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A Conversation About Conversations

by Chris Corlett

Paul exhorts his readers toLet no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”1 This verse, first committed to my memory and meditation in 1980, has influenced countless interactions ever since. For any spoken words or uttered phrases to edify, to be gracious, and to address the need of the moment, there must be a genuine conversation. It is necessary to know the other person's needs and perspectives in order to know what word or thought will edify and encourage them.

In a recent conversation I had with a friend, I asked, “What is your objection to Jesus?” The response, “I object to everybody who says, ‘you do not believe like me, you are condemned!’” I reassured my friend that the people I know do not overuse this theme – in fact, many Christians are reluctant to be so blunt and bold. Through conversation I understood his perspective, and I responded, “No doubt you are familiar with John 3:16 which quotes Jesus saying, ‘Whosoever believes will have eternal life.’ Did you know that two verses later Jesus continues by saying ‘he who does not believe is condemned already?’” The conversation changed from what his unnamed people said to what Jesus said. What a different conversation than simply going through a checklist of verses or reciting some rehearsed phrases!

Think back to any recent exchange on a topic political, philosophical or pious. Which of the following better characterizes the conversation? Was it a dialogue or was it a monologue with interruptions? Were questions asked to better understand the other speaker or were answers dispensed to inform the ignorant? Did you listen to the other person’s words or use it as a chance to regroup and organize your next words? My experience in having a meaningful conversation which produces any sort of change or consensus requires listening and questioning intermixed with the speaking and expounding. Consider the word dialogue. “Dia“ or “Di” as a prefix means two. “Logue” or “logos” means word. We see two words, two thoughts, two perspectives, two convictions, two viewpoints.

As a public high school mathematics teacher for over twenty years, my commitment was to promote an interaction in the classroom. Incidentally, not every student wanted this to happen! Some of you will identify with the student whose hand was regular raised, while others will remember diverting the eyes or fiddling with a pen to avoid any notice by the teacher! This same commitment to an interactive dialogue rather than an interminable monologue (the dreaded lecture!) applies when I present at a conference or in a workshop. Few adults, indeed, are content to sit silently while the enlightened “Gnostic” explains all.

Michael H. Hoppe wrote a short introduction to the topic of engaged listening titled Active Listening: Improve Your Ability to Listen and Lead. The following description of the book captures its theme and focus. “Active listening is a person’s willingness and ability to hear and understand. At its core, active listening is a state of mind that involves paying full and careful attention to the other person, avoiding premature judgment, reflecting understanding, clarifying information, summarizing, and sharing.”2

Active listening becomes more necessary once the influence of experience over evidence is acknowledged. The person who benefited from a membership in the automobile club, or athletic club, often maintains a loyalty that may endure beyond the benefits received. The person raised in a specific denominational church attended by parents and founded by grandparents is very reluctant to leave that church regardless of the theological inconsistencies I may be able to point out. The only way to know the other’s experience is to listen. And the best way to share your experience is to tell your story. Imagine you are knocking on a door in your neighborhood as part of your church outreach program.
The following table captures two approaches which are a compilation of this author’s better and worse moments over the past four decades.

CONVERSATION 1

CONVERSATION 2

ME: Hi my name is Chris. Have you lived here long?

THEE: About eight years.

ME: I want to tell you about what I know about Jesus. We are sinners who need to be saved. Jesus paid for your sins and mine on the cross and He offers salvation to all who believe including you and me. He has a wonderful plan for our lives. Aren’t you excited to hear that? You can learn more by attending our service this Sunday. If you need us to help with transportation or childcare, we can help.

ME: Hi my name is Chris. Have you lived here long?

THEE: About eight years.

ME: I am from Three Crosses Church down the street. Have you ever been there?

THEE: No, I have not attended church since I was a child.

ME: Did you have a bad experience or did life get busy?

THEE: I never really understood what was going on. My family attended and we would always have a nice dinner afterward.

ME: Do you remember anything from your church attendance as a child?

