I’m going to start this post off with a bad joke…
Ready? My wife yelled at me today saying, “You weren’t even listening just now, were you?” I thought to myself, “Man, what a weird way to start a conversation…”
For some people, listening is hard, isn’t it? We get caught up in our own thoughts or get so focused on what we’re doing that we don’t even notice when someone is speaking to us.
But sometimes, not listening comes in a different form. Sometimes, we can be deep in conversation with someone, and yet not really be listening to them. Another word for this might be “arguing.” Sometimes, when we’re arguing with someone, all we’re thinking about is what we’re going to say next to counter their argument.
And then there are times when perhaps we shouldn’t listen. When a toxic relationship is filled with cutting remarks and verbal abuse, it’s best not to listen.
But when it comes to participating with God in his mission in the world, we must listen. If we’re going to join God in bringing healing and wholeness to the world, we have to listen to God and we have to listen to our neighbors. This is a matter of good theology, believe it or not!
Listening as Theology
Listening is the key practice of good theology. Clemens Sedmak, in Doing Local Theology, writes: “It is not so much the ability to talk but the abilities to listen and observe that make a good theologian.”
Theology, in other words, is at its best when the theologian pays attention to what is actually going on in the world and then makes connections to God and to the Scriptures. In this way, “theology is simply a mindfulness of God, an attentiveness to the action of God in creation.”
Here’s what I’m saying: when we listen—really listen—to our neighbors, we are doing theology. By paying attention to what is going on around us in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our families, we are becoming theologians in the sense that we are becoming more aware of what God is doing in the world and how our local churches might join God in God’s mission.
Local Theological Resources
We do “local theology” by accessing “local theological resources,” as Sedmak puts it. He says that Christ followers “have to leave their desk and go out among the people to listen to their songs and jokes, to see their daily life and their struggle to survive and to sustain their dependents.”
As we listen to the “songs and jokes” and see the “struggle to survive” of those with whom we live, work, and play, we discover what God is up to in the world.
And that’s what we call doing theology.
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As a Pastor, I used to intentionally schedule reading and sermon prep time at coffee shops or cafes in order to listen in on local conversations. I often discovered God’s Spirit at work in the community and factored this into my preaching.
Bruce! That’s awesome! You continue to be an example to us young ministry folk. Even from Pennsylvania 😉
That’s great, Bruce! I think much of our preaching would connect with our congregations more effectively if we listened to our communities in that way.