Four Ways to Be a Better Listener

Good leaders are good listeners. If you want to be effective in ministry, you'll need to be a good listener first. Probably the greatest reason people fail in ministry is not immorality, a lack of intelligence, or poor planning. It's insensitivity.

Most of us simply talk too much. James 1:19 (NIV) says, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry."

You may think you're already a good listener. But there's a big difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is simply the vibrations that take place in your ear. Listening is how you decode those vibrations in your brain. Many times I've heard my wife, my kids, or someone at the church say something – but I didn't listen.

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Listening is a skill. And if you're going to be in ministry, you better develop it. It's developed through practice, desire, attention, and by simply wanting to become a good listener. Here are four tips to becoming a better listener.

1. Withhold judgment and criticism from the start.

Don't evaluate until you've heard and comprehended it all. I'll admit that this isn't natural. When someone else is talking and you hear something you disagree with, you're tempted to say, "Time out! Stop right there! Let's deal with this." And you never get any further. But you need to hear the person out.

Many times people come to you as a pastor and just need to unload. Take the time to understand what they're saying first.

Proverbs 18:13 (NIV) says, "He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame." When we answer before listening, we're usually basing our answer on faulty assumptions.

Don't be distracted by mannerisms or personality. Whenever we listen to somebody who is not presenting what they're sharing very well, it's our responsibility to decode what they're saying. Stop and say, "What's the content and what can I learn from this?"

2. Keep calm.

Don't become defensive. As a pastor, it's inevitable you'll be criticized. The only way not to be criticized is to do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. The moment you hang your shingle out, somebody's going to throw rocks at it.

Proverbs 19:11 (NIV) says, "A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense." If you're patient, you're wise. As a pastor, you need to be patient with people who are less mature and those who misjudge. You need to keep calm.

3. Be an active listener.

You become a good listener by asking creative questions. Proverbs 20:5 says, "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out." This verse says the real meaning of people is down inside of them. A man of understanding will be able to draw others out with questions.

How do you do that? Ask clarifying questions, such as: Who? What? When? How? Questions like that will draw out those you are listening to and let them know you have their attention.

4. Paraphrase and summarize.

To be a good listener you must be able to tell a person what they've just told you before you talk about what you need to talk about. Before you share your side of the story, you need to let the other person know you understand where he or she is coming from. Paraphrase what they've said back to them. That skill can be very helpful in committee meetings or group meetings in particular.

If you want to be effective in ministry, you've got to be a good listener. For more tips on becoming a better listener, listen to my Leadership Lifter on Improving Your Listening Skills.


Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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