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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!
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.
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.
Reflections on Unity
May 24, 2017 | Trey Tirpak
Reflections on Unity
As a soon-to-be college graduate who is looking forward to heading out into the world, I’ve realized that I’m inheriting an American society that is more polarized than ever. Republicans hate Democrats, Democrats hate Republicans, and all of us are suspicious of those Independents. As I think about where I may find my next church home, I often read the statements of faith that many churches now publish on their websites. I ask myself if it’s a liberal church or a conservative church. I wonder what position their members and leadership take on gay marriage or evolution. Sometimes, from just a simple glance at a church web page, I uncharitably conclude that, “These aren’t the type of Christians I want to worship with”. I assume that I am not alone in this. Yet are we not one church? Do we not eat at one table, kneel at one cross, praise but one name? Across political, socioeconomic, and geographic divides, all Christians claim the same good news: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us and was resurrected. How, then, do we account for the incredible differences in opinion among Christians today and what exactly do we do about it? The Apostle Paul compares the church to a human body. Like a human body, the body of Christ is made up of many parts. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul writes, “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit”. Each part of the body brings a different perspective, a different understanding, and has a different role to play. But no part can function on its own and all must work together to survive. Even in the tremendous diversity of the body, by God's power there is unity. This unity in Christ has been hard to see in recent times. Christians of differing theological understandings have resorted to schism and isolation rather than attempting the hard work of confronting conflict. And while it may seem easier for rival factions to simply go their separate ways, where is the Christian witness in running from difficult situations? Is our belief in God's power so small that we cannot fathom the bridging of our differences? Is our commitment to Jesus' command to love one another really so weak? Paul's words admonish our actions: "The eye can never say to the hand, 'I don’t need you.' The head can’t say to the feet, 'I don’t need you.'" Our Christian witness is not found in our ability to agree on all things. We are not called to be a church of mindless clones. That is the witness of human culture, which forces individuals to choose between agreement or exclusion. Instead, our Christian witness is found in the fact that we are one body of many disagreeing parts. Our witness is found in our diversity, in our humility, in our graciousness, in our love for God, and in our love for one another. This is something the world cannot offer, for only God can hold together such a messy, marvelous body. As it is written in Colossians 1:17-18 (TCF’s namesake verse), “in Christ all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church ….” Even with Christ as the head, disagreements will still exist among believers. But Christians have a choice when it comes to conflict in their churches. And when we choose to let Christ hold us together, we choose to receive the blessing of his saving grace and the power of his resurrection. The spiritual death that is enmity, division, and suspicion can be turned into a renewed life of love, unity, and understanding. I've seen it happen in my own life. I work at a church whose theological and political leanings differ from mine. Over the years, I've found myself becoming more critical and less gracious in my thoughts toward my church. But God has been working on my heart, and while I still don't agree with some of my church family, I've started loving them in a new way. Instead of loving my church family despite our disagreements, I've somehow come to love them because of those disagreements. I'm beginning to realize that my brothers and sisters who disagree with me are not some sort of trial or hardship, but an example of God's grace in my life. How else are we to experience God's grace and power if not through his ability to renew our lives in the midst of conflict and disagreement? I have been blessed with the time I've had as an intern at The Colossian Forum. My experience here has helped me come to a new understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. As I move forward into this next chapter of my life, I pray for opportunities to put this new perspective into practice, trusting that all things truly will hold together in Christ.
