The Art of Listening (with Adrian Hurst)

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Winning Arguments and Losing People

  • A few years ago, one of Adrian Hurst’s neighbour knocked on his door and asked him to sign a petition against a new Mosque being built.
  • Adrian didn’t sign the petition, and explained to the man a number of his reasons for not wanting to do so.
  • As he left the conversation, Adrian Hurst felt that he had the moral victory in the conversation, but the other person hadn’t changed his view and the relationship had been damaged.
  • What Adrian said may have been right, but the way he said it wasn’t – he pushed forward with what was right but lost the person in the process.
  • It would have been better if Adrian had asked a question instead. It still might not have changed either person’s opinion, but the relationship would have remained intact.
  • Conversation is about seeking to form relationships and to understand as well as being understood.

Listening is an Art

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to respond.” (Stephen Covey)

  • There are four aspects to listening well:
  • Listen to understand. This will shape the conversation and the questions that you ask.
  • Listen from a place of love. When you understand that you are not seeking love and acceptance because you already have it in Christ, then you can approach the conversation in terms of what you can give rather than what you can gain.
  • Listen in order to love. In every conversation, we have the opportunity to reveal to people something of how loved they are. We are looking to continuously remove barriers so that they can see Jesus more clearly.
  • Build relational bridges. Every interaction forms a bridge between us and the other person, and bridges have weight limits that depend on how long we have known the person and what level of relationship we have with them
  • We should consider whether the things that we share can go over the bridge or whether they will be too much.
  • Do we want the bridge to be destroyed at this point?
  • When a bridge does break, it is possible to restore it, but this takes time. It is better not to break it in the first place but to gradually increase the weight limit of the bridge.

Listening to Understand

  • Think about what questions you can ask in order to truly understand.
  • Jesus was the master of asking questions. He was able to get to the heart of what the person was truly asking.
  • For example, when Jesus was asked by the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, his response was to ask ‘why?
  • ‘Why?’ is the biggest weapon in our arsenal of understanding. What people lead off with isn’t always the thing that they want to talk about.
  • In Luke 10:25-38, Jesus was approached with the same starting question, but this time his response was ‘what do you think?
  • This is a question that can open up a conversation.
  • Jesus then tells the man a story rather than giving him a direct answer. It causes the individual to think, and then Jesus asks him the question again.
  • With the woman at the well (John 4:7-26), Jesus starts with ‘can I have a drink?‘ and the conversation escalates from there.
  • In doing this, Jesus is using a ‘maybe this is about that’ strategy and he shows that there is something deeper happening behind the conversation.
  • In that conversation, Jesus moved past the bigger issues of the day to speak to her as an individual.
  • With the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11), Jesus is asked  ‘what do you say about that?’. His response was to write on the floor.
  • He paused, allowing people to reset their thinking.
  • Sometimes the best thing to do in a conversation is to pause before responding.
  • This shows the person that we are talking to that we value what they have to say.
  • Jesus then asks them a great question, that forces self-evaluation.

Questions That People Ask

  • When you scratch beneath the surface, there are a few kinds of common questions that people ask:
  • Questions about what people value.
  • Questions about death.
  • Questions about identity.
  • Questions about belonging.
  • Questions about who God is (these are quite rare – and tend to come when you least expect them).
  • We don’t need to pack everything into every conversation. We can leave it open to continue another time. Leave the person hungry for more.
  • We are trying to help people to understand who they are, who God is and that God can satisfy their deepst desires.
  • Listen when nobody is speaking (for example to TV, film and newspapers) and you will get an idea what people are thinking and feeling.
  • Treat social media the same as any other relationships. Don’t knock bridges down (this is costly for all believers when you do). We are aiming to get to face-to-face communication with people.


  1. Does the metaphor of the bridge have implications for how we build new people into our churches, and how do we increase the weight limit?
  • Yes – and it also has implications for what we say to society as a whole.
  • The church is like a sleeping lion that has nothing to say about most things and then occasionally roars on certain issues.
  • What gives us credibility in society is doing good.
  • We need to ensure that when we gather together, we are erecting no walls – it isn’t about ‘us and them’.
  • We don’t treat the newcomer as a common denominator. But we do make it safe by welcoming people well and clearly explaining the things we do (for example when people lift hands or speak in tongues).
  • Another good thing is having a break midway through the service to allow people to nip out for a cigarette.
  1. How can we engage in conversations with people who come from racist starting points?
  • It depends whether or not we know the person.
  • We are trying to get into conversations with people.
  • Seek to understand. Ask people why they think certain things – but don’t do this in a condescending way.
  • Ask people what they would do if they were in a certain situation (for example, if they were a refugee).
  1. Where do you feel blogging, writing, social media and/or public speaking fit into the art of listening?
  • You need to work out why you are doing it. Is it that you have stuff that you want to get out there? Are you trying to get engaged in a conversation? The reason changes how you use these tools.
  • Think about what kind of language you should use. How can you provoke people to keep on thinking once they have read/heard your content? Ending on questions works well.
  • In public teaching, listen enough in preparation so that you can pose questions that will help people when you answer them.
  1. How do we bring people to the gospel as we are listening and responding?
  • When you are asking questions about what people value, it is about unpacking what that thing is and questioning whether they can find real security in that thing.
  • The gospel is multi-faceted. You need to find the aspects of the gospel that link to the question that is being asked (for example, questions about values, death, identity, belonging, etc.)
  1. When you think ‘maybe this is about that’, how do you bring the real topic around, and what do you do if you get it wrong?
  • This kind of insight usually comes with depth of relationship.
  • If you get it wrong, be quick to say sorry. Most people are surprised when someone takes responsibility for their mistakes.
  1. Is there anything else that you would like to share?
  • If, as believers in this world, we understand how loved we are, this affects everything.
  • If it doesn’t all start from love, we can find ourselves winning discussions but losing people.

“If we can enter the world knowing we’re loved, and leave it knowing the same, then everything we do in between can be dealt with.” (Michael Jackson)