Missional Leadership: Listening

“You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Sit down and listen Matt!”

Sadly I’ve forgotten who exactly said this to me.  I do know, however, that it was a teacher of mine in seventh grade.  As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m uber-talkative.  Especially when I’m sleepy.  And when was I not sleepy as a seventh grader!

But this aphorism from my teacher speaks volumes.  While its reliance on anatomy and physiology is cutesy; the truth behind it is solid.  Listening is important, even more important than talking.


By: Travis Isaacs
Listening is a skill that needs to be developed.

Listening Is a Thing of the Past

Think about this — there are four primary types of communication: 1) writing, 2) reading, 3) speaking, and 4) listening.  Formal education in the West centers almost completely on writing and reading, with a tiny bit of speaking thrown in, such as in a public speaking course here or there.  But there is almost no training for an average student with regard to listening.  Almost none.

Isn’t that crazy?  One of the most important human skills is completely left off the educational menu!  One of my favorite leadership thinkers, Michael Hyatt, says that listening is a lost art, and it appears he is right!

The Impact of Our Lack of Listening

What kind of impact has this oversight had on us, our culture, our leadership skills, and our capacity to be missional?

  • Listening is THE major component of oral communication, thus if we aren’t doing it well then we aren’t communicating well.  And if we aren’t communicating well then our friendships, families, jobs, neighborhoods, churches, etc. are all negatively impacted.
  • Listening is a required skill of anyone who wants to learn about and from a new culture.  Taking on the role of a listener helps us stay humble and explicitly reminds us that we are here to learn.  Moreover, there’s no better way to learn about something then to listen to the people who experience it most keenly!
  • Listening is essential in leadership.  How can we hope to lead people well if we aren’t in position to hear their concerns, hopes, wishes, and desires?  How can we be trusted to take the reins if we aren’t willing to bend our ears toward others?
  • And lastly, our lack of listening is extremely detrimental to our missional efforts.

Missional Listening

So, what are some ways that listening will help us as we seek more and more to be on mission with God, accomplishing his will where we work, live, and play?

  1. Contextualize: We will be able to contextualize the good news of Jesus better if we listen.  One of the first steps that any good missionary should take is listening.  We should intentionally become a learner of culture so that we can see how best we can communicate Jesus and his kingdom wherever we find ourselves.
  2. Empathize: Being in the regular habit of listening will also show others that we care, that we empathize.  I love the word “empathize.”  It means, at its core, to understand, feel, and respond appropriately to the feelings of others.  It necessitates that we learn through listening.  And by listening to others we actively demonstrate that we care.
  3. Humble-ize: Despite how hard it is, being humble is the only way truly to listen.  And if we humbly listen well, then folks will trust us more.  And as people trust us more, the good news of Jesus and his kingdom will become more and more attractive to them.  And as Jesus and his kingdom become more attractive, communities will change for the good.


Therefore, friends, we need to become more effective listeners!  What are some ways that you think you can become a better listener?  Let me know in the comments below.

Missional Leadership Development

OpenClips / Pixabay

If you are a leader you are developing leaders, even if you don’t know it.

The question is this: Are you doing it on purpose or by default?

In my case I’ve spent the last 19 years or so developing leaders passively, or by default.  I figured that as I taught the Bible, led worship, and moderated discussions that burgeoning leaders would simply learn by osmosis.

I was wrong.

How do I know?    That’s not how I learned to be a leader!  Several people took special interest in me, devoting time and energy to me.  They sat me down and taught me how to teach, how to lead, how to counsel, how to plan, how to be on mission, etc.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve submitted to the leadership of some poor leaders in my day too.  And in those cases I knew that I wasn’t being led well because they weren’t leading me.  Instead they were placing all the responsibility on me.  I get that.  Who wants to volunteer for more to be put on his or her proverbial plate?

Whatever the case, somewhere along the line I dropped the ball.  I went from being intentionally developed by a few great people to hoping this whole missionally following Jesus thing would just rub off on those I would like to develop.  This was a mistake…and I don’t want to make it anymore.

So, as I look back into my past I can think of a handful of people that I did invest in intentionally. In these few relationships I tried to be strategic and purposeful.  Here are a few things I learned:

  1. Be Clear about Expectations — If you are wanting to invest in someone or someone asks you to mentor them, spell out the expectations.  How often are you going to meet?  What will you talk about?  Who will be responsible?  What are you asking of yourself and the other?
  2. Hold Each Other Accountable  Listen to the person you are investing in.  He or she will likely tell you, overtly or covertly, how you are doing.  When you get this information, respond!  Make changes when appropriate in order to help the person you are leading reach his/her potential.  And hold the one you are leading accountable to the things he or she agrees to.  Don’t assume progress is being made — check up on it!
  3. Follow up, Follow up, Follow up — I have found that when it comes to leadership development, one old adage is true and one is not.  It’s not true that distance makes the heart grow fonder!  Instead, distance helps lead the heart to wander.  On the flip side, it is true that once you are out of sight, the one you are leading will eventually let you drop out of mind.  How do you prevent this?  Meet regularly, check in via email, facebook, text, etc. more often than you meet in person, and do a drop in every now and then!
  4. Listen a Bunch and Listen Some More after That — If you’re anything like me, then you like to talk!  But if I want to help someone grow in their leadership, I need to listen way more than I talk.  This is so very hard for me!  Instead of listening I’d rather think out loud, fix problems, and just enjoy the sound of my own voice!  But doing so hampers the growth of the one in which I’m investing.
  5. Be Inviting — There may be nothing that is more damaging in leadership development than being overly guarded.  I’m not saying that you should be stupid and eradicate all the boundaries around you and your family.  But what I am saying is that you must be authentic with the ones you are leading.  Invite them in.  Lead by example  Let them see you fail.  And let them see you get back up again!

What else would you add to this list?  How else can we develop missional leaders?  Let me know in the comments below!