Listening and the Spirit of Unhurried Leisure

May 14, 2014 § 3 Comments

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“Get busy.”

That’s the mantra of many a boss.

“Look busy.”

That’s what coworkers say when the boss is coming.

Busyness isn’t always a synonym for work. In fact, busyness can get in the way of productivity.

Eugene Peterson, best known for his translation of the Bible, The Message, also served as a pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, for 30 years. One of the consistent themes in his teaching and writing is that pastors should not fall into the seductive trap of busyness. Instead, as he writes in “The Unbusy Pastor,” his goal in his role as a church leader was to do three things, things that are too easily pushed aside by a busy life: to pray, to preach, and to listen.

Listening, he says, needs “unhurried leisure.” This leisure is the opposite of busyness. And just as busyness does not equal work, neither is leisure the same thing as laziness. Instead, leisure is having time at one’s disposal, and when one chooses to use that time for listening to what someone else has to say, it is a very valuable gift.

The passage below was written by Peterson in 1981. It is about and for pastors, but it can help any of us listen better, unless, of course, listening is something else we’ve ceded over to the professionals.

I want to be a pastor who listens. A lot of people approach me through the week to tell me what is going on in their lives. I want to have the energy and time to really listen to them so when they are through, they know at least one other person has some inkling of what they’re feeling and thinking.

Listening is in short supply in the world today; people aren’t used to being listened to. I know how easy it is to avoid the tough, intense work of listening by being busy (letting the hospital patient know there are ten more persons I have to see). Have to? But I’m not indispensable to any of them, and I am here with this one. Too much of pastoral visitation is punching the clock, assuring people we’re on the job, being busy, earning our pay.

Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it’s for only five minutes. Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time. Only in that ambience of leisure do persons know they are listened to with absolute seriousness, treated with dignity and importance. Speaking to people does not have the same personal intensity as listening to people. The question I put to myself is not “How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week?” but “How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?” The number of persons listened to must necessarily be less than the number spoken to. Listening to a story always takes more time than delivering a message, so I must discard my compulsion to count, to compile the statistics that will justify my existence.

(Eugene Peterson, “The Unbusy Pastor,” Leadership, Summer, 1981, also in The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, reprint edition, Eerdmans, 1993)

[photo: “Railway Chit Chat,” by Brett Davies, used under a Creative Commons license]

Repost: Are You Listening? Really Listening?

March 20, 2014 § 1 Comment

[My family is moving across town this week, so I haven’t been able to work on the blog much lately. So here’s a repost from about a year and a half ago. This transition thing can feel like Frost’s “miles to go before I sleep.” But until that rest comes, I’ll look for a park bench along the way.]

Finding good listeners is very important to missionaries. In fact, when member-care trainer Brenda Bosch surveyed missionaries about what they wanted from their mission agency, the top answer was “someone to listen to me.”

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that listening is necessary in Christian community. He calls it the “first service” that Christians owe each other:

Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives us God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear. We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to “offer” something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening. But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either; they will always be talking even in the presence of God. The death of the spiritual life starts here, and in the end there is nothing left but empty spiritual chatter and clerical condescension which chokes on pious words. Those who cannot listen long and patiently will always be talking past others, and finally no longer will even notice it. Those who think their time is too precious to spend listening will never really have time for God and others, but only for themselves and for their own words and plans.

For Christians, pastoral care differs essentially from preaching in that here the task of listening is joined to the task of speaking the Word. There is also a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. This impatient, inattentive listening really despises the other Christian and finally is only waiting to get a chance to speak and thus to get rid of the other. This sort of listening is no fulfillment of our task. And it is certain that here, too, in our attitude toward other Christians we simply see reflected our own relationship to God.

In the latter paragraph, Bonhoeffer describes a false, inadequate kind of listening. In reading what is lacking there, we can see the qualities required of a good listener. Are you someone who listens in that way?

  • Do you listen with a “whole” ear?
  • Do you presume that you will hear something unique and valuable?
  • Are you patient?
  • Are you attentive?
  • Do you love the speaker?
  • Do you waive your right to speak?
  • Do you hope to keep the other person in your presence, sharing with you?
  • Are you fulfilling your task, to your neighbors and to God?

The New Testament records Jesus saying several times, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In The Message, this is translated, “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

Thanks to Brian Stankich at FULFILL for drawing my attention to the survey in his post “11 Types of Care Missionaries Want from Their Sending Agencies and Co-Workers.”

(Brenda Bosch, “Summary of Missionary Survey Outcomes,” Global Member Care Network Conference, April 2012; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 5, Augsburg Fortress, 2004, 98-99)

[photo: “Listen carefully,” by Justin Lynham, used under a Creative Commons license]

Even Paul Needed Member Care

April 26, 2013 § 5 Comments

5389776890_84c6406d67_nEven Paul—the apostle, the quintessential missionary, and, to many, the quintessential Christian—needed member care.

At times, Paul stressed his independence. In his letter to the Galatian churches, he affirmed that his role as an apostle came directly from Jesus, not from his association with the other apostles:

But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not go to ask advice from any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away I departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus.

