Listen & Hear What Your Team Isn’t Saying

A few months ago, I was invited to consult with an executive pastor and one of his team members. It was a large church that had a lot going on, but we were just going to talk and get to know each other.

There was no agenda. At least that’s what I thought.

When I arrived, the XP said, “hold on a minute and I’ll get the others.” Others? Hmmm. I had understood that this meeting was just supposed to be the three of us. Oh well, I thought, I’ve been here before so I’ll just jump in and roll with it.

Within a few minutes, nearly 15 people showed up. My angst level starting rising and things were not shaping up the way I anticipated. Everyone settled into their seats and it was time for the meeting to start.

So, I was the invited guest to a meeting for which there was no plan. My brain was racing and questions were flying through my head. Was I supposed to bring something to the table? Had I missed a critical preparation email? Who is “on?” What will be expected of me?

But things got even more uncomfortable when the XP threw me the marker and said, “go ahead and talk about whatever you want to talk about.”

What?! Not my idea of fun, but what do you do with it? You either cave or freestyle.

I decided to put the marker to good use.

My goal was to bring them value and challenge them. My top-of-mind topic was something like, “why you need to be intentional about listening in your church.”

I attacked the whiteboard and tried my best to colorfully and technically illustrate the main points. Things quickly got interesting. Two team members started debating about “listening” and that morphed into an argument. As any halfway decent consultant would do, I just stood back and allowed the dynamics in the room to unfold. It was clear that I had struck a chord that hadn’t been verbalized before and I didn’t want to interrupt an important conversation—even if it was tense.

They were so aggressive that other team members were embarrassed that this was happening in the presence of a guest. The XP had to get very firm and verbally pulled them off of each other because they were going at it!

Once the XP intervened, the meeting ended abruptly. Everyone took a deep breath and the two team members agreed to take their conversation offline.

What just happened? Did I step into it or what? It was clear to me that I was not privy to the strained backstory: people were not being heard.

The experience even further solidified my belief that we must learn to listen in our churches and ministries.

Choosing to listen provides perspective, perspective yields clarity and clarity reveals direction. Are you listening?



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21 thoughts on “Listen & Hear What Your Team Isn’t Saying

  1. What's fascinating is that we might be listening in a sense but not observing others' underlying frustrations. This is why outside perspectives are a necessity.

  2. Wow! I thought it was awesome to have so many people in the room, but the tension unfolded. Just because the room has a lot of people does NOT mean they are all being heard! Interesting Stuff!

  3. Well that had to be uncomfortable and interesting at the same time. People leave the church when they don't feel heard. We left a church because of this. One group got to make ALL the decisions and the vast majority were ignored. But as always, it was a God thing and we are completely happy in the new church.

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

    • Thanks, Mel. Yes, this is an unfortunate reality. We must cultivate cultures of listening!

    • We recently had to do the same thing after 10 years in a church. It is very tough and heartbreaking. I find comfort in standing my ground and choosing to, in my opinion, not live on the fence.

      • Sorry to hear that, Kelly. I'm thankful that there are other communities of believers where you are able to connect! Thanks for your comments.

  4. I think that listening also takes humility . . . that's hard to cultivate when you know the speaker disagrees with you, sometimes intensely.

  5. Great story. I have been to a few of those churches. I love your sequence of perspective, clarity, direction. It amazes me that many leaders think that all they have to to is deliver direction like tablets from Mt. Sinai.

  6. In my corporate business, we have a concept called voice of the customer where we are supposed to listen to their needs more than push our solutions. When done by one of my non-advocate team members (we actualy function as internal consultants), it works well. Unfortunately, well, let's just say that is the exception…

    Ministries are not that different because , to cliché it, "people are people." Like you did, Kerry, sometimes consultants need to be non-advocates and just actively or passively facilitate those types of side discussions that ultimately reveal more than active consultations.

    That's the difference between consultants and advisers.

    • Robert, I love your insight and thoughts on this topic. Unfortunately, I think listening is often "the exception" in ministry as well.

      Also, sometimes it's not 100% clear when working with clients if they are expecting me to serve as a "non-advocate" consultant or as an advisor who pursues a more "active" role. But, it IS clear to me that good listening as a consultant must ALWAYS precede offering advisement. Other thoughts?

      Appreciate it!

      • The true "non-advocate" is so rare that most people put it in the same class as the unicorn (every civilization has one but no one can produce any evidence). And the non-advocate role must be evangelized / marketed (not advertised) up front, and it absolutely must remain pure. Once a non-advocate reputation is tarnished, it is very hard to restore it.

        Now a single consultant can function as both a non-advocate and a traditional consultant in separate and clearly defined activities for the same client, but as Dr. Egon Spengler said: "Don't cross the streams."

        • Well said, Robert. I find it helpful to identify for the client which hat I'm wearing at any given time, do you? Thanks again!

          • We have the luxury of a small team of decision analysts who do non-advocate workshops to determine customer needs / requirements. Then (hopefully) the customer uses the appropriate "traditional" analysts for the follow-on support. Rarely does someone wear both hats for the same customer.

  7. I think we can all learn another lesson here. Being a big church doesn't necessary mean you don't have big problems. I think a lot of us smaller churches just think, "If only we could grow to have 'n' number of people…then we'd have enough resources to do 'x y z.' Maybe, but then you might also start to see the rest of the alphabet as issues as well!

    • Boom! Great comments, Chris. That's another perspective on reality worth remembering. Bigger isn't always better. Better, however, is always better. Thanks!

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