Before continuing this series let me say a word about context. Clearly not all social interaction is the same – sometimes we are just ‘passing the time of day’ together, at others we are in deep discussion looking for a consensus view. Also, there are counselling and negotiating contexts. Each requires different skills which are too specific to open up here. I am merely trying to give some general guidelines that apply in many contexts.
So far we have seen that a good listener honours the speaker. We have also touched on some of the hindrances to good listening. Let’s now look at some of the ways in which we can listen.
‘Listen with your ears’? What a stupid statement! How else am I supposed to listen? That’s what ears are for! In due course I will try to help you to learn how to listen with your eyes and with your mouth, but for now we will concentrate on what we hear.
What are you really saying?
I am sure we have all been in conversations when we are not convinced that the words being said are revealing the true essence of what is on the speaker’s heart. Sometimes we have to ‘read between the lines’ of what is being said and guess at what lies underneath. A classic example of this is in the greeting ‘How are you?’ ‘I’m fine!’ Yet, looking at the person you can see that he or she is anything but ‘fine’. So, do you leave it with that answer or risk saying ‘No, how are you really?’, knowing that that may open up a tale of woes?
But if you really care and honour the speaker that is exactly what you should be doing. He may be longing for someone to listen to him.
Recently, as I was going into a local supermarket I spotted someone sitting on the pavement (sidewalk) with his dog – clearly someone who was homeless. In the supermarket I bought a hot drink and some food, and returned to him. When I asked him how he was doing he did not, at first, want to self-disclose; but he was genuinely grateful for the sustenance I brought to him. As I knelt on the pavement beside him (it is important to be at eye level with someone or you can appear to be ‘lording it over them’) and asked a few more questions his story came tumbling out – redundancy, broken marriage, sleeping in a tent to avoid being in a hostel with alcoholics etc. By taking time I was able to get ‘under the surface’ of his initial response.
Often time is what people want from you, not good counsel or trite quotes from the Bible. Someone who is a good listener makes it clear that they are there for you, available for as long as it takes to really hear what you are saying. They are not constantly looking at their watch trying to find a way to end the conversation. Clearly there are practicalities of life that can intrude on this availability – but you get the message!
In the instance above I referred to kneeling down to be able to look someone in the eye without giving the impression of being superior. Next time I will share the importance of listening with our eyes.
Simon Pettit was a good friend because he cared about those he was with; he was not always trying to impose his own agenda. Let’s consider this a bit further.
Have you noticed how, when meeting someone for the first time, they often spend the whole meeting telling you about themselves? They may never ask you one question to learn something about you. They can appear totally self-absorbed and self-centred. They seem to count themselves more significant than others.
Or, again, if you are speaking to someone do you ever feel their attention is not really with you? Their eyes may be wandering, looking over your shoulder to see what is going on behind you. Or that fixed, glazed, slightly staring look which tells you their mind is somewhere else.
Writing to the Philippians Paul exhorts his readers (and us) to humbly count others as more significant than ourselves. We are to ‘look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others’ (Phil 2:4). To respond positively to this exhortation we must set the example to others and be prepared to listen with focussed attention on the speaker. This may take conscious effort at first but it is a skill well worth developing.
Who would you prefer to have as a friend? Someone who is very self-centred, or someone like Simon?
Why are people so self centred? Those who talk a lot may do so for a variety of reasons: Self-centredness? Arrogance? These may sometimes be true but I believe that for many there is a deeper reason – insecurity. To listen to someone else’s views requires a vulnerability that your views may be challenged. So, if I talk about myself or my views I am keeping a protective zone around me, stopping someone else getting too close.
This series is about listening so I won’t dwell on this, but if you are someone who feels insecure let me point you to an acronym that Rick Warren uses – SPEAK. He suggests it is a good way to open up a conversation.
- Story. Ask people to tell you their story
- Passion. “What is it that really interests you, that you feel passionate about?”
- Encouragement. Encourage them in something to do with their passion
- Assist. “What can I do to help you?”
- Know. “What do I know/you know that we can share and help each other?”
This should not be seen as a rigid formula but as an internal checklist when you are with someone.
Personally I am always fascinated about other people’s stories and so ask many questions. People are so interesting! But beware: in this approach there can be a pitfall. I remember talking to someone who was homeless and asked him several questions about himself. After a short time he challenged me: ‘Are you from the police or something?’ I was dismayed. My attempt at being friendly had been interpreted in exactly the reverse way. So be cautious about how you ask questions!