But Paul wasn’t a loner. He took partners with him on his missionary trips, and he looked to others for encouragement and comfort . . . for member care.

When Paul finally met with the apostles in Jerusalem, Barnabas helped him by being his advocate, vouching for his dedication to Jesus. Later, Barnabas sought out Paul for his help in working with the church in Antioch, and the two were sent out by the church on Paul’s first missionary journey. It was during his trips (three are recorded in the book of Acts) and while he was a prisoner that Paul wrote his New Testament letters, often mentioning those who served to encourage him.

Near the end of his first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote about “the household of Stephanus” (or Stephanas), who “devoted themselves to ministry for the saints,” and added,

I was glad about the arrival of Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus because they have supplied the fellowship with you that I lacked. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. So then, recognize people like this.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul told about how he turned away from a God-given ministry opportunity because he needed to hear from Titus:

Now when I arrived in Troas to proclaim the gospel of Christ, even though the Lord had opened a door of opportunity for me, I had no relief in my spirit, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-bye to them and set out for Macedonia.

Then, in Macedonia,

our body had no rest at all, but we were troubled in every way—struggles from the outside, fears from within. But God, who encourages the downhearted, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. We were encouraged not only by his arrival, but also by the encouragement you gave him, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your deep concern for me, so that I rejoiced more than ever.

While under house arrest in Rome, Paul wrote to Philemon, “I have had great joy and encouragement because of your love, for the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.” But Paul  had an issue he wanted to address, as well. Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, had run away, had come to Paul, and had become a Christian. Paul was sending him back to Philemon, not as a slave but as a brother in Christ, even though Paul wrote, “I wanted to keep him so that he could serve me in your place during my imprisonment for the sake of the gospel.” Paul also looked forward to spending time with Philemon in the future, telling him to “prepare a place for me to stay, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given back to you.”

Still a prisoner, Paul wrote to the Colossians and the Philippians. He told those in Colossae that Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus (called Justus) were the only Jewish Christians still working with him, saying “they have been a comfort to me.” And to the Christians in Philippi, he told of his plans to send to them Epaphroditus, whom he described as

my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him—and not to him only, but also to me—so that I would not have grief on top of grief. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me.

Later, imprisoned in a Roman dungeon, Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, saying, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy,” and then,

May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my imprisonment. But when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well all the ways he served me in Ephesus.

Alone, except for Luke, Paul told Timothy, “Make every effort to come to me soon,” requesting that he also bring Mark, because “he is a great help to me in ministry.” Paul even mentions some items that he needs (a care package?), asking Timothy to bring along a cloak that Paul had left in Troas, as well as his scrolls.

Even Paul needed member care. Or maybe we should say, given the hardships that he faced, especially Paul needed member care. He needed it, and he appreciated it.

 And if Paul needed it, so do today’s missionaries, every one.

(Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. www.bible.org. All rights reserved. This material is available in its entirety as a free download or online web use at http://netbible.org/.)

[photo: “St. Paul (Burne Jones),” by Lawrence OP, used under a Creative Commons license]

Are You Listening? Really Listening?

October 9, 2012 § 4 Comments

Finding good listeners is very important to missionaries. In fact, when member-care trainer Brenda Bosch surveyed missionaries about what they wanted from their mission agency, the top answer was “someone to listen to me.”

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that listening is necessary in Christian community. He calls it the “first service” that Christians owe each other:

Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives us God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear. We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to “offer” something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening. But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either; they will always be talking even in the presence of God. The death of the spiritual life starts here, and in the end there is nothing left but empty spiritual chatter and clerical condescension which chokes on pious words. Those who cannot listen long and patiently will always be talking past others, and finally no longer will even notice it. Those who think their time is too precious to spend listening will never really have time for God and others, but only for themselves and for their own words and plans.

For Christians, pastoral care differs essentially from preaching in that here the task of listening is joined to the task of speaking the Word. There is also a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. This impatient, inattentive listening really despises the other Christian and finally is only waiting to get a chance to speak and thus to get rid of the other. This sort of listening is no fulfillment of our task. And it is certain that here, too, in our attitude toward other Christians we simply see reflected our own relationship to God.

In the latter paragraph, Bonhoeffer describes a false, inadequate kind of listening. In reading what is lacking there, we can see the qualities required of a good listener. Are you someone who listens in that way?

  • Do you listen with a “whole” ear?
  • Do you presume that you will hear something unique and valuable?
  • Are you patient?
  • Are you attentive?
  • Do you love the speaker?
  • Do you waive your right to speak?
  • Do you hope to keep the other person in your presence, sharing with you?
  • Are you fulfilling your task, to your neighbors and to God?

The New Testament records Jesus saying several times, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In The Message, this is translated, “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

Thanks to Brian Stankich at FULFILL for drawing my attention to the survey in his post “11 Types of Care Missionaries Want from Their Sending Agencies and Co-Workers.”

(Brenda Bosch, “Summary of Missionary Survey Outcomes,” Global Member Care Network Conference, April 2012; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 5, Augsburg Fortress, 2004, 98-99)

[photo: “Listen carefully,” by Justin Lynham, used under a Creative Commons license]

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