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The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations – World Changer Wednesday

When I met John Crilly (aka “Crilly”), he was hosting a loud party at his house. I think he had one of his hats on, and was smiling so big it made my face hurt. Whenever someone would walk in the front door he would shout something like, “HEY EVERYBODY! IT’S PETE AND WENDY DAVIS!” And everyone in the room would cheer. He did this for hours.

Crilly is a really touchy feely extrovert who is energized meeting new people and doing new things. He’s up for anything. But he’s also up for getting quiet if you have have a question or need to talk. My kids like to FaceTime him to tell him jokes about boogers. He’s a safe place.

Crilly will share his big heart to give you the joy, safety, and attention you need in that moment. That’s why I’m not surprised he was a part of writing The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations. His passion for all kinds of people, for Jesus, for hope, and healing has been hard won, and it’s infectious.

Team Fritz with the Crillys, Spring Break 2016

Team Fritz with the Crillys, Spring Break 2016

Hey Crilly, tell us about yourself!

I am a simple man – the son of a construction worker, married to a farmer’s daughter. I grew up in Oak Lawn, on the southwest side of Chicago, in a predominantly Irish Catholic neighborhood, which explains a lot.

I graduated with an engineering degree from University of Illinois, even though I really don’t like physics or math. I partied. I made lots of bad decisions. But God kept pursuing me. When I was 22, my life was radically changed by Jesus. Christ transformed me into an encourager with the desire to lift people up and introduce them to this Jesus I came to know.

If that wasn’t enough, I won the lottery by marrying Danielle in 1990. She is a remarkable artist with an enormous heart.

I have worked in project management and leadership roles in the engineering and construction industries, except for a 4 year stint in ministry. I am also a professional Life Coach.

Danielle and Crilly at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Crilly & Danielle at the Milwaukee Art Museum

What are the “9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations”?

In our increasingly pluralistic western culture, Christ-followers have been stifled by a lack of direction on how to live out and share their faith in a way that is biblical and magnetically attractive. Yet Jesus showed us how. He modeled a more relational, conversational way of living and sharing the good news of the Gospel.

1 John 2:6 says “Whoever claims to live in [God] must walk as Jesus did.” So we looked at the way Jesus interacted with people – the patterns, practices and behaviors that Jesus used to introduce people to the Father. Jesus demonstrated that the small stuff counts – like a cup of cold water – simple behaviors in the name of Jesus can have a profound impact and pave the way for meaningful conversations about God.

We discovered 9 behaviors or practices (we call Arts) that were a part of Jesus’ relational, conversational approach to sharing the Good News of the Kingdom. Here they are:

  1. Noticing
  2. Praying
  3. Listening
  4. Asking Questions
  5. Loving
  6. Welcoming
  7. Facilitating
  8. Serving Together
  9. Sharing

These nine simple practices provide a pathway for you to engage people in your life in ongoing spiritual conversations. They are building blocks of an incarnational lifestyle—a way of life that brings Jesus into the lives of people because he is in you and you are with them. They are simple, doable behaviors for an ordinary Christian that gets us on the journey of making disciples. They are skills that help us move from a lifestyle of few (if any) spiritual conversations to ongoing spiritual conversations. Just like learning how to drive, anyone can learn and practice these Arts. It doesn’t take a lot of upfront training; we can practice as we go. In fact, it’s likely that you are already doing some of them.

The first three Arts (Noticing, Praying, Listening) have no expectation for you to say anything. Whether you are a quiet introvert or garrulous extrovert, gifted in evangelism or not, you can put these Arts into practice immediately. If you do not know how to begin engaging in spiritual conversations with people in your life who may believe differently, these practices will launch your journey.

The next three Arts (Asking Questions, Loving, Welcoming) are interactive to help you initiate a meaningful conversation. These three practices create the engaging, safe, and welcoming environment in which spiritual conversations can thrive and God’s love can be on display through you. Like a thermostat that sets the temperature of your home, curiosity, love, and hospitality generate an atmosphere that can thaw a cold heart and invite people to freely explore God’s truth without judgment or argument.

The final three (Facilitating, Serving Together, Sharing) help you to maintain ongoing discussions about God and the bible with an individual or in a group. These build on the relationships we’ve established through consistently practicing the first six Arts and moving into regular conversations about spiritual topics.

9 Arts Table of Contents

It’s easy to feel intimidated, inadequate, and ill-equipped to get on mission with God and make disciples. So, I want everyone & anyone who follows Jesus to be able to do it – not just the pros like the pastors, evangelists and theologians – because I really think making a new disciple is intended to be doable for all of us. Check out Acts 4:13: “When [the Sanhedrin] saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

Jesus’ disciples were just like us. They were ordinary men and women who became world changers because they went through Jesus’ training school. He took them with him and, along the way, they gained real experience in the simple practices that lead to making new disciples of The Way.

Like learning how to ride a bike or drive a car, getting good at spiritual conversations with those who believe differently from you takes practice. Learning how to relate to people, especially those unlike you, calls for a change in your perspective. You need to experience it, not just learn about it, hear about it, or talk about it. These 9 Arts will help you begin. With practice, they become building blocks of a trustworthy relationship with almost anyone, no matter what they believe about God. And anyone can do them. We can be ordinary people in our ordinary days doing little stuff but having extraordinary impact—because we have “been with Jesus.”

Notice that the Art of Sharing—as in sharing your faith with others–is the last of the 9 Arts on the list. Christians have historically considered this to be the exclusive practice of evangelism and have often bypassed normal conversational decorum to leap to the action of telling the gospel. However, the other eight Arts not only count, they lay a significant relational foundation and create a safe environment for sharing the good news about Jesus. By following the Holy Spirit’s lead in noticing, praying, listening, asking questions, welcoming, loving, facilitating, and serving together, we can be respectful of the relational process and will earn the trust to share our story and God’s story.

