One of the greatest skills a pastor or leader can develop is to learn to listen well. We pay others a high compliment when we listen. We affirm others’ God-given value when we listen. We develop our own heart when we listen. The father of the field of listening, Ralph Nichols, captures the essence of listening in these words. The most basic of all human needs is the need to be understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them. Listening occurs at several levels. I describe four fundamental levels here.
As you read the four levels below, ask yourself at which level you usually listen.
Level 1-Listening TO…Internal Listening. At this level when we listen to others we mostly listen to our inner dialogue, thoughts, feelings, and what we plan to say once the other person has finished speaking. We focus on ourselves, our conclusions, our thoughts about the person/subject of conversation, and what the subject means to me. Unfortunately most listening happens at this level where it tends to be all about us.
Level 2-Listening FOR…Focused Listening. At this level we begin to authentically listen as we focus on what the other person is saying. We lock onto their dialogue and suppress our temptation to correct, give our opinion, give advice, or offer another perspective as soon as they finish. We become truly present and give the other person the gift of being understood.
Level 3-Listening WITH… Intuitive Listening. At this level we pay attention to what is not being said through these cues: inflection, pauses, changes in tone and energy, the eyes, and body language. We listen with our gut and allow intuition to speak to our soul.
Level 4-Listening to the Holy Spirit. This is the deepest level where we intersect what the person is saying/not saying with an openness to what the Spirit of God is saying to us. This level requires great discipline and focus, yet provides pastors and ministry leaders a way to become conduits of God’s grace to others.
After reading those levels, at which level do you usually listen? What tips have you discovered that help you listen at levels 2-4?
This year our church took over 55 to attend Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit at our local video venue in London, Ontario. As usual, I came away with many great leadership insights. In this post I summarize my top 6 learnings.
What I learned at this year’s Willow Creek Leadership Summit:
- The lens of leadership.
- Bill Hybels, senior pastor at Willow, taught the first session of the day. He’s always super. He used eyeglasses as word pictures to describe these 4 different lens of leadership:
- passion lens (self explanatory)
- shattered lens (an unhealthy view of leadership)
- performance lens (we have to get stuff done)
- legacy lens (what we will leave behind)
- The ‘passion’ lens insight stood out to me the most. He said that passion can be fueled by our dreams or even our defeats (lessons we learn about what does not work or lessons learned through failure). He also said that it’s our job to fill our passion bucket.
- This statement profoundly impacted me: There are no do overs in leadership but there are makeovers.
- Culture mapping.
- Erin Meyer, a professor at a university in France, and author of The Culture Map, gave a fascinating talk about her innovative research on how cultures differ in several ways. She has isolated eight different dimensions that any organization involved in cross-cultural work needs to understand.
- In her talk she unpacked the communication dimension which was amazing. Since our church has three different language expressions in three different congregations, I will definitely delve more into her insights.
- The one thing to get right: add value to people.
- John Maxwell spoke on this subject. I’ve heard John speak before and read many of his books. But it’s been a while since I’ve heard him. When he started speaking, I felt like a wise uncle was in my living room sharing sage advice with me. I had heard his theme of ‘add value’ to people before, but it was refreshing to hear it again.
- Several gems stood out.
- People have uphill hopes and downhill habits.
- A follower wants to know if his or her leader… likes me, wants to help me, and is trustworthy.
- Selfishness and significance are incompatible.
- Will I spend my life connecting with people or correcting people?
- The power of vision.
- In this session Jossy Chacko who leads a ministry that has a goal of planing 100,000 churches (they planted an average of 11 per day in 2015), challenged us about true vision. Here are some of his nuggets.
- Some people are vision poppers.
- A passionary leader is a passionate leader with great vision.
- Risk is a friend to love not an enemy to be feared.
- Real vision is hinged to the door of risk.
- View comfort and safety as enemies to vision.
- Don’t try to work out all the details of your vision before you do anything.
- See the heavenly possibilities instead of human limitations.
- Leadership capacity is proportional to your pain threshold.
- Some of the world’s greatest ideas lie in the grave (because some people were too afraid to pursue their vision).
- What to look for in a potential leader.
- Bonus insight.
- Wilfredo De Jesus (pastor of the largest Assembly of God Church in the U.S.) closed out the Summit with a powerful call for the Church to be the Church. Some of his standout quotes included these:
- A leader who stops learning, stops leading.
- No one drifts toward holiness.
- Evil has prevailed because good (the Church) has been absent.
- The Kingdom dream is to lose it all while the American dream is to have it all.
- A scared world needs a fearless church.
I’m glad I attended this year’s Summit. I plan to read several of the speakers’ books and our team will meet soon for a debrief/action plan session.
If you attended the Summit, I’d love to hear the insights that stood out to you?
I believe Jesus was the world’s greatest leader. I would call the Apostle Paul the world’s second greatest leader because he wrote much of the New Testament and because he spread Christianity into the the west through his missionary journeys. The book of Acts details much of those early missionary journeys. Acts 16 describes four traits that Christian leaders should emulate.
In chapter 16 Paul, Silas, Timothy, and later Luke visited some of the churches they had visited/founded before. Their journey included several roadblocks, a vision, a meeting with a wealthy business woman, an exorcism, flogging, jail (and a miraculous release from jail), and several conversions.
On this amazing journey, four crucial leadership behaviors stand out that a healthy Christian leader should build into his or her leadership.
A healthy Christian leader…
- …tries to make every encounter he or she has with others benefit the other person.
