There’s by far already enough ‘things you wont learn/no one teaches in seminary’ articles. But I can’t think of a better title, so it’ll have to do.
Recently on my journey thru Acts I stumbled on this:
Acts 19:8-10 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
So if you are in any way familiar with the apostle Paul, I’ll bet you think of him as (among other things) a great preacher/speaker right? Me too.
Which is why I found it not a little surprising when I saw something of an anomaly in the above text: Paul spoke for 3 months, (it’s a Synagogue so we’ll assume that’s preaching) but held a discussion group for 2 years.
Let me say that again, he did 3 months of public speaking 2 years of discussion group. I can hear the groans of all you homiletical genius’ out there: “Nooooooo, don’t go after preaching!” Well relax I’m not. At least, I will always affirm the importance of continual development of clear and succinct presentation of the gospel.
But it did make me think about how we are presenting the gospel to today’s equivalent ‘gentile population’; the growing generation who have either no biblical knowledge/ Christian heritage, or the only knowledge they have is the negative vibes they’ve learnt from the secular atmosphere.
Now yes of course Paul has done public speaking to gentiles before like in Acts 17. But they, at least liked to view themselves as, philosophers.
But here it is different. Do a google search on the lecture hall of Tyrannus and you’ll invariably get many Christian websites and on-line commentaries talking about how Paul preached here for two years. But that’s not what the Bible says! The root verb here is dialegomai which is where we get out English word dialogue from.
Paul dialouged with people…..for two years. Not monologue.
There’s one difference between a monologue and a dialogue. The latter forces the speaker to also have to listen.
Paul wasn’t just a great preacher, he was a great listener (and an even better preacher for it.) That got me thinking how difficult I find it to be a good listener.
I wonder if one of the reasons behind this is because I was trained to be a good speaker. how successful that training was is up for public debate.But you see where this is heading right?
It seems that (traditionally at least) when we train people for ministry, we train them to be able to speak and assume that they know how to listen.
But what if we perhaps need to assume that some people know how to speak, but desperately need to be taught how to listen? I’m being serious, I am still a real novice in learning how to really listen. For example, I have only given serious thought to the importance of body language in conversations in the past 18 months.
Now before this sounds like an arrogant crack at the people that did their best to train me, let me hand out a bouquet. I studied at Vose seminary, and it was amazing. It was amazing, yes because of the people but also because Brian Harris introduced this thing called formation Wednesday. Part of this was the requirement that all full-time students had to be part of a ‘SEBL’ group. (I think the name might have changed since.) This group was essentially a small group where folks could share and listen to each other’s stories and insights. This was followed by a chapel service, where you of course had to listen to some novice; speak.
The funny thing was, when the end of semester used to get close, the assignment due dates used to bight and you’d see the attendance go down. By the way, if you are reading this and you are a current Vose student, let me give you some loving advice; no matter how busy things get, get your butt along to formation Wednesday. Don’t wag it, it’s more important than you think.
Because here is where you’re learning to listen. You are learning in this context to take up your cross daily by laughing with those who laugh and crying with those who cry. Learning that is worth having to pull an ‘all-nighter’ somewhere else and it may be the difference between merely doing well at Vose, and doing well in ministry somewhere later.
Moving into a more and more post-Christian ministry space, Christians are going to need to learn not merely how to stay faithful (as important as that is) but also how to listen. To learn this, they’ll be looking to those in Christian leadership. Are they being trained in how to listen, how to really dialogue?
Perhaps we can work together to make sure we’re not caught short.