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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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Finding Common Ground

A recommended book written by Tim Downs

Much of this book by Downs gave quite a bit of food for thought and consideration. Here are many quotes from the book that I found helpful or thought-provoking:

 

[There are postmodern] beliefs that are rapidly dominating post-modern culture.  The average Christian, armed with weapons designed to counter yesterday’s  modernist attack, finds himself frustrated and bewildered as the soil continues to melt away beneath his feet. p. 23

In philosophy, pluralism is “the belief that no single explanation or view of reality can account for all the phenomena of life.” By definition, to tolerate someone implies that you do not agree with his views.  You’re simply willing to indulge him. Dr. John Gray of Oxford University makes the point even more strongly”

[Tolerance] is unavoidably and inherently judgmental.  When we tolerate a practice, a belief, or a character trait, we let something be that we judge to be undesirable, false, or at least inferior; our toleration expresses the conviction that despite its badness, the object of toleration should be left alone.  This is in truth the very idea of toleration, as it is practiced in things great and small.  So it is that our tolerance of our friends’ vices makes them no less vices in our eyes: rather, our tolerance presupposes that they are vices. pp. 27-28

In our contemporary culture, Carter says, nothing is worse than an attempt to impose your religious beliefs on someone else.  Why?  Because an attempt to persuade someone else to your position presupposes that you believe his position to be flawed or inferior.  All attempts to persuade are judgmental.  They are, by modern redefinition, intolerant—and greeted with anger.  Samuel Taylor said, “I have seen gross intolerance shown in the support of tolerance.” p. 30

To me the student was only a “target.”  He was there to help me fulfill my obligation and return to my friends with a story to tell.  He was there to serve my ends.  I was communicating a message that could change his life, but it was all about me.   p. 36

Griffin argued that an ethical (and effective) Christian persuader must always seek to balance the requirements of love and justice.      p. 38

Yet in verse 12, Jesus said, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  You can hear the voices of both love and justice in a single sentence.  “I have many more things to say to you,” said justice, “but you cannot bear them now,” said love.  Jesus said what He could, then backed off.  p. 39

Georgetown University linguistics professor Deborah Tannen describes modern America as the “Argument Culture.”  In her book by that title she wrote: ‘The argument culture urges us to approach the world—and the people in it—in an adversarial frame of mind.  It rests on the assumption that opposition is the best way to get anything done…The war on drugs, the war on cancer, the battle of the sexes, politicians’ turf battles—in the argument culture, war metaphors pervade our talk and shape our thinking.  Nearly everything is framed as a battle or game in which winning or losing is the main concern.  These all have their uses and their place, but they are not the only way—and often not the best way—to understand and approach our world. p. 41

John Woodbridge, professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, wrote an article entitled “Culture War Casualties: How Warfare Rhetoric Is Hurting the Work of the Church.”  Woodbridge believes that when Christians join the argument culture, when we take on a warlike mind-set and communication style, it creates several problems:

· When we speak in the language of war it makes it harder for us to love our enemies because it inflames our own anger feelings.

· A war mind-set is an “us or them” mentality.  There is no room for middle ground or nuanced positions.

· The language of war makes even the gospel itself sound like angry criticism instead of good news offered in love.

· When we speak in the language of war we create the impression that we are the true enemies—and even the aggressors.

pp. 41-42

Our war mentality leads us to adopt a confrontational style of communication with unbelievers.  We assume their hostility in advance.  The unbeliever is not a seeker to be wooed and won, but an attacker to be repelled.  The Bible is no longer a love letter to the lost; it’s the gospel bomb that destroys the enemy stronghold.  When Christians no longer believe that the unbeliever will even listen, there is nothing left to do but testify.  I’ll say what I’m supposed to say, regardless of the effect it has on you.  p. 43

The church could not retreat from the world to pursue exclusively “sacred” activities because the world would not make the same retreat.  “Good philosophy must exist,” [C.S. Lewis] reminded us, “if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” p. 49

The underlying assumption is clear: If a graduate is saturated in science and briefly exposed to art,  he has everything he needs to make an impact on the world.  p. 55

Information has no power to persuade or transform until it is given art.

