I stumbled upon this quote the other day while I was doing some research on loneliness.
“It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.” ~Albert Einstein
While at first this may seem utterly impossible, and perhaps even absurd, I wondered how many people would agree with this statement. This quote came rushing back to me the other night when I went to go see the new movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” with a friend. For those who don’t know, this movie is a bio pic about the band Queen, which was around in the 70’s and 80’s. I was super pumped to go and had to promise her I wouldn’t belt out the tunes during the movie. (Don’t laugh! That was super hard for me!!)
This was quite the film! Even if you aren’t a superfan, I think you would enjoy it. Queen’s rise to fame was fairly quick and was mostly due to their unique sound and desire to take risks and mix musical genres into masterpieces. Their music has stood the test of time and Freddie Mercury will forever be remembered as an engaging and brilliant performer. While many of us left the theatre with our fists pumping in the air and with an even deeper appreciation for this band, I couldn’t shake the other pervading thought this film left me with: how lonely Freddie Mercury was. The band, and especially Mercury himself, had captivated the world and they pretty much had it all: fame! fortune! fans! Millions of people loved them and would have given their left arm to meet them. Mercury was the life of the party and was always surrounded by people, and yet, the makers of the film showed us how utterly and dreadfully lonely he was despite his success.
Loneliness can be experienced by anyone; male or female, young or old, famous or forgotten, rich or poor.
I know this shouldn’t shock or startle me as much as it did. We’ve heard plenty over the last few years about other famous people who struggle, or have struggled, with loneliness. (People like Madonna and Robin Williams, just to name a few.) I guess for me, seeing that quote from Einstein and seeing this movie all within 2 weeks of each other was just a thought-provoking reminder that loneliness can be experienced by anyone; male or female, young or old, famous or forgotten, rich or poor.
So this month let’s unpack loneliness a bit. Let’s talk about our own experiences with it. Let’s talk about those in our churches who struggle with it and look to you, as deacons, for help and comfort. Let’s talk about people in our communities who may be experiencing loneliness and share how we can minister to them. Let’s try to look at some of the root causes of loneliness. Let’s discuss its connection to mental health. Let’s find out what the ‘cures’ could be.
Perhaps talking about it is the first step in helping others.
Written By:Erin Knight, Communications Coordinator for DMC
Do you have a story about loneliness you’d like to share? Email Erin today and she’d love to chat. Your story could help someone who is suffering themselves OR who is trying to help someone they know.
Before any church can truly begin to engage with their surrounding community, it’s important to take time to listen and get to know who they are! While this may sound like a no-brainer, I think if we’re honest we can all tell a story from our own personal lives of a time when we didn’t take the time to truly listen and understand the other person. This likely led to mistakes being made and perhaps even a broken relationship. Our human nature tends to lead us to jump to quick conclusions and put people ‘in a box’ so to speak.
In the month of March, we spent the entire month looking at the art of listening. In our blog post entitled “The Art of Listening –Part 1”, we unpacked what real listening is (and isn’t!). Part of this post was a funny, but truthful, video of a woman complaining about a constant pain in her head. Check it out again (or for the 1st time!) here:
While we can laugh at this situation, it would be wise for us to stop and ponder this for a minute. How many times have we, as deacons or as regular folk, met with someone inside or outside our church and within 5 minutes (or less!) we have already figured out what their problem is and how it can easily be solved, IF they would only listen to us. Yet, perhaps if we had taken the time to properly listen and understand, we would have discovered there was so much more going on and, even better, that other person would have left feeling valued and important and a relationship would likely have begun.
So what if, as deacons, we actually took the time to sit down and listen to the people we are trying to serve to hear their stories, hear about their experiences and really listen to understand. This could potentially change the entire way churches engage with their communities!
