Colossian Blog

Displaying all posts by Michael Gulker.
Lessons in Transparency
July 12, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Lessons in Transparency
Dear Friends, Recently, I’ve been reading Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life, by Rowan Williams. I was immediately struck by Williams’ introductory remarks that pursuing deeper Christian commitment isn’t done by reading books. Rather, it is accomplished “by the daily effort to live in a way that allows Jesus Christ to come through in our lives; we are caught up in the task of showing that what we say is credible.” We serve as effective disciples when we are “transparent to Christ” in our thoughts, speech, and actions. According to Williams, our task is to live in a way that dispels the murkiness obscuring Christ’s presence; thus, empowering us to grow in love of God and neighbor. By being transparent to Christ across time, we slowly become people who live as “credible” disciples—literally giving credence to our words. Our sidesteps and missteps as much as our successes give us daily opportunities to display Christ as his forgiveness and humility permeate our life together. Dave Odom, executive director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, visited us a few weeks ago to facilitate a discussion on TCF’s work and culture. One of our big “a-ha” moments of painful transparency came when he observed that some of our staff (myself included) work as if our mission is a sprint instead of a marathon; this is despite the fact that we know our vision of a Christian community that acts like Christ, especially in the face of conflict, will not be accomplished in a life time. Although we are encouraged daily by stories of transformation, ours is a marathon vision that requires a measured and disciplined pace. When we view our work as a sprint, failing to take time to care for one another and for our partners, we shortcut the “daily effort to live in a way that allows Jesus Christ to come through in our lives.” By failing to care for and appreciate each other in our daily tasks, our mission loses its credibility as our tasks become crass transactions and we lose sight of our longing for God-empowered transformation. Dave challenged us to live into our own mission, to add a few life-giving rhythms to help us sustain our marathon mission of equipping leaders to transform polarizing cultural conflicts into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness. He’s absolutely right. In this way, we model the honesty and consistency we’re calling our Colossian Way group leaders to embody. Our words gain credibility when we practice the rhythm of Godly thinking, speech, and action—including confession and forgiveness—all within a context of worship. Through this manner of living together, trust grows and the opportunity of engaging one another across our differences is made possible in increasingly beautiful ways. Through your faithful prayers and participation with us in this work, you are a vital member of this community of practice—a community that is, according to Williams, “growing in the life that Jesus shares with us, so that we can become signs of life and hope in our world.” I am deeply grateful for your partnership, and I pray that you receive this letter as an act of transparency and a credible gift of Christ’s grace. This post is excerpted from our July prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.
Finding the Next Faithful Step
June 7, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Finding the Next Faithful Step
Dear Friends, In our journey together into the heart of church conflict, many of you have noted that The Colossian Forum doesn’t provide a set of “answers” regarding divisive issues, but challenges Christians to practice trusting that all things already hold together in Christ. If we live out of this trust, seeking to hold truth and love together amidst our differences, the Holy Spirit will act to bring forth something new, lead us into all truth, and provide the vision for the next step of faithfulness. At TCF, we have the honor of seeing God act in amazing ways, creating friendships across political and ideological divides that are nothing short of miraculous. Yet delight across difference doesn’t do away with the fact that we still have to make decisions about how we’re going to live together. This means, according to the world’s narrative, there will be winners and losers. When a gay couple asks to be married in a specific church, there is either a “yes” or a “no,” regardless of how deep the love and delight we’ve discovered in others with whom we disagree. So how do we make decisions as churches and institutions while still disagreeing? How do we elevate love of God and love of neighbor when there are clear winners and losers? Well, since we don’t have the answer to this question, it’s one more occasion to practice holding truth and love together, praying the Holy Spirit would provide the vision for the next step of faithfulness. And