Leading by listening

Listening is a vitally important skill and as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well. We spend 45% of our time doing it. Yet 75% of the time we are meant to be listening, we are distracted or preoccupied, and we only comprehend about 25% of what we hear.

The historian, Paul Johnson, recently wrote in Forbes Magazine: “Any leader aspiring to greatness must do two things, and he must do them not just at supreme moments or occasionally but all the time. Of course, there are many other things a leader must do, but these are the two that matter most: to listen and to tell the truth.” Here are seven ways to improve your listening (and leading).

1. Careful listening
When was the last time you had a phone conversation without checking your email, or filing, or driving, etc., at the same time?  When was the last time you had a face-to-face conversation that you stayed with mentally and emotionally from start to finish?

Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project stormed it’s way to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers List, but Linda Stone’s Attention Project might actually be the best way to start any Happiness Project. Stone argues that most of us operate with “continual partial attention,” She distinguishes CPA from the simple and useful multi-tasking of the past, and warns that it leads to over-stimulation, a cascade of stress hormones, and a lack of fulfillment. The remedy, she says, is to re-train ourselves to pay attention.

Make sure you are paying continuous careful attention to what the person is saying. Listen for change of tone, volume, pace, intensity, and for pauses. Unless you have pre-arranged it with the listener(s), do not interrupt conversations and meetings by checking your email or taking a phone call. And don’t be looking everywhere else when talking or listening to someone.

2. Patient listening
We can think at 1000-3000 words per minute (wpm) and listen at 400-500 wpm; but the average speaker speaks at 125-175 wpm. We have to deliberately slow down our minds to listen well.  Don’t interrupt and don’t jump in immediately; that looks as if you were not listening but really just waiting to speak

3. Loving listening
What makes a man a great preacher? Not sure if “being a great listener” would be among the top answers. Yet, that’s what Burk Parsons persuasively argues in The Wisdom of Listening:

In fact, the greatest speakers, the greatest teachers, and the greatest preachers are the greatest listeners. Often, it is assumed that in order to be a great preacher one must merely be a great speaker. However, it must be understood (especially by men who are training for future pastoral ministry) that the greatest preachers, the most consistent, steadfast, staunchly biblical preachers are the greatest listeners.

Burk says that great listening produces great preachers because “they have earned the right to be heard.” Years of listening and learning have produced wisdom that’s worth hearing. Burk’s focus here is on the head: great listeners are great learners.

I’m going to “piggy-back” on Burk’s insight and also add a focus on the heart: great listeners are great lovers. Let me quickly explain what I mean. Passionate love produces passionate listening. One of the best ways to communicate “I love you,” is to communicate, “I’m listening to you,” even when what the person is saying is so boring or so wrong.

When people feel listened to, they feel loved, and respond with loving listening. When people sense that their pastor is carefully and prayerfully listening to them in their homes on a Thursday evening, it’s so much easier to listen to him on a Sunday morning. His great listening in their homes produces great listening in the church. In fact, his great listening transforms him (in their hearts and minds) into a great preacher.

4. Gracious listening
The pastor is a trained communicator. That’s his business. He’s good at it – or should be. Most people have not had the training or practice that we have had, their speaking skills may be poor, and we may catch ourselves wanting to get away. Try to listen to the content rather than judge how they are saying it (stop counting the coughs, eh’s, ah’s, etc.) or how they appear.

There are others who are passionate about something (like their arthritis!) that completely bores you; and again you are tempted to excuse yourself. Or you see the multi-millionaire pass while you are talking to an unemployed man, and the money-man seems to be so much more interesting.

Listening gives us an opportunity to exercise grace to the poor speakers, the boring speakers, the unimportant speakers. Think about how God listens to your poor, boring and unimportant prayers!

5. Interactive listening
Listening is not just one person talking and the other person standing there doing nothing. Good listeners interact with what they hear, which in turn encourages the speaker to keep going.

