Chris De Vos, a Christian Reformed pastor who has served congregations in Canada and the U.S., offered two sessions of his ‘Conflict as Opportunity: Learning The Colossian Way’ workshop at the CRC’s recent ministry conference, Inspire 2019.
The Colossian Way is a practice that develops the character of Christ while dealing with complex issues over which Christians differ. It’s part of the ministry of The Colossian Forum, an organization founded in 2011. De Vos develops partnerships with churches and leaders of Colossian Way groups, offering congregations deeper training in the practice.
“Our mission is to help the church transform conflicts into opportunities for spiritual formation,” he said.
Nine CRC congregations have participated in Colossian Way training. LaGrave Avenue CRC pursued training as part of the church’s desire to care well for their members who identify as lesbian, gay or questioning their sexuality. Pastors Michael Hoogeboom and Kristy Manion were two of four LaGrave participants trained in The Colossian Way. After leading two groups through the program, they are planning for a third group this fall.
“We have a front-row seat to witness the Spirit work among us as we engage challenging questions together and before God’s face,” said Manion, who serves LaGrave as minister of discipleship.
Bringing together people of diverse opinions on hot topics feels like “a recipe for conflict,” admitted Hoogeboom, but after 10 weeks, “the participants wanted to continue being together.” As they’re invited into topics without easy answers, participants slowly open their hearts to the Holy Spirit and to each other, Hoogeboom said.
The Colossian Forum offers training in The Colossian Way twice a year in Grand Rapids. Staff members also have traveled to San Diego, Calif.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Goshen, Ind., where churches have sponsored the two-day training sessions.
Since The Colossian Way finds common ground in Christ rather than intellectual answers, each group session is shaped by liturgy. This allows participants to disagree while joining in worship. Manion said she sees how this format “unifies group members by grounding us in dearly held commitments of our faith even while it encourages participants to trust that ‘in Christ, all things hold together.’”
Churches making use of The Colossian Way training have continued to be supported by The Colossian Forum. When leaders gather groups in their congregations, meeting for 10 weekly 90-minute sessions, they also find online support from their original training cohort to share feedback and encouragement.
Gathered groups represent a microcosm of the church’s culture and demographics, particularly those with differing perspectives. They grapple with a Wicked Problem, “one of those problems that is not just hard, but wicked hard to solve to everyone’s satisfaction,” explained Gene Miyamoto, Colossian Way leader in Pillar Church. In Pillar Church, a joint CRC and Reformed Church in America congregation in Holland, Mich., more than 50 members have participated in Colossian Way sessions. Miyamoto said through these he’s seen “trust built up.”
Ultimately, said De Vos, it is not about finding the right answer, “but our transformation into the image of Christ—how hard that is, how challenging, but how powerful. That’s the most important thing for me.”
The Colossian Forum serves many different Christian denominations. Synod 2019, the CRC’s annual general assembly, ratified the inclusion of the organization in the denomination's list of agencies approved for the collection of offerings.