Six Ways to Practice Listening at Church

listening at churchSo much of your time is spent planning, crafting, and speaking. Yet one of the most important practices that I guarantee will build your leadership is listening. It’s an essential part of pastoral care AND it can enhance your leadership by deepening your connection with people in your church.

Here are six ways to practice listening at church. Bonus: you can practice at home.

  1. In any conversation, listen as much as you talk. Become aware of how much you talk in relation to others. Even if you don’t try to listen more, monitoring this will probably lead you talk less automatically. This applies to meeting with your congregation president, board meetings, pastoral care visits and conversations with your spouse. Don’t listen only to respond or refute. Give them the gift of your attention. (And notice how it feels when people give you that space too!)
  2. Give up arguing. Try listening. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to convince others of the rightness of your position. You’re so well intentioned! It’s so obvious! It’s based in Scripture! It will benefit the congregation! However, when people change their position, it’s usually not because you argued them to a standstill. When you listen, and give space, you create room for them to move. You also create room for you to truly ponder their position.
  3. Stop defending yourself. Pause and listen. It’s understandable to feel defensive when someone criticizes you. You can explain your motivation, get emotional, or feel insulted. Instead, I recommend you take a breath, and simply listen. If you know you blew it, apologize. If you disagree with the criticism, thank them for being honest with you. Later when your feelings are less raw, consider whether there is truth, whole or partial, in what they were saying.
  4. Let go of defending someone else. Give space and listen. When someone criticizes someone else, you are in a triangle. You can’t change a relationship you don’t belong to, remember. In this case, you might not want to listen to a long harangue about another person. That is a valuable boundary to hold. So pause, listen, and then ask, “Have you talked with them directly?”
  5. Be curious while you listen. What can you learn about this person? Every conversation is a chance to go deeper with someone and gain more perspective. If they talk about their family story, make note – where are they in the order of siblings? Were/are they close to their parents or distant? This will help you better understand how they function in other settings. What are their values and interests?
  6. Pay attention to your own response. Are you anxious, bored, interested, agreeing, disagreeing? What do you notice in your own experience? When we can become more reflective on our responses to others instead of just reacting, we have more choices in how we relate to them. And when we do speak, we’ll be more grounded and thoughtful.

Big questions for you to mull over:

What are your own listening challenges? What do you want do to become a better listener?

Immediate question to answer in the comments below:

When has someone truly listened to you? How did that feel?

And here’s a brief post with a great quote from a secular leader about listening to God.


2 replies on “Six Ways to Practice Listening at Church

  • Dale Harris

    Hi Margaret,

    I am a retired UMC pastor living at Willamette View Retirement Community. Even though I no longer lead a congregation I always read your blogs and gain from them. I found this one on listening particularly relevant.



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