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Our Blog
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.

Suggested Posts
(Gather)-Practice-Witness
March 18, 2020 | Chris De Vos
(Gather)-Practice-Witness
What an odd time it is for churches. Our routine practices have been suspended, while our suspicions, anxiety, paranoia, and fear reach unprecedented proportions. As vanguard tulips poke their courageous leaves through the Michigan winter soil, an insidious coronavirus threatens our ability to gather, a central Christian practice at The Colossian Forum. We may not be able to gather for our daily 9 a.m. prayer practice in person, but as you can see in this picture, we did our best this morning and will continue to pray together via video chat! The interruption in our routines – our rituals – is unsettling. Even though the tulips will still blossom in their time, it feels like nature itself has been disrupted - families postponing spring break trips, St. Patrick’s Day socially distanced, and even Easter worship services up in the air! Widespread uncertainty and decisions about the best response to the crisis are causing tension in many circles. It is easy to become overwhelmed in these tumultuous times. But this is also a witnessing time—a time to show who we are as Christians and what we are made of. At The Colossian Forum, we are fond of saying “conflict is an opportunity for spiritual growth and witness.” Through The Colossian Way small groups, we help Christians prepare for conflicts and difficult, anxious times, and we work and witness in the midst of these conflicts by remembering who we are in Christ. We practice loving one another and God as we lean into whatever challenge we face together. After all, conflicts arise from collisions between our fears and loves. Our fears disrupt, distract, confuse, and subvert our attempts to love God and one another. That’s what makes the faithful commitment to love—along with Christian practices like continued prayer and worship—so difficult. Fear is loud, it comes naturally, it demands our attention, and it will dictate our actions if we let it. The Colossian Way aims at three goals: gather Christians together, practice loving God and one another while engaging a difficult challenge, and witness the body of Christ built up. In this particular moment, we may have to innovate on the “gather” piece—as Christians have for centuries before us under other forms of separation. But we can still practice and witness. Practicing love for God and one another while engaging this pandemic challenge illuminates places where we can exercise all of our Christian muscles. Phone calls to those who are shut-in, food deliveries, and school lunch program and financial donations all seem like low-hanging spiritual fruit for us. And social isolation gives us a wonderful opportunity to continue personal practices that foster spiritual growth and equip us to embody the hope and light that so many need right now. Discipleship is about living faithful lives right in the middle of all those fears, even the most daunting ones. That’s where the cross stands—in the middle of crushing fears. We are, after all, followers of Jesus, and we are infused with his very character. We are called to the way of the cross—to a life of faithful love amid fear. Perhaps the coronavirus threat happening during Lent is fortuitous. It gives us the opportunity to practice living the way Jesus did, not despite our conflicts, but thanks to them. This is precisely the best time to follow him into this “passionate” moment, in which a worldwide disease is threatening to sicken and kill many and drive us apart in the process. For in this odd time of pandemic worry, Holy Week has not been canceled! We can still move through the acclamation of Palm/Passion Sunday to the acrimony of Good Friday, and in so moving, confess how easy it is to fall asleep, away, and into denial in the face of powerful forces that threaten our lives. Let us leave you with a challenge. At the end of every Colossian Way session, we offer to one another and to God words of praise, lament, and hope. Realizing that every gathering is incomplete until we’re in the Kingdom of God, we lift up any words of praise for what we see in ourselves and the world, words of lament for what is wrong or missing, and words of hope for God to bring renewal. As you go about these days, we invite you to join us and offer your own words of praise, lament, and hope. Please email them to me at cdevos@colossianforum.org, or share them on social media using #TCFpraise, #TCFlament, or #TCFhope. And let us remember that Jesus is faithful, that God raised him from the dead, and that we are witnesses of these things by the Holy Spirit’s power. This may be an odd time for us and presents a challenge to who we know we are (Christ’s) and what we have to offer a world consumed by tension, fear, and worry. It is also a shining moment for us to model a faithful pathway through this moment and to live into the words of Hebrews 12: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.
