Sustained Listening

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I was recently reminded of the simple axiom, “leadership begins with listening.” What a powerful proverb. I love this phrase. Actually listening, however, is another story. I am not sure I love to listen and so I find this saying to be one that really challenges that behavior. I suspect that I am not the only one who has a lot of room to grow in the department of listening. One of the most important practices in my time with the Renewal Lab has been finding places where sustained listening can be an ongoing habit.

Early on in the renewal excursion, both pastors and Renewal Lab teams were presented with the concept of four directional listening. As God’s people, we need to be actively listening from above via God’s Word about our identity and mission as God’s people. We must be constantly listening from among the congregation about our hopes, fears and deepest passions. We need to be listening from within and constantly checking in with the Holy Spirit and following those internal promptings. Finally, we must be listening from the outside. We engage neighbors and community in this way. We hear their stories and discern needs and opportunities. This is one form of listening in which we might surprisingly discover God is already at work ahead of us (yes he is not confined to our church communities!) and we simply join in with Him. This is a framework not a checklist. In other words, we need to always be listening in these four directions as part of our faithful call as God’s people.  

None of these listening directions are easy, but it is likely that many of our congregations are the most deficient at the listening from the outside. In the vast missional conversations, one emerging phrase is the encouragement that as Christians we find our way to tables in our broader communities. Here a mutual sharing and listening can happen. A great metaphor that can often be applied literally. Have you found tables to share in your community, workplace, and neighborhood?

As part of the broader clergy in Wyckoff, New Jersey, I am thankful to have the opportunity to be at the table as part of a group in the township The Wyckoff Municipal Alliance. It is here I sit at the table as one among many; our mayor, town clerk, town hall administrator, two police officers, school board, school counselors, a principal, the director of parks and recreation, fire department and chamber of commerce representative sit down and work together for the common good of the town. So far, all I have done is sit at this table as we discuss important issues in our township. I have not said one single profound thing. I have not come up with any solutions. I have not yet found any concrete way in which my own or our collective communities of faith can jump in to help. Listening is hard! Yet, in the midst of this I am hearing stories, learning about the brokenness and gaining a sense of the opportunities that exist. God is present at this table too. What will emerge from my role on this committee? I am not sure yet, but I am reminded that I must keep listening.

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What a timely and helpful post by Chris Pedersen. It clearly describes how complex the act of listening is. The four-direction model is helpful in demonstrating this. I find that this issue is especially pertinent in making room in the church for people with mental health challenges. Not only might there be no room at the table for them, there may be no "table".

As one who spent his career as a social worker listening to others, I am conscious of how imperfectly I listened; it is still a challenge. Several factors get in the way.  Here are four reasons / excuses:

1.  Time - I don't have (or take) the time. How can I be a better steward of my time to include listening?

2.  Fear - I don't know how I would respond to something I don't understand. Actually listening doesn't require solving anything - it requires only my presence. Many husbands find this out the hard way.

3.  Skill - I don't know how to listen. Our churches can do something about that. how about Listening 101 as an Adult Discipleship class?

4.  Apathy - I am not sure I care enough to listen; I have my own issues to deal with. Closely allied with fear.

The challenge of listening is much more than an individual one, it is institutional as well. Churches are noisy places - we sing, pray, drink coffee and chat, and do service. but our churches by-and-large do not structure themselves to allow listening to flourish. Small groups may help to make this happen but not uniformly.

I would be interested in hearing from people whose churches have structured themselves to help make listening easier. We all have stories to tell, but is anyone willing to listen?

David Lundberg

Volunteers in Service, Grand Rapids, MI

dlundberg@visgr.org​​​

 

     

 

 

 

 

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