One of the most important Bible verses on the subject of good communication has to be one that is found in the book of James: 

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger

James 1:19

ESV

James tells us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. The speaker who wants to connect well with his/her audience, or address well the audience’s needs, must be a good listener.

I have served in Christian leadership for 48 years and learned that there are four important individuals or groups I need to listen to if I’m going to be an effective speaker:

1. The Holy Spirit. As a Christian pastor, I’d better be listening first and foremost to God, knowing that He speaks most clearly through the Bible and through His Spirit. When I’m working with a young minister and helping him with his teaching, I tell him the first thing we are going to look at is biblical content. If the biblical content is not strong, the message will fall flat.   Sometimes in speaking, there are two or three focal points that could be emphasized.  The Holy Spirit will guide to the right path. 

2. Your audience. A pastor needs to have a good relationship with his congregation. As he spends time with them, he will learn what their spiritual, emotional, and physical needs are. This will help him know what issues to address in his teaching. I heard an award winning salesman say that selling is 90% listening.  Pastors are not “selling” the Word, but this influencer makes a good case that speakers need to truly understand their people’s needs if they are going to effectively meet them. 

3. The community. When I was serving a congregation in a small town in the Bay area, I saw a group of people going through our town in outfits that resembled monks’ robes. After doing some research, I discovered they were members of a cult group called “The Garbage Eaters”. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how they got that name. The fact is, at least one cult was targeting my community. The next Sunday I preached on cults and how to recognize them. That evening several of church members told me the “Moonies” (a whole different cult group) were out knocking on doors and my message equipped them to deal with them. What’s going on in your community that you need to address? You simply won’t know if you aren’t listening or paying attention.

4. The culture at large. My childhood and youth years were the 1950’s and 60’s. The world I grew up in doesn’t exist any longer. What is going on that I need to address? Please understand, I am absolutely NOT suggesting Christians change the message they share. The Bible is as true and relevant today as it has ever been. I am suggesting we need to understand the culture if we are going to address it biblically.

There’s a classic Saturday Night Live skit with the late Gilda Radner. Ms. Radner plays the part of Emily Litella who is reacting to an editorial opinion from the local news station. She was opposed to banning violins on television. She believed that putting violins on after ten o’clock at night would deprive young children from learning about classical music and lead many to join rock and roll groups. Suddenly Chevy Chase, who plays the news anchor, interrupts her rant and tells her it was violence on television. Violence, not violins. Emily then stops and says, “Oh, that changes everything. Never mind.” If we want to address our audience with a message that is timely and relevant, we must be good listeners.

Pastor, finally, are you also willing to follow the advice of a good coach about how to be more effective in your speaking? Do you know where your speaking strengths are? Your weaknesses?  Contact [email protected] to help find a coach with Chosen to Speak. 

Rik Danielsen, D.Min, is the author of Never Forget Eternity and an effective coach for Chosen to Speak.