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Displaying all posts by Emily Stroble.
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 tcfnewstaging.wpengine.com/give.
On the Other Side of This Thing
May 26, 2020 | Emily Stroble
On the Other Side of This Thing
The questions we ask can be very telling. When a quick scroll through the headlines in my newsfeed fails to offer clarity or calm, I find myself typing vague questions into the search bar: “How long do pandemics last?” “When will this be over?” While many of us feel impatient as we adapt to new challenges and squint into an uncertain future, I’m struck by how much of Christian life is composed of waiting and expectations. The wintery dark of Advent gives way to the light of Epiphany, which swiftly transforms into the somber weeks of Lent. Easter celebrations rekindle in us an eagerness for the resurrection of the whole Body of Christ. And, now, once again, we find ourselves waiting like the apostles for Pentecost. Jesus, after his resurrection, tells his disciples, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.” The disciples excitedly ask if the kingdom of Israel will be restored. “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” The disciples are still looking “intently up into the sky,” when two men in white suddenly appear to ask them why they are still there (Acts 1: 4-11). To this day, disciples are eager for Christ’s return. I wonder if our impatience confuses the direction in which ministry travels. In times of difficulty, do we sometimes allow our longing for the kingdom of God to turn into “survival mode?” It is so easy to hunker down, put our blinders on, and focus on ushering our congregations to “the other side.” Meanwhile, we miss the joy offered to us and skip over the demanding work that results in a stronger church. We become content to numbly let fruitful moments of lament, conviction, or discipleship blur past us and to let our congregation settle for some paler version of Christian life. Seasons of global crisis like COVID-19 are not the only places where we fall into survival mode. In conflict, it is easy to focus on a resolution or closure. If we, as church leaders, gird ourselves for decisions we’re dreading, we’re depriving our communities of an opportunity for real discipleship. After all, it is in the hard, active work of “iron sharpening iron,” that we build communion and fortify our churches against division. I wonder if the catch phrase, “We’re all in this together,” now ubiquitous in advertisements and social media posts, is a similar attempt to skirt important conflicts and questions. Facing these difficulties might yield discipleship if we were bold enough to stand still in the difficulty and open our eyes to what God speaks to us and asks of us now. After all, faith is not an avenue of escaping the world but a witness to Christ’s entrance into it. What is our pre-Pentecost work in COVID-19? What is required of us while we wait for the signal to disburse from upper rooms? What is offered to us in conflict? In the beginning of Acts, without a deadline for the Holy Spirit’s arrival, the work of the Church went on. As we wait for the celebration of Pentecost in 2020, we face a similar task. Many of the pastors in our Colossian Way community are facing hard decisions, knowing ministry and discipleship can’t settle for survival mode indefinitely.   The Colossian Way is an invitation to deeper engagement now; to discipleship, relationship, and joy in the conflict, crisis, and challenge. If you haven’t seen it already, watch a Colossian Way decision-making process modeled in this live stream we prepared in partnership with Crossroads Bible Church. And this article offers a host of resources to help you turn this time into the discipleship opportunity you’ve been waiting for.   Much of the Christian life is waiting, and we recognize how difficult it is to shepherd a community through the conflicts and anticipation. But through his Church, on every ordinary day as on Pentecost, Christ’s ministry of redemption and reconciliation crosses over from the Eternal Kingdom to our temporary world. Thank you for your ministry on this side of heaven.
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.
