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Our Blog
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.

Suggested Posts
Does it Work? Discipleship and Witness.
June 8, 2020 | Emily Stroble
Does it Work? Discipleship and Witness.
We see face masks everywhere. Articles fill our news feeds every day, explaining precautions, studies, and the potential effectiveness of innovative solutions for disinfecting our surroundings. We also lament. Outcries against injustice fill our communities. We strive to discern how we are called, in this moment, to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). But will any of it work? It’s a fundamental, bold question, demanding we evaluate the results something produces against its purpose. We are often asked if The Colossian Way works. Our community of over 850 small-group participants in 10 denominations answers with a resounding “yes.”  But what does that mean? First, we must clear up a few misconceptions about The Colossian Way. Some people come to The Colossian Way expecting it to help them change their opponent’s mind or to quickly resolve interpersonal disputes. They will be disappointed. The purpose of the Colossian Way is to equip Christians to navigate deep, cultural conflicts in a way that results in discipleship and witness. “Discipleship” and “witness,” then, are the measure by which we know whether The Colossian Way works. They are central to The Colossian Way because they are central to the life of the Church. The Great Commission, the foundational purpose statement of the Church, commands Christians to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel,” (Mark 16:15) and “make disciples of every nation” (Matthew 28:19). Discipleship and witness change us. Discipleship goes beyond teaching. It evokes a commitment from the pupil to adopt and be formed by the teaching. Similarly, witness goes beyond talking about the Gospel, meaning to testify or give evidence, to live as evidence of Christ’s redemptive work. Conflict has always existed at the center of Christian life, right alongside discipleship and witness. Most of the New Testament is concerned with the witness and discipleship, often in the context of deep cultural conflict. Paul writes frequently about factions within the church, responding to civil authority, and issues around socioeconomic status, to name a few. So, if The Great Commission commands us to disciple and witness, if the Epistles aim to design a Christian community that does just that, let us ask a bold question: Does the Church work?  In a 2015 study by the Barna Group, only 1% of church leaders stated they thought churches were doing discipleship “very well.” A 2017 Lifeway Research Survey found that 32% of young people leaving the church listed hypocrisy as their reason, another 29% didn’t feel connected to their church, and 25% cited political disagreement. The media conveys a similar image of a hypocritical, insular, divided Church, indicating that the same issues that drive congregants away may also prevent them from coming in the first place. While these statistics don’t present a full picture of the Church, they indicate the work to be done if we are to fulfill our purpose as the Body of Christ.  The Colossian Forum has committed to coming alongside churches doing this work. Henry, a pastor trained in The Colossian Way and a member of his Christian Reformed Church Classis’ Healthy Church Task Force, put it this way: “The heart of it is a number of us thinking, ‘how do we work with conflict differently than we have before?’ … The approach can be applied to many things. I’ve heard retired pastors and newer pastors respond immediately that’s exactly what we need to be doing.” The Colossian Way helps church leaders build that different, consistent, approach to navigate the difficult questions and decisions they face right now. Conflict will certainly continue as we begin to regather our congregations and political tensions increase heading into the fall. The bold question that remains is “will the Church work in the face of the deep brokenness of the world?” We invite you to join us with your prayers, leadership, and support. Like many non-profits, The Colossian Forum put its fundraising efforts on hold to focus on the needs of our community in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as we prepare to offer vital decision-making and conflict-engagement resources, training, and support in this critical time, we’re working to match $4,000 pledged by several cornerstone donors by July 10. Our total goal of $8,000 will help equip leaders through forthcoming online training, translate our curriculum into an accessible ebook format, and develop whole-church practices for conflict engagement and decision-making. Give today at colossianforum.org/give.
Reclaiming Jesus
February 14, 2019 | Gene Miyamoto
Reclaiming Jesus
“The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Wicked Problems The “Wicked Problem” of today’s political climate can present us a wonderful, if challenging, opportunity for polarized Christians and churches to gather as one body. It gives us the chance to face our conflict and brokenness, learn through the Spirit to lovingly “fight” well together and to become stronger; to be held together in Christ (Colossians 1:17) and known as Christ’s disciples through our love of one another (John 13:35).  Reclaiming Jesus is a letter from a group of Christian leaders acting upon their conscience, coram deo, posting six theses that affirm what they believe and what they reject, specifically related to several pivotal issues that are driving separation across our society. In the letter, they denounce racism, particularly white supremacy; oppression and abuse of women; abandonment of the vulnerable, the poor, immigrants and refugees; normalization of lying and the undermining of the public accountability to truth; autocratic and authoritarian rule; and xenophobic ethnic nationalism. Their declaration calls to churches for a process of prayer, discernment and turning away from complicity in politics that undermines the theology of being seen as disciples of Christ through love for one another. The authors repudiate “those at the highest levels of political leadership” who incite such behaviors, implying but without naming President Trump.  Critics of this statement, such as the author of the 6/10/18 The Washington Times’ op-ed, “Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing,” focus primarily on hyperbolic criticism of the “Reclaiming Jesus” authors, rather than offering biblical exegesis illuminating counter-points.  Choose Loving Engagement Over Rhetoric But rhetoric isn’t the point. Rather than trying to convince the other to come over to our side or engaging in a vitriolic argument that simply drives us further apart, we have the opportunity to change the conversation. We can recognize these kinds of opinion differences – these conflicts – as Christ-given possibilities to offer a new way to approach our disagreements.    In this case, both sides are equally impassioned, equally committed to revealing the “truth.” It is precisely, squarely within the realm of disagreement between two sides such as these where we have the chance to deepen our relationships with God and one another. For the pastors, local churches and young people watching and waiting to see what liturgical leaders will say and do in response to this, and other arguments, that are playing out on the national stage, be encouraged. Because polarized Christians who gather and lovingly engage and learn well together as one body held together in Christ provides a wonderful opportunity for leadership and discipleship.  Let’s defy Dr. King’s observation. Let’s join our voices to create a beautiful sound, change the way we argue, and both lift up and restore the church and its people.

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