the shape of leadership

Have We Forgotten How to Talk?

Two new books explore the lost art of conversation

Joy Qualls on June 27, 2018

People often ask me why many in today’s culture can’t seem to communicate in a civil manner. As a communication scholar, my response is that we hardly engage in any communication at all.

Granted, there are numerous ways we send and receive messages, but most of this activity happens facing screens rather than face-to-face with one another. As I study the current state of our communication and relationships, I believe the real challenge isn’t that we can’t be civil. Rather, it’s that we have stopped having conversations.

We listen to respond. We sit behind our keyboards, ready to pounce on one another rather than investing the time, energy and emotion required for thoughtful and redeeming conversation. Not only does our civility suffer, but I would also argue that our spiritual lives suffer.

In Redeeming How We Talk, by Ken Wytsma and A.J. Swoboda, and The Lost Discipline of Conversation, by Joanne J. Jung, the authors agree that our talk influences our relationships, spirituality and behavior.

While these two books approach the subject of conversation differently, they both make powerful arguments about rediscovering the discipline of conversation and offer accessible instruction on how to achieve this.

Jung, a colleague of mine from Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology, draws on her extensive research and study into the faith practices of the English Puritans to present the reader a series of lessons on conversation as a spiritual discipline.

Presenting the Puritan practice of the “conference” as a means to draw out grace and satisfy our hunger for community, Jung lays out an intentional approach to engaging in conversation with one another.

There are numerous ways we send and receive messages, but most of it happens facing screens rather than face-to-face with one another.

Just as we use the disciplines of prayer and Scripture reading to enhance our walk with the Lord, Jung posits that setting aside intentional space for interacting with one another helps us develop and express a love for God and people.

While the Puritan practice of conference may have been a primary means of communication in that time and place, Jung does not just pine for a simpler time. Rather, she challenges the reader to see the art of conversation as an act of worship that we cannot replicate through the perceived anonymity of digital communication.

Similarly, Wytsma and Swoboda confront the deception that technology and mediated forms of communication draw us closer together by noting that reports of bullying, isolation, and discord (even among family members) are at an all-time high.

The approach in this text focuses more on the words we use and the symbolic nature of language to create meaning, conceptualize our reality, and make judgments about how others are navigating and negotiating the same things.

Wytsma and Swoboda offer an alternative to the chaos and never-ending outrage cycle by drawing on the words of Jesus and the ways in which He used conversation to announce the kingdom of God. They make a compelling case that we, as the body of Christ, have a mandate to live out the ways of Jesus in conversation as part of our calling to reach a lost world.

While Jung’s text is more devotional and inspirational, Wytsma and Swoboda provide a handbook for understanding words and information dissemination. Both books are beneficial to a wide audience desiring to see their own conversations become more productive and representative of followers of Jesus.

I recommend these accessible-yet-challenging books to leaders and lay people alike.

However, just reading these two books is not enough. Take them as a clarion call to forego the Facebook post or Twitter thread and instead invite a neighbor for coffee. As you glorify Christ through fellowship and conversation, the presence of the Holy Spirit will edify and comfort your heart and mind.

Books Reviewed

Ken Wytsma and A.J. Swoboda, Redeeming How We Talk: Discover How Communication Fuels Our Growth, Shapes Our Relationships, and Changes Our Lives (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018).

Joanne J. Jung, The Lost Discipline of Conversation: Surprising Lessons in Spiritual Formation Drawn from the English Puritans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).


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