Monday, March 07, 2011

mission begins with two ears

Written for a local church newsletter, and for a new distance course I’m writing for Semester 2 – Equipping in Christian mission.

“Sorry, I wasn’t listening.” Sadly, it’s a comment that I hear a bit too much from my family at the moment! Yet we all know what happens when we take time to listen.

In December I met with the leaders of a local church to talk about mission. They felt stuck, trapped, ineffective, out of touch.

Mention the word mission and images come to mind: perhaps sending people overseas or trying to recruit people to attend church. I suggested to this leadership team that in the 21st century, mission starts in neither of these ways. Instead, it starts by listening.

Why listen? First, it is common courtesy which people appreciate. It shows they are valued, important, recognised as unique. Second, our world is changing. So listening helps us keep up with that change. Third, we have preconceptions. So listening ensures we start with the needs of others rather than our prejudices.

How to listen? I wanted to be practical, so I suggested a number of different ways this church could listen – take photos, conduct neighbourhood walks, practise appreciative inquiry, interview people. Different strokes for different folks. These were introduced at a seminar in January.

What happens when we listen? Two stories might help. The first is from New Zealand. The church I used to pastor walked the streets of our community at Pentecost. Our task was to listen to the history of the community. One year, as we listened, someone mentioned that a community group needed funding for a new heater (this was Christchurch in winter after all!). We prayed. The next week we heard our prayer had been answered. Listening helped us know what to pray. And it strengthened our relationship with our neighbours.

The second is a story from Australia (told in “God Next Door”). Jane moved to Melbourne with two kids. She was struck by how empty her suburb felt during the week and the lack of interaction outside the school gate. Rather than complain, she placed a note in her local school newsletter, inviting other parents to meet at the playground on a Wednesday on the way home from school. Within a month, 20 or 30 parents were attending. For Jane, “There’s this whole new level of interaction in the neighbourhood that just wasn’t there before.” A new initiative in the community, that began with listening.

There is a lot more to mission that listening. But it’s an important, and respectful, place to start.

Posted by steve at 08:29 PM

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.