Missions Catalyst 1.30.13 – Ninety Percent Listening

In This Issue: Ninety percent listening

  • Feature: Mobilization. It’s Ninety Percent Listening.
  • Additional Resources

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Dear Readers,

A few weeks ago we published a Practical Mobilization column about growing in our capacity to listen. Many of you told us you appreciated that article. Some wrote to share struggles or experiences. “Good word!” one reader tweeted. “I’ve said for years 90% of mobilization is listening.” I couldn’t let that line just slide by: I asked him to tell us more about it.

Don’t think of yourself as a mission mobilizer? If you can see God using you to awaken and engage others in his global purposes, you may be one after all. If not, let us know if the article below still speaks to you!

Bryan Padgett has been involved in mission mobilization for about ten years, five of them with The Traveling Team. Read on to see what he’s learned about a mobilizer’s need to listen.



FEATURE: Mobilization. It’s Ninety Percent Listening.

Source: Bryan Padgett

For a number of years I traveled the country speaking to college students, teaching close to 25,000 about God’s global vision and meeting personally with nearly 1500 of them. When I first began, I now realize I spoke “at” students. I had something to say, and they were the ones who needed to listen! I was ready for any push back, though, and I always walked away feeling like I had done my job.

But what was my job? If it was merely to inform, share statistics, and provide practical application, then sure, I did my job. My job, though, was really to mobilize these students toward God’s global mission. I soon came to realize that while statistics and practical applications were useful and necessary, I was in danger of completely missing the person right in front of me.

A Process of Discovery

People are really complex! When they seek advice and we just, well, give them advice, we risk missing a host of issues that would block them from taking action. When they “ignore” our advice, we might consider them unteachable or have another character flaw. But there may be significant obstacles.

The obvious issues like opposition from family or fear of leaving the familiar and learning a language may not be the real obstacles. I believe the real obstacles are at the heart level. I’ve never met the guy that just comes right out with them. You know, the guy who says, “I want to lead a team to the Muslim world, and you should know I don’t respond well to authority. Also, when things don’t go my way, I quit and do something else.” This guy is really going to struggle with an agency or anyone else telling him to do anything other than exactly what he wants to do.

How can we discover those kinds of obstacles? You have to dig by asking great questions and then listening to the answers. Ninety percent of mobilization is listening.

Messy and Slow

If you go to a conference, event, or training for mission mobilizers, the major focus will often be on strategies, resources, and how to answer common questions posed by potential missionaries. These are useful and necessary conversations. You will rarely, however, get trained in active listening.

Our intentions are great. We want to see God’s mission completed, and we believe all of us are to be part of this. What we miss is that we are dealing with people, and people have issues. It is messy work. You cannot mass-produce missionaries. If you try to do so, the fruit will not last. My personal belief is that high attrition rates are due in large part to a lack of “whole-person” mobilization, and that can be rooted in a lack of listening.

As mobilizers, we must slow down. Listening well takes time. Rushing people to the field will probably only ensure that they come home about as quick as we send them.

We must seek depth in our mobilization. Some of us may be engaged in broad efforts that do not permit us to go very deep. However, even if you are on the road a lot, you have to live somewhere. Can you have a few people around you that you are engaging at a deeper level?

How a Mobilizer Listens 

Listening can play a key part in your effectiveness as a mobilizer, whether it’s a one-time meeting or an ongoing relationship.

1. Learn to ask good questions – and lots of them. Ask multiple questions before you ever begin to give advice. Listen in a way that you can piece together the many things swirling around in someone’s heart and mind.

2. After asking and listening, begin to connect the dots for them if you can. Present them with a few options – not hundreds, and not just one (unless the fit is very clear). Be sure you are networked and resourced well so you can pass them off to people you’ve met or organizations you trust.

3. Point them back to those that know them and love them most, and encourage them to listen their counsel. You cannot be a mentor or counselor to everyone, and it’s better to acknowledge that than to pretend you can give them an honest assessment of what to do next. Encourage them to be discipled if they are not currently in that type of relationship.

Following these three points is not going to make anyone a rock-star mobilizer. That’s not the point. They will give you a starting point to help engage the person more fully, as well as seek to help them more holistically.

Speaking Prophetically?

Yes, you can still challenge views and beliefs. If fact, in most cases you need to, because people think of everything in the framework of their daily lives and will not be able to see beyond it. Can you help them see God’s global vision and what it has to do with their lives, no matter where they live? Only when you listen to people can you begin to see how much they understand or what their blind spots might be.

