Local Leaders Forum
I remember my first phone call with Rob Barrett, exploring the possibility of his leaving Germany to join TCF. I was busy introducing the general project of The Colossian Forum and the possibility of using a forum on a divisive topic as an opportunity for Christian formation. Rob, ever tactful, said to me, “You realize, Michael, that this project is completely incoherent.” I think I replied to the effect that, “Of course it is, but you’ve got to start somewhere.” From the beginning, we’ve realized that TCF’s one-off forums are only a first step toward transforming Christians into the kinds of people who can engage the toughest cultural topics well. And by well, I mean in ways that not only build up the body of Christ but also make significant cognitive progress on the topic itself. But change takes time. Habits are formed through practice. Virtues are attained through a long obedience in the same direction. This past spring, we were challenged to begin acting on this commitment by our meeting with TCF Advisory Board Member Greg Jones at Duke Divinity School, where he gave us some useful language: We are engaging “wicked problems” and this requires “sustaining communities of practice.” So in April 2013, we began putting together a plan for an experimental, sustained group of Grand Rapids-area pastors and scholars who would pursue a wicked problem together as a sustained community of practice. This past week, we hosted a kick-off event with 10 local pastors and theologians familiar with TCF and interested enough to commit 4 hours out of their busy schedules each month, over the course of six months, to pursue the following goals: Build a model community of local church leaders who are pursuing the capacity for engagement with the broad range of challenging and divisive issues facing the church; Make substantial progress on understanding and navigating the complexity of one chosen issue at the intersection of faith, science, and culture, both because of its own particular significance and as a model for addressing a wide range of other issues; Gain the ability to lead others in the church’s work on the pressing issues of faith, science, and culture; and Critique, develop, and extend the ideas, methods, and practices of TCF. Rob and I began the event giving an argument for the project itself and were a little nervous at the initially passive response of our guests. Was the project uninteresting? Unnecessary? Ridiculous? But as the afternoon went on and as conversations after the event made clear, it wasn’t so much that people didn’t buy into the project, as they didn’t even need to hear the argument – they wanted to dive right in! There is a hunger for a space to think together about the shape of faithfulness in the face of the hardest cultural challenges, making even the choice of topic secondary to the need for space and friendship. We don’t exactly know what the next six months will bring, but we trust that God will honor the faithfulness of our friends!