5 Ways to Improve As an Active Listener

listening-earLet me say up front that this post is longer than usual, but if you read it all and truly wrestle with it, you’ll be a better leader and your family and congregation will thank you for it. Let’s dive in!

Communication is key to being an effective leader and I would argue a genuine human being. After being called out by my wife, previous employers and team members for interrupting, I had to do some deep soul searching and take an introspective look at how I communicate, dialogue and interact with people in general. I realized I didn’t intentionally practice active listening.

Active listening is a communication technique used in counseling, training, and conflict resolution. It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.

Honestly, this is an area I’ve dealt with for years and am just now actively working on improving. I think I’ve always known that listening is key; I just haven’t done a good job at it in every area of my life.

I actually wrote about leaders needing to listen in my first book Strange Leadership. In the book, I said, “Leaders are readers. Leaders are learners. Leaders are listeners.” I even pinned a TwitPic to my Twitter wall to share it with others. It’s been retweeted over 1200 times. I think we all know this is true deep down. The question is do we live this out? Do I live this out?

I’ve blogged and posted on social media numerous times that I see a counselor or therapist. I have for years and I highly recommend it, especially for pastors. Lately, this is what I have been working on with my therapist. I asked him to help me be a better active listener. So each week we work on active listening.

Here’s what I’m learning and here are five ways to evaluate yourself and do your own introspection:

  1. Leadership: Employers, are you open to feedback? Do you know and practice bottom-up leadership? Do you learn from your employees? When you lead and interact with your team and staff, do you really listen to them? Do you know their dreams, their passions, struggles, and frustrations? Do you hear them when they say their hurting, or tired, or burnt out and in need of rest? Employees, do you understand what your employer wants from you? Do you actively listen when he or she gives you instructions and corrections? Do you get defensive and interrupt them when they critique you or give you a performance evaluation? Pastors and church leaders, are you listening to your congregation? When you plan sermon series, do you have a good pulse on what your people are going through? Do you actively listen to their concerns, fears, and frustrations with where the church or leadership is heading? Do you encourage open dialogue?
  2. Counseling: Pastors, when you counsel people in your congregation, do you cut them off and interject your thoughts and opinions? I have in the past. Do you practice active listening in such a way (like a therapist would) that you can repeat back to them what they said? Good counselors and therapists will listen to you vent and share and then respond with, “So what I hear you saying is…” I know you have a Biblical worldview, a strong grasp of Scripture and theology, but there is much to be learned in this area. My wife is a counselor and they go through a grueling two-year grad school program to learn counseling techniques – techniques we would benefit from learning. A book I highly recommend is entitled Toughest People to Love. I’ve read it twice and found it thoroughly helpful and insightful. I also recommend you reach out to a local therapist and pick their brain. Ask them to teach you how to be a better active listener. And, if you’re not already doing it, make an appointment with a counselor. You will benefit greatly from it. Your family and congregation will benefit because of it, and you might learn something.
  3. Social media: Dave Adamson recently said that at North Point Church they strive to use more questions marks than periods. My friend, Nils Smith said, “Facebook is a social network, which means that conversation is central to the platform and the best way to create a conversation is to ask a question.” The biggest problem I see when I do an online presence evaluation as a church secret shopper is churches using social media as a broadcast tool only. They don’t truly create conversations and safe places for people to react, interact, and dialogue with the church and its leaders. My friend Brandon Cox wrote a helpful and insightful book entitle Rewired. In the book, Brandon writes, “The world around us is having a conversation about life, meaning, culture, and eternity, and we have an amazing opportunity not just to join the conversation but also to lead it. But too many in the church are struggling to keep up with this cultural shift and failing to use these communication tools to their full advantage. And this shift we are seeing toward a more mobile, social environment is actually a return to the form we were created for: to be in relationships, to have conversations, and to share our stories  with each other.” I encourage you to strategically and prayerfully rethink your social media strategy as a church with a focus on listening.
  4. Family: Did you know that if you learn this skill of active listening and utilize it intentionally and regularly, you will have a better relationship with your spouse and children? I can’t tell you how many times I’m watching TV or working on my computer while my wife is talking to me and then she says, “Greg, tell me what I just said.” I usually struggle to repeat her words back to her. Since I’ve been coached on active listening, I’ve gotten better at this. I’ve still got a way to go, but I’m growing and learning. You’ll find that your parenting skills and dynamics change with your kids if you truly pay attention to them, make eye contact with them, and say back to them, “If I heard you right, you’re feeling…” If you accept my advice and heed my own testimony, this skill can improve and for some of you, save your marriage and/or relationship with your kids.
  5. Relationships: One of the things that I’m proud of is that I’m a good friend. I truly care about those that I’m in a relationship with. When I interact with my friends now, I’m trying my best to actively listen. Too many times we’re quick to interrupt and interject our thoughts without allowing them to finish their thought and express how they feel. If you want to go to the next level in your life and relationships, learn to listen and then respond with grace and love.
  • You know who’s really good at active listening? Coaches and counselors. I think we, as church leaders, could learn a lot from them and apply this same technique to our various areas of ministry and service.
  • These are 5 things that I’m working on in my life and if you prayerfully assess and evaluate your own areas, you’ll have no regrets. Remember: Leaders are listeners. Let’s seek to lead and listen exceedingly well.
  • One last thing, friends and you haven’t heard me say this in YEARS: Go to my YouTube channel and subscribe! I am about to start recording regular content for pastors and leaders. I’ll be doing series for areas and subjects such as leadership in general, pastoral ministry, helps and coaching, guest services training and insights, ministry thoughts, mental health issues and awareness, and other things that I get emailed about. Please SUBSCRIBE today!

