Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I'm in a class on Dietrich Bonhoeffer this semester at Seminary. I've encountered Bonhoeffer before in undergrad, and to be honest, I'm having some of the same issues with him this time around as I remember having then. I'm currently reading Life Together, and to be honest, in some places his thinking is just too dichotomistic, too either/or, too church vs. world for my taste. (Though our lecture in class today explained that a lot of this probably has to do with the fact that he's a Lutheran, which, according to H. Richard Niebuhr anyway, tends to think in these paradoxical dichotomous terms quite often.)

On the other hand, at many points he also nails things right on, and I appreciate some of his psychological insight into community dynamics. Today the thing that struck me the most was his advice about listening as one of the chief tasks of ministry. He writes:

Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of live for the brethren is learning to listen to them.... Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

How true this is! I know it's one of the biggest things I struggled with as a pastor, and continue to struggle with to be honest. There are so many times when I just want to dominate a conversation, and times when I have to consciously, deliberately keep my mouth shut or force myself to ask the other person a question so as not to let myself do that. And (having pointed the finger first at myself, I feel slightly better pointing it at others as well), I can't tell you how many other pastor's I've known that just love to hear themselves talk and will barely let you get a word in edgewise. There was the time in Yorkville, for instance, when we were just starting off on the church plant and I was trying to meet with all the local pastors. One of them took me out to lunch, but didn't ask me a single question about our plant the whole time. He spent the entire time telling me all about their church and how he had single-handedly grown it from 50 people to 800 people in the past five years. I literally don't think I said more than two or three sentences the entire conversation.

And it's not just that one guy (who admittedly, probably had some ego issues). Even pastors that I've known well and highly respect were not always very good listeners and almost never asked questions. They were very passionate about their things, and very eager to share all about them with me, but never got around to asking about my passions. And what concerns me is that I see this same tendency in a few of my classmates at Seminary too. There are a great group of people here, and I love all of them, but there are more than a few who can be so excited and passionate about what they're into, that they rarely let others into the conversation, and they almost never ask questions of others. This is a problem for folks who are going ministry and wanting to lead churches. If they can't learn to listen now, how will they be able to do it as pastors?

Anyhow, anyone who knows me knows how often all this is true of me as well, so I don't say this in judgment, but just as a caution to anyone who wants to go into ministry and as a reminder to myself - learn to ask questions and learn to listen.


posted by Mike Clawson at 9:21 AM | Permalink |


At 9/17/2009 09:46:00 AM, Blogger Milton

Mike--I am enjoying reading your posts on Bonhoeffer. That little book, Life Together, helped me as a young pastor. It has been a while since I read him. I used some of his ideas in writing my theory of Pastoral Counseling for the AAPC. It was very helpful in integrating my theory of counseling, one being Family Systems, with my theology.


At 9/17/2009 10:59:00 AM, Blogger lisa carlton

Mike- Such a great post. I wonder though if we as communities don't seek this out in pastors. I think this is why the "rock star" pastor thing is a problem in most churches. One Sunday at our own lovely little church- the pastor wasn't present and the group had to break up into small groups and talk about some passage and I heard a very bright man say, "this is too much work. when is pastor x gonna be back?" I think this is one of the many reasons that pastors need to hear themselves talk- they think that is what they are supposed to do and the community often reinforces that. It would be cool if there were a group of pastors that started listening - I'm guessing everyone would benefit. It is awesome that you are conscious of that in yourself and attend to it. Thanks for a thought provoking post.


At 9/17/2009 10:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Hey Mike :)

Thought of you and Julie tonite and thought I'd peek in on your life. Didn't we read Bonhoffer for one of Jerry's classes? My favorite line from the book was "Christian community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives." That might be Zeeb Revised Standard Version...but it struck me. If you're up for reading someone else's blog, John (whom you met in Oregon), one of my favorite pastors who listens has been writing a blog this began as a communication outlet after a dance with death stole voice and most movement from him...and has grown into a unique ministry across the globe in a way that only Jesus could orchestrate. You can get the full story if you click on the the archives to see the SAC mass emails from when he was dying. And hopefully soon a video from when he spoke and helped install our new lead pastor...and officially stepped into a new associate role. Leadership and humility at its finest! :)

I appreciate about you and Julie that you listen. Even at 2am with a crazy girl holding the bannana of incarnational ideas in her hand, drinking too much Darjeeling and putting things on her head. :)

May Jesus pour out His grace into your hearts and shape you into pastors who are quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

Much love...


At 9/18/2009 11:41:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Christina, thanks for dropping by. Sorry to hear about Pastor John, I do remember meeting him. He seemed like a great guy. I'm glad to hear that God has given him other ways to minister.

Hope you're doing well. We're hoping to make it to Seattle next summer to put on a conference for Julie's book. Maybe we can connect with you as well while we're in the region?


At 9/19/2009 06:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

I would love that. :)

I pop up to see JOhn and Lisa from time to time. :)

John has had an incredible journey. God is pouring out healing in an unexpected's a messy hard journey...but some beautiful things too. I'm excited to see where the rest of it goes. If you have a chance check out what he has to say. :)


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