Next time we shall begin to look at some of the ways in which we can listen – with our ears, with our eyes and with our mouths.
Honouring one another
Simon Pettit, well known to many in the Newfrontiers family, died in 2005. He was a good friend and there are hundreds who felt the same about him as I did. How could it be that he had such a wide group of genuine, deep friends? I believe it is because of his real love for people and an exceptional ability to focus his attention on you. When you were with him no-one else mattered. He was deeply interested in you, your family and the things that were taking your attention in life. As such he was also a wise advisor or counsellor. In short, he had an exceptional ability to really listen.
The grief that followed his death lasted, for me, for many months, and I know I was not alone. How much longer must this have lasted for his lovely family.
Self-centred or you-centred?
As I have been listening to recent political debates from UK, around the referendum which resulted in Brexit, or from the USA, around the presidential election, I have been reminded of Simon. What a huge contrast I have observed between him and those politicians and commentators. In general they have shown no interest in the other person as such. They leave no room for allowing the other person to shape their thinking. Frequently they talk over one another, or fail to answer a question since they are determined to promote their own agenda. They are very self-centred. They just do not listen!
Hearing or Listening?
There are times when the two words ‘Hearing’ and ‘Listening’ are used almost interchangeably. However, I prefer to think of hearing as being primarily about physics, the interaction of sound waves on the eardrum and associated auditory mechanisms, whereas listening is about hearing with understanding and the intention to respond. As my dictionary defines it, ‘listen = hear with intention’. Simon certainly did that; he heard what you said with the intention of really getting to know you better and empathising with you.
Jesus had some thoughts…
In Luke’s gospel (Luke 8:8) Jesus teaches about the kingdom using a parable about sowing. He is keen for his hearers to grasp the message: ‘he who has ears to hear let him hear’. In other words, ‘if you have the ability to hear, pay attention and listen carefully with understanding’. In verse 10 (Luke 8:10) he makes it clear there is an alternative way of hearing, stating that many hear yet do not understand. But in v15 (Luke 8:15) he commends those who hear the word, hold it fast and ‘bear fruit with patience’.
Finally, in v18 (Luke 8:18) he warns ‘be careful how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away’. A sober warning!
A good listener is someone who honours the speaker by giving their full attention. Over the next few weeks I want to try to help you develop your listening skills so that one day others may be able to speak of you as I have spoken of Simon. But change takes time and self-discipline. Are you willing to come on this journey with me?
Does your church minister in isolation with those who are poor or in need, or does it work/network/partner with local agencies and stakeholders?
There was a time in the UK when churches were viewed with suspicion by local authorities. I am sure that is still the case in some areas. But with financial cutbacks, and changes in government policy and practice, faith-based programmes to help poor and needy people are now looked on more favourably. Foodbanks (eg Trussell Trust) abound, as do activities such as Street Pastors, Nightshelters (eg Church and Community Night Shelter Network), soup kitchens to help people who are sleeping rough etc.
Also, ‘Not Invented Here’ would formerly have stopped churches carrying out ministries. There was once a desire for recognition of an activity as being ‘our ministry’. If other churches were carrying out a particular ministry in the area there was little desire to become involved. No longer!
I am encouraged to see churches increasingly working together for the sake of the community. There is also a willingness to work with secular authorities. Long may these trends continue.
There are many benefits of this approach:
- Learning and sharing ‘good practice
- A more holistic/integrated approach when helping people in need as it becomes easier to ‘signpost’ them to other services
- Building a favourable reputation in the city which honours the Lord
How to do it
With these changes comes the need to learn ‘good practice’ from others. The launch of Engaging with your local authority and other partners is a really helpful booklet which makes a significant contribution to sharing ‘good practice’. It has been produced by an international Task Team for ministry with the poor from within the Commission sphere of churches, led by Guy Miller. This team, led by Miles Jarvis, has been looking at ways to help churches in that sphere improve their ministries in this important area. But they have made the booklet freely available to others.
Having established many of the benefits of working together the booklet also recognises and addresses some of the challenges, such as:
- Local authorities may not have power invested in them
- Local authorities may not want to get involved
- Local authorities may not have resources
- There can be a compromise of values
Key points learned
Having realistically recognised these challenges the authors have built on practical experience to highlight key points they have learnt from which we can all benefit. They then share some case histories to exemplify how ministries can be implemented.
