With all the recent talk in the United Methodist Church about splits and schism I am reminded why a primary skill in Youth Ministry is the well-honed ability to truly listen to what other people are saying. Youth ministers get this better than anybody in the church. We listen to parents, youth, volunteers, staff, community leaders, coaches, teachers, spouses, and children. And when we don’t, we create problems.
So here are some ways to continue to improve our skills:
1) Focus: some of us have let technology interrupt us in ways we do not even notice. I was with a youth worker recently who could not stop looking at his phone every minute or so. I had intentionally left mine in my pocket so that I could focus on our needed coaching conversation. Wouldn’t it help us to focus more and practice this skill daily?
2) Intention: some of us have such good ideas/thoughts/opinions that we can’t wait to share and indeed interrupt the person we are listening to. I have learned over the decades (yes I am a slow learner) that what I have to say, no matter how valuable, is not nearly as important as I think it is and what the other person needs most is for me to really listen in order to hear them, not in order to solve their problems through pithy advice. So now my main intention is to always listen more and talk less.
3) Care: some of us are so busy doing the busy work of ministry that we have forgotten that the important part of ministry is the care we provide. People of any age need to know we care. I recently saw a pastor post in social media “I love you but…” which translates to “I could care less about you until you…” in most people’s minds. We can communicate how much we care as we listen with just a few simple affirming words.
4) Love: some of us haven’t figured out that love is actually a verb. It is the Image of God at work in each one of us. So when we are actually doing something loving for another person, it usually is not a lecture, but it is a way of being “with” and being “for” that other person the way God is “with” and “for” us in such a way that nothing can be against us. Can you imagine God NOT listening to your prayers? We should listen as long as it is needed.
5) Thought: some of us are quick to respond instead of pondering what we have heard over a day or two and then giving feedback. If I am honest, most of my quick responses are something like “you idiot” or “how stupid” no matter what fancy theological words I dress up the response in. I see this in the often used phrase “God hates the sin but…” when we should really simply say “God loves you so very much!” and then ponder, stew, contemplate over time how to address the sin, heartache, loss, devastation of the person we are listening to.
6) Prayer: some of us stop at the “Dear Jesus, please help….” part of prayer in the moment after listening. What I mean is- do we keep the issue in prayer for days/weeks/months until we see some movement of the Spirit in the person’s situation? God doesn’t need us as a iReminder alarm, God is working through us as agents of prayer to be a part of holistic recovery for the person we are in ministry with. Did you listen well enough to keep this issue on your daily prayer list indefinitely?
7) Our Own Body & Spirit: some of us have forgotten to even listen to ourselves. How tired are you right now? Did you eat several servings of vegetables and fruits today? How is that youth ministry diet working for you? Did you get enough sleep this week? Are you depressed, angry, distant? Why? Do you find enough solitude daily in order to even listen to yourself?
These things take time. A lifetime really. They are daily orientations. And the best time to start building these slow and hard ministry skills is now.
Who is with me?!?!
Peace and Grace,
Charles W. Harrison