Hi, I’m Sharon and I’m a recovering interrupter. I started interrupting in childhood. My report cards featured comments like, “Excellent class work but needs to talk less and listen better to directions.” In Junior High, my friends and I talked over each other all the time, seldom listening to one another. By adulthood, this awful habit entrenched itself in my life, even though I knew it to be wrong. My lack of self-control caused others around me to feel as if what they said didn’t matter.
My parents, husband, child and friends all pointed out my addiction to talking over the years, but I didn’t really change until God showed me the root sin of being an interrupter, pride. Pride doesn’t listen carefully, but instead when others are speaking it figures out what it will say next. Pride is impatient with people who lose their train of thought or speak slowly. Pride loves the sound of its own voice more than any other.
Any position of leadership, in ministry or the marketplace, usually comes with a platform to speak your thoughts and be heard by others. Except for my junior high friends, can I tell you that the worst interrupters and poorest listeners I’ve met are fellow believers. Just because you temporarily hold the talking stick doesn’t mean you should use it to bang the heads of those under you.
James 1:19 describes some behavior of a true believer. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” NIV
James is talking to church folk who missed the bar of good listening. The Greek word for quick is “tachus.” The definition is a word picture of a runner straining to be the fastest and win a competition. In Rick Renner’s devotional, “Sparkling Gems from the Greek,” he restates verse 19 like this: “Work hard to be a good listener as if you were trying to win a competition for listening.”
Whew, does that fly in the face of a culture obsessed with social media where everyone is fighting to be heard and very few people are working to listen. I wonder if one of the reasons we are not attracting more unbelievers to our message is because they think we are profound pontificators but lazy listeners. Are we consistently striking up conversations with the unchurched folk? Do we ask them questions about themselves then listen carefully to their answers? Do we jump right in with a Bible verse and a solution in churchy language or do we affirm their feelings, frustrations and pains before we attempt to point them to Jesus thoughtfully?
When you lead a Bible study, prayer group, meeting or some other function, do you allow people to share their thoughts with each other and the group or is it your voice, your stories, your insights most of the time? Studies of how students learn show repeatedly that the least effective teaching tool is a lecture yet so many leaders continue simply to stand before a group and talk however long their time frame allows.
Sometimes we dominate a social gathering just chattering away, leaving very little space for shy or subdued people to share a thought or a story. I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to prompt me to take notice of less talkative people in a group. When I see this, I’ll specifically ask them what THEY think about the current topic of conversation.
In my classrooms most days, students interacted and collaborated with one another to process information that I would share with them in under fifteen minutes. When Ken served as a senior pastor, he mastered the art of presenting captivating, high impact sermons in 35 minutes and under. The rest of our services engaged the congregation with worship, dramas, Bible readings and other components that allowed people the opportunity to sing, speak and talk. Both of us worked diligently to create opportunities for others to speak and interact with truth.
As leaders it’s so easy to become captivated by the sound of our own voice that our listeners simply feel like captives. Instead, we should be winning listening competitions regularly and showing others how it’s done.
I still speak too much sometimes at meetings, prayer groups and social gatherings, but not nearly as much as I used to. I am in process and still growing in the art of showing people I value them by being a careful listener. Join me in the race, won’t you?