You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to
anger, for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. James 1:19-20
In mid-July, Calvary’s Church Council began facilitating “Listening Posts” between services. (Listening Posts continue through August 16.) The purpose of Listening Posts is twofold:
1) to listen well to the congregation, and
2) to review the Long-Range Plan considering feedback from the Listening Posts.
Recently, when we published the questions to be used in these gatherings, a member inquired about whether there would be time to bring up concerns. The answer was, “These Listening Posts are a time for us to learn about what we are doing right and what kind of hopes we have for the future. If you have concerns, please write them down so that the leadership can consider them separately.” The reason for this approach is that complaints are better fielded individually, rather than collected publicly; they are likely to shut down other group members’ participation in the group process.
This member did exactly that, which gave our leaders the opportunity to hear and respond to that person’s concern.
This member’s desire to have a concern heard was perfectly legitimate, and the direct way it was given helps Calvary to be a healthy faith community. Honesty and being heard are both essential parts of being the body of Christ together at Calvary.
Another part of being the body of Christ together is listening. Not just opening our ears to hear the sound of other people’s voices, but actively listening to and considering other people’s lives and their needs in the body of Christ.
The other word for this kind of “listening” is empathy.
Sometimes when we have a concern about something that is happening in the community, the truth is that our problem may be someone else’s blessing. Sometimes, the thing we think is unacceptable is the thing that ministers to someone else in the church. Take for instance the “worship wars” in years past: Some Lutherans declared that if worship didn’t come straight out the green Lutheran Book of Worship it was wrong; others asserted that, if there weren’t drums and a guitar, worship wasn’t worth their time. What both of these positions lacked was empathy.
Empathy is the ability to view the world from someone else’s perspective and appreciate why they might see the world the way they do. In the words of the old native proverb, it’s “walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins.” Empathy is what Jesus practiced when he saw a hungry, impatient crowd, sat down with them, and said to the disciples, “What are we going to feed them?” Empathy is what Jesus lived when he went to the money-mongering tax-collecting Zacchaeus’ house and faced ridicule for keeping company with him. Empathy is what the
Samaritan expressed when he saw the beaten man robbed and left for dead on the side of the road, and picked him up and took care of him.
Empathy isn’t about comfort. Or doing things the way we’ve always done them. It’s about seeing the world as bigger than your own perspective. It’s believing that faith may ask you to keep company with people you never imagined you’d sit with. It’s about thinking twice before you dismiss someone else’s ministry, because it doesn’t minister to you.
In the words of James, empathy is being “quick to listen, and slow to speak.”
The Listening Posts have two stated purposes: 1) to listen well to the congregation and 2) to review the Long-Range Plan considering feedback from the Listening Posts.
But there is an unstated third purpose that your Council and Pastor hope to see accomplished: Not only that the Council will listen well, but that every member of the congregation may listen well to each other. So I invite you: listen not only with your ears at these events, but listen with your heart to the needs of your fellow Calvary members.
May God who has come down in Christ, to listen to our deepest needs, empower us to be “quick to listen, and slow to speak” for the health of the body of Christ.