September 26, 2017 | Steve Vistaunet

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” — David Augsburger, Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard

Jim and Jackie are a work in progress. One of the “love languages” dear to Jackie's heart is a partnership with active listening. When she feels heard, she feels loved. It took years for Jim to catch on. But he's figured out she is happiest when she can share her frustrations openly. And he is happiest when she is happy.

Jim and Jackie's discovery is not rocket science. Relationships flourish when communication is honest, active and respectful, when we listen more than we speak. The equation is the same for our world and our church.

We are currently saddled with a society where differing views cannot be thoughtfully shared without a violent allergic reaction dutifully portrayed in every newscast. In this current arena, defending a particular point of view has become an obsession, with little patience for another’s perspective. Noted author Stephen R. Covey observes, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

It is not only damaging the civility of our national discourse, but it is diminishing the trust we place in each other within our church. We are spending far more time talking about each other than we are to each other. And that leaves less and less time to collectively focus on Jesus.

The concerns are real — doctrinal integrity, authority and governance within our church structure, loyalty to mission and policy, slippery slopes to worldly values. Most of us share these concerns, but you wouldn’t know it by reading some of what I see daily online. How quick and easy it is to judge another’s views or motives when we haven’t taken the time to really listen, to consider the whole picture.

The apostle Paul decried the tendency of some believers to compartmentalize, to ally themselves only with a certain leader — Paul, Apollos or Cephas. In reviewing Paul’s words to the Corinthians, you can sense his exasperation: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

It is no different today. The brothers and sisters in your local church, the leaders of your conference, union, division or world church are fallible — as are you and I. When we fail to highlight the best in each other and instead look for the worst, when we fall prey to secondhand slander like “it’s been reported to me” or “everyone I talk to says,” we are playing the devil’s game.

Building silo walls or distributing petitions to claim your perspective is the only one God can bless is the very problem Paul encountered two millennia ago. Creating division may be the modus operandi of some politicians, but it is not how God has designed His church or His kingdom.

Could the love language of listening, really listening with respect and understanding to Him and to each other, allow the Lord to bring a miracle into our midst? Could it help expel the suspicion and rumor that heighten our distrust? Could it restore relationships that have atrophied from want of loving connections? Could it be the avenue through which the Holy Spirit would move us forward together for the good of our world and His kingdom?