Quick Keys to Effective Communication for Pastors

Here’s something fun: Ask your child, wife, staff member, deacon, elder, small group teacher: What did I speak on 3 weeks ago?…2 weeks ago?…this past weekend? Ouch! Maybe that isn’t so fun. Why do their answers sting so much? Because, as communicators, we desperately want to reach the people that we’re speaking to. How can we improve in the art and science of communication?

Study the best communicators

  1. Study the Master, How did Christ communicate (mustard seed, vine, and branches, children, wind, Living Water, seeds, a plank in your eye, etc.).
  2. Study people in Scripture, Check out leaders in both the Old and New Testaments. Study Peter and Paul. Look at Acts 17, How did Paul communicate differently in verses 16-32 than he did at the beginning of the chapter?
  3. Study present-day communicators, Who are your favorite speakers? What do you like about them? How do they capture your mind and your heart?

Practice the disciplines of your craft

  1. Creativity, Consider all that our Creator made; the many different species, colors, people, etc. Let Him inspire you to use every ounce of your talent and imagination in crafting messages. Michael Slaughter, Pastor of Ginghamsburg Church said, Electronic media are the language of our culture. Our strategies for designing worship MUST be visually engaging.
  2. Learning, Study how to learn and be a continual learner yourself. We should all be constant students of God, His creation, His Word, the people He died for, the culture we find ourselves in and how to communicate effectively. Stretch yourself. Read constantly!
  3. Risk-Taking, Great communicators take risks. Risk and faith go hand in hand. When we stand up to preach, do we rely more on our experience and education or the Holy Spirit? When Rob Bell was the teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, the entire first year of their church, Rob preached on the book of Leviticus, and the church grew from zero to three thousand members.  Talk about risk-taking! Like him or not, Rob Bell is a phenomenal communicator.

Be intentional and employ the following

  1. Storytelling, Paint a picture with your words. Never forget the power of the imagination. Everything doesn’t have to be on the screen. Dan Kimball said, Because people in the emerging culture don’t know the story, preachers must become storytellers again.
  2. The Arts, Praise God. the arts are coming back to the church! For so long, you had a place to serve in our churches if you taught, sang, or played the piano/organ. Now, everyone is (or should be) welcome to use their gifts and talents for the glory of God whether they are a techie, painter, dancer, poet, sculptor, seamstress, designer, video producer, actor, etc. Find the artists in your church and allow them to partner with you in communicating the Gospel.
  3. Shift from auditory only to multi-sensory worship, One doesn’t have to research too long to see that most people learn today through other means than hearing. Leonard Sweet’s book Post-Modern Pilgrims laid out in detail his EPIC concept. Len Sweet suggests (and I agree) that our worship services and sermons should be Experiential, Participatory, Image-based, and Connective. Sweet says, When you have a choice to make about how to deliver a particular element of your worship service, push the bounds — make it dynamic, relational, and most of all, make it visual.

