Colossian Blog

Displaying all posts tagged "Practices".
Being Faithful, Hopeful, Loving People
October 11, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Being Faithful, Hopeful, Loving People
The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released a study a few weeks ago on the shifting landscape of religious realities in the United States. What it found isn’t especially surprising: the majority of people in this country are religiously unaffiliated. A few additional highlights: White Christians now account for fewer than half of the public. White evangelical Protestants are in decline—along with white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. America’s youngest religious groups are all non-Christian. Christian circles are filled with many hand-wringing articles, studies, and sermons about how to make your community more accessible and welcoming. Despite the attraction and truth of the gospel, people keep leaving the church. The implications for our culture and society can appear bleak: how can we expect to uphold moral and ethical standards when most people in the U.S. don’t even believe in Jesus? We cry out for solutions. We bemoan and fixate on the challenges facing the church in our society. But the prophet Ezekiel reminds us that we, as the body of Christ, are God’s people and God promises rescue, return, and life from ruin. “I will give them a single heart and I will put a new spirit in them…. Then they shall be my people and I shall be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20). Despite what we see in our culture—people leaving the faith, conflict, pride, dissension, protests—there remain faithful shepherds tending to God’s flock. And I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside many of them as they’ve graced us with their involvement in The Colossian Way. In these Colossian Way partners, leaders, coaches, and participants, I see that the faithfulness of shepherds continues to breed life and hope in our world. Certainly, like lost sheep, people still walk away. But God calls back the lost sheep and celebrates their return with a party—a beloved child has come home! Our job is to be faithful, hopeful, loving people along the way—shepherding is a life-long call. We count it sheer joy to play a small role in supporting these faithful shepherds. I pray this gives you hope and reassurance today.
The Practice of Praying for Our Enemies
September 6, 2017 | Michael Gulker
The Practice of Praying for Our Enemies
We’re shifting into a new season. After Labor Day, the rhythms of autumn take hold: vacations are over, school is back in session, church activities kick off, traffic snarls resume, and the busyness continues. On top of it all, we continue to face an onslaught of despairing headlines, from the racial unrest in Charlottesville, to the catastrophic flooding in Texas, and now the changes to DACA. I’m sure I’m not the only one a bit anxious and overwhelmed as we face the cadence of fall. It’s easy to get scattered and fall away from the practices and structures that support our souls. Here’s a suggestion: don’t. That’s an aspirational exhortation. I regularly fall off the wagon this time of year, and it’s usually not until I and everyone around me is completely miserable that I finally cry out for help. I simply don’t do well without regular rhythms of prayer, journaling, and scriptural meditation. As embodied creatures, we are deeply affected by the structures and activities that fill our lives. It’s a fairy tale to think otherwise. One of the practices that sustains me is reading the lectionary. While only one of the churches I attend follows the lectionary (I’m Reformed-Anabaptist, or Anabaptist-Reformed, and I love both my churches too much to give up either!), I am regularly blessed by attending to the cycle of Christ’s life throughout the year. Romans 12:9-21 is particularly apt this week (I encourage you to read it if you haven’t recently). Paul, sounding quite a bit like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, encourages us to “hold fast what is good,” and “persevere in prayer,” and, so far as we are able, “live peaceably with all.” Paul tops it off with a reminder that vengeance is the Lord’s and our responsibility is (yes, you guessed it) enemy love. Not my favorite activity, which, I’m guessing, is why Paul reminds me of it. Enemy love rarely makes our top ten list of desirable Christian activities, but perhaps it ought to, especially given our ridiculously polarized society. In times when our attention, energy, and emotions are spread widely and thinly, it’s imperative we remember to focus on loving God and loving our neighbor—and, oh yeah, our enemies too. My prayer and challenge for us this month is to integrate praying for our enemies into our new rhythms of the season. Of course, this isn’t possible on our own. We need to continue to pray together that the Holy Spirit would do a new thing in us, and that Christ’s peace would reign for the world to see. And today, we can start with our enemies.
What Does Practicing Virtue Look Like? A Study of Prudence
August 30, 2017 | Trey Tirpak
What Does Practicing Virtue Look Like? A Study of Prudence
One of the most important virtues for us to practice is the virtue of prudence. Contrary to popular belief, prudence doesn’t mean being stingy or too scared to act. Prudence is the practice of wisdom or seeing rightly.   Practicing the virtue of prudence is akin to actively resisting impulsive actions, like devouring that whole chocolate cake. Or not letting fearful and prideful passion overrun you in an anxious situation. Practicing prudence can also mean resisting stubbornness. We do these things until it becomes second nature to us. It’s wise not to eat the whole chocolate cake--that’s prudence. Let me give you an example of someone who practiced the virtue of prudence: In the movie Billy Elliot, a boy named Billy tries to be a boxer. He knew what boys did with their pastime: boys box. Those are the facts. There’s one small flaw: he’s horrible at boxing. One day Billy sees the ballet class going on next door. As he’s looking in at the class, Mrs. Wilkinson, the instructor, invites him in. She quickly sees that Billy has the capability to become a prolific ballet dancer. For Billy and his family, this can’t be true; boys don’t dance, they box. Those are the facts. Every impulse and passion of Billy’s community says that boys can’t be ballet dancers. The community is stubborn in what they think they know the truth is and should be. But it’s Mrs. Wilkinson’s good habit, practicing prudence, that enables her to see the truth that Billy isn’t a boxer, but an amazing dancer. Through practicing the virtue of prudence, Mrs. Wilkinson was able to show the truth that Billy was made to dance. What ended up happening was that the rest of their community came to more fully know both truth and love. In their conflict, a good habit got them to a new place they never knew was possible. Practicing virtues are the way that liberates us to actually know truth and love. It liberates us from our old selves which are impulsive, passion-driven, and stubborn. Practicing prudence allows the Holy Spirit to get to us. It’s letting the Holy Spirit lead us to where we too can be liberated of our own ideas of who we think God is. That’s what The Colossian Way is designed to do: liberate us from speaking past each other and missing out on truth and love. Come and Dance Friends, God is always speaking. Just like in the beginning, He’s speaking and creating something new, this time he’s making us anew.  He’s speaking through the Bible, but the Holy Spirit is also communicating to us as through prayer and through each other. Come join this dance, and learn to dance with truth and love.
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.
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!