Cover Image: How the Body of Christ Talks

How the Body of Christ Talks

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Interesting read about how we don’t talk about things that really matter, but focus on the trivial l
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I didn't like How the Body of Christ Talks. I'm not saying it is a terrible book, just wasn't what I was hoping for and I didn't agree with certain things. Not a book for me...

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This book is a theologically grounded and practical guide to the art and process of conversation in the church, with many examples from the author’s local church experience and from other congregations. It’s an excellent resource, with helpful guidance for both facilitators and participants, for churches beginning conversations and others addressing more difficult issues.
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Being a member of a small rural church, communication is really important.  This book focus on how to “Communicate” with one another in a culture that is divided was inspiring.  I do believe this is a great book for Pastors and Church Leaders to read.   I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher and NetGallery.  My comments are my own.
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This book is part of an ongoing conversation the author has started about being in church community. His book, Reading for the Common Good, looks at how to read corporately in a church setting. Chris's church is actually practicing these things he's writing about, which makes it especially meaningful.
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An interesting read on the way forward in difficult situations as a church. The focus on how to TALK to one another in a culture that is often polarized and disagrees was refreshing and eye opening. While I didn't agree with all of the author's takes, I do think this is a thought provoking read all pastors and church leaders should read.
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Smith begins with his own church's experience of Sunday evening conversations. It was a bumpy ride, he says, but ultimately grew to a place of trust and maturing conversation. He argues the need for conversation and that the church is the best place in which to learn the skill. His desire is that this book be a sort of a field guide to the path.

His focus for the book is this question: “How do we learn to talk together in our churches when we have been formed by a culture that goes to great lengths to avoid conversation?” (164/2922) 

Smith gives a theology of conversation using the Trinity, for example, as a model. He explores three conversational techniques, giving examples of their use, and provides additional resources in an appendix. He gives examples of ground rules or agreements and covers other factors, such a group size, facilitators, and kinds of topics to begin with and what kinds for later conversation. He helps us understand the spirituality that will draw us deeper into conversation, drawing on the Quaker and other traditions. He also gives good information for dealing with conflict.

Smith says that ultimately every community will have to decide how conversation will take place. There are no universal rules to follow. He provides resources and suggestions but each church will need to work out the process for themselves.

This is a book suitable for church leaders. Smith's writing style is academic in nature and I doubt laypeople would persevere through the text. The best use of the book, I think, would be for pastors or church leaders who desire to see conversation developed in their church with a view to expanding it to include the community in general. The material in the book would be a good resource for a sermon series.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
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In How the Body of Christ Talks, C. Christopher Smith reveals to readers the sacrament and vital function of conversation within Christian communities. He draws upon experience and stories from his own church’s initiation into healthy, deep, faith-based conversation, as well as stories from a variety of other religious communities. Weaved throughout the book is also a passionate vision of the church’s role within its surrounding community. Smith presents an expansive view of the church’s position in the community that is both exciting and challenging.

Smith gives guidance on moving carefully but determinedly from a state where conversation is lacking or too shallow, to gradually approaching more challenging topics and making larger decisions as a healthy body. Far too many churches fall into the traps of sticking to shallow discussions to avoid conflict or limiting what’s permitted in conversation to fit an imposed and often top-down unity. Smith reminds us that while we come together to find common ground and faith, homogeneity leads to brittle social structures that can be restrictive and easily shattered. His examples of the conversations some churches worked through together were difficult at times, as an LGBT person of faith, to read yet more stories of the trouble some have in finding love and acceptance toward people like me. However, Smith clearly expresses the need to prioritize the well-being and wholeness of oppressed and abused people as we engage in these conversations.

As a Quaker, I recognize some of the problems discussed around lack of deep conversations about faith, and I appreciated that Smith draws upon Friends’ communities and practices in parts of his writing. His approaches are not reliant on clergy or church hierarchy, leaving space for a wider range of religious communities to follow his advice. He also shows a deep respect for discernment within a whole community that feels deeply compatible with Quaker process. I believe that following Smith’s advice around conversation, combined with an openness to prophetic witness, could bring a renewed health and vigor to religious bodies of any tradition.
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Too often in our churches, we come to service, maybe attend a class or Bible study or small group, but never actually stop to have real heart-felt, honest to goodness conversations about topics that are impacting our church, our community, and our nation. Or maybe if you do have the rare opportunity to engage in conversation, you worry about saying something that others may disagree with even when it is a topic that there may be multiple Christian viewpoints. In his most recent book How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church, C. Christopher Smith has written a resource which blends theology, spiritual disciplines, and communication theory into a must-purchase book.