Never Lose Your Focus

  1. You must shift from Information to Transformation, Preaching in the modern church focused on a logical presentation of facts to move people toward a decision, now you need to move beyond words and be interactive and engaging. Our worship gatherings should not be a social or academic meeting of people coming to church and learning.
  2. The goal is changed lives, Our worship gatherings should be a spiritual, authentic, life-changing encounter for God’s people connecting with each other and their Creator by experiencing His Presence in worship and confronting truth expressed through His Word and understood through His Spirit in an atmosphere of love, grace, peace, and joy!
  3. Rely on His strength, With the reality that it’s not about us and that God knows whom we are trying to reach and how best to communicate to them, the obvious comes back to the forefront: Prayer is the key to all, the lifeline from which we live, move, and have our being.  

 l’ll close with 5 thoughts

  1. You can’t do it alone, If you haven’t already, put together a creative planning team and work with them on your message and series planning.
  2. Evaluation, The only way to truly grow and improve as a communicator is to constantly evaluate your teaching. Suggestions for this are:
    • Video yourself teaching
    • Listen to just an audio recording of yourself teaching
    • Ask others to evaluate your teaching.
  3. Remember: All our media are simply tools, Our responsibility as leaders are to help people stay focused on Jesus, not the experience itself. If they leave our churches saying, What a cool video or “What a great sermon” instead of What an awesome God! we’ve missed the boat.
  4. Watch and listen to other communicators – Great teachers study other great communicators. I get to see and hear from Steven Furtick almost weekly. I know he watches other communicators and has truly mastered the art of communication. I listen to Matt Chandler and others via podcasts. Each time I listen to Chandler, I am amazed at how he captures the ears and hearts of the listener. PRO TIP: Both Furtick and Chandler weave humor into their messages. Never underestimate the power of humor and laughter. Who do you resonate with and learn from? We can all grow in this area.
  5. Please don’t forget the power of imagination – Read THIS article I wrote last year on tapping into this powerful gift from our Creator God.

If I had to summarize my heart on preaching, I would say to work at your craft and put the time and effort into improving as a communicator. I believe in you. You can do it. Keep pressing on!

 

Listen

Did you know you listen every day with your eyes just as much as your ears? I listen every day as I read through Twitter posts, Facebook statuses, Instagram pictures, people watching, etc. Listening is an art, but it helps to approach it like a science.

I follow a wide variety of people on social media because I’m listening through technology – a science I learned from my friend Tony Steward. Christians, non-Christians, atheists, New Agers, Jews, Muslims, tech gurus, musicians, celebrities, churches, news outlets – you name it, I follow them. I get a pulse on culture and the world via the people and companies I follow and listen to.

“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while, he knows something.” – Wilson Mizner.

“The first duty of love is to listen.” – Paul Tillich

The thing about listening is it goes hand-in-hand with intentionality. I can only share this concept with you, but you have to put feet to it. I listen because I care. I listen because I want to learn. I listen because I want to grow.

I want to join God where He’s at work.

I often talk about having our spiritual antennas up. If your spiritual antenna is up, you won’t miss opportunities to be Christ to someone in need. In the book and study Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby says, “God’s activity is far greater than anything we could aspire to do for Him.”

Listening is another way of saying being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. If we truly believe God’s activity is greater, then we would have to take steps to seek His moving.

“Watch what God does and then you do it.” – Ephesians 5:1 (MSG)

As we open our eyes, ears, and hearts and truly listen with all our ability (again this takes intentionality), we have the great privilege and opportunity of getting on the same page with our Creator and joining Him in His work and mission.

