I have written about the importance of listening in revolutionary Sunday School work before. I want to encourage you to read Revolutionary Sunday School Teachers Listen to God, Members, and Prospects and Revolutionary Sunday School Teacher Skills.We can be much more effective in all of our communication as Sunday School leaders when we listen before we even think about responding. In fact, listening makes our response much more likely to helpful.
Listening helps teachers and Sunday School leaders to know what is going on in the lives of members and prospects. This helps in prayer and preparation for a Bible study encounter. Listening helps teachers assess whether attenders are understanding and applying God’s truth. Listening helps leaders communicate their interest in others.
Want to be a better listener? Let me suggest that you read an article by Rick Warren entitled Four Ways to Be a Better Listener. I like what Rick said in the opeing paragraph of that article:
Good leaders are good listeners. If you want to be effective in ministry, you’ll need to be a good listener first. Probably the greatest reason people fail in ministry is not immorality, a lack of intelligence, or poor planning. It’s insensitivity.
Wow! In fact, that insensitivity applies to more than just between the leader and other people. Good leaders also frequently fail because of an insensitivity to God. They don’t listen to Him. They don’t spend time with Him. They don’t invest in a quiet time. They don’t seek His leadership before making decisions.
In Rick’s article, he offers four ways to be a better listener. I will share his four ways in all capitals followed by my commentary about how they apply to our work as teachers and leaders in the Sunday School:
WITHHOLD JUDGMENT AND CRITICISM FROM THE START. Let me turn this slightly. Expect the best when you listen to others. If you expect negativity and criticism or something to disagree about, you’ll probably find it even if it is not there. Take time to listen–really listen. Take time to understand. Put aside past conversations and interactions and focus on the other person. Give him/her your attention. Don’t read into the conversation what is not really there!
KEEP CALM. Don’t feel you have to match the intensity level of the person speaking. Try to understand the emotions. Try to read between the lines. What is going on in the life of the person? What are they really trying to say? Remember, “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1, NIV). Moments which require calmness often are opportunities to seek God’s leadership and minister to the individual!
BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER. This is a skill that can be learned. Look at the person (eyes, nose, mouth). Even when they are on the phone and not in front of you, avoid doing other things while they are speaking. Focus; avoid distractions. Nod your head from time to time (but not constantly). Rick suggests asking “clarifying questions, such as: Who? What? When? How? Questions like that will draw out those you are listening to and let them know you have their attention.”
PARAPHRASE AND SUMMARIZE. Check to make sure that the message they thought they sent to you was the one you received. I like how Rick worded this: “To be a good listener you must be able to tell a pers on what they’ve just told you before you talk about what you need to talk about.” Ask questions. Clarify. Summarize and/or paraphrase what was said. Ask if you got it right. But begin with a solid understanding of what they said and meant before you respond!
Not great at listening? Don’t despair. Take steps this week. Focus on one of these ways to be a better listener. It is never too late to do so! Listen to members, prospects, and God! Be revolutionary!