we’ve been praying for this a long time. One of our Colossian Way participants is a key leader in her church and when confronted with this either-or, winner-loser question, she responded in a surprising and Spirit-creative way. She noted that she’d been living as the “loser” in her church for over 20 years, but remained committed both to the church and to the people who disagreed with her. She didn’t give up what she believed. She didn’t walk away. And she doesn’t want those who disagree with her to give up and walk away either. Instead she wants them to continue to live committed to corporate faithfulness with her and the church for another 20 years. Maybe, just maybe, through their continued life together, the Spirit will lead them more deeply into truth. The future is uncertain. But what seems more certain is that if she had left 20 years ago, or if those on the opposite side of the issue leave now, the possibility for the Spirit to act in their midst is diminished. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can walk The Colossian Way. We can live together. We can experience a foretaste of heavenly communion on earth. But on this side of the second coming, there are going to be times when, at least in the world’s frame, there are winners and losers. There will be pain. There will be loss. There will be sacrifice. Can we take that on? Can we live out of Christ’s victory that has not yet fully come? Can we show the world a better frame—a more interesting story? How might we act differently? How might we stick together in these moments in new and interesting ways? A lot of us are facing these realities right now in our churches and institutions. It’s tough, gut-wrenching work. Here at TCF, we’re praying for you as you discern the next faithful step in “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The Holy Spirit will act if we come open-handed, recognizing our need for the Spirit’s action. But will we have eyes to see it when it happens? Will we have the courage to follow the Spirit’s lead? We join you in praying for God to move and act as the church discerns the next faithful step in our current dilemmas. This post is excerpted from our June prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.
Global Reflections on Loneliness
May 3, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Global Reflections on Loneliness
Dear Friends, A humbling and rewarding aspect of writing and sending these prayer letters each month is hearing your feedback. Last month’s letter really struck a chord with many of you, as I shared about the underlying issue of loneliness that rose to the surface during a recent experience with The Colossian Way. A lot of our fear of conflict is rooted in our fear of loneliness. Interestingly, we also see that conflict can create and reinforce loneliness. In conflict, many of us tend to either withdraw from relationships and situations thereby becoming isolated, or fight with others who have different perspectives resulting in alienation and separation. One of the responses I received to last month’s prayer letter framed this matter through a global lens. Sandra Costen Kunz, a friend of TCF, recently taught Christian Education at Trinity Theological Seminary in Ghana, West Africa. Here are her international reflections on loneliness: It’s incredibly refreshing to have you name one of the primary “demons” driving the departures from “traditional sexual morality” in Ghana and the U.S.: fear of loneliness. It’s not just departures from that “traditional sexual morality” that are becoming the norm in Ghana and the U.S. now, but also departures from traditional understandings of the ties that bind children, adults, and the elderly together in long-term extended family networks through day-to-day relating, face-to-face time, and mutual care. In both the United States and Ghana, fear of loneliness also seems to be driving the frantic tone of both the ecclesiastical and political contentiousness around the following issues: How people form and fund household economies Where sexual activity fits into household economies How much face-to-face time the young and elderly (who don’t earn wages) enjoy with relatives who do earn wages How our society will support, via tax cuts, various configurations of household economies Naming the fear of loneliness as the root of much of the suffering driving ecclesiastical contentiousness reminded me of the powerful conversations that took place in my youth ministry courses in Ghana. My deeply thoughtful students connected the fear of loneliness with many kinds of suffering Ghanaian youth are experiencing due to changes in economic and sexual norms in that nation. We’re grateful for partners and friends, like Sandra, who help us stay connected with our deep theological core and challenge us to reframe and broaden our vision of a more beautiful church centered on the love of God and love of neighbor. This post is excerpted from our May prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.
