This past weekend my small group blessed a 70-year-old man in a big way. He lives by himself in a pay-by-the-week motel. Without any family, he's lonely. And because he's not able to drive and is a little unstable on his feet, he's pretty much confined to his small room.
When we met him last summer, we were deeply touched, and we immediately started to build a relationship with him. One group member started picking him up each week for church, so he can experience community. Then we invited him to a Thanksgiving celebration with our small group. For Christmas, several of us bought him presents, and my husband and I had him over for Christmas dinner.
So when he told us he was turning 70 on February 9, we set to work planning a party. One group member is an excellent baker and made a large chocolate cake. Another member loves to plan, so she put together a delicious meal. We all pitched ideas for good presents for him, and we invited the kids, knowing how much our friend enjoys being around little ones.
The party was a success. But only because we learned to listen. Without listening, we would have no idea of how much he enjoys being around children. We'd have no idea that he prefers the King James Version or that he loves Pepsi but can't carry it home from the store on his own. We wouldn't know that his favorite treat is chocolate or that he goes to McDonald's each week with a friend for coffee. And all these details factored greatly in our planning. Because after all, a birthday party should be all about the person having the birthday.
One of the first lessons we learned as we started to be a missional small group is that we can't assume what others need. Instead, we have to get to know people and listen for their hopes, dreams, and needs. With our new friend, we've done just that. And it means that we've deeply touched his life. And in return, he's touched ours.
Listening is extremely important when it comes to missional living. Without first listening, we can do a lot of damage. We will probably incorrectly assume what people need. And we may break any trust by pushing ourselves on others.
And while listening seems simple enough, it's a difficult skill. True listening forces us to withhold judgment and seek to understand first and foremost. Only when we truly understand can we help others in the ways they need to be helped.