Tag Archives: communicating

Listen Up!

In my opinion, the quality of a good relationship is measured in part by how well the parties listen to each other.  Reflecting back on the best of all times with others it was when genuine conversation took place; where there was a sweet rhythmic dance of the dialog.  I am reminded of such times with a set of friends in Louisiana. We’d gather spontaneously, usually at our home.  What often started off as checking in with each other ended up hours later with a most memorable and delicious fraternity.  We joked and laughed as we played games, then strolled into one another’s lives touching upon the ups and downs we faced.  Often we would get seriously quiet as we contemplated some pretty profound things one or more of us were facing.  At times we would cry together. At other times we would laugh together.  All in all, those were good times, and we bonded more than mere friends would.  In those hours we were like an ideal family.

As time marched on, those events happened less and less.  Why?  We had tasted something very good, and we longed for it.  The most obvious reason was that we moved away, or they did.  Periodically when we would travel to Boise, we would enter into such heavenly episodes with family or those old friends (who had lived in Louisiana).  Once in a while we found the dance among people and friends in Denver, San Diego, Monterey, or San Jose.

Certainly there is a positive chemistry between dancers. Temperaments, personalities, and common interests come into play.  With some, such as a dear family we met in Long Beach before we moved, things just click. With them it is as if we had known each other for years and therefore could converse pretty much about anything.
But why?  There are, no doubt, many reasons.  I will name two.  First of all, I think that we all had a mutual respect for each other.  There was no fear.  Neither was there an attempt to be better than the other.  There was a simple humility that said, “You are important and I am going to respect you and what you say.”  Second, I believe, is that there’s a willingness and ability to listen.

As a seventh grader, relatively new to a town in New Jersey, I wanted to know how I could make friends.  In one of our required hours at the school library I noticed a book that grabbed my attention.  Now that was rare because I had not yet learned to enjoy reading.  The book was How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  The biggest thing I gleaned from that popular and informative book was the value and importance of listening. From that time on listening was a premium quality worth owning.

A few years ago, while preparing to teach a leadership class on the subject of communication, I came across another good book. Listen Up by Barker and Watson is well worth absorbing.  It is from this book that I write the rest of this article.

One of the reasons why I (we) have not often been able to find those enriching engagements is because most people are poor listeners.  The Bible is informative on this subject, as is Listen Up. Here are a few reasons:

* they never learned good skills for listening
* they learned skills from bad behaviors taught or modeled by others
* laziness (for it takes work to hear a person out)
* mental deficiency or disorder
* mental fatigue
* talking too much so as not to give others the chance to talk

However, it seems the most common reason is due to pride.  Pride carries the belief and attitude that what another person has to say is unimportant. Pride says that I know enough or more, so I have no reason to hear you.  Pride says that I am more important, so I will not waste my effort or time on you.

Pride also practices irritating habits. Listen Up lists only the top ten (Barker and Watson, p. 88), but they are worth mentioning:

1.    Interrupting the speaker.
2.    Not looking at the speaker.
3.    Rushing the speaker and making him feel that he’s wasting the listener’s time.
4.    Showing interest in something other than the conversation.
5.    Getting ahead of the speaker and finishing her thoughts.
6.    Not responding to the speaker’s requests.
7.    Saying, “Yes, but…,” as if the listener has made up his mind.
8.    Topping the speaker’s story with “That reminds me…” or “That’s nothing, let me tell you about…”
9.    Forgetting what was talked about previously.
10.    Asking too many questions about details.

What I seem to encounter most often by others in my little world is the habit of disconnecting within the first few words of a discussion.  Their eyes get this glazed over look revealing they have changed their mental channel.  On occasion I’ll start a conversation in one direction and jump to something completely unrelated just to see if there’s any reaction.  There rarely is.

The other thing that often occurs is being cut off by the “listener” while you are speaking.  Oh, pardon me, but was I talking? The third most annoying thing that frequently happens is when someone will tell you something, usually having to do with their life, and when you begin to sympathize by talking about something similarly encountered they ignore what you say and continue talking about their thing or their life.

Those irritating habits are certainly annoying. What’s more, they are denigrating and at times humiliating. Like the pride from which they flow, they say that “I am unimportant, unworthy of being in their presence.”  So, my response, good or not, is to leave, or if it’s someone who is known to have these irritating habits then I just merely refuse to engage, and if possible to avoid altogether.  Nearly everyone who comes to mind who regularly does these things do not even seem to care whether anyone is listening.  They’ll talk and talk and talk.  I suppose it’s because they are the only ones they will listen to?

