“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:” (James 1:19)
Yesterday I was watching old reruns of Monk. I don’t know if you remember the show about the OCD detective. Tony Shalhoub is brilliant, but that really isn’t what this post is about.
Anyway, one scene in the show was the detective interviewing a witness in her home. While she was trying to tell him what she saw and what she experienced, he was extremely distracted. The items on her coffee table were out of place and disorderly. Monk, suffering from OCD, couldn’t hear a word she said until he rearranged all of her knick-knacks.
I’ve been thinking about that. Why are pastors such horrible listeners? Yes, I am talking about you – particularly Reformed pastors. This is a critique of my own tribe. I also have struggled with being a good listener, so these things are coming from my experience.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and they weren’t listening to anything you were saying? You can see the exact moment they shut down. They have already figured out what they were going to say, and anything else you might say is not relevant. I think it is a problem for pastors. We are really bad at listening.
Why are we such bad listeners?
I have a few suggestions:
- We are OCD with theological error. We completely miss someone’s trauma, but woe to the uninformed that uses the word “potluck” (you mean “pot providence”) or “My father was a good man” (THERE IS NONE GOOD; NO NOT ONE!) Just like Mr. Monk, if all of the theological ducks aren’t neatly lined up to our liking, we shut down. Seriously, when was the last time you allowed a theological mistake to just pass you by. Even the attempt to “let it go” causes our muscles to twitch, our words to stammer, our eyes to water…
- We forget to remember that Jesus was moved with compassion for the multitudes – like sheep without a shepherd. Are you compassionate enough to actually let someone tell you their story – even if it makes you uncomfortable, even if you don’t know what to say, even if it takes several hours? Jesus was moved with compassion. So should we be.
- Most of us heard Jay Adams tell us that after 6 or 8 sessions you have a discipline problem. We feel this urge to rush through, tell people what they need to do and move on. Depressed? Get over it. Still depressed? Church discipline! Angry at your rapist? Quit being bitter. Get over it. Move on with your life. We are convinced that we HAVE to give the solution, give the cure, tell them what to do to make this uncomfortable feeling stop. But only a fool answers a matter before he hears it. Listen first. Then speak. It’s what the Bible commands.
I was at a church years and years ago. There was a young man visiting. After the service, I was talking to a couple of the elders and this young man came up to us and asked “Is there a grocery store around here? I need some food”. The elders looked stunned, and then said,
“We don’t shop on the Sabbath Day.”
This is what I mean. Where is the compassion? Where is the discernment?
Be compassionate. Be educated. Be like Christ. Listen.
The hardest thing for a pastor to learn is this: You don’t have to talk all the time. You don’t have to have answers all the time. You don’t have to fill the air around you with a miasma of ignorant pious slogans. You don’t have to correct everyone that is wrong.
But you do have to listen. And you do have to be compassionate.
“Potluck, potluck, potluck, potluck.
“He’s a good man. He’s a good man. He’s a good man.
“God loves everybody. God loves everybody. God loves everybody…..
“Last Sunday I went to a restaurant…”
Let it go. There is a time and place for correcting theology, but remember that we would be in a far better place to do that if we first learned how to listen.
(By the way, Jay Adams was wrong here. Most people haven’t even gotten to the real issue until the 6th session. They start out by seeing if you are trustworthy and willing to listen. If you shut them down the first session, they won’t come to you with the real issue. I believe that this is a major reason why nouthetic counseling has been so disastrous with trauma and assault.)