Julie Canlis on Why Small Talk and Friendship Are Fundamental to Evangelism

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When I was at seminary two decades ago, “spiritual direction” was a new trend. Many of us thought that it was the greatest idea we’d ever hit upon, particularly for those who had grown up around very prescriptive approaches to faith.

Spiritual direction, we learned, was like midwifery: A midwife cannot create life or control it. She can only encourage it to fruition and be present to the miracle that is already happening in someone else. In the same way, spiritual directors facilitate growth but aren’t responsible for it. Both the director and directee are in a listening posture, waiting on the Spirit for discernment and attending to the life that God is growing within.

This midwife-to-mother relationship was located, we thought, in the upper atmosphere of spiritual maturity and sought after by believers who were really striving to attain deep faith. We were all talking about it, reading books about it, and wondering where on earth to find a highly trained spiritual director.

Through twists and turns of God’s will, my husband, Matt, and I found ourselves in Scotland immediately after completing seminary at Regent College. Matt went to serve as a pastor and I went to study John Calvin, but it was there in that Calvinist land, where no one had even heard of that suspiciously Catholic term “spiritual direction,” that Matt and I began learning about the real thing. While we were homesick, lonely, and facing the financial and emotional insecurity of undertaking my PhD, the idea of “spiritual direction” suddenly tumbled from its high place in the upper echelons of spirituality and landed in our laps in a new guise: everyday friendship.

We had a small group of friends who would get together on a regular basis with small dinner offerings and carefully hoarded bottles of wine. We would share deeply about the struggles of marriage, the pressures of our work upon our spouse, the cost to our kids. We swapped child-raising insights. We watched the World Cup together. But we also cried in front of each other. We walked with one another, saw God at work in each other, and reflected that back to each other where we saw it.

Matt and I had some nights where we were disagreeing so intensely that we would call one of these couples and ask if they would be present as we fought—not to take sides but simply to walk with us into the dangerous territory of confrontation. Our friends would offer little to no counsel. They’d simply ask questions, listen, and pray with us. I should make note that these were not necessarily people with whom I had felt an instant kinship, but through the ordinary sharing of our lives, we grew deeply together and “directed” one another spiritually.

As Matt and I grew in kinship with this community, I finally began to understand that spiritual direction should be happening mostly between friends, spouses, parents, and children. In other words, spiritual direction isn’t for “deeper” Christians, as the ongoing trend seems to suggest, but rather for all God’s people. While I will be the first to recognize the gains of having a certified director, most spiritual direction can (and should) take place in the unstructured context of friendships and marriages and everyday relationships. What defines “spiritual direction” is the mutual commitment to a listening posture—looking for where the Lord is at work in the details of everyday experiences.

In Scotland, this quotidian approach to spiritual direction was key not only to our conception of discipleship. What surprised us most was that it also became the anchor for local evangelism.

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Source: Christianity Today