"Pastors, preach the word
boldly and shut the mouths of your listeners!"
That was an actual comment from a pastor in response
to one of my blog posts. My
article encouraged pastors to enhance their preaching with
effective communication techniques-such as those that Jesus used.
These include listening to your people, and encouraging people's
questions and dialog.
This pastor's comment reflects a general attitude that
pervades some church staffs. The approach seems to be, "I'm the
ministry professional. That means it's my job to do the talking.
And it's your job to shut up."
Most church leaders aren't as blunt as the pastor
quoted above. But the attitude often leaks out in more subtle
I understand how this desire to silence the people
becomes attractive. Much of what church leaders hear is negative or
ill-informed. It can be exhausting to listen to that stuff.
And, the urge to exclusively dominate all
communication is often tied closely to a minister's sense of
identity: "I'm the one who went to theological school. I feel
called to teach and preach. My calling is not to sit and listen to
people who are not called."
And for others it's a matter of time management.
"I have a lot to say, a lot to share. I simply don't have
time to listen or engage in give-and-take."
But I fear this effort to muzzle the people is hurting
the cause. It implies that the professional Christians are the only
ones who have answers, or have a real connection to God. That's the
same kind of misguided elitism that fueled the Reformation some 500
And, shaping the church as a place for one-way
communication leads to an anemic, passive enterprise. The paid
professionals do the talking, share their faith, and perform the
ministry. The attendees simply sit in a pew, stay quiet, and do
In addition, this approach tarnishes its practitioners
into poor leaders. They become isolated, out of touch with real
people, and disconnected from real life issues.
Rather than looking for ways to "shut the mouths of
your listeners," here are some simple ways to open a conversation
that leads to faith growth and effective ministry.
- Provide opportunities for people to publicly tell about how God
is working in their lives. Let them speak, or interview them, or
show their stories on video.
- Grant time, in classes, studies and sermons, for people to talk
and listen to one another.
- Solicit feedback. It's how you grow. It's how you know your
people. Ask people how your message touched them. Use comment cards
and occasional surveys. Welcome the use of performance
- Visit and listen to people on their own turf-in their homes,
workplaces, schools, and hangouts.
- Listen to people outside of your peer group. Many pastors say
they read and listen to only one group-other pastors. This leads to
dangerous inbreeding. Seek out the voices of thought leaders in
Listen. This doesn't mean you should be silenced. It
simply means you'll be more effective when you do speak.