Listening for Audibles
One of the places I learned how to listen was on the football field.
Back in my youth I played wide receiver on my high school football team. Normally, I’d hear the quarterback call the next play in the huddle.
On occasion, though, the QB would call an audible at the line of scrimmage. Upon recognizing that the defense had arranged itself in a different formation, he would call a new play that adapted to the changing situation, especially if the opposing team looked as if it was going to blitz.
This meant I had to listen very carefully to the QB’s signals right before the ball was snapped, particularly near the goal line in what’s termed the red zone where the roar of the crowd could be deafening.
Thankfully, our high school’s QB was also my older brother, so I had listened to him call signals my whole life. I knew his voice.
Jesus spent much of his ministry teaching his disciples the skill of attentive listening. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Of course, he meant more than listening to a sermon on the Sabbath in a worship center. God was out there in the world, on the move. Everything was changing. The Kingdom was coming.
Amidst the noise of the crowds and the threat of a Roman blitz, the disciples developed an ear for recognizing what was deepest in life, for the sound of the Spirit.
Today, as then, listening is an increasingly important skill for followers of Jesus because we live in an era of the “no huddle offense.” So much is changing at the line of scrimmage.
The challenge for us is, “Can we still hear the call?”
This is the genius of our presbytery’s current mission design. In the past, the “Presbyterian Coach” at “headquarters” came up with a game plan, a master strategy, with every play predetermined.
Now, our current plan encourages flexible and spontaneous ministry that takes advantage of the changes we perceive. Adaptation begins with listening, not to the “one great idea from headquarters,” but to the groundswell.
This is also the insight of the Fresh Expressions Vision Day I recently attended. The impetus for fresh expressions comes from connecting with people where they are—at schools, on soccer teams, in our neighborhoods—and forming expressions of church “out there,” right where people live and work and play.
As I travel around the presbytery, as I walk our communities, I‘m hearing the sound of the Spirit.
Minda Schweizer, a candidate for ordination in our presbytery, is starting a new worshiping community in her neighborhood. She invited all her neighbors to a “wine and appetizer party” on her driveway. Minda wasn’t certain if anyone would show up or if they would bring food, but her neighbors came—many who didn’t know each other—bringing their best appetizers and drinks and staying into the evening.
One of the neighbors said, “I’ve lived here for 20 years and this is the first time I’ve talked to my neighbors down the street.”
When I told some friends from my former church about Minda’s story, they said, “We could do that!” And so last weekend they rolled out their barbeque grill into their driveway for their neighborhood’s first ever “Blocktoberfest.”
The good news spread. When other people on the street heard about the party, they rolled out their grills and fired them up. The gathering became so large that people from adjacent neighborhoods came to see what was going on.
My friend, Steve, texted me that night, “This Blocktoberfest party is off the hook!”
Then there’s the story of Little Brown Church in Long Beach. As part of a commission that expected to close the church down, Jeff McCrory, instead, heard the call.
To his amazement, he is now the team leader at Little Brown to what has become an urban mission hub, a team comprised of five mission groups serving a city that longs for renewal.
“I’m tired of sitting around and coming up with a plan,” admits Jeff. “I’m more interested in getting out and doing things and seeing what the Holy Spirit is up to – and then following.”
Jeff adds, “The last six months have been the most exciting time in my 30 years of ministry.”
Talk about an audible!
Near the end of his ministry, with his team deep in the red zone, Jesus used figurative language about a Good Shepherd and his sheep to describe the key to his relationship with his followers, “They know his voice.”
The Kingdom of God is coming. Are we listening?