Listening – A Key Skill for Church Planters

One of the primary ailments I see in Christian leaders is that the proclamation of the Gospel seems to have made them deaf. They talk loudly, but seem to hear little. Even our prayers appear to be talking to God, even instructing God on how to do His business, but seldom listening to Him. Have we forgotten how to listen?

Jesus was a master of asking questions, listening, dialoguing and responding. In Matthew 8:5-13, we have the account of Jesus and the Centurion. The centurion approached Jesus with a need – his servant was paralyzed and was suffering a great deal of pain. Jesus was immediately willing to go and heal the servant, but the centurion had another idea. Jesus didn’t need to come to his house, just speak the word and the healing would happen. Jesus listened, and was astonished by what the centurion said. Jesus called it great faith. The servant was healed. The followers of Jesus learned a lesson on faith. And we see a leader who listened, met a need, increased the faith of the faithful centurion, saved himself time and energy, and exercised a teachable moment for his followers.

The familiar story of the Woman at the Well (John 4) is another example of the power of listening. Against all cultural barriers Jesus asked questions, listened to answers, debated the facts, was granted entrance to a community, met various needs, and the community believed. If He had begun with proclaiming the Gospel without the moments of listening and dialogue the situation would most likely have been very different.

In Matthew 4:1-11 we see Jesus having a conversation with Satan. In Mark 5, Jesus had a conversation with a group of demons. Jesus had extensive conversations with the religious leaders of his day, even though He disagreed with them, and usually ended up rebuking them. But, he did listen to them. Jesus listened to spiritual and religious opposition, while continuing to meet people’s needs, and teach about the Kingdom of God.

In my experience, we see churches start in environments where the evangelists listen to the local leaders; respond to, and when possible, meet their needs; open dialogue about spiritual matters; start Discovery Bible Studies through inductive Bible study methods; and help new groups develop into churches. Until people know we are listening to them, they have no reason to hear us or the Gospel.

Listening is the art/skill of responding correctly and adequately to the expressed and unexpressed needs and/or desires of those for whom we have respect and love. As Followers of Jesus we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are commanded to do as Jesus did, and He loved the world. It is love that enables listening. It is love that matures listening. Listening is not simply hearing what is said or perceiving unspoken needs. It is responding, doing something about what is communicated. When Jesus restored Peter to his apostleship, He asked Peter three times if Peter loved Him. (John 21) Each time Peter responded with words, and Jesus asked him to respond with action – Feed my lambs/sheep.

As a skill, listening can be developed. As an art, there are those with the knack who will naturally be better at listening. But in either case we can all improve, and by improving we increase the opportunities for the Spirit of God to touch the lost and transform communities. But the take-away I want all of us to have is that true listening always includes an appropriate response with more than words. Hearing without action is not listening.

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