Missions Catalyst 1.9.13 – Practical Mobilization

In This Issue: Listening – why, who, and how

  • Listening: Why, Who, and How
  • From the Archives: A Year of Practical Mobilization

Missions Catalyst is a free, weekly electronic digest of mission news and resources designed to inspire and equip Christians worldwide for global ministry. Use it to fuel your prayers, find tips and opportunities, and stay in touch with how God is building his kingdom all over the world. Please share it freely!

Listening: Why, Who, and How

By Shane Bennett

Are you like me, that when certain people speak, you listen? A couple of those people in my life have spoken recently about the topic of listening. I feel a need to put their words into action. Management guru Tom Peters, whom I follow on Twitter, writes: “Speed matters. Taking the time to listen … REALLY LISTEN … matters even more. Think about that as the year takes off.”

Thinking about it reminded me that Marti Wade, Missions Catalyst’s editor in chief – every bit as smart as Tom Peters but slightly less famous – also writes about listening (see Learning from the Deaf How to Hear and other posts on her blog).

How do mobilizers fare as listeners? Might it be to wise to grow that capacity in this new year? I believe so. I would love to hear what you think.

Why Listen?

Of course there are a myriad of reasons, but two particularly spark me:

1. Listening bestows honor. Because it takes time, arguably the most precious coin of the kingdom these days, when we pause to hear what someone else says, we demonstrate the value we find in them. We pour honor like warm maple syrup on a stack of pancakes. As a speaker, I loved to be listened to, and I don’t think it’s just me.

2. Listening helps the listener. This isn’t mercenary, it’s just smart. In this bitey little video Tom Peters says it’s a key (but likely overlooked) part of your job. You don’t know everything, and there are still a couple things that Google can’t tell you. Strategic listening will yield insights, directions, connections, dreams, and despair that will sometimes cause you to honestly exclaim, “I had no idea.”

As an added bonus (and pursuing this might well be mercenary) when you listen, you seem charming. If sharing a thought or telling a funny story nets you 10 points, asking a question, listening to the response, agreeing, and laughing gets you 25. When your charm rating goes up, influence follows. At the risk of being irreverent can I point out: Jesus went to parties where he listened to people who enjoyed having him around and ended up doing what he asked.

Who Should We Listen to?

You may want to avoid TV news anchors or people with bad breath. You might also want to limit the time you spend listening to people who keep telling you how terrible things are, how your dream is not going to work, and how they sure hope Jesus comes back soon because the world is such a mess these days. (Keep in mind that some of those voices may be inside your head. You run away and they go with you! You’ve got to find other ways to shut them down.)

So who should you listen to?

1. For starters, The Holy Spirit. Lately my friend Robby says he has been staying in bed discerning plans for the day ahead, listening to God until he feels released to rise and engage. If that kind of things makes you late to work your earthly boss might frown on such a practice, but consider adapting this listening approach to your own situation.

In order to accurately hear Jesus, it helps to be in close touch with his life and teaching. One of my smartest friends once advised me to drink the Gospels in big gulps. If you’d like to join me in this, jump on YouVersion’s Gospels in Thirty Days plan. (I’m only a week in, so we can do it together!)

2. Mission mobilizers should listen to their pastors. Not just talk to them: “Can I get an appointment, cause I’ve got this really cool idea that I’d like to tell you about and I think you’ll really like because it’s the very sort of thing that can change the world and I think you’ll be really excited and want to bring the whole church along and spend lots of money to make it happen so is Thursday at 2 pm good for you?” (Please note this is not a direct quote from my life, but it’s close!) Most pastors are bright, but also burdened and busy. Closing our mouths and opening our ears in their presence might be really smart.

3. Likewise, it’s a good idea to listen to our wives (or husbands, though in my experience, men may neglect this habit more than many women do). If you’re married and want to ride the tide of influence over time, commit to listen to your spouse carefully over the course of those years.

4. Financial donors would be honored if we listened as well as asked. In fact, if we’ll listen to our donors, we may discover passions and capacity that we didn’t know existed. Like pretty much everyone in our hemisphere, donors may be very busy. You might ask good questions, listen carefully, and be answered by dead air. Don’t give up.

5. We also need to listen to people who think differently from us. People who operate in spheres beyond our own. They may be eccentric. They may be our students. They may be people in other cultures or subcultures, people in different walks of life. I’m writing this while hanging out with and listening to Mennonites in central Ohio. Though we love the same Jesus, we come from different branches way back on the faith family tree. It’s fascinating to see life just a bit through their eyes and scheme and dream together for God’s purposes to go forth.

Our current technological state allows us opportunity for listening to new and varied voices as never before. I find it helpful to watch emerging new documentaries via the local library or Netflix. Twitter also gives us each a chance to hear from helpful people like pastor Brian Zahnd or missions info-naut Justin Long.

How Can We Learn to Listen?

While good listening is an art, it can be learned. You can be a better listen by the time the next Practical Mobilization column comes out. The two key steps are dead simple: 

1. Ask good questions. Aim for questions that beg a paragraph or a story in response. And ask questions that you’d like to be asked. Check out Donald Miller’s excellent post on questions for more. 

