A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part Four in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on biblical counseling and small group ministry. In today’s post, Pastor Lee Lewis shows that small group relationships must embrace both listening to one another and speaking gospel truth to each other. You can read Part One in this series by Garrett Higbee at: 3 Functions of the Small Group Coach. You can also read Part Two by Ken Long at: 3 Cross-Training Exercises for Small Group Leaders. And you can read Part Three by Abe Meysenbrug at Preaching the Gospel to One Another.
When Fear Lends an Ear
You may have heard the phrase “lend me your ear.” I believe this speaks toward a desire that people have for a voice to be heard. There are dangers that can be encountered here. One such danger is when a premium is placed on being heard. This often is driven by demand or entitlement and does not want any type of rebuttal. It strictly demands an audience. Also, there is the neglect of hearing someone. This can take the form of aloofness towards the needs of others or being abrasively apathetic to the need for space to hear people’s thoughts. For the purpose of this blog, I will touch on a third danger. This one listens intently and extensively but struggles to engage with Truth.
Proverbs 18:13 speaks directly to the importance of listening to someone. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Faithful shepherding of people requires the Body of Christ to be quick to listen.
Jay Adams, in his work Fifty Failure Factors in The Christian Counselor’s Manual, describes the importance of carefully listening and discerning the counselee’s attitude in his or her own language. This leads me to consider what I have noticed as a common (and unfortunate) misunderstanding of what biblical counseling is. The technique of therapy (like careful listening and analyzing) is thought to have skipped over biblical counseling, one-another ministry, and small group ministry. This is quite far from the truth, but there is merit as to why some might think listening is not a strong suit in our ministries. God has set the church up in such a way for it to be a refuge full of people aided by the Spirit to listen to the burdens and cares of hurting people.
The reality is that God has placed a responsibility on the believer to be one that earnestly listens with ears of compassion. We are called to be a people that lend their ears early and often. A neglect of this reveals a self-centeredness that is more concerned with self than the other person. Christ consistently calls us to look to the needs of others before self.
There is a challenge here though. Especially in ministry/church settings that have infused a biblical counseling philosophy into their DNA—including one-another ministries that occur in small groups. As a pastor, something I have noticed is when too much listening is taking place due to a fear of engaging a difficult person. This is often due to the reality that the close proximity of the relationship creates a complexity in delivering directive truth or counsel. Over the course of the relationship there has been extensive listening back and forth, but it is usually far easier to share a straightforward truth to someone you do not know very well. Likewise, it is usually far more difficult to speak a direct truth to someone you have an established relationship with.
So, the difficulty lies in balancing careful listening and gracious but truthful delivery of what a person needs to hear. When fear lends an ear, we err on the side of listening too much. When truth without listening speaks, we err on the side of speaking before we heard.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul says, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” This verse has always been a great help for me in discerning how best to counsel different people. It obviously doesn’t speak specifically to listening, but it is pointing out the need to observe, consider, and discern before engaging. If listening is an aid in discernment, then it becomes very important to lend an ear as part of discerning the state of a person. This then allows for a person to biblically engage.
The opportunity at hand is to consider the great lengths and detail God goes to in leading His children into life. God perfectly knows the heart, and in His knowledge He calls us into the lives and hearts of His people to minister by Him and through Him.
Throughout Scripture, there is reference of God listening to and hearing the prayers of His people. What a gracious reminder from the Lord as how to love as those who are perfectly loved.
Also, we should pause and consider relationships God has given us to steward. Ask yourself if there are areas of fear in them where listening is taking priority over loving engagement. Then examine the type of selfishness involved. It could be something as simple as the inconvenience of getting into a difficult truth with someone, therefore making listening easier. It could be a selfishness that wants to avoid awkward conversations so listening becomes a way to hide. Whatever the case, it is important to recognize the unloving selfishness tied to the fear. Ask the Lord for strength and compassion while leading into faithful ministering of the gospel.
Join the Conversation
How would the one-another relationships in your small group be impacted if members both listened well to one another and spoke gospel truth to each other?