Celebrating God's Faithfulness in 2016
April 12, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Celebrating God's Faithfulness in 2016
God has provided abundantly for The Colossian Forum this year. He has built, grown, and blessed it. It belongs to him. We are thankful and humbled by your support in 2016 as we solidified the foundation for a successful launch of The Colossian Way—an intergenerational, small group journey that gathers Christians together in messy situations for the sake of discipleship. This experience cultivates Christian virtues, helping participants turn conflicts into opportunities for witness, spiritual growth, and transformation. You have been pioneers and visionaries with us as God does a new, transformative thing in the midst of his people! Here are a few highlights from 2016: Successfully piloted The Colossian Way in communities across the country We designed The Colossian Way experience to be more than curricula providing information on divisive topics. It’s also meant to be a formational tool equipping leaders to transform challenging issues into opportunities for deep discipleship and fellowship in an age of increasing polarization and fragmentation. This year, 10 Christian communities participated in a pilot of The Colossian Way. The communities comprised settings as diverse as churches, high schools, and colleges from Michigan to Colorado to Pennsylvania. Participants ranged in age from 15-85, and were as diverse ideologically as they were generationally. Throughout The Colossian Way experience, we received a regular stream of encouraging stories. One teenage girl, who began The Colossian Way journey feeling only marginally connected to her church, ended with a clear sense that “these are my people!” Another young man commented after the experience, “I don’t have any place in my life to talk seriously about divisive issues. The last place I expected it to happen was at my church! When are we going to do this again?” People, young and old alike, reported feeling called out of the fear and loneliness created by polarization into fellowship with one another and with God. Through the exceptional support and guidance of their leaders and coaches, believers captured the vision of The Colossian Way and carried it forward in their communities. Developed a 3-year strategic plan We spent a significant amount of time in prayer and discernment during the year laying out a 3-year strategic plan for The Colossian Forum, which our Board of Directors approved in the fall. The plan was a huge step forward in solidifying our mission, vision, and goals for the national launch of The Colossian Way. It also marked a major turning point in moving us from researching how The Colossian Way “works” to inviting believers across the country to join us on the journey. By equipping Christian communities to take on TCF’s transformational work, we set in motion the opportunity for an increasing number of believers to experience the dazzling truth that, even in the midst of conflict, “all things hold together in Christ” (Colossians 1:17). We look forward to even more stories of connection and growth as The Colossian Way expands and is adopted by Christian communities across the country. Established a new look, new location, and three new websites During the year, we unveiled a new logo for The Colossian Forum as well as a new tagline (Hope in Practice). Our original logo and tagline reflected an emphasis on faith and science topics while our new look highlights our broader mission and vision of inviting communities to transform a wide-range of culturally divisive issues into opportunities for discipleship and witness. In November, we moved to a new office space on the west side of Grand Rapids which provides additional room for staff expansion and collaborative working. The larger facility also allows more people to participate in gatherings and trainings for The Colossian Way. We also launched three new websites in 2016 that support our work: ColossianWay.org:Showcases The Colossian Way experience and shares the stories of our pilot groups. (Launched January 2016) TeachFASTly.com:Equips teachers to foster discipleship among students specifically at the intersection of faith and science. (Launched September 2016) ColossianForum.org:Highlights our core mission of equipping leaders to transform polarizing cultural conflict into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness. It also invites visitors to explore our current projects, upcoming events, our blog, and more about our staff and mission. (Launched October 2016) I am deeply grateful for all of you. It’s a joy to know that you are breaking new ground with us, praying for us, and sharing in this innovative work of proclaiming the good news of Christ’s peace afresh to this hurting and fragmented world. I look forward to the year ahead as we see what God has planned for The Colossian Forum and our small role in his kingdom work. Thanks be to God! Read more from our 2016 Annual Report. 
