I was asked about church leadership in a recent interview. The question was along these lines, ‘What would be your primary goal if you transition into leadership in a new church in the first 3 months?’ I answered it this way:
I would review the systems that are currently in place and the preaching schedule for the next 6 months. But a priority would be listening to, and learning, the stories of the community. Doing this will me know how to minister a community. Where are their pains? What are their longings? Are their values being lived out or aspirational? You can import a plan that sounds really amazing, and completely misses the heart a church, or you can take time to learn how to help them grow spiritually and missionally.
Too often our starting question is, ‘What do we want our church, and community, to look like?’ It’s not quite the right question because it has the tendency to turn people into projects. Perhaps it’s better to ask ‘What does our church, and community, need most? What will be good news to them?’ Our answers here may take us down a different track.
What’s True for Churches is True for Missional Living
Our kids have been learning about the attributes of God using the alphabet at church. Recently they learned about God’s omnipresence. God is everywhere. We don’t take Jesus to people, he’s already there, loving, wooing. Making this reality evident is the mission he’s called us to.
I believe a good starting place is asking what a person needs most and what would be good news. I know, they need Jesus most – that’s the good news. I’ve been to Sunday school. I know if you answer God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit you’ll always get the answer right. But let’s go deeper. Assume there’s no one size fits all answer.
I’ve mentioned the local janitor before. I spent a year of casual conversations with him before saying I was a pastor. Initially he didn’t believe me because I hadn’t judged him for being gay. Now church, God and the Bible are among some of the things we talk about. But when we met, he needed to know his work meant something. To him Christianity meant judgment – anything but good news.
Listening – Finding your Missional Moxie
The key is listening. One of the things I love about doing single question interviews are the different nuances that the interviewees share. Here’s a beauty from Brad Watson which highlights the art of listening:
‘Start with learning how to listen to other people. Become a curious person that goes beyond the weather, news, and pleasantries and ask engaging questions. I’m becoming increasingly convinced the greatest missional skills we can learn are listening and eating. Begin by hearing the people around you, and ask them over for dinner where you ask them even more questions.’
Don’t just listen for the sake of it. It’s not about being nosy or inquisitive. Jeff Vanderstelt helps connect the art of listening with mission:
‘Listen to their stories. Pay attention to how you might bless them. Then, begin to intentionally bless them with words and actions. As you build trust, you will be given opportunities to share the reason why you are doing what you do. When that opportunity arises, share how Jesus has done the same for you so that you can show what he is like to others.’
Karina Kreminski picks up the same thing but in missional broader terms. She thinks communities over individuals and partnerships a way of modeling the kingdom of God to others and calling them to participate:
‘Usually God will teach us something about himself as we listen to others. As we listen and discern, God might also ask us to form partnerships with people and groups who are interested in the same things we are-promoting justice, peace, salvation and beauty in our world. In that way we can model the story of the reign of God and then invite others to join with us on the journey.’
What Listening Achieves Missionally
1. Listening shows you value others as people rather than projects.
2. It reminds you that you are partnering with God who is already present and working in that person’s life.
3. Listening helps you to connect, care and bless people where they are at.
4. Listening causes you to pay attention to opportunities when you can share what Jesus has done for you.
5. It causes you to rely on the Holy Spirit.
So, what will you do to become a better listener? And how will you use it missionally?