Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Small Talk: A Pastoral Art

From Eugene Peterson'sThe Contemplative Pastor (emphasis mine):

The practice of manipulating conversation was widely used among people I respected in my college and seminary years, and I was much influenced by them. Their conviction was that every conversation could be turned, if we were sharp enough, into witness. A casual conversation on an airplane could be turned into an eternity-fraught conversation on the soul. A brief interchange with a filling-station attendant could yield the opening for "a word for Christ."

Such approaches to conversation left no room for small talk-- all small talk was manipulated into big talk: of Jesus, of salvation, of the soul's condition.

But however appropriate such verbal strategies are for certain instances of witness (and I think there are such instances), as habitual practice they are wrong. If we bully people into talking on our terms, if we manipulate them into responding to our agenda, we do not take them seriously where they are in the ordinary and the everyday.

Nor are we likely to become aware of the tiny shoots of green grace that the Lord is allowing to grow in the back yards of their lives. If we avoid small talk, we abandon the very field in which we have been assigned to work. Most of people's lives is not spent in crisis, not lived at the cutting edge of crucial issues. Most of us, most of the time, are engaged in simple, routine tasks, and small talk is the natural language. If pastors belittle it, we belittle what most people are doing most of the time, and the gospel is misrepresented.

I do not want to be misunderstood: pastoral conversation should not be bound along mindless clichés like gutter water. What I intend is that we simply be present and attentive to what is there conversationally, as respectful of the ordinary as we are of the critical. Some insights are only accessible while laughing. Others arrive only by indirection.


Tom 1st said...

Excellent. Thanks for sharing.

Josh and Candace McCallister said...

free to be present. this is an encouraging and freeing thought.


Shannon said...

I love this Kelly. Thanks for sharing!

Tanya said...

I appreciate this post... I have spent many a conversation not listening to the person but thinking of how I can divert the conversation to deeper topics....the last few years the Lord has been leading me to Be, Be present, Be with, Be attentive to the little things people say, for He is found in ordinary.
I wish I had read this and learned this lesson many years ago.
Love joins people where they are, I am glad Jesus met me here.