Smith roots his book in a marvelous discussion of the Trinity. He emphasizes that the Trinity is a model for Christian community and that community doesn't happen without conversation. Smith provides numerous examples of churches that engage in conversation most specifically the congregation in which he is a member. He is able to speak from experience regarding concerns that individuals may have regarding "what abouts" and "what ifs" for beginning this practice and provides three specific models for conversation. The discussion on the three conversational models is useful not only for churches but for any organization. Moving on from "how-to," Smith focuses on why churches should have conversations and emphasizes this practices is a spiritual discipline. The final section provides information on positive outcomes that may emerge from this practice as well as how to work through potential conflicts.

This book is highly recommended as a resource for ministers and church leaders to read and implement. Beyond churches, anyone who is interested in communication or spiritual disciplines or works with groups in any way will find this an interesting and useful book to read as well. Many may feel intimidated by the idea of having a church conversation that doesn't have a specific agenda or outcome in mind but How the Body of Christ Talks provides a a roadmap for implementing this important discipline.
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I’m a runner, even though I didn’t start to get serious about the sport until well into my 40s. And actually precisely because I started when my body was no longer at its prime, it became clear that if I wanted to keep running I needed to pay close attention to my body. If I listen to my body and I stretch properly and eat right, I am able to stay ahead of injury, or can bounce back after getting hurt. 

In his new book “How the Body of Christ Talks,” author C. Christopher Smith utilizes the image of the body to describe the Church, as the Apostle Paul does in the Bible. Like a good running coach would advise, Smith wants the Church (both capital C Church and also individual congregations) to really listen to the gathered body of believers, or more accurately: to talk and to listen together. At a time when civil and productive dialogue in our culture seem to be rare, the church has a responsibility to itself and to our Creator to speak thoughtfully and listen deeply to each other as siblings in the faith. 

Like in his previous book “Slow Church,” Smith takes us on a journey of faith and ministry practice, relating stories from his home church (Englewood Christian Church on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis), and other congregations he knows well. The retelling feels personal, and one grows fond of the ministries Smith chronicles. Smith shares Englewood’s intentional practices of conversation and dialogue, and by sharing their journey, the reader gets a glimpse of how a similar effort might look in one’s own church. The book is particularly helpful because it doesn’t then try to give the reader “ten easy steps to better communication in your church”  but rather it offers an honest look at their journey, along with accessible and helpful models and tools for a congregation to try out. 

A congregation which is curious about deepening the connection among its members and/or the community which surrounds it, would do well to explore this book and follow it in its journey. There is a lot of wisdom which the Holy Spirit is eager to share through the conversations which will ensue.  

Rev. Dr. Felipe N. Martinez
First Presbyterian Church
Columbus Indiana
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I’m a conversational person, and you wouldn’t expect it. Anyone who has met both my wife and I would say that she is the extrovert and I am the introvert, but they would be wrong. While I am not outspoken and boisterous, I enjoy and feed off of social interaction. That said, I’m big into conversation, so C. Christopher Smith’s new book How the Body of Christ Talks (releases 4/16 from Brazos Press), was right up my alley. What’s funny is that when I picked it up, I didn’t pay much attention to the subtitle and I thought it was a book about how Christians should talk (literally a standard for the words we use and how we talk to people in person, on social media, etc.). What I got instead was something even more necessary: a treatise on the art of conversation, why it is important to the church, and how to cultivate this art of conversation in your own church.

Smith does a wonderful job of establishing the theological background for conversation in the body of Christ, to the point that once you enter into the practical dimension of setting up formal cultivation of this conversation you are convinced that any church would benefit spiritually from implementing such a plan. The only question is how. Smith does not have a one-size-fits-all approach to this question, but he does give a large amount of practical advice that can apply to almost every church at any point in its development of this conversation. His emphasis on formal practice is key, and he gives a great argument for it in the book. For his church, they set aside Sunday nights for conversation and had structures in place to guide the church in healthy, beneficial dialogue. This formal practice was a way of developing the skill of conversation so that it could also be used in informal conversation as well. Does your church need congregational dialogue on some issue (or many issues)? Start with a conversation about something like a vision for the church or maybe something smaller and less controversial, then work your way up to the tougher stuff. Is nothing specific needing to bed decided right now but you want your church to be prepared for the future? Start by discussing the sermon each week and pick up the important decision-making conversations as they come. These ideas come straight from Smith. The practical value of this book is immense.

