There is a minister I know who does something I believe is very unique. When he sees a homeless person, he doesn’t just offer them food. He sits down and asks them their story. He listens as they share whatever they want to share with him about their past, their problems, their worries and more. He has a better chance of making a lasting impact on the life of that person than a program that interacts with that same person every day for a year. Why? Because Matt takes the time to really listen to what the person needs to say.
There are very few good listeners alive today. In fact, I believe the entire industry of counseling is built in part by people willing to pay someone to just listen to them. If we want our children to be effective in serving others and sharing their faith, they have to be good listeners. Talking and doing have their place in ministry, but it is listening that can change the world.
I don’t think it is a mistake that arguably the two most practical books in the Bible-Proverbs and James – both counsel active listening and being slow to speak. You have probably read articles about why listening skills are important for your children to do well in school or in their future jobs. What you may not know is why it is so important for Christians to be good listeners. If you truly want to dedicate your children to God, listening skills are one of the most important skill sets you can give them. Here’s why:
- Service is a way of introducing people to God. Often, we totally undermine any benefits our service may have. We swoop into an area or descend on a person with “obvious” needs. After assessing the situation from our viewpoint, we proceed to confirm with the person what we think they need. (“You want some food don’t you.” Note there is no question mark, because it isn’t really a question.) If we had taken the time to really listen, we may have met the needs of the person much better. Often, we can’t see much of what is going on behind the scenes. We don’t know what has happened in the past or what happens when people like us leave. We don’t know the person’s hopes and dreams. Only by teaching our children to really listen can they truly reflect God’s love to the people they attempt to serve and serve them how they really need to be served.
- People need us to listen in order to feel loved. Have you ever been really excited about something only to have no one seemed interested in hearing about it? It’s not only disappointing, but it makes you feel unloved and unvalued on some level. It’s even worse if it happens when we are upset or worried. One of our privileges as Christians is to reflect God’s love to everyone around us. Our children need to be able to really listen to everyone they encounter. They need to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. When they can do that, they are more accurately reflecting God’s love to everyone they meet.
- Our children need to listen well before sharing their faith. Somehow evangelism has become a scenario where a Christian walks into a person’s life and starts preaching without knowing anything about the person. The Apostles were great at personalizing the Gospel as much as possible. Paul on Mars Hill is an excellent example. He learned what was important to the people and used it to segue into teaching them about Jesus. Our children need to learn to ask questions before they start teaching very much about God and Jesus. Only then do they know if the person has specific questions or doubts. Perhaps they had a bad experience that made them blame God instead of the people who hurt them. Our children will be able to reach people with the good news of Christ much easier when they have listened to them. Any teacher will tell you the preferred way to teach is to really know your students well. It gives you insights that help you be more effective. Perhaps the best way to get to know someone well is to really listen to them. Once we know where they are spiritually, we can share our faith more effectively.
- Perhaps most importantly, our children need to learn how to listen to God. They need to understand how eternally important it is for them to hear the heart of the message in the Bible as well as the words. They need to be able to hear God when He answers their prayers or gives them guidance. That is a particularly advanced listening skill, because God doesn’t speak directly to us like He once did. Your child can learn how to listen to God, though and hear Him accurately.
Listening skills are helpful in the secular world, but absolutely essential for Christians. Once we learn to really listen to others, we may be surprised what God does through us and our children. In my next post, I will give you some fun ideas for developing active listening skills in your family.