Transparent leadership creates a come-as-you-are environment at The Bridge.
Lead Pastor Marty Schmidt credits God’s favor, loving the community authentically and a passion for being the church, not just having church for growing The Bridge Church in Ottumwa, Iowa.
Asked to elaborate on how the worship community, about 85 miles from Des Moines, received God’s favor, Schmidt says that people can’t do anything in particular to earn this treatment from the Lord.
“He never chooses people because they’ve earned it, but maybe the person has a soft heart,” Schmidt says. “God can work with soft hearts because they’re usually susceptible to God opposing them. Or maybe the person is staying in step with the Spirit and staying humble. No one knows how you get it—that’s why it’s favor.”
He says that leaders at The Bridge demonstrate humility by being transparent about their faults. They have the mindset that they are still works in progress that God is perfecting. Pastoral staffers don’t behave as if they have life all figured out. They also don’t assume that everyone’s in the same place—spiritually or otherwise.
“For us, we’ve seen the greatest growth when we have chosen to serve inside of our community, when we have done service projects or offered financial aid for people to get free medical attention,” Schmidt says. “We’re working on really activating components of blessing those who are in challenging situations.”
When Eric Krantz started attending The Bridge a dozen years ago, he didn’t realize that, a couple of years later, he would find himself in devastating circumstances. One Saturday, he received a call that his best friend had died by suicide.
“It rocked me to my core,” he says. “I remember praying and telling Jesus I was finished doing it my way, and I finally put my faith and trust in him. I had one best friend my whole life, and he was taken away from me and his family, but God has overblessed me with so many great friends and people in my life from The Bridge. Words really can’t express how incredible the community of believers at The Bridge is.”
During his first two years attending, Krantz remained relatively disconnected from the church community. After his friend died, Krantz decided to get involved, a decision that led him to discover how genuine the church community is. He now helps set up the lobby and kids’ rooms before services and volunteers on The Bridge’s outreach team. This entails performing odd jobs such as mowing lawns for community members. Krantz has also taken mission trips to Mexico, where he’s built houses and relationships, he says.
“What I like about The Bridge is the come-as-you-are mindset,” Krantz explains. “You don’t need to dress up. You don’t need to get your act together before you can come. That’s how Jesus is, come as you are. You don’t get healthy before you need to see the doctor; you go when you’re sick. This mindset draws people in. Being Christlike draws people through the doors, and The Bridge does it very well.”
But the church also faces obstacles. Situated in a part of Iowa that Schmidt describes as “rurban”—a combination of rural and urban—creates particular hurdles for The Bridge, including a constant stream of people moving in and out of the community. The high rate of transiency stems from the idea that the area is a stepping-stone to somewhere better, Schmidt contends. The junior college, hospital and John Deere division in the vicinity haven’t changed that perception.
As a church leader, Schmidt also has challenges to work through.
“I’m continually learning more and more that leadership is both spiritual and physical, so maintaining the perspective that both are important is crucial,” he says. “I continually need to be self-aware, and my self-awareness and my connection with the Lord, that combo, is maybe the secret sauce. I am more prone to miss the mark in leading well when I don’t have that.”
—Nadra Kareem Nittle
THE BRIDGE CHURCH
Lead Pastor: Marty Schmidt
Growth: +279 (21%)