The Practices of the Leader: Listening Like Christ by Jim Van Yperen
When Jesus engages people, he listens. He listens to children, to sinners, to women and to Gentiles. He listens to the poor, the sick and those with no power as well as the wealthy and powerful. Jesus listens to his disciples and to those who want to kill him. Jesus listens to His Father.
Jesus listens. Stop and reflect on these two words say about Jesus’ character and his practice of leadership.
Today, most leaders want to command the stage; to be heard. They are quick to speak and slow to listen. They want the first and last word.
Reading through the Gospels we are confronted with a radically different kind of leader: a leader as listener. How many conversations can you count where Jesus started with a question? How many conversations do you have that start with you listening?
Jesus’ leadership models the faith he calls you to.
Christianity is a faith of hearing. For the Christian, hearing, not seeing, is believing. This idea stands in stark contrast to our over emphasis on knowledge and experience. We want God to show us a sign. Seeing infers control. Hearing requires trust exercised in faithful obedience. So, Jesus neither coerces nor seeks to control. What he hears from his Father he does, and teaches to those willing to hear.
The Greek word for listen is akouo, a root from which we get our English “acoustics” meaning to hear, comprehend or to understand. In Scripture, akouo is specifically used for hearing God’s Word spoken to us. Hearing is how we apprehend God. As Martin Luther once said, “To see God we must learn to place our eyes in our ears.” We receive God’s Word primarily through our ears and demonstrate faith through our deeds. Righteousness comes by hearing and obeying, not by seeing or understanding. Both Old and New Testament words for hearing include a response of obedience.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that faith “is being certain of what we do not see.” In fact, the ancients were commended for pursuing a hope they never realized in their lifetime. Sometimes, leadership requires hearing and believing God’s Word in the absence of tangible evidence or visible proof. Obedience, not knowledge, is the mark of real hearing and real leading. In fact, Scripture continually links listening to obedience. For instance, the parable of the sower is a parable about hearing. God’s Word is the seed, hearing is the soil. The point of Jesus story is for you and me to ask, “What kind of soil am I?”
The word listen plays a key role in what Jesus taught about reconciliation as well. If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that `every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’ (Matt. 18:15, 16).
Note that the determinative word in each conditional clause is “listen.” Four times in three verses Jesus uses a form of this same word. Why? What is it about listening that is so important to reconciliation? Frankly, the call to listen surprises, even disappoints, us. When wronged by another we want a more definitive response, such as the brother being persuaded or convicted or repentant about his wrong. We want to hear the sinner to say, “You are right. I am wrong.” But Jesus says nothing about this. Instead, the act of “listening” is the point. In fact, Matthew 18 allows for just two possible reactions to an accusation of sin: 1) listening, or 2) not listening. There are no other alternatives.
To listen means to receive the message with sincere action taken by the sinner to repent and/or to right the offense. This is faithful hearing. The second response is not listening; denying or taking defensive action to protect yourself. Scripture calls the unwillingness to listen, “stiff-necked” rebellion. Refusing to listen leads to hardening of heart. You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51)!
To lead like Jesus we must embody, and teach others to practice listening that is:
- Relational: listening to your Father in heaven so you can hear the heart of your brothers and sisters.
- Patient: listening as an act of submission recognizing that Jesus Christ as Lord.
- Humble: putting aside your opinions and assumptions and placing yourself under Scripture to hear God’s voice afresh, and
- Redemptive: listening to the heart of others opens a window to their need and an opportunity of healing.
May God give you ears to hear so that you might listen like Jesus.
–Jim Van Yperen–Jim Van Yperen
“Abide in me”
Jesus, John 15
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard
which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at
and our hands have touched
–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
The Person of the Leader: On Spiritual Formation by Jim Van Yperen
There is a wide gulf between knowing Jesus’ theory of leadership, and leading like Jesus. Perhaps this is one reason why Jesus states, “Follow me,” not, “Study my theories.”
Recent articles in this column have explored the attributes of a godly leader, such as love, humility, courage, integrity and justice. We’ve been reminded that Jesus calls us to a radically different kind of leadership, one that is other-centered and based on service. But how does one move beyond theory to practice? Specifically, how are the attributes of Jesus formed in us?
On the night Jesus was betrayed, after washing feet and completing the meal, Jesus says something deeply profound and seemingly impossible to our ears. Jesus states that we are chosen for joy, fruitfulness, love and friendship. The metaphor Jesus uses is a grape vine, that ancient symbol of Israel, God’s chosen people, the vine that ancient leaders allowed to degenerate and run wild. In fact, it had been 500 years since Israel had heard any new word from God.
Now, Jesus says the True Vine has appeared. “I am the vine and you are the branches,” Jesus says. “As branch is to the vine, you must be to me.” The secret to our formation is abiding—remaining–in Jesus, as Jesus is in the Father. In fact, Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Jesus tells us that bearing fruit is a result of our connection to Christ, Who is connected to the Father, not as slave to master, but in love for others and friendship with Christ.
The person of your leadership is formed in the presence of Jesus Christ.
This is the core of what the Apostle John writes in his first letter to believers in Asia Minor in the late first century. For John, formation is rooted in “beginning”—both the creation of the world and the incarnation of Christ. Jesus is Creator and Lord. So, John states, “What we have heard Jesus say, what we have seen Jesus do, what we have looked upon and our hands have touched about Jesus . . . this we proclaim.” You become like Jesus by living, learning and practicing the disposition of Jesus Christ in the company of others.
Spiritual formation is a relational, discovery process, involving all of our senses; a series of responses rather than a decision-event—much more like “walking with” than “studying under.” In fact, our formation is not tested, affirmed and proved in a class- or conference-room but in the crucible of community. Abiding in Christ is a communal practice.
So John continues, “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” Note again, that formation is forged in fellowship with Father and Son, and the result is joy.
So what are the practices of abiding in Christ?
John suggests that we listen, watch and touch, then tell others about. Briefly, here are five dispositions of Jesus’ presence we can note in the Gospels.
- The presence of Jesus is non-anxious. Jesus was persevering in patience. He did not fret, or worry. He did not doubt. His patience came from abiding faith and trust in the Father.
- The presence of Jesus is non-coercive. Jesus is peace. Jesus does not use violence, manipulation or coercion to achieve his ends. Rather he entrusts his life to the will of his Father.
- The presence of Jesus is humbly submissive. Though Jesus was God’s Son, he claimed no divine right, but emptied himself, submitting to death, even death on a cross.
- The presence of Jesus is truth-filled. Jesus is truth and speaks truthfully. He does not manipulate or lie.
- The presence of Jesus is loving. Jesus loves unconditionally such that those whose behavior and knowledge is furthest from the Kingdom are people who are most attracted to Jesus. People know Jesus speaks and acts with their best interest in mind.
What if you invited a few others to join you for a journey to Jesus, to not only read the Gospels together, but to enact them by:
- Listening to what Jesus said
- Observing watching what Jesus did,
- Enacting the dispositions of Jesus into your life together, and
- Speaking about what you are learning with others.
You just might find that you are abiding in Christ and being formed.
–Jim Van Yperen