Fears and Loves
February 14, 2020 | Emily Stroble
Fears and Loves
Do you ever get a twist of anxiety in the pit of your stomach when a loved one is late arriving home on a snowy night? Or, do you feel a sudden jolt in your heart rate when you hear of something troubling happening near a loved one’s house or office? We are often reluctant, even ashamed, to say we are afraid. But often, fear is inspired by an underlying love. Fear is the natural prompting to protect what we treasure. At The Colossian Forum, we help you examine some of those fears to find the love that motivates you. By “fear,” we don’t mean only those feelings connected to immediate danger. Rather, “fear” is shorthand for all the concerns, anxieties, and urges to defend or protect something—those feelings that motivate us to protect our loves. Fear is both the anxiety that a loved one could be hurt and the concern that a political policy might harm our communities. This fear or concern shapes our reactions, emotions, and arguments. Unsurprisingly, our “opponents,” (the people who threaten or disagree with us) are also shaped by these fears and loves. You’ve probably seen this play out with the people you love. Even as I think of some examples I’ve heard lately, I feel my fear engaging, ready to protect what I love. I feel an impulse to construct my own arguments in my mind, ready to fight. You may feel the same urge. Let’s resist it for a moment. Can you see the beloved thing or person behind these arguments? If we throw away this verse and that verse, what is to keep us from discarding the whole Bible? If some of it isn’t true, or we decide it no longer applies, how do we know Christ’s miracles and teachings are true, or that the resurrection is real? If the church speaks nothing but judgment and rejection to the LGBTQ community, we are telling those people—our friends, sons, and daughters—that there is no place for them in the church, in the story of salvation. We are turning away people made in the image of God. We’re commanded to love the least of these—the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. That’s the simplest definition of Christianity you can get, and it should apply to our immigration policy. I can’t vote for someone who isn’t pro-life. I can’t give power to someone who will not protect the lives of unborn children. If you boil these statements down, you can see that they all revolve around a deep love for people and a powerful desire to follow God’s will for the world and their own lives. Often, the “other side” is not maliciously plotting our destruction. Rather, they are frantically trying to protect their own loves and urging us to see the damage we are doing to what they hold dear. If we pause, we might find that we love the same things. Yet, our disagreements arise when we have competing ideas about how to best protect those things or how to prioritize so many precious things when the brokenness of our world requires us to make difficult choices. Our disagreements are not insignificant. We all have a lot at stake. But just imagine how our lives and relationships would be enriched if we could unveil and understand each other’s loves behind our fears. Can you imagine how fruitful a conversation would be if we were disagreeing about the right things, rather than finding new ways to call the other side evil? We might begin to see the humanity of the “other side.” We might become aware of what our fears are prompting us to do. And we may even discover that our “opponents” are trying to love us well, wanting to protect us and our communities from something we haven’t yet seen. We may even be encouraged, edified, and enlightened. Identifying underlying loves can help us see other angles and outcomes we would otherwise be blind to. This practice of pausing in the midst of intense arguments to acknowledge our fears and the loves behind them is a crucial step in The Colossian Way. It alerts us to potential pitfalls in our approach and advocates for the precious and vulnerable (though perhaps hidden) things our brothers and sisters in Christ hold dear. Give it a try the next time you find yourself in a heated situation. As your own heart rate rises, ask: What do you fear you’ll lose if the “other” side wins? What does the other person seem most concerned for? (Ask them if you are understanding them correctly.) What do you hope for? What do they hope for? Do you hope and fear for anything in common or related? We would love to hear what you discover as you try this practice. Share your story with us on social media using the hashtag “#fearsandloves” or by emailing us at info@colossianforum.org. For more on this practice and others, check out our newest Colossian Way curriculum, Political Talk.
Praying with the City in View
December 31, 2019 | Emily Stroble
Praying with the City in View
I’ve never experienced peace as acutely than when I visited the tiny town of Assisi, Italy three years ago. The path that winds across the steep hillside behind the city takes hikers through olive groves, which give way to brush and cypress trees that frame a honeycomb of caves. In mid-January, early in the morning, even the light seemed to move gently. I was happy to be outside and excited to be traveling, and I smiled to myself as I made my way up the slope. I found it funny that I should be walking through olive branches in a little forest of peace when, in the village below, I could hardly order coffee in my American accent without receiving quips and comments about the recent 2016 U.S. presidential election. The monastery above Assisi has a remarkable story. Monks still live and worship there, and they always have, despite the rise and fall of the empires, kings, and dictators. The monks come from all over to live in this little cluster of low-ceilinged cells and chapels. As I walked up the hill toward the monastery with my tour group, the monastic life seemed an appealing path. How rich to walk up a mountain to sit in the presence of God and never go back to the noise and confusion of politics and the rest of civil life. As we arrived, a tall monk greeted us warmly. He motioned us out of the wind. He was shyly apologetic for his English, which was clear as a bell against the wind. He spoke softly, telling us the history of the monastery. I don’t remember whether someone asked him about the monastic life or if he was reacting to the curiosity in our faces. He said something to the effect of, “People seem confused about monks. We live apart from the city, it’s true. We devote our time to prayer. But we are not completely severed from the world. We are not ignorant of what is going on. We care deeply for our city. We chose this place to pray here for the city.” He straightened his hunched shoulders and swept a long arm across the valley with its steeples, farms, and domed basilicas. “We live apart from the city to pray with the city in view,” he said. That sentence has echoed in my head ever since. As we all can, I’ve grappled for years with the command to be “in the world and not of it.” And, in the political tension that’s defined the last few years, my uncertainty around what faith calls me to do politically has needled me more urgently. Yet, in all my wrestling, arguing, doubt, and looking for the petition I could sign or the party I could join that would align me with “Christian Politics,” it never occurred to me to pray for anything other than my preferred outcome in an election or vote. I think praying with the city in view is something different from praying for the city. First, when you are apart from the city but keep it in view, it’s easier to remember to which kingdom you belong, and you can care for the city in its proper place as a part of God’s kingdom. When you are in the city, the dramas and concerns of the human world fill your whole field of vision. When we stand apart from the city, we gain some perspective, and our desires align more closely to a sincere prayer of “on earth as it is in Heaven.” Second, the practice of prayer, rather than the desired outcome, becomes our path to closer relationship with God. Rather than getting to God through praying about politics, we become people primarily of prayer who are better formed to face political conflicts. What place should intercession have in our politics? It is a beautiful act of Christ-imitation. And if monastic prayer can inform politics, what other practices might hold us together as we wade through the muck of our most divisive issues, like immigration, recreational marijuana, and who should lead? These are some of the questions we begin with in The Colossian Forum’s Political Talk curriculum, launching in early February. You can visit tcfnewstaging.wpengine.com/politicaltalk for more information and to pre-order your copy. As we head into a year when politicians and parties will be competing vigorously for our allegiance, and political conversations have the potential to escalate and drive wedges between even longtime friends and close family, I humbly invite you to consider a set-apart posture like the one I learned in Assisi. In 2020, may you pray with the city in view and find hope in the opportunity for reconciliation that our conflicts – no matter their context – offer us.
