Listening, if done well, should be the most exhausting act we engage in as people who disciple others.
This is what we teach as we train pastors, ministry leaders, and missionaries through Serge’s discipleship training program, Discipleship Lab. Every few weeks as I facilitate a discussion on active listening, I find myself desperately in need of Jesus.
I sit in front of a computer screen and see a 4×4 mosaic of faces that looks like the opening credits for the Brady Bunch.
One corner of the screen bears the face of a doctor who is training medical students in Burundi. Diagonally across from her is a church planter in Indianapolis. In the center of the screen is a missionary building relationships among university students in Spain.
The far corners of the earth are all represented, along with drastically different lines of work. Yet they are all gathered to grow as shepherds of the sheep.
As we talk about the art of active listening, we look together at a list of “Common Roadblocks to Listening Well.” Cohort members identify which roadblocks trip them up most often. The list includes: fear of silence, environmental distractions, boredom, and stories that might trigger something in the listener (i.e. the listener’s own emotional response to what she/he hears).
Each time I ask a group to talk about roadblocks to listening well, I find myself ironically not listening.
Instead, my mind wanders through the list of roadblocks, feeling overwhelmed. How in the world, with the noise inside our hearts and the mess of a fallen world, are we supposed to actually, selflessly be present with those sharing their struggles with us?
I begin thinking of my most common barrier to listening to those I disciple or mentor: my preoccupation with my own reputation.
So often when I disciple, I’m more concerned about what I’m going to say next than what the person is actually sharing with me. While they give me the “fine china of their lives,” my mind is set on figuring out how to craft the perfect follow-up question. I want to engage well with the person, but, when I’m being honest, I also want to preserve my imagined reputation as a great discipler.
Why is it so hard to simply listen?
As I disciple and mentor others in discipleship, I’m so often pushed to this place of feeling overwhelmed.
I feel overwhelmed with my own incompetencies, and with a heart that’s bent on my own glory. In the midst of the whelming flood, I’m met with this fact: that in discipling others in the gospel, my own heart is so quick to forget the promises of God. I forget that Jesus actually sends His Spirit to change hearts so that I don’t have to. I forget that I actually minister alongside Him. I forget that His blood stands in for me so that my discipling reputation (or even my reputation as a listener!) doesn’t need to.
The Good News
That’s the good news for my friends on the screen who minister in the far corners of the world. The gospel we take to others is for us, too.
And sometimes it’s our poor listening skills that drive our forgetful hearts to remember that our need for the gospel is like our need for daily food and drink.
We help people build many practical skills in Discipleship Lab. My hope—for those whom we train and for me—is that the end result is an ever-deepening dependence on the perfect Listener, the One who in the midst of—and even through—our weaknesses, “always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” (2 Corinthians 2:14).
Do you want to grow in mentoring or discipling others?
Discipleship Lab is an online discipleship training program that brings together all of the best practices Serge has gleaned through more than 25 years of helping people experience gospel transformation in their lives. It’s created to equip both formal church leaders and lay leaders to make disciples who make more disciples.
Find out more at www.serge.org/discipleship-lab