"Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were x-rays or imaging machines to tell us what was impeding the soul's spiritual health?"
That's what the author of The Care of Souls thought after a visit to the doctor's office. But his doctor informed him that only about 10-15% of the information needed for a diagnosis comes from such incredible devices. In fact, doctors rely most of all on asking the patients lots of questions.
The same is true as we seek to care for one another spiritually. The way we help one another diagnose spiritual ailments and carefully apply the healing truths of scripture and the gospel is through attentively listening and asking questions of each other.
"Prescribing the wrong medication or regimen can be harmful to a patient; sometimes it can be lethal." On the other hand, "Accurate diagnosis leads to effective treatment."
While the author is primarily addressing pastors these truths should inform all of our care for one another, since every member in the church is called to the work of ministry (see: Eph 4:11-16).
Tips for How to Listen Well
- Give your full attention - Don't be thinking about what you are going to say next!
- Thank the person for confiding in you - It's hard to admit when things aren't going well.
- Ask lots of questions - Avoid giving immediate formulaic answers without giving thought to the person's struggle.
- Aim at the heart - Ask questions about the person's feelings, hopes, fears, doubts, and trusts.
- Listen attentively - Don't interrupt or interrogate, simply listen. Listen for: Faith (what are they trusting in?); Holiness (how are they responding? Godly sorrow or sinfully?); Repentance (how might they grow through this situation?)
These are simply tips, not rules. It requires much wisdom from God (James 1:5) to care for one another in the intricacies of each of our individual fights of faith. We'll make mistakes, we'll need to forgive and be forgiven, but it's a glorious duty the Lord has called us to, to care for one another's souls. Let's pray for wisdom and grace as a church to grow in this wonderful work.
Grace be with you all,