Engaging with your local authority and other partners gives some very practical guidelines and I commend it to you. It is free to download from the Commission website.
Some years ago I read Heaven by Randy Alcorn and was greatly helped by the Biblical handling of this subject. More recently I have read Heaven is for Real. This is very different, being a testimony of a very young child who visited heaven while undergoing surgery. I find the accounts of what he experienced, which emerged only over a protracted time period, very authentic, especially as they were corroborated scripturally by his father, a pastor, who was at first inclined to some disbelief.
The family had been going through a testing time. The father, Todd, had had several serious challenges – kidney stones, a compound fracture in his leg playing softball and cancer, accompanied by the associated financial pressures of the American medical system. As they were coming out of this bad period their three year old son, Colton, complained of stomach ache. After several ‘false starts’ it was diagnosed as a ruptured appendix which, due to the delay in diagnosing, was extremely serious. In hospital the medics warned the family that he may not survive. His father was angry with God and went to a side room to battle in prayer. They also mobilised prayer from the church and others of their friends. These proved successful as, contrary to medical expectations, Colton pulled through. But during that time it appears that Colton visited heaven.
Meeting an unborn sister
In the weeks, months and years that followed Colton casually told of things he had seen or witnessed in heaven. The first was when he had been naughty and his dad had to speak to him about being kind to people. His response was ‘Yeah, I know, Dad. Jesus told me I had to be nice’.
With that one statement, which, needless to say, took his Dad by surprise, a journey began for Colton’s parents that combined astonishment, perplexity, wonder and so much more. From time to time Colton would just drop a comment in a matter of fact sort for way which included a description that could only have come through revelation. Such as how he saw his dad praying for him while he was undergoing surgery. Or how he had met his sister who miscarried before she was born and whom his parents had never talked about. Or about meeting with his father’s grandfather who told him about things he and Colton’s dad had done together. Remember, Colton was under four years old when he had the surgery and had never heard his father talk about such things.
‘Markers’ on Jesus
There were also the conspicuously supernatural comments such as seeing ‘markers’ on Jesus which, when questioned, proved to be in his hands and feet. And the angels wearing sashes (Rev 15:6). And there being no darkness in heaven. (His dad had tried to lay a ‘trap’ and suggested he and his great grandfather had to go to bed when it got dark, which produced the repost ‘It doesn’t get dark in heaven, Dad. Who told you that?’ He then explained why it does not get dark: ‘Because God and Jesus light up heaven’).
Then again the urgency Colton expressed when he saw someone’s coffin (casket) at a funeral. ‘Did that man have Jesus? He can’t get into heaven if he didn’t have Jesus in his heart’.
Did Colton visit heaven? Are his reports true? His parents’ strong opinion is that no child could have made up such stories. He did not have the background or knowledge (eg from Sunday School) to be able to fabricate such events at his age.
Colton was 11 when the book, published in 2010, was written. Stocks are low but I encourage you to obtain a copy if at all possible.
I thought long and hard before recommending this book as I tend to be somewhat cautious about stories such as this. But I finished the book having been blessed and convinced of its veracity. Sadly the author of another similar book (which I have not read) The Boy who came back from Heaven has recently confessed that his story was untrue. We obviously need to be discerning. I hope you will read Heaven is for Real and find it gives you helpful insights. But you must judge its authenticity for yourself.
Milk for transformation
I get excited when I hear of projects that bring a ‘win’ at every level. I have previously reported on the Milk for Transformation enterprise in Burundi. This business provides rural families with milk-producing cattle which both provides income from the surplus which can be sold and also removes the need for children to miss school to tend the less productive local cows as they wander the hills. It also employs young men to transport the milk to the city, others to pasteurise the milk, and yet others to sell the milk at the lowest possible price. Finally good nutritious milk reaches children in the slums: Win… Win … Win … Win …
Jibu Water Project
I have another friend, Randy Welsch, who, with his son Galen, has taken a similar ‘Win win’ approach with water. Billions of £/$ of aid have been poured into Africa over the decades with a high level of ineffectiveness. In the context of water, failure often occurs when a donor funds, say, a borehole. This may be ‘imposed’ on the local community who are grateful while it works but lack ownership when it requires maintenance and quickly revert to their former mode of accessing water. An estimated 50% of such projects fail within 2 years.