  • Remind that you are listening with short affirmations and nods.
  • Repeat what is said from time to time:  “Did I hear you say……?”
  • Rephrase what you heard to show you are not just listening but understanding: “You mean that he actually..?”
  • Reflect the feeling that accompanies what is said: “You seem to be (upset, lonely, etc).”

6. Body listening
In a sense everybody is bilingual – we all have verbal language and body language. Statistics show good communicators make eye-contact 50% of the time when speaking and 90% of the time when listening.We also listen with our eyebrows, our facial expressions, our arms, our body angle (facing = warm, turned away = cold), our posture (erect = defensive, bowed shoulders = teachable), our legs (open = friendly, crossed = resistant), hands (fist = aggressive, open = friendly), angle (leaning away = disbelieving, leaning in = interested). Talk to a border guard or an immigration officer if you want an intensive course in body language.

7. Christ-like listening
Listening, when done well is a tiring activity. It is an active rather than a passive ability and a lot of it it should leave you feeling exhausted. But listening is also a rewarding activity. It is personally rewarding and people will reward you too. As we have seen people are more likely to listen to you if you listen to them. But listening should be a natural activity. Sometimes a discussion like this can make a person analyze themselves and everyone else in a scientific way. Try to absorb some of these lessons, but let them become second nature to you rather than a conscious effort. Finally, listening is a Christ-like activity. He is not only the greatest Message, and the greatest Communicator, but also the greatest Listener.

Depression: The 6 R’s

One reason for the dramatic surge of depression in our Western culture is the stressful lifestyle that so many are living for extended periods of time. Addressing this is not the whole answer in recovering from depression, but it is often a large part of the answer. It is vital to lead a balanced lifestyle in order to relieve the “stretch” that threatens our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

1. Routine
One of the keys to a balanced lifestyle is regular routine. This is also one of the first things to fall by the wayside when someone becomes depressed. Depressed people often find it difficult to resist being guided by their feelings. When a person feels down he will often do only what he feels like doing and avoid what he doesn’t feel like doing. For example, if you are depressed and you don’t feel like getting up, you won’t. If you don’t feel like working, you won’t. If you don’t feel like doing the laundry, you won’t. If you feel you want to drink or eat to excess, you do it. A positive step in recovering from depression is to restore order and discipline in your life. Regular and orderly sleeping, eating, and working patterns will rebuild a sense of usefulness and healthy “self-esteem.” It is also glorifying to God who is a God of order, not of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).

2. Relaxation
We need to build times of relaxation into our lives. This may involve finding a quiet spot at various times throughout the day to simply pause, calm down, and seek the peace of God in our lives. Jesus recognized and provided for this need in His disciples when He took them “apart into a desert place, and rest[ed] a while” (Mark 6:31).

Another helpful area to explore is whether you are breathing properly. It is common for depressed and anxious people to be extremely tense, which often leads to hyperventilation or over-breathing and then to inevitable weakness of body and brain. There are many helpful books and Web sites that, without straying into “New Age” ideas, give good basic advice on re-learning how to relax and breathe properly.

3. Re-creation
Moderate physical exercise helps to expel unhelpful chemicals from our system and stimulates the production of helpful chemicals. Outdoor exercise has the added benefit of the sun’s healing rays.

4. Rest
A Christian psychologist recently said to me that he starts most depressed people on three pills: “Good exercise, good diet, and good sleep!” That’s great advice, so I would encourage you to make use of the plentiful resources available today on these subjects.

As regular sleep patterns enable the body and mind to repair and re-charge, set fixed times for going to bed and getting up, and try to get at least eight hours of sleep. Avoid caffeine, vigorous exercise, phone calls, TV, and Internet use within three hours of sleeping. Get into a set routine for going to bed, and try to secure cooperation from others in the house. And remember God’s gift of weekly rest. The Lord’s Day was graciously made for us (Mark 2:27), partly to ease the tension of our busy, overstretched lives.

