GUEST POST from Jason Helopoulos
Let me begin with three disclaimers. First, I am a pastor (so I am speaking to myself). Second, I am a Presbyterian pastor (which means I spend a lot of time with other pastors whether I want to or not—and usually I do). Third, I love the men I serve alongside of in the pastorate (these are truly men to be held in double honor). So the critique I am about to offer comes from one who knows and spends a lot of time with other pastors and loves them.
It seems to me that there is a glaring fault in many, if not most pastors: they are horrible listeners. I find that pastors are some of the worst listeners I have ever been around. I know that this could only be my experience, but I truly doubt it. Now don’t misunderstand me, this is not true of all pastors, but I find that it is true of many. And it grieves me.
It seems to me that pastors tend to be poor listeners for a few reasons: they are usually assertive people and have trouble slowing down, have honestly heard many of the same things multiple times (counseling situations, theological questions, etc.) thus they feel like they “know” where the conversation is headed, they are multi-taskers who tend to think they can listen and think about other things at the same time, and they are used to talking/preaching with others listening to them!
If there are men who should be good at listening, it should be pastors. How can we truly minister to the sheep of Christ unless we know them? And how do we know them unless we listen to them? Here are a few friendly suggestions to aid pastors in giving a better listening ear:
- Sermons are for the pulpit—Leave sermons in the pulpit and enter into dialogue with your people. Dialogue requires talking and listening. Taking breaths in conversation is a good thing. It allows the other person to talk!
- Remember that the person before you is the person you are to be ministering to—seize this moment instead of thinking about talking to the person “over there.”
- Be teachable—we may be called to teach, but that does not mean that we can’t be taught ourselves.
- Show honor to all—the five year old or the mentally disabled person begging for your attention and conversation after the worship service is just as important as the District Attorney and his wife who are walking by.
- Silence is golden—Silence in conversation is fine. The tension is not a bad thing. It often helps bring the true issue to the surface. Don’t fill the space.
- Maintain eye contact—most pastors are multitaskers and are busy looking around. Stop!
- Ask questions—avoid jumping to conclusions and giving your stock answer. Ask clarifying question after clarifying question.
- Don’t always feel the need to lead—Many pastors are busy leading all the time and so every conversation they enter into is dominated by them. Allow others to lead the conversation. You will surprised at what others want to talk about.
- Don’t be “super-spiritual”—Every conversation does not have to end with a discourse on the atonement. Nor does every conversation need to be a demonstration forum of your Bible knowledge.
- Think through questions—On your way to a meeting with someone, make a mental list of questions to ask them. And then ask the questions and listen.
- Care tenderly—Always remember that these are Christ’s sheep. They are his and we are to lead them with a loving-tender care. And surely that must mean listening to them.
Most pastors I know love the Lord and love the people under their care. However, often our people doubt it because they don’t sense it. And they often don’t sense it, because we don’t listen.
I have found listening to God’s people to be one of the most enjoyable exercises in life. It is a true blessing to hear how God is working and has worked in the lives of individuals. What stories God has given each person! What passions each individual has! And what sorrows, discouragements, and fears are in every being I have ever met! Each of these cries out for a listening ear. And what benefit there is in the Kingdom when pastors not only teach and preach and talk, but listen to their people. This will only provide greater knowledge and wisdom for your current and future ministry to this person. And who knows…maybe you will even be ministered to by listening to them.