Colossian Blog

Displaying all posts by Jennifer Vander Molen.
Deeper Discipleship Needs an Effective Toolbox: An Interview with TCF’s Rob Barrett
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.”
Frustrated with Polarization in the Church? Let The Colossian Way Help!
July 19, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Frustrated with Polarization in the Church? Let The Colossian Way Help!
Increasing polarization is part of our daily lives, as we dodge potential minefields in conversations, online, in our families, and in our churches. It's hard to see a way forward that balances the truth of the Word with the love that Christ commands us to embody. If you're frustrated with the dialog (or lack thereof), and long to see a more beautiful church, we have a tool that can help. The Colossian Way is designed to help Christians of all ages engage in difficult questions in ways that build up love of God and neighbor. By gathering Christians who disagree, confessing that all things hold together in Christ (Colossians 1:17), bringing our difficulties before God in prayer, listening to varied experts on the topics, attending to Scripture and the resources of the faith, and learning to listen and talk across difference, we can trust the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ. This small-group experience tackles the tough questions around human origins and human sexuality. The Colossian Way will help you move beyond our culture's polarizing conflict into a new reality centered around transformation, hope, growth, and witness. Imagine with us a new way of life together, built on a deep theological core, that provides hope and reflects the true beauty of Christ to the world. Join us in The Colossian Way experience. Training Dates The first step in The Colossian Way experience is a 2½-day leader training retreat, held in Grand Rapids, MI, on Wednesday-Friday, September 20-22. Can't make the September training? Our 2018 training retreat dates are posted on our events page. Commitments Churches and leaders who participate in The Colossian Way commit to: Attend the leader training retreat Meet with coaches and other small group leaders during the experience Gather an intergenerational group of 10-12 participants for the small group experience Lead the small group through ten 90-minute meetings over a set schedule in spring 2018 Cost Cost for The Colossian Way experience is $1,500 per small group, which includes the leader training retreat (hotel accommodations, meals, and training materials for two leaders), materials (leader and participant guides for the entire small group), The Colossian Way promotional pieces for your church, personal coaching for leaders, and membership in The Colossian Way Community of Practice. How to Apply You can find an online application and more information about The Colossian Way experience here. Can't make the September training? Our 2018 training retreat dates are posted on our events page. We can’t wait for you to join us on The Colossian Way!
TCF Welcomes Student Intern Rebecca Murdock
July 5, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
TCF Welcomes Student Intern Rebecca Murdock
TCF welcomes Rebecca Murdock to a one-year student internship, which begins this summer. Rebecca is studying The Colossian Way for her master’s thesis, and also participating in research projects for The Colossian Forum. She is originally from Loma Linda, CA, but grew up in Puerto Rico, Michigan, and Massachusetts as a pastor/professor’s kid. Fed up with snowy winters in Massachusetts, she returned to her old California neighborhood and completed a bachelor’s degree in Communication, Public Relations & Advertising from La Sierra University in Riverside, CA. After graduation, she spent several years doing marketing and recruiting for her alma mater before her interest in theology began to take center stage. Around the same time, she and her fiancée, J. (James) Murdock, were married and moved to Boulder, CO. J. began work as an associate pastor for the Seventh-day Adventist church in Boulder and Rebecca focused on the formation of young adult church groups in the area. After one year getting settled in Boulder, J. was sponsored to complete his Master of Divinity at Andrews University's Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, MI, and the couple transferred to cooler climates. Rebecca also began her master’s at Andrews Seminary, and is currently completing a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. Some of her passions include listening to eclectic music, traveling, learning languages, talking about gender communication, and dreaming up what church looks like for the next generation. She is currently part of a student group to better Christian-Muslim relations in Michigan, and is interested in helping those on seemingly opposite ends of a spectrum find common ground. She and J. hope to start a family one day, but currently might adopt a kitten in the near future. Welcome, Rebecca!
TCF Welcomes Chris De Vos as our Manager of Church Partnerships and Care
June 21, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
TCF Welcomes Chris De Vos as our Manager of Church Partnerships and Care
The Colossian Forum is very pleased to welcome Chris De Vos as our Manager of Church Partnerships and Care. This position will help expand our network of church partners, provide leadership of Colossian Way leaders, and develop our Community of Practice. Chris graduated from Calvin College and Calvin Seminary and completed a Doctor of Ministry degree at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. He worked as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church at the University of Colorado, Boulder; in Dunwoody, Georgia; Kingston, Ontario; and, most recently, in Holland, Michigan. The threads of reconciliation and unity were woven into his life by his musician parents, who moved easily between churches of different denominations. Chris grew up assuming it was possible to collaborate across differences. That spirit continued to characterize his time at Pillar Church, leading to the church's decision to become a dual-affiliation congregation of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America (CRC and RCA). Pillar has become a laboratory of collaborative work with Hope College, Western Theological Seminary and other churches and agencies.  In 2015, he moved to lead the Ridder Church Renewal initiative at Western Theological Seminary. Chris and his wife Barb are celebrating 39 years of marriage this year, and have three grown children and two grandchildren. He enjoys playing guitar, running, reading and travel. Chris begins his work at TCF on Monday, July 3. You can reach him at cdevos@colossianforum.org. Welcome, Chris!