- Everywhere Paul went he made emotional, spiritual, and relational deposits into the lives of others. After people spent time with Paul, they were better people. Acts 15-16 describe Paul as strengthening the brothers, strengthening the churches, and encouraging people.
- Great leaders make positive deposits into the lives of others. I once heard someone say that there are three kinds of people: VIP’s, VNP’s, and VDP’s. VIP’s are very important people, the kind who make deposits in you. VNP’s are very nice people. They neither hurt not help you. VDP’s are very draining people. They feel like emotional vacuum cleaners that seem to suck the life out of you.
- Healthy Christian leaders are known as VIP’s.
- …balances his approach to discerning God’s will.
- As Paul began this missionary journey, we see four inputs that influenced how he discerned God’s will about the direction his journey should take. In much of life God gives us wide latitude with His will. But some weighty decisions require extra effort to discern it. That’s when multiple inputs can increase our confidence that we are making the right choice.
- Subjective inner witness. This is when we sense God’s leading in our heart, a peace, a pull, a feeling we get after praying. Some scholars believe that when this chapter described how the Holy Spirit kept Paul from going north or south, this refers to a subjective inner witness in Paul’s heart. Paul simply may have sensed in his heart not go north or go south.
- Circumstances: Another reason God closed these doors may have been Paul’s health. Since Luke, a doctor, joined them part way through, other scholars surmise that Paul’s health was the reason behind the closed doors. He physically could not make those trips. God will use circumstances, both closed doors and open doors to direct us to His will. Sometimes he says No and sometimes He says Go.
- Reflection: Paul certainly thought a lot about the closed and open doors he faced. God expects us to think clearly and use our minds to weigh options before us. God never intends Christians to check their brains at the door.
- Collaboration: This means that we invite wise people into our lives to help us weigh our options. Sometimes we simply need objectivity from another to help us discern God’s will. In Paul’s case he had Silas, Timothy, and Luke with whom to dialogue about which direction to go.
- …looks for opportunities to have spiritual conversations with others.
- When Paul would enter a city he’d first go to the synagogue to share the gospel. In the city of Philippi, however, none existed. But places of prayer where spiritual minded people gathered did. Paul sought out such a place. When he arrived, he met a woman named Lydia, a successful business woman. Through conversations with Paul, she became a Christian.
- Paul also lead two other people to faith on that same journey. He was always looking for opportunities to have spiritual conversations with others.
- …faces difficulty with grace.
- In one city Paul and Silas got thrown into jail after being beaten. Instead of whining about their condition, the Scripture says that that in the middle of the night they sang hymns to the Lord. Because they knew that God was still in charge, regardless of the outcome of their jailing, their hearts prompted them to sing, not your normal response to jail time. Paul knew how to respond to difficulty with grace.
So, Paul the leader models for us some behaviors and attitudes we too should build into our leadership lives. We never know who might be looking to us for an example of how to honor Christ in life and leadership.
What other qualities would you add to this list that leaders should build into their lives?
Several years ago I took a 13-week intensive class on how to coach through the Professional Christian Coaching Institute. One of my teachers, Anne Denmark, professionally coaches church leaders and trains speakers. As a highly credentialed and experienced coach she shares her insights on her blog. During one class she shared nine basic principles on adult learning. As I read them I realized that each could apply to a pastor’s sermon prep and delivery. I’ve listed them below.
Nine Basic Principles of Adult Learning
- Recency – what is most recently learned is best remembered.
- Active Learning – people learn best by “doing” through active involvement and participation. Confucious said, “I hear and I forget.I see and I remember. I do and I understand”
- Multi-Sensory – taking information in through all five senses increases learning.
- Primacy – what you learn first you learn best. Put the most important points first (the need to know first) and then put the least important ones last (the nice to know) last. Tell people your objectives up front.
- Two- Way Communication – ask questions often to keep learners alert and thinking.
- Feedback – check in to see if your listeners are understanding your material.
- Appropriate – people learn by attaching new information to something they already know.
- Motivate – give adults the reason the learning will benefit their life – their need to know. Make it practical enough that they will take it home and use it.
- Exercise – apply what you have learned as soon as possible. If you do not do this within 6 hours, 25% will be forgotten. If not applied within 24 hours, 67% will be forgotten. If not applied within 6 weeks, 90% will be forgotten.
How might these adult learning principles guide your sermon prep and preaching?
Would you add a tenth?
Change is inevitable. And unless a church creates healthy change in itself, it will soon become obsolete. Numerous empty or almost empty churches in Europe, America’s inner cities, and Canada bear witness to that. Ronald Heifetz, a Harvard professor and business/leadership author, is most known for a concept called adaptive change/leadership. Essentially adaptive change requires not cosmetic, familiar, or known solutions to existing problems (called technical change). Rather it requires experimentation, change of perspective, developing new values, and deep change from within. Here you can see the differences between adaptive change and technical change. In this brief post I share 3 keys to making change stick in your church.
In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Dr. Heifetz describes the three key steps British Airways took in the 1990’s that transformed it from the airline nicknamed “Bloody Awful” to “The World’s Favourite Airline.” The president at the time took the company through these three steps, applicable for churches facing change. I’ve added a question to ask yourself about each of these steps.
- They really listened to people inside and outside the organization.
- How well would those in your church say you listen?
- They saw conflict as clues, or symptoms of what needed deep change.
- What conflict currently in your church may indicate need for change?
- The leadership held up the mirror to themselves, recognizing that they embodied the changes that they needed to make in the company.
- What change do you think God is leading you to make in yourself?
As you lead your church through change, consider these three key steps and questions.
What keys have you discovered that have helped you bring healthy change?