A Lesson on Listening: An Introduction
This summer, our church focused on Jesus’ parables—those allusive and, at times, elusive stories that always seem to pack a punch. With an economy of words, the brevity of Jesus’ teachings must always be unpacked, digested, and pondered. Without careful, contextual considerations, a cursory reading of a parable can only scratch the surface of the meaning of the parable, and the fullness of Jesus’ conveyed truths can easily be mistaken, misinterpreted, or flat out missed all together.
From the moment we started the series, I was reminded of the phrase Jesus frequently attached to his parables, and the sermon from our Lead Pastor Brady Herbert last week closed the series and put another bookend to my ruminations over that repeated phrase:
All who have ears to hear, let them listen.
You could be cooking dinner with someone in the kitchen of your house while the local news is playing on the television in the adjacent living room, and you reach over to grab your phone when you hear it ring, all the while the other person in the room with you is telling you about their day. You might have heard the story, heard your phone, and heard the weather report on the television, but that doesn’t mean you were listening. Amen?
I delineate between hearing and listening.
I don’t see it as being a matter of listening or listening well because in my opinion, to listen means to hear, process, and respond obediently. If you can’t do that well, you might as well not do it at all. Unfortunately most people quickly take that to heart too often and don’t listen at all when they could instead try to improve their listening and develop pastoral care skills.
Hey, I’m not a pastor. I don’t need to learn how to listen.
If you’re a follower of Christ, follow Christ in listening for the voice of God and the needs of others. No matter what official job position you may hold, your faith commitment to follow Jesus will lead you into opportunities when you might need to exercise “eyes to see” and “ears to hear.”
The roles in ministry are a lot like an elementary-age activity in the attic of Grandmother’s house. You venture upstairs to the cedar chest, tucked away in the corner of cobwebs, and open it up to find a treasure trove of headwear and scarves of various colors. Placing a herringbone fedora on your head then replacing it with a straw cowboy hat, you can go from one character to the next in a split second. Each and every minister (paid professionals AND professing believers from the congregation) will be tossed into various roles in which he/she must know which hat to wear in the moment.
At times, the pastor needs to be the teacher –
“Sheep move as flocks.”
At times, the pastor needs to be the prophet –
“Sheep ought to move when there is impending danger.”
At times, the pastor needs to be the leader –
But sometimes, the pastor needs to be the priest –
“What moves you, sheep?”
Unlike the dress up games in the attic, the roles of a minister are not up for pretending but rather require authenticity. Pastoral care comes more naturally to some, but nonetheless, it is a craft that can be developed further with a bit of intentional effort.
A contingency of the relationship between sheep and shepherd is for the flock to be familiar with the voice of the one shepherding. Similarly, the shepherd must know the voice of the flock, and in order to know the flock, the shepherd/pastor must listen.
How do I learn to listen?
You can learn to listen through understanding four elements:
- When to shut up
- What to hear
- How to show value
- Why it matters
I’ll share more about these four elements over the next four days.
 Mark 4:9 (The Voice) among other occurrences.
 The Hebrew word shema—frequently translated as “to hear”—indicates a more comprehensive action of “hearing and responding appropriately.”
 The imagery of sheep and shepherds isn’t as deeply connected to current culture as it was to ancient near eastern society, but it’s a helpful illustration provided in Scripture. For a brief description of the biblical model for church pastors to serve as shepherds, check out this brief video.