Listening to One Another

Tomorrow, Tuesday, February 28th at 4:00 pm, will be our first Presbytery Assembly of 2023. In my sermon to the presbytery, I look forward to discussing a new mission and vision statement. I also look forward to challenging the presbytery to live up to its commitment to be a Matthew 25 presbytery. Matthew 25 is a vision put forward by the Presbyterian Mission Agency. It challenges each presbytery and congregation to focus on three aspirations:

Building congregational vitality

Dismantling structural racism

Eradicating systemic poverty

When it comes to the aspirations of our presbytery and life together, we agree that we want to be a relevant, vital church of Jesus Christ in our community and world. But once we move from aspirations to strategy, from the “what” to the “how” we discover areas of tension and disagreement.

For example, some believe that for their church to grow, they need a young pastor with children. Others may feel the church just needs to have yoga classes or other events open to the community. Still others think the church needs to advertise and market to attract more people. All of these are different ideas and strategies for the same aspiration of growing the church.

The real challenge for our presbytery and congregations is to have honest conversations with one another. Even when we can’t agree, it is important that we listen to one another and try to grasp the other’s point of view.

In coaching, there are three levels of listening.

Level 1: Internal Listening, where we focus on ourselves, our experiences, our opinions as they are related to what’s being said.

Level 2: Focused Listening, where we listen to the other person. Our thoughts do not enter into the conversation, but curiosity can.

Level 3: Global Listening, where we listen to what isn’t being said such as body language, the inflections and tone of their voice, their pauses, and hesitations.

So often we are stuck at level 1 of listening. But we are challenged to move from level 1 to level 3. In his effort to connect us to level 3 listening, Ron Heifetz, one of the authors of The Practice of Adaptive Challenge put it this way: “A leader needs to cultivate ways of listening to people both musically and analytically, so you can hear the songs beneath the words and detect the underlying values, loyalties and interests that are at stake and being protected.”

As we move forward and get out to see one another in this post-COVID world, let’s talk and really listen to one another. Let’s try and hear the song beneath the words and the music of the heart. May we value one another and realize that it is alright when we disagree about our aspirations and what we value. Being a Matthew 25 presbytery means learning through risk and experimentation. Through listening and hearing, we will find our way forward, together.