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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.
COVID and Council: The Conversation You’re Dreading Is the Opportunity the World Is Waiting For
| Sarah Nicholas
COVID and Council: The Conversation You’re Dreading Is the Opportunity the World Is Waiting For
On May 20, Pastor Church Resources convened a panel of Christian Reformed pastors and lay-leaders to talk not about the logistics of reopening but about some of the practices and postures that help congregations engage challenging conversations in hopeful ways.  Learn More
Michael Gulker Addresses Students at Asbury Theological Seminary
May 14, 2020 | Sarah Nicholas
Michael Gulker Addresses Students at Asbury Theological Seminary
"Conflict is the opportunity you've been waiting for--not the disruption you're dreading." In this interview with Dr. Bryan Sims, Associate Professor of Leadership and Lay Equipping, The Colossian Forum President Rev. Michael Gulker shares how The Colossian Way can help aspiring and serving church leaders shepherd their congregations through conflict to discipleship.  Watch Interview
The Veggie Burger Church
May 7, 2020 | Michael Gulker
The Veggie Burger Church
Church feels different now. The seating might be more comfortable in our living rooms, but the sanctuary is smaller. Over the past couple of weeks, I have talked with 22 church leaders—17 pastors and five denominational leaders with a bird’s-eye view of hundreds of churches—about how they are leading and seeing others lead congregations differently now. Across the board, it seems the novelty of online church has worn off. Just as pastoring is more than delivering a weekly sermon to a camera, congregations are expressing that online church seems to be missing something. The image of a veggie burger comes to mind. There are good veggie burgers out there, maybe even some that are better than a hamburger. But a veggie burger is not a hamburger. And if you order one and get the other, you will be disappointed. The available ingredients for worship have changed. We are all struggling with worship taste buds that are not satisfied by live streamed services and Zoom fellowship. So, rather than trying to make online church “taste” just like in-person church, how can we faithfully make “veggie burger church” that actually nourishes our souls? Applying the Colossian Way to this question, we should offer our praises alongside our laments, and chart what we hope for in and on the other side of this time. Praise. It turns out there are many reasons for joy in this new style of church. We have drastically simplified church liturgies and orders of service: singing, sermon, prayer, online fellowship. Families worship together instead of disbursing children to Sunday school classrooms. One pastor of a mega-church told me he has seen people who are not typically involved in the life of the congregation beyond Sunday services are asking about ways to serve. People have more time and energy to serve and connect in new ways. Lament. Some pastors I spoke with shared that roughly 80% of the church activities we aren’t doing right now, in and beyond worship services, don’t seem to be missed by congregants. In fact, some thought those activities may be gone for good. Several pastors confessed avoiding the difficulties of change by hoping that everything will go back to normal soon. But many congregants may not return to church, even when the governor says it’s OK. “Normal” seems increasingly distant, and pastors sense some changes may be permanent. The life of the Church centers in community—the communion—of the Body of Christ. Leaders are wondering how to be relational, while social distancing, and offer connection and discipleship that go beyond one-sided preaching and pre-recorded content, especially in response to the intensifying toll on mental health. In our veggie burger metaphor, it would seem the “meat” of the church we’re hungry for is embodied relationships. Hope. We do not need to choose between lament and hope. Lament can nurture hope. Lament, after all, is a kind of negative image of heaven, illuminating those things that are not right now but will be resurrected and redeemed in eternity. We hope now for a Church rebuilt into a stronger, more resilient, more beautiful witness. Post-Pandemic Church How do we live now then, as a Church of hope? The leaders I spoke with had a few ideas. Though physically isolated, each church doesn’t need to figure it out alone. Several pastors I spoke with expressed a desire to learn from each other and discover the best way through together. We can imagine together what new possibilities could emerge if we dropped some of the activities most churchgoers don’t miss. We can begin to imagine new possibilities for small, in-person fellowship in the interim before large gatherings resume. We have a unique and exciting opportunity now for “micro-churches,” small gatherings for discipleship and fellowship. In fact, according to Christianity Today, 44% of over 1,500 pastors are looking for practical tips on how to construct online small groups. In a second survey of nearly 2,000 pastors, the top two resources pastors identified as needing to help them lead are ways to create engaging online conversations and gatherings (61%) and practical ways to be on mission in this season (55%). While online right now, future smaller gatherings, with the right infrastructure and staff support, can provide a very different but still spiritually nourishing diet of worship and discipleship. And the new forms of fellowship that current constraints make possible can diffuse a deep, rich sacramental life across your congregation. We know many of you will face hard decisions in the near future about when to reopen sanctuaries, which programs and activities to resume, how to engage faithfully in matters that were already tense before the pandemic. These necessary conversations will spark conflict, and, we hope, help cultivate discipleship. If church must change—if we must change—let it come in the form of growth toward Christ. If you are searching for deep, scriptural resources that lay leaders, elders, and families can use, I invite you to learn more about The Colossian Way. One pastor told me in our conversation that, “the best work The Colossian Forum does is help think theologically about practices and complex issues that locates the work in the Church rather than the ivory tower or [with] academic pastors.” We designed Colossian Way curricula in the hope that they would foster new life in the Church in times of crisis and tension, like those we experience now. It brings us immeasurable joy that these tools in the hands of faithful Christians continue to do just that.  We pray for you daily, my brothers and sisters, as you do the hard work of lament, hope, discipleship, and engaging conflict in the Church. How are you experiencing church now? What are your praises, laments, and hopes for your/the Church? We’d love to hear and learn from you. Feel free to email me at mgulker@colossianforum.org and let me know a good time for us to talk.
