Listening Curiously

Part of my tribe’s creation story was recorded in Martin Luther’s famous statement:

“I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”

We Lutherans fancy ourselves as “truth-tellers.” We get a certain adrenaline rush when we correct error. When the odds are stacked against us, we will stand. I think we actually like the challenge that comes when truth is under attack.

We need to stand strong.


I’d like you to consider another equally compelling challenge.

We need to listen curiously.

Here’s why.  

Our bent toward standing strong frequently leaves us standing alone.

Sure, this posture can make us feel good; like we’re being faithful. We are the few, the proud, the remnant. This prideful position self-assures. We must be right.

I must ask: If no one is able to access the truth we are standing on for themselves, what good is our standing doing for them? Or does it matter?

If I hope to engage my world, my community, my neighbors, is standing strong the most helpful posture?

I would like to suggest another valuable posture: listen curiously.

For a pastor who had zero seminary classes on listening, yet countless opportunities to improve my ability to proclaim, to speak, to defend, this is problematic.

I must learn to listen curiously.

Consider this. There’s a statement made when we listen curiously to another.

“You matter.”  “Your experience is valuable.”  “I care.” “God cares.”  “There’s a deep truth you are wrestling with right now. Can you identify it?”

Standing strong without listening curiously is like being on the receiving end of a car salesman as he pontificates about a new Chevrolet when what brought me to the dealership was the need for an oil change.He is completely accurate in his description of the new Chevy, but I wasn’t interested. In fact, the more he spoke, the more annoyed I got.

Was he being a faithful salesman? Depends, I suppose.

Did he make his “Chevy Spiel” with the appropriate accuracy and vigor? Was he moved by his prepared speech? Did I leave the lot with a new Chevy? Did I have an appreciation for the newest model? Would I entrust my future automobile needs to this man?

In my effort to be clearly heard, I have missed golden opportunities to listen in love. In my effort to correct erroneous thinking and behaviors, I have rushed to judgment without helping another get to their core issue. In an effort to make sure I have been clear, I have missed the opportunity for the other person to actually have a chance to receive the truth!

I know that one of the greatest fears about listening curiously is that if I merely listen, then I will leave people with the impression that I agree with everything they say.

Listening curiously does not imply agreement.

In fact, listening curiously can evoke curiosity in others.

Have you ever noticed that truly great listeners also have the trust-building capacity to speak their truth in a gracious way?

They say, “That hasn’t been my experience” in such a way as to invite further explanation about their “experience.”

I long for people to be curious about Jesus. People are already in a conversation with themselves about truth. By listening curiously I get to mediate that conversation. This is sacred ground.

Two suggestions for implementation:

Start experimenting with listening curiously. When you are tempted to correct, to stand, stop and find a question you could ask to better understand. Practice. Practice. Practice…Minimum of two conversations per month…Muscle memory.

Create environments in your ministry where listening curiously can be practiced.  Bible classes, Board meetings, Voter’s Assemblies….anytime your people are gathered, help them learn to listen curiously.