Less Listening-More Doing?

Updated: 5 days ago

Last week, in response to the burgeoning conversation around "Now what?", we began a new series on Foundations for #synodality. We believe there are some conditions that need to be in place before synodality can take root, before the culture can change. And we believe now is the time to build these foundations. Over time, there will be more contributions to this series but up now is listening and then following this trust/trustworthiness. Also, with this series we begin including social media appropriate content. Join the #synodjourney movement by sharing them on your social media platforms..


True story, as in, this actually happened. I was just, as within a week of starting this blog, facilitating a meeting where the expressed purpose was to listen to each other, the signs of the times, the Scripture and a piece of our Catholic Tradition to see if we can begin to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to us. As we drew that very synodal approach to our work to a close, one of the participants declared, “Well, we didn’t get very much accomplished today!” The declaration was accompanied by a bit of frustration and the implication that once again a meeting at church had been a waste of time. It’s so very American in its assumption that listening is not doing and "doing" is more important than anything else. It’s one of the reasons that embracing synodality (creating that synodal culture we've been talking about) is going to be a tough road in the Church in the US. We see activities like listening, praying, contemplation, conversation/dialogue, discussion and debate as unproductive, as a waste of time. We are about action, about decisions and producing, about “getting things done.” Let’s make a plan, assign tasks, set

deadlines. That the sign of a “good meeting.”


So, how important then is listening in general? Is it important enough to spend an entire meeting "doing it?" Well, here’s what those who study this, who work with troubled relationships and in fields where listening’s absence is detrimental, have to say:


From health care professionals[i], active listening is important because

  • Learning and understanding are improved in both professional and social settings

  • It improves socializing skills

  • It increases the ability to connect/empathize with friends and family

  • It helps people feel you value them, and that builds stronger relationships

  • It improves problem-solving skills

  • It makes the listener better able to absorb information

From academics, active listening is important to human relationships because[ii]

  • It makes you a better student

  • It makes you a better friend

  • Others perceive you as intelligent and perceptive

  • It assists in effective public speaking

From pastoral/church workers, listening is important because[iii]

  • It connects you to the meaning behind the message, the heart behind the mind

  • It says, “You do not walk alone!”

  • It says, “Your story, your journey is always more important than mine.”

From the biblical perspective, listening is important because[iv]

  • It enables a connection, heart-to-heart, in the way God wishes to connect with us

  • It is a practice that loves another as we wish to be loved

  • It is a way to walk along the road with another, learning and growing together

For a people of the Word, listening is important because it is referenced in the Scripture[v]

  • Psalm 81:8 Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you; O Israel, if you would listen to me!

  • Jeremiah 26:3-4 …’ Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of their evil deeds.’ And you will say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, “If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you, to listen to the words of My servants and prophets, whom I have been sending you again and again, but you have not listened…”

  • Matthew 17:5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him!”

  • Mark 7:14 After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand:”

  • Luke 10:16 The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.

  • Acts 13:16 Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:”

From leadership studies, active listening is important because[vi]

  • It is a component of effective communication and strong leadership

  • It is a skill that requires great discipline to carry out

  • It communicates interest, connection, curiosity and respect

  • Modeling it helps others develop the skill

  • It improves morale

  • It helps resolve interpersonal conflict

  • It encourages openness with opinions and perspectives, foundational to honest assessment and innovation

  • It opens the door to new ideas and possibilities

  • It increases employee engagement/investment in the mission and the organization

From church leadership, listening is important because[vii]

  • It is a form of empowering love

  • It is a gift of time and kind regard

  • It grounds the leader in being a learner rather than an expert

  • It brings honor and recognition to the speaker

  • It gives another the chance to experience his/her inner knowing

  • It can be a means of grace as it brings forth stories through which people make sense of their lives and become aware of a larger reality

  • It is a means of empowerment, especially for those whose stories are rarely heard

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“Just as love of God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. … Christians , especially ministers, often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together


7 sources…lots of benefits…and yet , for too many of us, effective, active listening is not considered “doing something” valuable or important. If we are to become a truly synodal Church, this will have to change. #synodjourney The way we do what we are doing will set us apart; it will be our witness to our faith in the resurrected Lord and the creative Spirit. It will move us away from our propensity for doing to a propensity to first listenening to the Lord as he speaks through so many sources.

PopeFrancis joins his voice to these other knowledge streams. Active listening to one another, to the Scripture, the Tradition and the signs of the times, is the method the Church is to use to be an authentic expression of Jesus Christ, alive in the world today. It is this active listening through which the Church will hear the voice of the Spirit, guiding her. This active listening is the key work, the key “thing to be accomplished” in becoming a synodal Church, a Church journeying together, reaping all the graces and encountering all the challenges that come with listening.


Based upon my very recent experience, we’ve a lot of work to do to embrace this perspective and then follow it with practice. So right here at the beginnings of this culture change, we need to examine our attitude toward this foundational work of active listening. We need to assess the degree to which our lives together are characterized by this kind of listening. And we need to allow ourselves to embrace the importance of this kind of deep, active, spiritual listening as the way we are to be the Church. To listen and be listened to this way is to "get something accomplished!"


Can we? Absolutely! Will we? The jury is out on that. Will it be fast? No! Will there remain those who find investing in this a total waste of time and so refuse. Yes. Does that mean we fail to follow Jesus’ way and the direction our Holy Father is setting for us? No.


Interested in more about listening? Join our Contact List and you can be notified when a new blog is up. www.pentecostvigilproject.org. Want to learn more, on your own, about listening? Check out the listening resource sheet . Think work around this kind of spiritual listening needs to happen in your parish/diocese? Contact us! We can serve you in meeting this need!


Photo by Andreas Klaussen on Unsplash

[i] “Communication-The importance of listening.” Care first. https://www.bangor.ac.uk/humanresources/documents/Thursday-COVID-19-Communication-Theimportanceoflistening.pdf Accessed 7-12-22 [ii] Stand up, Speak out: The practice and ethics of public speaking.” Chapter 4 https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_stand-up-speak-out-the-practice-and-ethics-of-public-speaking/s07-the-importance-of-listening.html Accessed 7-12-22 [iii] Daniel Schramm. “The art of listening.” Ministry Magazine. August, 2009. https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2009/08/the-art-of-listening Accessed 7-12-22 [iv] Langdon Montgomery. “A lesson in true listening.” Biblical Leadership. December 18, 2019. https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/a-lesson-in-true-listening/ Accessed 7-12-22 [v] “Bible Verses about Listening.” Knowing Jesus. https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Listening Accessed 7-12-22 [vi] Holly Green. “Active listening as a leadership skill.” Vistage. September 18, 2018. This link also contains an active listening assessment tool. https://www.vistage.com/research-center/business-leadership/20180912-active-listening-leadership-skill/ Accessed 7-12-22 [vii] Mary Clark Moschella. “The Transformative Power of Listening.” Lewis Center for Church Leadership. October 22, 2008. https://www.churchleadership.com/leading-ideas/the-transformative-power-of-listening-2/

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