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Our Blog
July 10, 2019 | Emily Stroble

“So, What Do You Do?” — Meditations from the Dentist’s Chair

I’ve been thinking about the dentist. You know, the sour-tastelessness of cotton balls, the awkwardness of having a numb mouth full of other people’s fingers, various sharp implements, and a small vacuum cleaner, and being asked a question?

The question never has a “yes” or “no” answer (I’ve a suspicion that SAT prompts are written by dentists). It’s usually something like: “So, what do you do?”

I’ve been having a hard time describing my job, even outside of the dentist chair.

It’s funny because I probably know a hundred words for “communications.” Yet, when someone asks me what I do, I’m tempted to go for the short, easy answer:

“I do communications for a local non-profit.”

I was convicted recently, when the person I was speaking with responded, “Oh wow, non-profits! You’re a good person.”

She meant it as a compliment. I felt pride, and then a twinge of guilt. Ironically, I’d failed at my literal job description: communicating the mission of The Colossian Forum. Instead, I’d emphasized me. And generalized everything else.

How often do we cut the tricky words right out of our conversations? It’s easy just to state my opinion or give generalized, safe answers, rather than engage with the complexity of human experiences and wrestle with the “whys” of what we believe. It might protect my feelings, my security in my own correctness, but a conversation where I state my opinion and you state yours in the most general and least prickly words possible isn’t a conversation; it’s barely small talk.

Good communication, on the other hand, carries concepts and meaning from one mind to another. If I receive and understand what you really mean, your words have been good transport for your thoughts, like a sturdy envelope or a strong Wi-Fi connection.

I love being a “word person,” but finding the right words to carry my meaning is a humbling experience.

Initially, I introduced The Colossian Forum as:

A non-profit which reconciles churches in conflict.

But this implied to some people that TCF works in personal disputes, rather than deep societal and philosophical divisions that touch every member of the Christian community.

But the truth is, we have made a lot of arguments in the church fiercely personal. If our opinion is critiqued, we feel our dignity has been attacked. If we have the better argument, we think it means we’re smarter, better Christians, and we urgently put down our brothers and sisters to prove our superiority. It’s still all about us, not Christ.

So, I developed this second attempt at explaining TCF:

It’s a Christian non-profit which helps people reclaim conflicts—like faith and science, sexuality, and politics—by focusing on Christ’s redemptive love.

But those words aren’t quite right either. “Reclaim” has a territorial sound, and we have been so entrenched in a mindset of warfare that the fear and anger are reflexive. Some people physically recoil from me when I mention “origins, sexuality, and politics.” It hurts.

Never mind finding a “solution” or “resolution.” Is there any way to overcome the emotional fallout of the debate? Any salve for the burned relationships and festering bitterness? Any way to stanch the hemorrhage of people leaving the church?

As Christians, we end up finally numb to the pain and avoidant, or mouths full of sharp arguments. And, like my dentist, the world is asking, “So, what do you do?”

I truly believe we have to become better Word people.

John, in his Gospel, calls Jesus “the Word.” In a way, Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection are the ultimate acts of good communication. Jesus is the Word which carries God to us, into our understanding, into our lives. Jesus shows us who God is and what God does: God heals. God reconciles. God loves.

Jesus says over and over again that he came to express God’s law and love, not his own independent will, wants, or opinions. If we imitate Jesus, it’s not about us anymore, either. We speak, like Jesus, to carry the Word of God to those around us.

At TCF, we work on this good communication, on being better witnesses to the reconciliation, love, and hope God calls us to through our unity in Christ and our community with each other.  

If you feel called to be Word people with us, we invite you to connect with us. Peruse resources that might be useful to you and your faith community, subscribe to our blog, or attend an event. Or, sign up for training to become a Colossian Way Leader and help your faith community become a place of reconciliation. Get more information or register here.

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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