Bacon & Monorails
One church shared recently that for the past couple of years they held a yearly festival in their church parking lot for the surrounding neighbourhood. While we can’t remember all the details of the day/event, we do remember that the theme was….bacon! (How do you forget THAT?!) There was bacon-everything and they aimed to make it a fun, family-friendly, non-threatening event to get to know their neighbours and invite them to get to know their church. Yet, since the event’s inception, the church members have been quite disappointed with the turnout. They have sat and scratched their heads, unable to answer why no one in their neighbourhood has been attending. Who doesn’t like bacon? What could be more appealing and non-threatening and enticing than bacon-wrapped everything?! In a meeting with other local deacons, one person in the group commented that perhaps many in their surrounding neighbourhood were Muslims. Big pause. Blank stare. Huh? What does that have to with bacon? Oh, wait… What this person was trying to point out was that if many people in that church’s “backyard” were Muslims, they would NEVER partake in a “bacon festival” as they don’t eat pork or any pork byproducts. Huh!
Now while this was likely not the reason the festival fell flat, it certainly made those in the room stop for a minute to think. IF WE DON’T KNOW WHO THE PEOPLE ARE THAT MAKE-UP OUR SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES,then how do we know what they like, what they need, and what they care about? If, in fact, many in that neighbourhood were practicing Muslims, nothing about this event would bring them to this church’s doorstep, even if it did include a 3 Ring Circus and free face painting. Reversely, it could even be considered a bit offensive, or worse – ignorant! It would only serve to highlight how disconnected that church was from their immediate neighbourhood; the people they perhaps should know the best!
It’s a very tricky business when a church (or anyone for that matter) comes into town and starts telling people what they need and why they need it. It reminded me a bit of that old Simpsons episode where the town calls a meeting to decide what to do with a budget surplus. Some great ideas are shared about real and urgent needs in their town until in walks Mr. Lyle Lanley, who, with a flashy song and dance, convinces the town they need (and want! and must-have!) a Monorail.
It’s no surprise that if you watched the entire episode, you find out the Monorail did NOT work out – at all! – for a number of reasons. While these examples of Bacon and Monorails may not be ringing any bells for you, can you and your diaconate think of a time when your church has been ‘guilty’ of this kind of behaviour? Has your church or diaconate ever thought you knew what your community needed or wanted or that you had all the answers for them? Well, okay, of course we can all agree that ultimately yes, we do have the one and only answer – aka Jesus Christ, who died for the entire world because He loved each one of us so much. And yes, we should want to share that good news with everyone we meet. So if that is our ‘end goal’, perhaps we can all agree that there are good ways, and not so good ways, to go about doing that.
If sharing the Good News of Jesus is our ‘end goal’, there are good ways, and not so good ways, to go about doing that.
Leading With Your Need
A few years back a speaker shared his story of engaging with his community and he stressed the importance of churches “leading with their need”. Unfortunately, we can’t remember who said it (so maybe we’ll take credit for it!), but it reminded us of the story of the Woman at the Well from John 4. Even before this woman and Jesus met in the middle of the day at the city’s well, we know that Jesus knew her entire story – because he was Jesus! But when we read this story, we see that He did not immediately address her situation, or come down on her with condemnation, or give her answers to her problems (which were many). He started by asking her to draw water for Him; He asked something of her. Again, Jesus didn’t need her help and she was the last person He should have even been talking to, but He did it anyway. Why? He wanted to create level ground between the two of them and talk to her human-to-human. This story clearly, and beautifully, depicts Jesus’ humanness. His somewhat simple request broke down barriers immediately and opened up the conversation between the two of them. And perhaps this is why she felt free to speak to Him the way she did. What a wonderful example for us to study and learn from – and then follow.
While sharing the Good News of the gospel is, and always should be, our ‘end goal’, perhaps we can all agree that there are good ways, and not so good ways, to go about doing that. Building good, healthy, and sustainable relationships with the people in our communities helps us ‘earn the right’ to be able to share that good news. Just as Jesus shows us.
Building good, healthy, and sustainable relationships with the people in our communities helps us ‘earn the right’ to be able to share that good news.
If we’re honest, we can likely agree that churches (and church people) can have the tendency to come in and try to ‘rescue’ people and tell them what they need to start doing (and stop doing!) but this ‘rescuing’ can actually create distance and resentment and often prohibits long-term change because ZERO relationship has been established. It can give people the impression that Christians are pretty self-righteous and that they believe they have all the answers. It tells others that if they just do what we say, their life will turn around and be better than they could ever imagine. BUT! When churches and believers first lead with their need, they instead approach their communities (and the individuals in it) by finding ways to say, ‘What can YOU contribute?’ and ‘How can we work together for a better future in this community and all who live in it.’ WOW! What a change in posture! What a role reversal! When Jesus encountered the woman at the well, He first showed her that she mattered and that she had something to offer. Then, and only then, was He able to find out more about her so He could explain to her that there was a ‘better way of doing life’. And what happens next is absolutely astounding and amazing! She ran and told all of the townspeople (the very people who despised her, gossiped about her, and likely excluded her) the good news of who Jesus was. And this here is ultimately how a community finds lasting transformation as we agreed upon earlier.
