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Colossian Blog
August 17, 2016 | Jennifer Vander Molen

Respect that Grows: A Colossian Way Story

Earlier this year, over 100 Christians went through the initial pilot phase of The Colossian Way. The Colossian Way equips pastors and lay leaders to change how their communities think about and handle challenging issues. You can read more about it here. Enjoy this story from one of our pilot groups!

Getting to know someone you disagree with as a person, rather than an opponent, may seem like an obvious thing to do, and yet it rarely happens.

Over the course of a 10-week Colossian Way pilot, the Campus Edge Fellowship group witnessed the power of sharing personal stories, not just arguments, and framing tense, uncomfortable conversations with worship and prayer.

The Colossian Way has each session start with people sharing their stories: who they are, their backgrounds, experiences they’ve had with the topic and why they’re interested in talking about it.

For co-facilitator Sarah Bodbyl Roels, this was one of her favorite parts. “A person’s sources of authority and the accumulation of lifelong experiences influence how they think about and interact with the world,” she said. “It’s interesting to consider that if you had the same experiences, you might think the same way.”

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Surprisingly, the main source of conflict wasn’t so much creationism vs. evolution, but how much the issue of origins actually matters.

“We had a lot of, ‘Why are we even talking about this?’ discussions in the beginning,” co-faciliator Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink said. “For most people, this isn’t a salvation issue … but that’s a clear point of tension with someone who has spent much of their time studying evolutionary biology, or someone whose belief about how the earth came into being has ostracized them from their church. There are direct implications for how you live on this planet with how you believe God brought the world into being.”

However, that tension led directly to a moment both Brenda and Sarah describe as a highlight. During an exercise where group members were asked to line themselves up on the basis of how much they thought this issue mattered, two people who were at opposite extremes (one strongly for six-day Creation, the other for evolution) found themselves standing in the same spot, united by their belief that this issue mattered a lot.

“Seeing that was really powerful,” Sarah said. “We saw them look at each other and realize, ‘Even though we disagree, we both feel so strongly about this.’ Without that, I think they would have been so exasperated that they could hardly have understood each other.”

Brenda added: “I think a huge respect for each other grew out of that, and a level of connection that they might not otherwise have had, to find that commonality with a person they disagreed with.”

Having those kinds of unexpected relationships form was a high point for the group. “It got to the point that when someone would say something, another person would chime in to support them, even though that person might have had a differing opinion,” Brenda said. “But they were still willing to reach out and bridge, and show, ‘I get where you’re at, and I understand why you say that. Even though I don’t personally hold that opinion, I validate yours.’”

In fact, the community-building was strong enough that even after the pilot was over, group members were comfortable enough with one another to gather again for general discussion and hangout time.

As much as they celebrate the relationships that formed during the pilot, Sarah and Brenda both wish there would have been a bit more conflict. “We never really got to that full boiling point. We just kind of simmered,” Sarah said. “I know many people had more to say, but they were too polite. I think we could have grown more as a group if we had had some blow-ups. Those would have created opportunities for growth in healing and relationships – you’ve hurt the other person and they’ve hurt you, but let’s move beyond that and learn to live together in community.”

However, one of the last lessons had people list what they had learned in terms of how to have positive conversations, and Brenda was pleased to see people realize, “I do have the skills to have a positive conversation about this with someone. I feel like I’m better able to do that now.”

Sarah added that one participant shared that she now understood “that good conversation and relationship-building happens not only when you take the time to understand the opinion/viewpoint of someone who disagrees with you, but also the additional time and effort to understand the person behind the opinion.”

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The church today has a poor record in helping people navigate conflict, but conflict can be the very thing that can heal them. In fact, we can harness it to be better disciples. Learn more in Faith and Leadership's interview with The Colossian Forum President Michael Gulker here.    
Re-shaping and Re-forming Through Conflict
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Q: How can a conflict be a place of Christian formation? A: While most people see a divisive issue as a problem to overcome, at The Colossian Forum we see such conflicts as places of growth. Conflict shines light on our souls. When pressures mount, our character becomes apparent. Some of what we see is disappointing, as when we protect ourselves more than our vulnerable neighbor. On the other hand, when humility emerges under pressure, it is humility indeed. But beyond learning about ourselves, conflicts are classrooms for learning new habits. Messy conflicts are more than problems to be solved. They place us on the brink of being more deeply formed as Christians. Unfortunately, we have been deeply formed by our polarized culture. The 24-hour news cycle teaches us that there are two ways of seeing the world: a right way and a wrong way, and that both can be summarized in a tweet. Our constant consumption of news, of arguments, information, facts, and stats from our channel of choice plays to our belief that if we can just deploy the right information with enough flair, the world will be forced to see things our way. But then we discover (over and over again) that this doesn’t work. The other side always has a counterargument. We get frustrated and begin thinking of them as willfully naïve, stupid, or just plain evil. Each time the news cycle goes around, we are tempted to increasing viciousness. Our capacity for living according to Christ’s pattern grows weaker and weaker. But there’s always a God-pleasing way forward for Christians. When we recognize our malformation, we have the opportunity to seek God’s gracious work that will re-form us into the shape we were intended to be. And we have a role in this reshaping work. Christians have always recognized that “getting saved” is only the beginning of growing in faithfulness. Walking this road of formation, of discipleship, is a central mark of the Christian life. Our formation as disciples proceeds best if it flows out of more than good intentions. Christians have generally understood certain practices to build good Christian character. Prayer, Bible reading, receiving the Lord’s Supper, hymn singing, giving to those in need: such traditional practices form Christians (by God’s grace) into people who are patient, humble, truthful, and loving. These basic Christian practices can be helpfully complemented by additional practices that are particularly suited for responding to the cultural pressures of the age. The Colossian Way is a practice of engaging a challenging topic while simultaneously pursuing obedience and faithfulness to Christ. Such a practice channels the pressure and energy around a “hot topic” into constructive spiritual formation. At the same time, good formation is the best pathway for solving the problem before us.

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