Module 1: Transformative Listening

This initial listening exercise is designed to put you in touch with what we will call “Transformative Listening.”  The purpose of this assignment is to engage in the kind of listening that will change the listener.

Welcome to Module 1!

This page is designed so that you can walk through it together as a team. We’ve asked you to set aside two hours and to be in the same room, face to face, as you work on it. We will provide some readings and videos, and then some time to discuss each one. And we will set aside time at the end of the session for you to plan together.

Take a look at this introductory video. After that, you can walk through the material below.

As you know, our goal is to help your congregation take the next step as it serves the people that are entrusted to your care.  We will, in a later module, introduce what we mean by innovation and why it is necessary.  But before we can do that, we need to get you started on an assignment that will form the foundation of everything we do.

Segment One: Learning (about 90 minutes)

This initial listening exercise is designed to put you in touch with what we will call “Transformative Listening.”  The purpose of this assignment is to engage in the kind of listening that will change the listener.  We will break this segment into four parts:

  1. Why do we listen?
  2. Who do we listen to?
  3. What do we listen for?
  4. How do we listen well?

For each part, you will watch a short video and then talk about it together.


A) Why do we listen?

Short answer: Leadership begins with listening; and empathetic listening will transform the hearer.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Do you believe that leadership begins with listening? Where does society (or even the church) tell you the opposite?
  2. Can you think of a leader (perhaps even outside the church) who was good at listening before s/he spoke?


B) Who do we listen to?

Short answer: We listen to the people entrusted to our care.  Sometime we choose these people and sometimes they roll in like tumbleweeds.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Who are the people entrusted to your care? As an individual?  As a congregation?
  2. What do you think of the rich, young lawyer’s question, “Do you mean that I should care about my workers’ personal life?”
  3. Can you think of a time when a tumbleweed rolled into your life?


C) What do we listen for?

Short answer: We listen for the longings and losses of the people entrusted to our care – for the things that keep our people awake at night.

Now watch the following video from Pixar.  It is from the first part of the movie Up.  Your assignment is straightforward.  Watch the video and then together make two columns: one for longings and one for losses.  Then list together all the longings and losses you see in the video.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Start by thinking about longings and losses. What are your own longings and losses?  What do you long for and where is life hard?  What keeps you awake at night?
  2. We will later construct a plan for listening to longings and losses. But for now, can you think of anyone (inside or outside the church) who has listened well to your longings and losses?


D) How do we listen well?

Short answer: Listen with empathy.  Empathy is feeling with someone.  Empathy is vulnerable.  Empathy cannot want control.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Think about the difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy is feeling with someone; it means calling up in yourself the feeling that you hear in the other person.  Talk through some examples of empathetic listening. How is that vulnerable?
  2. Empathy cannot want control. Can you think of examples of when you wanted to control the outcome and thus had a hard time listening with empathy?


Segment Two: Planning  (about 20 minutes)

Your assignment is a listening project.   Each member of your team will do at least one interview (past experience tells us that the most successful projects do more).  The purpose of the interview is to see the world through the eyes of one of the people entrusted to your care – to get at their longings and losses.

It would, however, be too blunt to simply ask someone to tell you what keeps them awake at night.  You have to, instead, listen to them tell you stories about their lives.

I have provided a list of questions you might ask.  Let me give you some insights about how to use these questions.  Then I will show you a sample interview that I did at my own church.  Here are some things to remember:

  1. Don’t use all the questions. Look through them and find the ones that fit the circumstances of the person you are interviewing.  For example, in my sample interview (below) with Janice Martinez, I did not ask any questions about kids because I knew she did not have any.
  2. Listen for stories. This is the most crucial idea.  Say, for example, you ask what someone does for lunch while at work.  And they answer simply, “I usually go out.”  Ask them to describe a recent lunch – prompt them by saying, “Tell me where you went and who went with you.”
  3. Listen for who the characters are in the stories. You will learn a lot about what is important to someone by listening to who is important to that person.
  4. Invite people to expand on a story. For example, Janice Hernandez told me a story about processing a loan.  I asked her for more and more details.  I did not act like a defense attorney cross-examining a witness.  I said, “That’s interesting, can you tell more about how you talked about the car dealer?”
  5. There are some topics that you should be sure to cover because we know that they are often places where experience longings and losses. Topics like:
    1. Work (and perhaps you can discern some thoughts about money)
    2. Kids
    3. Parents
    4. Spouse (or Relationships: even the lack of a sweetheart can be important)
    5. Health
    6. Key commitments (often seen through volunteering): things like church or politics or causes that matter to them
    7. Activities outside of work: e.g. music, video games, movies, television etc.
  6. After you listen, you may want to try to write up a story that ties together the key issues that you heard. Indeed, writing up the story does two things.  It puts you more in the other person’s skin and it invites you to think about the theological questions that the person faces on a daily basis.
  7. You can see from the Janice Martinez example below that I made a key mistake that Janice was kind enough to fix for me. I did not ask about her parents.  And at the end, she told me that she does her mother’s finances and shops for her groceries.  I did not even write down everything she said about her mother.  It wasn’t until I reflected on the case later that I realized how important that tidbit was.  So I asked her about it after church the next week.

Here is the list of potential questions: Interview Questions

Here is the interview I did with Janice Martinez: Martinez Interview

And here is the story (I wrote it as a case study) that I wrote about Janice’s interview: Martinez Narrative

Planning Steps:

  1. Take some time to talk together about the questions and about the sample interview.
  2. Decide how you are going to divide up the task of interviewing your people.
  3. You may want to practice on each other. If so, decide when and where you will do it.
  4. You have two weeks before the next module (see schedule below). We’ve given you that time so that you can do the interviews.
  5. Schedule a time to meet where you can discuss with each other the interviews and what you learned.

Here’s the schedule for the rest of this online training:

  1. Week 1 (this week): Module 1
    Prior to meeting for Module 2, we invite you to read the following chapter from a forthcoming book called, A Shared Story of Future Hope: Innovative Congregations and Agile Leaders.  If you are short on time, simply read pages 1-10 and pages 16 & 17.  That should take you between half-an-hour and an hour. Please use the link in the opening paragraphs of Module 2.
  2. Week 2 (next week): Listening Project
    Each person on your team will do this separately. There is no need to meet in person this week.
  3. Week 3: Module 2
    In order to help us tailor the summit to your team’s needs, you will be asked to submit a “Listening Report” on the day you meet for Module 3.
  4. Week 4: Module 3
  5. Week 5: Module 4
  6. Week 6: Module 5