THE LISTENING CHURCH, Part 2
In an interview with a TV personality, she was asked to tell about the unique meal conversations her family had during when she was a child. She related her father’s philosophy that everyone should learn something new each day. Every evening her brothers and sisters knew that before they began supper, dad would point to each one and ask what he or she had learned that day. After each made their contribution, the meal would begin and the dinner talk was fueled by the information shared. The important part of supper for that woman and her siblings was not the new information. Rather, it was the fact that each was listened to when they told of their new knowledge and in the discussions that followed.
When people encounter each other at church, they may talk, but the real question is: Is there any listening happening? Hearing the words doesn’t mean that that there is listening. When Jesus listened, He heard the feelings of the person with whom he was talking and he engaged that person on an intimate level.
When church congregations are encouraged to, and guided in, listening to each other on a personal level the body of believers is connected in the most beneficial way. Some of the benefits include:
- Conflict avoidance – Because conflicts are often the result of lack of clarity and miscommunication, the congregation that listens to each other avoids many problems before they surface. Simple communication skills, beginning with considerate listening, may smooth understanding of differences so that issues are not controversial.
- Proactively addressing problems – When problems do arise, addressing them immediately with an emphasis on listening, not only to the rationale but more importantly to the feelings of both sides, can lead to resolution.
- Cohesiveness – When two people, or two groups, spend time giving attention to each other, the resulting connection brings all involved together as a team, working in harmony.
- Unity – Being united with one heart in Christ is increasingly difficult with increasingly larger congregations. While smaller congregations are not exempt from conflicts, all fellowships can benefit from the bond that develops when there are activities and ministry opportunities in which participants have a chance to talk and listen to each other.
- Progress toward goals – When people stop listening to each other, progress toward their common goal is impeded by confusion and frustration. Hearing what each part of the whole is trying to accomplish can remove roadblocks and make for a smoother running organization.
- Empathy that results in ministry – Listening to learn of needs makes ministry more effective. Sometimes, it’s not the words that need to be heard, but the feelings and implied messages that are heeded when ministering to another’s needs.
A listening congregation can easily find opportunities to foster this connection. If the church staff will model the role of listeners, members can take advantage of regularly occurring situations to listen to those around them:
- Simply participating in church events and ministries – Events that bring members in close proximity will result in communication that allows them to know each other better.
- Polling members – Asking for the opinions and thoughts of members can be a way of listening that involves the members because they make an investment. Not to listen to their thoughts and feelings isolates and alienates them.
- Ministry committees and meetings – As time consuming and inconvenient as meetings might be, it is an important means for hearing the congregation and allowing them to make an investment where they experience being valuable because they are heard.
Shepherding and ministry opportunities are significant times when listening will connect and lift the congregation.
- Prayer – A prayer ministry where prayer concerns are solicited expresses focused concern and attention to needs.
- Meals – Visiting during meals is a great way for people to connect with those around them.
- Hospitals – Is there anywhere that a ministry could be more important than in listening to those in need? Not only do patients need someone to listen to their hurts and concerns, but additionally family and concerned friends are in need of this ministry.
- Counseling – Pastoral counseling, and if possible a counseling center with trained, qualified personnel to give specific attention to significant need, is listening with God’s heart
Developing the skills for listening doesn’t have to be the result of laborious training. Not everyone is equipped by nature to be an excellent listener. However, everyone can learn basic skills that may result in improved connections and healthy bonding, avoiding or resolving many problems.