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Bending an ear

16 November 2010

Mike Starkey on the need to listen to God and to each other


Leaders Learning to Listen
Chris Edmondson

DLT £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

LISTENING is an essential skill for good leadership. So says Chris Edmondson, Bishop of Bolton, and a former warden of the Lee Abbey community in Devon. Fully half of the book is about being a leader who listens to God; and the author cites a number of biblical characters who prioritised prayerful listening — and some who didn’t. Edmond­son explores obstacles to listening to God, including busyness, tiredness, the difficulty of slowing down in a fast-paced society, and the omni­presence of technology.

His most poignant and telling quotation comes from a priest who confesses he feels time spent in silent attentiveness to God is self-indulgent: his congrega­tion does not have that luxury; so why should he?

Edmondson explores the value to ourselves and our ministries of being leaders who listen to God, drawing on a range of Christian traditions, including Benedictine, Quaker, and Charismatic.

The second theme of the book is listening to people who are different from us, with a focus on denominational divisions, women’s ordination, other faiths, and sexual­ity. The author outlines and com­mends the African concept of indaba, a process to facilitate dis­cussion which was used at the 2008 Lambeth Conference. A final section focuses on creating a listening Church, attentive to both its surrounding culture and God.

So far, so good. But there is another important area implied by the title which the author leaves largely unexplored: how a leader might exercise the daily tasks of leadership in a “listening” sort of way, and how this might differ from other leadership styles. Edmondson has a productive dialogue with disciplines such as spirituality and conflict resolution, but not with leadership theory. Consequently, this is not really a book about leadership — more a book on helpful practices for all Christians which apply particularly to leaders.

It would have been a richer book if it had contrasted examples of contemporary leaders who listen well to those they lead, with those who don’t. A good starting-point for readers wishing to explore this whole area would be recent books by Richard Impey of Sheffield dio­cese, and the Canadian “missional” church author Alan Roxburgh. Both write helpfully about the art of listening to the wisdom of a con­grega­tion.

The Revd Mike Starkey is Vicar of St Mark’s, Kennington, in south London.

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