The Practices of the Leader

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:

  1. Relational: listening to your Father in heaven so you can hear the heart of your brothers and sisters.
  2. Patient: listening as an act of submission recognizing that Jesus Christ as Lord.
  3. Humble: putting aside your opinions and assumptions and placing yourself under Scripture to hear God’s voice afresh, and
  4. 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