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John on Leadership - Part 2: The Listening Leader

John 1.35-39
With Guest Blogger Doug Jackson, D.Min
Assistant Professor of Spiritual Formation
Logsdon Seminary/South Texas School of Christian Studies

Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye?

"A leader is one who listens. A leader is one who nurtures growth." – Harry Farra, The Little Monk

One simple observation: The first word uttered by the Word is a question put to a pair of people. From this I conclude that Jesus is the Listening Leader. I further assume that if Jesus is the Listening Leader, we should seek to be listening leaders, and I draw several conclusions about how the Listening Leader operates.

The Listening Leader Honors the Ordinary
This is amazing if you stop to notice it. When Jesus first speaks, we get a mundane snippet of conversation. This is so unlike the account in Matthew, where Jesus strides down the shores of Galilee and summons Peter and Andrew, James and John to abandon a thriving business, and abandon their own families, with a curt, "Follow me!" What we learn here is that God often works in the excitement of the dramatic, but that God also works in the dullness of the everyday. Out of this trivial little exchange comes the conversion of the first two apostles, one of whom becomes the first evangelist and the other the author of the Fourth Gospel!

If you are going to be a Listening Leader, it will not come by waiting for the big, dramatic moments. It will come by paying careful attention to the little, mundane moments of daily life. It comes when we learn, with the poet William Butler Yeats,
      To see a World in a Grain of Sand
      And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
      Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
      And Eternity in an hour.

The Listening Leader Respects the Person
What seek ye? At one level, yes, a typical, casual question. But when you think about it, it's truly amazing. John has just completed that stunning prologue where he coins a name for Jesus that is unique among the Gospels: the Word. And now, for the first time in John's Gospel, the Word speaks, and the first thing the Word speaks is. . . a question!

The Listening Leader is never in such a hurry to tell what he knows that he forgets to ask people who they are.

And in this Jesus merely expresses the heart of his Father. When God comes to our first ancestors amidst the ruin of bliss in Eden's sin-stained precincts, God asks four questions in a row! (Gn 4.9, 11, 13) When James and John approach Jesus and ask for a promised answer to an unprayed prayer, Jesus responds with a question: What would ye that I should do for you? (Mk 10.36) When blind Bartimaeus shouts so loud he drowns out the marching band at a ticker-tape parade, Jesus confronts him with a question: What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? (Mk 10.51)

If you want to lead like Jesus, you will need to ask questions – real, open-ended questions, and then listen carefully to the answers. And it will take a long time! Even if you already know what they want, oftentimes they do not, and answers are no good to one who doesn't even know what the question is.

The Listening Leader Speaks in the Plural
What seek ye? The Greek pronoun "you" distinguishes between an individual and a group. In Texas we can do it as well by saying "you" or "yall." In this case, Jesus says yall. And that makes sense, because Jesus speaks to TWO disciples.

So from the very outset John's gospel, the gospel with its ear pressed to the beating heart of Jesus – is a gospel of the group! Jesus calls, not in isolation, but in congregation! In summoning his disciples, Jesus does not seek the Lone Ranger – he goes for the Dirty Dozen!

Jesus calls you to lead people, and that means he calls you to be in, with, and among people. This business of you and ye and yall is critical to understanding all of our New Testament, because in most of the places where our English Bible says "you," it means "yall." Most of the Bible is written to be read in and responded to by the church – the congregation – the body of believers who work together.

But how do we take two or more individuals and produce no more than one congregation? Not by passing rules and drafting constitutions: Those have their place as an expression of unity, but not as a means to it. Not by pulling away from the fellowship in order to seek a new community with whom I am in full agreement. Not by ordering everyone around and telling them what to think.

How do we do it? By listening.

St. Benedict, who founded one of the most successful Christian communities in history, wrote a little booklet to direct the lives of his communities. It became so popular that it spread around the world and today even some secular businesses are studying The Rule of St. Benedict for insights. And that little booklet begins with these words, "Listen, my son, with your heart."

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