When someone shares a faith story with you, it’s a holy moment. The person who is speaking is testifying to the work of God in his or her life. Depending on the story, he or she may feel quite vulnerable, and that vulnerability requires a loving response.
The way you and other listeners receive the story is as important as the telling of the story. It shows the speakers whether or not you accept them as they are—just as Jesus Christ would do. Here are some ways to practice active, engaged listening.
How to Listen and Respond to Someone's Faith Story
Prepare your body
Take a breath. Be present in the moment.
Relax your posture. If your arms are crossed on your chest, uncross them to show acceptance rather than defensiveness. The speaker will be reading your body language to see how his or her words are being received.
Let the love of Christ shine through your facial expression.
Prepare your mind
Let go of your mental "to do" list.
Think about how Jesus might listen to someone's faith story.
Consciously resist making judgments about the speaker.
Quiet the urge to formulate a response while the person is speaking.
Recognize and resist the temptation to tell a similar story or to turn the conversation back to yourself after the speaker is finished.
Prepare your heart
Resolve to listen with your whole heart, not just your ears.
Think of the speaker’s story as a gift to you or to your church family.
Remember that having emotions is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. Don’t be embarrassed if the speaker shows emotion or if you feel emotional yourself. This is a good and right response to hearing stories of God's faithfulness in our lives.
Respond in love
Silence is not an option after you hear a faith story. A response, either individual or corporate, is required.
When you respond, you do not need to worry about saying something profound or offering a solution to any problems the speaker may be having. Your job is to honor the gift of trust that he or she has given you and to extend love and acceptance. Words like these are always appropriate and welcome:
I’m so sorry. That must have been very hard.
I’m here for you. You’re not alone.
I rejoice with you! Your joy brings me joy.
Thank you for sharing the gift of your story. It encourages me to see God at work in your life.
If the story is told in a group setting or worship service, ask someone to offer a prayer of thanks or petition, whichever is appropriate. Give thanks for God’s work in the speaker’s life and ask for God’s continued grace in his or her life and in the lives of everyone present.