The Christian preference for science is strange indeed when you consider that our Sourcebook is a book of art.  Eugene Peterson wrote, “It surprises me when pastor friends are indifferent or hostile to poets.  More than half our Scriptures were written by poets.”  When God wanted to communicate His Word to mankind He packaged His message in every literary form known to man, including poetry, narratives, parables, proverbs, and even songs.  p. 56

The art of the Bible is no accident.  God wrapped His gift to us in magnificent and alluring paper precisely because the power and persuasiveness of language come through art—through the clever, creative, and memorable style of its delivery.  Is it an accident that Psalm 23 is a poem and not a set of propositions?  Is it an accident that almost 80 percent of the words in the Sermon on the Mount have only one syllable?  Is it an accident that the average adult in America knows almost nothing of Jesus but can remember at least one of His parables? pp. 57-58

Indirect communications share three common features.  First, there is no direct attempt to persuade—the real subject in question is often not even mentioned.  Second, the attack is against the line of supply, some underlying belief or attitude that is critical to the support of the primary belief.  Third, the style of the communication is as attractive and enjoyable as possible.  Art is the chief weapon of indirect attack.  pp. 63-64

I see the state of the spiritual battle that surrounds us this way: For the first time in many years, evangelicals have their opponents evenly matched or even outgunned on an intellectual, scientific level.  We have collected impressive weaponry and personnel, and we feel prepared to mount a frontal attack or to repel any direct attack made against us.  Look at these facts.  Read these proofs and evidences.  Listen to our philosophers and scholars.  Argue with us, debate with us, give us your best shot—we’re ready for anything you can throw at us.

But the enemy general, sensing the buildup of forces on our front lines, knows that it’s no longer to his advantage to mount a frontal attack.  If he attempts a major direct offensive and loses, he faces a crushing setback.  But even if he wins a direct attack, he only pushes us back against our reinforcements; he rallies our troops and creates a sense of solidarity and unity. pp. 64-65

The obvious objection to this suggestion is, “We can’t just go out tomorrow and make a film.”  No, we can’t.  Nor did our opponents begin making their film yesterday, nor did they begin learning the craft of filmmaking last week.  Many of them have devoted their entire adult lives to developing a craft that they can now use with great skill to promote whatever worldview they desire.  We will not be able to compete with that kind of artistry without a similar investment of time and energy—an investment that we won’t make, because we don’t value filmmaking.  p. 66

We must lose our fear of art without beginning to worship it.  Art alone is no greater virtue than science alone.  We must always work to strike a balance between the two—clear, scriptural thinking communicated in a powerful and relevant style.  p. 67

The greatest attacks on Christianity now come through art, not science.

The most devastating blows to Christian belief are indirect, not frontal.

The most damaging assaults on the Christian worldview are gradual, not immediate. pp. 70-71

We, too, can learn a lesson from the mole: There is great potential for spiritual impact when a Christian becomes an insider by working his way to a key position of influence and trust. p. 74

From the outside-in perspective, there are two options: (1) you can come out and be trained to harvest, possibly losing valuable influence you once possessed, or (2) you can remain inside and attempt to harvest, muddling by the best you can with competing time demands and no training.  You can harvest as an insider or you can harvest as an outsider.

But there is a third option, an option that has tremendous value—though few Christians currently recognize it as true ministry at all.  It is the philosophy of inside-out, in which insiders are encouraged to stay where they are—and to sow.  p. 81

Imagine, as [C.S.] Lewis would say, if every time a teenager turned on a radio, the music he heard was not proclaiming a Christian message, but was simply consistent with a biblical worldview.   Would that be of any value?  Would it have any effect on the mind-set of the teenager over time?  And could it have any effect on the way that teenager might one day respond to the direct appeal of a harvester?  p. 85

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best-known stories in Western literature.  Like all great stories, it operates on a number of levels.  It’s like an onion; as each layer of truth is removed, another layer is revealed.  On the surface, it’s a story about racism and prejudice.  Near its core, it’s a story about separatism and pride.    p. 91

In our dealings with unbelievers, Jesus said, we are to be both shrewd and innocent.  One commentator described the tension this way: “His followers were to be, not prudent toward outsiders and innocent toward God, but both prudent and innocent in their mission to outsiders…The balance is difficult, but not a little of Jesus’ teaching combines such poles of meaning.”