This month we’ll continue learning about how we can discover who our communities are and how we can reach them effectively with the love of Christ.
What About You?
Has your church made any blunders when it comes to engaging with your community/neighbourhood? What have you been learning? Does your church have a big “win” they’d like to share about how you have found ways to connect with their surrounding community? Share your stories with us!
As mentioned in our previous blog post, New Month… Same Theme!, we’ll continue looking at listening this month, and in particular, listening to our COMMUNITIES. But perhaps we need to first name what we envision when we hear those words. What does listening to our community LOOK like? Sitting in the mall food court and eavesdropping to the table next to you? Listening to the local radio station while you cook dinner at home? Following your mayor’s or local MPP’s Twitter feed? Spying on your neighbours?
While these may be good suggestions and may prove helpful (well, all except the last one!!!), this likely isn’t going to help you get to know your city or the neighbourhoods within it. In our last blog post, we posed a few questions we hope you’ve had some time to ponder:
What are ways your diaconate actively listens to your community?
How does your church engage with the people in your neighbourhoods in order to get to know them better?
How do you, as deacons, take time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ?
Hmmm, what was that last one? How do you, as deacons,take timetodiscoverwhere God is at workin your city so that you can transform communities for Christ? There is a lot in there so let’s pick that one apart for a minute.
TAKE TIME – This means intentionally setting time aside to listen and learn.
WHERE GOD IS AT WORK – Perhaps you thought this was all about YOU! Well, it ain’t. All of what you do as deacons is about seeing where God is at work and joining HIM! Perhaps you’ve never heard that before. Perhaps you find that a bit freeing! Takes the pressure off a bit, eh?
Yes folks, God is, and always has been, moving and working in your community. The beautiful part is that we get to JOIN HIM! So now if that’s true, how do we know what He’s up to?
Discovering Where God is at Already at Work
Let’s touch on some of the best ways to discern and discover where God is moving and working:
Prayer-Walking: In his book “Why Pray”, Dr. John DeVries reminds believers that prayer is an exciting and powerful privilege! He shows us that prayer is simply talking with God and it can lead to a deepened relationship of greater love and trust with our Heavenly Father. In his explanation of prayer, he compares it to a young boy riding on his grandfather’s lap as they ride the tractor around his grandparent’s farm. He says, “Prayer is the dependent relationship in which I sit on the lap of my heavenly Father and put my hand on His as He steers the tractor. After all, He not only owns and drives the tractor, but He also owns the farm!” Prayer Walking can be an important part of joining God on His mission. As one author put it, it’s taking the church to people, not taking people to the church. Prayer walking is a way we put feet to our prayers, or as some will say, praying on-site with insight. It can help us pray with open eyes, literally! In order to equip you and your churches, check out this valuable resource for your diaconates on what Prayer-Walking is – and isn’t! As Dr. DeVries continues, he reminds us: “The fields that are ripe for harvest are God’s. He owns the tractor, and He knows where to plow. Only when we, like little children, climb into God’s lap in prayer, feel His arms of love around us, and experience the security of having our hands on His while He guides the steering wheel—only then will missions move!” [emphasis mine] Prayer-Walking is a beautiful and powerful way we can pray with hope for our cities!
Attend or Host a Community Prayer Meeting: Gathering a group of people from inside and outside your church who all want to build up and bless their city has tremendous power! (Proverbs 11:11) What a wonderful way to celebrate unity among believers and non-believers, especially in these times when divisions seem to creep in so easily and quickly. Not only is it a chance to learn more about your community but you will also experience growth, both spiritually and personally. “While you are investing in God’s work, you are enlisting others to advance God’s work on earth” (Corinne Gatti). Imagine that! God will bless those efforts to do even more than we can imagine!
