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Displaying all posts tagged "Practices".
Help for a Church in Crisis
March 7, 2018 | Rob Barrett
Help for a Church in Crisis
A church crisis strains the whole congregation. There are no techniques for quickly easing those strains. The Colossian Forum takes a long view on these painful situations, focusing not on the quick fix but the opportunity for renewed discipleship. Step 1: There is always a path of faithfulness The first thing to remember is that there is always a path of faithfulness before you. While you work on the problem facing you, continually ask, “What might faithfulness to God look like right now?” No matter how messed up and hopeless things seem, God has given you everything you need to be faithful to him. Seek that out. The Sunday school basics are especially true in a crisis. Step 2: Look for how to be faithful to one another Take a deep breath and see if there is a space in the chaos for rebuilding broken relationships. Seek out those with whom you disagree. Pursue the virtues that build unity: humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and love (Ephesians 4:2). Crises are usually filled with the deeds of the flesh—impurity, enmity, strife, jealousy, rage, and divisions—rather than the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-23). Now’s the time for adopting Christ’s pattern of valuing others more than oneself (Philippians 2:1-11). Step 3: Look to the future Crises shine a spotlight on our brokenness. As uncomfortable as it is to see our dark side, we are reminded of God’s commitment to transform us more into the likeness of Christ. As your church is tarnished by half-truths, gossip, and power plays, be willing to let God see how ugly and destructive fleshly instincts are. Learning this anew won’t by itself re-form your character, but it can re-energize the journey of discipleship. As the pressure of this crisis eases over time, don’t just sigh in relief and return to life as usual. The next crisis looms. Use the lull between crises to take up the spiritual disciplines that God has provided to become the kinds of people who can engage the next one better. A church crisis can be disheartening, but it can also bring us face-to-face with God’s call to be transformed. By God’s grace, today’s mess might lead to a better handling of tomorrow’s mess. Not just by learning new crisis management techniques, but by renewing a commitment to the basic Christian practices: worship, prayer, Bible study, giving, self-denial, and so on. These are not mere busy work. They are the Spirit’s ways of building up a church that is ready to testify to God’s saving power. As you stumble through today’s crisis, your testimony may focus on God’s forgiveness and healing in the midst of failure. But have hope that God will, little by little, have you soon testifying to how he has enabled you to love one another more truly and deeply, especially when tested under pressure.
The Magic of Entering Another's World
February 7, 2018 | Rob Barrett
The Magic of Entering Another's World
One prospective Colossian Forum participant put it this way: “What will we do after I say my piece, he says I’m wrong, then he says his piece and I say he’s wrong?” Nobody wants to repeat the same, tired arguments yet again. Or worse, what about when there is absolutely nothing to talk about? “Evolution is established reality so stop saying it isn’t.” “The Bible clearly says homosexual activity is evil so I’m not listening.” End of story. No more discussion. What then? Beyond deadlocked arguments, these are seemingly inescapable mires of incomprehensibility. But we serve the Lord who demolishes dividing walls (Ephesians 2:14). Crossing the rubble of the demolition begins by desiring to see things—if even for a moment—through the other’s eyes. Or even to feel the weight of what so convinces the other. This moves toward the truth. It is the way of Jesus, who walked alongside Pharisees, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He brought them life where they were without leaving them there. Jesus invited people into His world by painting pictures of His kingdom that made sense in their world. Entering another’s world demands firm rootedness in my own. “Open-mindedness” to others is not intellectual laziness or confusion but sets me aside for a moment to care for another. And so we imitate Christ: “Value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Talking in Colossian Forums isn’t just about transferring information. It’s about visiting strange, new worlds where we kindle shared desire for truth, shared yearning for friendship and shared devotion to Jesus. Since these things are far beyond our grasp, we ask for God’s help…together. “Please open my brother’s eyes…and my heart,” we sometimes beg. Only then can we voice our frustration: “How can you think the way you do?” An honest question seeking an honest answer. Now we’re talking. There’s no magic for entering another’s world. It’s like any new friendship. We ask each other’s story. “How did you come to faith? What kind of church shaped you? When have you doubted? How have you suffered?” We talk about what we fear will go wrong if the other side wins. We talk about why we think the other is damaging the church and what we admire about each other. We pray for each other. And, yes, we talk about the complex questions and challenges that divide us. After we talk, we need to return to prayer. We give thanks for being drawn closer to God and one another. We repent of how we’ve wronged God and one another. We voice our hope that He will continue to hold all things together (Colossians 1:17). It’s hardly rocket science, but that’s the kind of talking across difference that keeps drawing us back for more.
