Disciple-Making Requires Listening

This article was originally published as a resource for disciple-makers within the World Evangelical Alliance. 

By Jeremy Bohall and Tom Foley

Have you ever left a conversation feeling drained because the other person talked the whole time? Did you feel ignored or uncared for? If you’ve experienced this, allow it to become a valuable lesson in how not to have disciple-making conversations.
Listening and being listened to carefully are helpful as we invest in one another. If we wish to care for and respect those with whom we converse, being present (though separate) as we listen is key. Fruitful disciple-making necessitates active listening. So what does active listening look like?

One key aspect of any disciple-making conversation is time invested in catching up on the happenings in one another’s lives. If these conversations are regular, it makes catching up more productive because we already have a sense of what’s happening. As we hear from one another it’s important to dig a little deeper. This is where active listening goes to work.

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A first step, a sure foundation to active listening is to approach conversations prayerfully, asking the Spirit to guide our ears, heart, and mind during the conversation. Helpful questions will emerge that can foster vulnerability and honesty in the conversation. In doing so, fellow-disciples are able to point one another to the gospel. These are aspects of active listening.
But listening and really hearing should be followed by further probing. We would be wise to have the courage to speak up. But speaking up is more often in the form of a good question rather than a statement.

Jeremy tells us that he “recalls numerous conversations in which questions helped me uncover feelings I wasn’t aware of or intentions I didn’t realize were behind my actions. This new understanding helped me reflect and pray intentionally for the Lord’s wisdom, discernment and direction.”

Effective disciple-making and mentoring is less about talking and more about listening. It is important to understand what the other person really meant to say, not just what you think was meant. Ask the speaker to clarify; it will help you both. But to ask in a helpful manner, one must listen well. During social distancing, while on a call, listen carefully for voice cues where you might usually be looking for body language.

When we practice these key aspects of active listening, they will allow us to enter the other’s context and understand their situation. Let the other person know you’re paying attention by making appropriate verbal cues: ‘uh-huh…’, ‘okay…’, ‘yeah,,,’, etc. These acknowledgements help the person know that they are being heard.

It is also vital to make sure that what you heard was what they wanted to communicate. Ask, ‘Are you saying that…?’ Or, ‘Should I infer…?’ This will refine your understanding. Repeat the ideas that you have heard back to them and continue to ask questions that clarify meaning. This will help them think more deeply about what they’ve just said—or left unsaid. Listen for the teachable moment, then follow with a thoughtful question and quietness.

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As a conversation progresses, when experiences are shared, and events are discussed, if I am listening carefully, I may discern something that indicates an open door to the heart and mind of my fellow-disciple. It is through this opening that Jeremy may apply a biblical principle to Tom either at that moment or even later. This is what educators call taking advantage of a teachable moment.

Let’s apply these to disciple-making conversations. The main point of the teachable moment is that, when something is said or, especially, when a question is asked, openness is demonstrated. This shows that our now open friend may be ready to hear something helpful, perhaps for the first time. This brings us to the next tool, being quiet.
Many people are uncomfortable with silence. But a brief pause after a probing question gives your fellow-disciple time to think about the implications of the question. So, don’t rush to fill silences. Take a sip from your cup, look up to the sky, and after a pause, make a “I wonder what if…” statement. Take another sip. Give the other person time to consider the question. Jeremy has noticed that it is often during periods of quietness that the Lord is able to be heard loudest. So, listen carefully for the teachable moment, ask a thoughtful question, then be quiet and allow for reflection.

Jeremy tells us that “Imagining a future conversation helps me incorporate these principles.” Tom agrees, reminding us: “This is why regularly praying for fellow-disciples is critical.” Conversations, like many other disciplines, take preparation. Jeremy suggests that we “Imagine what it’s like to ask a probing question. Think about what it might feel like to let the silence last five seconds longer than you’re comfortable with. Imagine how you might formulate a question allowing your friend to confirm that what you heard was what they meant.” This sort of preparation should be filled with prayer so as to allow the Spirit to guide the upcoming conversation. Active, prayerful listening is fostered by prayerful preparation.

Since we’re all dutifully practicing social distancing, let’s remain committed to making disciples even when we can’t be in person. It has been suggested that we make calls to see how we’re growing in the Lord. This is pretty important during this unusual season as so many are struggling. If these calls are regular, and are filled with active listening, vulnerability and honesty will emerge and good fruit will grow in the lives of our fellow-disciples.

Like Jeremy, what have you learned about yourself from someone who asked you a helpful question?

On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate yourself in active listening? What could you do to improve?

Do you find yourself waiting to talk more than active listening?

Write down one helpful tip from this article that you will put into practice in your next conversations, ask your Father to use his Spirit to help you practice better listening to point people to Jesus.

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Lament and gratitude

Today, make a call (or two) to a friend during which you name your grief and name your gratitude. Lament and gratitude can and, especially now, should coexist in conversation with friends and with God.

This idea came from a really helpful webinar with Curt Thompson MD… 

CLICK HERE to watch “Managing Your Mental Health in Tough Times

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Turning sheltering into thriving…

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Sheltering in place is an opportunity for growth. I’ve noted that before. Here are some more resources that are helpful steps to thriving in place…

A video with Dan Allender who shares openly about the struggle we’re in…  CLICK HERE TO VIEW

A great book on understanding and deepening your prayer during this time by Tim Keller…   CLICK HERE FOR KELLER BOOK INFO No book has helped me more on the subject of prayer.
Also, let me point you to the clear teaching of Sam Ferguson at Falls Church Anglican. His teaching on Psalm 23 last weekend and his new series on praying the Lord’s Prayer are very helpful.
CLICK HERE FOR PSALM 23 TEACHING  Some have told me that they found this to be one of the most helpful teaching on this beloved Psalm (It was my very first exposure to the Bible as I memorized it as an 9 year old in a neighborhood church VBS. Yes, there was a prize.)
CLICK HERE FOR teaching series on The Lord’s Prayer In this series Ferguson’s seeks to answer these questions: How does the Lord’s Prayer bring us into deeper experience in God, reorientation to God and rest in God?
Mainly:, I want to remind you to daily…
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and remember that …
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So, rest in him y’all.

