listen.

Tonight I wrapped up teaching one of our September offerings for Journey Bible Classes.  Afterwards, one of the guys in the class asked what steps he should take if he thinks he might teach some day.  Among other things, I said this:

Be the best listener you can be. A teacher earns the right to speak by listening well.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who thought they knew what you were going to say, and so they kept completing your sentences, only to find out that they were wrong each time?  It’s a frustrating experience, right?  I think we do this as teachers.

First, we do it to the Bible.  If we grew up in Church or have had any kind of Biblical training, it can be difficult to let the Bible speak for itself.  We keep finishing its sentences, expecting any verse that begins with “the Gospel” to end with a reference to what some people call “substitutionary atonement”.  We assume that any given verse in our Bibles is trying to answer the question, “How do I get to heaven when I die?” when very little of it may really have been written for that purpose.  We turn to the Gospel of Luke and, because we’ve already read Matthew, expect the Beatitudes to speak to purely spiritual realities (“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” says Matthew).  We’re unable to hear the very physical sense of earthly poverty that Jesus is speaking to in Luke when He says, “Blessed are the poor”.  It all amounts to very poor listening skills.  And a teacher earns the right to speak by listening well. 

But we also do it to the people we’re addressing.  I imagine most of us have sat through a sermon and thought of the preacher, “this guy has obviously not had a real conversation with anyone in this room! No one is asking the questions he’s answering.”  I’m the chief of sinners on this front.  Every gifting carries with it a unique liability, and preachers are no different.  We’re wired with a passion to speak the truth, but if we’re not careful, we roll over people like a bulldozer with all of our right answers and leave them worse off than they were before we spoke.  I shudder to think of how often I’ve done this to an individual or a crowd.     

Daniel Boorstin is one of my favorite historians.  He wrote, “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.”  I would push back slightly and say that knowledge is not all illusion, but he makes a good point.  The more we think we know, the less we listen.  At least I think that’s what he’s trying to say. 

To listen is to seek to understand, and so listening is an act of love.  I’ve had the ongoing privilege of working as an understudy to a few incredible teachers.  Mark Beeson, Rob Wegner, Mark Waltz, and Bob Laurent exhibit a love for the people they teach that convicts me deeply and challenges me to be a better man.  I wish every one of you could know how seriously these men believe that to teach is to carry a sobering responsibility on one’s shoulders.  They ooze with pastors’ hearts as they prepare and deliver.  They listen and love well.  I want the same to be true of me.  And whether you’re teaching in a church or school or just opening your mouth occasionally to speak to your friends, I hope you’ll listen well, too.               

ready for a good story...

In just a couple of days, we'll jump back into Journey Bible Classes at GCC.  We spent the summer as a church giving our energy to summer camps for youth, family travel, mission trips, and all the other ways that we take advantage of the different rhythm of summer break, so this will be our first Wednesday night since May that we've gathered for Journey.  Today I'm studying for the class I'll be teaching, but I'm also taking some time to remember why we study and teach.  

I read this on Erwin McManus's website today and was moved by it:

"Preaching must be more than moving toward doctrinal soundness, more than simply calling people toward life application. Preaching must elevate the stories of God that draw a picture of what life can be like for everyone."

THAT is what gets my heart beating fast.  God is up to something much bigger than doctrinal statements.  It's not that doctrine doesn't matter, but it's possible to have every 'i' dotted, every 't' crossed, without learning to see the world as God sees it, brimming with possibility.  He invites us to lean into His vast resources as we grieve the reality of sin and move from death to life.  This kind of stuff is bigger than checking 'bible study' off of our religious to-do list.  

It's one thing for us to have private moments of revelation as we read Scripture and try to understand.  It's another thing altogether when we collectively encounter the Story of God's interaction with the world He loves in a way that gives birth to new dreams, fresh vision, and greater hope for what's ahead for His Church.  That's my prayer for our Wednesday nights together.  I hope I'll see you there!  

kicking and screaming

I spent an amazing few days in California this weekend. More on that in another post.

While I was there, I had some down time. I figured I’d seize the moment and tackle some email. When I opened Entourage (a.k.a. Outlook for Mac), I had about 2,250 emails in my inbox. A few hours later, I had it down to about 1,500. Right now I’ve got 325 new messages in my Facebook inbox. And I’m averaging only 1.2 posts per week on this blog.

I say all of that for two reasons. First, to explain why some of you have emailed me and haven’t heard back. I’m really sorry. I suck at this stuff. Second, to explain why I’ve been so hesitant to use Twitter. It feels like every new communication or social networking medium one adopts becomes one more obligation in a life that’s already heavily committed.

However, I picked up The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman to read on the plane coming home yesterday, and I’m sold. Friedman offers a hard-to-refute depiction of a world that is becoming exponentially smaller and more connected. While not unaware of the potential risks associated with all of this cataclysmic change, he offers two other points right away.

  • It’s happening whether you like it or not. Try to dig your heals in and you’ll just be left behind.
  • There is unbelievable good that can be achieved through all of this technology.

I tend towards the negative, mindful of what horrible sin humans can commit. My feelings on the matter are informed by my theology. However, my theology also tells me that we’re made in the image of God, firmly embedded with great potential for creative accomplishment. And when we do that creating WITH God, in His Spirit, we’re living out the Kingdom. If I don’t have eyes to see how this could play out within the already-upon-us world of hyperconnectivity, I’d better check my vision.

There’s one other reason I’m jumping into Twitter right now: Tim Stevens has been egging me on with Twitter for months. He’s out of the office this week, so I figure I should jump in when he’s not here to say “I told you so”.

My user name? commonjason. Hopefully I’ll see you there.

pretty roses

At GCC, we use all sorts of media to communicate what we believe is the most important message there has ever been – the Gospel.  We’ll try anything to get the point across.  Sometimes someone will quote Marshall McLuhan and argue that the medium IS the message.  I think what they’re trying to say is that our methods have watered down our message.  I’m not buying it. 

Now, as far as I understand McLuhan’s concept, I think he’s right.  The tools we use to communicate say as much as the actual content of our message.  It’s just that I’m ok with that.  

If I buy a girl roses to tell her “I love you”, the medium (the roses) is consistent with the message (“I love you”).  If those roses are nasty leftovers I bought on discount a week after Valentine’s Day, I’m not sure “I love you” really comes across. 

One core tenet of our message is that, in spite of our sin and utter inability to reach God, He traveled the distance and came to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  God paid a great price and went to the greatest length to reach us and save us.  When we wrack our brains and bend over backwards trying to communicate that content, I think our medium reinforces our message.  When someone sees the Church using every possible tool to get the point across, I think it’s consistent with a Gospel that says, “God paid the ultimate price to reach you and save you.”  Imagine the inconsistency in telling someone, “God loves you but has very narrow parameters on what means I can use to get that across.”

Sure, we need to be sharp about all of this.  Media come with liabilities.  But all of them do, not just the new or innovative ones. 

Shane Hipps is a marketing-guru-turned-Mennonite-pastor, and I’ll be hearing him talk about this idea at Q Conference the week after next.  I think he’s going to disagree with me, and that’s ok.  I’m excited to hear what he has to say.  Whether I agree or not, I think he’ll help me think more critically about all of this. 

What do you think?  (And really, I’m not just looking for a resounding affirmation.  If you agree, that’s awesome.  But I’m all for dialogue.)