Unsure How to Lead Through Conflict? Start Here!
June 14, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Unsure How to Lead Through Conflict? Start Here!
Difficult questions face us on all sides. We often avoid them, argue about them, and divide over them. Is there a way beyond apathy or argument, division or tolerance to discipleship and faithfulness? Yes. That may seem like an audacious answer, but the gospel IS audacious. So we believe there is a way through difficult questions to discipleship and faithfulness. The Colossian Way small group experience is designed to help Christians of all ages who disagree to engage difficult questions in ways that build up love of God and love of neighbor. By gathering Christians who disagree, confessing that all things hold together in Christ (Colossians 1:17), bringing our difficulties before God in prayer, listening to varied experts on the topics being discussed, attending to Scripture and the resources of the faith, and learning to listen across difference, we can trust the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ. Want to learn more? If so, consider watching and discussing the three videos below with your leadership team or small group. The first video introduces the concept of wicked problems, the second explains why Christian virtues and practices matter, and the third presents conflict as opportunity. Thanks to Dr. Jenell Paris, a fellow with The Colossian Forum, who helped us craft these discussion questions. Looking for a printable version of this video discussion guide? We've got you covered. Video 1: Wicked Problems Discussion questions: Have you or your church faced something that could be called a “tame problem”? How was that problem solved? Have you or your church faced something that could be called a “wicked problem”? How is it different than a tame problem? What are some wicked problems facing the church today? How does your church generally respond to wicked problems? What are some characteristics of a culture war? If the church addressed divisive issues in a different way, what would that way look like? How do you respond to the claim, “God has given us everything we need to make progress on these important conversations”? Does that seem realistic? What has God given us that might prove sufficient in the midst of difficult conversations? Video 2: Christian Virtues Discussion questions: In what ways is it counterintuitive to turn our attention in the middle of conflict from information to formation? Have you ever gathered information to fight for your point against an opponent? In what ways is that satisfying? In what ways is it not satisfying? What does worship mean in your life? Discuss the claim made in the video: “Worship forms us, helping us see conflict through the lens of love for God and neighbor.” Have you ever seen people engage in conflict differently because they worship together? If you haven’t seen this, can you imagine what it might be like? Is it true that church is “the perfect venue” for difficult conversations and conflict? Many people experience the opposite--church being the most painful and difficult place for the real stuff of life. Could your church be the perfect venue for hosting difficult conversations about divisive issues? Could your church be a place where worship forms people such that they engage conflict not as a war, but as an opportunity to live out love for God and neighbor? Talk about how these ideals could be put into practice at your church. In what ways is information good? In what ways does it fall short? Tell a story about a memorable experience in Sunday School from when you were young. What lessons or practices from Sunday School are as true and relevant today as they were then? What Sunday School insights could help your church engage in conflict and conversation over divisive issues? Tell a story about a memorable experience in Sunday School from when you were young. What lessons or practices from Sunday School are as true and relevant today as they were then? What Sunday School insights could help your church engage in conflict and conversation over divisive issues? Tell about a time in your life when conflict proved to be a catalyst for growth. How could this be true for your church today? Video 3: Conflict as Opportunity Discussion questions: The pine cone matures for two years and then waits for fire to complete its growth. How do worship and church life mature us in ways that make us ready to face the fire of conflict? “If you want to get strong, you don’t avoid pain. You lean into it until the weight gets easier and easier to lift.” Share stories of times when pain was an important part of growth. Weightlifting makes muscles strong. To be strong in virtue, we must work those muscles. In your church, what are times and places where people work the muscles of love and patience? Name some wicked problems that impact your church. Try out the pine cone metaphor as a way of viewing these challenges: imagining that the fires of conflict could transform your church. What would that be like? Share a story about a time when you saw people in church “practicing what they preach, in the middle of the fire.” What did people say and do? What were the results? This discussion is also available as a PDF. Help yourself to this free resource!
