Let me be honest, I struggle tremendously with conversation. You may be thinking to yourself, "Wait, isn't he the community guy at New City? How could he struggle with conversation?" If I'm honest with myself, healthy conversation is not something that comes easily to me. I tend to talk a lot and listen very little. I tend to dwell on the surface, rather than diving deeper. I tend to forget details about others lives, rather than following up with them regularly. Healthy disciple-makers must be outstanding listeners. We must be willing to listen to hear people's concerns, pains, and hurts.
I have spent years in Latin America and have learned lots from Hispanics. Their culture is driven by community and conversation. It is not uncommon for a Dominican to invite a stranger walking down the street onto their porch for coffee and a conversation. During these encounters, they ask deep, thought-provoking questions and they listen to what you have to say. This creates a warm and inviting culture. I've long desired to be someone who listens well; so naturally, I've been drawn to Latin American culture in hopes that I would garner just a fraction of their care for others.
What I've learned is that mission starts and ends with relationship. Conversations create a foundation for healthy relationships. I don't believe I'm alone in my struggles with this concept. Many people struggle to have meaningful conversation and take the posture of an engaged listener.
When I examine my own heart and observe others around me (who likewise struggle with conversations), I see three roadblocks and potential areas for growth:
1. We don't pray.
Psalm 5:3 says “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”
In Psalm 5:3, David models the attitude we should have when we pray—that of eager expectation. We should believe God will answer our prayers and diligently watch for his hand at work. As we pray for God to reach our City and as we pray for 625 people, we should pray expectantly. As we pray for our list of people far from God, we should pray expectantly knowing that God desires to set the captives free and save the lost.
2. We aren't effective at asking good questions and listening.
Specifically, we struggle to do this in a way that digs deeper into someone’s life to get to know who they truly are and how the Gospel would even be good news to them and their story. When we don't ask good questions we get stuck talking about fantasy football, weather, movies, etc., without ever getting past the small-talk that most people (including me) are most comfortable with yet longing to break free of. Good question-asking and listening allow us to turn the corner from the superficial into authentic relationship-building. This begins with a transition from “what do I say?” to “what should I ask?”
3. We actually don't know what to say.
Let’s assume we’ve become great listeners and feel like we have an opportunity to get to know someone better! But what now? What do I say? Many times, all you need to do is ask questions to get a conversation going.
By no means is this an end-all-be-all list but here are 10 simple questions to help you become a better listener, which will in turn help you build deeper relationships.
- What was good about your week? Why? How did it make you feel?
- What are you thankful for from this past week?
- What has brought you the most excitement lately? Why?
- What was difficult about your week?
- What are you learning these days?
- What has made you feel worried or frustrated this week? How did you deal with it?
- What has made you feel sad this week? How did you deal with it?
- What was growing up like for you?
- What advice would you give me? I'm struggling with _____________.
- What has been the most rewarding thing in your marriage lately?
By now, you should have your list made; continue praying daily for the people on your list. As God provides opportunities to have conversations with them, let's listen well and ask great questions. Would you join me on my difficult journey towards healthy disciple-making as I learn to ask more and tell less? Let's encourage each other to be more active prayers and listeners.