“I think that perhaps 80% of my work depends on my listening to someone, or on someone listening to me.”

“I’ve been thinking back about things that have gone wrong over the past couple of years, and I suddenly realized that many of the troubles have resulted from someone not hearing something, or getting it in a distorted way.”

“It’s interesting to me that we have considered so many facets of communication [here], but have inadvertently overlooked listening.”

The comments of pastors? No, the results of a 1957 survey about the role of workplace-listening at a major manufacturing plant in the Chicago area.

If it was true in factories, how much more in churches? And if it was true then, how much more now!

Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile has begun to address this in a helpful series of blogs on how to listen to sermons. The authors of the Chicago survey also offered some tips on “efficient listening” to spoken addresses:

  1. The listener thinks ahead of the talker, trying to anticipate what the oral discourse is leading to and what conclusions will be drawn from the words spoken at the moment.
  2. The listener weighs the evidence used by the talker to support the points that he makes. “Is this evidence valid?” the listener asks himself. “Is it the complete evidence?”
  3. Periodically the listener reviews and mentally summarizes the points of the talk completed thus far.
  4. Throughout the talk, the listener “listens between the lines” in search of meaning that is not necessarily put into spoken words. He pays attention to nonverbal communication (facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice) to see if it adds meaning to the spoken words. He asks himself, “Is the talker purposely skirting some area of the subject? Why is he doing so?”

But, of course, the problem goes beyond listening to sermons. For example, 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:

Attention is the most powerful tool of the human spirit. We can enhance or augment our attention with practices like meditation and exercise, diffuse it with technologies like email and Blackberries, or alter it with phamaceuticals. In the end, though, we are fully responsible for how we choose to use this extraordinary tool.

How much more Christ-like we would be if we we used this extraordinary tool as He used it.

Further Resources for CPA
Speed Listening 1
Speed Listening 2
Speed Listening 3

Picture: 2006 © Yuri Arcurs. Image from

  • Scott@fb

    Very good article. I am glad I found these. As a sermon listener, I find that I can be overwhelmed by the number of MP3s out there and often have to cut back to really listen to a few quality sermons instead of “skimming” through a lot of sermons and not getting much out of them.

  • Linda

    Lovely piece. Thank you for the mention. In the last few years, I’ve learned that one of the most powerful ways to regulate both attention and emotion is through the breath. When we slow our breathing, and exhale twice as long as we inhale (best through the nose), it can really help to get us back on track. Cheers.