the weblog of Alan Knox

The Discipline of Listening

Posted by on Mar 23, 2010 in discipleship | 4 comments

News flash: I like to talk.

It’s true. I know that it’s probably hard to believe from reading my blog, but I do like to talk. And, from my perspective, I usually have something beneficial to say.

But, I’m learning an important lesson about listening. I’m learning that it really is important to listen to others. Yes, I know that James wrote, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” (James 1:19). But, I always figured that James didn’t mean those of us who are leaders and who are well-studied and well-prepared and who had something important to say.

I always thought that for people like me, James would tell us to go ahead and talk. I mean, I would never say that out loud… that might hurt someone else’s feelings. But, apparently I really thought that James didn’t mean for me to be slow to speak, because that’s the way I acted. I also acted as if it were okay for me to speak whenever I wanted to.

But, I’m learning that James really did mean for “every person” to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Yes, he really did mean me, and other leaders, and even preachers.

How can I be quick to listen and slow to speak? Well, it’s easier for me in my situation, especially at times when the church is meeting. Because, even though I’m a leader in the church, the church does not depend upon my speaking/teaching/preaching. The church has learned that all believers are responsible for speaking in ways that edify one another.

So, when the church meets, being quick to listen for me means to wait before I speak. It means that even if I have something important to say, I should be “quick to hear and slow to speak.” It means disciplining myself to allow others to speak first.

This is an important lesson that God is teaching me. Last Sunday, I still spoke a few times, but I spoke much less often than I would normally speak. And, I noticed something, I was more tuned in to what other people were saying. And, guess what? They had very important things to say too… things that I needed to hear.

But, as I’ve been thinking about the “discipline of listening”, I wonder what other leaders do… those leaders who don’t have a choice but  are required to speak every Sunday (or even assume they are supposed to speak every time the church meets). What about situations where others are not allowed to speak? How do these leaders exercise the discipline of listening?


4 Comments

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  1. 3-23-2010

    No Comment, just listening. :) Thanks Alan, I needed this.

  2. 3-23-2010

    Many years ago I was on the vestry of the Episcopal church we had joined, serving as secretary the entire time, becoming known for keeping very detailed minutes. A friend asked me why I kept volunteering for the job; I told him that taking notes helped me keep my mouth shut, and I meant it.

    Things I discovered as I quietly took my notes:
    Most of the things I thought were important to say usually got said by someone else
    Most of the rest turned out to be not so important
    While listening to the discussion I occasionally heard things that were much more important than anything I had to say
    Very occasionally as the discussion wound down I found myself with something that hadn’t been said but needed saying
    Because I tended not to speak up until the very end, people were not tired of my voice and would pay more than normal attention to what I said
    Because of all the above, I was often able to say what needed to be said at the moment—rather than what I wanted to say—and could thereby break a deadlock or defuse tension over a difficult matter

    This week I have been studying advice from experts on how to effectively establish relationships at professional conferences. Most of the advice boils down to “Stop talking, start listening.”

  3. 3-23-2010

    Sorry about the bad formatting in the previous comment. The crowded-together sentences in the middle are supposed to be a list of bullet points.

  4. 3-23-2010

    Hutch,

    Me too… or trying, anyway.

    Rick,

    Great thoughts. Thank you.

    -Alan