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Reflective Listening

On the Sunday of our Annual Meeting, I shared with you four practices I believe Jesus wants to cultivate us throughout 2021: Reflective Listening, Creative Connecting, Intentional Diversity, Adventurous Thinking. I am going to expand on each one of these priorities over the next several weeks, continuing our conversation.

Reflective Listening: Jesus wants to cultivate in us fresh ways of listening to Him, to each other, and to our neighbors – listening and responding to a person’s heart, rather than merely hearing and reacting to words.

The term “reflective listening” may be familiar to you. It’s an intentional way of communicating in which you seek to understand the meaning of what someone has said to you, and then you share that meaning to ensure you’ve got it right. I found this helpful quote: “Reflective listening is hearing and understanding, and then letting the other know that he or she is being heard and understood” (Katz & McNulty).

One thing that strikes me about this graphic is that, as Christians, we interpret Scripture in a similar way. We read God’s word (listen to the message); we study, exegete, and express what the passage says (determine the meaning); we look for ways to understand, interpret, and apply the meaning in our lives (reflect the message in your own words); we ensure that the meaning and application is indeed a faithful understanding through prayer, engaging current and historic Christian community, and returning to Scripture itself (seek confirmation). This is how we ensure we hear the heart of the Father, so that we can respond to his heart.

We are invited to listen to each other in a similar way, ensuring that we’ve heard the other person’s heart, so we can respond to that person’s heart rather than react to that person’s words or actions. If it seems like this takes extra energy…well, it does! But it is worth it, especially in these days when words so easily ignite tempers and drive wedges between people. The ancient words of James are a contemporary necessity:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak [or text! or email! or post on social media!] and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20).

Reflective listening is one way of slowing down our speech and increasing our listening –paying attention to the meaning beyond the words, a meaning often obscured by our assumptions or internal reactions. Taking time to clarify what the other intends to communicate creates space for a connection to happen, for understanding to grow, and for genuine love to be expressed in word and deed.

I encourage you to read the story of Hannah, Eli, and Samuel, especially 1 Samuel 1:9-18; 3:1-21. Pay attention to the kinds of listening that occur in this story, and the results that come from understanding and responding to the heart of the other.

And then give it a try in one of your relationships, or one of your meetings. “What I hear you saying is….”

Your Pastor in Christ,


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