Recently, Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight,” which was originally released in 1980, hit the charts again.
Why? Because twin You Tubers went viral.
These Gen-Z teens have populated their YouTube channel with videos in which they record themselves listening to new-to-them songs. The viewers get a front-row seat to their reaction to songs that are often familiar to the viewer, but new to the YouTubers. As they listen for the first time to Phil Collins, it’s thrilling to watch these two guys get giddy about the drum fill: “I’ve never seen nobody drop the beat three minutes in the song! He killed that!”
What is so captivating about watching their videos is that the viewer is watching an in-the-moment, honest reaction to what they are experiencing, how they encounter it, what moves them, what surprises them, and what excites them. You feel what they are feeling.
That’s what listening for mission is all about. Putting ourselves into opportunities and conversations in which we can encounter honest perspectives and begin to feel what people are feeling.
Churches have often become disconnected and desensitized to life outside their church bubble. Church members whose friends are all other church members have strayed further and further from intersection with people who have different assumptions, perspectives, or experiences than those of their church friends. They see their community through the lens of their own experiences.
How willing are we to do the work to learn from other perspectives and to listen to the perspectives and experiences of those outside our congregations? What would we learn about the lives of people in our community? How might we grow in compassion as a result? Is it possible that we could grow in our ability to feel what others are feeling, to celebrate what they are celebrating, to mourn what they are mourning (Romans 12: 15)? And that a meaningful mission could grow out of that kind of solidarity and mutuality?
Mission that connects with people beyond your existing congregation starts with getting to know the people beyond your existing congregation.
But instead of starting with a posture of listening and openness to encountering the perspectives of people in their community, churches often start from a self-serving place without even realizing it.Instead of starting with a posture of listening and openness to encountering the perspectives of people in their community, churches often start from a self-serving place without even realizing it. Click To Tweet
Here are some of the most common:
- “We need to turn around our church decline!” So instead of stepping into a posture of mission that emerges out of compassion and relationship, churches develop schemes out of desperation. Decline CAN be a catalyst to take some risks and try something new, but it can also be the desperation that leads to mission that treats people as targets and seeks only to grow membership rolls. Deep listening invites us to move from a posture of people-as –membership-targets to people-who-are-cherished-by-God.
- “Those people need [fill in the blank].” Starting from an us-and-them mentality is a recipe for failure. And often the presumption of Christians is that what “they” need is something that will foster “them” being more like “us.” This has led to some of the most destructive examples of missions in church history. Deep listening has the capacity to dismantle divisions, deepen humility, and expose our shared humanity. This is a much more Christ-like starting point for mission.
- “We have a great idea for a new mission!” Yay for creative energy and enthusiasm to try new things! But all too often, church committees churn out program ideas in their meetings, without ever really doing any listening work to discern whether their big idea would even connect with the people they are hoping to serve. And then become disillusioned when they don’t get the participation that they had hoped for. It’s fine for motivated teams to brainstorm, but don’t neglect the listening that needs to happen to hone or reshape a good idea to a better idea.
- We need to “reach people” in our community. We often get so focused on our desire to reach people with the Gospel, motivated by the Great Commission, that we don’t allow people to reach us. Unless we’re willing to be challenged and changed and blessed by what we learn and receive, why should people we are hoping to “reach” be open to what we are motivated to share? Deep listening invites us to set aside our evangelism talking points and our agenda, and discover what it might look like for the good news of the kingdom of God to be experienced here and now and in the midst of the unfolding relationships.
The pandemic has shifted some of the forms of listening in which we can engage, but it hasn’t changed the priority for listening for mission.The pandemic has shifted some of the forms of listening in which we can engage, but it hasn’t changed the priority for listening for mission. Click To Tweet
In the upcoming Listening for Mission Track of the Resilient Church Academy, we will be exploring more deeply how listening leads to more fruitful mission, how churches can practically engage in listening to their communities and listening across cultures, and how to develop a listening rule of life that will keep your church evaluating and reshaping mission and ministry in a rapidly changing world.
Shannon serves as Director of Training, leading our team of mission strategists and trainers in the development and implementation of the Mission Shaped Ministry course through Pioneer Learning Communities. She is also a pastor on staff with Riverside Church in Sterling, VA, a Church that worships in two languages and engages in several Fresh Expressions of Church. In the last several years, Shannon has been involved with the Presbyterian Church’s New Worshiping Communities initiative, and has directed the coaching network that supports pioneer leaders. Shannon lives in Springfield, VA with her husband Patrick and teenage daughters Catherine and Suzanne.