Preachers talk. We are called to talk, hired to speak, paid to make comments. We talk at services, at meetings and small groups. We speak with staff, in counseling, at special events. It is easy to begin thinking that we NEED to comment on everything. Preachers often feel the NEED to talk.

Pastors also NEED to listen. We probably (definitely) should not talk until we have done a good bit of opening our ears without opening our mouths. There will be a time to speak (Eccl. 3:7).

But listening is hard. “Hearing” someone demands mental energy, focus and self-discipline. So how can a pastor, on top of being a good communicator, become a good listener? Here are a few thoughts.

Listening requires humility. When listening to someone else speak, the good pastor realizes that this moment is not about him. Lay aside your need to be heard and REALLY hear with understanding what the person is saying to you.

Stop thinking about what you will say in response. Stop looking for an on-ramp for your brilliant insight. When you do this, you miss a lot of hurt, frustration, pain, insight and possibly the entire meaning of the conversation. Listen. To. Every. Word—without formulating your amazing reply.

Listen with your entire body. Look the other person in the eye. See their emotions. Use a posture that invites them in. Avoid “looking off” like you are thinking about how to answer. Uncross your arms. Square up to them. Lean forward. And for the love of all that is good and right, put your phone down and never look at your Apple watch!

Be comfortable hearing the tough issues of loss, hurt, sin, grief, anger, pain, suffering, etc. Do not redirect or change the subject or even quote Scripture verses in an attempt to lighten the moment. That opportunity will likely come later. Let them emotionally open up. Your job is to listen.

Remove the phrase “I know how you feel.” You don’t. Not entirely. Individuals possess their own compilation of circumstances that impact current feelings. There rarely is a need to tell them of your experience with a similar situation. If you do, you will most likely make them feel “one-upped.”

Instead, say “Tell me more about that.” This communicates that you are engaged and concerned. This little phrase  “Tell me about…” serves as a great initiator of conversations. You, the pastor, are walking through the crowd on Sunday morning and see a young woman that you know has an ailing parent. “Hi Janet, tell me what is going on with your mother.” And then listen…and pray. Or the returning college student—“Tell me about school!” and then lock in on that kid.

I am not a professional counselor. I do know that they call these principles “active listening.” So, pastor, listen. And be active in it! Be “quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19).