As a pastor, I run the risk of living in a Christian bubble. I am surrounded by people who often think like me, vote like me, and basically agree with me, and vice versa.
The other day, Laura (my wife) was telling me something related to her schedule, and I gave my usual verbal cues indicating I was listening: “Yes. Mmm. Uh-huh.” A few days later, that scheduling issue came up, and we had a difference of opinion regarding the details of our previous conversation. I knew I was right, and she was wrong. She knew she was right, and I was wrong.
Guess who was right?
Yes, after further discussion of the finer points of detail, I discovered that Laura was, indeed, correct, and I was wrong. Why was I wrong? Because I could have listened better.
If listening to those with whom we are the closest can be challenging, imagine how difficult it can be to listen to those with whom we disagree? Quite honestly, the problem is that I choose not to listen. In my Christian bubble, I hear mostly a loop of what I already know, believe and accept. Those viewpoints, opinions, and narratives that differ from my pre-drawn conclusions get filtered out, and I don’t even hear them.
Some of us have grown to believe that listening to others equates agreement. Not true. Listening to others—especially those of different viewpoints and perspectives—helps us connect, gain understanding, and demonstrate respect, even when we maintain our previously held conclusions.
I struggle with listening, because I want to win the debate, not deepen the relationship. And that perspective runs contrary to the message of humility given us by Christ.
We all live within our own tribes—family groups and social systems. That’s normal. Healthy. Expected. In fact, the church should be a tribe in which we choose to live and function. The challenge, however, is not to let our tribe become tribal. Tribalism occurs when our tribe circles the wagons and looks fearfully at every other tribe as the enemy. When that happens, we stop listening, or at least we could say, we only listen to ourselves.
The challenge I offer is to posture ourselves as a listening tribe while we uphold our positions. If we do this, I believe we will present ourselves as a more caring, loving, and compassionate tribe. Perhaps other people will actually start listening to us as well.
As Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15, ESV). And may that begin with us.