Skip to main content

Shut Up and Listen!

It is not a stretch to say that, humanly speaking, I am a minister because I faced early on my utter inability to pastor people. I failed in a lot of ways as a Young Life staff person and a youth director in a new PCA church. I still do after being an ordained minister for 16 years. But a primary failure in those early days was my inability (and often unwillingness!) to listen well.

I've been reading through the book The Pastor and Counseling by Jeremy Pierre and Deepak Reju. They have reminded me how the first task of pastoral ministry and pastoral counseling is humility which leads to listening well.
Listening means to be fully engaged with the person or people in front of me.
Being fully engaged means I am taking in their words, seeking to understand how they see their world.
This is intentional activity on my part as I must seek to hear the parts others play in their life; family, friends and most especially God. I can get a sense of this by what they say and what they don't say.
As I purposefully and actively listen, I can begin to see how and where their heart has bumped into their circumstances and others. I can begin to get a glimpse as to what degree their heart has been captured by God and/or is being dragged down by other people and their problems.
It is quite possible that I haven't said a word so far in my meeting with them. I haven't wanted to. I need to hear them.

Early on in my pastoral ministry in my arrogance and inexperience I assumed those speaking to me wanted me to fix what was wrong, or to give them answers they had been searching for. This arrogance indicts me as thinking I am most important person in the room and I cannot and will not listen well. This is my default mode and I must fight against this all the time.

Pierre and Reju rightly root the act of listening in the context of faithful and humble shepherding. My ultimate goal must be to lead the sheep to the Most Faithful Shepherd, because He is the most important person in the room. But to do that, faithfully and humbly, the shepherd must know the sheep, the world of the sheep, the circumstances and the heart-beat of the sheep.

Aspiring to be an active, helpful and good listener requires me to be self-aware; in all my conversations, not just in pastoral counseling situations. How am I listening to my wife; my children; my friends?  Consistently assessing my every day conversations will help me in becoming a better, more helpful and active listener for all of those who are speaking to me. Here are warning signs that, when present, show me that I am more important than the person speaking and more important than the One who is with us. It shows me that I am being a selfish, arrogant, faithless "non-listener":

1. I'm already forming a response/defense while the person is speaking to me. This proves to me that what I have to say is more important than the person in front of me and what they are saying.

2. I interrupt the person speaking to me. This is a critical warning sign that I am definitely not listening well and that I am the most important person in the conversation.

3. I seek to "keep control" of the conversation by slightly raising my volume when the one who speaks tries to say something. In this, I've made a value judgment on the words needing to be spoken, and you've lost.

4. I fail to look them in the eye when they are speaking. I am distracted by the clock or my phone or papers on my desk, etc. While I'm being distracted I'm communicating to the person speaking that they are really a distraction from what I think is more important.

5. I fail to ask questions about what they just said to me. No follow-up questions can communicate that I haven't heard them and/or I don't care about what they've said. 

Pierre and Reju have much to say about the responsibility we have in listening well and their book deserves a wide reading.  For me, it is usually enough to remind myself, first, to shut up and listen, or take to heart what James calls me to.


Popular posts from this blog

Getting the Most from Reading your Bible

 The start of the new year often means the start of a new Bible reading plan. For most of us, we start strong, fight through the "descendants" and difficult names. The familiarity of Exodus (thanks to  Cecil B. DeMille ) puts some winds in our reading sails.  Then we hit the rough waters of Leviticus. You get the idea... God reveals Himself to us in His Word. We want to see Him in His Triune glory there. Fighting against the difficulty of reading regularly, consistently, and prayerfully is one of the most important battles we face every day that God gives us.  Below, I am recommending three resources that may help you, not just stick with your Bible reading, but love God's Word more, even the difficult parts. My prayer is that one or two or all three of these resources will help you fight and win the battle so you can consistently read God's Word and God will consistently bless you through your personal Bible reading.  This is not a countdown, from best to least best.

Suffering--Book Brief

Paul Tripp is a faithful counselor and has served me and many of you through his conferences, books, video series, newsletters and booklets. He has written on the transition to middle age, love, sex, and money, raising teens and many other subjects.  If you are not familiar with him or his writing, I highly recommend him. His latest book, Suffering , is the best thing he has written. There are multiple contact points any reader will have with this book because suffering is universal. We all experience it. We can’t escape it. Tripp, through his decade's long association with the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) has counseled hundreds of sufferers. You will hear many of their stories in this book. More importantly, you will hear how a skilled biblical counselor helps the sufferer frame her experience in such a way that the truths of the Bible connect to the experience of the sufferer. The chapters “The Awareness Trap”, The Fear Trap”, “The En

A Wonderfully Diverse Uniformity

We ordained and installed 5 new officers at Grace Community Presbyterian Church on December 15, 2019. It has been my privilege to work with and walk alongside these 5 guys for almost a year, as our process in training and study is that long. We've done this five times now, in our relatively young and small church. Every time I am stunned by God's kindness in giving us men, gifted men, who are willing to shoulder the burden of ordained office. This time, something hit me for the first time. Among our officers, we have teachers, a school administrator, a pilot, a lawyer, a man involved in the insurance industry, a COO and CEO of a health provider in our area, a man who is supplier to car mechanics, an IT man for an oil company, an IT man for a multi-million dollar corporation, an artist and sign-maker, a man who does something with bonds, working with markets all over the world, a man who works in the construction industry, and a rules and regulations guy for BNSF Railr