The strange thing about this tightrope is that evangelicals almost without exception choose to fall off to the same side, as though the other side doesn’t even exist.  What a peculiar anomaly!  The law of averages tells us that roughly half should err to each side, yet some strange suction draws us all irresistibly toward innocence and away from shrewdness.   p. 94

It’s important to take note of the timing of Jesus’ warning to His disciples.  The disciples had watched Jesus teach the multitudes, heal the sick, cast out demons, and even walk on water without any mention of their need for shrewdness.  The disciples had worked, traveled, prayed, and fasted together without any special need for prudence or practical wisdom.  It was not until they were sent out to have personal contact with unbelievers that they were warned of the need to be both innocent and wise.    p. 95

What I discovered after several years of this kind of interaction is that, because of the separatism that exists in the evangelical world, Christians tend to learn the Bible as an isolated topic.  They understand biblical doctrine, but not what it has to do with business or politics or the family.  They understand biblical morality, but not how to apply it to the complexity of modern relationships.  They are superbly prepared to answer questions that non-Christians quit asking two generations ago.

John Wesley once commented that a mature Christian should be able to put his finger down anywhere in the Bible and work from that point to the gospel.  That’s an admirable goal, but I would like to suggest another skill that’s needed just as much because of those modern construction techniques: A mature Christian should be able to put his finger down anywhere in today’s newspaper and work from that point to the gospel.  Christians today must stop being satisfied with randomly collected biblical data and begin to aggressively pursue wisdom—the ability to apply what they know to their own lives and to the lives of unbelievers around them. pp. 98-99

What can we do to help reverse this dangerous polarization?  What can we do to reach out not only to those who are like us, but also to those who are most unlike us?  We can begin to think in a different way about communicating our faith.  When we think of communicating with those around us, we can begin to use this thought process: I may not be able to harvest yet with the Hindu, the feminist, or the evolutionist.  But what can I say to each of them?  Where can I at least begin?  How can I sow?     p. 107

 

Soil Deficiency 1: Ignorance of All Things Biblical:

The increasing biblical ignorance in America has one very serious consequence.  In more and more cases, when Christians try to witness to non-Christians, the non-Christians have no idea what we’re talking about.  Talking to an American about the Bible is now a cross-cultural experience.

The citizens of Cambridge intuitively understood a basic principle of human communication: The less knowledge a person has in common with us, the more carefully and thoroughly we must communicate with him.  Strangely, modern Christians rarely apply that principle when communicating with nonbelievers.  We forget that, when it comes to all things biblical, most Americans are from out-of-town.   pp. 110-111

Soil Deficiency 2: Prejudice:

It seems like almost everyone today has had some encounter with religious “proselytizing,” from a knock at the front door to a request for funds at the local airport.  The image of these encounters portrayed in the media is always negative: a lengthy, boring, irrelevant, unwanted intrusion by a glassy-eyed, too-friendly, Scripture-quoting devotee of some religious sect.  Thanks to these images, even those who have never had the direct experience feel as if they have.

I once asked the students at the Communication Center to describe for me the stereotype of an evangelical Christian in the eyes of the average American.  Here is a part of their list:

· Phony   · Intolerant   · Pushy  · Know-it-alls  · Manipulative   · Out of touch  · Politically conservative  · Out of date  · Socially conservative  · No sense of humor

How is this [the sower breaking the unbeliever’s stereotypes so he will listen] done?  A simple look at the Christian stereotype list above suggests some possibilities:

· Don’t be pushy or manipulative.  Don’t feel that every conversation with your neighbor must be turned to spiritual issues.  Don’t insist on forcing the harvest even when the fruit is not yet ripe.

· Don’t voice all your political viewpoints.  Your co-worker doesn’t have to know how you feel about welfare reform, capital punishment, and Rush Limbaugh.  And maybe it’s better that he doesn’t, if you want to talk about God later.

· Don’t know everything.  On some subjects, withhold your opinion.  Tell him you’re still thinking about it.  Ask him for his.  This shouldn’t be false humility either—you don’t know everything, and he can teach you something.

