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7/9/97 Quiet listening can minister better than nervous chatter

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Lying in a hospital bed with tubes and wires running in and out of your pale body, you see a fellow church member approaching.
“How are you feeling?” your visitor asks.
Under the circumstances, that question is not the most appropriate opening line for the visit, according to Bob Sheffield, a consultant in the Baptist Sunday School Board’s pastor-staff leadership department.
The same question posed to one who has experienced the death of a spouse may be equally inept, he said.
In either circumstance, beginning by expressing friendship and concern for the person’s situation may be more affirming. If people dealing with illness, injury or bereavement want to express how they feel, he said, the words of support provide that opportunity but do not demand a response the person may not feel up to giving.
And while many people probably feel inadequate to say or do the right thing around others facing a crisis, Sheffield said caregiving is essential to a successful church.
“For the average person in the church, there is tremendous potential to help others if only they felt the freedom to use it,” he told participants in the National Conference for Church Leadership at Glorieta (N.M.) Baptist Conference Center, July 4-11.
“While some may say visitors come away from a ministry visit feeling better than those they have been to see,” he said, “you don’t necessarily feel better after you’ve been to the hospital, the nursing home or to the home of a shut-in. God is not in the business of helping us do the natural. He is in the business of helping us do the over-and-above.
“The key element we bring to any caring situation is the ability to listen,” Sheffield said.
Good listeners, he said, look at the person speaking, pay close attention and react responsively. They do not interrupt the speaker, but are sensitive to what the speaker is saying. Likewise, good listeners do not rush the speaker. They ask appropriate questions, are emotionally controlled and do not have a hidden agenda.
Poor listeners always interrupt, he said. They jump to conclusions, finish sentences for the speaker, are inattentive, change the subject, are unresponsive and impatient. They lose control of their emotions and fidget nervously.
Sheffield said people who want to help others by listening take the initiative by making themselves available.
“Silence but presence, is an eloquent statement,” he observed. Sometimes all that is needed is for a caring friend to be there.
For those who want to talk, he said, the ability to receive information appropriately is the key to being a ministering listener.
To listen properly, one must remain unshockable and calm. Focus on what the person is saying, he advised, not what you feel about what is being said.
Giving counsel and solving problems is not necessarily the role of a listener, Sheffield pointed out.
“Just listening can help persons come to their own solutions,” he said. “Don’t take sides. Listen for the whole story, but don’t try to satisfy your curiosity. Get the essential information.”
And above all, Sheffield said, “Keep confidences. If you say you won’t tell, don’t tell anybody. All of us know somebody we know we can tell anything to, and they won’t tell anybody … except the somebody they know who won’t tell anybody.”
The National Conference for Church Leadership was sponsored by the Baptist Sunday School Board’s church leadership services division.

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  • Charles Willis