more or get involved >>>>>>

How does Bridges come alongside the Farlows?
Bridges enables leaders like James and Rebecca to have an administrative structure through which they are learning how to manage their own non-profit. Bridges also provides them a safe and holy space in their monthly support group to discuss their personal and ministerial challenges in leading Sanctuary.

Missionary Skill 2: Learning to Speak their Language

Missionary Skill 2:

LEARNING to speak their language


Bridge Leaders go through a process to learn 6 major skills that missionaries across the world have used for hundreds of years.

Bridge Leader Allison leads groups in the practice of “Holy Yoga,” through which she has seen God transform women’s lives and empower them to follow Christ.

Learning Before Teaching

Yoga_AllisonWhen in Africa, Allison learned to live like the young women: she washed her clothes the same way, shared a hut with them and took on their daily routines. From stepping into their world, she was able to learn about the trauma they’d suffered and how the trauma was being stored in their bodies. Then she was able to contextualize the practice of “Holy Yoga” just for them. She included their local cultural dance moves and altered the yoga environment and poses to be more sensitive to their needs and capacities. Lives were transformed. Here is the point: She had to spend time learning with and from them before she even knew how to teach and help.

Allison takes the same learning posture here in the US, both inside and outside the church. Allison is planted among quite a different group in America. She often works among Christians who believe yoga to be either “for spiritual hippies” or opposed to Christianity due to some of its Hindu origins.

Listen to how Allison describes Yoga for us in the US:
“Yoga,” says Allison, “enables artistic expression, like dance or drawing does.
Yoga helps you unwind and focus on what really matters, like spending time in nature
or going for a drive does. And, when you bring Jesus explicitly into the yoga process,
true healing and restoration can and does take place.”

Allison is able to articulate this so clearly because she practiced the missionary skill of learning even among US Christians, learning about their ideas, their experiences, their fears and their goals– just like she did in Africa.

Whether in Africa or in the US, Allison can help people experience Jesus through Yoga because she has learned a missionary skill: Learning before teaching. It really matters, even here in the USA.

Bridge Leaders LEARN, really LEARN the language, habits and desires of the group they are bridging among. Then they point to Jesus in ways people really understand.

To enable Bridge Leaders to LEARN in their groups,  consider an empowering gift to Bridges.
Donate to keep the trainings going!

What’s unique about the “Missionary Posture” of LEARNING?

Learn first, teach second.
Instead of inviting the unchurched to come to church to learn what the church has to teach, the missionary GOES to where the unchurched are and invites them to teach him or her about their world. Missionaries allow themselves to be shaped by those around them before trying to shape.

Bridge Leaders choose to take a missionary posture rather than a church posture in their local mission fields. They choose to cross over into the world of the “other” and make themselves uncomfortable in an unfamiliar context. It’s not that the missionary posture is BETTER than the church posture. But it is DIFFERENT. The missionary becomes skilled in discerning which posture would be most helpful to the one they’ve formed a relationship with.

How do you develop the skill of LEARNING?

Our Bridge Leaders benefit from our ACTS Services: Assessments, Coaching, Training & Support Groups facilitate their effectiveness in LEARNING.

Do you want to experiment in your own context?
Here are a few ideas:
Spend time with your group: be present, be yourself and absorb their world:

Listen long enough to discover:

What is “cool” and “uncool”?
What keeps them up at night?
Hang out long enough to see:
What provokes their anger and their sadness?
What inspires their acts of generosity and courage?
What do they already believe about God, life, and death?

And don’t forget: hang out long enough
that they discover the same things about YOU.

For personalized help in LEARNING amidst your unchurched group,
Contact us to have Bridges come alongside you!

The 6-part missionary process is the same one Christ used with his disciples.

  •  JOIN an existing social group
  •  LEARN to speak their language
  •  ADD VALUE to their community
  • HELP people to live like Jesus did
  • GATHER & LEAD GROUPS of people in spiritual practices
  • TRAIN other people to do the above

“Make disciples as you go, submerge them in the Trinitarian reality, and train them to do everything that I commanded you. And look–I am with you until the job is done.”