Get Involved and Stay Informed:“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13–16) “Sociologist James Hunter…writes: ‘Faithful presence in the world means that Christians are fully present and committed in their spheres of influence, whatever they may be: their families, neighborhoods, voluntary activities, and places of work.’ As followers of Jesus, we are called to a mission of engagement in, not withdrawal from, the broader world. To faithfully engage the world means we must be fully present within it” (Tom Nelson, article: “To Engage the World Means Being Present in It”). So start reading your local newspaper in order to follow municipal and regional affairs. Or why not volunteer/get involved in a local non-profit. It won’t take long before you discover where God is opening up doors for you and your church.
Conduct a Community Opportunity Scan! For churches that are ready to see their relationship with their neighbours in a new way, DMC has developed a Community Opportunity Scan (COS). A COS is a comprehensive process of discovery which can lead to exciting possibilities! Churches can get to know the people, organizations, resources and needs of their community first-hand and more importantly, they can see where God is already at work!
So let’s get back to our original questions… What are ways your diaconate is actively listening to your community? How is your church intentionally engaging with the people in your neighbourhoods in order to get to know them? How are you, as deacons, taking time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ??
Churches and diaconates across Canada are in different stages of this “listening” journey. We at DMC are excited to hear their stories and we’ll be sharing a few in the weeks to come. Some are beginning to practice Prayer-Walking in various neighbourhoods in their city; some are clearly listening and paying close attention to where God is at work and what is happening in and around their church and then DOING SOMETHING about it through advocacy; some are beginning the COS process; and others are now moving on to see if an Operation Manna partnership will help them either start or grow a ministry in order to reach out into their community with the love of Christ!
No matter where your church/diaconate is in their journey, if you have any questions or need further guidance, we encourage you to get in touch with one of our Regional Ministry Developers and they’d love to speak with you! You can also check out our resources and tools online.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Unfortunately, most people do not spend time honing the skill of listening. We work on our time management skills, our leadership skills, our public speaking skills, etc., but who spends time practicing the art of listening? On top of that, we live in a crazy culture of uber busyness where we’d all like a couple more hours in the day to get everything done, which has not helped any of us become better listeners! Richard Carlson talked about this in his book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, which came out over ten years ago(!):
“We often treat communication as if it were a race. It’s almost like our goal is to have no time gaps between the conclusion of the sentence of the person we are speaking with and the beginning of our own. If you think about it, you’ll notice that it takes an enormous amount of energy and is very stressful to be sitting at the edge of your seat trying to guess what the person in front of you (or on the telephone) is going to say so that you can fire back your response.”
One of the greatest benefits to listening well to others is that we can take a break from constantly multi-tasking and focus on just one thing – and one person. When is the last time you focused on just ONE THING? How counter-cultural is that? How counter-human is that?! Carlson goes on to say, “…As you wait for the people you are communicating with to finish, as you simply listen more intently to what is being said, you’ll notice that the pressure you feel is off.” Think about that for a minute. To really stop and listen. No talking; just listening. What could be the potential of that? When someone feels heard and understood, and when you are actually listening to what they are saying, when the pressure to respond is off – you are able to build relationship with that person!
So! What are ways your diaconate actively listens to your community? How does your church take time to engage with the people in your neighbourhoods in order to get to know them? How do you, as deacons, take time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ?
Let’s look at all of these questions over the next couple of weeks!
Got Something to Say?
We wanna hear it! Email Erin today and share your stories of listening. Does your diaconate spend time learning about or practicing the art of listening? If so, how? How has listening to those in your church or community changed the way you do ministry? Where have you seen God at work in your church or city because you spent time listening to Him?
Deacons serve by leading and equipping the church to minister to its members and the world in a rich diversity of ministries, awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, and collaborating with God’s Spirit for the transformation of persons and communities. In imitation of Christ’s mercy, deacons teach us to love God, our neighbors, and the creation with acts of generous sharing, joyful hospitality, thoughtful care, and wise stewardship of all of God’s gifts. Deacons offer holistic responses that respect the dignity of all people, working to change exploitative structures and systems, equipping the church for ministries of reconciliation and peacemaking, and seeking opportunities for advocacy. To help them accomplish these tasks, deacons are to identify and develop gifts in both the church and community. By adding to all this words of encouragement and hope, deacons demonstrate in word and deed the care of the Lord himself.