Forbearance: A Forgotten Virtue
January 24, 2018 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Forbearance: A Forgotten Virtue
As Christians, our toolbox for addressing conflict well is filled with Christian virtues--things like humility, patience, and kindness. These ancient practices of the church are the foundation of how we live out the incarnation and give us hope as we lean into messy situations and transform conflict into opportunity. One of the Christian virtues is forbearance, which is not one of the more well-known virtues. This book review, from our friends at Cardus, is a great introduction to this virtue and how it can be helpful in both addressing conflict productively and living in "productive discomfort". Dusting off a virtue we've forgotten, and need more than ever. by Marilyn McEntyre I don't much like the people I "put up" with, though, I piously tell myself, I'd like to like them. When I'm in the company of people whose views strike me as narrow, obnoxious, ill-informed, or dangerous, I struggle to hang onto some notion of neighbourly love that can quell my impatience and hasty judgments. Aware of how often I face that struggle, and how commonly political and social antagonisms divide churches full of people more or less like me—people with general goodwill and an assortment of strong opinions—I found James Calvin Davis's reflections on forbearance deeply refreshing. They offer exactly the reminders we need of what life in beloved community requires. I imagine it took a certain courage to title the book Forbearance. It's not one of the more celebrated virtues. Indeed, as Davis acknowledges, the word has a slightly dusty, antique ring and is easily confused with condescension, grudging acceptance, or veiled judgment. Or the self-satisfied "putting up with" that completely discredits the one who prides herself on suffering fools, if not gladly, at least without unseemly violence. (See above.) Escaping the centrifugal force of these oppositions requires a force more powerful. But forbearance, we learn as we read these rich reflections on biblical ethics, Christian history, and contemporary church conflicts, is a broad, generous, discerning, wise, complex virtue—arguably foundational for Christian life. "In the practice of forbearance," Davis writes, "Christians do not create unity; we confess it." I paused over that sentence. It offers a timely corrective to one of the more popular and persistent heresies: that somehow the church is a function of human planning and governance rather than a living body whose breath and being come from the one who breathed on the small group of followers he called friends, telling them to "receive the Holy Spirit." "We are one in the Spirit," we sing—not "May we one day become one in the Spirit," though that prayer has its place. The fact of unity and the hope of unity are both real experiences of Christians in community; like so many other truths about the life of faith, they coexist in paradox. But it may be that at this historical moment, we need to be called back to the fact in order to sustain the hope. What unites us is God's own infinitely merciful will. What divides us are digressions and misunderstandings, competing alliances, and political and theological arguments that can be resolved rightly only by a generous, patient, humble, wise, deliberative commitment to continue living with the quarrelsome, myopic lot who are our brothers and sisters, and among whom we must count ourselves. Exhibiting the patience that is the first of the virtues he identifies as facets of forbearance, Davis guides us unhurriedly through reflections on humility, hope, wisdom, faithfulness, and friendship. Forbearance requires and teaches humility; it fosters authentic hope rather than self-interested expectations; in practicing it we develop discernment, which "sees disagreement not as a problem to be solved but as an opportunity for maturation in the faith"; it encourages faithfulness not primarily to tenets or doctrinal specifics but to the pilgrim path we travel in relationship to those members of Christ's body among whom we happen to find ourselves. In that body—the beloved community we know as church—we find friendships that don't arise solely from our predilections and affections, but from deep recognition of what we hold closest and dearest, and in common. Davis's writing is striking in what I would call its pastoral clarity; he writes as to brothers and sisters in faith, acknowledging that he has been privy to and part of the pullings and tuggings as his own church has attempted to work out its salvation, and its positions on public issues, in anxiety and bumbling—which isn't quite the same as fear and trembling. He points the way to the grey area between the icy poles of argument where we are called find our way together, even in a fog of misinformation, misunderstanding, and media wars, reminding us that we need forbearance to "see past the binaries in which most of our ecclesial and civic debates are stuck" because a dismaying range of public media reduce social and moral differences to black and white, either/or alternatives. His wry list of current antagonisms that have run too often to extremes makes its own point about the need for more nuance, discernment, intelligent, gracious listening, and civility: You either hate women or like to kill babies. You are either a hawk or a peacenik. You are either homophobic or a fan of bestiality. You either prefer owls to people or condone raping the environment. You are either a socialist or a one-percent. You are either for law enforcement or for African-American rights. This is what most of our public debate looks like these days. Continue reading the post from Cardus.
Our New Book: All Things Hold Together in Christ
January 17, 2018 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Our New Book: All Things Hold Together in Christ
The Colossian Forum was founded (and our name is rooted) in Colossians 1:17, where Paul points out that "all things hold together in Christ." When we live into this truth and practice Christian virtues, we know that even in the midst of the most hopeless conflict, we can see in a new way how Christ truly holds all things together. This truth is the cornerstone of our new book, All Things Hold Together in Christ: A Conversation on Faith, Science, and Virtue. Conceived by TCF president Michael Gulker and TCF fellow Jamie Smith, this anthology includes foundational readings in theology, philosophy, and science that make our work possible.  It's a fantastic resource to help frame a distinctly Christological engagement with science and culture. Each essay comes from a scholar who exemplifies theology as a practice rooted in the worship of the church, shedding light on how our work at The Colossian Forum has managed to turn conflict into opportunity. These top Christian thinkers show how attending to the formation of virtue through the practices of worship creates the hospitable space we need to deal with difference and disagreement in the body of Christ. Contributors include Robert Barron, Timothy George, Stanley Hauerwas, Alasdair MacIntyre, Mark Noll, and N. T. Wright, among others. All of these essays are an invitation to find resources, inspiration, encouragement, and hope for faithful, creative thinking in the riches of the church's theological heritage and its worship traditions. This is the foundation and frame of The Colossian Way (which is set up as a worship service with a fight in the middle). All Things Hold Together in Christ is available from the publisher for a 40% discount through January 31, 2018.
