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TCF in congregations: an update

Posted by on May 20, 2015

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Here at TCF, we’re excited to be developing a program that equips local congregations to foster discipleship in the midst of difficult conversations. We’re increasingly confident that when churches face into the many cultural and generational tensions pressing on them, they find remarkable potential for Christian growth. So we thought we’d introduce you to the process we’ve been engaging, making progress on an approach that effectively equips congregations for this work.

Late in 2014, we began collaborating with Hope College’s Center for Faithful Leadership to embed our work within church communities. Together, we drafted a concept to present to pastors: laying out the goals of our program, along with some ideas for how it might be implemented in a local church.

A number of pastors then shared their reflections on what might work—and what might not—within their own congregations. And because we’re committed to this work as a ministry across generations, we also interviewed a number of young people for their impressions and recommendations.

With all this insightful feedback in hand, we crafted a preliminary program model. We took this back to the pastors for their review, and in response to their suggestions have continued to make modifications. As the model takes shape, we’re preparing to launch four pilot programs in the fall; we’ll soon begin meeting with a handful of churches, exploring the possibility of partnering over the course of the coming year.

As these congregations prayerfully consider trialing this program, we’re continuing to develop support resources. We’ll work with a group of scholars in June to prepare curriculum in support of the program. And, as you know, we’ve recently hired Chris Brewer to join the TCF team as Manager of Church Partner Development. He’ll work directly with these congregations as they foster discipleship in the midst of cultural pressures.

We’re excited about this project, and we’d appreciate your prayers as we work out concrete ways for Christians to witness to the hopeful truth that “in Christ, all things hold together.”


Ascension Day: A Reflection on Acts 1

Posted by on May 14, 2015

Bristol-Christ-ascension-smallAscension Day is a big day for TCF. It marks Jesus’ enthronement above every other power, dominion, and authority. Every dispute about his status as King of Kings and Lord of Lords has been definitively settled. Jesus is Lord of all, he is our Lord, he is Lord of our enemies, and he is even Lord over the conflicts we have with our enemies.

As we read in Acts 1:1-11, the disciples believed that when Jesus was lifted up he was taken on a cloud from them and to the God of Abraham. His ascension was not merely to Israel’s throne, as they might have once hoped, but to the heavenly throne that is over every other throne.

Ascension Day therefore marks the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham way back in Genesis 12: that he and his descendants would be a blessing to all the people of the earth. And here we are, literally at the ends of the earth, grafted in as the people of the God of Abraham.

Yet we are still asking, along with the disciples, “Are you now going to restore the kingdom?” (Acts 1:6). Are you finally going to heal our hurts, overcome all our fears and divisions, and prove to the world that we are right and they are wrong?

Jesus responds: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v.7-8). Notice that Jesus doesn’t answer their question as they asked it. He refuses to meet their expectations, and ours, not because our demands are too big, but because they’re far too small. God’s plan was never simply to take the side of one people or one issue over against another. Instead he is doing away with the system of conflict entirely. He is creating a new people bound together not by blood or race or national pride or political ideology, but by baptism into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Jesus doesn’t take a side in the conflict because he’s already Lord over all conflicts— and Lord over all of us who have conflicts. If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, then communion, not conflict, is the ultimate truth of the world.

If Jesus has left us our conflicts, it’s not because he has yet to conquer them, for he has already ascended to his heavenly throne above all other thrones. But rather, he has left us our conflicts because we need them! We need to learn to pick up our cross and follow Jesus, to allow him to use our conflicts as the crucible within which we become a people formed in his image—people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

In the meantime, as we continue to grow into these gifts of the Spirit, we have the opportunity, in the midst of our conflict, to witness to Jesus’ Lordship over conflict, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Thanks be to God.


Prayer Letter, May 2015

Posted by on May 6, 2015

“We love because he first loved us.”
1 John 4:19

Dear Friends,

This week the lectionary leads us to 1 John 4, a stunning passage about the love of God, lived out among his children. We’re cautioned that we cannot love God without also loving our brothers and sisters (v.21), which reflects the very core of TCF’s mission. And we are reminded that this would be impossible apart from the love of our heavenly Father, who first reached out to us.