As I said in a blog post for Outreach Magazine: If you want to be truly innovative and start doing new and exciting ways of ministry you must be dependent upon the Holy Spirit.

Jeremiah 33:3 teaches us, Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.”

If we “call to God” and He promises to answer, this inherently requires listening on our part. God will reveal things that we would never figure out on our own, but we have to be ready, available, sensitive and actively listening.

Who are you listening to?

Wonder: Old Story – New Song

I once asked Pastor Derwin Gray how he stayed so passionate and fired up about his faith, his ministry, and his relationship with Christ.

He said, “I just think about what Christ has done for me.”

I’ve been taking a little time to do some soul searching and reflecting. I think because I became a Christian so young, I have lost the “wonder” of my salvation and stopped singing a “new song.”

Our faith and the Gospel story is a very old story, but it should never get old to us. I know that in my mind, and am trying to live it out in my heart.

Pray for me, that I “stand amazed in His Presence” and sing a “new song” once again. I will pray the same for you.

The State of the Plate 2016

Nationwide survey shows many churches saw declining or flat giving in 2015, while at the same time seeing the need for modern digital giving solutions.

For a copy of the 19-page report with ten key findings, seven graphs, and recommended resources to increase church giving go to our Sponsor, Tithe.ly’s page here

In the 6th installment of the ground-breaking research on church giving authored by Brian Kluth of Maximum Generosity, we asked nearly 1,600 survey participants from mainline, evangelical, non-denominational, and other Christian groups to report on their giving patterns and practices.

The findings from the 2016 survey reveal a dramatic shift in giving over the past three years, compared to the last time the survey was conducted in 2013.

Giving has flat-lined or decreased for the majority of those surveyed, which has many churches scrambling to implement more modern giving solutions.

Key findings from the 2016 State of the Plate survey:

  • 59% of churches surveyed reported flat-lined or decreased giving over the period 2015 to 2016. (A previous survey from 2013 revealed 53% of churches had an increase in giving that year.)
  • Only 41% of churches surveyed saw giving increase by 5% or more.
  • 79% of churches surveyed offer website giving (up from 29% in 2010), 46% offer cell phone/text/app giving (up from 4% in 2010), and 32% have a kiosk/iPad in the lobby for in-person digital giving.
  • Generous church giving is not limited to the older generations. 63% of those in their 20s-30s give 10% or more to their church.
  • Only 41% of those surveyed said they give weekly, while 46% give once or twice a month.
  • The top five reasons for missing church services are: out of town (74%), sickness (42%), serving during the worship service (16%), social commitments (13%), and had to work (14%).

DOWNLOAD REPORT

 

*** Go here for more about tithing in the bible.

Greg Atkinson’s Top 20 Blog Posts of 2016

I thought I’d take a look back at the most popular blog posts of 2016. Important to note is that there are a few that are targeted to pastors and preaching. There are also a few focused on Easter – which is good for this time of year.

There are also a couple on my church secret shopper ministry. You can go here to learn more about hiring me to evaluate your church’s weekend experience.

Also, please check out my new book Secrets of a Secret Shopper – which goes into great, practical details on how to turn first-time guests into second-time guests.

HERE ARE THE TOP 20 POSTS FOR 2016:

Leadership and the Power of Momentum

Ministry, Leadership, Worship, and Expectation

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Life, and Lies

Preaching and the Power of Imagination

5 Ways to Improve As an Active Listener

Digital Real Estate Matters

Always Point People to the Church Website

The Seasons of a Church Secret Shopper

Help Your People Say No

5 Tips from a Church Secret Shopper

7 Tips for Guest Worship Leaders

Easter 2016 Review and Learn

The One Thing You Must Do this Easter

3 Ways to Still Have a Team After Easter

Don’t Quit! We Need You.

Don’t Tell Me Men Don’t Sing

You Don’t Always Have to Hustle

Have You Ever Considered a Church Secret Shopper

7 Lessons from Peyton Manning for Pastors

99 Questions When Hiring a Worship Pastor

Little Drummer Boy

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Some close to me know my favorite Christmas song is “Little Drummer Boy.” Something about it resonates deeply with me.

