Have you ever wondered why Jesus asks so many questions throughout the gospels? He knows how important it is to listen and uses questions to draw people into relationship. He knows people feel loved when they feel heard.
When Jesus tells us to love one another, he doesn’t mean we should show love in only one way. He wants us to love with our words, our actions, and our silence—our listening.
This is not easy. In fact, it’s quite challenging. It requires effort to listen to one another and we have to start by creating new environments, new opportunities, and new metaphors—or, perhaps, returning to old metaphors. But the result of becoming people who listen well, a Church that listens well, is worth the effort. It’s attractive to be around people who listen and appealing to be in an environment where you are welcomed into a sense of genuine belonging.
What does this look like in practice? What does it mean to listen, and how can listening transform our communities?
Think about the last time you had dinner around a table with other people. No matter who you were with, or what was discussed, how did the conversation flow? Did it bounce from one person to another with you listening at times and then others listening to you? A table naturally creates an environment for conversation. No matter what culture you are in, meals are a place for honesty and sharing; a time when people let down their guard and become friends.
A table doesn’t leave anyone out. There’s no back row where people can hide. Everyone is welcomed and invited into discussion. Tables make space for the questions, hurts, and hostilities of those on the margins to be heard and recognized. We can’t heal what we don’t know, and we can’t know what we don’t hear. Tables bring what is hidden into the light, letting everyone have a place to be heard.
Healing and wholeness start with a table that’s big enough for all.
The early church seemed to understand this. The book of Acts tells us many times that the disciples “broke bread” together regularly—even daily. They shared meals. They sat at a table across from one another where they could look each other in the eye. They listened to one another.
They knew that listening happens best in circles, not rows.
This is not to say that we need to entirely throw out the structure of our churches. The image of gathering around a table may be literal, but it may more often be a metaphoric picture of our posture toward one another. No matter what, if we want to embrace the future, if we want to be a Church that listens well, we must create spaces for as much dialogue as declaration.
Paul compares the Church to a body made up of many parts. Each part of the body has its own gift, its own place, and purpose. We talk about this metaphor often in our churches, without truly letting it sink into the bones of our communal life together.
We’ve been conditioned to think that God speaks only through mics and pulpits. We’ve glorified the gifts of teacher and pastor over all the others. We’ve been trained to listen to one person above others. This is dangerous ground and we’ve seen the ramifications of it play out publicly over the last few decades.
When we assume that one gift is greater than others, rather than believing that all are filled with God’s Spirit for God’s purpose here on earth, we miss out on what God might want to do through the least of these in our midst. When we don’t listen to each other, we miss out on even knowing the gifts of the people within our community.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
What happens when we start to truly believe in the value and gifting of each and every member of the body? The Spirit of God moves among us, free and unlimited. What happens when we start to listen to one another and look for the Spirit at work in every person within our congregation? People are freed up to be who God made them to be and use their unique gifts to spread the good news of Jesus, for the Glory of God.
Picture for a moment a church that believes we are the body of Christ and listens to each member of that body as equally valuable, gifted, and beloved. Picture a church where there are more environments for dialogue than declaration. Where people gather in circles, around tables, to listen to one another. Where people feel welcomed because they feel heard. That is a place of belonging. A place where needs are met because they are heard and known. That is a place that’s attractive, isn’t it?
One person cannot meet the needs of everyone. But a body of believers, actively listening to one another and to God’s Spirit, can change the world.
It’s happened before. And we believe it can happen again. It all starts with listening.
Alpha can equip your church, small group, or your friendship circle to create a space for honest conversations and listening without judgment. Learn more about how to run an Alpha, attend a Run Alpha training, and then register your course to access rich (free) resources to support your weekly sessions.