Listening When You Can’t Possibly Hear Everyone

As a leader, you should want to be at the ground level. All leaders should listen carefully, with the posture of learning. But you can’t possibly be with everyone all the time. If you lead a church of more than 75 people (the median church size), then it’s tough to listen to everyone. Even if you tried, decisions that should take weeks could end up taking years. You would become a poor leader because of an inability to steward time.

Some leaders use listening as an excuse not to make a decision. They hide their lack of vision, lack of discernment, or lack of courage to make a decision behind the guise of listening to people. But that’s not most leaders. Most leaders should listen more.

How can you listen when you can’t possibly hear everyone? 

  • Use discernment. Not everyone wants to be heard on every issue. At any given point, only a portion of people will have strong opinions. Some won’t have an opinion. Others may not have the expertise or experience to weigh in on a particular topic. It’s not necessary to get everyone’s take all the time. The best listening leaders know how to steward time.
  • Be accessible. You can’t be available to everyone, but you can be accessible. Constant availability is a trap. Available church leaders are in one spot, on demand and at the command of others’ schedules. Accessibility means you’re reachable and approachable. Accessible church leaders have an intentional strategy to be among as many people as possible, but on their own schedules.
  • Take time. If you need an extra month to track the pulse of the congregation, take it. Dragging out a decision for a year is indecisive leadership. Taking an extra week or month may mean the difference of respecting the voice of the congregation or not.
  • Utilize others. Use staff, elders, deacons, or other key leaders to be the—constant—eyes and ears. You can’t be everywhere, but you can have ears listening in many places for you.
  • Don’t hide. Leadership is a gift from followers. Don’t selfishly hoard it by hiding. Hold town hall gatherings. Attend committee meetings. Visit Bible study classes. Hang out. Simply be among the people and listen. Perhaps people will talk about how you listen.
  • Follow up. Lastly, one of the best ways to listen is to follow up personally with detractors. Winning them over can go a long way for future work, and it also makes a statement to the congregation that you’re willing to hear all sides.

You can’t possibly listen to everyone. But you can make sure everyone has a voice.

Posted on July 21, 2020

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • Love the “mix tape” collection. Obviously a person after my own heart (unless its just stock photography. Then, well, never mind.)

    • Sam Rainer says on

      It’s a stock photo, but I have a cassette player in my office with some vintage sounds. It gets played fairly often.

  • Deborah says on

    It’s hard for me to bring this issue before anyone we are independent church. As for vision our pastor gone on pastors of the past . In th past two years our pastors wife has had an affair and our pastor has said let her sow her wild oats. There have been other situations with him this year. Our pastor goes to comedy clubs. Our other leaders board members most not all only see her discretion and don’t see any of him. Again as the wife talked with us my husband and I she said he told the friend they had go ahead bang my wife I don’t want sex with her. I’m sorry this is so descriptive but even in this I’m covering our pastor. My heart believes he should step down. Scriptures I believe God has showed me I believe are saying the same thing. How does one go about dealing with these things without scandalizing the church. My greatest concern is the affects on our congregation. They’ve been wounded so many times. I send this out of frustration not ever in the desire to wound or destroy the reputation of others or bring harm on our leaders or congregation or even our pastor and his wife.

  • The unofficial power structure will always be listened to or else you will be out of a job. Reach out to the other people who are generally quiet. Don’t just sit back waiting for them to come to you. The most difficult task is to not have everyone think you sold them out. You cannot satisfy everyone, but there are ways to craft decisions to include many people.

    • Sam Rainer says on

      Reaching out to the quiet people is an excellent idea. They are often supporters who appreciate the initiative.