Learning the art of intentional listening

adolescent-converse-all-star-converse-all-star-1021145Recently I responded to the Facebook comment of someone at an early stage of pioneering.  He said he was concerned he wasn’t being productive enough. I understood exactly what he meant, so I responded with this:

I remember that phase so well – there’s only so many times you can walk the dog, sit in a coffee shop or try out yoga before you start wondering whether you’re being a fraud. The answer is, you’re not – and that bedding in time is essential if you are going to do something truly contextual.

When I was at ‘minister school’ we were trained into expecting to work huge numbers of hours.  In practice a lot of us seem to feel we haven’t done a proper job until we have worked ourselves to the bone, collapsing, exhausted, on a Sunday evening, wondering how we ever managed to get through the week.

So when we go to a pioneering role, it seems to be against our very nature to do what is most required: listen, wait and pray.

The reality is, that initial phase is essential.  If growing church is all about building relationships, then it cannot properly emerge without first forming them. I remember in the early days, writing reports full of endless possibilities. I was desperate to prove I wasn’t sitting around idle. Every time I met someone interesting, I dreamed about what a new church community might look like with them in it. I was bursting with ideas, energy and enthusiasm, and I wanted to provide my strategy group with measurable outcomes.

But they were wise enough to insist I put the breaks on; that I spend more time listening, learning and praying. My strategy should simply be that.

Eight years later I am so thankful my strategy group made me do it. For one thing, what has emerged, the amazingly wonderful Hug Cullompton, looks nothing like any of my original suggestions. But more importantly, I can see how the time spent getting to know my town and its residents has borne fruit long term.  I have unwittingly become a networker, a facilitator and a resource mediator in the town. When God inspires us to do something, I already know who we need to speak to and how to get it done.  And  I see, reflected in the sense of love and reciprocity we have fostered, the mutuality of the Trinitarian God who is the “source, guide and goal of all that is“.

There is a a retired minister of a different denomination who apparently goes round saying that I don’t do anything. Well I guess, in his understanding of ministry, I probably don’t. I don’t fill buildings with singing congregants for an hour on a Sunday morning. I don’t spend my time visiting members of my ‘flock’ or threatening people with impending doom unless they ‘give their life to Christ.’ But I have accompanied individuals through their darkest hours, supported people coming out of prison, prayed for and with people who have told me they are atheists, and even suggested to the odd person that they might benefit from attending church!

And it is in that relationship building, in being Christ’s hands in the world and sharing God’s love with a level of intentionality, that I experience ‘Church’ – being done, being experienced, being lived.  It may not be the life to which I thought I was being called when I candidated for ministry in 1998, but it’s definitely the one God wants for me now – and I love it!

To read more about the methodology I adopted for pioneering in Cullompton, click here.

2 thoughts on “Learning the art of intentional listening

  1. Jayne Bazeley

    Great stuff, Janet. Praying and listening is the first job of us all. It’s tragic that so many of us seem to feel that being on the edge of exhaustion and burnout is somehow a badge of commitment!


  2. Hi Janet,

    I think it’s a little bit stereotyped to suggest that non-pioneer ministry is all about over-working as a badge of honour, filling buildings with singing congregants for an hour on a Sunday morning,visiting members of my ‘flock’ or threatening people with impending doom unless they ‘give their life to Christ.’ …. Your blogs do have this adversarial/defensive feel to them as if you constantly feel the need to define yourself in opposition to everyone else.

    I wrote a similar comment on your tug-boat post. I’d rather read a positive account about your own ministry experience – I don’t recognise your (fairly crude) characterisation of what is happening in non-pioneer places!

    Also, if, as you write, you don’t spend time visiting members of your flock – how have you managed to accompany individuals through their darkest hours, support people coming out of prison, pray for and with people who have told me they are atheists, and even suggest to the odd person that they might benefit from attending church?

    these are precisely the things that so many Ministers in models of church you appear to disparage with the phrase “visiting the flock” – ARE doing! 🙂

    I know this sounds critical – I suppose it is – I offer it in the spirit of hoping that there is lots to learn from Pioneer experiences – but that that if you are writing for a wider audience you run the risk of the very people you want to communicate being totally turned off by the language/judgements you use about other models of church you are not engaged with, and thus not hearing the important things you are trying to say.


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