Stethoscope Missiology

I have learned a great deal about missiology and church planting from Michael Frost

While I've heard him give the stethoscope illustration on more than one occasion, it never seems to get old. 

The story goes that the man who invented the stethoscope determined that if doctors would simply listen to their patients, they would be better able to determine what ails them. In the same way, Frost advises, church planters and missional church leaders need to listen to the people they are called to minister to: they're telling us how to heal them.

Listen to the people.

The Christian Community Development Association, which our church (and soon to be non-profit community development organization - more on this later) has recently joined, lists "Listening to the Community" as one of the 8 key components of their ministry philosophy. 

"Often communities are developed by people outside of the community that bring in resources without taking into account the community itself. Christian Community Development is committed to listening to the community residents, and hearing their dreams, ideas and thoughts. This is often referred to as the 'felt need' concept. Listening is most important, as the people of the community are the vested treasures of the future."

In an illuminating and entertaining TED Talk entitled "Want to Help Someone? Shut Up and Listen" Dr. Ernesto Sirolli, founder of the Sirolli Institute, an international nonprofit organization that teaches community leaders how to establish and maintain Enterprise Facilitation projects in their community, also makes the case for listening as an essential component of community and economic development in under-resourced areas.

In the talk, Dr. Sirolli tells the story of entering an African village and immediately noticing acres of fertile land where vegetables could be planted and harvested. Sirolli's team plants tomatoes, zucchini and all sorts of vegetables that grow to twice the size of those grown back home in Italy. The night before harvest, hundreds of hippos come out of the river and eat all of the vegetables. "Why didn't you tell us there were hippos?" cries Sirolli, "Because you never asked us" say the villagers.

Because you never asked us.

Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from these stories. Perhaps there really is something to this whole "listening to the community" thing. Perhaps we would actually begin to see our churches and our ministries become the kinds of churches and ministries that God wants and needs them to be: movements of love, hope, healing and reconciliation that truly begin to bring about shalom as we become consumed with joining God in what God is already up to in our neighborhoods, furthering the kingdom of God in the places we have been sent.

Listen to the people. They're telling you how to to heal them.

Here's Michael saying it a lot better than I ever could.


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