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From Conflict to Unity and a New Way Forward
August 16, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
From Conflict to Unity and a New Way Forward
We're honored that Pillar Church asked TCF president Michael Gulker to present on Conflict as Opportunity: Learning to Fight Like Jesus, as part of their Christ in the City series in Holland, Michigan. Christ in the City is focusing on how Christians can make peace with duality in the world. Topics covered include creation, gender, politics, the church body, and human sexuality. Pillar was the site of a denominational split in the 1850s. Like many tough conflicts, tensions were high, both sides entrenched in the truth as they believed it, and answers simply pointed to the growing divide. It came to a head when some members of Pillar Church locked other members out, went on to start a new church, which soon led to a new denomination. It's a familiar story of conflict and separation, even over 150 years later. Pillar's history is defined by division and conflict, and today they are the first church that is dually affiliated with the denominations involved in the split.  It's not an easy path, but a remarkable one that truly shows that "all things hold together in Christ" (Colossians 1:17). In our watchful, divided, and polarized world, we're thrilled to be partners with churches like Pillar who engage in deep discipleship and are proof of what it looks like when you turn conflict into opportunity. Here's the audio of Michael Gulker's presentation on learning to fight like Jesus. [audio mp3="http://colossianforum.org/site.2016/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Pillar_20170809_CITC.mp3"][/audio] Curious how we're helping make a more beautiful church? Our mission here at The Colossian Forum is to equip leaders to transform cultural conflicts into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness. We want to see a more beautiful church, one that acts Christian, especially in the face of conflict. Check out our series of three short videos that introduces The Colossian Way. The first covers wicked problems. [embed]https://vimeo.com/180640688[/embed] The second tackles Christian virtues: [embed]https://vimeo.com/187857994[/embed] And the third outlines how we see conflict as opportunity here at TCF. [embed]https://vimeo.com/180188904[/embed] We have a short video discussion guide that accompanies this video series. To access it, email us at info@colossianforum.org. Simply mention videos in the subject line. When you email us, we'll also send you our Top Ten Frequently Asked Questions to help guide your discipleship journey. One Last Thing The Colossian Forum shot a video at Pillar Church a few years ago that highlights our foundation in faith, science, and culture, and how that important conversation is a stepping stone to deeper discipleship and Christian witness. Enjoy! [embed]https://vimeo.com/32912914[/embed]
What Kind of People Does Endless Doing Create Us to Be?
August 8, 2017 | Michael Gulker
What Kind of People Does Endless Doing Create Us to Be?
Our society imagines itself as one of doing, accomplishment, and endless potential. Our work usually centers on achievement, performance, and mastering the next set of skills. Our families revolve around myriad activities and school structures (which train our children for the workplace). Our churches constantly look for the next new thing—a goal, an outreach, a youth program, a worship leader—that will help us grow the kingdom of God. Our personal lives can seem like an endless merry-go-round of multi-tasking, anxiety, and thinking about the next thing. If we believe our spiritual journey is somehow exempt from these constant formative pressures, we are badly mistaken. Take a moment to reflect. Sabbath rest seems mythical, easily co-opted for another day of task completion. In the endless pursuit of what might be, who’s got time to stop and give thanks for what already IS? As you pray through this, I’d invite you to stop and ponder, “What kind of people does this endless doing make us to be? Spiritual formation into the image of Christ is a core commitment of The Colossian Forum because everything we do forms us. Spiritual formation just IS. Everything we do either makes us Christ-like or less like Christ. The things we participate in, see, experience, and even avoid shape and form our spirits. Especially in the middle of messy conflict, where our default is to DO: make the dazzling argument, and efficiently prove to everyone that my way is the best way so we can get on to the next thing. Perform, argue, impress, DO. What would conflict look like if, instead of that human, self-focused doing, we were grounded in practices of Christ-focused being? Perhaps we must first BE in the presence of Christ, if we’re going to be present to one another. Truthfully, given my own formation in a performance-oriented culture, this is not my default behavior. I’m usually crafting the perfect zinger in my head long before my conversation partner is finished speaking. But if I’m not called simply to win the argument, what am I supposed to say or even pray? Too often, I simply don’t know. Thankfully, Scripture shows us we’re not alone in this not knowing. Paul seems to take it for granted when he says, “likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). This passage comes right before Romans 9-11, Paul’s largely failed attempt to understand how God’s promises to the Jews are still valid even as they reject the risen Lord. It’s a dilemma we’re still befuddled by 2,000 years later. Unresolved conflict is part of the mystery of faith, but what’s not a mystery is God’s faithfulness to us, already, now, without our having to DO anything other than respond in joy to what IS. Pray for us, for yourselves, for the wider church, as we seek to be people of joy in the midst of conflict. Thank you for being on this journey with us. This post is excerpted from our August prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.
From Complication and Frustration to A Third Place
August 2, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
From Complication and Frustration to A Third Place
Often people think that what we do at The Colossian Forum centers around conflict resolution and agreeing to disagree. Those simple phrases don't quite capture how reframing the conversation around love of God and love of neighbor can truly transform messy situations into deep spiritual growth and witness. That's why this eight-minute video from Parker Palmer is so illuminating. This Quaker elder and educator shares about finding a third space in the middle of polarizing sides clashing. He acknowledges that when conversation around difficult issues involves us throwing conclusions at one another, it's not a conversation worth having because it won't go anywhere worth going. The centrality of right relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters is vital to holding complexity all the way to new possibilities. Here at TCF, we're the first to admit that us humans are complicated and the topics we delve into are complicated. But we believe there's a way forward. We've seen it happen. This video helps articulate the deeper third space this process and framing inhabits. We hope it will help identify, clarify, and move you forward. Thanks to our partners at Long Beach Christian Fellowship, who shared this video with us and plan to use it to explain The Colossian Way to their church.
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!
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.