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Disciple Making During Social Distancing

Everyone is hunkered down these days. This precludes sitting in a cafe and talking over coffee or breakfast. But social distancing doesn’t have to stop us from obeying Jesus in making disciples. How can we be involved in disciple making without being able to meet in person? Additionally, how can these ideas and practices be helpful to us as we move forward in disciple making post-pandemic?

The three of us have years and even decades of experience with virtual disciple-making conversations online. The pandemic crisis can open our eyes to ways of disciple-making that we haven’t considered seriously before.

For over two decades Tom has been having disciple-making conversations with fellow disciples. A ‘disciple making conversation’ (DMC) takes place when two or three disciples of Jesus make a commitment to walk together through life, pointing one another to the gospel as the Bible informs our discussion. We all need to be reminded daily that we are broken and Jesus is our only hope, this is the gospel.

The term ‘fellow disciples’ indicates a relationship where one disciple is no higher than another. Each disciple, no matter their age, or experience, can speak into the life of the other as the Holy Spirit uses each person in the conversation. As the Bible is our central source, the Spirit reminds us of his truth as we speak biblical truth to one another. Tom puts it this way: “I am a disciple of Jesus, not Jeremy or Ruslan. But both of these brothers speak the gospel into my life.” Yet, we must recognize that there is also vertical disciple-making where one person leads another, or leads a group. Tom illustrated: “I have been deeply blessed to watch brothers grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus as we meet together over the years. I’ve seen biblical wisdom and discernment emerge from brothers as the Father used our conversations.” This is essential for new believers and even for those who have yet to believe and are being discipled into belief as Jesus did with his disciples and is being practiced in so many Disciple Making Movement communities.

Most of our conversations have been held via a device that allows the participants to speak across continents and time zones. It seems that this has been an effective process. Tom says that “I’ve traveled to visit fellow disciples two or three times a year for two decades where we sit face to face. But in the months between, most of that disciple-making happens by video or voice conversation. I’ve seen that, after hundreds of these conversations, we can profitably walk together in honest, vulnerable and regular discussions. This conversation model relies on regular, vulnerable and honest discussion.”

Regularity is key so as to keep up with one another’s lives. Vulnerability is essential as we truly open our hearts and minds to the gospel as God uses one another to speak that truth. Honesty is a core value of any DMC, but one can be honest and remain shallow. Vulnerability makes honesty really work. If I open my heart and mind in a vulnerably honest manner, my fellow disciple can be better used by the Spirit of Jesus to speak biblical truth into our lives.

One practical way to incorporate these regular conversations is by taking a walk together. Jeremy states that: “For over a year now, Tom and I have been literally walking together while we talk using an online app on our mobile phones. This practice of walking while talking has boosted our conversations. That is due to the release of endorphins that naturally occurs when we walk. But there’s more to it than that. I’ve found that walking while talking reduces both the external and internal distractions that other contexts inherently produce (cafes, cars, homes). This is because it provides activity for the body to engage in that doesn’t distract from the conversation while excluding the external distractions like other people, televisions and music.” Tom agrees, “I often look up from the path I am walking in the hills and am surprised by where I am on this familiar trail, having become so engrossed in my conversation with Jeremy or Ruslan that I’ve lost track of the part of the forest I’m in!”

Tom and Ruslan have been speaking as fellow disciples for over twelve years. They have conversed as each was on different continents in their travels. Ruslan tells us that more recently he went through a major transition in ministry due to burnout. “I believe that those conversations were essential for my recovery and those talks helped my wife Anya and me discern God’s guidance.” Ruslan continues. “We all need someone who walks alongside us (even if it’s a figure of speech), who keeps pointing us to the gospel of God, and appreciates us for who we are and not for what we do. While some of this can occur sporadically in relationships, it’s much better to be intentional and plan regular conversations with someone who can join us on this journey.”

Here are some practical tips: Send a paragraph from Scripture to a friend and schedule a call. Invest time in catching up. A key feature of a regular conversation is that catching up will be more organic and flow because you already have a sense of what’s happening in their life. In fact, the Scripture text could even speak to what you already think may be going on. Once you’ve both had a chance to ask what’s happening, it’s time to probe a little deeper. A key to helpful probing is prayer; praying while listening helps a ton. Now, pick up the phone and do some disciple making!


This article, by Jeremy Bohall, Tom Foley and Ruslan Maliuta,  first appeared in the “Decade of Disciple Making” email to members of the World Evangelical Alliance. Link to that version here.

 

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Times are tough for many…

As I approach the end of my year in the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan, I’m in the latter NT letters. Peter wrote to people who were struggling…

like so many are today…

So these words are so applicable where we live…

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several weeks into distancing, some healthful reminders…

Curt Thompson M.D has again provided some healthful reminders in his new article “A Body of Work”.

From that article I’ve excerpted some reminders (there’s worthy explanation in the article):

  1. Make it a practice to take at least three 5-10 minute walks every day.
  2. If possible, change your location of work in your home.
  3. When possible, stand while doing work, especially when using a screen.
  4. As you are able, limit the number of people on videocalls to three or less.
  5. Greet as many people as you can whenever you are able.
  6. Plan for daily singing/worship while standing.
  7. Talk about your anger.
  8. Practice contemplative prayer.

Please read the original article!

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Each day…

Then you will be confident

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