This month has seen some tensions at TCF, including difficult conversations with some of our long-term partners. We count it a blessing that we’ve been stretched to understand concerns that don’t come naturally to us, and we’ve tried to take wise steps forward in the midst of some uncertainty. Our own capacities don’t suffice for these kinds of strain. But the love of God does.

Earlier in this passage (v.16), we’re reminded that we “know and rely on the love God has for us.” How grateful we can be that this work does not depend on our own strength! As we work to equip the church to pursue discipleship even—or especially—in the hard times, we candidly acknowledge to one another and to God how utterly we depend on him. And together, we give thanks that the love of God prevails in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties.

Finally, just as you pray regularly for us at TCF, we’d like to pray for you as well. Please drop us a note with specific requests, and we’ll be honored to include those during our staff prayer time.

Peace of Christ,

Michael Gulker

This post is excerpted from our May prayer letter. If you would like to pray for TCF on a regular basis, please contact admin@colossianforum.org and ask to receive our monthly prayer letters. Thank you.


Announcing: TCF’s 2014 Annual Report

Posted by on April 30, 2015

TCF has been hard at work this year, focusing our resources on the development of a program to equip churches to pursue discipleship in the midst of cross-generational tensions. But before we rush too quickly into the future, we invite you to look back just a bit with us, to the banner year of 2014.

If you followed our news last year, you’ll know that we hosted a dizzying variety of activities, ranging from workshops with high school teachers to large public forums to scholarly colloquia. In each instance, we were trialing ways of fostering Christian faithfulness in contexts of potential conflict—and we were delighted with the outcomes. Across a broad audience, in diverse situations, we found that our approach effectively equips disciples to engage conflict in a better way.

You can read more about 2014 in our newly-released Annual Report. Thank you for the role you played in helping make it such a fruitful year! We’re excited to carry forward the rich experiences of 2014, and to continue to grow in both effectiveness and impact.


Faithfulness Under the Cross: Unity, Division & the Church

Posted by on April 22, 2015

As churches across America work to foster discipleship amidst difficult conversations – sometimes poorly and sometimes well – there is a great deal we can learn from one another. TCF is grateful for the many Christians we encounter who willingly share their experience and wisdom in engaging conflict as an opportunity for spiritual growth. From time to time, you’ll find their stories and resources posted here to encourage your pursuit of faithful discipleship in the midst of conflict.


“On one thing let us be clear: the outcome of history has already been determined. To be on the right side of history is to find your fellowship within a great throng of people from every tribe and nation and language, a colorful multitude of people who are joined together by a single purpose: to give praise to the one who is seated on the throne…”

This bold and hopeful claim is all the more notable for its context: a gathering of Christians who have parted ways over doctrinal differences. Hosted by the IN-MI Mennonite Conference, the event created space for two pastors who hold opposing views on questions of sexuality to speak about their dreams for the future of the church. They spoke honestly of the pain of rupture, and joyfully of their experience of God’s presence and sustenance in the midst of grief. Framed by prayer (and hymns sung in legendary Mennonite four-part harmony), the event concluded with a stirring invitation from historian John Roth to pursue unity in worship as followers of a crucified Savior.

This event was organized by the Conference’s Unity and Variance Task Group, chaired by friend of TCF Mark Schloneger. It’s available for your viewing here; we recommend particularly Roth’s talk (beginning at 1:11:30). We share this event as a testimony to the work of fellow believers who, while divided on significant issues, nevertheless are pursuing unity as fellow believers in Christ.



Welcome to Chris Brewer!

Posted by on April 15, 2015

Chris #4 2We are pleased to announce that Chris Brewer has joined TCF as Manager of Church Partner Development. He will provide leadership for our church-based program, developing resources and supporting congregations in their work to engage conflict as an opportunity for discipleship across generations.

After completing an MA in Historical Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and serving in a church just north of Philadelphia, Christopher completed an MDiv at GRTS while working as a Marketing Manager for Universal Forest Products, Inc. Chris, his wife Rachel and their two boys then moved to St. Andrews, Scotland where they have lived for three years while he pursued a PhD in Divinity at St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews.

The editor of Art that Tells the Story (2011), Christopher has more recently published on the Irish-Catholic philosopher William Desmond, and is currently editing a critical edition of Howard E. Root’s previously unpublished 1972 Bampton Lectures, writing his first book – Understanding Natural Theology – for Zondervan Academic, and co-editing two volumes of David Brown’s essays for Ashgate.