There were other things I enjoyed about this book that were only tangentially related to the main topic of conversation. One was a paragraph or two about how creating oral histories of a church could be a fun and valuable project for many churches, connecting them to their own history and connecting generations to each other. Another was an excerpt he included about, of all things, bird watching, and the lessons it has for individuals and churches. Here is Smith:

Theologian Philip Kenneson tells his students at the liberal arts college where he teaches that the most important course they might take is Vertebrate Field Biology, informally known as the bird-watching class. Why bird watching? Kenneson explains:
“[Bird watching] trains you to pay exquisite attention to something that has always been right in front of you. You discover the subtle differences between different kinds of warblers, thrushes, and sparrows. You find out that they all have names and unique songs. All of a sudden, you begin to see, really see, these birds all the time. And you begin to hear their songs, their amazing music, not because they weren’t there to see or hear before, but because you had never really paid attention before. And for many students, this is a revelation. An epiphany if you will. It opens up a whole new world, and the new world it opens is not just about birds. Because once you learn how to pay attention to the glory of birds, birds that have always been there, you begin to wonder what else you’ve been missing, what else you haven’t been paying attention to.”
Paying close attention is something I struggle with and something I have been trying to cultivate in my own life for years now. How awesome would it be if our church could learn to pay close attention as well? We would see each other in new ways, learn much more, have more empathy, and glorify God much better. It will enhance our gospel witness significantly. And conversation is a great, even necessary, way to do it. Even if I have some medium-level theological differences with Smith (I at least suspect so based on small passages of the book), that does nothing to negate the respect I have for the point he is making. Conversation is important, and we’ve lost the art. We’ve got to gain it back.

I received this book as an eARC courtesy of Brazos Press and NetGalley, but my opinions are my own.
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Gratitude is my first response: Crucified risen Christ, thank You for drawing us beyond conversion points to conversation circles.
Lord of the worldwide church, thank You for engaging Your followers and seekers in local congregations as Your Body.
Word made flesh, thank You for this book, grounded in Scripture and nourished by years of faithful fruitful conversation.

After reading this book I eagerly reread its precursor, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus (Intervarsity 2014). Now I’m eager to meet with 4 or 5 others of various ages and backgrounds in our church (DC Christian Reformed) discovering and recovering the spiritual practice of conversation, using this book as a Body building guide. I’m praying for renewal in vision, trust, prayer, healing and mission, so that more and more people in and outside our church will know we are Christians by our love.
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This is a fantastic resource, especially in the social and political climate we find ourselves in. There are many books and resources that explain the need for us to love and appreciate each other but few that give practical steps on how we can begin talking and by extension healing and uniting.

In an environment where churches and relationships are being divided and people seem to be reciting cable news talking points as thoughtful parts of dialogue, the ability to respectfully listen and even change is being lost. Churches could and should be places for healing and restoration. Chris Smith provides helpful steps and practices that can help us begin this hard, necessary and beautiful work.
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We are made for conversations. Even our body cells reflect our inclination toward community and communal living. Unfortunately, individualism and privatism have taken over much of society. People are increasingly isolated. Even church people are no longer able to converse as well as they ought to. Calling our bodies as conversations "among proteins," author Christopher Smith aims to bring back the lost art of conversations in the Church, beginning with ourselves. For the healthiest people are those in active conversations with one another. The strongest communities are those that frequently communicate and talk to one another. In this book, Smith has a passion to help churches cultivate this art of talking and to build relationships through conversations. He even calls it a "transformative power of conversation." Smith invites us along in the three phases as follows:

1) Setting Out the Journey
2) Spirituality for the Journey
3) Sustaining the Journey

The author is convicted about the power of conversations to unite the Church. Part One offers us some wisdom and tips to begin the conversations. Smith poses the fundamental question: "How can our churches initiate and sustain practices of conversation?" We turn first to the Person of the Holy Trinity, how they co-exist eternally as three persons and as one God. They indwell one another in mutual presence and fully attentive to one another. They exist together in unity and community. They share the gift of community with us that we too can flourish as individuals built for conversations. The dynamics of conversations include knowing the size of the group; recognizing the homogeneity of the group; and understanding the values and challenges of formal/informal levels of conversations. This has to do with the depth of intimacy and the cultural connections needed for parties to talk. He addresses the topics of conversation such as what to talk and what not to talk; when to go into abstract theory; should we deal with highly charged topics; what are the ground rules of conversations; how do we embody Christ in our conversations; etc. Smith mentions a resource called "Congregational Formation Initiative" that helps us explore the seven different types of conversations and the purpose of such exercises. Sermon discussions are also recommended. What to talk about will also need to be considered with how we are going to talk about it. There are many benefits to such conversations. For instance, there is the healing potential of "Open Space Technology" that raises a question that could be openly explored by all. Another method is "Appreciative Inquiry" that helps church communities to focus on an important goal; such as seeking out a vision for the Church; or some relevant topic of importance to the future of the community. "World Cafe" is a method useful for structuring conversations that allow diverse topics and multiple levels of interaction.

