When you first think of “ministry” I would be willing to bet that the word listening, is not one of the first things to come to mind. We mostly think of events and activities: Sunday worship services, outreaches to feed the homeless, youth group trips, Sunday school classes, small group Bible studies and conferences etc.
Eugene Peterson has helped me to see more clearly the importance of an often overlooked aspect of ministry: listening. In his book The Contemplative Pastor Peterson writes:
Listening is in short supply in the world today; people aren’t used to being listened to. … Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it’s only for five minutes. Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time. Only in that ambiance of leisure do persons know they are listened to with absolute seriousness, treated with dignity and importance. Speaking to people does not have the same personal intensity as listening to them. The question I put to myself is not “How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week” but “How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?”
Speaking has a place. We followers of Christ, in general, and pastors, in particular, are called to proclaim the word! I have advocated for this in many other posts, and I don’t Peterson would deny its importance either.
The point is that in a busy world, people don’t just need more church activities to fill their calendars. Sound doctrine is good, but people need more than just more teaching. We need communion with God, but people need more than just a strong prayer life.
I think Peterson is right: people have a huge need to be listened to. Not just patronized, but seriously listened to.
While his challenge is particularly to pastors, I think this challenge is something that all of us could benefit from. Do you really listen to other people, or just wait for your turn to talk? Are you really listening or just thinking about your next meeting or the text message that you just received?
Let’s face it, listening is difficult in our increasingly noisy, distracted world. I find it difficult and a discipline to focus and really listen, but when I do, I never regret it.
Question: How are you doing with listening? What other hindrances do you experience when trying to listen?