Please pray with us for Chris and Rachel as they say their farewells in Scotland and move their family back to Grand Rapids. We look forward to welcoming him to the office in early May!



Prayer Letter, April 2015

Posted by on April 8, 2015

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast…”     – Isaiah 25:6

Dear Friend,

“The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!” This week, as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, we are reminded of the joyous future into which we have been called. The prophet Isaiah—long before the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—wrote of the coming day in which all peoples would gather in worship of “the LORD for whom we have waited.” (v. 9)

We look and long for that day! But we’re also invited—here and now—to participate in God’s ongoing reconciliation of all things to himself. We can already, wherever we are, begin in some small way to live into God’s astonishing work. As we look to the future when all peoples will gather for a feast, how might we today prepare to sit side-by-side with others whose ways are deeply foreign to us? How might we build bridges with Christians who today aggravate us, but will one day sit across the table from us?

Our work here at TCF is to help Christians practice for that astonishing day. We equip Christians to extend grace to one another in the midst of profound difference – even discord. We do this for the sake of faithful harmony in the church today. But more importantly, we undertake this work as an act of profound faith that one day, we will all sit together at the Feast. And that day, we will share in celebrating that Christ does, indeed, hold all things together (Col. 1:17).

Thank you for praying regularly for us at TCF. We’d be honored to pray for you as well. Please drop us a note with specific requests, and we’ll include those during our staff prayer time.

Peace of Christ,

Michael Gulker

This post is excerpted from our April prayer letter. If you would like to pray for TCF on a regular basis, please contact admin@colossianforum.org and ask to receive our monthly prayer letters. Thank you.


A Better Way

Posted by on April 2, 2015

We’ve grown all too accustomed to the destructive ways in which the media we consume shapes controversial issues, fueling contention and fostering division. Whether it’s online, on air, or in print, conflict seems to be the message of the day.

It’s my hope that you share my conviction that there’s a better way. As heralds of the Prince of Peace, we believe that the Good News should influence the way that we engage the daily news.

“… in the ugly deserts of our times, God still fashions rivers that can make our hearts glad.”
And we’re glad we’re not alone in this.

Christianity Today has recently released a series of articles that affirm a strong commitment to what they’re describing as “Beautiful Orthodoxy.” As editor-in-chief Mike Galli writes, “We believe our cause at Christianity Today is to point people to the unimaginable beauty of the gospel.” What a remarkable, counter-cultural mission for a media ministry!

You can read more about CT’s “ministry cause” on their website here. And please join me in thanking God for the work of our brothers and sisters at CT, who aim for journalism that reveals “Christ … as the beautiful One who is the way, the truth, and the life.”



Un Done – Part Two: A Reflection on the Forum Experience

Posted by on March 25, 2015

As I shared in “Un Done … Part 1,” about two years ago I was among the growing population of those who are “done with church.” After years of intentional Christian living, I was finished. Since, then, through the experience of “foruming,” I have found a way to re-engage with God’s people and the church.

Over the past year I have heard echoing refrains from participants:

“This is so refreshing.”
“I don’t want to stop this conversation.”
“When can we do this again?”
“I crave these real conversations.”

These responses to the forum experience resonate with my reflections. In light of these positive experiences, I have begun to question what brought me and so many others to be “done with church.”

Recently, I was exploring a website of a young adult ministry seeking to start chapters in churches throughout the state. As I browsed the site I found a video of one of their meetings and began to watch it. Right away the “I’m done!” alarms began to sound.

Suddenly I realized why; the speaker was talking at me.

I have been both the listener and the speaker in these “front of the room” settings. Yet I now see that I have rarely been a true participant. The setting is not conducive to conversation, interaction, engagement, and deeper knowledge of those seated around me. It’s a simple matter of logistics – we’re all facing the same direction. It’s one of many ways that church leaders can use to help teach and form church members. But it seems to be the accepted status quo, and I’ve begun to ask myself why we so often limit ourselves to this approach.

Instead of pointing the finger, as I would love to do, I decided to examine myself. I have taught, spoken and shared from the “front of the room” in many discipleship and formation settings. I did this because it was the norm and also, because I was afraid.

