It’s not easy interviewing someone who is clearly considerably better at interviewing people than you are! But we managed to bumble our way through it, and glean much wisdom from a woman who has built a very successful career out of doing what most Christian seem to find very hard, listening to people.
My guess is that if you asked the average woman or man on the street what the Church’s strengths are they probably wouldn’t say ‘listening’. Instead I suspect that when most people think of the Church images would come to mind of preachers, protestors, awkward encounters with evangelists, and an institution out of touch with contemporary life (to name but four of my early encounters and perceptions of Christians). Yet listening is surely something that followers of Jesus should excel at.
If anyone was qualified to lead with their opinion it was Jesus. And yet more often than not rather than talking he encouraged the people he encountered to talk. How many of us, for example, when asked by the rich ruler how to gain eternal life, would have dived in with a summary of the gospel, an invitation to an Alpha course, or encouraged him to pray the sinner’s prayer? Jesus didn’t do any of these; instead he asked a question. Jesus wanted to listen, he wanted to get to the heart of who this man was.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we catch a glimpse of an early church service, and we see Paul encouraging mutual listening. He says that everyone should have the opportunity to share something with the community, and for everyone else to careful listen and weigh what was shared (1 Cor. 14:26-40).
And what is prayer if it isn’t essentially listening? How can we join God in bringing about his will on earth as in heaven unless we’re careful listening to what his will is in the situations we find ourselves in?
So one wonders how the perception of the Church would be changed, and how much more effective its ministry and mission would be if we rediscovered the lost art of listening.
Check out our interview with Krista Tippett here