Listening makes people real. Good listeners are aficionados, connoisseurs of fine stories! People come to life as we sit and hear their stories of great joys and great sorrows.
Here is what really good listeners do:
Listeners help people tell their stories.
Listening does not “should” on people by outdoing, fixing, changing, manipulating, debating or even preaching.
When someone “shoulds” on another, they use words like, “You should…” “If I were you…” “ When I was your age…” “Why don’t you just…”
Listeners help people find their own words and thoughts.
Listeners help pull the words out, rather than stuff their own words in.
Listeners are mirrors reflecting what is inside, including feelings, meaning, beliefs, values, even understanding the workings of the Spirit.
We make people real by helping others know and understand their own stories.
Listening is ministry leadership. Listening leadership often gets overlooked, when people expect leaders to be those at the microphones – people speaking, singing, lecturing – or serving on committees – the planners, organizers and those who wrestle with issues. Please, don’t misunderstand – microphone and committee leadership is important. These roles exist to equip and inspire all of us to care, welcome and affirm others every day, everywhere and in every relationship. Microphone and committee leadership should be what equips and inspires us to be lovers of others, loving because Christ first loved us, empowering us with skills and the heart to care enough to make people real. Listening is the front lines of ministry.
Jesus sits beside the well with the Samaritan women in John 4 and offers to give her “living water.” The beauty of the story is that Jesus never defines “living water.” For her that day, “living water,” was the experience of someone knowing her story. Jesus makes her real, while sitting at the well, face to face, heart to heart and person to person, sharing the realities of her life. Listening ministry is about making people real, offering “living water.”
Kids Listening to Kids In Candle Groups
Emma and Melissa are high school juniors. They lead their Candle Group. The evening started with a game funneling everyone together. A song added focus. A creatively shared Bible story gave the background for their topic. Groups split up and chose darkened spaces around the building. Emma and Melissa chose a back corner in the church basement for their group. Emma lit a candle. Melissa shared a short prayer. Emma asked an opening deep question. The group talked. They shared life, they shared faith. They got silly, they got deep. When asked, kids say things about their groups, like, “This group is what gets me through the week.” “We just leave our masks and all the pretend stuff at the doors before we come in.” “I love it that people actually listen to me.” “I like it that our friends are allowed to lead. Adults, tend to talk too much.”
Opportunities to sit beside wells seldom happen. Campfires might be a more likely experience. As the flames rise, so does the willingness to trust. Everyone’s shadows, vexations, apprehensions and inhibitions seem to flicker away. People sit staring into the flames, sharing anything and everything, sometimes all night long.
Candle time creates that vibe. Emma and Melissa are culture keepers of this campfire atmosphere, building trust, honoring each other’s stories. Kids lead kids. The group grows because of them. Emma and Melissa’s job is to help kids tell their faith and life stories. God is part of that group. Kids leave, feeling they have been heard. There is grace in the world, there is love, everyone senses they are a little more real. Everyone has experienced a bit of God being reflected by their group. The evening ends after the groups gather and the candles are placed in the center of the darkened youth room. Candle Time Prayers are shared.
Melissa and Emma are Peer Ministry Leaders, part of a core group of about 15 youth at Mount Calvary in Excelsior, MN. All are trained as caring, welcoming and affirming listeners. The ministry grows in numbers because of the ability of a team of leaders to keep up more ongoing relationships than a single leader could sustain. Listening is magnetic. Kids discover an unusual group of kids who care. The ministry grows in spiritual depth because “real people,” not just “paid prayers,” model spiritual practices.
Peer Ministry Leadership is taught to be lived every day, everywhere and in every relationship. It is an education of the heart. Getting beyond teaching only head knowledge takes a lot of intentional work. Listening ministry requires that leaders learn skills. Teaching skills gives leaders the confidence to listen to others. Teaching skills that help others tell their stories requires practice. Beyond that, it is dependent on role models and mentors who live the skills.