In Part Two, the author uncovers more three practices toward better conversations. Prayer is conversation. It is also a way of being with God. In talking about spirituality, prayer, abiding, and preparation are all dimensions interconnected with one another. We cultivate community through conversational prayer with one another. This means being attentive to one another as individuals speak. It means going with the flow, encouraging one another as we go along. It includes periods of silence and listening. Smith notes that part of our inability to get along is due to our difficulty in seeing others as fellow members created in the image of God. In prayer, we become aware that God loves us all the same and that there is no hierarchy. Conversations enable us to talk through our struggles. We learn to abide in Christ and in one another's support. We recognize the problem of sin and seek a way to live meaningfully. We learn about being Church through participation not consumption. Preparation is a way in which our conversations can help one another. For instance, even as we converse, we are being engaged in preparing ourselves and our responses to one another. We grow through learning to ask questions other than simply dishing out answers.

In Part Three, we are given tools to help sustain what we have developed. A key point is that communities are defined via their stories, and stories are made through the art of conversations. Smith shows us that the early church in the book of Acts establish their sense of mission and identity through the gospel story. This is the central theme in their identity as Christians. In the same way, people in every era are identified through their stories. In our modern world, there are substories like consumerism, individualism, materialism, and so on that are already defining who we are. The challenge for us is to counter these stories that make us less than who we are, and to let the Word of God define us more and more. Even conflicts could be opportunities to shape our stories. Learn to distinguish between conflicts and disagreements. The former breaks up a community. The latter creates space for understanding differences.

My Thoughts
Books of this nature is rare. People often assume that talk is just talk. Period. Few would even imagine that conversations would not only tell the stories of our communities, they could even shape our futures. It takes a book like this to remind us once again the power of conversations, and in particular, the opportunities we have before us to let the gospel shape us through talk. Let me give three thoughts about reading this book.

First, we need to take seriously the author's proposition that conversations shape our stories, both individually and as a community. This is especially so when we are called to be bearers of the gospel. This does not mean turning every conversation into an evangelistic outreach. That would make us guilty of having ulterior motives when trying to strike up any conversations with especially unbelievers. What we need to be more aware of is to see conversations as opportunities to let God's Word define us. We learn about prayer as a form of conversational spirituality between God, our communities, and ourselves. We learn to talk through our problems instead of choosing simply to talk about good stuff. For without the freedom to talk about anything, we will not be able to grow totally and truthfully. Like the issue of disagreements and conflicts. Sometimes we fail to make that distinction and abandon any talk that resembles any negativity. If we do that, our relationships will only limp along with nice to hear news. Our conversations ought to reflect life as it is, ups, downs, joys, sadness, and the whole potpourri of what it means to be human.

Second, the book gives us ways in which to initiate and sustain such conversations. The Appendices are gifts to help us do just that. We have "Sample Conversational Ground Rules" to help us maintain a level of understanding before we talk. There exhibit openness and the need for inclusive discussions. For that matter, I want to say something about silence. A good conversation is also learning when not to talk. I know of situations in which someone has lost a loved one. In the midst of pain and sadness, silent presence could very well be more important than spoken words. Then there is also the issue of language. How can people communicate when they speak different languages? This is not limited to the language per se, but also cultural differences. Smith is able to identify this as one of the greatest challenges in our increasingly pluralistic world. Reading this book opens readers up to a wider repertoire of conversational differences and situations.

Finally, we all need help in learning how to communicate and converse well. This book has been a useful resource to do just that. However, there is still something lacking in this book: Small Talk. Even things as simple as "small talk" are valuable opportunities to connect. I remember Eugene Peterson wrote something in the past about small talk and their invaluable ways in which they could build up relationships. The Church needs more of such reminders. He points out small talk as a form of ministry "that specializes in the ordinary." Smith builds on this with a focus on the Church as the body of Christ. His central question is: "How can our churches initiate and sustain practices of conversation?" should also include the topic of small talk. I am sure he has many insights to this.

C Christopher Smith is co-author of the book "Slow Church" and also editor of the Englewood Review of Books.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of Brazos Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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