THEE: I remember this cross at the front of the church with JESUS hanging on it. It always made me sad. He seemed like he wanted to do good and share love and it was a horrible way to die.

ME: When I was a child I asked my parents why we called the day he was murdered “Good Friday.” Is that a question you have?

THEE: Well, yeah. That is a good way to say it. How can the murder of somebody who seemed good be celebrated on a day we call Good Friday?

ME: Would you be interested in attending our church this Sunday? If you need a ride or child care, we can help with that. The message will talk more about Jesus and why He died and rose back to life.

Okay, you get the gist. The examples are a bit contrived, but I hope they ring some bells for each of you. I offer them to compare and contrast the monologue approach with one of active listening and engaged dialogue. What “takeaways” can we identify?

  1. Dialogue takes time.
  2. Dialogue involves listening and questioning.
  3. Dialogue reveals compassion.
  4. Dialogue requires sharing personal stories.
  5. What other takeaways did you notice? (I am trying to have a dialogue with you Gracious Reader!)

Jesus engaged regularly in two types of conversations ‘ one between Him and His Father and the other between Him and those around Him.

THE PERSONAL CONVERSATION ‘ The Conversation Within

“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” ‘ Luke 5:16 There is a personal conversation we have which is between us and God. This is at the hear of our prayers and our bible reading and meditation. Jesus modelled this throughout His life and perhaps most famously on the night He was betrayed. At Gethsemane when He was facing a must cruel test, He told His disciples to stay put while He found a spot of solitude to pray. He asked His Father three times if it was possible to take away the bitter cup which awaited Him. And each time He affirmed His willingness to submit to this by proclaiming, “Thy will be done!” ‘ Matthew 26:36-44 I always imagine a period of time passing between requesting that the cup pass and His famous words “Thy will be done!” While visiting the Garden in 2018, I realized it was a garden and not a large one either. It would take little more than a couple of minutes to leave His disciples, walk to a quiet corner, say the words in verse 39 and return to where He had left them. Would this be enough for all the disciples to fall soundly asleep? I think they would at least have watched Him for a while before finding a comfortable position and succumbing to the weariness and the wine. Remember He just said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” Would they have failed so dramatically under these circumstances in a few minutes?

THE PUBLIC CONVERSATION ‘ The Conversation Without

The Bible records numerous conversations Jesus had ‘ some with the religious leaders who were confrontational (see John 8) and others with humble people who were conciliatory. I am reminded about the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well. I encourage you to (re-)read John 4:1-26. In reaching out to this woman who was rejected by so many, Jesus illustrated the four takeaways described above. He took the time necessary to ask questions and listen to answers which revealed her story. He did this not in a judgmental way; instead, His compassion for her is evident throughout the interaction. She began asking Him about matters of faith once she realized He was a man of compassion and insight. It has been said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” ‘ (1 Corinthians 8:1b) There is so much to learn from this passage about having a Critical Conversation.

Koinonia Institute is organized into three tracks ‘ Berean, Issachar and Koinonos. The following table gives a quick glimpse at the distinctions between the three.

TRACK

BEREAN

ISSACHAR

KOINONOS

Passage

Acts 17:11

1 Chronicles 12:32

Exodus 20:7

Priority

Bible

Discernment

Calling

Phrase

Knowing the Truth

Discerning the Truth

Living the Truth

Person

Student

Judge

Ambassador

Protocol

Critical Doctrine

Critical Thinking

Critical Conversation

Paul identifies himself as an ambassador in bonds in Ephesians 6:20 and an ambassador of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21. “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” He invites each of us to be an ambassador for Christ with God’s plea for all to be reconciled to Him. My modest hope is this article along with the many products available through Koinonia House will equip each of us to be better ambassadors for the King of Kings!

This article was originally published in the
May 2019 Personal Update NewsJournal.

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**NOTES**

1 Ephesians 4:29 New American Standard Bible

2 https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1865502.Active_Listening