Leaders Learning to Listen
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.