March-April Prayer Letter
April 5, 2020 | Michael Gulker
March-April Prayer Letter
Blessings to you as you begin your journey through Holy Week. Our Christian rituals often take on renewed meaning during this time. This year in particular, our team is finding deep encouragement and comfort in practices like daily prayer, and by sharing our praises, laments, and hopes with one another. We pray they are helpful to you and your Christian community, too. In this prayer letter, Michael shares how he's trying a new application of The Colossian Way Gather-Practice-Witness framework with his family during quarantine. Feel free to try it with your own family. In lieu of our usual praises and thanksgivings, below please find some pandemic reflections from our staff. We'd love to hear yours. Please email them to snicholas@colossianforum.org or share them on social media using #TCFPraise, #TCFLament, or #TCFHope.     [embed]https://vimeo.com/403852256[/embed] Praises - I praise God that he is a God that is unchanging in these constantly changing days, hours and minutes. - I praise God that we can still walk around our neighborhoods and that people are more apt to say hello (mind you, at a safe distance away!). - I praise God for:    - Our team and meaningful work, and that we share a common cause that is pulling us together;     - Medical professionals who are risking their lives everyday for us;    - Kalamazoo Mennonite Fellowship;    - How our simple Christian pattern of gathering adapts so well to our own homes;    - The Colossian Way and the habits it has instilled in me and my family, and how it is helping other leaders who are calling on us to help them deal with the conflicts that are being caused by these tensions and the crisis of meaning right now. - I praise God for gestures of hope offered by those sewing masks, working in hospitals, delivering food to children and shut-ins, and especially for God’s steady creation rhythm of life - for the tree buds bearing witness in my front yard! Laments - I lament that there are so many vulnerable people that seem to be hit so much harder by this than I am. - I lament the response of our churches in shutting their doors at this critical time of witness, for we worship a resurrected Christ who has overcome death. - I lament for the elderly, and for those in hospice, who are suffering and dying alone; for  people mourning losses alone; and for kids bereft of friends. - I lament how impatient I can be while feeling “stuck at home” and how hard it is to be separated from my children and grandchildren. - I lament for those deep in our coronavirus ground zero of New York City. Hopes - I hope the people of God will learn new ways to serve each other and grow together during this time, despite the harsh and scary moments. - I hope that God will be present with us in unexpected ways as we experience a change in how we live and work together. - I hope for healing, not only from this pandemic, but from our neglect of what really matters. I long for the day when there will be no more disease and death, no war or hostility, when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
Social Distancing - A Poem
March 31, 2020 | Andy Saur
Social Distancing - A Poem
She dedicates her hands to a strand of fig leaves coiling them about her waist until isolated from nakedness. He stands apart, declines his eyes so as not to witness the disappearance. Now, they hide in themselves an expanse of strides (six or more) which can’t be crossed by some bridge of flesh as if happiness lay just one rise away. The homeless can’t stay at home, and those cast out can’t help casting shadows— stretching to snag someone else’s skin. Though never fully spanning that interval between, the brief leaning forms a new life beyond the fruitless wound—one not grasped but in the present beholding. Copyright © 2020 by AJ Saur

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