Spaghetti, Tools, and Broken Bones
November 27, 2019 | Emily Stroble
Spaghetti, Tools, and Broken Bones
Believe it or not, uncooked spaghetti is an important tool. One of the more unconventional uses for this common pasta is to reach under plaster casts to scratch a pesky itch. If you’ve never had a broken bone, just know that, inevitably, skin under a cast begins to itch. And there is nothing you can do about it. You can’t get inside the cast. You can’t take the cast off. Spaghetti, as strange or silly it sounds, is the best solution. It’s long enough, thin enough, and just strong enough to reach under the cast. It’s the perfect tool. It’s all too easy to forget that healing can be uncomfortable. This is as true of churches and relationships as it is of broken bones. Forgiveness—both that Christ gives us and that we give others—can feel like a cast, holding us together in uncomfortable moments and relationships as we heal. Forgiveness forces us to be with the God or people from whom we had been separated. Being held together isn’t always fun. But forgiveness follows confession and is a powerful, transformative expression of our commitment to and oneness in Christ. It calls us to communion, even with those who hurt us, in the midst of conflicts so often characterized by selfishness, pride, and hate. The Colossian Way embraces the itchy aspects of healing—the difficult conversations, the vulnerability, the confessions, the self-examination, and the truths that make us squirm. You, in joining in the work of The Colossian Forum, have bravely chosen to work faithfully in the heart of the fractures of the church. Because, just as a broken arm or leg is nearly useless, the brokenness of the Church hobbles our Kingdom work and damages our witness. Your gifts help pastors and Christian leaders like Henry Kranenburg, the pastor of West End Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Canada, hold together the difficult moments of healing with the cast of forgiveness. Henry’s congregation is engaging issues of sexuality, and The Colossian Way has been a source of encouragement. “I don’t think we have a strong record of working hard to be one [Church],” Henry reflected. “We work harder to define what divides us than what unites us. How do we honor that oneness [in Christ], recognizing that we are not all on the same page?” While looking for resources for his church, Henry attended a local TCF event and was inspired to learn more. Afterward, a generous donor provided several scholarships to TCF’s Annual Conference 2019 for pastors. Henry was one of the recipients and shared how important financial support is to empowering pastors to guide their congregations through conflicts. “It is not just saving a pastor or a church some dollars,” Henry explained. “[It’s] a stimulus to help them think in a way they haven’t before. [Scholarships] become part of an invitation. I might not have gone [to the Conference] without that invitation and missed more than I realized.”   Now, Henry has begun using The Colossian Way, not only in his congregation, but beyond, in his classis, the regional governing body for his denomination. He has seen the focus in his church shift toward the vision of the Church Jesus prays for in John 17:11, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” You, our donors, are doing “spaghetti work”—giving pastors like Henry the tools to reach into these difficult, itchy places, where we are held together in the forgiveness of Christ. Because of your kindness and faithfulness, a more beautiful Christian witness extends farther—from pastors, to churches, to communities. Next week, on December 3, The Colossian Forum will with participate in Giving Tuesday, an international movement of generosity, hope, and celebration that invites people to give small donations, often just $5, to organizations they already love, and discover new ways to make a difference, too. By reaching out to friends and family through social media, email, and in-person, you can ignite a brighter light in the Church. Would you be willing to spread the word about The Colossian Forum? Share your stories with TCF’s hashtag #ForgivingTuesday! Keep an eye out for special video content, stories, and posts on December 3! All gifts we receive on Giving Tuesday will be matched by a generous donor up to $25,000. If you’d like more information on Giving Tuesday and how to get involved, please email us at info@colossianforum.org. If you’d like to give a gift to equip leaders engaging conflict in their churches and communities, explore tcfnewstaging.wpengine.com/give.