One caveat: These 9 Arts are intended to make it easier to engage with people who believe differently, not add eight additional steps that you have to climb in order to have a gospel conversation. Please do not view these as an order or formula to be rigidly followed. View the Arts more as nine tools in your tool belt that are at your disposal to use when needed. Maybe in the past you have operated with one gospel tool–the hammer. This book hopes to provide you with a variety of relational tools to help you get on mission with God in his Kingdom expansion.

Do the 9 Arts relate to Compassion?

Absolutely – each of them is anchored in the compassionate heart of Jesus who was “a friend of sinners.” Just take the first one – the Art of Noticing. Jesus was a noticer. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36). Jesus noticed the crowds first and was consequently moved with compassion. It was Jesus compassion that moved him to action – the same is true for you and me.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. The action verb to seek means “to go in search of, to try to find or discover by searching or questioning.” This was a repeated practice of Jesus. He noticed people and it moved him to compassion and action. Consider what happened in Luke 19:41: “As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” Or in Luke 7:11-13: “Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, and a large crowd followed him. A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow’s only son, and a large crowd from the village was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion.”

We each have to decide if we want to live like Jesus, to notice people and have compassion toward them. Noticing people humanizes the nameless faces around us. People become real to us, with real lives and real problems in need of a real Savior. As Buechner said, “If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors.”

With noticing and all these Arts, success is in the intention and the attempt, not in the results. It’s liberating to leave the results to God.

luv you

How did you become a listener?

Well, I would not consider myself a good listener – but I am a listener in training – I probably will always be. In our culture, listening is often interpreted as love. If I really care about what someone has to say, I listen. Listening calls for an attitude of humility and grace. I surrender my desire to be heard and understood in the interest of understanding the other person—and that takes love. So, I started wanting to get better at listening because I wanted to demonstrate love to people.

I am curious about people and it motivates me to listen to their story and learn about them. Like the swinging of a pendulum, a good balance of listening and curiosity helps a conversation move along naturally. If I’m listening well, my God-given curiosity begins to percolate. If I am curious, I get plenty of opportunities to listen.

I imagine a world where followers of Jesus are known for being great listeners and learners, with the courage and willingness to engage others. Maybe you and I are just one listening moment away from a meaningful conversation about God with someone who would never darken the doorway of a church.

Crilly and his good friend, Hasani

Crilly and his good friend, Hassani

Why do you live this way?

Because people matter to God, they matter to me. I enjoy relationships and I love people. If I don’t establish relational equity with someone, how willing is that person to hear me out, listen to my perspective or value my worldview? I think Christians already have a credibility issue in our culture that puts us in a deficit as it relates to trust – so building trust in a relationship helps to provide the environment for people to safely explore things of God with us and not fear harm or judgement. For me, this is a much more winsome and natural way to live my faith openly and honestly. I don’t feel pressure to make something happen or close the deal.

What’s been the hardest part?

Probably allowing myself to be interruptible and responsive to God’s agenda over my own agenda – or maybe being a listener not a fixer – or maybe being humble enough to understand that I am not the sole source of truth. I still have a lot of work to do in all these areas!

luv you

 Do you have any advice for other people interested in pursuing compassion through the 9 Arts? Any advice for children or families?

These 9 practices are really building blocks of the life of a disciple of Jesus – and for parents to model these behaviors and to teach them to their kids is really about teaching their children to see people like Jesus did and to walk like Jesus did.

Crilly and G

Crilly listening to G’s stories

 How can we join you?

Try it! The 9 Arts are all about attempts – getting in the game. Jesus picked each of us for His team, to go and make disciples – maybe we have made it harder than it needs to be – what if the Great Commission to go and make disciples in Matthew 28 flows out of the Great Commandment to love God and love people? – and so our actions originate out of love and compassion.

These 9 practices are intended to provide a pathway for anyone to engage people in their life who believe differently in conversations about God. No PHD required. No special giftedness or education. You might need to be an expert if you are telling people, but you don’t need to be one if you are asking questions and help people discover the truth for themselves.

Maybe it would help all of us if we just take the pressure off and approach it like you are just practicing. To get better at anything takes practice. Take driving a car. Everyone starts in Drivers Ed – even Indy car drivers. We all sat in a classroom, learning Rules of the Road but that didn’t make us a driver. We didn’t actually become drivers until we got behind the wheel and practiced. Just like anyone can learn how to drive. Everyone can learn simple practices to engage in spiritual conversations and make new disciples.

The book intentionally includes specific simple practices and thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter to encourage attempts – remember we want more and more people in the game! It is not the outcome that we are focused on – whether someone comes to Jesus is all God’s business. I want people to try it out – I want to celebrate attempts – because I strongly believe that people learn best when they discover it for themselves – and so questions and tangible action are ways to reinforce that.

You can get a copy of The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations everywhere books are sold.


I made Crilly let me take this picture of him and the book.

Isn’t this empowering?

Crilly is reminding us that we’re not experts and we certainly shouldn’t be know-it-alls. It’s not about instant results, but real relationships.

My default is to jump over all the beginning steps and jump right into the in-your-face hard truth. I’ve hurt people with that. The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations are gifts to unlock acceptance, grace, and freedom. For the people I want to love, including myself. As I grow in these Arts I’m becoming a better mom, wife, friend, and neighbor. Please read this book.

Related Links:

  • To buy The 9 Arts:  Amazon
  • Crilly’s website: johncrilly.net
  • The publisher’s link to The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations: Tyndale
  • We have a list of all the World Changers we’ve featured here: World Changers. We’d love to hear what you’re doing to change the world, too!

© Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016


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