Last time we looked at some adjustments that may be indicated to help a church become more accessible to those who are not familiar with church and who may even be social outcasts. Now we shall consider how a church decides what ministry to carry out to help those who are poor or in need. How should it be identified - by need?
In part 2 of these four interviews Andy Cottingham gives some guidance on how to define a ministry, how to base the leadership of that ministry on the passion of individuals and how to mobilise church members to serve.
Andy also talks about what the ‘good news’ is for an individual who faces great deprivation or need, before speaking about how the elders might bring oversight to such ministries, stressing the importance of close contact between the eldership team and the activists.
Happy New Year!
As we begin a new year I want to share with you over the next few weeks videos I made during a discussion with Andy Cottingham. Andy has been in church leadership both in the UK and South Africa for many years. Churches in which he has been based have always had significant ministries to reach out to those who are poor or in need. In these discussions I asked him to share wisdom from his experience which may help other church leaders, though his responses will be of interest to anyone involved in ministering with the poor since they address underlying values.
In this first interview (there will be three more) he addresses some matters to help make the practices of the church more accessible to ‘outsiders’.
If we believe that the gospel is for all people we must recognise the importance of making our church services and practice accessible to all, not just those who are on the ‘inside’ who know the culture and jargon. What does this imply?
Change may be needed if we are to welcome those who are unchurched, particularly those who are poor and may have little education. Worship needs explanation. Preaching needs to use terminology that is meaningful for the hearers. Perhaps the sermon needs to be shorter or broken into shorter units – sitting listening to someone speak for 45 minutes may be totally foreign to today’s culture of ‘instant’. Listen to what Andy has to say on this subject.
In the last two postings I have highlighted the place for the ears and the eyes as means of listening. Now I will come to the third, the mouth.
Your mouth is also an important part of communication of course, but how can it help you to listen? There are a number of ways your mouth can help you listen but the most important is to know when to keep it shut!
What do you feel about silence? Does it embarrass you? Somehow it makes you feel vulnerable as you either don’t know what to say or because you feel awkward for the other person as they gather their thoughts. The temptation is to fill it with your own talk. This is particularly true of the extrovert who does much of his thinking through conversation. The introvert, in contrast, likes time to think things out before speaking.
If you are in a serious conversation there are times when a slightly embarrassing silence is necessary; to intrude may stop the other person making any response. Maybe you have asked an important question. If you do not allow sufficient silence to force the person to give an answer you will never get to the truth.
Many years ago I was interviewing some candidates for a job. There were two of us carrying out the interviews and my colleague could not bear silence. The result was that whenever I asked a question if the answer was not immediately forthcoming from the candidate my colleague would suggest an answer, which of course the candidate agreed with. By the end of the interviews I knew more about my colleague than any of the applicants!
I am sure you have all been in situations where someone is sharing their heart with you, or bringing some unpleasant news of, perhaps, illness. This is not easy for them or for you, and it needs physical and auditory ‘space’ not to be interrupted.
Since my son had a serious motor-cycle accident many years ago I feel I have more understanding of how someone feels when they experience trauma. I will often go out of my way to speak to someone whom others avoid out of embarrassment of not knowing what to say. But I will make it clear that I am prepared just to listen – I will probably not have any ‘good advice’ to offer.
Beware your own story!
But it is possible in such circumstance to ‘blow it’. Because of your slight embarrassment and not knowing quite what to say you may be tempted to find something in your own experience that has similarities to the situation you are learning about and to share this in detail. That way you try to empathise. But no two situations are ever exactly the same and sharing your experience may be very unhelpful; you may be blocking someone from digging deep in order to share their problem. Better just to keep silent, or use you mouth to say ‘No hurry, take your time’. Rather than taking the risk of shutting down the conversation you thus open up space for the speaker to speak when he or she feels able to do so.
I may appear to be saying ‘keep quiet and let the other person do all the talking’. Clearly context and topic of conversation affect whether this is the right approach, but I tend to veer towards saying less rather than more. But there are times when ‘hearing with your mouth’ does require you to use your voice, even in difficult or critical situations. An affirming nod or ‘grunt’, or a confirming statement ‘so what you are saying is…’ can go a long way to assuring the speaker that you are engaged with him and are hearing what he is really saying.
Much has been written elsewhere about Listening Skills and this brief series clearly cannot cover all situations and circumstances. In contexts such as counselling these skills are particularly important and there are others far better qualified than me to teach on this. But I hope that I have been able to give a few keys I personally have found helpful in my own experience and that as you apply them you will become a better listener. I find few things more encouraging than when someone says to me ‘you are a good listener’. May you know that encouragement too.
Maybe you would like to reflect on this cartoon (source unknown).
This is the final posting in this series. It seems an appropriate place to end my blog-year as we are about to celebrate the incarnation, the Word made flesh. May this be a great season of joy and celebration for you, and my prayer is that as you go into the New Year you will be a better listener – to both God and man. Happy Christmas!
Last time I referred to kneeling down to get onto eye level with someone who was sitting on the pavement outside a supermarket. Clearly that is an extreme example but the principle of making good eye contact is vital. It has been said that ‘the eye is the window if the soul’ (often, probably wrongly, attributed to Shakespeare) and in that quotation lies a depth of insight. By watching someone’s eyes it is possible to ‘hear’ much of what is going on in his soul. Reporting on some of the countries I have visited I have, on occasion, said that people’s eyes lacked hope, they were ‘dead’. I don’t know physiologically what I was seeing but I knew it was in contrast to someone’s eyes that sparkle!
So to get in a position where you can look people in the eye while speaking with them will help you to understand what they are really saying. This is all a part of body language – are their eyes constantly wandering, avoiding your gaze, looking downwards? You can ‘hear’ a lot by observing this behaviour. Let’s look a bit further at ‘body language’.
Listening is not only about sound waves. It is about receiving communication from another person. One vital ingredient in this is observing body language. Without it a true understanding of what the person is trying to communicate is hard to achieve. That is why Skype can be so much more effective than a normal audio phone call – you can see the person and get their bodily reactions to what is being said, though even this is vastly inferior to being in someone’s presence.
Body language can communicate more than words. I used to be a trustee of Community Money Advice, an excellent Christian debt advice network working through local Debt Advice Centres, often churches. Their training literature on listening skills includes a chart which shows that facial expression and body language convey more than half of what we are trying to communicate; 55% compared with 38% for words. I do not know how this was measured but it demonstrates the significant contribution that body language makes to our understanding.
But there is more than just reading body language that the eyes convey. Your eyes tell the speaker you are giving your attention to them. The warmth of your eyes convey empathy. Did you realise that you can even ‘smile with your eyes’? This is such a helpful way of helping someone to speak openly as they realise they are touching your emotions, not just communicating facts.
Some people say they are embarrassed to keep looking into someone’s eyes (romance apart!). Which eye do you look at? I was given a helpful tip on this by a friend, the triangle of observation. Look alternately at each of the speaker’s eyes for long enough to register their colour (this will also help you to remember faces!) and then at the mouth. Change the point of view about every 5-10 seconds so that you avoid apparently staring at them. You can repeat this throughout the conversation
So, when you next talk to someone be conscious about what you are ‘hearing’ with your eyes. You may be surprised how much deeper the conversation will go.
Next time I will help you to listen with your mouth!
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:
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