· Stay in touch.  Who won the World Series this year?  What was on TV last night?  Do you care about anything that he cares about—or are you so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly value?

· Lighten up.  Nothing shatters the stereotype of arrogance and stuffiness as fast as the ability to laugh—especially at yourself.    pp. 114-116

Soil Deficiency 3: Personal Issues   p. 116

Soil Deficiency 4: An Inadequate Worldview:

The goal of the program is simple: To desire repentance you must feel guilt; to feel guilt you must believe something was wrong; to believe something was wrong you must experience the pain you caused.  Each belief is supported by a prior belief.   pp. 117-118

 

Soil Deficiency 5: Cultural Issues:

Books on cultural trends abound, but consider just a few societal attitudes that culture watchers have observed in the last few years that could greatly affect the reception of the gospel.

· Deeply imbedded skepticism

· Insistence on privacy

· Resistance to persuasion

· Relativistic view of truth

· High value on tolerance

· Commitment to diversity  pp. 119-120

 

Soil Deficiency 6: Personal Cost:

The story is told of a chicken and a pig who decided to have breakfast together.  “Why don’t we go out for some bacon and eggs?” suggested the chicken.  “No, thanks,” said the pig.  “For you, bacon and eggs is just a contribution.  For me it’s a total commitment.”    p. 121

The lesson is simply that timing is one important consideration; there are good and bad moments to try to inject the spiritual into a distracted life.  p. 127

An old principle of persuasion says, “The first purpose of a persuasive speech is to show that not much persuasion is needed.”  In other words: A wise communicator seeks to build agreements, not arguments.  We’re not that much different, you and I.  We come from similar backgrounds.  We want a lot of the same things out of life.  We only differ at this one point. p. 133

Many writers have observed that one of the most important elements for an unbeliever considering conversion is his perceived sense of Christian community—or lack thereof.  In other words, “I know the community I would leave behind; is any community waiting for me on the other side?”  People in general have a powerful desire to belong and to be accepted, and these desires are not eliminated by faith in Christ.  An unbeliever considering the gospel is not only asking, “Can I believe this?” but also, “Who would I know there?  Would I belong?” pp. 138-139

We live in a cynical age.  When a stranger is unexpectedly friendly, the first thought that comes to mind is, What does he want?  Is he selling something, or does he want to sign me up for his multi-level marketing scheme?  In the busyness of modern life, we often seek out others only when we want something from them.  Unfortunately, Christians are sometimes guilty of the same fault.  What comes to our neighbor’s mind when our first sign of friendliness is followed by an evangelistic presentation?       p. 139

As Christians we are essentially translators.  Our job is to take complex theological principles, first recorded in ancient Near Eastern texts, and express them in terms so simple and clear that the most uneducated modern listener can understand them.  Translation takes time, and it requires the knowledge of at least two languages: the language of your original text and the language of your listener.  A truly effective translation is faithful to both.   p. 146

Think of the term “Christian movie.”  What does it suggest to you?  How would you characterize it?  Sometimes after seeing a movie we will report to one another, “It was really good, but it wasn’t exactly a Christian film.”  What we mean is either that the movie violated some Biblical norm—there was profanity or illicit sexuality—or that the movie wasn’t blatantly and openly about Christian things.  There was no mention of God or Jesus or heaven or hell.  There were a lot of good questions, but no clear answers.  As I said before, Christians are answer people, and a film that gives no answers can hardly be called Christian.  We reserve the term “Christian movie” for Billy Graham films and the evangelistic videos we use in our youth groups—films that give answers.   p. 149

Psychologists tell us that two of our most compelling needs are the need for love and the need to work.  Sometimes in our hunger for fulfillment we confuse these two longings.  A lonely middle-aged man immerses himself in his career, consciously hoping to find acceptance, appreciation, and admiration—hoping to be loved.  But ultimately he feels unfulfilled in his work and unloved.  His work seems somehow unsatisfying, though his performance is outstanding.  There’s still something missing, a kind of gut-level craving he can’t quite put his finger on, so he pours himself ever more deeply into his profession.  He has made the tragic mistake of seeking to meet his need for love through work, and although the work can be fulfilling and meaningful, it simply cannot substitute for love.   p. 165-166

To put it another way, before the sower can introduce his co-workers to God, he must introduce God into his work.    p. 167

Work, when it truly fits us, may cease to be work at all.  “Find work that you love,” the old adage says, “and you’ll never work a day in your life.”   p. 172

To introduce God into our specific jobs, we need to think deeply about questions like these:

· What does it mean to both be a Christian and hold this job?

