Limiting the gospel. We don't want to shortcut the journey by prematurely deciding what discipleship implications we want to affirm. For example, a well-meaning pastor may say, "I want to tell people God loves them," and then simply hunt for some supporting verses on Saturday night to undergird his or her intuitions. This approach doesn't give the full gospel a chance to break through.
Some pastors love working the early stages of the journey but never get around to asking what it all means. They can stun us with Greek word studies but never arrive at discipleship implications.
Truth be known, we may be wanting to hide in the text, always talking about what the text says; as long as I don't get down to what it means, it never really bothers me or anyone else. Then I'm not meddling. There is a comfortable distance in "On the one hand Calvin said this. On the other, Luther said that. Bultmann went this way, and Barth that way." But what about me and you?
What are we going to do?
That's where people fluency—understanding myself and my people—comes in. By sustained listening, I understand the questions on their minds, where they're coming from and what's happening in their lives. In fact, I can be a prophetic speaker to them only when I've been a prophetic listener.
For example, when I'm with teenagers, I try to understand what motivates and energizes their culture. Since it's sometimes strange to me, I'm tempted to distance or disconnect myself from it, or, what's worse, disdain or criticize it too quickly. Instead, I try to shift into a learner mode. When teenagers are bragging about some new music, I ask myself, What is it that really turns them on about that music? What do they feel when they hear it? What do they like about that group?
A prophetic listener is quick to hear and slow to speak. You can attend an opera, for instance, in the closed mode saying to yourself, This is going to be boring, or in the learner mode, I wonder what has caused the Italians to love these operas so much? A prophetic listener pauses to listen and watch.
I want to explode one myth. I believe pastors have the gift of time more than most professionals. Except for Sunday morning, pastors wield the whip hand over most events in the church week. We largely control when people will schedule appointments with us, when special classes will be offered, when we'll talk with outsiders. Granted, this scarcely means we abound in free time, but given our authority, we can, if the resolve is there, establish a rhythm to our week.
I have found that in order to be a good student (and for the sake of my sanity) every day needs to be different. I ease up at one point while toiling at another, interact with people at one point and withdraw at another. With such a rhythm I can reserve study time. But when every day is a jumble of random sameness, I'll never stay balanced; these are the kinds of days that create burnout.
The key for me is to see my life in units of seven days. Rarely can I spin one day in balance, and I can't think in terms of a year or even a month; that's too long. But seven days—that biblical model works for me: Six days shalt thou labor, one day shalt thou rest.