“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.
I want my teaching to ‘open the mouths’ of my listeners. I want to stimulate them to think. In my opinion, teaching or preaching should never be done to show how much I know, but rather to help the listener grow in their walk with the Lord. We often have ‘Question and Answer’ Sunday morning services. I begin by doing a brief teaching on a particular topic, then anyone in the audience can ask questions or make comments. This has become an effective teaching tool – both for the audience and for me. Yes, at times there are ‘quirky’ questions or comments, nor do I always agree with what someone may say – but the benefits outweigh these issues. I also make sure that ‘petty doctrinal’ debates don’t disrupt this time, and I am vigilant to protect people from exposing personal issues about themselves or others in these sessions. A good moderator will can keep things on track. We have received great comments from visitors who are amazed at this ‘Q and A’ format during a regular Sunday morning worship service. Rather than a sermon, they are able to participate in the dialogue. Finally, my ulterior motive in this is to provide a safe atmosphere for believers to express themselves as we move towards transitioning to interdependent house church gatherings. I want to model on a larger scale what should be done in a close covenant gathering that meets in a home. Blessings!
Cool, Tim. I want to come to your church!
Good advice. As a former elder, one of the things I learned from being in a toxic environment, is that when given leeway to dialogue, people will often do so in negative ways like whining and complaining. However, the leader’s job in such a situation is to redirect that negativity and model for people how to shape their interactions so that each one is not toxic leading other people to shut down–including the leader.
Wow. Amazing you need to write such a post. If faith development is not a two way discussion, I don’t know what it is. Thanks for your voice. I’m listening. 😉
Good teachers know that until you answer the question of the student, they aren’t listening to what you are saying. Until we find out what the questions are, how can we help them find God’s answers? Good post.
Good post–sad that it’s an issue, but great post. I am the office manager of a church and I’m using this for the next time I have to do a devotional in staff meeting 🙂
I am not an ordained pastor, but I am responsible for doing Bible Study with residents in a health care facility where I am an Activity Coordinator. Rather than just telling them what I know, I seek input from what we are talking about from the residents. Consequently, I have received feedback from them saying that they prefer my Bible Study to the leaders who just read the Bible and interpret the passage.
I read nearly every day because I am a knowledge freak being autistic and this is one of the best and necessary articles that I have read this year. When I lived in England, I attended a church where there was no platform, no pulpit, no programme, no preacher and no pastor running the meetings. Everyone gave as the spirit gave them utterance (Corinthians).
When I moved to Australia and spoke of it, the first question every time was “But what if something goes wrong?”
My reply was something like this. In the 10 years I was there, it only went wrong five times and an Elder stepped in to correct the situation and if the Holy Spirit is in charge, why do you think that he is incapable of doing things decently and in order (that was the main reason why people said it shouldn’t happen).
In a nutshell, the issues is control, of the people, the programme and the outcomes and to control the situation so that faults and failings cannot be exposed.
The scripture says for freedom, Christ has set us free, not as some pastors would have it to bring us into bondage again to elemental forces.
Church sign boards that say on them Pastor: See More Light have no place in New Testament living. Why not have all the other ministry people listed because without them the pastor is out of a job.
That in itself suggests that the pastor is superior to everyone else when in actual fact the scripture teaches that he is to be the servant of all, not their master as we have only one master and that is Jesus.
Ron wrote: “Maybe what the pastor was saying was that if pastors would stop watering down Scripture, preach the full truth via solid expository preaching it would answer many questions through the sermon series. Just maybe a pastor is attempting to state that we could handle a lot of questions with clear biblical teaching. NOT shutting people up because we’re too good to be bothered.”