The Ministry of Listening

This week, I will listen.

The ministry of listening can be every bit as valuable as a ministry of “talking” … even more so — and not only for the one who gets listened to!

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, save me!”
The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.
For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

~ Psalm 116:1-9

The psalmist of the Scriptures urgently needed a conversation partner.

When he got in the deepest trouble, he wanted more than anything else for someone to hear him.

Hear my voice in accordance with your love,” he pleaded in Psalm 119:149; “preserve my life, O Lord….”

A God who wouldn’t listen wouldn’t do him any good.

Over time, God’s willingness to listen defined the psalmist’s relationship with him.

“I love the Lord,” he sang in Psalm 116:1,2, “for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”

In our work as Christian leaders, we tend to equate ministry with talking — teaching — telling. We tend to lose touch with a quality of God that is deeply longed for by most of the people to whom we have been called to minister. We have a God who listens. People want to be heard.

Even among our fellow-workers — those with whom we serve, day by day — we tend not to listen. I may rush in the door at the beginning of the day with an important agenda; the idea of pausing to hear the heart of another person, to give them an opportunity to express their own agenda, may be completely off my radar screen. We say we serve together “in Christian love,” but authentic love isn’t a gooey feeling; it’s action — it’s practical. Sometimes love needs to be expressed in listening … a ministry of silence, of hearing, and of responding to what we hear. As I learn to listen, I’m learning to love — and this matures me.

I also need to listen to those who share in my ministry as volunteers or donors. These are people called by God to serve alongside me, often invisibly. The harsh fact is that they could just as easily be at home baking bread, or investing in some other charity, or taking a well-deserved nap; yet they have responded to the voice of God and agreed to give of themselves to our ministry. Do I listen when they speak? Do I invite them to speak? Perhaps this is the week to initiate some new opportunity for feedback: a phone call, a note in the mail, a questionnaire? In the Internet Age, a survey page on the ministry website can give a real sense of involvement and value to a friend or partner. Invite people to share needs that you can pray with them about; ask them to share how the ministry has touched their lives; open yourself up to their observations and advice. Love and listening go hand in hand.

My Prayer for the Next Seven Days…  Lord, teach me to be quiet. Let me see my fellow-workers and those who support this ministry as people of high value, as your creation. Remind me to listen when they speak. Remind me to ask for their input. Let my ministry become more of a two-way street this week than it’s ever been before.Amen.

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About Gary Coiro

Nonprofit & Church Leader Nonprofit Leader and Consultant since 2004, following 15 years as a pastor. Competencies include board development, fundraising, staff development and management, strategic planning, church work, Bible teaching, and capital campaigns. Currently consulting and serving on the Church Ministries Management Team for a large multi-cultural evangelical church.
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