As you read the account of “The Fall” in Genesis 3, watch for the exchanges that are taking place in the conversation between the Serpent, Eve, Adam, and God. You will notice that there are a lot of questions being asked, a lot of answers being given, and several being held accountable for their actions.
As we read this account of the Fall, do we see a lot of “active listening” going on? The Serpent was listening for Eve’s response to his line of questioning, Eve was listening to Serpent. Adam was listening to Eve. Adam and Eve were listening for the sound of God moving in the Garden. And God was listening to the justification arguments offered by both Adam and Eve.
As I’ve been contemplating this passage of Scripture over the last couple of months and its application in the ministries of our church, I think I finally narrowed down this passage to “listening is such a fine art”. I’m not sure if you realize it or not, but sometimes your ministry is more about listening than doing, planning, or executing. You get to listen to the good, bad, and ugly from volunteers, parents, church members, elders, board members, and pastoral staff members. And sometimes the children themselves feel free to express their displeasure or excitement about what is happening or not happening in the ministry.
In one of the textbooks, we use in the course, Managing Change and Conflict, “Crucial Conversations” the author Patterson (2011) reminds us that, “When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong, you have three choices: Avoid a crucial conversation and suffer the consequences; handle the conversation poorly and suffer the consequences; or apply the lessons and strategies of Crucial Conversations and improve relationships and results.”
As we read the Genesis 3 account, we see “where the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong.” We see and can imagine that when God showed up, the Serpent probably wanted to slither away and avoid the conversation and certainly didn’t want to be held accountable for the conversation he just had with Eve. We see where Adam and Eve initiated and started the first ever “blame game” and didn’t handle the conversation very well with each other or their Creator. And then we see where God helped them all see the results of not listening and following instructions. You will notice this same strategy being played out today in our world: avoidance, poor choices, consequences, and failure to apply.
How can you learn to listen to the naysayers or negative people? That’s just it, you simply listen. Listen with your ears, and with your arms uncrossed, give them your full attention. Look at them, smile, and listen for those things you can agree with. Encourage them and thank them for their concerns, viewpoints, and opinions.
Before you engage in the crucial conversations, take time to read Colossians 4:6, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (NIV). You may have to revisit that passage after the crucial conversation. It’s not about winning an argument! It’s about encouraging, helping, and listening to someone who may have never had anyone who has taken the time to listen to them or value their thoughts or viewpoints. Someone may never have engaged with them who didn’t get caught up in the blame game. Satan is always going to show up and use people, situations, and circumstances to discourage, and he is your enemy. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV). You can beat Satan at his game by becoming and being a listener.
How can you learn to listen to those who give excuses for wrong behavior and play the blame game? You simply listen and look for opportunities to help and encourage them to learn to take responsibility. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NIV). We see in the book of Daniel, where he had to have a crucial conversation with King Nebuchadnezzar about his continual wickedness and behavior towards others. “Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue” (Daniel 4:27, NIV). It took a lot of courage for Daniel to have this needed conversation with the King.
You will find yourself having to have this same type of conversation with people in and outside of your ministry. You have a relationship with them because they are involved in your ministry, their kids attend your ministry, they support your ministry, or you work alongside them in ministry. You’ve earned the right to speak into their lives: To encourage, to challenge, and to help them become better people for the Kingdom.
Is it easy to have crucial conversations? No. Are there going to be times of misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and the need to hold people accountable? Yes. It’s not like we’re trying to be the type of leader who is carrying a big stick because we’ve been called to take care of business.
Instead, we’re trying to be a leader who says, “I’m here for your success and not your failure.” Your ministry co-workers who are really listening will understand the feedback, the honesty, the straightforwardness, and the accountability. As we often say in the Management and Conflict course, “Conflict is going to happen, it’s not about avoiding conflict, it’s about how you manage it.”
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