Waiting Expectantly for What the World Overlooks
December 27, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Waiting Expectantly for What the World Overlooks
All too often, hope leaks from our souls, allowing despair to settle in and take residence. Oh, it’s not enough to set off alarms, and we’re more than capable of burying it under the rush of holiday shopping. But despair’s cumulative effect erodes our faith, leaving us at the mercy of nagging fears and silencing our witness to the reconciling power of Christ. As the anxieties of our culture, as well as our limits, press on us, fear propels us further into isolation or hostility. Either response belies the hope that the apostle Paul writes about in Romans 5:5: “and hope doesn’t disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” The Holy Spirit replenishes hope, empowering us to live patient, faithful lives in these complicated times. Because I feel these pressures too, I’ve been thinking and writing about hope, fear, and the Holy Spirit over the last few months. Adopting virtues such as humility, patience, kindness, and forbearance—to name a few—is impossible without the Holy Spirit. I know this through my own hard experience with my own failures. We really are powerless to effect change ourselves. That’s why the mission of The Colossian Forum—to transform conflict into an opportunity for spiritual growth and witness—is ridiculously audacious. Audacious in the “fearless” sense: boldly admitting that the sheer impossibility of unity-despite-our-difference—without God’s loving Spirit poured out. This Advent season begs us to reflect on such things as hope, fear, love, powerlessness, and the audacity of the gospel we’re called to patiently proclaim and embody, however seemingly small and insignificant our actions seem. Cutting through the cultural hype, we struggle to recall that angels provided the only fanfare to the desperate, obscure circumstance of an ordinary couple. Only a gaggle of shepherds and a few errant wise men witnessed the glory of Immanuel’s birth. Advent teaches us to wait expectantly for what the world overlooks. As I reflect on the 2017 launch of The Colossian Way small group experience, we catch these little glimpses of transformation—glimpses easily overlooked. Pastors encouraged to stay the course. Family members continuing to communicate in the midst of pain. Denominations convening difficult but honest conversations, knowing that the process could be a long one. Patience and curiosity in the middle of intergenerational dialogue. Fear acquiescing to hope. We are moving steadily toward our “audacious” goal of training 200 leaders and 1,200 participants in The Colossian Way, with 2018 promising to take us halfway there. I invite you to journey with us toward hope. Together, through your partnership in prayer, involvement, and generosity, we can glory in what the noisy world overlooks—Christians cultivating daily faithfulness in the midst of wrenching polarization, division, and conflict. I invite you to journey with us—reading, learning, conversing, praying, and giving—as we grow to love God and each other more.
Re-shaping and Re-forming Through Conflict
December 20, 2017 | Rob Barrett
Re-shaping and Re-forming Through Conflict
Q: How can a conflict be a place of Christian formation? A: While most people see a divisive issue as a problem to overcome, at The Colossian Forum we see such conflicts as places of growth. Conflict shines light on our souls. When pressures mount, our character becomes apparent. Some of what we see is disappointing, as when we protect ourselves more than our vulnerable neighbor. On the other hand, when humility emerges under pressure, it is humility indeed. But beyond learning about ourselves, conflicts are classrooms for learning new habits. Messy conflicts are more than problems to be solved. They place us on the brink of being more deeply formed as Christians. Unfortunately, we have been deeply formed by our polarized culture. The 24-hour news cycle teaches us that there are two ways of seeing the world: a right way and a wrong way, and that both can be summarized in a tweet. Our constant consumption of news, of arguments, information, facts, and stats from our channel of choice plays to our belief that if we can just deploy the right information with enough flair, the world will be forced to see things our way. But then we discover (over and over again) that this doesn’t work. The other side always has a counterargument. We get frustrated and begin thinking of them as willfully naïve, stupid, or just plain evil. Each time the news cycle goes around, we are tempted to increasing viciousness. Our capacity for living according to Christ’s pattern grows weaker and weaker. But there’s always a God-pleasing way forward for Christians. When we recognize our malformation, we have the opportunity to seek God’s gracious work that will re-form us into the shape we were intended to be. And we have a role in this reshaping work. Christians have always recognized that “getting saved” is only the beginning of growing in faithfulness. Walking this road of formation, of discipleship, is a central mark of the Christian life. Our formation as disciples proceeds best if it flows out of more than good intentions. Christians have generally understood certain practices to build good Christian character. Prayer, Bible reading, receiving the Lord’s Supper, hymn singing, giving to those in need: such traditional practices form Christians (by God’s grace) into people who are patient, humble, truthful, and loving. These basic Christian practices can be helpfully complemented by additional practices that are particularly suited for responding to the cultural pressures of the age. The Colossian Way is a practice of engaging a challenging topic while simultaneously pursuing obedience and faithfulness to Christ. Such a practice channels the pressure and energy around a “hot topic” into constructive spiritual formation. At the same time, good formation is the best pathway for solving the problem before us.