Leonard Sweet, in his book Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, writes, “We know how to save the world. We just don’t realize that we know what we know. The way to save the world is not through more rules to live by, but through right relationships to live for. People are fast losing the art of being with one another.”
I experienced this recently in a church meeting (of all places). It was a meeting where information was being shared. The people in attendance were giving their opinions and offering their advice. The group was seeking direction.
Although everyone in attendance had something to say, not everyone in attendance was heard.
One of the people who offered, what I thought was a good direction, was not even acknowledged. In fact, it was as if this person was not even present in the meeting.
Although there was nothing malicious, my attempts at getting this person recognized were dismissed as the group discussion moved on to other topics.
As I reflect on this experience, I know this is not new for those historically marginalized. People have been fighting for a place at the table, struggling to be heard, to be taken seriously for too long.
- Why is it that we recognize some people but not all people?
- Why is it that we look over some people without even noticing we have done so?
- And, if we do this with individuals, do we do this with the community and our neighborhoods as well?
Are You More Willing to Talk than Listen?
From my perspective, we live in a time when we are more willing to talk than we are to listen. As I write these words I am aware that I am talking through this blog.
If you can give me a moment to offer my “bias” opinion, I want to enter into dialogue with you regarding our disconnection with one another and the disconnection between our local churches and our communities.
I want to find out if anyone is listening.
Five Reasons We Don’t Listen
Is it too harsh to say that we don’t listen because…
1.We are too busy. It is not even about time.
We seem too preoccupied with our own thoughts, needs, technology, worries, and problems. Perhaps we’re too busy talking about ourselves to listen to others.
2. We don’t know how to listen.
Listening is the ability to relate to people with a genuine interest in them and compassion for them. It not easy and it takes practice. It does not come naturally.
3. We think faster than we talk.
Our brains can receive spoken words and still have time for thinking. Anyone sitting through a sermon on Sunday morning knows that to be true. Too often we go on mental sidetracks and miss what is being said or we are formulating our opinions without taking seriously what is said.
4. We don’t hear what we want to hear.
When someone hits upon one of our issues or prejudices, we stop listening and begin rehearsing our objections, without listening to what is being said.
5. We don’t particularly care for the person speaking.
In this situation, we form our opinions and dismiss someone without giving them the opportunity to be heard. I think that is what happened at the meeting I attended.
I’ve grown to understand that when we don’t listen, we fail God. I think it is important to remember that God has given us two ears and one mouth. Could it be we have opportunities to listen more than we do to speak? God has given us the capacity to listen, but we misuse that capacity when we are too busy, too distracted, too preoccupied, too privileged to hear what the other person is saying.
When we don’t listen, we shut ourselves off from one another. We give up the opportunity to learn from one another, to understand one another, and to love one another. We give up the opportunity to develop the relationships that help us become who God created us to be.
I think Sweet is on to something when he writes, “The way to save the world is…through right relationships to live for.”
Five Characteristics of a Good Listener
I offer the following to assist us in developing the relationships that make a difference? I believe listening will help us connect with one another and connect our local churches with our communities.
What does it mean to be a good listener? A good listener is a person of:
The word compassion literally means “to suffer with” or “to empathize.” To listen with compassion means to relate to persons as individuals and not as “types” of persons who we have classified and labeled. To listen with compassion means to relate to the community with an open heart and mind, not telling the community what it needs, but listening to what the community says it needs.
This means focusing attention, eyes as well as ears on the person, concentrating on what is being said and not on what we want to say next. This means focusing on the community, learning the assets as well as the needs, in such a way that the church interacts within the community and not interjects into the community.
This involves patience and self-control. We learn when to speak and when not to speak. As individuals, we do not need to have an answer to every question. As the church, we do not need to be experts on all the issues. We don’t need to feel threatened when church and culture collide. But we do need compassion to be with the community in uncertain times.
The responsibility of the listener is not to agree or to get others to agree with him or her. As the listener, it is your responsibility to seek to understand “what is going on” and “what is being said.” The same can be said for the church. The responsibility of the church is to understand the dynamics of the community and to engage in the life of the community, connecting assets with needs and developing relationships of trust and care.
Good listening is built on love and care. As Christians, you and I do what love demands. If we are genuinely concerned for others, then we make ourselves available. As the church, if we genuinely care about the community, then we make a commitment to listen, to interact, and to respond with the appropriate action.
Let me ask you again, is anybody listening? Let’s see if we can listen to a conversation between a pastor and church leader and discover our response.
Is Anybody Listening?
There once was a church who developed a community meal for the neighborhood. The people of the church, most of whom lived in other communities, wanted to help feed the people who seemed to be hungry and who lived close to the church building.
Over time, the guests who came on Thursday evenings to the community meal started to attend Sunday morning worship. The people in the church began to feel a little uncomfortable. They had moved out of the community because it had changed. The one thing that had not changed was their church.
Eventually, one of the leaders took the pastor aside and asked him, “Do these people have to here with us. Can’t we provide a special service just for them? You know, on Thursday evening when they are here to eat?”
The pastor answered, “Well, I think everyone should have a chance to meet Jesus face to face.”
The leader replied, “Of course everyone should have a chance to meet Jesus. I think they should have the same opportunities to meet Jesus as we all do.”
The pastor responded, “I’m not talking about them! I’m talking about you.”
We know how to save the world. We just don’t realize that we know what we know.
Is anybody listening?
Your Next Step
Pick one action below to act on in the next three days.
- Explore the LeaderCast Podcast Episodes and listen to one episode in the next three days. Here’s your opportunity to practice what you’ve just read!
- Download the Workbook for 7 Missional Questions and listen to one of the accompanying LeaderCast episodes below.
- Sign-up to learn the skills to lead with courage – and yes, that includes the skill of listening!
Transforming Mission exists to help you transform your relationship with Christ, with your congregation and with your local community. If you can’t find a resource on this site to address your needs, please contact us. We’re here to help!