Practicing the Discipline of Conversation

Excerpted From
How the Body of Christ Talks
By C. Christopher Smith

God created humans to be conversational beings, but we have been formed by the powers of the modern age to resist conversation.

In this context, we need spaces within the common life of our church communities where we endeavor to relearn the arts of conversation by undertaking the discipline of intentionally talking together. Like ancient Israel when they were led to construct the tabernacle, thus creating a space for God’s presence to be known in their midst, our churches today can create conversational spaces in which God’s presence can be known among us. I have found it helpful to think of conversation as a corporate spiritual discipline, like prayer or worship. Spiritual disciplines “all deeply and essentially involve bodily conditions and activities,” writes Dallas Willard. “Thus they show us effectively how we can ‘offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto God’ and how our ‘spiritual worship’ (Rom. 12:1) really is inseparable from the offering up of our bodies in specific physical ways.”

Although someone may be innately gifted, say, as a pianist or a basketball player, she will not fulfill this end without hundreds or even thousands of hours of practice. Conversation is an essential discipline that helps us cultivate the sort of faithful presence for which we were created. Faithful presence, writes David Fitch, “is at the heart of what it means to be the people of God. This is the thing we do that we call church. This is how God changes the world.” Disciplines, Fitch argues, are essential to the work of embodying faithful presence in our communities: “[Disciplines] open up space for God to rearrange the world, starting in our social relationships. These disciplines invite us into what God is actually doing in the whole world.”

Given our formation in a fragmented world that has little capacity for conversation, we desperately need to practice the discipline of conversation in our local church communities in order to mature in the witness we bear to the conversational nature of the Triune God and the dialogue of salvation into which God has invited humanity. The remainder of this book will explore how our churches can initiate disciplines of conversation, how we can cultivate a Christian spirituality that will nourish the discipline of conversation and how we can sustain practices of conversation in the face of powers that vehemently resist it.

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Excerpted from How the Body of Christ Talks by C. Christopher Smith, ©2019. Used by permission of Baker Publishing

C. Christopher Smith
C. Christopher Smith

C. Christopher Smith is a long-time member of the Englewood Christian Church community on the urban Near Eastside of Indianapolis, founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books, and author of How the Body of Christ Talks(Brazos Press).