A Lesson on Listening (#2 – What to Hear)

For a minister (paid professionals and confessing believers from the congregation), there are occasions when pastoral care is a craft to learn and to be used in your relational conversations, and becoming a better listener makes your care all the more meaningful.

You can learn to listen through understanding four elements:

  1. When to shut up 
  2. What to hear
  3. How to show value
  4. Why it matters



The loudest parts of a pastoral conversation can often times be the things that are not verbalized. Unless someone is intentionally coming to you to pour out their guts, they’re not likely to pour out their guts. But sometimes individuals will schedule a meeting with you as a cry for help, and they are waiting for you to bless them.

Bless them with quality time…
bless them with pardon…
bless them with ears that listen.

What are you listening for during these conversations? Listening for details? Yes, but you’re listening for their perspective, too. Here’s one tip for how to do this:

Ask questions without adding new words to the conversation. 

“My dad passed away recently, and it’s made me think a lot on what I believe about God.”                                                             
“About God?”

“Yes, specifically about how God could allow suffering. I mean, it’s just hard to understand why my dad had to die.”
“It’s hard to understand, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. I mean, if God loves me, then why would He let this happen and leave me here to be angry with Him?”
“You’re angry with God, aren’t you?”

Repeat what has already been said and add a question mark. It doesn’t always follow course so cleanly like the conversation above, and that’s okay; in fact, forcing the issue could make the conversation awkward.[1]

By hearing the words shared (as well as the words that are NOT shared), you can better listen to their perspective.[2] When you are less concerned about how YOU will respond—brainstorming your next question while they are still talking—then you can pay more attention to hearing what they are saying, perhaps not just with their words but with their body language.

Is their physical response matching their emotional response?
Are they inserting humor and laughing to cover up painful emotions?
Do they divert their eyes or hang their head each time a particular person or event is mentioned?

If their body language can communicate to you, then what is your body language communicating to them?
Are you making eye contact?
Are your arms open or crossed?
Is your demeanor warm and receptive or cold and reserved?

These non-verbal cues lead into the next element of learning how to be an active listening, which we will continue to discuss with tomorrow’s post.


[1] Try this with your spouse the next time you’re in an argument, but don’t force an unnatural dialogue—let’s just say “a friend” once told me that spouses don’t like for you to “play pastor” to them. How might this reflective listening skill be helpful in facilitating discussion in your Life Group and achieving greater depth to your conversations?

[2] What does this mean for our study of Scripture? We could improve the way we hear the voice of God by reading what was written, who was speaking, and what was left unsaid. For further study on literary characteristics of the Bible, I highly recommend Robert Alter’s Art of Biblical Narrative.


Husband. Father. Reader and Writer. Disc Golf Enthusiast. Missions & Growth.

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