5. Re-prioritize
Examine your life and see what you can do to reduce your commitments and obligations. Areas to consider are your family, your work, your church, your neighbors, and travel. Once you are better you may be able to pick up some of these activities again. But the priority is to get better.

6. Repentance
We may also need to look at the reasons for choosing such stressful and damaging lifestyles. What is driving us? What is motivating us? What are our aims and ambitions? What are we living for? Above all, who are we living for?

Christians get depressed too at Reformation Heritage Books, Ligonier, and Amazon.


Lord, teach me how to teach

Preaching is not easy, but it is far easier than teaching. Although preachers and preaching styles vary, preaching is still quite predictably monolithic: a male voice monologues for 30-40 minutes. No visuals. No interruptions. No discussion. No great surprises. That’s what everyone expects. Some may take some notes, but most people just listen (or, at least, appear to), and everyone goes home. Some believed; some believed not.

But teaching students for the ministry is quite different. The emphasis in most classes is on conveying information – lots of it – in a way that students can remember and use in future ministries. Yes, there should be worship and character shaping going on too, but the focus is on accumulating usable knowledge. But how? What is the best way to do this? I’ve talked with lots of students and teachers from various institutions, and have found that there seems to be four main approaches:

1. The traditional prof stands at the front of a classroom reading from his well-worn notes. The students burn their fingers trying to keep up with their typing, while wondering, “Why can’t he just photocopy his notes and give them to us?” Or, more commonly, students get copies of notes from previous year’s students and catch up on email and Twitter while the lecturer thinks his students are engaging with his pearls of wisdom. Exam questions tend to test memory, but not understanding.

2. The conversationalist prof has given up on trying to pass on a body of information and instead conducts “fireside” chats on subjects that the students deem to be important. YouTube videos and short blog articles feature largely in this student-centered approach. Maybe some books are discussed as well. Students may not be so bored, but are they much the wiser? Exam questions tend to begin “Discuss…” but often produce more questions than answers.

3. The online prof does most of his teaching via the Internet. He provides all his lecture notes to students and may even accompany them with audio or video recordings of the material. He has less classroom time with his students but uses that face-to-face time to answer or pose questions based on the material previously provided. This approach certainly ensures that the students get substantial amounts of information in their folders, but have they read the notes and listened to the lectures? Or are they just winging it and waffling it in the face-to-face question time? Exam questions can certainly be drafted to test this, but maybe having to type out the notes produces greater concentration and engagement with the material. Also, does online teaching communicate the ethos and pathos of the prof – a vital question when we are dealing with theology.

4. The read-along prof provides full lecture notes at the beginning of the class and then proceeds to read the notes as the students follow along. I’ve tried this and hate it – as do most students, I believe.

Indeed, each approach seems to produce complaints from students. #1 is “boring and pointless – just give me the notes.” #2 is “empty and directionless – I’m paying to hear you not my fellow students!” “We don’t get enough time with the prof” in #3. Try #4 and students faces seem to scream, “I can read this myself, you know!”

So, do we just stick with the one approach that suits the teacher best, and accept that some are just not going to like it? Or do we offer all four approaches and say, “Just come to the class that works for you” (and run the poor prof into the ground)?

Or am I missing something?

What is the best way to convey theological information to this generation of students? And does that method also stimulate worship and shape character?


CK2:7 Pornography & Sex Addiction

Download here.
This week’s episode of The Connected Kingdom finds us in coversation with Harry Schaumburg, a man who has dedicated his life and ministry to helping people recover from sex addiction and addiction to pornography. In this conversation we seek to ask him very practical questions about issues that are on many people’s minds.

Here is a breakdown (including time stamps) of some of the topics we cover and the questions we ask:

2:55 – How widespread is this problem?

4:30 – What’s the real issue here? What’s the heart issue?

8:48 – Should every wife suspect her husband and be suspicious that he is looking at pornography?

13:12 – How important is open communication about the sexual relationship within marriage?

15:41 – How can we protect our children?

24:30 – Here we quickly go through a list of very practical questions and answers.