Water is a major health issue. In the cities only the top earners can afford clean water while in rural situations access may require great inconvenience. A Kenyan friend of mine told me recently of people in his area who have to walk 33km to find water! They spend most of their time walking backwards and forwards to this source just to provide for their families.
Motivation: Charity and Business
The Jibu Water Project (Jibu= ‘the answer’ in Swahili) launched by Randy and Galen represents a new model of combining a charitable motive – to provide clean water, improve health, empower people – with sound business practice in which a profit must be made to ensure continuity and growth. Sustainability is not sufficient. Growth comes through self-propagation.
A franchise model has been created where a local entrepreneur is taught to use a small purification plant (standing about 6ft high on a 3ft x 3ft base) to cleanse water and then sell or deliver it from that location. The plant is provided as an investment by western investors who receive a yield from their investment. Part of the early profits from each local budding entrepreneur seed-funds the next franchise. The franchisees are trained and overseen by Jibu staff. The model relies on a high level of integrity in the people who must be well motivated and trustworthy.
Evidence based success
Since launching the project in 2012 over 150 franchises have been set up in 3 nations in East Africa. New franchises are now being launched at the rate of one per week. Each franchise typically provides 3000 litres of clean water per day.
The entrepreneurs and customers tell their own stories… (click on picture)
…and a recent BBC news item:
For further information contact email@example.com
Jubilee International School
On several occasions I have reported on the church and school in Guinea, West Africa. When I last visited to review the progress with the school it was clear that they significantly lacked resources of curricular, laboratory equipment, furniture etc. So, in recent months I have, with others, been collecting a container-load of school equipment to send to the school. Many people and schools made generous donations in money and finance which has been such a blessing. Thank you!
I am delighted to say the container arrived at the school last week and I thought you would like to see some of the joy it has produced. Nicolas Thebault reports that ‘everybody was dancing Monday night in the street when it was opened for the 1st time with the customs’. Apparently it made quite an impact on the local community.
The school still urgently needs sponsors to help make up the shortfall on the budget. If you would like to become a sponsor, or make a one-off gift, please write to me and I can send you details of how to do so.
Relational Mission is the sphere of churches within the Newfrontiers family led by Mike Betts. It carries Prayer, Mission and God’s heart for the poor in its DNA. In this short interview Julia Miller shares on some of these aspects of Mike’s sphere of ministry.
Through an exciting initiative, Enough, churches across this international sphere join together through the worldwide web to pray, thus mobilising thousands of people in effectual prayer. It is a very interesting model that others might wish to copy.
Everyone a witness is an attempt to help churches engage evangelistically in their local communities in Word, Works and Wonders.
God’s heart for the Poor
Pathways from Poverty is an expression of God’s heart for the poor which seeks to help local churches engage with those who are poor or in need. This initiative provides information, knowledge and skills training to help churches in their local ministries. Working both in the UK and elsewhere, particularly Kenya and Northern Europe, Pathways from Poverty is seeing churches take on new vision and practice to bring the love of God in very practical ways to people who are in some ways struggling in life.
What happened when Terry Virgo ‘handed over’ Newfrontiers?
Recently I was speaking with someone who had contact with another stream of churches. That person was commending Terry and Newfrontiers for the way in which succession had been handled when Terry handed over the responsibility for the Newfrontiers family of churches in 2011 to about 15 men who had demonstrated apostolic gifting and ministry. He said that, as a result of what they had observed, his stream of churches was adopting a similar philosophy of ‘sons’ growing up to become ‘fathers’ who would lead the next generation.
On arriving home I found this interview in my inbox. Terry had been invited by David Holden to speak at the ‘Newground’ Leadership Conference and shares his perspective on the process and developments over the past five years. It is a helpful reminder for those who know the history and also will inform those who have become part of the wider Newfrontiers family during the last five years.
Summer Bible Weekends
The Newground Conference is just one of many events that have taken place in recent months and during the summer there have been many Bible Weekends both within the Newfrontiers family of apostolic spheres and outside. I very much enjoyed visiting one, Westpoint, the Weekend held by the Commission sphere led by Guy Miller. The weather was good and over 3000 people really enjoyed the outdoor fellowship that this allowed.