Refusing to Separate – Post-Conference Reflections
October 16, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Refusing to Separate – Post-Conference Reflections
Last year, our Annual Conference brought together Christians desperate to find ways to move from fear to hope in polarized times. A year later, it’s no surprise we find the world still divided, ourselves still held captive by our political and cultural ideologies and still struggling to remember the promise of the gospel. These are the challenges of our time. But as Christians, we know the Holy Spirit is calling forth something new in Christ’s resurrection, and at The Colossian Forum, we’re eager to participate in it. We’re in for the long journey—a journey toward hope. Last month, at our second Annual Conference, we spent three days traveling that journey with experts and friends from around the world. As you’ll see from the presentations of our remarkable plenary and workshop speakers, we journeyed through The Colossian Way, gathering in the name of Jesus, practicing engaging our deepest conflicts with receptivity to the Holy Spirit and to one another, and witnessing what new thing God is doing in our midst. We gathered across deep disagreement—as brothers and sisters, Republicans and Democrats, activists and businesspeople, pastors and laypeople, students and senior citizens. We practiced worshipping together in the face of conflict, which is present “…where two or three gather in my name…” (Mt. 18:20). And we witnessed the body of Christ flourish. Gather Dr. Robert Chao Romero helped us remember that great eschatological vision of all nations and all peoples gathered before the throne of God and the Lamb, proclaiming in every language and through every culture the manifold glory of God’s beauty. But he also shared the hurt of the Brown Church, of the American-Hispanic community, at the demeaning of their ethnic brothers and sisters. He helped us name the very real barriers this hurt creates to gathering together in the name of Jesus. Through his gentle hospitality and receptivity to us, he called us to repent of our ideologies and false allegiances. He reminded us that while we are not practiced at listening to the unique cultural honor and treasure of those who come from places different from our own, we can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, learn to listen to one another across difference and hurt. He helped us see that to hope honestly, we must hear these voices. He reminded us that Christ has already torn down the dividing wall and that we are family. Practice Dr. Ruth Haley Barton ushered us through the next steps in our journey. She reminded us that unless we develop intentional practices to welcome the Holy Spirit into our conflicts, true reconciliation will remain beyond our reach. She introduced practices uniquely suited to our polarized times and challenged us to leave behind the secular, Spirit-starved ways of engaging difference, where self-protection and suspicion prevent us from becoming vulnerable to the Holy Spirit and one another. When we welcome the work of the Spirit, we can imagine our lives together as one in Christ, even across our differences, and experience a new thing being done in our midst—between Chinese and Congolese Christians, Trump defenders and haters, border wall opposers and supporters, persecutors and persecuted.   Witness Then Dr. Bungishabaku Katho challenged us to be honest about the nature of our witness. He shared a story of Buta Seminary, the only school in Burundi where students from both Hutu and Tutsi ethnicities lived together amidst horrific civil war and genocide. In 1997, after several years of living through tribal hatred and violence, a Hutu militia group attacked the school. Three times, the commander ordered the students to separate by tribe. Three times, they refused. After the third refusal, the commander opened fire in reckless slaughter, murdering over 40 students. One wounded boy ran to find the rector and proclaimed just before he died, “Father, we have won. They told us to separate, and we refused. We have won.”   Because of their brave witness, this horrific event became the building block for healing and the reconstitution of the Burundi government. These martyrs, these witnesses, have become a wellspring of national unity. Officials and citizens alike regularly visit their gravesite. Their courage and sacrifice redefine what it means to win. To be faithful witnesses—to win—we must become weak, vulnerable to one another and the world. It can be costly—even deadly. This is the way of Christ on the cross. Our opportunity to witness to the resurrection begins when we’re willing to lay down our lives, rather than be separated, as the boys in Butu did. How are we to stand and reject our imposed, worldly loyalties as these martyrs did? Answering this question is beyond the minds of mortals, for only by the power of the Spirit can we proclaim Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, to be Lord, and follow him. And following him begins with repentance, with recovering our imagination as to how we might belong to God’s kingdom more absolutely than to the tribes into which we’re born or adopted. Robert reminded us that even in our context of division, the river of life that conquers all sin and death flows from throne of the Lamb. And it leads to the tree of life, the leaves of which God has given for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22). With a view from heaven, a view given for the healing of our country, we’re being invited into this story—just as the Hutu and Tutsi students’ story began the healing of Burundi. If we don’t participate in this story—in God’s grand work—we risk becoming the walking dead, ideological captives of the left and the right. Our conference speakers reminded us how to live into this story. As long-time TCF friend and partner Dr. Joe Liechty reflected after listening to Dr. Katho, “I’ve been present to hear the latest chapter of the New Testament, the epistle from the apostle Katho to the church in North America.” Moving toward this hope of healing, the TCF community will continue to gather, practice, and witness, opening ourselves to God and one another, to voices we might not normally encounter. Because we cannot, from within our own echo chambers, overcome the polarization that has us by the throat. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be a part of a new thing and live into a space beyond enemies[1], where all things hold together in Christ. We humbly invite you to join us. Together, we can reflect Christ’s shining light by refusing the idolatry of the left and the right, remembering what it means to win, and refusing to be separated. [1] Fitch, D. (2019). The Church of Us vs. Them: Freedom from a Faith the Feeds on Making Enemies. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press. Excerpt available at http://cdn.bakerpublishinggroup.com/processed/book-resources/files/Excerpt_Fitch_Short.pdf?1561576116.

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