Frankly, bad listening negates relationships. Bad listening will not allow for the dance of caring engagements or the melody and rhythm of beautiful dialogs. Indeed, bad listening often destroys established relationships, be they friendships, marriages or familial ties. For all those counts I really, really hate bad listening. It’s torture. My worst nightmare would be that I would end up in Hell for eternity, and Hell would be a place where you are among a dozen or so people who are all perpetually talking but no one is listening.  I am there, but functionally invisible. Perhaps I hate bad listening most of all because it steals the slightest opportunity to have a precious, rewarding, life-enhancing discourse and exchange?  It’s like going to a dinner and being served a plate of rotting, putrid fish when you know that the possibility exists for having your favorite dish.

So what to do?  Bad listeners, can, with desire, determination, training and a good measure of humility, become effective and good listeners.  The authors of Listen Up tell us that good and effective listeners have these common characteristics (Barker and Watson, p. 108):

1.    patient
2.    caring
3.    loving
4.    understanding
5.    selfless
6.    attentive
7.    poised
8.    generous
9.    open-minded
10.    thoughtful
11.    intelligent
12.    empathic
13.    involved

Not surprisingly, most of these qualities are presented in biblical Scriptures (but that’s for another time).
The authors help us by giving us strategies for improving our listening skills (Barker and Watson, pp. 109 ff).  Of course they provide details, but allow me, if you will, to highlight their four main points.

First, know when to be silent and when to speak.  Counselors have used a very simple technique, particularly with couples who are having a difficult time communicating.  They give the one partner an object, such as a ball.  S/he then has the right to speak.  When s/he has made the point s/he gives the object to the other person and that person speaks.  The first partner is now obligated to keep quiet and work at listening. When the second partner has had his or her say then the object goes back to the other. And so it goes. Simple, but effective training tool to develop the skill of when to speak and when to be silent.

Second, “put a lid on it.”  Keep emotions under control.  This is certainly a useful strategy in formal or business relationships.  I would say, though, that when people know how to communicate well (which involves good listening), then emotions become a natural part of the dialogical dance.  For example, loving, Christ-like relationships are supposed to have the ability to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12).  Otherwise, the authors have an excellent point, and they suggest the following “tips to stop emotions from taking over:”

1.    Be aware in advance of people and topics that trigger emotions.
2.    Analyze why you react to some words and ideas emotionally.
3.    Resist the temptation to get defensive.
4.    Empathize and remember that the speaker may have different meanings for words than you do.
5.    Withhold judgments until the speaker is finished.

Third, show interest.  It takes a basic level of humility and care to develop this.   They say we can show interest by remembering what was said in previous conversations; remembering their names; using eye contact effectively; and making it easy for others to talk.  What they mean by that is consciously doing what often happens naturally when a good rapport has been established:  nod your head, keep eye contact, lean forward, do not interrupt, and casually mimic the other person’s body language (don’t overdo this or make it obnoxiously obvious).

Finally, the authors suggest using paraphrasing and reflecting skills.  This means repeating back to the other person what you hear them saying so as to gain a healthy level of understanding.

So what’s the point of all this dribble?  Listen!  Selfish pigs (and people too) don’t listen.  Prideful ones have no room for others, and so they will live in their own little world oblivious to the reality of other worlds where people genuinely engage one another in a way that is healthy, helpful, caring and of mutual benefit. They are deaf to the music of mutual concern, benefit and affection.  Listen! Because of the great rewards good listening can reap for you, for others and for society.  Listen – because of the potential for developing and enhancing relationships.  But most importantly, for those who name the name of Jesus, listen! Listen – because he has spoken and is speaking, and calls us to hear.  Listen, because we are called to have loving sympathy, even empathy for others.  Listen, because he first listened.  Listen, so that you can dance the dance.

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Evaluating the Sermon

Everyone has some opinion about the sermon he or she hears during worship service. However, very few actually have some sort of objective standard against which to measure a particular sermon.  This evaluation form is not comprehensive, nor perfectly objective. Nevertheless, it is a tool (assembled from seminary resources) that might be helpful for those truly interested in improving the more mechanical aspects of communicating the message from God’s Word.

The spaces next to each evaluative statement are intended to place a numerical score:  1 being rated poor and 5 being rated as excellent.

I have always found that if the leadership of the local church used this to evaluate the pastor’s sermon (or anyone else giving the sermon), the ratings varied from person to person; and sometimes even significantly.  However, this kind of exercise can be helpful for those who wish to improve in communicating God’s Word.