Every Day, Everywhere, Every Relationship Ministry
The enemy of youth ministry is not hockey, football, band, play practice or even the chess team. As kids learn caring, welcoming and affirming skills, they also learn to listen outside the walls of a congregation. Youth ministry celebrates and affirms kids who are not in the church building! Kids are asked, “How is basketball going? How are the relationships on your team? How are you using your ministry skills? How can we be praying for you? We are so glad you are there! Our church needs you there! Keep on caring, welcoming and affirming your teammates.” “You are doing ministry!”
Note a couple things that are happening! One, kids are learning that the church is more than a long series of events. “The church needs you there!” is not the usual words heard from church leaders, who more often communicate, “You should be here!” Listening ministry allows kids to be Christ on the front lines of life, understanding that ministry is lived every day, everywhere and in every relationship.
Two, sharing faith is being taught as a ministry that believes that God’s love and grace is truly unconditional and for everyone. This is very different than the experience of some Christians who need to change and convert others, who approach others assuming that some form of belief, or lack of, will put people in categories of “in” or “out,” with God. Kids are learning that listening and caring for your neighbor is sharing faith.
The big “ah-ha” for many youth is the discovery that they are already doing ministry. We just forgot to tell them that what they do counts. Listening, caring, welcoming and affirming friends is ministry. Help kids think of it this way. It is the mission trip that lasts beyond the week and now is lived every day, everywhere and in every relationship.
Listening requires seeing people. Teach kids to be attentive to the Spirit’s nudges. Spirit nudges come with sensing or seeing situations that need care. Teach youth to observe others as a way to begin to get outside of themselves, caring for their neighbor. All ministry begins with seeing. Seeing and sensing that someone is being left out, maybe even pushed out, that someone is quieter than normal, missing someone who usually shows up, or someone sitting alone – all of these may be a signal that it is time to put those listening skills to work. Real friends step in when everyone else is stepping out. Real friends are attentive to Spirit nudges.
We are relational architects. We make relational connections. We help people grow relational faith skills. The congregation embodies, equips, engages, empowers and allows people. Our outcome is people who understand everyday relationships as ministry and have the skills and heart to listen so that God’s grace and love is reflected to others.
Therefore, we design programs as opportunities for intentional relational connections. Programs include a core of caring youth and adults who know this to be their role. Opportunities are provided in the midst of programs for face to face, heart to heart, person to person connections.
We embody the results we want, surrounding youth with people who model and mentor relational faith. Leaders first live it!
We equip youth with very specific skills for living a relational faith. Teach relational faith skills to develop an atmosphere of care. It is the DNA training that underlies the culture of everything we do. It is that for which our ministry becomes known.
We engage relational service opportunities. Help youth discover that Christian leadership is relational leadership. Constantly give youth relational opportunities. Leading candle groups, going with you to visit another youth in the hospital, pairing up with a new member family who has kids, leading camps, retreats, and every outing. We lead kids into conversations with people in our communities and people beyond our communities. We learn from cross cultural and cross generational conversations. We learn that you cannot hate a person whose story you know. No matter where we go or who we talk to, God is already there.
We empower youth to live life using their skills. “It’s not a job, it’s an attitude,” declared one youth. Relational faith is meant to be lived. Therefore, we ask kids how their ministry is going. How can we pray for you? How can we help your ministry? In the midst of your friends? Team? Work? Family?
We allow kids to lead. Kids are either leading or they are leaving. “Our kids are not ready for this,” underestimates our kids. If they have friendships, if they live around people, they are in dire need of learning relational faith skills! See youth differently. They really can be the church of today. See your youth as your ministry team.
Ministry doesn’t require a sign up form; it is all around us. “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” -Isaiah 55.3. Living water… by the well, by the campfire, around the candle, in the cafeteria, in the living room, in the office, across the street, the other side of town, and the other side of the world. Listen, as God’s love surprises us and God’s grace captures us.
I will listen to your story. You listen to my story. Together we shall know a little more about God.