by Joel Comiskey
When you think of famous Christian leaders with incredible influence, who are those who come to mind? You might name:
- David Cho
- Joyce Meyer
- Reinhard Bonnke
Of course, your list will include other names, depending on your background, location, and values. But why do we look up to such people? A key reason is because you’ve heard them speak or know about their speaking ability. Great content matters but communication is critical. These leaders have a way with words, and we respect them for it.
Learning how to speak is a priority in universities and seminars. Homiletics or public speaking is a core course. I’ve taken many of them.
But I don’t remember a course on active listening. In fact, we don’t immediately equate greatness with listening.
But listening is a priority in Scripture. The word listen in the Bible occurs 352 times, and the word hear is found 379 times. Jesus said, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen” (Luke 8:18). James tells us, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19). Proverbs 18:13: “He who answers before listening-that is his folly and his shame.”
Pastors and leaders often struggle with listening. After all, pastors are paid talkers. Week after week they speak. They prepare to preach on Sunday, teach during the week, speak at weddings, funerals, and so forth.
Listening is usually not the priority, and the listening muscle can atrophy, growing weaker and weaker. My wife and I were taking to a pastoral couple, but he talked most of the time. I had to proactively jump into the conversation to participate. I encouraged my wife to share her journey, but the pastor jumped in again and again, sharing personal stories. “Typical,” I thought.
Small group coaches can also fall into this trap of speaking rather than listening. Cell leaders can follow this poor example and do more talking than listening in the group. But listening is the key to leader effectiveness. Effective small group leaders should only talk 30% of the time and get others to speak 70%. How are you doing in this area?
People have needs and long to be heard. The best cell leaders are listeners and the best coaches guide through listening. And the best pastors know when to stop talking and to hear what people have to say.