I was afraid of conversation. Afraid that if I fostered interaction, allowed real participation and engagement, changed the “teaching” to an interactive experience – I would have to face questions and issues for which I didn’t have the easy answer. At the “front of the room” I have control and safety. When talking at people, I feel safe because rarely does someone raise their voice to disagree, and if they do: I still have the power to control the conversation.

And yet, after 14 years of talking and being talked at, I was done. One of the deepest reasons for this was the lack of opportunity to truly connect and participate. I crave connection, real conversation, a space to struggle honestly. I long for a chance to learn and hear from those around me without relentless formality.

This is what I find in a “forum.” Forums unfold beautifully, in an informally formal way, whispering dignity. Through sharing, expressing, listening, and interacting, we create a sacred space together. Here we can linger, learn, and grow. Here we can be wrong and make mistakes. We can test the limits of our commitment to this way of life, because we actually have to put into action what we’ve been talking about.

As I take a step back from the edge of “done,” I turn towards the church with hope for balance. There will always be a need for “front of the room” teaching, but there is also a need for genuine, unscripted interaction. Practices of engagement through facing one another, wrapped in peaceful prayer, stepping into the discomfort of divisive and hard conversations may be what is needed for those who are “done” to experience Christ’s love within the context of a conversation which will never end.


Preview: Thinking about Evolution & Christian Faith

Posted by on March 18, 2015

As TCF prepares for our upcoming conference on Evolution and Christian Faith, we’re pleased to share a preview here on our site. Dr. William Cavanaugh’s “The Fall of the Fall” sheds light on ways in which politics have influenced the interplay of science and faith, particularly as it relates to the doctrine of the Fall.

Dr. Cavanaugh’s post is part of an ongoing series on themes surrounding Christian perspectives on creation and evolution. If these articles catch your attention, consider joining us in Evanston next week!



Don’t Miss It!

Posted by on March 12, 2015

As TCF wraps up a three-year academic project on the topic of Evolution and Christian Faith (ECF), we’re bringing together our team of scholars to present and discuss their findings. Our scholars have been researching and reflecting on the implications of evolutionary theory for the Christian faith, and have drawn a wide range of conclusions. The conversations surrounding these conclusions promise to be engaging and enlightening! This conference will be hosted by The Colossian Forum in collaboration with Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and is scheduled for March 26-28, 2015.

We hope to see you there!


Prayer Letter, March 2015

Posted by on March 4, 2015

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
– Mark 8:34

Dear Friend,

Jesus never sugar-coated the truth about what it would cost to follow him. He was straightforward about his path leading through self-denial and straight to the cross. And yet, he assured his listeners, this ultimate sacrifice would in the end gain them their lives. (Mark 8:35)

This denial of our selves is a profoundly Christian response to conflict. As we enter into conversation with an adversary, Christ asks both of us to give up our own agendas, our own self-righteousness. We are both called, together, to take up our cross and follow him. As we pursue this path, we cast a sidelong glance at each other and discover, to our surprise, that we are now walking side-by-side for the sake of the Gospel.

Here at TCF, we try to tell the truth about the cost of faithful discipleship in the midst of disagreement. Transforming conflict is painstakingly hard work! But the reward – Christians reconciled with former opponents, traveling Christ’s path together – is beyond all doubt worth the price. We’re honored to be part of this work.

Thank you for supporting us in prayer as we equip Christians in local congregations to follow this challenging path! Please let us know how we can pray for you, too.


A Guide for Lent 2015

Posted by on February 27, 2015


A Reflection on the Gay Christian Network Conference 2015

Posted by on February 25, 2015

Reflections_Pic_1Joyful people surrounded me, but I must admit that I felt very alone.

Many of these thousand-plus brothers and sisters in Christ had found respite from the loneliness of being a sexual minority by googling “gay and Christian” and discovering the Gay Christian Network conference. One Australian lesbian Christian flew around the world because she needed to be where, for once, people didn’t make wrong assumptions about her and find her strange and confusing. But here I was—suddenly a minority because I’m straight—and I started to understand what my Australian sister meant.

Like when a new friend spied my wedding ring and asked, “Are you married to a man or a woman?”

