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Our Blog
April 15, 2019 | Michael Gulker

Gathering: Accepting God’s Intimate Invitation

We’re losing our ability to gather as Christians. In our polarized culture of contempt, rather than gathering in person, in unity, and around our faith, we do so in echo chambers along racial, socio-economic, and political lines. And from our preferred news and social media outlets, we’re continually bombarded by messages—both subtle and overt—that compel us to fight for our side and to isolate ourselves from opposing views, making it easy to compromise our morals and our faith in order to win.

Personally, I experience this daily. I have to fight the temptation every morning to check my news feed first thing rather than rest in God’s word. I feel a constant pull to see if my people won—a pull to feed my addictions to those ideologues whose views align with mine. But when I take a moment to remember God’s intimate invitation to gather—around his word and with others outside my echo chambers—it changes the tone for my day.

This year, The Colossian Forum is exploring the nuances of gathering, including illuminating our struggles with it and how we can overcome the obstacles that prevent us from deepening our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ who look, sound, and vote differently from us.    

Gathering in the name of Jesus rather than in the name of our favorite media outlet starts us on a firm path to participate in God’s love when we disagree. While we are free to choose Fox News or CNN instead, there is a high price when we do. The missed opportunity may seem imperceptible in the moment, but over time, we lose our ability to gather in Jesus’ name. And when that happens, we lose our way. We lose the chance to participate in God’s reconciling narrative in the world. We lose our ability to imagine how our lives intersect with God’s and how God has given us each other as gifts to learn to love as he loves, even if it’s costly. And unless we gather a variety of voices—male and female, young and old, black and white and everything in between—we miss out on the multiplicity of gifts that reflect the multifaceted nature of God’s infinite glory.

Accepting God’s invitation gives us the opportunity to participate in a different news story, and—for once—it’s Good News. It allows us to uncover the story of God and live more fully into it—into the conflicts and into the complicated but rich joy of our shared life together. It’s when we gather amidst the messy realities of our communal life—and keep gathering—that we find ourselves participating in God’s self-giving love in and to the world.

Every time we assemble in the name of Jesus, we’re reminded of who we are and where we’re headed. It grounds us in our shared faith. We’re reconstituted from being creatures of the left or the right into being part of the new creation—the people of God. When we gather in our brokenness, the Spirit transforms us. And when we gather in our difference, yet as one in our worship of God, the more deeply we experience and reflect Christ.

We may be susceptible to adopting the trappings of other identities that have been pushed on us, but our primary goal as Christians is to gather as the people of God. Instead of engaging, as the wider culture does, primarily as members of the left or the right, let’s engage first and foremost as members of the body of Christ, people created in the image of God and expecting to find the image of God in the other.

If we do this, if we follow Jesus when we gather, especially with those with whom we disagree, new creation bursts forth. And instead of running from the church when conflicts emerge, people will run to it—drawn by the beauty of Christ made manifest in our imperfect but persistent life together. This is our opportunity. And it is my prayer that you find ways to step into it.

Gathering is at the heart of The Colossian Way, a spiritual discipline that enables Christians to engage conflict and difference as a catalyst for growth in faith and witness. The Colossian Way creates worship-filled spaces for Christ-honoring engagement on the most divisive topics.

Gathering is also part of the theme for our 2019 Annual Conference. We believe that in order to live together well in ways that reflect the beauty of Christ, we need both to recognize our diminished view of gathering and to work toward a fuller experience of gathering—filled with grace and truth. We invite you to join us and others seeking a community committed to love of God and neighbor. It is our hope that this event will provide you the space and encouragement to accept God’s intimate invitation.

We also invite you to share your experiences with gathering, whether negative or positive. Please visit colossianforum.org/stories to do so.

