Dialogue as Listening and Learning

Creating space for dialogue necessitates a posture of active listening and continuous learning. The belief in God's work of reconciling people to Himself and each other underscores the social and theological implications of faith. Drawing insights from Dr. Fitch and Dr. Gorman, applying reconciliation practices around a table has proven transformative. Being present among students has shifted interpersonal dynamics; the focus is now on entering their lives and listening to stories, rather than imposing agendas or controlling outcomes. This approach has fostered genuine dialogue, allowing for more authentic and meaningful connections.

As I open space for dialogue, I apply the metaphor of “entering someone’s garden” expressed by Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder, in Prophetic Dialogue, Reflections on Christian Mission Today. [1] To enter someone’s “garden” is to take a posture as a “treasure hunter or stranger.”[2] This is a place where I become a student. I observe local theologies, learn through conversations about local teens' experiences, and begin to grasp the lifestyles of teen center attendees. A genuine relationship of trust and acceptance is set in motion as I meet with teens in their “garden.” Sometimes the encounters were scheduled and other times random, and all were rewarding.

Discovery and dialogue are multi-layered and reciprocal. Theological tradition and culture are active partners in the conversation. The need for our ministry to have a posture of listening to and presence in culture has been accentuated. I make room to respond with affirmation and challenge to cultural practices, which leads me to be more purposeful in my interactions with teens. For over two years I have been meeting with teens over a meal. Our weekly engagements were steady even during the Summer break from school. We met at local parks and the teen center. We grilled burgers, played frisbee, and walked along the creek. My only agenda was to listen and be attentive. This has been an invaluable practice as I seek meaningful relationships where love is localized and people are prioritized. The Spirit has enabled me to imagine a new future in teen ministry.

[1] Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder, Prophetic Dialogue, Reflections on Christian Mission Today (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011)33.

[2] Ibid., 33.

Return to blog