Today I have the privilege of my good friend, Daryl Ellis, writing a guest post for me. Daryl is a veteran pastor who has ministered in at least 3 states. He is also an accomplished writer. Daryl, along with some other friends, formed Fellowship of Encouragement back in the 90s. In many ways, Fellowship of Encouragement was a forerunner of this blog and the facebook group REACH.
Thanks Daryl, for engaging in the conversation!
Occupational Hazard (by Daryl Ellis)
Countless hours and dollars have been invested by me over many years learning more about teaching and preaching, and why not? Cultures change and effective communication is vital in order to connect with an audience. There is value in learning how to reach the back row, connecting with women listeners and baptizing the truth with practical application. However, what doors have been closed; what relationships stifled; what opportunities have been lost because I was not a good listener?
We are trained to discern the accurate interpretation. We are challenged to increase our learning. We are championed as purveyors of wisdom. We are labeled as godsends to places of ministry. We become dispensers of truth and fountains of knowledge. Why in the world would we need to listen to anyone? The absence of listening skills is an occupational hazard for leaders, preachers and teachers.
It would be interesting to discover how many institutions that prepare persons for ministry offer courses on listening. Why has this seemingly gone unnoticed? Why are we more interested in being heard than understanding our audience? Stop and think with me. How might our relationships, our churches and our denomination be different if we focused more on listening?
Why do you think we stiffen up when confronted with this concept?
1) Do you think we consider “listening” a sign of weakness? After all, aren’t we supposed to have the answers? Why would we look to the less educated and experienced? Haven’t I arrived on the scene to solve all the problems? Don’t they expect me to have all the answers?
2) Do we adopt an “I’m ok, you’re not ok” attitude? Parents are right, pastors are right, leaders are right, right? What could a Christian learn from an unbeliever anyway? Do these young whippersnappers have anything to offer us graying, worldly-wise men? Is it possible we stand behind our authority, even positions, looking down at those poor less informed people?
3) Do we equate listening to agreement? If I am willing to listen, does that mean I have to agree with them? Of course, some leaders give people air-time, allowing people to blow off their steam. Is that really listening? If I listen to someone of another denomination, does that mean I am ready to jump ship? If I listen to someone from a college with a philosophy different than mine, does that mean that I am wavering in my own commitment?
4) Are we afraid that we might be wrong? Someone cautioned, “If you are not
willing for your idea to be scrutinized, it just might be a bad idea.” Some embrace the idea that a good leader must be strong, even to the point of arrogance. Others would frown on a parent apologizing to their child for their own anger or bad attitude. Does your understanding of leadership allow for the insecurities that plague so many of us? Confident leaders are willing to risk being found wrong. In fact, great leaders seek to know if they need tweaking.
Jesus had plenty to say yet we see him asking questions all the time. He engages people with a compassion for who they are and what situation they are in. Apparently, there is value is taking a breath and hearing the other person.
This behavior seems to conflict with some of the notions inferred from the leadership literature. Do you consider people obstacles to your success? Have you asked God to take home early some of your opponents? Do you ignore those with whom you have had conflict? Do you search for a different congregation who is ready to let you have your own way? Do you look at people as dumb sheep, forgetting that you are one of those, too?
A casualty of the church growth/leadership hype is the shepherd concept. Oh my, that shepherd stuff is for a little church, not the large one that I want. I am more like a CEO. I am sure that is okay because someone wrote a book telling me that Jesus was a CEO, right? Shepherding is a biblical teaching. It may be refashioned to an extent, but the substance must not be abandoned.
Wait a minute! As a church grows, there must be some adjustments. The loving leader must be willing to grow in leadership maturity that allows ministry to become effective beyond his reach (See Acts 6). And, as much as the corporate model smacks of bottom lines and discounting of the individual, the small church pastor must look in the mirror and see if he sees a dictator or king instead of a shepherd of that precious congregation.
Listening refocuses our attention on people, looking beyond mere projects.
Listening slows us down, refining our objectives, not rushing them.
Listening broadens our perspective, rescuing us from tunnel vision.
Listening deepens our understanding, which sharpens our insight.
If you are like me, this is hard work, very exhausting. As one who has run his mouth for years, it is challenging to shut up for awhile. I want to interrupt. Often, I am not listening but formulating my priceless response. I may believe my insights are more valuable than the sincere words of my communication partner. Just give me the facts, ma’am! Why should I care how you really feel? It is embarrassing when I think about it. But, there is hope, if we are willing to start with these baby steps.
- Experiment with listening at length, just listen, or at least try!
- Note how many times you feel like interrupting.
- Summarize what someone has said, “Did I understand you correctly that ….?”
- Resist always giving advice; ask more questions to increase understanding.
Listening is fascinating. If a person feels heard, they might share more about themselves at a later time which leads to genuine biblical fellowship. What do you think about this statement? One of the most valuable gifts we can give another person is to listen, really listen to them.
Husbands, listen to your wives.
Pastors, listen to your congregation.
Team leaders, listen to your team.
Teachers, listen to your students.
Leaders, listen to those you are called to serve.
Clyde Narramore had it right: Every person is worth understanding. We’ll never understand one another if we do not start listening! We can turn our occupational hazard into an occupational blessing – the opportunity to listen.