Leadership Begins with Listening

Scott Cormode, Professor of Leadership Development at Fuller Seminary says, “Leadership begins with listening.” These profound words have given me the ability to posture myself in a way that prepares to receive, own, and grow.

Prior to beginning ministry at the age of 23 in a local church context, I had a Lead Pastor tell me for at least the first 6 months to find a mentor that would meet with me regularly to invest in me and give me space to process as I navigated working in a church community.

Whether my experience was the exception or the rule, I quickly discovered that many people did not really have the time to give me that space. I sought out people who I respected and with hearts of good intent, were still not able to make space for me. It was 3 years into this frustration I made a pact that I would always make space for younger leaders if I ever was in a similar position.

As a Lead Pastor now and realizing the juggle that comes with prioritizing so many things in my weekly schedule, I regularly make time to share time with older generations and younger generations as well. By doing so, I learn a lot about the faithfulness of God, sitting with young people as they navigate a complex world, and how much I learn by asking questions and listening.

I can easily fill a weeks-worth of time sitting in my office and doing church work and miss out and the pertinent learning that comes from being with people. What I do know is busyness can be the killer of learning and growing. I have to fight for my time when it comes to where I spend it.

When I listen well, I often receive information that can change a perspective on someone or something. When I don’t just hear but listen, I make space to receive it.

After it has been received, I am invited to look deeper at myself and own some of the realities of who I am. It is in the ownership of my leadership style, my bent to talk too much, or even my misinformed stereotypes of others that I can work to see the changes God wants to make in my own life.

It is here where my growth is magnified. I have discovered so much about leadership through listening and stopping myself to keep listening when I think my thoughts are more important than the person I am hearing.

I have often been told the older you get the more questions you have. Well, I am finding that to be true and yet a gift to myself as I grow older. There are so many older adults and great thinkers in their twenties who have taught me so much about life, but also about myself.

In my first 12 months of the church where I currently serve, I found myself in a difficult transition. Moving from an associate role to a lead role came with some new realizations and challenges. About 4 months into the journey, I was invited to hike 38 miles on a portion of a trail around Mount Rainier with some older pastors from our district. Each night one would lead a devotional thought to ponder. I was questioning what I was doing, whether I had the gifts to see this transition through, and even wondered if I had made a bad decision. One pastor, who I had spent several hours talking about what was going on with, a pastor who had more experience in ministry and recognized the season I was in said to me, “Keegan, God accepts full responsibility for the consequences of your obedience.”

I wrote it down. I listened to it. I received it. I owned up to where I was tempted to run from something that was hard. I reflected on that statement and clung to it over the next 4 months when things got really difficult.

Three years later and I am still here. I have spent more time around more leaders like this since I have been here. I have learned a lot, have a lot to learn, but look forward to sharing space with all kinds of leaders because the growth must continue.

Leadership begins with listening.

Keegan Lenker
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