Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Are We Listening?

Written by: on October 16, 2014

“As a rule, then, loyalty holds exit at bay and activates voice.” (p.78)

 In his book, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, the author, Albert O. Hirschman, contends that engendering loyalty prevents erratic movement away from organizations while at the same time promotes the capacity to increase input which, in a world of options, can maintain creative decision making. (I won’t pretend to understand everything that Hirschman was trying to convey, but this is what I took away from it).

To the best of my understanding the church in the West, and in particular the church in Canada is in decline. People are exiting the formality of mainline (Catholic, United, Presbyterian) religious assembly. It’s been a consistent trend for several decades now that is also affecting many evangelical congregations.

As a result of those exits there is a hollow sound left reverberating under the roof tops of once celebratory congregations. Gone are the days when people intentionally set aside a day to pause, reflect and get renewed through religious instruction in group settings. Much has changed, the exits have been well used, some in a nomadic function as people move from the exit door of one congregation to the entrance of another. Others have simply gravitated away slowly and are reluctant to re-enter.


However, exit doesn’t mean the end of voice. The one does not eliminate the other. In these days there seems to be an openness toward discussions of spiritual matters. Our Canadian context is one of religious accommodation. Yes, it mostly favours everything but Christianity, however the opening is there for those who can gracefully engage it. The opportunity exists for those in leadership to nurture a culture where voice is welcomed, which results in people feeling valued. Not just within the confines of the gathering, but in the greater community. Not only the voice of those in leadership, rather purposefully ensuring that the voice the people in the community is heard. Historically, leadership has been about “telling” (and listening to our own voice) but now there seems to be a welcome opportunity for “listening”, thereby granting voice to others, which can lead them to “entrances” as opposed to “exits”.

In light of these ideas, some questions that I’m posing to myself and others are:

  • As I serve in leadership, am I accessible to those among whom I serve?
  • Do I take time to listen to what is happening in the lives of those with whom I serve?
  • If we’re supposed to be extending the Kingdom of God into our communities, how much time do we actually spend listening to our communities?
  • Do I look at people for what they can do or do I care about who they are?
  • If every person is created in the image of God, what am I learning about God from our interaction?
  • If every follower of Jesus is filled with the Spirit, what can I learn through God’s work in their life?
  • Am I taking intentional time to listen to God’s voice?

Jesus made an interesting statement to seventy people that he served among. He had previously been setting for them an example to follow, giving them instructions, providing them with cautions, releasing and empowering them to go about their mission. He now, upon their return listens to their stories and the offers these words in Luke 10:20, “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Their experience should not define them rather the fact that they were known to Our God was where they were to find their identity; their loyalty, therefore, should remain firmly fixed in The Lord.

Hirschman says, “Organizations where both exit and voice play important roles are relatively few: the most important ones are voluntary associations of various types…” (p.120) The Church, I would contend should be counted among those few; and those who serve in leadership would do well to remember their privilege within it.

Jesus didn’t downplay the exits, in fact he made sure that those who would consider following Him, placing their faith in Him; he made sure they knew where the exits were. ““Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) I wonder sometimes if, like the emergency instructions from a flight attendant, we have tuned out those warnings because they’ve become too familiar. What if we allowed those words to truly sink in? What questions would we ask of Him then? His desire is to grant us voice so that we can better understand the purpose of His words and the opportunity that exists for us, as loyal members of His fold, to participate in the growth of, not a production oriented organization, but an organism (living, growing) of united people – that is The Church.

As you consider your leadership context what are the obstacles in granting voice to others?

About the Author

Deve Persad

10 responses to “Are We Listening?”

  1. Deve,

    Refreshing, refreshing, refreshing! This message needs to be listened to by all Christian leaders. Thank you for sharing. Again, this is my devotion for the day.

    You are right — most of the time we are so busy “telling” others what to do that we do not take the time to truly “listen.” This speaks to me about my teaching. Am I listening to my students, and if I am, what do I do with what I am hearing?

    I most especially like your question, “If every follower of Jesus is filled with the Spirit, what can I learn through God’s work in their life?” A good friend of mine always encourages others to “pay attention” to what is happening around them. But whenever I think about this, I usually realize that I am not doing that. I need to learn from everything and from everyone who comes my way. However, I must be vigilant or I will miss whatever it is God is trying to say to me. Thanks, my friend, for the reminder. My goal is to practice this today.

