Preachers: Learn to Listen Well
Listening to other people’s preaching can be a difficult task for church leaders; we need to fight to benefit from the teaching of others rather than critique it.
Maybe it’s just me, but one of the problems with knowing something about anything is that nothing written about the subject escapes your notice. I’ve just finished re-reading Alistair Maclean’s Where Eagles Dare (recently and preposterously recommended to me as one of the greatest war stories: it’s not) which is so full of technical absurdities as to be grossly annoying. Have you seen the inside of a Mosquito bomb bay and do you really think you can fit five people in it? Come on!
Or a jigsaw I saw recently where an American officer with bloused boots (identifying him as a paratrooper) was leading a squad of US Rangers (infantry) whilst two Spitfires flew overhead in invasion stripes (too early). I know, I’m a hoot at parties.
Notoriously, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks worked extremely hard to get all the details right for their mini-series Band of Brothers but still had to admit that they got some of the minor things wrong. Just look at the ‘Historical Inaccuracies’ on the series’ Fandom page to delight in the pedantry of people like me!
The reality is, however, that many church leaders are pedants when it comes to other people’s preaching. They find it hard to sit under other leaders’ ministry because they are so used to preaching themselves that they find it hard to shy away from the first natural reaction: to critique.
This is multiplied, I find, in those who regularly train or mentor others. I did this regularly for eight years and had to fight really hard to learn to benefit from others’ teaching rather than analyse it. Many of us with preaching teams regularly and rightly gather to think through and examine past sermons.
I think there is a need for church leaders to develop the discipline of listening well.
The need for this is magnified further in the current lockdown situation because many of us are not getting the external inputs that we would normally benefit from. For example, at Christchurch Harborough we’ve cut back on having different preachers to bring more consistency. Plus, I’m not attending conferences or events like Word Alive and listening to other people preach to me there.
All of this makes my heart more at risk: both through a reduction in teaching to me and, additionally, in my own propensity to be a preaching pedant. I’ve got to fight both of these.
Let the Word Minister to You
During the spring I was teaching online at the European Leadership Forum; a residential conference which was moved entirely online. I tried to attend other sessions, precisely to maintain this balance – particularly enjoying Pete Williams from Tyndale House, Sarah Breuel from IFES Europe, and Stefan Gustavsson, Director of Apologia in Sweden.
And I had to engage that particularly tricky (for me) skill of putting aside all things I might pick up in a preaching team evaluation, and simply let the Word minister to me.
Leaders who are unable to do this - either through lack of use or lack of discipline - will find themselves in a poor state indeed.
Learn to Listen Well
What are some ways towards being able to do this?
- Pray for this kind of listening heart and to avoid a critical spirit;
- Don't make notes when you listen to others. Note taking can in certain circumstances make you overly analytical and tend towards critique. Rather let the word of God do its work;
- Ask others to hold you accountable to this desire, asking you “what did you learn?” rather than “what did you think about that sermon?”