Learn to listen
It has been said that the Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members, and not a mutual benefit society organised by its own members for their own collective advantage*.
As we seek to set new direction, vision, and strategies in our churches I have been challenged about the need to hear more voices. There is a danger we will base our decisions on what we think people need and not on what they say they need or desire.
In reflecting on this I am reminded of the example set by Jesus – he was a master at connecting with the disconnected and challenging the religious elite. Whether it was connecting with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26), challenging his disciples in relation to children (Matthew 19:13-15) or the accusations made against him about those he spent his time with (see Matthew 9:9-13), a significant part of his ministry was spent out in the countryside, not in the synagogues and temple or speaking with the religious leaders.
This should challenge us to reach out to those we don’t know and listen more. But it is not just about hearing the voice of those we seek to reach outside the Church that is important, we must also hear the voices of those inside the Church. My own particular focus is on hearing the voices of young people, but this could apply equally to any unrepresented group in your congregation or community.
In relation to listening to young people in church, it is important that we include them in discussions but more importantly in decisions – ask yourself how diverse is your PCC? Is it representative of your community? The legal requirements for membership of a PCC is that you are baptised, on the electoral roll and over 16! I have witnessed several young people serving in this way – and experienced for myself having a young person on a church leadership team. Young people can be quite direct and cut through repetitive and difficult conversations. I recall one young person saying, “Does this really matter? – why don’t we just…” It would be easy to argue that adults have more experience and wisdom, but we should be challenged by the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy:
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
Young people have a unique and challenging role in society – they are often the ones who change the direction of society – look at the impact of Greta Thunberg. In a recent survey by TearFund and Youthscape entitled “Burning Down the House” 9 out of 10 churchgoing young people didn’t feel the church was doing enough about the environment. This is just one current issue! We have to seek out voices and perspectives different from our own, make friends with those who move outside our natural communities and listen when we would rather argue.
How many voices are you hearing?
Learn to Listen
www.learn-to-listen.org.uk offers a wide variety of resources, ideas, suggestions and practical advice to help you take the first steps towards listening to the children and young people in your church community and beyond.
https://talkingjesus.org is a resource of six encouraging, video-based sessions with short films, inspirational, short testimonies, real-life examples from people who are talking Jesus, and a short, easy-to-follow course book.
https://freshexpressions.org.uk/2018/10/25/godsend has been designed as a toolkit to help you grow new Christian communities with those exploring faith. It uses animations, questions and real-life examples to explore topics such as listening to the community and what emerging church looks like.
*This quote may very well be a simplification of a text from Church and Nation by William Temple.
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