The Last Six Words

My colleague and I sat down yesterday with a community organizer. She is the new leader of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) organization that we have been involved in building for the past five years, and she is helping us to intentionally embrace the principles of IAF organizing for congregational life.

Listening is the foundation of this organizing philosophy. Listening for the sake of listening. Not listening for the sake of learning or listening for the sake of acting, but listening, first and foremost, for its own sake, because people deserve to be heard and both learning and acting are agendas that make it hard to hear.

The great gift that listening gives is the earnest gesture of interest in a person’s experience, perspective, and desires–their story. Most people amble through their days without this gift, to the great detriment of themselves, but also the world that is missing their story.

Our organizer talks about the “credential” that we look for in someone if they try to listen to us. The credential: what are you selling? What is your project? What use am I to you? Because we find it almost impossible to believe that a person is genuinely interested in us and our story simply because we are us and this is our story. There must be more.

We suggested talking with people in our congregation about their experience of work. We would explain, “We’re trying to better understand the issues people in our community are facing, and we’d like to hear your story.” Our organizer smiled and took a long pause before editing our pitch down to the last six words.

We’d like to hear your story.

In all of our wailing over church decline we are missing the great gift the church still has to offer to our culture today, a gift people badly, badly need. We can cultivate a sincere interest in peoples’ lives and provide spaces and invitations for them to share their stories. Nobody else is doing that. Nobody.

Imagine if people in your neighborhood recognized your church as the place that, more than anything, was eager to hear their story.

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