T. PIERCE BROWN
Many preachers and teachers fail to do effective counseling, personal evangelism or pulpit and classroom teaching because they think in terms of what they have to say, and how they will say it instead of listening to what the other person has to say. We know the answers and the person to whom we speak scarcely knows the questions. So we think our job is to tell him what we know. It is probable that we miss the opportunity to convert many persons because we talk when we should be listening.
This lesson is so important in all human relationships. Many marital problems are created because one or both of the partners are more interested in telling what they know or think they know than they are in listening to the other. There are persons who actually seem to keep their mouth about half way open so they can say what is on their mind when the other person stops talking. They are not listening to what the other person is saying, but are concerned about what they have to say. Not only is this one of the quickest ways to make a marriage go sour, it is a problem for teachers and preachers in various situations.
It is true that we are sometimes unjustly criticized for answering questions that no one asks, or not preaching to felt needs. The reason I say it is unjust is that many are not far enough along to know what question needs to be asked. They do not feel any needs, for they do not know what they need. We often have to teach persons that they are sinners before they know enough to ask, “What must I do to be saved?” Every teacher has been in a class where the students did not know enough to ask a sensible question. However, that does not negate the importance of listening, for it is by listening that we find out what they do not know, as well as what they do know. We may find out what they think they need to know, as well as what they really need to know.
There is another value of listening that may be just as important. If one marriage partner, or a teacher or preacher gives the impression by word or act that they are not really listening, they are sending a message to the other person, “You are not really important to me. I do not care how you feel or think.” This may not only put a damper on the romance of marriage, but may totally stop the learning process in a class or personal evangelism.
Because teaching is the process of starting where a person is and leading him to where he should be, one needs to know where a person is intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. We cannot know where a person is without first listening. Many times I have wasted time and effort because I guessed where a person was and started teaching or trying to teach from that point. I guessed wrong, so no bridge was built over which he could travel. So we should learn to listen, not only because we simply cannot do the job Christ wants us to do without it, but because it improves all human relationships when the person with whom we are dealing feels that there is a compassionate understanding of his need or feeling. Solomon said, “He that giveth answer before he heareth, it is folly and shame unto him” (Proverbs18:13). I fear that many of us have reason to be ashamed, both in our private or home life with spouse and children, and in our public preaching and teaching life. Are you listening?