I know one of the big perks of being a pastor is getting to speak. I have the privilege of speaking God's word on Sunday, and in many small interactions throughout the week. I have the privilege of speaking and reminding people of God's mercy. I get to open up the Scriptures and I have an opportunity to share with people what I find. I don't take that privilege lightly.
But you know what? Here's a secret: the real privilege of being a pastor is listening.
I get to hear stories. I hear stories about people's life with God. Sometimes they know the story is about their life with God. Sometimes they don't. I hear stories about people who came out on the other side of terrible tragedy, and are still here. I hear stories about parents and grandparents and children and how they influence faith. (One woman told me about her great-aunt, who lived with them, and used to talk to God all day while she was vaccuuming.)
I also get to hear questions. I get to hear questions from children, and from teenagers, and from adults. "What does that Scripture verse mean?" "What does it have to do with us?" "Why did that boy have to suffer?" "Why do we pray?" Sometimes I can answer the question, sometimes I have to say "I don't know."
I get to hear singing. I love to hear us singing together in worship, whether that music is an old hymn accompanied by organ, a new song accompanied by piano, or a song unadorned by any instrument. I remember one Saturday night, at our small chapel service, that the substitute organist stopped short of the final verse of "Lift High the Cross." The congregation just kept singing. We sounded great.
I get to hear prayers. I get to hear people murmur a name during the petitions on Sunday, I get to hear children as they are learning to pray, I get to hear confirmation students as they pray for their friends, I get to hear people in nursing homes and in hospitals and in coffee houses share their concerns and offer a prayer.
It is a privilege to listen, as much as it is a privilege to speak. But now that I come to think of it, it's not just a privlege for pastors. It's a privilege for all of us who are called to be witnesses to God's mercy and grace in our lives. It's a privilege for us to listen to God's word, to listen for what God is saying to us. And it's a privilege to listen to one another, and to our neighbors.
It's possible that Listening could be the fundamental outreach strategy, for individuals, and for congregations. "Listening Evangelism." What would it look like? As we share the mercy of God in Christ Jesus with our neighbors, the first task, and the first privilege is to listen.