I think we all long to see Jesus smile at us and know that he loves us just as we are.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Little baby
Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too
Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give our King
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Mary nodded
Pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Then He smiled at me
Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

 

 

The Results of a 2015 Pastors Survey

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The following are the results of the 2015 Pastor Survey conducted by ExPastors.com. I think you’ll find them very insightful. I also encourage you to participate in the 2016 Pastor Survey, which is currently going on and has new and improved questions to help us collect more data to better serve the ExPastors community. Please know these surveys are totally anonymous.

We wished to concern ourselves with getting accurate information on issues ranging from burnout and finances, to work hours and the demands on families With this objective in mind, we also chose to make our survey confidential and allow the option to answer basic demographic questions, the only exception being the initial question of whether the person filling out the survey was or was not currently serving in the role of pastor.

The 2015 Pastors Survey

Of the following, which is most accurate:
I am a pastor (170 / 62%)
I am an ex-pastor (89 / 32%)
I stepped away from the pastorate but am now serving as pastor again (16 / 6%)

At any time during your pastorate, have you doubted your call to ministry?
Yes (165 / 60%)
No (110 / 40%)

Would you consider yourself overworked?
Yes (166 / 60%)
No (109 / 40%)

At times, do you feel unable to meet the demands of the job?
Yes (222 / 81%)
No (53 / 19%)

Do you feel there are/were unrealistic demands or unwritten expectations of you and your family?
Yes (225 / 82%)
No (50 / 18%)

Have you ever considered leaving the ministry?
Yes (234 / 85%)
No (41 / 15%)

Do you constantly fight depression?
No (146 / 53%)
Yes (129 / 47%)

Do you consider yourself lonely?
Yes (174 / 63%)
No (101 / 37%)

Would you consider yourself having experienced burnout?
Yes (212 / 77%)
No (63 / 23%)

Do you have anyone you consider a close friend or someone you can share your struggles or burdens with?
Yes (207 / 75%)
No (68 / 25%)

Have you or a family member experienced a conflict with a church member within the last month?
No (158 / 57%)
Yes (117 / 43%)

What is the size of your church?
40-200 (147 / 55%)
200-450 (41 / 15%)
400-800 (28 /10%)
Below 40 (27 /10%)
800-2000 (21 /8%)
2000+ (4 /1%)

Next Step

Please fill out the 2016 Pastor Survey so that ExPastors.com may better serve you. Thanks.

Mercy: Patient God. Trust: Patient Christ-follower.

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I recently turned 41 years old. The older I get, the more thankful I am for God’s grace, mercy, and patience with me. As we look back on Thanksgiving and forward to Christmas, I want to briefly touch on patience.

We just kicked off the season of Advent. Nothing represents waiting and patience like Advent. Just as the faithful of old waited for a Messiah and Savior, we now wait and watch for the return of Christ.

As a Christ-follower, I have had to learn to have patience and trust God even when I don’t see His whole plan.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:9

I have some big things currently happening in my life. After a year of waiting, wondering and wandering, I can finally start to see God’s hand at work behind-the-scenes. But it’s been nearly a year of waiting, praying, fasting, learning patience and trust.

Through it all, God is faithful.

Even when I’m not faithful, God is faithful. Even when I screw up, stumble and fall, God is patient with me. He never gives up on me and I am forever grateful.

Your love never fails, it never gives up. It never runs out on me

 

 

Thanksgiving and Teaching Generosity

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Each year around this time, I take an inventory of my life and I give thanks. I also take the opportunity to teach my kids about living a life of generosity and tithing in the bible.

I’ve taught my kids about giving, but giving is so much more than money. We are to give of our gifts, talents, and our very lives.

We should seek to be generous with everything we have.

I pray that this Thanksgiving you would teach those you love about living a life of generosity and sharing our lives with others.

Generosity is a way of life.

Take time to give thanks! And HAPPY THANKSGIVING!