Colossian Blog
July 26, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen

Deeper Discipleship Needs an Effective Toolbox: An Interview with TCF’s Rob Barrett

When we onboard new staff and interns, they are tasked to spend time with everyone on the TCF team and get to know them both personally and professionally. Our intern Rebecca Murdock saw her time with Rob Barrett, our Director of Forums and Scholarship, through her writers’ lens. We think (and hope) you’ll enjoy this insight into Rob and his work here at TCF.

It’s late afternoon on a Monday, and I’ve snagged some time with Rob Barrett between his responsibilities editing curriculum and working on a video shoot for the next Colossian Way training session. Despite being surrounded by paperwork, he seems upbeat, making occasional quips about the hurdles he’s facing.

When I ask him why he’s here at The Colossian Forum, he smiles. “For some reason, I’m drawn to projects that others see as impossible,” he says chuckling.

His work history shows that to be more than a good-natured joke. From working as a research scientist for IBM in Silicon Valley, to teaching Old Testament and Hebrew in England, to his work as a postdoctoral researcher in Göttingen, Germany, he relishes tackling difficult questions and teaching others to do the same.

He first heard of The Colossian Forum when his friend sent him a job advertisement in Germany and encouraged him to apply. “Why in the world he thought of me, I wasn’t sure initially,” Rob says, explaining that he was content with his research job at the time. But his friend insisted that since Rob was involved in both communities of faith and science, he would be ideal for The Colossian Forum’s training on human origins.

Out of curiosity, Rob contacted Michael Gulker, the president of TCF, and quickly found a great conversation partner regarding topics of theology, philosophy, and the future of the church. “I had always been interested in discipleship and helping build up the laity to do the work of ministry,” Rob says. “The Colossian Forum provided some of the much-needed tools for laity to be able to do that and I was intrigued.”

From his younger days in church, Rob remembers being impressed by a quiet man who used to sit in the next pew over. He was active in church and, though he didn’t say much, had a lot of influence in the church community. Sometimes, the man wasn’t sure how to lead, and didn’t have any formal training, but Rob was impressed by his commitment to live faithfully and continue to serve in his corner.

“When I think about the curriculum we build at The Colossian Forum, that’s the kind of person I picture us helping,” Rob says. “Lay people who are willing to serve and influence the community, but who just could use some more tools to do so.”

When asked what his dream would be for the future of TCF, Rob stops to think a minute. “I think the best future would be that we are not needed anymore. That scholars and church members would naturally take up this mode of discipleship when discussing difficult things without needing our framework.

“While I think we can be useful to providing the identity and vision needed in the short term, I hope that one day, a community of practice can form in Christian churches and do this better than we ever imagined.”

