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Thursday, April 28, 2016

"The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations" (Mary Schaller and John Crilly)

TITLE: The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations: Walking alongside People Who Believe Differently
AUTHOR: Mary Schaller and John Crilly
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2016, (256 pages).

People are different. They are diverse in many ways. From the colour of clothes to the choice of cell-phones, more and more people simply adore the ability to choose. This is something that more companies and businesses are trying to cater to: Personalize their offerings to suit the person. In order for that to happen, businesses must first understand their target audiences. Just like there is no one way to understand a person, there is no one way to share the gospel. The gospel is the same message but the delivery and way to share can be very different. Not only are there people of diverse backgrounds, every individual comes with their own set of preferences and stages of spiritual awareness. In a book that brings together the many different ways in which we can reach out to different people, authors Mary Schaller and John Crilly have shared from their journeys at Q Place, some time-tested guidelines and resources to help us do the same. Based on the lifestyle and practices of Jesus in the gospels, we learn about the importance to ask rather than tell people what they need. We learn to walk the way of Jesus as a way to relate, apart from mere talking about facts. We learn about seeing evangelism through the lens of discipleship so that the two are not separate from each other. Our lives are measured according to how we love. In fact, all of our spiritual conversations need to begin with discipleship in mind. Briefly, the nine ways are:

  1. Noticing: Just like Jesus observing people on a daily basis. (Example Zacchaeus in Luke 19). 
  2. Praying: Secretly keeping people in prayer, asking God for discernment. To pray like Jesus.
  3. Listening: Learn to listen not only to people's words but how they say it and why. Important to learn to listen in order to understand rather than to listen in order to reply.
  4. Asking Questions: Cultivate healthy curiosity for the purpose of speaking appropriately into the lives of people. Four good questions include topics about history, transitions, principles, and goals.
  5. Loving: We learn about five practices of helping a person through difficult times. We also learn to connect the Great Commission with the Great Commandment. If I may add, the Great Compassion.
  6. Welcoming: We learn about letting our faces shine with welcoming, our ease of space, our hospitality, and our graciousness.
  7. Facilitating: Can be used in a group setting where we encourage people to talk and to share in a peer environment.
  8. Serving Together: Helping encourage involvement of people aids teamwork and togetherness.
  9. Sharing: Sharing the gospel in love and good works.
The first three are skills to get ready for a meaningful spiritual conversations. The next three aim to help get things started while the final three deal with sustaining the momentum. Although the nine arts are presented in a sequential basis, there is no limit to how one can use it. For example, different people that we come in contact with will have known us at different times. Potentially, we could be doing all nine arts for nine different people at various moments of our lives. Once we have learned of all the various arts, we can easily mix-and-match. In fact, every art needs to be improved, polished, and implemented all the time. They are never stagnant. We sometimes learn through stumbling our efforts or fumbling our lines. It is the love of God inside us that will keep us prepared, moving, and constantly reaching out. Opening a spiritual conversation can be risky. It may demand us sharing of our own lives as well. That is one reason why any of us wanting to reach out must learn to let God reach out to us first. Without that relationship with God, we will be ineffective agents of outreach.

Mary Schaller was Minister of Small Groups at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church before becoming President of Q Place, a place where people can interact freely and to discuss their deepest questions about life and spirituality.  John Crilly also worked at Q Place before and is a keen supporter of all things evangelism. Let me share three thoughts about this book.

First, I like the way that the authors have classified the nine arts into three sub-blocks of conversation. The first block of noticing, praying, and listening are often glossed over or not practiced. In our rush to want to say things or to spread the gospel, we may unwittingly taken upon a spiritual endeavor with human wisdom and earthly effort. In doing so, we forget that we are entering the realm of spiritual warfare, where we could very well be vulnerable to spiritual pitfalls. This all-important preparation of the heart helps us to be anchored on being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Just like the famous quote of the missionary to China, James Hudson Taylor: "God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply." By noticing, we know what to pray. By praying, we know who our help will ultimately come from. By listening, we sense the movement of the Spirit before we enter into any form of spiritual conversatin.

Second, learning the art of spiritual conversation is one thing. Loving is yet another. In fact, I would even say that loving is far more important than the conversation itself. Learning to be silent is a profound form of conversation. People generally do not like to be rushed. They just want to be understood. There are moments in which they want to speak to somebody. There are also times in which they prefer to be left alone. Only when we have a heart of care and compassion will we be able to discern when is the best time to talk and when to shut up.

Third, I like the word "art." It carries a sense of humanness in it all. Contrast that to the science and the techniques that many of us are familiar with. Use five steps to solve one problem. Adopt seven habits to make someone more effective. Use nine ways to get to a certain place. These how-to strategies are useful for getting problems solved or things done. However, remember that we are dealing with people. People do not like to be seen as some problem to be solved. They want to be understood. They want to be loved. They desire friendship and care. In using art, we learn to pattern whatever conversations according to the people we interact with. This means we need to be fluent in the different skills needed to reach out. We need to adapt any method accordingly, even abandoning the method in favour of something new and novel. Spiritual things are often more "art" than "science." Relationships in themselves need the arts to describe. Just like pain and suffering. These things cannot be solved with a pill or some magic formula. Often, people in such times need a listening year and a loving presence.

All in all, I recommend this book for the benefit of all communities wanting to love their neighbours and to reach out to let God touch lives, including theirs.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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