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.”
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.”