My Unique New Year’s Resolution

As we conclude another Christmas season, people will be gearing themselves for the New Year. Many people will set for themselves resolutions for the upcoming year. While I most certainly will, like most Americans, seek to get in more exercise and limit those unnecessary, excess calories, I have set for myself a resolution that I would encourage you to set, as well. This resolution is not like most others that will be made. It is not a resolution that necessarily will earn a person more money. Likewise, it isn’t a resolution that will be provide great career success…although it may benefit both the aforementioned areas. The resolution I am making is quite simple: I am making the resolution to listen more. But why listening?

We live in a busy, busy world. It is a world of sound bites. No one takes the time to carefully reason through the information given to them. If something sounds clever, it is automatically taken to be astute. If something is derogatory, it is celebrated. In the process, gossip has been elevated to Gospel and tall-tales into truth. While all this noise has inundated us, we have since lost the ability to truly listen. The more I think about this resolution, the greater importance it begins to carry. Listening is important for several reasons.

  1. Listening keeps a person from misrepresenting another’s viewpoint.

No one likes to be misunderstood or misrepresented. Yet, so often, individuals jump to conclusions when another person holds a differing viewpoint. Much of this misunderstanding could be avoided if people would relearn the art of listening. For instance: recently I was on social media discussing a particular issue occurring within my own denomination. A few individuals verbally attacked me, claiming that I would have been against a popular civil rights leader and was an ultra-right-wing nut job. While I am exaggerating some, I am not by much. People so desire to prove their points that they fail to take into account what another person from a differing viewpoint may really be trying to say. I have been guilty of doing the same. By failing to listen, I misunderstood what others have said. In fact, I have found that some opposing views were closer akin to my own when I finally stopped to thoroughly listen. The art of listening helps us avoid misapplying and/or misrepresenting another person’s views.

  1. Listening helps a person see bias.

Everyone holds a bias—everyone. While we do not want to misrepresent another person’s perspective, the art of listening allows a person to see the argument as it is, while observing the bias held by the person offering the argument. The wise communicator will see through the foggy façade and into the heart of the issue at hand. By doing this, the person will be able to have a better grip on why the opposing person holds the view that they do, which, in turn, will help the communicator engage the true, underlying problem—something especially important for apologists.

  1. Listening guards a person in truth.

Listening and observing will help the communicator better find the truth. For instance, I read an article concerning the educational systems in the 48 continental states. The state where I reside held a far lower ranking than other states in the nation. While this was depressing at first, I stopped to truly read and listen to all the data presented. I found the states that held the highest scores only tallied 15% of the state’s system, whereas the schools that were lower-ranked tallied 100% of the schools in those states. Not only did this show a bias in the report, the art of listening and observing truly revealed the truth; the truth that the educational system in my state was not as bad as the report indicated. The same is true in all communication. Simply listening to the information presented helps a person discern the truth from fiction.

  1. Listening drives a conversation.

Listening is vital to communication. Dialogue requires two or more people conversing. If one person does all the speaking, then the form of communication represented is not a dialogue, but rather a monologue—that is, a lecture or sermon. While lectures and sermons hold their place (being a pastor, I would certainly argue that they would), communication requires two people willing to listen to the other. Person A speaks while person B listens. Then, person B speaks while person A listens.

Often in our communication classes, we promote the importance of styles of speech and manners of persuasion. However, an equally important factor is the ability to listen and observe. If society loses its ability to listen, all we have, then, is a group of talking heads with no one to listen to any.

  1. Listening educates a person.

Listening educates. When a person takes a class, he or she will listen and learn the information given to them. Listening trains a person in what is healthy and good from what is unhealthy and bad. If people simply seek to speak, they will fail to truly learn. Jesus’ disciples had to first listen and learn from him before they were ready to preach and teach. In order for one to teach, one must first learn to listen. Before one is ready to lead, one must first learn to follow.