I felt like I was reliving my experience of dwelling in a foreign country, where the cultural assumptions and way-things-work-around-here were just different enough that I would often get caught unaware. I felt like starting every sentence, “This is probably really inappropriate for me to say, but…”

At registration, they asked if I wanted a red or blue lanyard…What? “Red means no photographs; blue if you don’t mind pictures.” Why would I mind having my picture taken? Oh…right…then people will think I’m gay. I began hearing stories of people coming out and courageously choosing blue for the first time.

When news of an expected protest spread, the GCN hosts assured us that our safety was their primary concern. I had flashbacks to visiting a Christian college last year where the chaplain told me the college was approaching homosexuality questions with one top priority in mind: “We don’t want any students to die over this issue this year.” I was reminded of my world of majority privilege where holding my views doesn’t risk my being attacked or spiraling into suicide. This isn’t my normal world, but it is theirs.

This culture of uncertainty leads me to question the little things I do without thinking. Am I holding my hands to hide my wedding ring or flaunt it? Did I just inject a reference to my wife into that conversation to signal that I’m straight? Or did I confuse things by implying I’m in a mixed-orientation marriage? I notice others around me adeptly dropping details that help others understand where they’re coming from. Every culture requires new skills.

A number of the conference presentations I hear present a common narrative of moving to a marriage-equality position as the traditional Christian position is found wanting – at least in practice, if not in theology. There’s a feeling in the air that everyone will eventually end up becoming affirming. The traditionalists are just holding out against the inevitable. That’s hard for some of my more conservative gay Christian friends to hear: the pressure comes from all sides— and from inside—to conclude that God smiles on same-sex sex.

I have breakfast with a man who invested years into trying to become straight. His story included a pattern of resisting and then falling to temptation, of running off to the city for anonymous sex. He had married a woman as part of trying to get on the right track. No one could blame her for divorcing him. I’m sad for him, but nobody needs to remind him that these were moral failures—he’s very aware. Then he surprises me by saying he just can’t reconcile his faith with affirming same-sex behavior. His earnest struggle to be faithful—failures and all—is impressive and leads me to pray for him. He’s got a hard row to hoe and the Christian support he needs isn’t easy to come by.

One of the many beautiful parts of this culture comes from the common experience of having to hide and keep secrets. To be gay and Christian is to risk condemnation from both the gay community and the church, so most have learned to live with being guarded. So they know the other side: how much of a gift it is to hear somebody out, no matter what crazy thing they’re saying, and to give them a hug. There will be plenty of time for criticism later. So I start opening up and asking my questions and sharing what I’m thinking, sometimes saying some pretty crazy things as I try to sort out what’s going on inside of me. The resilient welcomes are refreshing.

The morning of the protest, I find myself in a tilt-a-whirl of Christian attempts at faithfulness. Supporters from area churches form lines to protect conference attendees from the protestors. Christians protecting Christians from Christians, [as someone noted].

A man with a megaphone yells at me, “You’re going to hell!” followed by “Haven’t you ever read the Bible?” Well, actually I have, and actually I’m straight, and actually you have no idea who I am. And you don’t know anything about the people I’m with, either. I appreciate the supporters who smile and say, “God loves you!” and “You are welcome here!”, but they don’t know me either. I feel alone again. But a gay friend runs up to me—she’s serving doughnuts to the protestors—puts her arm around me and walks me through the confusion.

Maybe I’m not so alone. Becoming a minority for a few days builds a bond with those who suffer these pains every day. I’m a different person for spending a few days of disorientation among so many every-day sexual minorities, as they enjoy a moment of solace from the lonely pressure of being different. I pray that the Holy Spirit is at work within me—and within these newly discovered sisters and brothers—for the glory of Christ.


As you know, TCF has begun to help the church address difficult questions surrounding faithful expressions of sexuality. Instead of endorsing one or another side, we invite Christians to work on these questions together, trusting that Christ’s reconciling love will guide us – together – into all truth.

In January, two of our staff members attended the Gay Christian Network conference. This conference gathered LGBT Christians, their friends, family, allies, and pastors together for worship and mutual support. We attended to deepen our friendships with Christians who seek to engage these questions faithfully. The experience was fruitful for our staff, although – as you will see – their reflections on the conference differ markedly. Their posts highlight just how varied our life experiences can be and, therefore, just how critical it is for Christians to be in genuine conversation with one another, working together to transform our conflicts into opportunities for faithful discipleship.