Suggested Posts
Virtual Small Groups Can Overcome Isolation
June 26, 2020 | Monica Lawrence
Virtual Small Groups Can Overcome Isolation
Isolation is one of the deep pains we are experiencing as churches and individuals right now. The changes brought about by COVID-19 highlight how many ways we are separated from each other, even in God’s family. But loneliness in the Church isn’t new. As a millennial Christian, I know we have a habit of hopping from one church to another and a reputation for leaving the Church altogether. When I was in college, I attended several churches but never really got plugged in. I was always assigned to an age group, meaning I missed out on perspectives, growth opportunities, and encouragement outside my bubble. That’s part of the reason I love the inter-generational aspect of The Colossian Way. It pulls you out of your echo chamber and says, “look at all these voices that make up the Church.” It’s not just millennials who get stuck in echo chambers or feel isolated. As I coordinate our trainings and workshops and connect people with faithful conflict engagement resources, I see church leaders burdened with the heavy responsibility of supplying answers to hard questions and responding to conflict, all while holding their congregations together. It’s easy to feel alone in your struggle to navigate culturally divisive conflicts in the Church. My favorite part of hosting Colossian Way trainings is seeing Christians make connections to others struggling with difficult disagreements. To come together, to name those struggles, and to work toward a way forward – knowing you may never agree – is an incredible gift. But does that unity and relationship carry over to a grid of tiny Zoom boxes? Back in March, my colleague and I decided to lead a Colossian Way group online to see if it was possible to practice discipleship through Christian conflict engagement virtually. Here’s what we learned: Technological Skill Level Isn’t a Barrier to Participation: Facilitators should familiarize themselves with the video platform they use by accessing tutorials and perhaps investing in a paid account to access convenient features. Small group participants just need a strong internet connection and be able to log on to the platform. It’s Important to Get Used to New Conversational Rhythms: When you meet online, conversational rhythms of talking and listening can become more rigid; you lose the moments of excited interruption and “turn to the person next to you” conversations. Just like in an in-person small group, Facilitators should learn to be comfortable with silence and carefully manage time. If your platform allows you to split up into breakout rooms, be mindful of the extra time those technological transitions take. Take the Extra Time for Relationships: In the Colossian Way groups I’ve led, we took a little extra time to get to know each other. When we met in-person, we shared a meal before each session. Online, we took a few minutes to connect before the session began. One of our participants taught Spanish and used a different flag or photo from a Spanish-speaking country as his webcam background each week. Another, a healthcare professional, participated despite the strains of her job during a pandemic. Bonding over these interests and challenges helped us dive into difficult topics. In the end, our online group, like any group, worked, not despite a lack of relationship or closeness, but because we committed ourselves to building relationships with one another and to being spiritually formed to look more like Christ in the midst of disagreement. Facilitating a Colossian Way group is challenging but extremely rewarding. You’re joining a robust community of experienced guides who are playing an active role in making their congregations more loving, more resilient. In addition, we’ve designed training and resources to support you every step of the way. And, in August, Facilitator Training will be available online, making it easier than ever to equip yourself to guide your church to navigate conflicts in Christ-like ways. I’m a runner, so I’ll use a running metaphor. You can run barefoot. You may step on some pebbles, hit the pavement too hard, or scrape your toe, but you’ll absolutely get from point A to point B. But a good pair of running shoes will support you and help you run better. A good pair of shoes will protect you from rocks, support your feet, and help you run faster, longer. The Colossian Way Facilitator Training is like a good pair of running shoes. It teaches you how to balance your time, respond when somebody in your group monopolizes the conversation, and how to manage your own anger and anxiety. And perhaps most valuable, Training brings you into a community, because even though running can seem like a solitary sport, our endurance and speed get a boost when someone runs beside us or cheers us on at the finish line. For information about our newest small-group series, Political Talk, including how to become a Facilitator register for an upcoming free, one-hour webinar. To support other “runners” on this Colossian Way journey, I invite you to donate today to help provide online training and eBook curricula to Christian leaders looking for a way to hold together in Christ.
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.

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