(click for photo credit)

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Way back when I was a bivocational pastor and moonlighted in the business world for about 25 minutes, I attended a few of those events where an inspirational speaker would stand and talk about how he changed his life through motivational excellence and You Can Too.  Usually they were somebody who had gotten so unbelievably excellent at their job that they had shot from the mailroom to middle management to CEO and then blew right out of the building to the ultimate in the business world: Consultant.  The consultants would usually pad their pockets with extra cash by flying around to business people events and help the rest of us morons figure out not only how to have excellence on par with Abraham Lincoln, the Dalai Lama, and Bruce Springsteen, but also how we could file our papers more effectively.  And they usually just charged $199 to get you to be as awesomely excellent as they were, and they even threw in an attractive leatherette portfolio with stars embossed on it.

One of the excellent guys (who actually was better than most of them) talked about the power of active listening.  He had a habit of going into a retail store, and when the cashier would mumble, “How are you today, sir?”  He would smile all bright and cheery and reply, “Your face is on fire!”

The cashier, of course, had conditioned herself not to hear, “Your face is on fire!”, but “Fine!” and so, as you can imagine, customer service hilarity would ensue.

“Your face is on fire!”  (“That’s nice.”)

“Your face is on fire!”  (“Mmmm-hmmmm.”)

“Your face is on fire!”  (“Good.  Did you have any coupons?”)

I’m afraid that in the church world, we don’t do things much differently.  Whether its dealing with a first time guest on Sunday morning or taking a phone call during the week or counseling someone in need, we tend to do a poor job in the active listening department.

In my role as the guy who shepherds new people (try fitting that on a business card!), I’ll admit that I have a tendency to do this.  You see, in the Connections Ministry there are really only five answers to any question:

  1. You need to go to Starting Point.
  2. This is the strategy behind that decision…
  3. You need to get into a SummitLIFE group.
  4. We need to get you plugged in to an area to serve.
  5. You’re the most high-maintenance person I’ve ever met.

Of course one of those answers is an obvious fake.  I would never attempt to explain the strategy behind a decision.

My problem is that I don’t often take the time to really stop and listen to the whole question.  In my arrogance, I assume that I know exactly where the conversation is heading.  And I charge headlong into the answer, the Connections Guy on the proverbial white horse, all the while proving nothing but the fact that I haven’t heard the heart of the questioner.

As you minister to people – whether they’re a church member, a first time guest, a co-worker, neighbor, or friend – what do you tell them by the way you listen?  Do you communicate care…or your incredible gift for getting to the point?  Do you foster discussion…or hamper it by your obvious rush to get on to the next thing?

You may not be a great listener, but the people around you are good observers.  Don’t let ’em catch you with your face on fire.