“Pastors, preach the word boldly and shut the mouths of your listeners!”
That was an actual comment from a pastor in response to one of my blog posts. My article encouraged pastors to enhance their preaching with effective communication techniques–such as those that Jesus used. These include listening to your people, and encouraging people’s questions and dialog.
This pastor’s comment reflects a general attitude that pervades some church staffs. The approach seems to be, “I’m the ministry professional. That means it’s my job to do the talking. And it’s your job to shut up.”
Most church leaders aren’t as blunt as the pastor quoted above. But the attitude often leaks out in more subtle ways.
I understand how this desire to silence the people becomes attractive. Much of what church leaders hear is negative or ill-informed. It can be exhausting to listen to that stuff.
And, the urge to exclusively dominate all communication is often tied closely to a minister’s sense of identity: “I’m the one who went to theological school. I feel called to teach and preach. My calling is not to sit and listen to people who are not called.”
And for others it’s a matter of time management. “I have a lot to say, a lot to share. I simply don’t have time to listen or engage in give-and-take.”
But I fear this effort to muzzle the people is hurting the cause. It implies that the professional Christians are the only ones who have answers, or have a real connection to God. That’s the same kind of misguided elitism that fueled the Reformation some 500 years ago.
And, shaping the church as a place for one-way communication leads to an anemic, passive enterprise. The paid professionals do the talking, share their faith, and perform the ministry. The attendees simply sit in a pew, stay quiet, and do nothing.
In addition, this approach tarnishes its practitioners into poor leaders. They become isolated, out of touch with real people, and disconnected from real life issues.
Rather than looking for ways to “shut the mouths of your listeners,” here are some simple ways to open a conversation that leads to faith growth and effective ministry.
- Provide opportunities for people to publicly tell about how God is working in their lives. Let them speak, or interview them, or show their stories on video.
- Grant time, in classes, studies and sermons, for people to talk and listen to one another.
- Solicit feedback. It’s how you grow. It’s how you know your people. Ask people how your message touched them. Use comment cards and occasional surveys. Welcome the use of performance reviews.
- Visit and listen to people on their own turf–in their homes, workplaces, schools, and hangouts.
- Listen to people outside of your peer group. Many pastors say they read and listen to only one group–other pastors. This leads to dangerous inbreeding. Seek out the voices of thought leaders in other fields.
Listen. This doesn’t mean you should be silenced. It simply means you’ll be more effective when you do speak.