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Our Blog
December 20, 2017 | Rob Barrett

Re-shaping and Re-forming Through Conflict

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.

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.
Lent and the Rhythm of Faith
February 26, 2020 | Emily Stroble
Lent and the Rhythm of Faith
Today, in celebration of Ash Wednesday, Christians around the world received a smudge of ash on their forehead in the shape of the cross as a sign of their repentance and redemption. This external representation of our salvation, however simple, feels comforting—grounding. Lent, the 40 days of repentance and preparation in the Church calendar that begin on Ash Wednesday and lead up to Easter, literally grounds us. A phrase you will likely hear in an Ash Wednesday service is, “dust you are, and to dust you will return.” The ash reminds us that we are sinful, mortal people living in a broken world. The cross reminds us that we are redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus. Today, these beliefs are on display for everyone to see. Lent also reminds me that my faith should constantly be apparent in my life every day, shaping who I am and what I do. One of the best ways to continue that process of shaping is to practice ways of living out my faith. Of course, getting better at something—including getting better at living out my faith—requires practice. That’s why Christian practices are central to Lent and to The Colossian Way. My piano teacher used to say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes more of whatever you practice. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” She also told me to “build muscle memory.” It’s amazing; once you play a song many times, you don’t have to remember every single note. Your fingers just know what comes next. I rarely play anymore, but songs still come out of my fingers when I sit down at a keyboard. Their rhythms are part of me. Christian practices help build spiritual muscle memory. If a pianist practices a sonata, that is what their fingers will play in concert, even if they are nervous. If we practice grace or speaking the truth, that is what we will do, even under the pressure of conflict. Heather, a pastor who has led many Colossian Way groups, talks about how practice, particularly lament—which is part of every Colossian Way session—teaches us the rhythms of faith. Lament and Lent, Heather says, “help us voice our pain. Lament comes straight out of scripture, and it shows us the pattern of telling God about the brokenness in our world.” The rhythm of lament also gives us hope in the midst of sorrow because, as Heather puts it, “There is always an ‘and yet’ to a lament—‘And yet, God is with us.’ We know we won’t lament or be in Lent forever. We will get to Easter. And we will celebrate.” We believe that God hears our prayers, cares about our pain, is redeeming us and our world, and that “In Christ, all things hold together.” Practice gets those rhythms of faith and scriptural truths “into our bones,” as Heather says, and committed to muscle memory. We know Easter comes after Ash Wednesday, and that hope comes after lament, even when we feel hopeless, because we’ve practiced it. That’s how the song of the Gospel goes. These practices and rhythms of faith give us strength and guide our actions when we grow weary and uncertain. Lament gives us words for our pain. Repentance gives us peace from our guilt. The Colossian Way gives us paths through scripture for our conflicts. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of a “thorn in his flesh.” Scholars wonder if this is a sin Paul is repenting for, or if he is lamenting physical pain or another consequence of our broken world. In either case, God’s words to Paul have encouraged generations of Christians: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” God writes the signs of his perfect love in the dust of our lives. His strength shapes our habits and actions as he breaths his life into us. Over the next 40 days of Lent, we joyously invite you to explore practices of faith with us. We will share more stories like Heather’s and ideas for Lenten practices from our staff and members of our Colossian Way family. And if you have built spiritual muscle memory or discovered new rhythms of faith through the practices of The Colossian Way, whether in conversations with staff, workshops, leader training, or resources, we invite you to join us in raising $7,000 during the 40 days of Lent to cover the costs to train 40 Colossian Way Leaders. All donations will support costs registration fees don’t cover—costs like hospitality at training, Leader resources and materials, and coaching and mentoring before, during, and after Leaders run small groups. Well-equipped Colossian Way Leaders are vital to building up churches and communities to gain the muscle memory to engage conflict in the strength of their redemption. Learn more about supporting Leaders here, and give online here.

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