Coming Home

Posted by on February 19, 2015

iStock_house_in_handsLet’s go on a journey together. I promise you’ll like the destination. In fact, I suspect you’ve been thinking about it often today or, at least, unconsciously working hard to get there. If I had you close your eyes right now, I think we could travel there in your mind’s eye. Perhaps it’s that chair in your den where, after a long day at work, you sit and breathe. With a cup of tea in your hand, you feel it happening. You release your weight, your shoulders drop, your head tilts back, your arms rest. You sigh.

Most of us have a “sigh space”—that place where physical rest meets emotional, mental, and spiritual calm. Where, if I saw you there, I’d really see you. Not the you that you show the world, but the you with all its cracks and doubts and wonderings—the honest you. Even if we are still searching for such a space in our own lives, we seem to have a way of knowing when someone else has reached theirs. We can sense it in the way they sit or hold their body, the tone of their voice or the look in their eye.

It’s surprising where such spaces appear and I certainly wasn’t looking for one when I stepped into the Oregon Convention Center to attend the Gay Christian Network (GCN) annual conference last month. The last thing one expects to find after walking through a gauntlet of protesters waving hate signs and yelling ugly slurs is a place where souls can sigh. But I cannot deny what I witnessed. Not just one or two people, but a thousand people sighing like they’ve never sighed before.

Of course, it makes sense. The church has become a place where most lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people have not felt welcome enough to breathe, let alone sigh. The secular gay community, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with Christians who have seemingly condemned them to the deepest levels of hell. As such, there is no place for LBGT Christians to belong. Yet, in that humble convention hall, I saw LGBT-identified people who sincerely love Jesus finally find a place where they could be.

Depending on one’s theological position, some would say that convention hall was a false space where people were allowed to openly live in sin. Others would say it was a place where people were finally free to be seen and loved as they are. At The Colossian Forum (TCF), we recognize that spaces such as these can be fraught with disagreement and conflict. Questions of right and wrong, truth and lie, in and out – all hang palpably in the air. The work of TCF is to invite people into these spaces to learn the virtues of Christ and grow in the fruit of the Spirit through worship, prayer, listening, and dialogue.

This can be risky work for those with more traditional leanings as it potentially gives a voice to sin and waywardness. It’s equally risky for more progressive individuals, many of whom have witnessed or felt the hurt caused by fellow Christians who have sometimes pursued faithfulness apart from love. But it’s essential work because it invites the church into the divide to learn how to care for each other Christianly in the midst of conflict. At TCF we regularly return to this question: how do we wrestle well with important issues like homosexuality and continue to strive for a faith that is pure and faultless as evidenced by our care for the orphans and widows in our midst (James 1:27)?

Standing all around me in the Oregon Convention Center were thousands of “orphans.” People loved by God as his handiwork, but often feeling rejected by the church. People professing heartfelt commitment to Jesus, yet remaining orphans in his kingdom. No wonder the entire hall sighed. In this space, for the briefest of moments, people were allowed to let down their guard, release the tension in their shoulders, and truly be seen.

It seems to me that “sigh space” could go by another name: home. As I stood among those brothers and sisters—those beaten up and bruised beloveds of God—I couldn’t help but feel I had come home. Sigh.


As you know, TCF has begun to help the church address difficult questions surrounding faithful expressions of sexuality . Instead of endorsing one or another side, we invite Christians to work on these questions together, trusting that Christ’s reconciling love will guide us – together – into all truth.

In January, two of our staff members attended the Gay Christian Network conference. This conference gathered LGBT Christians, their friends, family, allies, and pastors together for worship and mutual support. We attended to deepen our friendships with Christians who seek to engage these questions faithfully. The experience was fruitful for our staff, although – as you will see – their reflections on the conference differ markedly. Their posts highlight just how varied our life experiences can be and, therefore, just how critical it is for Christians to be in genuine conversation with one another, working together to transform our conflicts into opportunities for faithful discipleship.






Un Done – Part One: A Reflection on the Forum Experience

Posted by on February 12, 2015


Today I read an article titled “The Rise of the ‘Done with Church’ Population.” The article details how many faithful, active church members are leaving simply because of what can only be described as being “done with church.”

