I’ve always pictured Jesus as a really good listener. Hurting people must have been drawn to him like a magnet, pouring out their troubles as they looked into his empathetic eyes. And I’m sure Jesus never interrupted them with a spotlight-grabbing story about how “something just like that happened to me the other day….” But for us mere mortals, being a good listener can be really hard.
Faith Formation Ministries has been working with churches to help strengthen faith storytelling practices. Our Faith Storytelling Toolkit lists dozens of practical ideas for shaping and sharing our faith stories. But listening well to a faith story and receiving it like Jesus would is also key.
When someone shares a faith story with you, it’s a holy moment. The person who is speaking is testifying to the work of God in his or her life. Depending on the story, he or she may feel quite vulnerable, and that vulnerability requires a loving response.
The way you and other listeners receive the story is as important as the telling of the story. It shows the speakers whether or not you accept them as they are—just as Jesus Christ would do. Here are some ways to practice active, engaged listening.
Prepare your body
- Take a breath. Be present in the moment.
- Relax your posture. If your arms are crossed on your chest, uncross them to show acceptance rather than defensiveness. The speaker will be reading your body language to see how his or her words are being received.
- Let the love of Christ shine through your facial expression.
Prepare your mind
- Let go of your mental "to do" list.
- Think about how Jesus might listen to someone's faith story.
- Consciously resist making judgments about the speaker.
- Quiet the urge to formulate a response while the person is speaking.
- Recognize and resist the temptation to tell a similar story or to turn the conversation back to yourself after the speaker is finished.
Prepare your heart
- Resolve to listen with your whole heart, not just your ears.
- Think of the speaker’s story as a gift to you or to your church family.
- Remember that having emotions is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. Don’t be embarrassed if the speaker shows emotion or if you feel emotional yourself. This is a good and right response to hearing stories of God's faithfulness in our lives.
Respond in love
- Silence is not an option after you hear a faith story. A response, either individual or corporate, is required.
- When you respond, you do not need to worry about saying something profound or offering a solution to any problems the speaker may be having. Your job is to honor the gift of trust that he or she has given you and to extend love and acceptance. Words like these are always appropriate and welcome:
- I’m so sorry. That must have been very hard.
- I’m here for you. You’re not alone.
- I rejoice with you! Your joy brings me joy.
- Thank you for sharing the gift of your story. It encourages me to see God at work in your life.
- If the story is told in a group setting or worship service, ask someone to offer a prayer of thanks or petition, whichever is appropriate. Give thanks for God’s work in the speaker’s life and ask for God’s continued grace in his or her life and in the lives of everyone present.
Faith Formation Ministries is adding great new ideas to our Faith Storytelling toolkit regularly, and we would love to hear how your church is telling and receiving faith stories. We invite you to share ideas here or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.