    • Deve Persad says:

      Thanks for the feedback Professor. I would agree, that from a teacher perspective sometimes we forget that there is a learning opportunity available to us through the people (students) in our learning environment. I know that for a long time, I made the mistake of thinking my role as a teacher was to provide information to those who lacked information. However, understanding that God could teach me through others is challenging and changing that.

  2. Julie Dodge says:

    There you go, asking all those great questions! Well written, Deve. And challenging. But my favorite is this, your final sentence: “His desire is to grant us voice so that we can better understand the purpose of His words and the opportunity that exists for us, as loyal members of His fold, to participate in the growth of, not a production oriented organization, but an organism (living, growing) of united people – that is The Church.” The Body of Christ is a living, breathing organism. Not just an organization. That was the perfect reminder. Thank you.

    • Deve Persad says:

      Thanks Julie. One of the dangers, I have found, is the tendency to take business/organization models, focused on continual growth and profit, and transfer those models to the church. However, an organism, experiences times of growth and times of decline, which are too be expected, though not always easy to deal with. Your post beautifully describes that reality.

  3. Richard Volzke says:

    Great post – your questions are ones that every pastor and church leader should be asking. I’d like to address your fourth question, “do I look at people for what they can do or do I care about who they are?” I believe this speaks, in part, to the problem of materialism that has so infiltrated the church. Many churches and pastors now see people as resources that the church can use or members as numbers or supporters. Many mainline denominations and mission organization go so far as to exploit their own workers and donors. I have many friends who have been hurt, and I have also experienced hurt, by organizations and church leaders with this mentality. I will no longer support any Christian organization that does not invest in and take care of its own people. For example, faith-based mission organizations tell their people to trust in God to provide money and support for one’s ministry. Yet, we have so many missionaries coming off the field due to lack of funding. At the same time, many of these organizations are sitting on more assets than the missionaries need to do their ministry. Why don’t the organizations have faith that God will provide? They should pay and support their people, and trust that God will bring in the resources needed.

    • Deve Persad says:

      Richard, thanks for your input into these questions. It’s very helpful indeed even as it is disappointing to realize that there is a duplicity in some of the practices of these organizations. One of the ladies on our staff went to work for a church after she completed Bible school. She was overused, underpaid and under appreciated, which scarred her perspective of the church for many years. Fortunately, the Lord has brought much healing, even if it has taken many years.

  4. John Woodward says:

    Deve, thank you so much for your important reminder that exit doesn’t necessary mean the end of voice. I must tell you, as the read the book and thought about the masses that exit and musical chairs that I see as our modern church culture, I had forgotten that indeed we do live in a world that has space for talk about spiritual issues, that the church can still play a role in the lives of people and the community and society. Which, as you so well state, requires those who lead to see the privilege and responsibility they have to take those voices seriously. Maybe here is crux of the matter: If our leaders and churches practices greater hearing, maybe that sense of loyalty would be increased? Your questions are all very instructive and thought provoking! Maybe a final question for leaders is whether I grant the same compassion and forgiveness and failure to others God has granted me? Maybe we then would give more space to listen and learn – not only from others but from God. Thanks Deve for some challenging thoughts!

  5. Deve Persad says:

    Thanks for the additional question John. That is an excellent point that should be keep us anchored in humility toward others. One of the key things that one of my mentors had me do, prior to going into full time ministry, was to specifically list the ways in which I was aware of the Lord’s work at directing my life. The purpose of this was two-fold: one to keep me humbly grounded in the fact that God had enabled this to happen, so that in times of doubt or despair, I would draw strength from His guiding presence. Secondly, to help to remember that there are others, who despite perceived weakness, are being prepared by God for future ministry. Thanks again for your insight, I’ll add that question to the list.

  6. rhbaker275 says:

    Thanks for your post, as others have noted it is refreshing and inspirational.

    I like your point, “However, exit doesn’t mean the end of voice.” Hirschman makes this point and also that exit and voice are not exclusive. He also presents the valid position or use of the treat of exit by those who are giving voice. In particular you make a great application that voice can lead to “entrances” as opposed to “exits.” It is true that when we grant people voice it is incumbent upon us to listen and listening allows us to enter into another’s world.

    It also fits your question of application: “Am I listening to God?” We are often reminded in scripture that when God’s is allowed to speak into our life, we need to hear.

  7. Deve Persad says:

    I appreciate your feedback Ron. I particularly am challenged by the concept of being able to “enter into another’s world” through listening. That’s a great way to reframe this and really points the question back toward us – “do we really want to enter into the world of another?” – thanks for adding value to these thoughts.

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