About two years ago, I was “done with church.” I hit a wall of what I would call “Christianese Burn Out.” I was exhausted from countless talks, prayer meetings, small group gatherings, Bible studies, and mission trips. The Christian world I was a part of did not connect with my experience of an interior desert walk, following in cracked and painful footsteps of the suffering Christ. Instead, it seemed all I heard of from the front was about being carried by the “arms of grace.” At least that was what I heard at the prayer meetings and church services I attended, religiously.

I grew up in a strong Christian family, and chose to personally follow Jesus 14 years ago. I have been active in ministry work around the world, and involved in several intentional community movements. If I were to crunch some numbers, I would estimate that over the last 14 years I have listened to approximately 1800 talks, participated in over 2000 bible studies or small groups, and attended over 1500 church services. And yet, even with all of this “discipleship,” “community,” and “formation,” I found I was done, or almost, done.

I attended my first TCF forum about 18 months ago. The delicious food, engaging people, and comfortable environment invited me in, sparking my curiosity. I sat facing a few friends and a few strangers and we began to share, to listen, to be together; we began to “forum.” During my first listening forum, I discovered in a new way the voices of God’s people. And I haven’t looked back since. Through collaborating with the TCF team, I have fallen in love with the “forum” model, and have had the amazing opportunity to introduce over 40 people to this new kind of conversation.

The article referenced at the beginning says “The ‘Dones’ are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.” I was among that group. I felt unheard, unknown, but also disconnected because I didn’t have opportunities to hear the voices of God’s people around me.

The forum setting, the paradigm shift of “challenges as opportunities,” the face-to-face honest interaction, and the hospitality of TCF has begun to bring me back from “done.” Through the over 20 forums I have been involved with, I have heard the beautiful harmony of the voices of the other. I have found a way to create spaces where participation is the point, laughter and tears are standard fare, and where real openness around hard and challenging issues serves as the catalyst for a conversation that is never “done.” Within the diversity of experience, practice, expression, and perspective I have encountered through “foruming,” I have found a new hope. I have sat face-to-face with those I love and those I deeply disagree with, I have heard their heart and firmly held beliefs, and in the midst of it all I have been drawn back into the possibility of a new way, a new kind of conversation for the church and God’s people.


Noelle Gornik is the Office and Program Coordinator at the Issachar Fund.  Noelle has global program development, implementation, and coordination experience. Before joining the Issachar Fund, Noelle worked in program coordination for several organizations including Cornerstone Development based in Kampala, Uganda and ORA International based in Andorf, Austria.  Noelle has a BA in International Relations and African Studies from Grand Valley State University.


Prayer Letter, February 2015

Posted by on February 4, 2015

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
– Psalm 111:10

Dear Friends,

I’ve spent much of my time recently with pastors, seeking their input as TCF develops a program that will help churches to use conflict engagement as an opportunity for discipleship. I’m deeply grateful to these leaders for sharing their wealth of experience, and for the many ways in which they’ve helped to give shape to the early stages of this project.

As I speak with pastors about the conflicts and struggles they face, I’m continually aware of TCF’s need for wisdom for the ongoing development of our programs. We recognize that facing into disagreements is a daunting task for any congregation, and we are committed to providing the necessary tools and support for churches as they agree to take on this challenge. At the same time, I’m deeply encouraged by these pastors, as they affirm that TCF’s approach will help them to equip their congregations for faithful discipleship in arenas of controversy and disagreement.

So in the midst of all of this, I’m particularly grateful for this reminder from the psalmist, who points me to the very source of wisdom: the fear of the Lord. As together we humbly listen for God’s guidance and rely on the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, we can rest in the assurance that he will grant all the understanding we need. As we courageously enter into these difficult conversations, we do so in trust that God will abundantly equip us for the work to which he calls us.

Thank you for your ongoing prayers on our behalf.



Posted by on January 30, 2015

The Colossian Forum’s work was recently recognized by a brief mention in Time magazine. In her article “A Change of Heart,” author Elizabeth Dias writes that we’re working with Justin Lee and Alan Chambers to “help evangelicals warm to the gay conversation.” This comment is so brief—and so easily misunderstood—that we thought we’d take a moment to clarify why we’re so excited about our work with Justin, Alan, and many other friends on these issues.

