How good are you at listening? As we commemorate the First World War one of the familiar stories is the transformation of a message as it went through the various lines of communication. “Send reinforcements, we are going to advance” became “send three and four pence we are going to a dance.”
Listening well and effectively is difficult. It is very definitely a skill, an action that requires the listener’s alertness and dedication. However, the pace of modern life seems to prevent us from being good listeners; we are forced to spend most of our time on doing and talking, not listening. There is never enough time for reflection about our actions and for listening to others. The result is a world of mixed and confused messages decisions, leading to misunderstanding and social disharmony.
Do Christians as a community of faith have a responsibility to do anything about the lack of listening skills? As we read the Gospels Jesus is revealed as someone who always listens. With Jesus as our example we should work to improve our listening skills.
We are very fortunate that in the Diocese of Birmingham we are given that opportunity. There is a Training Course called Offering Pastoral Care and Community Skills: its aim is to develop the pastoral gifts of the lay people in every Parish. Significantly, the two compulsory modules at the beginning of the Course are concerned with listening. “Learning to Listen” and “Listening to Communities.”
The skill of listening is at the heart of pastoral care; without it we are less effective; with it we can make a difference to those in pastoral need.