Schools Bridging Faith and Science
May 17, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Schools Bridging Faith and Science
This article originally appeared on May 8, 2017, in Convivium, a publication of CARDUS: www.cardus.ca. Thanks for the mention! Controversy over religion and science is nothing new. That’s certainly true in the world of education. Indeed, a recent commentary in the Washington Post lamented 60 examples of what the author called “anti-science education legislation” that could affect what American students are taught regarding the evolution-creation debate and global warming. We may even see the odd flare-up of such conflict in Canada. So, it’s not surprising that public skepticism abounds regarding the ability of religious schools – evangelical Christian schools in particular – to teach science. However, new research by the Cardus Religious Schools Initiative (CRSI) at the University of Notre Dame offers evidence that such skepticism is ill founded. In their newly released paper, Blinded by Religion? Religious School Graduates and Perceptions of Science in Young Adulthood , researchers Jonathan Schwartz and David Sikkink examined religious school graduates’ orientations toward science. Using the latest Cardus Education Survey data from Canada and the United States, they analyzed graduates’ views on a range of subjects, including science, creation vs. evolution, and the number of science courses taken. They found that graduates of religious schools do sometimes hold distinct views on science as compared to public school graduates. But these distinctions aren’t uniform across the board. Neither are they the kinds of distinctions that would inspire popular caricatures of religious school grads as simpletons who believe in a flat Earth. In fact, when it comes to taking science courses, you’d be hard-pressed to find much difference between Canadian religious and public school graduates. Controlling for family background and parental education, Schwartz and Sikkink found that “students at private religious schools enroll in science classes at a similar rate to public school peers in Canada.” The distinction in the United States, meanwhile, is that only homeschoolers (religious and non-religious) were the least likely of all students to have taken courses in biology, chemistry, or physics, or to have had at least three science courses throughout high school. There was little to distinguish American graduates of private Christian schools from their public school counterparts in that regard. What about attitudes toward scientists? You might expect some animosity towards them from religious grads, but you wouldn’t find it in Canada. “Generally speaking, Canadians hold scientists in similar esteem regardless of their high school educational context,” say the researchers. It’s a slightly different picture in the United States. There, graduates of evangelical Protestant schools tend to be less trusting of scientists and assign a lower value to their social contributions than public school grads do. That’s a difference to be sure, but hardly a unique or problematic one from a social point of view. The battle over whether to teach creationist critiques of evolutionary theory is certainly sharper in the United States than in Canada. And that seems to emerge in the research as well. “In Canada, school sector does not on its own increase an individual’s belief in literal versions of creationism, but the U.S. case differs,” write Schwartz and Sikkink. American grads of evangelical Protestant high schools were found to be “more likely to adhere to a literal version of creation than their public high school peers.” What they couldn’t determine, though, was whether this was the result of teaching in science class, or an indirect result of the students’ religious and social lives. In short, it will take more research to draw conclusions about whether these schools actually make much difference in graduates’ creationist views. What about perceived conflicts between religious beliefs and science? On this question, both in Canada and in the U.S., there is little evidence to show that the type of school a student attended affects their likelihood to sense a science-religion conflict. However, the researchers did find that the more high school science courses Canadian students take, the more likely they are to perceive a conflict between science and religion. Notably, though, that holds regardless of which type of school they attended. So, this could be the result of a cultural difference between Canadians and Americans. While the science-religion conflict does not come up in a big way in this research, that’s not to say that perceptions of conflict don’t exist. Some educators are taking steps to equip themselves to handle such issues in the classroom, as evidenced by the creation of the FAST (Faith and Science Teaching) Curriculum developed by the Kuyers Institute and The Colossian Forum. The curriculum aims to help teachers lead their students into studying the intersection of faith and science, possibly reducing perceptions of conflict in the process. Meanwhile, William T. Cavanaugh, DePaul University theology professor, and James K. A. Smith, editor-in-chief of Cardus’s public theology journal Comment , have co-edited a new book that tackles related issues from a different angle. Evolution and the Fall examines the implications for a Christian understanding of creation and the entry of sin into the world if the widely accepted view of humanity’s evolutionary origins are true. Its provocative premise lays bare issues that Christians will inevitably have to deal with. All in all, we do see some differences between graduates of private Christians schools and public school graduates. But they aren’t all that stark or as shocking. If anything, this latest piece of CRSI research is perhaps our strongest indicator yet that Christian schools in Canada and the United States don’t have as troubled a relationship with science as many would expect. What’s more, there are efforts within the wider Christian community to bridge what perceived gaps do exist between faith and science.  In time, the research and bridge-building efforts may increase understanding and support for the vital place that religious schools hold in the education systems of both Canada and the U.S.