It’s true that The Colossian Forum is heavily invested in helping the church engage difficult conversations, and questions surrounding homosexuality top most folks’ lists. The nuance that perhaps got missed is that our work isn’t about helping the church move towards a particular stance on gay marriage. Rather, we’re focused on helping the body of Christ, in community, to hold this difficult conversation in a way that builds up rather than tears down. This means that voices on the left and the right get heard and the brothers and sisters on the left and the right learn to love one another while still holding firm to their convictions. We’re firmly convinced that our differences on this issue do indeed offer an occasion, albeit a difficult one, for us to grow in the fruit of the Spirit. It’s exactly here that we learn to love each other with joy, peace, patience, and so on (Gal. 5:22-23). As we hold to our convictions—though they differ widely—we have the unique opportunity to also hold to the deep truth that in Christ “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).

In the summer of 2014, we hosted a weeklong Colossian Forum with Christian scholars and leaders on the topic of human sexuality. Some of these leaders rarely have opportunities to speak forthrightly from their very different convictions, to listen carefully to each other, and to worship our one Lord together. As part of that event, we invited local Christians to join us for an evening of worship and conversation. Our participants continued their exchange in this public setting, without any script, but with faith overcoming their trepidation. It was far from perfect, of course, with creaky floors and glaring lights serving as backdrops to painful questions and sometimes strained responses. We’ve still got a lot to learn and more voices to include, but in the midst of it all, the Holy Spirit’s presence was evident and it was a remarkable evening. As participants worked to extend grace to one another, even while maintaining strongly opposing viewpoints, the fruit of the Spirit was on display in beautiful ways. And because of it, the audience got to see something different from the typical FOX/MSNBC bickering: brothers and sisters in Christ modeling his love across their disagreements, thereby pointing to something deeper and richer than either one side or the other could have alone.

The folks who attended the event as observers overwhelmingly described this as a positive first step, a faithful model of engaging difference as an opportunity for discipleship rather than a threat to our faith. Their experience encourages us to make footage of those evenings available as an introduction to our work. These films aren’t perfect, just like the events weren’t, but then, they’re not about us. They’re about the Holy Spirit who displayed himself in the midst of the broken yet incarnate body of Christ—the church, and we dare not hide this light under a bushel, even though it will inevitably draw fire. Despite the humble nature of the films, I think you’ll agree that they reveal the Holy Spirit doing something new, making possible a strikingly different way to engage these contentious issues, one which may help us all warm to a conversation that draws us into deeper, faithful discipleship!


TCF @ Calvin College CALL

Posted by on January 21, 2015

The Colossian Forum is pleased to announce two upcoming events, hosted in partnership with the Calvin Academy for Lifelong Learning (CALL) during their spring term.

On Thursday, February 12, Michael Gulker will present Conflict as Opportunity? at the CALL Noontime Series. This will be an opportunity to learn more about the work of TCF to welcome conflict as a Christ-given opportunity to deepen faith, expand knowledge, and build community.

In March, Rob Barret will lead Transforming Conflict into Opportunity: How to Lead Colossian Forums, a 6-part series designed to equip participants to lead Colossian Forums in their own communities. This course is open to all members of CALL.

For further information, visit the event pages linked above or the TCF Events Page.


Evolution and Christian Faith – Two Upcoming Conferences

Posted by on January 15, 2015

If you’re interested in exploring evolution in the light of Christian faith, this is your year! We’d like to share information about two upcoming conferences designed specifically to help the church navigate the conflicts that arise around this issue.

As TCF wraps up a three-year academic project on the topic of Evolution and Christian Faith (ECF), we’re bringing together our team of scholars to present and discuss their findings. Our scholars have been researching and reflecting on the implications of evolutionary theory for the Christian faith, and have drawn a wide range of conclusions. The conversations surrounding these conclusions promise to be engaging and enlightening! This conference will be hosted by The Colossian Forum in collaboration with Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and is scheduled for March 26-28, 2015.

Our ECF project was funded by BioLogos, an organization that invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith, while presenting an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation. BioLogos is also holding an ECF conference this year featuring presentations by individuals and teams of scholars, teachers, and church leaders, all of whom have been working, much like TCF’s team, on questions at the intersection of evolution and Christian faith. The BioLogos conference  will take place June 30 – July 2, 2015 at The Eberhard Center in Grand Rapids, MI. Those interested in presenting at this conference are invited to submit a paper proposal by January 23, 2015. Further details are available on the conference website.