The Holy Spirit was there!
It is hard to report interestingly on these occasions as any report seems somewhat lifeless compared with what was experienced by those attending. Somehow writing about meetings infected with the Holy Spirit is not the same as experiencing Him and worshipping Jesus live!
There is much I could comment on, such as the inspired morning Bible Readings on Job led by Phil Moore, and the importance of seeing what God has given you and making full use of it, based on the story of the woman filling jars of oil in 1 Kings 4, preached by Mark Jobe from Chicago.
The one session I particularly want to highlight was when Guy shared the vision for the next season for the Commission family of churches. Using the analogy of enjoying each piece of art in an art gallery by looking carefully and intently at it to grasp the painter’s heart and mind, Guy urged us to keep our eyes open to what God is doing; without faith it is impossible to please him.
Drawing from the story of Abraham and Sarah Guy drew our attention to three ‘canvases’ entitled ‘Going not Knowing’ (they went out not knowing the destination); ‘Wearing yet Bearing’ (despite old age they still believed God for a child); ‘Seeing and Believing’ (as Abraham looked up to the stars).
Building on this story, and coming out of many months of prayer, discussion and planning, Guy shared the vision for the next five years ‘To transform thousands of lives through hundreds of churches in tens of nations’.
There was a real sense of ‘it seems good to us and the Holy Spirit’ among those present and there was tangible endorsement of both the vision and Guy’s visionary leadership expressed through an amazing offering which more than doubled last year’s. What a kick start this will give to the next phase of an exciting journey!
All of the talks from Westpoint are available for downloading on the Commission website.
Looking for holiday reading? Recently a friend lent me a copy of Shane Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution, first published in 2006 but which has now been updated and republished. Good move! This is well worth reading if you are prepared to be challenged about how radical you are in your walk with God.
Off to India
Shane Colborne is no ‘ordinary’ Christian (I wonder what one would look like?). But he does believe that living out the Christian life should be challenging and radical. Having been challenged by some of his college friends who used their spare time visiting people who were homeless in the city he set out to start his exploration of radical Christianity with a visit to Mother Theresa in Calcutta. Living and working among those who were dying on the streets, some having leprosy, who had been taken to the Home for the Destitute and Dying he began to see what it was like to be seen by society as an ‘outcast’.
Returning to USA he spent a year in Willow Creek during which he intentionally searched out the poor in Chicago. This gave him the opportunity to contrast the lives of the comfortable rich (relatively speaking) with those of the poor, and also to study some theology around poverty.
At the end of the year Shane, with friends, started to live in community as a way of exploring ‘living as an ordinary radical’. This came to be called the Simple Way. It included not only sharing amongst themselves but also interacting intentionally with those who have often been rejected by society such as those living on the streets or under the influence of life-controlling substances. They also visited and befriended people in prison, some on death row. This brought them into the sphere of advocacy where they often successfully spoke up those who could not speak up for themselves.
Jesus was homeless
Throughout the book Shane roots his reasoning and actions in scripture. He constantly refers to Jesus’ own lifestyle and points out that he, too, was often homeless, relying on the love and good will of others.
9/11 had a big impact on him, particularly meeting some who lost friends and family. This in part led him to determine to go to Iraq. There he encountered a different expression of Christianity, one that showed forgiveness rather than the belligerence of many Christians in the United States who supported the ‘war against terrorism’. He was challenged by local believers who believed ‘if you pick up the sword you die by the sword’ – and then said they would pray for the church in the US to be the church.
In his final chapter ‘Crazy but not alone’ Shane reflects on whether the experiment he and his friends have undertaken to live in a radical way is crazy or whether the craziness is in fact among those (us?) who live around them. You will have to read this book to find his conclusion. But in response to a skeptic asking ‘What makes you actually think you can change the world?’ one of his friends replied ‘Sir, if you will take a closer look at history you will see … that’s the only way it has ever been done’.
I commend this book to you. The author has an engaging way of writing often including amusing quips and ‘throw-aways’ (sometimes with a few barbs) that show he is very human and loves life in the midst of often difficult and dangerous circumstances. You will enjoy it and have reason to reflect on your own lifestyle.
Since many will shortly be going on holiday/vacation I am taking a few weeks off from these posts. Have a relaxing and refreshing time and see you in the autumn/fall!