Discipling More Deeply

What if you are not mobilizing broadly, but engaging more in-depth with the people close to you? The good news is that you can be that someone one who knows the person best and offers wise counsel. Meet regularly with those you hope to mobilize. Get together with them individually or as a group. Teach them how to walk faithfully with God. Listen long enough to know which direction to take them. And remember, cookie-cutter approaches to discipleship and mobilization may get you started, but they are often ineffective without a more personal touch.


I close with what I think is the most important point of all. You absolutely have to listen to God. It is not optional. I’ve heard it said, “The true work of mobilization is prayer.” I agree with this wholeheartedly. Pray for those you seek to mobilize. Pray God gives you the ability to listen well – to him, as well as to them.

I encourage you to slow down in mobilization. Take more time to listen than you do to speak. Remember that God is far more interested in completing the task than any of us ever will. He is also far more interested in making us holy than any of us ever will be. The missionaries he sends are not just there to complete a task but to become more like Jesus.

» Comment on this article below.

Additional Resources          

Source: Missions Catalyst

Want more about topics in this article? See the following:

Diagnosing Problems (brief article from International Training Partners, the folks who facilitate helpful workshops on Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills).

101 Incredible Coaching Questions, from a site we stumbled on called The School of Coaching Mastery. Is 101 too many? See Two Powerful Questions for Moving Forward (PeopleResults).

Design and Fit: Nurturing the Call of God in the Mobilization of Mission Candidates (article by Mark Stebbins, The Navigators).

From our own archives: The Seven Deadly Sins of a Mobilizer and Approaches to Mobilization, Revisited.

» Readers, what kinds of questions would you ask potential missionaries? See suggestions from several mobilizers in the comments below.

6 thoughts on “Missions Catalyst 1.30.13 – Ninety Percent Listening”

  1. (Chuck M. from Wycliffe offers the following tool which they use in talking to potential recruits.)

    Conversational Guide for Building Purposeful Relationships

    Take notes as you listen.

    Tell me about yourself. Are you in college now?
    What is your major? What lead you to choose that major?
    Are you involved in campus ministries?
    Tell me about your involvement with your church.
    Are you active in your church? In what ways?
    What sort of leadership roles have you had in your church?
    What does your pastor think of your missions ideas?

    Tell me about your Christian faith.
    Tell me about your spiritual journey.
    What have been some peaks and valleys in your walk?
    How did you get interested in missions?
    Why do you feel called to mission service?
    Tell me about your family. Are they supportive of your mission interest?

    Tell me what preparation have you been through for missions?
    Have you taken any formal training? (college classes, Perspectives, mentoring)
    What led you to make contact with our mission agency?
    Have you ever heard a Wycliffe member speak?
    Have you met a Wycliffe member?
    Is there any particular part of our work that interests you?
    We are a faith mission (raising support). Do you understand what that means?

    Closing the conversation
    Ask if they have any questions.
    Based on the highlights of the conversation, suggest a plan of action, next steps or things to do.
    Suggest a contact date to see how they are doing on these suggestions.

    End with prayer
    Ask: “Can I pray for you?”
    Use your notes to remember to pray for specific things you talked about. Be thankful. Keep it short.

  2. Marti, your question made me think and I started writing and, well this is what I ended up with. It may not be what you were looking for, but I hope it helps (it was a good exercise for me to think through what I do and why I do it!)

    I am usually either talking to inquirers who have asked for contact, or college students I’m getting to know, whether or not we are even “talking missions” yet.

    I have a million questions, but I pretty much ask God to lead me to what is most useful for the person at that stage ~ which doesn’t come into focus until I am actually asking/listening. I want to let the conversation be as natural as possible, so I don’t really do well with going through a list. For me, it is impossible to have a script or recipe for what to ask with those that have not already asked for a specific amount of information (80-90% of those I am with).

    Generally, in my questions, I want to get to know the person & discover:

    1. Personal growth (character)
    2. Skills/abilities (competence)
    3. God’s fingerprints (call)
    4. What mission/ministry would they fit well with? (compatibility)

    At TEAM, we refer to these as the 4C’s.

