More lessons on listening.

A little over two weeks ago we had the opportunity to participate in “The Coaching Workshop.” It was an entire weekend dedicated to learning how to coach people toward solving problems, reaching goals and developing them as leaders. Something both Jenifer and I desire to do long term! To say it was a lot crammed into one weekend is a vast understatement. The entire process of life-coaching (within a Christian context) revolves around two main premises:

1) My job as a coach is to simply ask questions and to refrain from giving my opinion or insight.
2) Trust that the Holy Spirit is working in the coachee’s heart and mind to draw them to the answers and steps they need to take to accomplish whatever they are seeking to be coached on.

Ask questions and trust the Spirit; in other words – just listen. 

Listening is one of those gifts that some people have, but most have to really really work at. I’m good at giving my opinion. I’m really good at fixing people’s problems. Well…fixing them the way I think they should be fixed. We had a lot of time over that weekend of training to practice coaching one another and one thing that kept coming up again and again for many of us was the difficulty we had to simply ask questions that helped the coachee work through their issues themselves without leading them or giving them answers. It’s tough. I want to give my opinion; I feel like I need to. I’m learning more and more…I don’t. If I’m honest with myself most days I’m a poor listener. But one thing that seems to continually come up through the apprenticeship here in San Diego is that in order to really be effective as ministers of the gospel we need to be people who listen well. In our world today, especially our own culture good listening is a rarity. Throughout our coaching workshop I was continually reminded of two passages: James 1:19 and Proverbs 17:27.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19 ESV)

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Proverbs 17:27 ESV)

Throughout this past year, I have been challenged to listen better and to simply keep my mouth shut. It’s funny to me that both Proverbs and James attest to the importance of seeking wisdom. Both seem pretty clear: wherever wisdom is the goal, hearing will be a first virtue. Inherent in that statement seems to be the reality that often times our speaking can come from a place of self interest. That’s certainly true in my life. What was so powerful for us as we practiced the new coaching insights we were learning was really how effective powerful questions and intentional listening can be. When I trusted the process, God’s Spirit provided the results, I was simply there to help the coachee hear the Spirit more clearly and help them to respond well. I believe that’s where the wisdom lies. 
Throughout that weekend I was challenged to be a better listener not simply in a coaching arena but in all areas of my life. Countless times I have found myself trying to fix my wife’s situations when all she wants is for me to hear her out and empathize with her. And there are those times when friends or coworkers have asked me for advice on issues. Let me assure you, a lot of the time I’m quick to jump in with my “awesome” insight that’s sure to do the trick when I should probably have listened better and asked more questions. How quickly do I assume I know what’s going on in a given situation in my neighborhood or ministry context without delving deeper by asking more questions and suspending judgment? If I’m honest…I do it without blinking an eye. Pride has a funny way of playing itself out…A lot of times I don’t listen because I think I have the answer someone needs. 
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been challenged to trust the process. What that’s meant for me is on a broader level than just coaching: do I trust that God’s Spirit is at work in the midst of those around me? If I answer yes than that ought to affect the way I interact with those people. I don’t need to go around and give my advice and insight all the time. What I need to do is to simply listen and ask more questions. I want to be someone who helps others discern the Spirit’s work in their lives, not try to usurp the Spirit’s role. That means I need to be slow to speak. I want to help people see where God is at work in their life and encourage them to live into that reality. 
Thankfully God is gracious and the countless times I’ve jumped the gun or butted right into a conversation I didn’t need to, I believe God is able to still use. But I want to live more into the truth that God’s Spirit is at work in the lives of others – that requires me to be in tune with His Spirit myself – which actually means I should probably listen to Him first and foremost. And hearing God’s Spirit takes practice; lots of practice and lots of patience. Now sometimes I believe we are asked to give insight and speak into a situation and that needs to happen, but I’d argue that my first posture should be one of listening rather than speaking. And when I listen well, I believe I have a better platform from which to speak into the lives of others. I have found that to be true over and over in my relationships and instances where I have listened first.

For both Jenifer and I our hearts desire is to hear God’s Spirit well so that out of that hearing we may be effective hearers and then doers of God’s Word. As we learn to be better coaches we hope to have countless opportunities to raise up new leaders to influence their neighborhoods and world for Jesus. We are both thankful for this year of challenge and growth here in San Diego as we prepare to be sent out.