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the art of listening

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Ministry is often seen as proclaiming the Gospel with our words or actions toward someone who we desire to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. While this form of ministry is effective, there is a form of ministry that is often overlooked.

Over the past few days, I have participated in an intensive professional sales training bootcamp put on by my friends at

We covered common sales topics such as bonding & rapport, questioning, budgeting, and fulfillment. One of the major topics covered was listening.

Listening is a skill that is taught early in life but seems to rarely get improved upon as we age. Everyone hears, most listen, but few actively listen. What is the difference?

In the seminar we talked about the four levels of listening:

  1. Detached Listening - The listener is physically present but mentally somewhere else. There are two types of detached listening: (A) Unconsciously Detached - The listener is oblivious or unaware of his or her lack of listening. (B) Consciously Detached - The listener is selectively listening to what he or she wants to hear. (This comes standard for most males)

  2. Marginal Listening - This is one level better than detached, but not by much. The listener hears but only superficially and is easily distracted by outside occurrences.

  3. Evaluative Listening - The listener hears well enough to repeat back what you have said, but is totally unaware of nonverbal communication. 

  4. Active Listening - The listener asks for and absorbs communication both verbal and emotional. Questions are well-worded and intentional. The listener looks and acts genuinely concerned allowing a full response to the question.

Which of these levels do you operate at most of the time? For me, this question was quite convincing. I like to think of myself as a four when, in reality, I likely fall far short most of the time.

We all love to talk. When we talk, we own the air. We educate, inform, and even sometimes inspire the person who is listening.

When we talk, we expect the ears on the other end of our words to be actively listening to what we have to say. But, is our audience actively listening? If so, are we doing our part to return the favor?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “Life Together” is one of my favorites. Bonhoeffer, a Christian, was imprisoned and died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, yet still proclaimed the message of Christ within captivity.

Quotes from his book, “Life Together” hit me hard after the listening exercise in our sales training, especially given the circumstances we find ourselves in today.

“We often minister to others more through listening than through many words spoken.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Ministry is often seen as proclaiming the Gospel with our words or actions toward someone who we desire to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

While this form of ministry is effective, there is a form of ministry that is often overlooked. The ministry of listening. 

One of my close friends asked me this week, “What can we do to spread positivity to others during this time of quarantine and isolation?”

I like where his head is on this, and I agree that positivity is a key to keeping everyone in good spirits through this strange season of life, but while positivity is something everyone wants, there is something else that we all truly need.

That need is community. 

Positivity, while extremely important and also needed, can oftentimes be manufactured or artificially stimulated by outside things. A good news report, a compliment, or even a purchase can bring positivity.

But all of these things fade after a while and we need another dose to keep us going. Community, on the other hand, is a created achievement of the collective.

A goal to be worked diligently toward by those who seek it. Community doesn’t come in doses, community comes in spades. 

“Community is not something attained but created through the mutual love and respect of its members.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Community isn’t built by talking, but rather by listening. Community isn’t just built as a support system for its members when they fall, it’s built as a foundation for its members to succeed.

Participation in supporting the community happens more outside time together than even during.

This is made possible through prayer.

“A community that doesn’t pray for one another won’t be transformed spiritually and will eventually collapse and die.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Are you praying for your community? 

While we feel like we are now in complete isolation, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in true captivity. From within the prison that held him and across more than a half century of time between then and now, Bonhoeffer’s words speak as true now as they once did.

The real value of Christianity is that we get to do life together.

Life as a body and as a community. That community is only cultivated through listening to one another, taking on one another’s burdens, and by praying for each other when we aren’t physically together. 

“We are called as the body of Jesus to mutually bear each others’ burdens faithfully, prayerfully, and practically as Jesus did for us.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together 

(See 1 Corinthians 12:12-27) 

Ministering to others looks much different today than it ever has because we aren’t able to spend time with others in person.

We often aren’t able to seek out those who are around us to speak life into and to care for with our actions as Christ did for us.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is our ability to listen — actively listen — to the words, needs, and burdens of our brothers and sisters right in front of us who are longing for community. 

Instead of only seeking to provide positivity to the masses, seek also to provide listening ears and community to a handful of individuals in your life who might need it most.

Is it someone in your family? Is it someone at your company? Is it someone at your apartment complex or in your neighborhood?

Start a list either mentally or physically and write one of names or descriptions of the first 3-5 people that pop into your head. Pray for them right now. 

Pray that God would work in each one of their lives to open their hearts to the idea of community. That he would allow your paths to cross this week where the opportunity of connecting would make itself available. And most of all that you would have the courage to extend a loving invitation to be an actively listening ear for them.

Send them your number or a Zoom link. Set time aside to talk, and be there.

When you’re together via call or video chat, ask genuine questions, bite your tongue, and just listen to what he or she has to say.

If you do this, not only will you learn more than you ever hoped to about that person, but you’ll provide something to that person that he or she is yearning for; a loving community. Community only takes two.

And like Bonhoeffer says, you could minister more by listening than you ever have through speaking. 

Take the time to listen. God does it for us, now let’s do it for Him.



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