  • What does a wife do if she discovers that her husband is looking at pornography?
  • What does a husband need to know about how pornography may affect his wife and family?
  • Does pornography tend to escalate over time?
  • When and how do you know you’re cured?
  • Can you offer a quick critique of Every Man’s Battle?
  • When does a person need to seek out help from his local church and when should he seek out help from a professional counselor?

Harry is the author of Undefiled and False Intimacy. You can learn about his counseling ministry at StoneGateResources.org.

If you want to give us feedback or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You will always be able to find the most recent episode here on the blog. If you would like to subscribe via iTunes, you can do that here or if you want to subscribe with another audio player, you can try this RSS link.

Why “The Daily” is Doomed


I’m not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet. However, I’m going to make a prediction: The Daily is doomed. It takes a brave man (or a fool) to bet against Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch, but here’s my reasoning.

About aged 9 (35 years ago!), I discovered the daily newspaper. I used to race my Father to the front door when it was delivered every morning. He usually won. However, I would hover impatiently as I waited for him to finish his morning skim before going off to drill, fill, and pull (guess his career?).

I started with The Glasgow Herald, but by age 17 I was enjoying The London Times. I would read it from cover to cover every day; no small feat, considering it contained about the same number of words as a small novel.

And did I know the world! Apart from the detailed coverage and analysis of UK news on a national and regional level, there were always 1-2 pages on the USA, 2-3 pages on Europe, and 2-3 pages on the rest of the world. On top of that there were sections covering a wide range of the weird and the wonderful in arts, culture, sports, and hobbies. The Saturday paper was two or three times the size of the Mon-Fri version. The Sunday paper was even bigger (I’m told).

I must have spent at least about 10-15 hours a week consuming this extensive, varied, and regular diet of news and opinion. And I did this for over 20 years. It certainly didn’t give me a Christian worldview, but it definitely gave me a view of the world.

Then came the Internet.

It wasn’t until I downloaded The Daily and tried it for a few days that I realized how radically the Internet has changed my news reading habits. As I swiped through the articles on my iPad, I was impressed by the clear presentation, the colorful graphics, and the smart technology. But I was totally bored. The articles were well-written. But I would not ordinarily have chosen to read even one of them.

And that’s the difference. Now I get to choose. Now I get to be my own editor.

Growing up I got used to the omniscient newspaper editors choosing what I needed to know. There was no alternative. And, stuck on a train on the boring morning commute, I had no choice but to read what they dished up. However irrelevant or boring the articles, they were more interesting than the Glasgow suburban rail-scape. 

At the office coffee break, I could either join in the discussion of Dallas (under-thirties read here) with my six female colleagues or pull out the newspaper. I couldn’t open Internet Explorer because, even though I had a computer on my desk, the Internet was still unheard of (as were color monitors!).

But that forced news diet, chosen by another, has now been replaced by the Internet smorgasbord. This newspaper addict can’t recall the last time he needed or took a daily newspaper fix. I’ve now got so used to just reading what I choose to read, pursuing my own interests via an unlimited number of websites and blogs, the idea of someone choosing what I should read seems like reverting to childhood.

I know I don’t know as widely as I used to know. I know that in some ways I had a wider worldview when I was a teenager than I do now. And I know that is to my own impoverishment.

I do try to force myself to read books, blogs, and websites that expand my knowledge and vision. However, my default is now to go deeper with my passions and interests rather than wider with the passions and interests of others. And if I am representative of the general public – and I think I am – then not only is The Daily doomed, but so also are daily newspapers in general.

Deeper and narrower
And, if you want another prophecy, here’s the future (or something like it). Zite is a personalized iPad magazine/newspaper that gets smarter as you use it. A kind of Flipboard on steroids, it analyzes your blog-reading, Twitter feed, etc, and, using complex algorithms, chooses the news that reflects your interests. Over time, as you read or reject its suggestions, the selections will more and more accurately reflect your interests.

Welcome to the new age of news. It’s a far deeper world; but also much narrower.