The Art of Listening – Part 1

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19 | NIV

This month we’ve spent some time on looking at LISTENING. As deacons, I think you’ll agree that most of what you are required to do is LISTEN! You listen to God as He leads and directs your life and ministry; to your church members when you make visits; to each other as deacons when you gather together and do your work; to your church council and pastor as you aim to lead your church effectively and wholistically; and also to your surrounding community when you seek to love and serve your neighbours.

Experts will tell us that listening is the key to all effective communication. Listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. Without this ability, messages are easily misunderstood and communication will often break down between the sender and the receiver. Effective listening is a skill that fortifies all positive human relationships. Perhaps you have experienced this, for better OR worse, in your own life, in a relationship with someone. When one does not feel “heard”, they will easily become frustrated or irritated. Take a moment to watch this interaction between a man and a woman, entitled It’s Not About the Nail, before you read on.

While we can get a good chuckle from this, it does drive the point home, doesn’t it? So often when we are ‘listening’ to someone, we immediately want to help them solve their problem or help them make a situation right again. We are listening in order to RESPOND. But is that the end goal of listening? To have a response ready? To dole out some good advice? As deacons, this makes some sense, doesn’t it? We listen so we can respond, in love. What’s wrong with that?

Let’s first of all look together at what Listening actually is (and isn’t) before we move on.

The Art of Listening

After gathering various resources on listening, we have put together our own Top 10 Things to Know in Order to Listen Well. Take a look and see what you think. Perhaps there are others you’d like to add to this list!

  1. Listening Requires Patience and Concentration; We are easily distracted and our minds can tend to wander if we don’t put in the effort while we communicate. Finding or creating a suitable environment is necessary and will show the other person you are truly ready and willing to listen.
  2. Listening Requires Interest and Empathy; If you don’t care what people are saying, it’ll likely show. Taking an interest and going a step further by being empathetic (thinking about how it feels to be in the other person’s shoes) will lead to better understanding.
  3. Listen to Understand, not to Reply; As we become more empathetic, we will keep our judgments at bay and we’ll resist the temptation to simply give advice or help the person solve their problem. (Remember the nail?!) Asking good, clarifying questions will also help us understand better where the other person is coming from. Remember: The primary goal is to understand the other person, not to agree with them or solve their problem.
  4. Listening Requires Your Whole Body!;
    1. Your brain, for thinking and processing what you are hearing;
    2. Your eyes, to keep good eye contact and stay engaged;
    3. Your ears, of course!;
    4. Your mouth, for sharing when it’s your turn – to ask good questions or share an idea or insight;
    5. Your hands being kept still, so you aren’t fidgeting and making the other person nervous!;

Overall, your entire posture matters. Whether sitting or standing, try not to look like this guy! (see right)

  1. Listen to What People Don’t Say as Much as What They Do Say; It’s important that as we use OUR whole body to listen, we also take note of what the other person is communicating through body language. Do they look uncomfortable? Do they look timid? Overall: does their body/face match what they are saying?
  2. Listen as an Act of Encouragement; “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…” (1 Thess. 5:11). When someone feels heard, they are being built up and sometimes that’s all they needed in the first place! Let this be one of your motivations in listening.
  3. Listen as an Act of Kindness; While there are many ways to show someone how much you love them, one of the most precious ways is through the simple act of listening. Kindness breaks down barriers and allows people to begin to trust more and therefore, open up more.
  4. Listening Can Bring Healing; “People start to heal the moment they feel heard.” (Cheryl Robinson). For someone who has been hurt, simply being allowed to share their story in safe place and be heard and understood can begin healing. It doesn’t change or erase the past, but it can bring hope and comfort moving forward. To find out what we mean, read this article:
  5. Listening Takes Practice! Mastering the art of listening requires practice and must be a lifelong pursuit. Each person must surrender their own selfish nature and ego in order to become a better listener. While some will find it easier than others, this is no excuse to give up. In your daily practicing, you may also find it helpful to observe other people’s interactions to discover some do’s and don’ts of listening.
  6. Becoming a Better Listener will help you in EVERY SINGLE AREA of your life; Listening well will help you become a better friend, sibling, employee, spouse, parent, neighbour and most importantly, it will help you as deacons truly live as examples of Jesus Christ [taken from the Charge to Deacons, 2016]. “An understanding mind gets much learning, and the ear of the wise listens for much learning.” Proverbs 18:15 (NLV)

Listening Well to Each Other

Think for a moment how different your diaconal meetings would be if your entire team adhered to this Top 10 and devoted time to become better listeners? Imagine what would happen to your diaconate if everyone in the room felt safe, accepted, encouraged, loved, and felt that what they had to say was important? Picture how that would impact a new deacon coming on board?!

Listening is the most fundamental part of interpersonal communication skills. “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).

Listening Well to Your Church Members

The same goes for your congregation. No matter your church structure, most deacons are tasked with making visits amongst your church members. While the reasons may vary, most of the time you are there when things aren’t going well. So, like most of us, these visits can be a little SCARY! What will I say? What if I don’t have any solutions to their problems? What if they can see how nervous I am? What if they want me to PRAY with them?! What if they need something our church can’t help them with!? [Or insert your own fears here.] Too often we tell ourselves we must provide some form of advice or even a solution when called upon to make a visit. You may even see yourself fall into this type of situation.

Bart Plugboer, one of our amazing and long-time Diaconal Ministry Developer’s shared this story with us recently:

I was a deacon in my church here in Houston, BC. We, the deacons, have our own meetings but we also have a combined meeting with the elders. This story happened when I did my first deacon term. Church council was looking for a member to go and talk to a couple in our church that was having marriage problems. Nobody said anything and since I knew them I said I would go to them and talk to that couple. The Chair of Council said okay; I was to go there in the next couple of days. After the meeting, when I was doing my 20-minute drive home, I remember thinking to myself ‘WHAT HAVE I DONE?!! What am I going to say?!! How am I going to do this?!!’ I was really scared of messing up, so the next day when I went to see them, as I was driving there, I said to God, “Lord if you want me to do this you better come along because I don’t know what to say or do!” And the Lord heard my prayer and answered me! I went there and asked if I could talk to them and they did all the talking; all I did was listen! So on the way home I really thanked God for all his help!!

Bart has used this story many times when meeting with and training new deacons. He learned a valuable lesson that day: just be there and listen; do not talk – just listen. Most of the time this is all you need to do and God will help you and guide you.

According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there are many times when “listening can be a greater service than speaking.” Many times all we need to simply do is sit face-to-face with someone, uncross our arms, lean forward, make eye contact, and listen to their story. Whether working alongside fellow deacons or amongst the larger church body, or even beyond, remember this and never stop practicing the art of listening!

Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord. Proverbs 16:20

Some Points to Ponder:

  • How can listening build a better team environment? a healthier church environment?
  • How could listening break down walls and create a culture of openness and transparency in your diaconate? in your church?

Need Some Help?

As we referenced above, our DMD’s are armed and ready to help your diaconate master the art of listening, both inside and outside your church walls. Contact your area DMD today or email us if you don’t know who that is!

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