Scripture Text: _____________________________________

Sermon Title: _____________________________________

I.   Reading the Scripture

A.  Is the reading of Scripture clear?   __________

B.   Is the reading of Scripture expressive?   __________


II.  Sermon Introduction

A.  Sets the foundation for the theme   ___________

B.  Theme of the sermon is obvious       ___________

C.   An interest was aroused                     ___________

D.   The theme is relevant                         ___________

E.   It spoke to an issue or need               ___________


III.  Interpretation of the Passage

A.   The Bible text was explained              ___________

B.   The exegesis was correct                      ___________

C.   The explanation fit the context           ___________

D.   The interpretation was true to the whole of the Scripture __________

E.    Jesus Christ was central to the text    __________


IV.   The Main Structure of the Sermon

A.   What was the main point?  _______________________

1.   The main point was obtained from the main idea of the text __________

2.   The concern addressed in the text is the sermon’s concern __________


B.  The sub-points of the text

1.  The sub-points flow from the main point __________

2.  The sub-points connect to each other with a good flow __________

3.  Each sub-point was developed   __________

4.  The transitions were clear          __________

5.   The points and sub-points were effective ___________

6. There was good overall movement __________


C.   About the Illustrations

1.  The illustrations were appropriate   ___________

2.  They supported the points and were not distracting  __________


D.   Application(s)

1.  Application(s) came from the original application of the text  __________

2.  They spoke to where I am at  in life    __________

3.  I know now what God wants of my life  __________

4.  I know why I must apply what God has instructed me to think and do


5.   I know how I can do what I am to do  __________

6.  The application flowed from the grace of God in Jesus Christ  __________


E.   The Conclusion of the Sermon

1.   The conclusion came from the text itself  __________

2.  There was a well-rounded conclusion of the message  __________

3.   It fit the climax or served as the climax of the message  __________

4.   There was a summons for me to believe and/or do something  __________

5.   The conclusion highlighted the purpose of the message __________


V.  Delivery

A.    Verbal aspects of delivery

1.   Voice inflection was good      __________

2.   Articulation was understandable   __________

3.    Vocabulary was relevant and appropriate to the audience  __________

4.   Volume was appropriate and varied   ___________

5.    The rate of delivery was appropriate and varied  ___________

6.   Easy to listen to   ___________

7.   Good use of pictorial language (similes, metaphors, visual)  __________

8.    It was concise and not filled with unnecessary verbiage  __________


B.  Physical aspects

1.    Gestures were appropriate                 __________

2.    His overall appearance was pleasant __________

3.    The actions were authentic                 ___________

4.    Facial expressions appropriate          ___________

5.    He had good eye contact with audience   __________

6.    His presence commands attention     __________

7.    Distracting habits or actions were absent   __________


VI.   Other aspects of the sermon and delivery

A.  The length of sermon was good  (the sermon was engaging enough to make the length of time irrelevant)                                                  ___________

B.    There was a good sense of momentum      __________

C.    It had a good coherence (not many themes or ‘mini-sermons’)  __________

D.    I learned something                                      __________

E.    My faith was challenged or built up           __________

F.    The message offered hope                            __________

G.   It underscored Christ’s victory in life         __________

H.   It conveyed trust, confidence, love             __________

I.    It spoke to me personally. I “heard” Jesus Christ speaking to me  __________

J.    He spoke with confidence                              __________

K.    He spoke with conviction, fire or “unction”  __________


Primary resources came from:

Pipa, Joseph A. “Sermon Evaluation Form.”  Class lecture with the Internship Class at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Escondido, CA, 1995.

Schuringa, David.  “Student Preaching Evaluation Form.” Class lecture in Preaching Style and Audience Analysis at Westminster Seminary California, 1995.


Taken from Appendix C in The Perfect Pastor? Xulon Press; 2007. © All rights reserved

Permission is granted to use and copy this resource provided credit is given to the original resource.

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How to Connect with People

(How a leader or pastor can connect with people)

In a previous article I discussed the value and the methods for successful communication, including how to listen.  However, you can be a skilled and polished communicator and a relatively good listener, yet never really connect with people.  Good leaders connect with people. Great leaders do so effectively.

Leaders influence others. Good leaders influence others for the good of the individual and/or community. “Connection is …absolutely critical if you want to influence people in a positive way. When you navigate for others, you come alongside them and travel their road for a while, helping them handle some of the obstacles and difficulties in their lives. But when you connect with them, you are asking them to come alongside you and travel your road for your and their mutual benefit.”[1]

As leaders, whether in the church or outside the church, we must connect.  It requires listening and good verbal skills, but it also requires sympathy or empathy, respect, sharing similar interests, experiences and values, and having a sincere interest in helping people grow and succeed. In other words, you are other-focused, but also believe that the direction you are leading others in is for your and their best.

So, what are some ways to effectively connect with people?

