February 6

Smooth Stone #4 – Discussion and the Art of Listening (Deuteronomy 11)

When I grew up and left home on my own, I missed many of our family traditions, one of which was the conversations we had around the table.

My dad usually facilitated discussions that included current events, biblical teaching, politics, family matters, and other contemporary issues. I missed the banter, exchange of ideas, debate, persuasion, and sometimes plain old debating.

Over time, I realized that so much of that “discussion” was not focused on listening but rather on making my views and ideas known and convincing others.

The Importance of Listening Found in Scripture

The Importance of Listening in Scripture

In Deuteronomy 11:19, Moses has something different in mind. For Moses, the phrase “talk about them” is a discussion of God’s Word and real-life experience.

“Talking about them” has a reflexive meaning and therefore, within the idea of “talking about them” is the idea of listening.

Sadly, when children’s ministry is examined, one finds little to no teaching on listening to children. This stands in contrast to the large body of teaching in Scripture on listening.

Here are a few of the many examples.

"Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD." (Psalms 34:11)
"Listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance—for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings." (Proverbs 1:5)
"Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding." (Proverbs 4:1)
"Now then, my children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not disregard it. Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway." (Proverbs 8:32-34)
"It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person than to listen to the song of fools." (Ecclesiastes 7:5)
"A voice came from the cloud, saying, 'This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.'" (Luke 9:35)
"While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!'" (Matthew 17:5)
"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:27)
"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." (James 1:19-24)

This is a very small sample of the vast array of teachings in Scripture on the importance of listening, both in our relationship with God and with others.

It is something that we should model to our children and make an essential element in our efforts to “talk about” the Word of God and the real-life challenges children face integrating that Word into real life.

With that in mind, here are seven good listening principles to remember in your children’s ministry, particularly when leading a discussion.

7 Listening Principles to Remember in Your Children's Ministry

7 Listening Principles to Remember in Your Children's Ministry
  1. Active Work – Work to give your full attention to each child as they share. Listening is not passive but requires attentive focus. Active listening concentrates on words used, inflections, and a host of non-verbal communication. 
  2. Concentrate - Make eye contact and stop other things you are doing. Don’t be distracted by your own thoughts or what else may be going on around you. Focus and zero in on each child as they share. 
  3. Their Level – For real discussion and listening, make sure you are on the same eye level as the child. Don’t be looking down on them as they share. Getting on their level sends a powerful message about you caring and your desire to listen. 
  4. Restate -Reflect or repeat back what a child is saying and what she may be feeling to make sure you understand. When doing so, give them the opportunity to correct your understanding. 
  5. Body Language – Pay attention to non-verbal communication including hand motions, facial expressions, posture, eye contact, and any other non-verbal expression. Sometimes, body language communicates more than the words themselves. 
  6. Emotional Content – Every communication has a digital and analog element. The digital communication is the Webster definition of words used. The analog element is the way words are spoken. “I’m fine” means everything is ok. However, “I’m fine” can be said in such a way as to communicate exactly the opposite. 
  7. Right Answer Syndrome – Children want to please adults and get the “right” answer. A discussion is not about “right” answers. Discussions can be short-circuited by children trying to give the right answers and not sharing what they really think. Knowing the difference requires listening.

Closing Thoughts

Closing Thoughts on Listening

Listening is a focus in a life-changing children’s ministry and is especially crucial in a life-changing children’s ministry.

Last week, we were teaching a Thanksgiving lesson, helping children understand that if we are thankful for something, we take care of that thing. We were studying II Kings 22, and King Josiah’s discovery of the Book of the Law.

The discussion moved us towards talking about some of the things we say we are thankful for and do not take care of. The initial responses were around taking care of our Bibles, the “right” answer.

Then we moved to bean bag chairs and toys. I listened patiently hoping for more heartfelt responses and then the group began talking about how they did not take care of the pets for which they were thankful.

Finally, a boy said that he was thankful for his mom, but he did not do anything to take care of that relationship. You could sense he had touched a nerve.

Other children joined in as each child felt conviction about their relationships with their parents. It was an incredibly beautiful teaching moment and was only possible by limiting my talking and expanding my listening. 

This weekend, make listening a focus in your children’s ministry, especially during the Discussion. Pray for God to work in their lives as they talk about integrating God’s Word into their real life.

Next week, will conclude our series in Deuteronomy 11:18-20, the Response to God’s Word.

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