Everything We Need
April 5, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Everything We Need
Dear Friends, As Christians, we take it on faith that God has already given us everything we need to be faithful. Yet, we can’t help but wonder how this plays out as our churches shrink and age, our public influence declines, and we are every bit as divided as the surrounding culture—or more so. What does “everything we need” look like when tensions are high, when you feel strongly about a particular topic and are absolutely certain “they” have it completely wrong? Especially when that “they” includes friends, a spouse, children, or parents? In this world, we don’t always get what we want. Neither did Jesus: “Take this cup from me.” But we do get what we need: “Thy will be done.” And what we need to heal our fractured communities and lives is what we already have in abundance—opportunities to lay down our lives for those with whom we disagree as the means by which we learn to trust that the goodness of the Father is enough. Recently, I had the privilege of experiencing this “everything we need” up close through The Colossian Way. We thought we had gathered to talk about sexuality and marriage, but what we discovered was deep and abiding loneliness: loneliness of a sexual minority, loneliness of someone long widowed, loneliness of a divorcee, loneliness of a happily married man, loneliness of a woman who feared rejection if people knew what she “really” thought. We all had different thoughts about marriage, yet we shared a longing for communion and fellowship that won’t be fulfilled this side of heaven. In fact, we found that much of our disagreements about marriage were driven by our fears of loneliness. But in sharing that loneliness we found a fellowship with God and one another that was enough, a foretaste, a brief transfiguration of our lives giving us a glimpse of what will be. Perhaps more challengingly, God also revealed that he isn’t going to resolve our disagreements for us. Rather, by giving us these irresolvable dilemmas, he’s revealed our idolatrous fixation on what we want: certainty, resolution, security—all without having to lay down our lives. But we don’t get what we want. What we get is the call to participate in Christ’s own sacrificial love so that we and the world may know that he is Lord. Friends, it’s my prayer that this story will remind you of what you already know: the reconciling power of the gospel is everything we need. When we encounter the true and living God in these vulnerable spaces, when we have our lives transfigured by loving as Christ loves, this is when we realize afresh the secret of contentment: the gospel is TRUE! We rediscover in those moments that what we need has been there in front of us all along—the broken body of Christ, given for us. Thanks be to God! This post is excerpted from our April prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.
Leaning Into the Messy Togetherness
March 8, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Leaning Into the Messy Togetherness
During our second pilot of The Colossian Way, I’ve had the unique privilege of participating in one group, leading another, and coaching leaders of two other groups. I relish this time with fellow believers and participants in The Colossian Way. In one session, we opened with a reflection on Ephesians 4.After describing all Christ has done for us in the preceding chapters, Paul urges us in this chapter to live worthy of our calling by taking up humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance in order to maintain our unity. Our group discussed these virtues fruitfully and then committed to practice them together. Soon after, we watched a video on the sexuality topic which voiced a viewpoint completely opposite to some of our participants. One member of the group took offense. She was frustrated with the viewpoint, felt it as an attack, and understandably wanted some time to process and respond. My temperature immediately went up. Couldn’t this group member listen to the speaker rather than attack? What about our recent commitment to express humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance? Like a protective parent, I immediately rushed to the defense of The Colossian Way program. In my hasty approach, I displayed none of the fruit of the Spirit we had just discussed. Fortunately for me, the leaders of the group had cooler heads, and they diffused the situation by gently asking questions: “Do we need to decide if he’s right or wrong? Or can we just try to hear him? Do we need to defend him or argue against him? What might humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance look like for us here tonight, together?” Talk about a “come to Jesus” moment. This is why we can’t do this alone. Yet, I fear that most participants entering The Colossian Way will look to avoid the messy togetherness. Instead, they will begin the experience with the false expectation they’re going to delve deeply into the mysteries of human sexuality and scriptural interpretation, and argue their way through to a commonly held answer. But fully engaging a topic as complex as sexual identity in ten weeks is a fantasy that will derail what’s supposed to be happening: growing a Christian community that acts like Christ in the midst of tough cultural conflicts. Then again, my own fears about how the program might fail may also derail what’s supposed to be happening! There are many ways we can fail in these conversations. But in the very act of joining together and bumping up against each other’s folly, every failure has the potential to be a moment of grace, a moment of insight, a moment to encounter God’s reconciling power and love for us right in the middle of our muddle. I am so grateful for those wise souls who are able, in that messy middle, to see Jesus and point us to him. What a joy to be with such folks. And as our work moves beyond the pilot phase and launches this May in churches across the country, I yearn to see how God works in others to take up this vision of a Christian community that acts like Christ, especially during these times of conflict and polarization. We might just come to realize how desperately we, and our world, need the other in the midst of community to cultivate the virtues of humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. We covet your prayers as we move into this new phase of our mission at The Colossian Forum. This post is excerpted from our March prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.