Ernest Hemingway is one of my favorite authors, and I read a quote from him once that really got me thinking. He said: “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” I couldn’t help but think of this. Every one of us can probably remember a conversation with someone else where you had to fight to get a word in. Or, how about that individual who turns every comment into a personal story they have experienced. The most dreaded is the famous “one-uppers,” who surpass everything being said with a more outrageous or exciting story of their own. These are the easiest to remember and the easiest to bemoan. But, how many times are we, as minsters, guilty of waiting for someone to stop speaking so we can solve their problems?
I think Ernest (Hemingway and I are on first name basis now) was spot on, and I think this fault can manifest itself in particular with three different areas for minsters.
- Our interactions with those working under us. We are confident in our calling and in our methodology. The younger, less experienced people are sometimes automatically relegated to a lesser tier. Now, I do not advocate simply accepting whatever is being said, but the ability to listen with understanding needs to be priority—even if we disagree! Do you ever sit with amazement that Jesus let people speak? He let people explain their reasoning and even why they disagreed with Him. Jesus—the Son of God. His example of letting people speak should be our motivation.
- Our interactions with those we are discipling. We are usually in a “diagnose the problem and fix it” mentality when it comes to the young adults we’re discipling, right? I am not advocating for you to stop assisting, but sometimes, we need to let people work through some things before truth can hit them. Think of Jesus with the woman at the well or Nicodemus. Jesus let them speak and ask questions, even though He clearly knew their problems and where to go.
- Our interactions with those to whom we are sharing the gospel. I have had so many conversations with people who were originally hostile to the gospel and are now softened because I took time to empathize with where they were coming from and listened—not to answer but to listen. Think about it, Jesus told fishing stories to fishermen. He told farming stories to agrarian folks. He knew who He was talking to and how to connect. We can achieve the same through active listening.
These three areas can be improved with listening for sure. The advice I would give is to make it a point to hear somebody out. Make eye contact, nod, and say empathetic things like “sure” and “I understand.” Repeat back to them what they have said but in your own words. And for the love of all that is good—ask questions specific to what is being discussed without interrupting!
Willingness to respond to what is being said is another topic altogether, but the very least—and often the most important—thing we can do is hear someone out. I pray that, as you minister to different groups of young adults, you are giving priority to listening and understanding those you are working with and ministering to. I pray that God gives you the skills to enact this resolution completely and that lives are transformed as you emulate Christ in this regard. Lastly, I pray and advise, like James 2,000 years ago—that you may be quick to listen and slow to speak!
Conan Sherlin is the Baptist Collegiate Ministry Director at Nicholls State University in Louisiana. He lives in Thibodaux, Louisiana with his wife Christy and their four kids (Evie, Ada, Haddie, and Gilford). Connect with Conan via Twitter: @nsherlin10.