In Episode 3 of The Youth Ministry Mindset Podcast, a limited series with voices from Alpha and YDisciple, Joshua, Annie, and Jordan look at how to use active listening as a tool for evangelizing young people. Jason Ballard and Ben Woodman, hosts of the Alpha Youth Series, share and discuss the ways listening becomes an invitation. Join us as we continue the conversation on what youth ministry could look like in a post-COVID world.
Listening is the most important skill for youth ministers. We are taught to speak, but not how to listen. We need to develop a culture of listening so young people feel heard and loved. When a young person comes with a question, we tend to go into apologetics mode or make it about what we have been through. But we need to be interested and understanding, not interesting and understood.
Jason and Ben pioneered Alpha Youth, centered around listening to Gen Z. They learned the importance of not answering the questions teens have, but joining their story, and hosting conversation instead of dominating it. It is freeing for everyone not to need to have the answers. Listening well benefits the youth because they feel heard, and it benefits the leaders, who may feel called to change based on youths’ answers.
When listening, avoid being defensive. Invite youth into the process: “What topic do you want to talk about next?” Encourage them to become owners of their ideas; let them set the culture.
Ask the hard questions and let the youth come up with their own answers. Let them experience that it’s safe to ask these questions.
Don’t just do the pretense of active listening (e.g., eye contact), but truly listen. People open up only after being shown respect, knowing they will be heard and listened to.
Youth might share how they feel, testing to see if it is safe to share. As a host of conversation, open the discussion for other youth to join, “What does anyone else think?” This experience of true freedom to share can lead to them sharing why they believe what they believe.
Discussion-based programs can change the way we listen. Find out what they believe. Realize the group’s diversity: not everyone is at the same spot in the journey, so the journey becomes more personal by recognizing differences.
When looking for an opportunity to share about the faith, just take an interest in who they are. Create a space that can handle the big questions and common doubts without fear; then faith becomes more robust.
What Jason and Ben would tell volunteers:
Dream big, but think small: Have big ideas, but think of specific names, real people in your ministry. Build mutual respect so they can bring doubts and questions to you; be that listening friend. Value the Relational dynamic. How are you making space and time for them to open up?
Pull students together soon, even on Zoom: Ask them, “Do you feel like our youth ministry is a safe place to ask questions or express your opinion?” And then ask, “How could we do that?”
Your program will reveal the values. How much time is devoted to the values your program wants to embody? How much time is dedicated to listening? Are the programs we’ve built accountable to our values?
Annie and Jordan’s Takeaways
It’s not about the tools; tools just give the space for ownership. Listening is cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit, and we are changed ourselves. Attentive listening is one of the most important skillsets for leaders. Here are five questions to ask in response to anything teens bring up:
- What did you do in that situation/with that?
- What did you say when that happened?
- What do you think about that?
- How did you feel?
- Can you tell me more?
- Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard: How to Hear and How to Be Heard in Equal Communication by David Augsburger
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
- The Quest Video Sessions – Lifeway.com
1:30 “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
3:54 “We need to be a people who are interested, and not interesting.”
13:08 “Evangelism is joining in on a conversation the Holy Spirit is already having with someone.”
27:25 “Sometimes people just need to feel listened to before they listen to you.”