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Colossian Blog
July 26, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen

Deeper Discipleship Needs an Effective Toolbox: An Interview with TCF’s Rob Barrett

When we onboard new staff and interns, they are tasked to spend time with everyone on the TCF team and get to know them both personally and professionally. Our intern Rebecca Murdock saw her time with Rob Barrett, our Director of Forums and Scholarship, through her writers’ lens. We think (and hope) you’ll enjoy this insight into Rob and his work here at TCF.

It’s late afternoon on a Monday, and I’ve snagged some time with Rob Barrett between his responsibilities editing curriculum and working on a video shoot for the next Colossian Way training session. Despite being surrounded by paperwork, he seems upbeat, making occasional quips about the hurdles he’s facing.

When I ask him why he’s here at The Colossian Forum, he smiles. “For some reason, I’m drawn to projects that others see as impossible,” he says chuckling.

His work history shows that to be more than a good-natured joke. From working as a research scientist for IBM in Silicon Valley, to teaching Old Testament and Hebrew in England, to his work as a postdoctoral researcher in Göttingen, Germany, he relishes tackling difficult questions and teaching others to do the same.

He first heard of The Colossian Forum when his friend sent him a job advertisement in Germany and encouraged him to apply. “Why in the world he thought of me, I wasn’t sure initially,” Rob says, explaining that he was content with his research job at the time. But his friend insisted that since Rob was involved in both communities of faith and science, he would be ideal for The Colossian Forum’s training on human origins.

Out of curiosity, Rob contacted Michael Gulker, the president of TCF, and quickly found a great conversation partner regarding topics of theology, philosophy, and the future of the church. “I had always been interested in discipleship and helping build up the laity to do the work of ministry,” Rob says. “The Colossian Forum provided some of the much-needed tools for laity to be able to do that and I was intrigued.”

From his younger days in church, Rob remembers being impressed by a quiet man who used to sit in the next pew over. He was active in church and, though he didn’t say much, had a lot of influence in the church community. Sometimes, the man wasn’t sure how to lead, and didn’t have any formal training, but Rob was impressed by his commitment to live faithfully and continue to serve in his corner.

“When I think about the curriculum we build at The Colossian Forum, that’s the kind of person I picture us helping,” Rob says. “Lay people who are willing to serve and influence the community, but who just could use some more tools to do so.”

When asked what his dream would be for the future of TCF, Rob stops to think a minute. “I think the best future would be that we are not needed anymore. That scholars and church members would naturally take up this mode of discipleship when discussing difficult things without needing our framework.

“While I think we can be useful to providing the identity and vision needed in the short term, I hope that one day, a community of practice can form in Christian churches and do this better than we ever imagined.”

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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.
Imagine: Recovering our Desire to Participate in God’s Holy Life
January 29, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Imagine: Recovering our Desire to Participate in God’s Holy Life
We live in exciting times—times when the need for the reconciling power of the gospel is blindingly clear. Christendom is in retreat. The church suffers from a brand problem, rooted in its complicity with a divisive culture that it tacitly reflects. Young people, as well as old, are leaving the faith at an unprecedented rate.[1] Yet, there are pockets of beauty, faithfulness, and hope, as hunger for communion, community, and peace is becoming increasingly pronounced.[2] Pockets of Hope The work of The Colossian Forum (TCF) is privileged to be situated within these pockets of hope—as well as within the tensions among them. We recognize the depth of our society’s polarization and alienation, while at the same time, seeing that, by the grace of the Holy Spirit present in the body of Christ, the solution has already been given and indeed is embedded in the problem itself. Conflict, at its core, arises from differing desires, and those differences are perceived as threatening. Yet, the Christian tradition from Augustine onward has recognized that desire is always desire for communion—with God and one another. If this is the case (and we think it is), then conflict is that same desire for God and one another gone awry. How so? Well, we begin with our confession that humanity is created in the image of the Triune God, whose very life is constituted by self-giving love across three distinct, different persons. The Father gives himself completely to the Son, the Son gives himself back—unto death—to the Father through the Holy Spirit, catching up all creation into the divine and eternal dance of self-giving love and delight. This is ultimately who we are and how the world most truly is. Harnessing Conflict But in a world full of brokenness, hurt, and sin, rather than participating in the divine dance of pouring ourselves out through self-giving, our love has become self-protective and self-serving. Rather than experiencing delight and desire across different persons, there is defensiveness, fear, suspicion, and even violence. Yet the very desire powering conflict (all the energy of our desire gone awry) can, by the healing power of the Holy Spirit, be harnessed for our own redemption and the salvation of the world. The conflicts raging across our society, denominations, churches, and even our families are driven by our deep and abiding desire for communion with God and one another, however distorted that desire has become. And we have, in the words of 2 Peter 1:3, “…been given everything we need for a holy life...” TCF is an organization tasked with the recovery of the language, imagination, and practices that will help open up believers to the Spirit’s power to reshape our desires, moving us away from the fearful and combative desires of the self-protective “flesh” and toward active participation in God’s own holy life of self-giving love, especially in the face of the conflicts that plague our time. Built for Communion To our deep delight, we have found believers and non-believers alike are hungry for this way of being-in-communion-in-the-world. We are made for this. We are ready for this. We are built for communion, and even amidst the intense divisive language we experience in social media and elsewhere, we haven’t forgotten it. Because of this deep longing, and because of the vision and faithfulness of people like you, TCF has had the privilege of being set aside—given the time and space—to walk with believers, churches, leaders, and Christian organizations from divisiveness to discipleship and to the first fruits of reconciliation. Through almost eight years of research, reading, writing, experimentation, and evaluation, we now have the clearest sense in our history of where we are as an organization and where we need to go next. And with this emerging clarity, we are embarking on a five-year strategic planning process next month. Envisioning a five-year horizon will insure that near-term planning plots the appropriate trajectory. This is an exciting, yet daunting, time. [1]Pinetops Foundation reported in 2018 that if the current trends continue, 30-50 million people will have left the church by 2050, never to return. [2]Google’s NGram tool analyzing word usage across time marks a 46% increase in references to “community” from 1960 to 2000.

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