2. Hang around long enough to hear the answer. This means setting down your phone, closing the laptop, looking into to someone’s face, and waiting. For the advanced class, it involves verbal and physical empathy and asking good follow up questions.

In our electronic/broadcast worlds, I’m looking for ways to encourage listening and two-way communication. I’m experimenting with surveys in our family/ministry newsletter that goes out via Mailchimp. If you’re interested, you can follow our progress.

A Question for You

We at Missions Catalyst would also like to listen to you better. As part of that, could I ask you to take a minute and answer one of these questions in the comments section on the Missions Catalyst blog? Many of us would be helped by your insight.

  • Name one person you’d like to better listen to in the coming year. Why?
  • What is one mark of good listening that we might want to incorporate into our lives?

Thanks for reading and responding. And listening with us.

From the Archives: A Year of Practical Mobilization

Haven’t been hanging on our every word? Didn’t get around to reading all of our emails? Or just maybe you’re new on the list and don’t know what you might have missed.

There could be something you can use in our archives! Peruse these links to 2012 editions of Missions Catalyst Practical Mobilization.

January: Lessons from the life of a learner

February: Seven deadly debriefing debacles

March: Four ways you matter (and may not know it)

April: Being honest when you don’t succeed

May: Six keys to promoting global outreach

June: Ten reasons you should get out of Dodge

July: Ten ways to tank your mission trip

August: Is it time to start something new?

September: Replacing fear with love and respect

October: Eight lessons learned on a cross-country move

November: Don’t trip on your trip – mistakes and missteps

December: A mobilizer’s Christmas lists

You can also check our website for Practical Mobilization columns going back to 2004.

Also in 2012, Missions Catalyst published a few “special editions” which fans of practical mobilization might enjoy:

June: How one small church shifted its approach to engage with the mission, not just the missionary

August: Compelling cultural encounters – seven creative ways to connect people with the world

October: Hospitality and the Great Commission – could it be the key to evangelism in our day?

Shane Bennett writes and speaks for a great organization called Frontiers. Lately he’s wondering about how Muslim immigrants in Europe might fully experience God’s blessing.

He’s also working with some buds to leverage a $49 a month smart phone plan to raise a ton of money for cross-cultural workers. Email him for info on the plan or the vision.



8 thoughts on “Missions Catalyst 1.9.13 – Practical Mobilization”

  1. I’d like to listen better to my children. I find that I half-heartedly hear or discount what they have to say. One talks a lot and the other not so much. The quiet one is the one I’m most curious about because of how old he is, the stage of life he is entering, and my desire to be one that he will talk to.

    Mark of good listening these days…turning off the phone. Even before the pervasiveness of texting, I felt less important every time someone would answer the phone while we were together. It always communicated that someone else might be more important than me.

    Ouch…I think the Holy Spirit just jabbed me with my #1 comment followed by #2!!

  2. I definitely will be listening to my lovely bride more this year. Through our transistions to come, I need her insight and hear what God is stirring up in her.

    One way I’ve felt listened to is when praying with the person afterwards and they pray into and for the things we have talked about. Even more so when, a week or so later, I hear back from them and they ask about those things we talked about. Listening and Followup are not just about the immediate conversation but being present enough to let the speaker’s idea or situation become your own for a while.

    Thanks for the good reminders. I try to call my donors once a year and ask a few leading questions and let them talk. We have two-way connection and buy in.


  3. Great article, Shane!

    The one thing I’d say that helps me listen better is to fight the urge to throw in my brilliant idea when another person is talking.

    Proverbs 17:28: “Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.” (NLT)

  4. Sandy: I hear you on the challenge of listening to our kids. Something tells me that down the road, that’s a memory I want them to have; that I listened. But in the thick of things, dang, it can be a challenge. Thank you for the reminder.

    Regarding answering the phone: If I think I need to answer the phone in the middle of a current conversation, I will explain why. I try to limit answers to my wife and kids. Most people seem cool with that.

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to write in.

  5. Tim: Great thought that follow up a few days after a convo really demonstrates that you were listening. Also kudos for more listening to your wife and calling donors. I’m inspired! Thanks.

  6. Hey Paul: Thanks for reading and sending in some kind words. I’m encouraged. I agree with you that it’s tough not to throw in your great idea. It must be particularly tough for you given the high rate of great ideas you have! Happily, God brings people across my path occasionally who are terrible about interjecting too early (like just this past weekend!). That helps me think, “You know how you want to swear right now because of what that person’s doing? Don’t do it to others!” Thanks, again.

  7. I like the comments that have been left so far. I feel that good eye contact helps the listener and helps the speaking person that they are being listened to. When we are engaging with kids we need to be on their eye level to do this. To listen means to give them your attention, your undivided attention.

  8. Cheryl: Thanks for reading the comments and diving in. I appreciate your reminder to get on eye level with the kiddos. I’ll try that this afternoon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Missions Catalyst welcomes comments, especially those that provide additional insights on a topic or story as a help to other readers. We reserve the right to screen comments and may provide light editing. Note that comments including links may be delayed so we can make sure they are not spam; we hope you will include relevant links, anyway!