    That being said, some of my questions have been:

    1. Character
    There are so many way to discover this, but I don’t do it in a direct way. Spending time with someone and ‘hearing their heart’ will give me a good snapshot of where they are at and what may be some of their next challenges. My transparency with them about myself can be a good invitation to them to share more.

    a) Walk with God
    1. Re: any ministry experience – What did God show you about Himself through that experience?
    2. What did God show you about yourself?

    b) Family relationships
    1. What does your family think of your interest in missions?

    c) Interpersonal skills
    EXPLORE ANY relational issues that surface
    I will probe, not to be nosey or simply to solve the problem, but to see how they handled it.
    I will give unsolicited insight here by relating to the person what interpersonal relationships can be like in a cross-cultural context (maybe share an example). Then try to raise their awareness for developing higher level skills to deal with conflict ~ and DEFINITELY pray for them about that, at the end of our time together.

    d) Relationship with a home/sending church
    This is super critical and often overlooked. No mission can take the place of the church! My questions probe that there is a connection, what the quality of that connection is, and helping them to take responsibility to listen to what God may be saying through the leadership He has given them. If there is no connection, then I will give direction as to what may be next & strongly encourage them to take the necessary steps to be connected.
    1. Where would you say your spiritual home is?
    2. Have you shared where you are with the missions leadership?
    3. What do they say?
    And I will encourage them to listen to what God may be showing them …

    2. Competence
    On hearing about any kind of ministry experience:
    “Wow, what was THAT like?”

    What are you studying/taking? (course of study.) Why?
    I ask about favorite classes/teachers and why.
    Is X Major (course of study) a good fit for you? Often this opens up discussion of what other directions they have tried AND what they may be considering switching to next (!). I try to help them relax a little, rather than thinking they need to be in just the right degree program, but sometimes a change may be good (usually they have already OVER thought this ~ so giving them some encouragement and support may be more valuable than finding the ‘right’ program.

    Sometimes when people are stuck in trying to understand what they want to do, I may ask about their hobbies or non-work activities. I believe our deep down motivations in life can often be seen in those areas as well.

    What is it you love to see happen as a result of X?

    What is it that you love doing that, when you are doing it, you think, ‘I LOVE this’ or ‘I am made for this.’ [here I am not fishing for a type of job description, but the heart motivation underlying ANY activity] . To me, this can reveal what kind of ministry situation will be a good fit. And, I also want to know how well that person understands him/herself (gives me an idea of maturity level).

    “What did you LOVE about it?
    “What was the hardest/most challenging thing?”
    “When you work with others in a group, what role do you ACTUALLY play (i.e. not just what are some of the official things/titles you have had)

    3. Call
    I think calling is best revealed and visible by/in the context of the local church. So, see section 1.d)
    1. Are you thinking short-term or something more open ended? Why?
    2. What is God saying to you about ministry/direction?

    4. Compatibility
    Here I am especially looking for people that would fit well with our organization. Again, most of this is understood indirectly. If there are questions about compatibility, I will try to explore and clarify their thinking/their doctrine/their philosophy of ministry/ etc. Usually it is pretty obvious when there is a compatibility issue, so better to be clear early on.

    In the course of our conversations, I may see that they are not a good fit for TEAM. I will keep going and keep exploring with them in order to make the best recommendation I can make for possible next steps. I may also be able to make an introduction or hand-off to another colleague with another mission. It’s all Kingdom work! If they get to the field and I can help be a link to that end, praise God!

  3. Excellent article, one of the more helpful ones I have seen. Key take aways for me:

    slow down, seek depth
    our role is to “piece together the many things swirling around in someone’s heart and mind”
    Plus the excellent conclusion: “God is far more interested in completing the task than any of us ever will. He is also far more interested in making us holy than any of us ever will be. The missionaries he sends are not just there to complete a task but to become more like Jesus.”

    It is not our mission, but God’s mission. He chooses and shapes people according to his agenda and we need to be sensitive to what the Spirit is doing in others before we can assume that we have the insight to speak into their lives.

  4. Chuck and Carl, thanks so much for sharing how you approach those one-on-one appointments. I am sure there are readers who in are in positions like yours and can use the tips! As a matter of fact, having moved to an area where my agency has little presence, I’ve realized it’s a good idea for me to put the “agency rep” hat on from time to time. Not something I’ve done much, and I need to think through how that’s going to work.

    Dave and Mark, glad you found this edition helpful! Yes, we all have room to grow in this area.


  5. As we were seeking good how-to resources on listening, we cast the net out far. Here are a few things that came in after we went to press.

    http://www.Smallgroups.com has a set of articles that they sell and sometimes offer deeply discounted that is especially good for small groups but much of the material is usable in broader contexts it is titled: “Practical Ministry Skills: Becoming a Great Listener”


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