If you’ve read the Form of Ordination for Elders & Deacons (2016), these words will be familiar. In a nutshell, this is what being a deacon is all about. So if we had to sum all of this up in one sentence, over here at DMC we would say:
DEACONS SERVE BY LISTENING.
Huh? ‘What?’ you say? That word doesn’t even appear in this paragraph, or anywhere in the Form of Ordination for that matter! Well, here’s what we mean by that. If we’re honest, many of us go through our day HEARING those around us, but not really LISTENING to them. Yes, there is a difference. Simply put:
• Hearingis an involuntary act of perceiving sound by the ear which, unless you are hearing-impaired, happens effortlessly;
• Listeningis something you consciously choose to do and it requires concentration. Listening normally leads to understanding.
So… we’ll say it again. Many of us go through our day HEARING those around us, but not really LISTENING to them. And hey, it’s hard! Our world is full of even more distraction and noise than ever before, making listening is a TON of work. It requires a lot of patience and concentration, among other things!
So what does this have to do with being a Deacon and why is it so important? Don’t the Elders do the listening and the Deacons do the DOING?
Here is why we believe LISTENING is vitally important in the work Deacons do (and for all of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus for that matter!):
1. Listening Builds Trust: It shows the other person they are appreciated and valued and that they matter. Let’s be honest; people LOVE to talk about themselves! And the more they talk, the more they’ll open up – about the things they love, the things they worry about, the things they fear. The longer they talk and you listen, the more they’ll share. The deeper they’ll go. Once this happens, a bond is formed. And for many, this is where healing can begin. “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.” (Rachel Naomi Remen)
2. Listening Brings About Mutual Respect and Understanding: When we listen properly and actively, it helps us see the world through another’s eyes. “One of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming that other people think the way we think.” (Author unknown) We must practice listening to understand, not to reply. Listen to learn and discover the story behind the message. Listening and taking time to ask follow-up questions can bring clarity and avoid quick judgments or harsh reactions. It’s been said that people need your kindness more than your opinion.
3. Listening Brings New Insights: If you allow it, any encounter can be a teaching moment. Every single person you meet can teach you something you didn’t already know before. And in a team atmosphere, gaining a better understanding of a problem or challenge can help you find better solutions! When listening, picking up on the non-verbal is just as important. The best leaders listen and observe what people AREN’T saying in order to really hear them.
One trap deacons (and other ministry leaders likely) can fall into is “We’re too BUSY to listen!” You’ve got things to do and little time to do it. Not many of us cannot afford the luxury of spending the time and energy to simply listen to those around us. We interrupt to wrap up a conversation or to cut a long story short when we’re in a rush or we think we have more important things to do. Trust me; I’ve done this with my chatty neighbour, Jim, more than once! I get it! BUT! What if instead of just DOING, DOING, DOING all the time, we aggressively seek out new and better ways to listen?? How would that change how we do ministry? How do we life!?
Learning to listen well won’t happen overnight. It requires discipline, effort, and intentionality. And while part of this may be creating margin to allow for deep listening, this doesn’t mean it’s another ‘activity’ to add to our already-full calendar: it’s simply the attitude and posture we take on when we communicate with those around us. As stated above, it’s a choice we can make as we go about our daily interactions. In order for deacons to do ministry effectively, inside AND outside the church walls, they must become better listeners. If deacons are all about “demonstrating in word and deed the care of the Lord himself,” (aka loving others), isn’t the first duty of love to listen? (Paul Tillick) “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) LISTEN MORE; TALK LESS. Pretty simple, right? Yet, too often our human nature takes over and we are slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. If we fail to listen, we fail to build trust, gain mutual respect and seek understanding, and our ministry will fall completely flat.
So this begs the question: Who, as Deacons, should you be listening to?
2. Each Other
3. Your Community
We’re sure this topic has already conjured up some questions. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll unpack each of these areas a bit more so we can learn together what it truly means to be better listeners as you go about your work of “awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, and collaborating with God’s Spirit for the transformation of persons and communities!” As we move through this month (and the months that follow!), let us never miss an opportunity to listen deeply and actively!