· How would I do my job differently if I were not a Christian?

· What biblical principles most apply to my daily responsibilities?

· How should my faith affect the way I relate to my co-workers, superiors, or employees?

· Do I know any experienced or successful Christians in this line of work?  Is there a way

I can benefit from their experience?

· Has anything been written by a Christian in this or a similar field?

· Can I meet with other Christians in my field to continue to explore these questions? p. 174

 

 

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The Connecting Church

A friend of ours, Ira Orr, gave me a copy of Randy Frazee’s book shortly after it’s release a number of years ago.  Ira was one of the pastors at the church in which Randy was the senior pastor.  Frazee’s book gives a number of insights into what it means to be a church that connects with one another and finds viable, healthy ways to connect with those who are not believers in Jesus Christ.

Here are some excerpts:

One of the underlying problems of the Johnsons and most people who live in the average American suburb (or international equivalent) is that they have too many worlds to manage.  There are too many sets of relationships that do not connect with each other but all require time to maintain.  Bob and Karen simply do not have enough time and energy to invest in each world of relationships in order to extract a sense of belonging and meaning for their lives.

Just think of the many disconnected worlds the Johnsons have to maintain: their own family, two places of work, church, a small group, the children’s sports teams, the children’s schools, extended family out of town, and neighbors.  If we were to delve further into the Johnson’s lifestyle, we would discover many other worlds as well—old friends from high school and college, the last place they lived, and other relationship circles at church (for example, the women’s Bible study group and the Mission Committee of which they are both members.) Pp. 33-34

If a true and workable solution is to emerge, it must involve a radical restructuring of our lifestyle.  At the core of this restructuring is a new operating principle for living: In order to extract a deeper sense of belonging, we must consolidate our worlds into one. Pp. 34-35

“To be ‘baptized into Jesus Christ’ signaled for Pauline converts an extraordinary thoroughgoing resocialization, in which the sect was intended to become virtually the primary group for its members, supplanting all other loyalties.”  The experience of authentic community is one of the purposes God intends to be fulfilled by the church. P. 36­

The church of the twenty-first century must do more than add worlds to an already overbooked society; it must design new structures that help people simplify their lives and develop more meaning, depth, purpose, and community. P. 37­

Consider the list of characteristics of individualism over against its counterpart:

  • Think of Myself over Think of Others (If I don’t, who will?)
  • Lawsuits over Reconciliation
  • Individual Rights over Community Responsibilities
  • Career Advancement over Company Loyalty
  • Cynicism over Trust (If you don’t know anybody, how can you trust them?)
  • Relative Truth over Absolute Truth (truth is defined by and for each individual)

Pp. 42- 43 

The Johnsons were not born into a culture of community but into a culture of individualism.   P. 43

The “hard to swallow” premise is that today’s church is not a community but rather a collection of individuals. P. 45

Princeton’s Robert Wuthnow has found that small groups mainly “provide occasions for individuals to focus on themselves in the presence of others.  The social contract binding members together asserts only the weakest of obligations.  Come if you have time.  Talk if you feel like it.  Respect everyone’s opinion.  Never criticize.  Leave quietly if you become dissatisfied.”

In Overcoming Loneliness in Everyday Life, two Boston psychiatrists, Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz, suggest that because of their episodic nature, groups “fail to replicate the sense of belonging we have lost.  Attending weekly meetings, dropping in and out as one pleases, shopping around for a more satisfactory or appealing group—all of these factors work against the growth of true community.” Pp. 46-47

Wuthnow brings to the surface the fact that most small group members do not enter the group with a common set of beliefs and purposes.  Rather, everyone carries his or her own individual set of beliefs and purposes. P. 47

This is an important point to emphasize, because many people assume that the churched Christian has a firm handle on the biblical theology that fuels the Christian life.  An extensive Barna Research Group study shows that “Americans’ Bible knowledge is in the ballpark, but often off base.”  P. 51 

