By Greg Petrie, District Representative, Northwest
What skills and abilities are crucial for a person to be effective rural ministers (and Village Missionaries)?
You know the obvious ones. Rural ministers must be able to clearly preach and teach the Word of God, have a passion for and ability to communicate the Gospel, and possess a heart for people and for rural America. They must desire to connect with people where they are spiritually, intellectually, culturally, and even physically (e.g. putting on your boots and heading out to the barn!).
And yet, there is one more skill that I have found to be indispensable for life and ministry in rural America (or anywhere else for that matter). That is the ability to be a good listener.
Rural Ministers Listen Well
No one told me 24 years ago that that listening would be so vital for me as a rural minister. I discovered people are desperate for connection and community. They are desperate for someone to truly listen to them. This is true for young children. Get down on their level and listen with interest as they tell you what is going on in their minds. You have a friend for life. This is also true for the most well-seasoned of saints. Sit with them, ask them about their life experiences, families, and interests, and you become a great pastor in their eyes.
Village Missions has always emphasized the importance of visitation—of spending time with people where they are in their world, of being a part of their homes and workplaces and community. I found much of visitation time was spent (and best spent) listening to people share about their lives. Listening seeks to understand what it is that the other person believes, feels, desires and values. Rural ministers get to know others by listening to others.
Rural Ministers Show Love by Listening
Village Missions is committed to “Preach the Word and Love the People.” Listening is an act of love. Adam S. McHugh, in his book entitled “Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted World,” (InterVarsity Press, p.98) writes, “It is difficult to overestimate the power of genuine listening. Good listening can change the world. Listening is not only a means to the end of greater understanding. Listening itself communicates the value of the other person and his thoughts, so the act of listening is itself an act of love. We live in a culture where people are rarely listened to.”
Similarly, Biola professor Tim Muehlhoff writes,
“Listening is an act of love. ‘There is no agony,’ states listening scholar Jimmie Manning, ‘like bearing an untold story inside you.’ One of the most important ways we can show love to another person is to take time to listen and unearth his or her stories. . . To deem listening unnecessary is to communicate that the other person is inferior and that his or her perspective does not matter; all that matters in the conversation is what we have to say” (emphasis added).
-Tim Muehlhoff, I Beg to Differ: Navigating Difficult Conversations with Truth and Love, (IVP)pp. 87, 88
There are many ways to show and express love for others. There are many desirable characteristics for a rural ministers in general, and Village Missionaries in specific, but I have become convinced that one of the most valuable is the gift of listening.