The Unpredictable Practice of Showing Up
May 31, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
The Unpredictable Practice of Showing Up
Today we welcome Jeremy Bork to The Colossian Blog. Jeremy is a 2017 graduate of Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Living into his call to youth ministry and love of creation, he will serve this summer as the Assistant Chaplain at Camp Fowler, an RCA wilderness camp in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. He recently accepted a call to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, and will transition into that role in the fall. He participated in a Colossian Way pilot group earlier this year. Last spring I was asked to participate in a small group at Fellowship Reformed Church to test out and offer feedback for a curriculum that sought to engage church conflict around human sexuality. Without much consideration of what they were asking and what I’d be getting into, I said yes. I would later learn that small yes was a greater yes to The Colossian Way, and that yes would come with a cost. For the next ten weeks I gathered every Thursday with members of Fellowship to listen, wrestle, pray, play, apologize, testify, and give thanks. Resisting the world’s seduction toward division, we showed up, sat around one table, read the same sacred texts, prayed to the One we all follow, told our stories, and shared our visions for the future and present of the church. We chose community over tribe, hospitality over hostility, empathy over judgment, and compassion over fear. The Colossian Way insists that participants speak their truth in love. Both words matter. First, truth: say what you need to say. Don’t water it down to get everyone in the room to agree with you. At best that leads to a superficial, integrity-lacking illusion of unity. Instead speak fully and boldly the truth you need to say. Second, love: speak kindly and compassionately. Never say something to intentionally hurt another person. Be aware of the effects your words might have on another, and be ready to receive how someone else experiences your truth. During these ten weeks, we tried our best to speak our truths in love, but too often our gentle, West-Michigan-nice fronts walled us from faithfully speaking our convictions. During our last meeting, Brian broke the barrier. He turned to me and shared about how badly he wants to love me but how his traditional convictions about biblical texts that address same-sex behavior haven’t changed. He genuinely wanted to know how his beliefs affected me and what he could tangibly do to make me feel loved. I thanked him for his honesty and responded transparently. I shared about my sincere thankfulness for our friendship and that he loves me best when he listens to my story to understand and not to respond. I also shared that while I would perhaps worship at Fellowship sometime, I would never bring my boyfriend. Our vulnerability opened others in the room to share what they had wanted to for nine weeks. It was sloppy and beautiful. Let’s Talk LGBTQ With current denominational and institutional divisions around beliefs about LGBTQ people, the student counsel at Western Theological Seminary (my very recent alma mater) felt like this was a needed topic to address. Considering I had been at Western for three years without a single public conversation about something that affected me so directly, I felt like this was long overdue. Together we pitched a community conversation to the seminary leadership. Once the event was approved, it only made sense that it would be facilitated by representatives from The Colossian Way, considering they are what we hope to be: a community that creates space for people to willingly, bravely, and hopefully enter into conflict trusting that Christ holds all things together. Their vision is honorable but uncommon: Christian communities that behave like Christ. On Tuesday, April 25, the Student Counsel of Western Theological Seminary hosted a community conversation titled Staying in the Dialogue in the Midst of Difference: Let’s Talk LGBTQ. As a result of student counsel’s organization, Stacey Duensing’s tenacity, and my pestering, the seminary took an important first step: breaking the silence. I was a panelist for the discussion, along with Brian, the pastor of Fellowship and fellow participant of the TCW group the year before. While on the panel, Brian asked if I felt like “The Token Gay” during last year’s pilot. I grinned and spoke my truth: “Absolutely! But it didn’t bother me, because I knew going in that that’s what I would be. It was important enough to me that an actual LGBTQ person was part of the pilot that I was willing to be that person. It also didn’t bother me, because it was only for 90 minutes a week. At the end of our meeting, I could walk away. That has not been true during my three years at Western. I don’t get to walk away. I am the token gay always. As much as I wear my pain-avoidant smile, being me here is exhausting. I hadn’t realized just how depleting seminary has been for me, and I don’t think I’ve completed grasped how long it will take to heal, to be restored, to return to being just Jeremy.” For a moment I was heard, I was seen, I was known. Unlike the countless walks through the halls wondering who affirms my presence and who wishes I wasn’t around, I sat grateful for the chance to name what is true and hopeful that in opening myself others might do likewise. The conversation continued. Rob asked more questions. Brian and I stayed in the dialogue. We listened curiously, shared truthfully, and questioned genuinely. Our words were unscripted yet deeply formed by our love of God our love for one another. Some who attended the community conversation were upset that Brian and I hugged after we shared such blatantly opposing beliefs on the panel. Noticing the power difference between the two of us, they were uncomfortable that our gesture implied all LGBTQ people should be reconciled to their non-affirming elders to the point of physical embrace. While I understand where they are coming from, Brian and I didn’t fabricate a friendship on April 25. We are actually, authentically friends. We drink coffee and talk about church leadership. When we run into each other at the gym, we sacrifice a squat to catch up with one another. We hugged after the panel, because we have a past, we will have a future, and we are grateful for one other in the present, despite all the ways our friendship is complex. I believe in The Colossian Way, because I believe in the way of Jesus. The ideas of The Colossian Way are not new, but they are radical. It is the simple and unpredictable practice of showing up. It is a foretaste – not a glimpse but a first taste – of the life to come where there’s enough, where everyone belongs, where all of life is connected. It’s an invitation to a way of peace, unity, and empathy rooted in the disciplines of Jesus, and saying yes to this lifestyle will come at a cost. For me, it has required bravery, vulnerability, fierce truth telling, and active listening. At times it has been tiring, irritating, and lonely. But it has been worth it. I have felt the Spirit move in surprising ways. I have seen God’s image revealed in unexpected people. I have heard a fuller telling of the good news of God’s love. I have tasted and seen that Christ truly does hold all things together.