I believe that the Holy Spirit works within us—within others—to drastically challenge us. For the church to be missional (to take the teachings of Christ and make the changes he called us to make) as well as in tune with the guidance of the Spirit, we are required not only to listen to our own hearts but also to value the hearts that we often push aside. And I’m not talking about that “other” that is so very far removed from our immediate lives that it would take the Holy Spirit to unite us. Yes, we should reach out; yes, we should try to expand our world; yes, both testaments require us to love the stranger; and these are all passions of mine—but how can we be examples of that love? How can we be externally missional? When we do fail to show our congregants what it is like to be missional with one another? Ask those around me and you will hear that I am loud. I talk a lot. I have a lot of stories. I want to make people laugh. And, while I do see the Spirit working around me at those times, even within me, it is often in the quiet times that I truly feel God’s presence. Not this utter and void silence that you experience being trapped in the seminary’s library basement studying for finals, but the kind of silence in which you find yourself listening and truly hearing the person right across from you.
Starting with my internship as a student chaplain and encouraged by reading Walter Wink’s Transforming Bible Study, I’ve been working on listening. It’s my thing right now. How cliché, right? First year seminarian learning the ministry of listening. But what I am suggesting is different. Don’t only listen as an act of pastoral care. Don’t only listen as a way to learn about your congregants. But try to listen as a way to teach. Let those around you speak and you will find that you encounter the Holy Spirit in all of its richness. Allowing for time, allowing for thought, allowing for the awkward silence to pass is an invitation to the Spirit—it is our way of letting God work through those in the room.
As Disciples, it is our mission to come together at the table that God has prepared, to lift up our very diverse ideas, to appreciate each other as children of God, to recognize that the Spirit is moving within each one of us and to listen for what the spirit has to say—to hear our sisters and brothers. In our own silence, we can see how the Spirit leads each of us to a place at the table.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a beautiful picture of this active listening. In a denomination that allows for each of us to bring our own theologies to the table so that we may partake of the Spirit present in the bread and the wine, we find this missional theology on which our church was founded.