I like to talk. I like to teach and preach. It is what God called me to do and enabled me to do. In fact, preaching and teaching are what I enjoy most about ministry. My guess is that many if not most pastors and preachers feel something similar.
In fact, we’ve been trained and taught to study, prepare, and develop sermons and lessons that we will communicate. But it is not talking alone that we must do as pastors and preachers. We must learn to listen.
Richard Baxter challenged pastors to know and heed the flock that God placed under their charge:
It is, you see, all the flock, or every individual member of our charge. To this end it is necessary, that we should know every person that belongeth to our charge; for how can we take heed to them, if we do not know them? We must labor to be acquainted, not only with the persons, but with the state of all our people, with their inclinations and conversations; what are the sins of which they are most in danger, and what duties they are most apt to neglect, and what temptations they are most liable to; for if we know not their temperament or disease, we are not likely to prove successful physicians.
Baxter admonished us to know and care for those in our congregations. In today’s culture of social media and instant communication it is possible to know the people in our churches more and less at the same time. We can find out almost anything people are willing to publish about themselves. But that is not Baxter’s emphasis. Nor is it our main task when it comes to the individuals who make up our congregations.
As best as we are able, we are to really know people—their spiritual state, their struggles, their needs, and their temptations. Following are 6 considerations regarding listening and the pastor.
- Listening to others takes time. Time management is vital for any pastor. We can’t always prepare for the times we will need to pause to take time for someone, but we need to build into our schedules time for others. I know that every church has people who are time consumers. But for every one of them, there are ten more who will at some point need an ear and biblical counsel. No, we can’t hope to listen to every hurting person, but if we can’t make time to listen to some, then we are seriously short-changing our ministries.
- Listening to others forces us to be patient. I like to fix things. One of the first marriage lessons I learned was that when listening to my wife, she wasn’t always looking for me to fix it, she wanted me to hear her. Yes, when people come to us for counsel, we should give them biblical advice and speak the truth with love. But really listening to others and hearing the depth of their hurt, difficulty or situation reminds us that God alone is the Great Physician and pointing people to him requires patient guidance and encouragement.
- Listening to others motivates our prayer lives. Listening to the circumstances of the flock God has given me charge of has motivated my prayer life with specific requests. Knowing that God alone can overcome the challenges people face is a faith-building exercise.
- Listening to others provides connections from real life in our preaching. I don’t believe we should break confidences by telling stories from our conversations with people. However, really listening to congregants will let you know if your preaching is affecting them. It will also provide concrete situations and connections to bring sermon application to life.
- Listening to others enables us to lead. John Maxwell deserves credit for this one. He recommended this process—listen, learn, link, lead. He’s right. If we really want to lead people, we have to know them—their fears, struggles, concerns, challenges, successes, strengths, and gifts. We get to know them by listening. When we as pastors make the time to listen and learn our congregation, we’ll develop insights that will greatly aid our leadership.
- Listening to others inspires a disciple–making focus. I’m not enough. There’s no possible way I can be the lone counselor, leader, encourager, and friend to the members of my congregation. Listening to people and their stories can be overwhelming until we remember that’s why God gave us a congregation of people. We engage in discipleship by pouring into and training others to love, listen, teach and lead. Making disciples is the only way we can genuinely minister to the needs of those in our congregation.
Are there other benefits to being a listening pastor you’ve discovered? Feel free to share them in the comments.
 Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, reprint 2001 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust), 90.
Featured image credit, edited for size.