The first time I ever heard of “listening” being classified as a “ministry” was from the book entitled, Life Together. This thought was especially intriguing, because it had been espoused and lived during the Second World War. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, among other things, had been a devout follower of Jesus Christ, in charge of an underground seminary in Germany and martyred by the Gestapo just days before the war ended. Bonhoeffer had written about the “Ministry of Listening” as he described life as he lived it in Christian community.
Listening is a very important work we do for one another. Bonhoeffer states that, “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them.” *However, listening can be subjective. Many times it is easy to hear words that others speak, but never listen to their meaning. It takes being intentional not to think about the things that are on our agenda or what we will say in rebuttal, but to stay focused on listening to what others want to convey.
Learning to listen is a process. As a Licensed Professional Counselor and a professional Life Coach, I have been practicing being an intentional listener for over 20 years. I still find it difficult, at times, to listen to others as I would want others to listen to me.
When we listen with focus, intentionality and keep the other person’s agenda in high regard, then listening can be one of the most loving and unselfish practices that we can do for one another. For when we listen to others we:
1. Exemplify Christ’s love. God always has time to listen to the cries of our heart.
2. Build bridges instead of walls between us and others whom we don’t fully agree or understand.
3. Bear one another’s burdens and allow them to feel heard and understood. Listening takes practice, perseverance, and patience to intentionally listen to others in this way.
A few tips on how to begin a “ministry of listening”:
1. Listen away from distractions.
2. Listen with a clear mind devoid of our own “clutter” and agenda.
3. Listen to the person’s whole thought before beginning to think about what to say.
4. Listen without judgement.
5. Listen only to understand.
6. Paraphrase back to the person what they have said.
7. Ask if this is what they wanted to convey.
Let us not forget as Bonhoeffer states, “But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share.” ** Please consider that when we take time to listen to others, it isn’t an inconvenience but a ministry to those whom we live, work and care for on a daily bases.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954) *pg. 97 **pg. 98
To read the “Ministry of Listening”, in it’s entirety from the book “Life Together”