The lost discipline of spiritual conversation

The lost discipline of spiritual conversation

As I read Hebrews 10:24 this week – “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” – I was reminded of a conversation I had some time ago with one of our congregants. She lamented the lack of spiritual conversations she has with her friends. There is a lot of Christian conversation but not the kind that stirs each other toward spiritual maturity.

How effortlessly we fall into this. We have all been there all too often. You’ve just finished Sunday worship, which has left you feeling uplifted, encouraged or convicted. As you begin conversing with others the spiritual work that had taken place in your heart over the last hour has just been extracted from you. How? Because the conversation has been centred around the secular and not the sacred. Despite being faithful to teach and preach the Bible we can remain quite secular and superficial in our relational interactions. How easy it is to lose the discipline of spiritual conversation.

The English Puritans of the 16th and 17th centuries understood the importance of intentionally engaging in spiritual conversation as a means of nurturing their spiritual health and stirring up each other to spiritual maturity. Therefore, they practiced what they called the discipline of “conference”. This simply refers to intentional conversation among believers about spiritual matters. These occurred in private meetings of individuals, unexpected encounters along the road, or through written communication. The Puritans understood the sanctifying power of spiritual conversation and the battle Satan wages to stop it. If Satan can restrain Christians from conversing on topics that don’t foster our spiritual health, despite there being hundreds gathered together on a Sunday, then he has succeeded in gaining a foothold from which to stifle spiritual progress.

In her book, The Lost Discipline of Conversation: Surprising Lessons In Spiritual Formation Drawn From The English Puritans, Joanne Jung poignantly states,

Over the centuries, our conversations have suffered a decline in meaningful dialogue, intentional engagement, and selfless attentive listening, especially in matters of a spiritual nature. We have settled for quick exchanges when the selfless presence, attentive listening, and thought-filled words of a sustained conversation would better meet the needs of the soul. We are in need of a recovery.”

We want to do our best to cultivate a culture where spiritual encouragement, biblical admonition, confession of sin and theological discussion does not feel weird or obtrusive but is totally natural.

Here are a few suggestions that might help:

Fight against our natural tendency toward spiritual apathy:

Because of indwelling sin (Rom 7:21), we tend towards speaking of the things of this world, whether it be hobbies, needs, or concerns, and shy away from delving deeper. We must pray against this tendency and ask the Lord to help us fight for spiritual conversations, even when it is hard going.

Be intentional:

Puritan pastor Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was the pioneer of house-to-house ministry. When he was not preaching from the pulpit he was intentionally visiting his congregants with the express purpose of sanctifying them through “conference”. Baxter wrote, “I have found by experience, that some ignorant persons, who have been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse of conscience in half an hour’s close discourse, than they did from ten years public preaching.” Next time you chat to someone after the service intentionally engage with them in spiritual conversation. Perhaps ask them, “How did the message impact you?”. Or simply, “How is your devotional life?”. You may be surprised how much you minister to each other.

Know that community is more than just gathering:

Can we say that true gospel community is achieved without the discipline of spiritual conversations binding it together? I dare say not. The uniqueness about the church is not that we simply come together, but that we come together under the headship of Christ and “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). It was this dynamic in heart and operation that knit David and Jonathan together as they loved each other as their own soul (1 Sam 18:1-3).

Feed your soul:

Just as it is difficult to preach each Sunday to the church without preaching first to myself, so it is hard to engage in spiritual conversation without the continual feeding of your own soul. Read books that feed your soul. As you do you will find that the conversations you engage in begin to reflect the contents of those books.

Carry Sunday morning home:

The Puritans encouraged their people to take home the benefits offered in the “pleasant garden” of Sunday services. This would look like a family or families gathering together for “conference” over lunch. Puritan William Perkins (1558–1602), speaking of family conference, wrote: “Use meditation and conference about heavenly things; assemble thy family together; confer with them what they have learned at the sermon; instruct and catechize them, read, or cause to be read somewhat of the Bible, or some other godly book unto them.” Fill your home life and family-to-family interactions with spiritual conversation. Don’t go in separate directions but spend a moment to discuss what you learned and experienced in the Sunday service.

Puritan Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) asked,

Do we shew by our conversation, whose Children we are? Do our speeches give a Character of the inward man?”.

This is the bottom line, isn’t it? The Puritans understood that, as God’s children, all of life is worship and this is no less revealed in and through our conversations. The ministry of the body of Christ is an all-body affair. Are we for the inseparable fellowship of the people of God through which God builds up his people? May the Puritan example compel us to make the discipline of spiritual conversation a priority whereby the after-church chitchat would make the Puritans proud.


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