Suggested Posts
Christ the King, King Over Everything
December 13, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Christ the King, King Over Everything
This month's prayer letter talked about our death before us, even when our resurrection is secure. Our world is full of struggle right now, and Advent reminds us that we join the suffering of our Savior, in both big and small ways. The "small house church" mentioned in the letter is Kalamazoo Mennonite Fellowship, and Pastor Will Fitzgerald gave us permission to post this sermon from Christ the King Sunday, November 26. We hope you enjoy a moment of hope and reassurance from this Gospel message today. Ephesians 1:15-23 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. This passage is from the first letter of Paul to the church in Ephesus, and he has heard good things about them. This is what he has heard: they have true faith in Jesus, and they show love to others, especially those in the church in need. Every time Paul thinks of them, he gives God thanks for them. I think we know what that’s like. Whenever I think about our former member, Elisha, it brings a smile to my face, and I often thank God. Who are people like that for you? Paul does something else for them: he prays for them. There are many things you can pray for someone, and many reasons why you think God will answer your prayer. In Paul’s case, he knows God can answer his prayer because God the Father was so powerful that he took a dead Jesus and raised him from death into a position of power – the position of power, seated at the Father’s right hand. He declared Christ to be king, king over everything. Christ is king over every “rule and authority and power and dominion.” That means Christ is king over the United States government, over the Democratic and Republican parties, over the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), over the armed forces. Christ is King over our bosses and the companies we work for. Christ is King over our parents and spouses and children. Christ is king over systems of addiction and every system of oppression. If there is something we truly need, none of these powerful things will get in the way of our achieving it through our powerful God. It may not come right away, but it will come in God’s own time. What are things that you feel powerless over? How can knowing that God is more powerful than whatever has you in its grip help you? Christ is also king over “every name that is named.” If it has a name, Christ is king over it. Christ is king over Donald J. Trump. Christ is king over every president and leader in the world. Christ is king over cancer and every disease. Christ is king over sadness and failure, and every moral lack. Christ is king over the devil and sin and hell and death. What could you name that frightens or threatens you? How does your obedience to Christ the King give you courage and strength? Paul finishes this section by saying that Christ the king orders everything for the sake of his body, which is the church. We are filled with Christ, who fills everything. And so, a bit, it comes full circle. Paul goes down this path because he remembered the faith of the believers at Ephesus, and how they loved other people. This is how Christ seems to be filling out the church: by making it full of faith and full of love. One of the ways we can think about becoming can be the “good sheep” that Ezekiel and Jesus talk about is exactly this: to increase in our trust of Jesus and to continue to love the people around us. It’s as simple and as hard as that. In closing let me ask these questions again: What things do you feel powerless over, that Christ, nonetheless, is king over? How does this change how you act or feel? What things can you name that frighten or threaten you? How does Christ the King give you courage and strength? How can this week be full of the “fullness of Christ” as you love others and increase your faith in him?
“Why is everyone struggling so much?” An Advent reflection
December 6, 2017 | Michael Gulker
“Why is everyone struggling so much?” An Advent reflection
Not long ago, my 13-year-old son Sam and I were attending our little Mennonite house church that we love so dearly. It wasn’t an easy Sunday. Nearly all of us, for a variety of reasons, were hurting pretty deeply—family struggles, concern for the gravely ill, loved ones who, for one reason or another, are no longer a part of us. People shared their pain so openly that Sam wondered aloud to me about it. He identified both with the struggles of others and his struggling teenage self, saying, “Why is everyone struggling so much? Why do we all go to church if it just means suffering?” While that is not the line of logic my years of theological conditioning provide me, on the surface it’s a pretty valid conclusion. Why do we bind ourselves to broken and suffering people? On our drive home, we were surrounded by billboards depicting happy, healthy, sexy people. Why not identify with them—the winners? Their super white smiles sure seem more convincing than our tears. Why can’t the faith be more obviously right? More visibly true? Why doesn’t God prove his Godhood to the world? I don’t have adequate answers to satisfy a teenage boy who is suffering from the terrors of adolescence. All I’ve got is Advent, and a God who didn’t come down in an undeniable blaze of glory but as a baby born amid scandal, political intrigue, suffering, and the slaughter of the innocents. The eternal Word of God, Logos of Creation, Wisdom of the Ages came enfleshed as an infant Jew, freely identifying himself with a broken, corrupt, suffering people. As with any word, this Word incarnate is eminently deniable, vulnerably open to multiple interpretations—not to mention murder. What are we to make of this? In his brilliant work on Dostoyevsky, Rowan Williams reflects on the theological nature of language and how Dostoyevsky “sees language itself as the indisputable marker of freedom: confronted with what seeks to close down exchange or conflict, we discover we can always say more.” Part of the freedom of being able to “say more” when we are confronted with Jesus—the Word of God—is that we can say more and deny its validity. Christ comes to us vulnerable, “unable to compel [us] since compulsion would make it impossible for the creator to appear as the creator of freedom.” This means that the “credibility of faith is in its freedom to let itself be judged and to grow. In the nature of the case, there will be no unanswerable demonstrations … apart from Christ.” Are there no unanswerable demonstrations apart from Christ? Because that’s exactly what I want most! I long for something provable, repeatable, tangible, undeniable. I want to be able to point to “something” and compel others to accept without having to embody it myself. I want to indisputably possess “something” without having to become like Jesus. But what we get is Christ’s hard-to-believe faith in the goodness of the Father. All done in the face of his betrayal and death—in the goodness and freedom of creation, just as that same freedom would be used to crush the one through whom it was made (John 1:3). Of course, living on the other side of Easter, we see that Jesus’ faith is vindicated in his resurrection and the lifting up of his name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9). Sam’s very correct intuition reveals this: our death is still before us, even if our resurrection is assured. I desperately want God to speak a word that would spare me from the vulnerability of death and the nearly unbearable freedom to live life in light of our certain death. Sam’s desire is my own—to avoid the suffering that comes to us because of the freedom we’ve been given and often misused. We’d rather buy into another false promise of billboard happiness with shiny, white-toothed smiles. We believe these false words—the false certainties that cause us to forfeit our birthright as children and heirs of the King and the freedom that comes with it—all for a cup of soup. It’s the cause of our suffering in the first place. It seems that only a few saints have not sold their birthright (said an isolated and depressed Elijah before God revealed that there were 7,000 such saints). But in our little house church, as in so many small and humble Christian fellowships across the ages, the birthright of the Kingdom has not been sold. Believers join their Savior in suffering the hurts of the world, in ways small and large. They do not shy away. They suffer the uncertainty of freedom. They participate in the passion of Christ, holding on to a sure knowledge of God’s goodness while uncertain about almost everything else. They aren’t sexy. They aren’t likely to be on billboards. When the Lamb who opens the scroll reveals what has mattered in the history of humanity, their names will be called out. And as John Howard Yoder, another incredibly broken believer, once said, history isn’t moved forward by cause and effect, manipulated by the powerful, but by the cross and resurrection of Christ and those who bear it. A deniable thesis to be sure, uttered by an eminently deniable human being. Quite frankly, there’s no place I’d rather be. No other people I’d rather be with, than with Christ and his broken, struggling body.