1.  See people as having value. After all, they are made in the image of God.

a.   Selfish people rarely make a connection. Proud people at times will connect with others, but it is shallow and short-lived. Humble, other-focused people genuinely relate and make significant  connection with others.

b. Recognize and respect differences in people’s personalities.

c.  Treat them with kindness and courtesy. Remember Christ’s “golden rule.”

d.   Give them a sense that they are really important. They may not be important to you, but they matter to God!

“Making one feel important is more powerful as a motivator than money, promotion, working conditions, or almost anything else.”[2]

An Illustration:

While taking advanced classes in another state over a period of three years I had the opportunity to visit the same church – a total of twelve times!  Each time I was only greeted by one or two people who took the initiative to extend themselves. All the other times I was  introduced by the person who brought me to church, and each time I was treated as if Iwere a stranger who was not worth getting to know.  Needless to say, there was no connection between us..

2.   Take the initiative to know or help them.

“There are many cases of salesmen who have nothing to offer a prospect except friendship out-selling salesmen with everything to offer – except friendship!”   – Charles B. Ruth[3]

a.      Greet them warmly.

b.      Meet them sincerely

Seek to get to know them by considering how you might be their friend. One tool to use is the acrostic “friend”. Use questions to get to know a little more about them that might include:

Family –   Something about the person and his family.

Single? Is he married? Come from a large family? Family live with him? Etc.

Recreation – What hobbies does he enjoy? What kinds of things does he like to do for fun?

Interests –   What kinds of interests does he have: reading, philosophy, social cause?

Education –  Where did he attend elementary or high school? Has s/he continued education beyond that? Is s/he pursuing courses or seminars to enhance his or her growth?

Needs –  Recently move into the area? Looking for a new church? Financially challenged?  Is there anything that I or we can reasonably do to help?

Even the greatest sales people know how to find a need and are able to fill it.  As Christians we have the greatest answer to the deepest and most serious need of all!

Dinner or dessert

How would you like to get together for lunch? We’d like to have you over for dessert, would you be interested?

3.  Find common interests or share common experiences.

4.  Communicate from the heart.

Don’t center the introduction or conversation on your own life. Allow them to get to know you, but  seek to find out about their lives.  Listen with attentiveness and empathy. Be honest and authentic.

5.   Spend time with him or her in order to connect at a deeper level.

6.   Sustain an on-going connection through genuine care[4]:

a.   Encourage – give the person hope for the future.

b.   Appreciate –  show gratitude for their contributions

c.   Affirm –   admiring his or her personal strengths, gifts or talents.

d.   Recognize –  expressing to others their accomplishments.

e.   Confront –   Address his or her failures or sins with gentleness, truth and love so that s/he may repent and change.

William A Cohen wrote:

Both the Old and New Testaments tell us to treat others as we want to be treated ourselves. You may have thought this concept has application only in religion or the practice of ethical conduct. The truth is it also has a great deal to do with good leadership. Why? Because people do not willingly follow leaders who are unconcerned with how they are treated.

Mary Kay Ash called this her ‘Golden Rule System of Management.” She not only practiced it herself, but recommended it to everyone who leads.

During World War II, the U.S. Army gathered together sixty-one of the greatest authorities in the field of psychology to prepare and publish a special study. They came from some of the most prestigious universities in the country. Harvard, Yale, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania, and many others were represented. When they were done, their research was published under the title Psychology for the Fighting Man.

One of their studies was especially unique. For the first time in the history of armies, enlisted soldiers were interviewed about what they thought about good leadership. Want to know what these thousands of soldiers thought made good leaders? The number one factor by frequency of response was ‘competence.’ The good officer was expected to know his stuff.

That answer was pretty much expected. What was not expected had to do with the next fourteen most frequently cited factors. The second, fourth, sixth and seventh most frequent responses all had to do with treatment. These were:

  • interest in the welfare of the soldier (second)
  • patience and ability to make things clear (fourth)
  • doesn’t boss you around without reason (sixth)
  • tells you when you did a good job (seventh)[5]

Once you are connected with the individual or group of people then you are able to truly lead them.

“Leadership is cultivating in people today a future willingness on their part to follow you into something new for the sake of something great.”[6]

[1] John C. Maxwell and Jim Dornan. Becoming a Person of Influence; Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers; p. 165.

[2] William A. Cohen. The Art of a Leader; Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall; p. 30.

[3] Maxwell and Dornan. P. 2

[4] Bobb Biehl. Increasing Your Leadership Confidence; Sisters, OR: Questar Publishers; pp. 160-161.

[5] William A. Cohen. The Art of a Leader; Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall; p. 35-36.

[6] Ibid. p. 17


(c) D. Thomas Owsley – All rights reserved

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Filed under Church Leadership, Communication, Pastor & Church Relationship