Let’s go back to the insights of E.D. Hirsch, tweak them a bit, and apply them to the church: “Can a group of Christians who do not share a common set of beliefs, practices, and virtues really be considered a Christian community, or are they rather a group of individuals who happen to gather on Christian soil?” P. 52­

“What we are dealing with here is what created Western Civilization as a civilization.  If all you had was what churches give out today, you would never produce Western Civilization. “Now, one of the chief ingredients of individualism’s value system is to reject the notion of sharing something, particularly beliefs, in common with others.  This rejection presents the greatest obstacle in overcoming the plague of individualism.  The current view of many in our culture is that seeking communal adherence leads to abuse of power or to lording someone’s beliefs and practices over community members.  There are many experiences to lay on the table to validate this charge.  However, the solution cannot be to abandon the principles of community for the principles of individualism; the solution is to provide boundaries and promote healthy principles of community.    P. 53

In the American Christian small group, we love to use the word accountability.  But if we are precise in our definitions, we really don’t have accountability; we only have disclosure.  A group member is often willing to disclose personal struggles and decisions, but there usually is no invitation to challenge the choices or to hold the person accountable to an objective standard. P. 57

While there are several ways to list and label these spiritual practices, consider the following ten:

  • Worship: worshiping God for who he is and what he has done for us (see Psalm 95:1-7)
  • Prayer: praying to God to know him, to lay our requests before him, and to find direction for our daily life (see Psalm 66:16-20)
  • Bible Study: reading the Bible to know God, to hold to the truth, and to find direction for our daily life (see Hebrews 4:12)
  • Single-Mindedness: focusing on God and his priorities for our life (see Matthew 6:33)
  • Biblical Community: fellowshipping with other Christians to fulfill God’s purposes in our life, in others’ lives, and in the world (see Acts 2:42-47)
  • Spiritual Gifts: using the gifts God has given us to fulfill God’s purposes (see 1 Corinthians 12:1-31)
  • Giving Away Our Time: giving away our time to fulfill God’s purposes (see Colossians 3:17)
  • Giving Away Our Money: giving away our money to fulfill God’s purposes (see 2 Corinthians 8:7)
  • Giving Away Our Faith: giving away our faith to fulfill God’s purposes (see Ephesians 6:19-20)
  • Giving Away Our Life: giving away our life to fulfill God’s purposes (see Romans 12:1-2)

Pp. 78-79 

SEVEN FUNCTIONS OF BIBLICAL COMMUNITY

A Covenant

S  Spiritual Formation

E  Evangelism

R  Reproduction

V  Volunteerism

I   International Missions

C  Care

E  Extending Compassion

Pp. 82-83

The late Francis Schaeffer gave us the gift of these rich words: “Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful—the Christian community is the final apologetic.”  P. 85

Bob Buford has convinced me that whatever we measure is really our mission. P. 88 

The discussion in the Community Group provides a “breakout” from the worship service and an outlet to share what they have learned in their personal study.  It is our firm belief that drilling down three times with three different types of educational experiences on one topic produces better results than three disconnected educational experiences on three different topics. P. 99

While a centralized structure is cleaner and easier to operate, in the end it more resembles the way a business is run than a dynamic community, which the church is called to be.  The decentralized model stretches the gifts of the body, produces more ownership among a broader group of people, and accomplishes more in the end than could be done with a handful of committee members.   P. 100 

FIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF COMMUNITY AROUND A COMMON PLACE

Spontaneity – Spontaneity is defined a “acting or taking place without any outside force or cause.”

Availability – Closely akin to spontaneity is the characteristic of availability.

Frequency – Another characteristic of community that promotes the value of a common place is frequency.  Simply put, people who are satisfied with the experience of community  are those who spend a great deal of time together.

Common Meals

Geography

Pp. 119-132 

One of consumerism’s driving principles is rights over responsibility.  In this system, the pursuit and protection of one’s rights always wins out over one’s responsibility to his or her neighbor.  It’s not something people deliberately choose because they are more depraved than previous generations; it is a natural consequence of individualism.   Pp. 178-179 

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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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