I read David Fitch’s excellent new book Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission earlier this year, but haven’t had a chance to write much about it yet. I have been thinking a lot about it though in relation the book I am currently writing on conversation as a spiritual discipline (a CORPORATE spiritual discipline, like worship or discernment). I highly recommend that you read Fitch’s book (and to sweeten the deal, it’s only $5.99 right now for Kindle!!!) So, I thought I’d post a couple of thoughts here on how the discipline of conversation fits with the seven disciplines that Fitch explore in his book…
*** If you want a good taste of this book, I recommend listening to the talk “A Slow Church Ecclesiology” that David Fitch gave at the Slow Church conference in 2014…
Those who are familiar with David Fitch’s book Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission, may be wondering how conversation fits with the seven disciplines that Fitch explores, as it is not one of the disciplines on his list:
- The Lord’s Table
- Proclaiming the Gospel
- Being with “the least of these”
- Being with Children
- The Fivefold Gifting
- Kingdom Prayer
All seven of these disciplines, however, presuppose to some degree a capacity for conversation, and each will be practiced with more agility and depth as we mature in the discipline of conversation. Many of the stories that Fitch uses throughout the book to flesh out his understanding of these disciplines involve brothers and sisters in Christ listening to and talking with one another, and with their neighbors.
Given the fragmentation of Western culture in the twenty-first century, I am not convinced – as Fitch seems to be – that we can assume we will be able to converse together in our churches in ways that bear witness to the presence of Christ with us. Fitch’s theology has been profoundly shaped by the work of John Howard Yoder, and Yoder in his book Body Politics – that names, in essence, five disciplines that teach us faithful presence – identifies conversation as one of the essential disciplines. Yoder refers to this discipline as the “Rule of Paul” and traced its history among the followers of Jesus back to the first century.
In many local church contexts, and especially ones with a degree of heterogeneity, our practice of Fitch’s seven disciplines will undoubtedly be enhanced by intentional practices of conversation.
So… Is conversation an additional discipline that leads us into faithful presence? Or, is conversation synonymous with faithful presence itself? (I am arguing in my book manuscript that conversation is not primarily about the words we exchange, as important as those may be, but rather more broadly about our being fully present with one another and with the Holy Spirit who is ever-present with us.) I could probably argue for either case but I am curious to hear with others think…
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