Conclusion

            As a father, I have sought to teach my son the importance of listening. My son is a wonderful boy. He is extremely gregarious, extroverted, personable, and highly intelligent. For me, I am a typical INTJ (introverted, intuitive, a thinker, and judger–a planner, not spontaneous). Some have called my personality one of a reserved strategist or tactician. Perhaps. My son would fit the category of an ESTJ (extroverted, sensory, thinker, and judger), quite a leader’s personality. Being an extrovert, my son finds it more difficult to stop and listen. Thus, I have been focused upon teaching him the value of listening. Yet, if I am to be successful at this endeavor, I must set a good example for him by being a good listener myself. I cannot expect him to be a good listener if I fail at being a good listener. I hope to find added benefits to strengthening my listening skills along the way. While I will certainly set other resolutions for this 2017, becoming a better listener will hold a high spot on that list. Let it be said, the Christian apologist would do well to strengthen his/her listening skills. The benefits noted in this article especially relates to the apologetic enterprise.

© 12/26/2016. Brian Chilton.

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The Importance of Rest for the Impact of Your Ministry

Americans celebrate the holiday known as Labor Day on the first Monday of September each year. This day celebrates the hard working men and women on the labor force, offering for many a day of rest. One of the most important things Christian apologists and ministers can do to benefit their ministries is to take a necessary break.

On last week’s podcast, Nick Peters wisely warned that apologists can often become “married to their ministries.” Such is not only true of Christian apologists, the same is also true of pastors and church leaders. In fact, the danger is greater with Christian leaders actively involved in church ministry. Meetings here, study time there, and countless other tasks can drain the minister and lead to ministry failure if the minister does not take necessary time for rest and recuperation.

One of the most important classes I took during my Master of Divinity program at Liberty University was a class called Preventing Ministry Failure. The advice given in that class is invaluable. I would like to share some important truths that I learned in that class.

1. Set necessary boundaries.

It’s important to have boundaries in ministry. Michael Todd Wilson and Brad Hoffman note that “Personal boundaries help us prioritize our relationships…and focus on things consistent with our calling” (Wilson and Hoffman 2007, 140). It’s okay to say no to some ministerial offers. Many ministers think that the eleventh commandment should be, “Never say no.” However, it is often necessary to set time aside for oneself and one’s family.

2. “If you don’t control your schedule, someone else will.”

Dr. Kevin King of Liberty University once quipped, “If you don’t control your schedule, someone else will.” King is dead on the money. One of the things I am learning (and I am still a work in process) is the great importance of time management. The congregation and the minister must remember that the pastor is NOT omnipresent. He does not hold the ability to be in all places at all times. Scheduling helps gauge more important ministerial tasks from those of lesser importance.

3. Your first calling is to your family.

Somehow Paul’s admonition to church leaders is often forgotten. Paul notes that “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church” (1 Timothy 3:5, ESV)? The minister’s first ministry is the ministry to his family. If this is forgotten, then it does not matter how many degrees he possesses, how expositionally sound his messages are, or how many individuals he has visited that week. The minister will have failed. To sustain his family, the man of God must take sufficient time with his wife and children.

4. Take time alone with God.

Mark’s Gospel documents a noteworthy aspect of Jesus’ ministry–His prayer life. Mark notes that Jesus rose “very early in the morning, while it was still dark…and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35, ESV). Simon Peter and the apostles could not find Jesus. Apparently, Jesus must have walked far into the wilderness to take time alone with His Father. If Jesus (the Son of God) needed time alone with the Heavenly Father, how much more do we? It is critical that the minister and apologist take appropriate amounts of time alone with God. The Christian ministry is a spiritual work. If the minister’s spiritual tank is empty, his ministry will be too.

Conclusion

Randy Kilby was the president of Fruitland Baptist Bible College when I attended the school in the late 90s. He used to say, “You must get under the spout, where the glory comes out. Then the glory you experience will flow out to others.” In addition to the numerous issues the church faces today, there is yet another problem that challenges the church. Many individuals in ministry are leaving. Wilson and Hoffman provide the following startling statistics:

“Of ministers in the United States: 25 percent have been forced out of or fired from their ministry at least once; 90 percent feel inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands; 80 percent believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively; 45 percent say they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence; 40 percent have serious conflict with a church member at least once a month; 20 percent admit to having an affair while in the ministry; 37 percent admit that Internet pornography is a current struggle; 70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend” (Hoffman and Wilson 2007, 31).

The struggle in ministry is real. To make a long-term impact, the minister must realize that he is not Superman. He is not the Savior of the world. There is only one Savior–Jesus Christ. Understand your limitations and take the necessary rest that is needed. If the minister and apologist does so, then the impact of his ministry will grow exponentially.

(c) September 5th, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Wilson, Michael Todd and Brad Hoffman. Preventing Ministry Failure. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007.