I’d much rather write about my project than my person, but the truth is they are inextricably linked. My heart for missionary effectiveness and sustainability is driven by personal experiences; consequently, as I do the research and delve deeply into that topic, I am forced to examine myself and consider where my own ministries are lacking.
For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
Let each one examine his own work.
Let’s just say that I tend to score pretty low on the empathy-meter.
And while I was already aware of this weakness, I recently received an email from one of my superiors pointing out how my lack of empathy is hindering my advancement in the organization. EQ is a pretty big deal these days, and I’m simply not wired for it.
My work with my spiritual director has been helping me to reflect on some of my deeper motivations and honestly face the brokenness behind my lack of empathy. As a seven (shout out to Chris, Dave, Mark, and other Great 8s that are Type 7s) who lives to avoid pain, empathy freaks me out. As if feeling my own pain wasn’t scary enough, now I have to feel other people’s as well?
I have so far to go….There is this gap between the time when I finally acknowledge my sin and the time when I experience full victory over it. There is this process of sanctification that requires/invites me to journey down into the depths of my own darkness so that I might experience the resurrection on the other side. There is this holy longing for Christ to simply set things right and this holy responsibility to take up my cross and follow Him.
For each one will carry his own load.
I can be tempted to over-spiritualize that process, trying to live it out in my thoughts and prayers, but avoiding the real-life, rubber-meets-the-road interactions that God so often to uses to shape me into His image. Like The Music Man, who tried to train up band members using The Think Method, I try to simply rationalize myself into better behaviour, imagining progress in a vacuum. But God has a more practical method. Pick up your instrument and play.
All the “one-anothers” in the Bible point me to my real means for growth. Empathy won’t be developed by simply reading about it (although that helps!), empathy is developed by showing empathy! In Conversational Intelligence, Judith E. Glaser offers many practical ways of engaging others in order to build trust, the critical element in every human relationship. One of the tips that stood out to me was “When we listen deeply, turn off our judgement mechanisms, and allow ourselves to connect with others, we are activating the mirror neuron system, now thought of as ‘having empathy for others.’”
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen,
slow to speak, slow to anger.
All of my life, I’ve been more of a quick to speak, slow to listen kind of a gal. So God took me on a field trip to France. (A “field trip” that has lasted 8 years and counting!) In moving me to a new country, God essentially took away my ability to speak. Everyone knows that when you learn a second language, receptive language develops first, and production comes second. This is why a one year old can understand a hundred different phrases (“Where’s your blanky?” “What does the cow say?” “Can you point to the blue car?”) while barely speaking a handful of words (“daddy, “puppy,” and “ball” were my boys’ firsts). Even so, listening in foreign language required so much intense concentration just to grasp meaning, I was forced to “turn off” my “judgement mechanisms” in order to have enough bandwidth to understand what was being said.
Furthermore, in the beginning it took so much energy and thought to formulate and produce a coherent sentence, that I was quite happy to hold my tongue. I only spoke when it was absolutely necessary! Since language learning is a long, slow process, it began to actually modify my behavior. Eventually, even though I was capable of judging and replying, I found myself slower to do so. Learning French helped me to become a better listener.
My friend and fellow church planter Dietrich Schindler often says, “Listening is loving.” In his book The Jesus Model: Planting Churches the Jesus Way, he writes that pastors “forget that listening is often a greater ministry than speaking.” Indeed, I’m learning that empathy can often be communicated through patient and careful listening, rather than through speaking.
Brain science shows that empathy can be taught and developed. Well of course it does, for God designed the human race for perfection, and brings us to that place through His transformative work in us. While language learning gave my listening skills a shove in the right direction, my recent rebuke by a superior clearly reveals that I have a long way to go as far as empathy is concerned.
So I’m grateful for books like Conversational Intelligence, which give me some more practical tools so that I don’t have to rely on the “Think Method” of transformation. I’m grateful for colleagues who help me to see my blind spots. And I’m grateful for the Holy Spirit, who guides and directs, convicts and encourages, who does the real work at recreating me. I’m betting that the most effective missionaries are those who are continually engaging in this transformative process.
“God chose me because I was weak enough. God does not do his great works by large committees. He trains somebody to be quiet enough, and little enough, and then he uses [them].”-Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, 1894.
 NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved. Galatians 6:3-4a.
 NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved. Galatians 6:5.
 Judith E Glaser, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, 2016. 65.
 NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved. James 1:19
 Dietrich Schindler, The Jesus Model: Planting Churches the Jesus Way, 2013. Kindle loc 2491.
 Andy McCullough, Global Humility: Attitudes for Mission (UK: Malcolm Down Publishing, 2018).