Recently I was part of a day looking at something called “missional listening” which is really all about tuning in to what God is saying and doing, as well as listening to the local community (and what might be ‘good news’ for the community), the church (and who the people of God feel God is sending them to) and ourselves (and how God is blessing, comforting, challenging or confronting us).
When it comes to missional listening there is bad news and there is good news. The bad news is that we all have brilliant, efficient minds – we know where to go for coffee, for food, R&R, we know who to speak to …and who to avoid - in fact we are so good you no longer need to look very much, or listen…because we know what we need to see and hear and so you ignore everything else. This is well documented, Jonathan Haidt, Margaret Heffernan and a variety of authors have shown our neurological laziness, our ability and propensity to cruise on autopilot. To undertake missional listening is asking us to do something awkward and difficult – because most of us don’t do it much and so we don’t feel it’s natural, we don’t feel competent. Most of the time our questions aren’t “in whom am I noticing the Holy Spirit has moved this week?” or “How is God prompting us at this time?” but “can we fix the roof, pay the bills, get that family to stick?”
So what’s the good news then? Well, that missional listening doesn’t start with the draining assumption “we’ve got to sort all this out”, but with the much more energising presumption “God’s up to something, pay attention”. Missional listening is just the start of realising this whole journey is a spiritual journey with God at its heart. This is difficult for us – the studies show that people who come into church to grow spiritually, after three years, are more concerned to keep the church going than with their spiritual journey. Institutionalisation is a powerful thing. But missional listening is one of a number of habits that reminds us, this is God’s work and we are to tune in and make it about God.
And of course one of the key ways God speaks to us is through one another. For example a vicar tells of a six year old in his congregation learning with astonishment that there were poor people in the area unable to afford to have 3 meals a day. He said “can we get tinned food for the poor children round here?” The vicar said “Sure, we can collect tins and put them in a foodbank”. The six year old thought about this for a moment and then said “can’t we make friends with the poor people and give them the food?” Maybe God was making a point through the six year old. In fact the vicar was convinced that God was making a point and that “missional listening” led to a wholly different engagement with a part of the local community which was genuinely good news. Another church which had listened to the local community realised that one of the expenses many of the young families faced was that of school uniforms so they set up a school shop for people locally – and those on free school meals only had to pay £5 for the whole uniform. One woman from the community who came to at a BBQ social the church held from the community was asked “have you seen the school shop?” “Yes, but I don’t have any money” was her reply. “It’s only £5” came the response. At which point she began to cry. And then someone else stumped up the £5. Good news through listening to the local community AND which led to creating a space for us to be neighbours, neighbours loving one another. Or at a different church on an estate in the Midlands, after some time of listening the church held a free BBQ and fun afternoon for the community. A local woman asked “why are you doing this?”, to which the reply came “well we realise lots of families are stressed and in need of support so we’re doing something, however small, to help”. To which the local woman replied “oh I get that, my husband is tired out – how can I be of help?”. Missional listening leading to partnering with people of peace that led on to forging new relationships and possibilities.
There are lots of other examples but the point is made – missional listening is about the church, the people of God, to be people who, everywhere we go, hear, listen, anticipate and see God at work; to be people who notice people hospitable to partnering with us in God’s work; and to be people able to invite others into partnering in living out of the Kingdom of God.
This blog was contributed by Bishop Mike Harrison, who is a member of the Ipswich in Prayer accountability group.
These blogs are written by different people from the IIP team. They are prompted by the things we talk about and pray about when we meet together and by words shared from the praying community in Ipswich.