3 Skills Christians Can Learn from a Great Interviewer

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What keeps you from being a better friend to the people in your life?

As we grow in grace, we should become better friends. But it’s a hard climb; we should learn from whomever we can.

Krista Tippett hosts a public radio show/podcast called On Being. (I haven’t heard it.) She was interviewed on the Longform podcast back in October, and the episode gave me a lot of food for thought.

Practice Gracious Listening

Around the 33:35 mark, Tippett is asked about the phrase “gracious listening” which she uses in her 2016 book, Becoming Wise. What does she mean by this phrase?

I put words in front of the word “listening”—gracious, generous—because the word listening and the act of listening, there’s a lot of lack of self-awareness around that. I think that I grew up, and a lot of people in this culture grew up, experiencing listening as being quiet while the other person talks, basically. Right? So that eventually you can say what you have to say. Listening is basic social art, but it’s something we have to learn and practice. And we really haven’t practiced a robust listening—generous, gracious listening—which is not just about being quiet, but about actually, truly being curious, really mustering curiosity. Which can be as simple as being willing to be surprised.

She contrasts this curiosity with making assumptions about others.

We tend to go into encounters pretty much thinking we know who that other person is. We know who they voted for, we know what they do. So, curiosity I think is something that is a virtue that can be really complex and it’s counter-intuitive to how we walk through the world, especially how we walk through the public world.

I love that phrase be willing to be surprised. So often I assume I know another person by applying stereotypes. But this is far from loving. Being curious means, in part, acknowledging your incomplete understanding about another person. (Even your best friend or spouse!)

Because I am accepted by God and fully known by him, I don’t need to pretend to have everyone figured out. By his power I can put to death the insecurity and pride that puts up this front.

Create a Hospitable Atmosphere

Later in the podcast, Tippett is asked how she prepares for an interview. She talks about trying to get to know someone by immersing herself in what they’ve written and/or said in the past.

What I’m trying to do is not so much understand what people know, but how they think. And then, if I have just a sensitivity to that, that really creates a hospitable space for them to think out loud with me. And this transmits itself viscerally, within a very few moments of meeting somebody. We’ve all had this experience of walking into a room and […] you know you’re going to have to defend yourself or explain yourself. And that creates a certain amount of tension and it puts you in a certain mode of what you are going to talk about and what you’re not going to talk about. And I’m trying to create an atmosphere, an intellectually hospitable atmosphere, where people have this sense very quickly that I get them. And then, you just relax inside.

Tippett’s description makes me wonder what sort of atmosphere I create in my conversations. Are people encouraged to think out loud with me? Or am I making them feel defensive and interrogated? This idea of a hospitable atmosphere has huge implications when it comes to apologetics, evangelism, and discipleship.

Ask Good Questions

Tippett’s definition of a good question is “one that elicits honesty.” She was asked what she means by that definition.

I think one thing a lot of people do is ask questions that are interesting to them. Like, “I’ve always wanted to know.” […] Often when I start out preparing for an interview, I will have my questions that I think going into this I’m probably going to want to ask this person. But in the course of preparation, a lot of them will fall away. And what will come in their place is the question that’s going to be interesting to them. And I can formulate that question because I’m immersing in their thinking. So then the questions I’m writing are coming out of that rather than out of my head. And if you ask somebody a question that’s interesting to them, they immediately—you’ll hear it, they’ll say, “Oh, that’s an interesting question.” And then they stop realizing they’re being interviewed, and they’re not even giving an answer, they’re thinking in real time.

This definition of a good question is fairly specific to the context of an interview, but there’s still a lot to learn. My default setting is to ask questions I find interesting, and I never considered that this might be selfish. It is a challenge to know someone well enough to ask a question that interests them. What works in one conversation might not work in the next.

Perhaps a common theme that holds these skills together (for the Christian) is dependence. If we depend on the Holy Spirit, discarding the notion we must control the conversation, we’ll be more likely to love the other person. We won’t make assumptions, we won’t focus on ourselves, and we’ll serve.

As Tippett says (in the first quote), this takes practice. But it’s worth it! And it reflects our God as well—he knows us completely and welcomes us in relationship and conversation. By his strength, let’s do the same for each other.


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Photo Credit: Ben Kerckx (2014), public domain

How to Support Sharing in Your Small Group

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One of the biggest barriers to sharing in a small group is, sadly, other people. We’ve all been burned, and we do our best to avoid pain.

Even if you’re convinced that sharing is a good thing and you have a sense of how to do it, hesitation is natural. How will your friends react? What will they say?

Our constant theme should be love—we must do what is actually good for others. We should labor to help our friends love and obey God, pointing them to Jesus all along the way.

A Matter of the Heart

Sin originates in the heart. This biblical truth is foundational for real change.

This implies there is a root in the heart behind every sinful behavior, hesitation, and motivation. Our anxiety about a presentation at work may reveal an obsession with pleasing others. Impatience with our children may point to a stubborn resistance to God’s sovereign control.

Out of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 15:18). These are among Jesus’s most profound and devastating words.

As with all truth, we must take care in our application. We must not become obsessive hunters, eager to “get to the heart” at all costs, poking and prodding and, eventually, crushing our friends.

We should, however, keep the importance of the heart in the foreground, gently walking with our friends toward deeper waters when they’re reluctant to wade in. Remind them: We have a perfect Lifeguard.

Do’s and Don’t’s

Let’s make this practical. To encourage your friends to share in small group, consider these suggestions.

Don’t violate trust. Keep the confessions and struggles you hear within your group. Your friends won’t share if they fear they will be the subject of gossip.

Do listen carefully. Maintain eye contact; don’t turn away when someone shares something difficult. Use your facial expressions and body language to offer support.

Don’t be afraid of conversation. A well-timed question or comment might be just what your friend needs to continue his story. Try to gently draw one another out, prompting with heart-related inquiries.

Don’t try to fix people. Part of bearing a friend’s burdens is understanding his battles. We minimize a person’s struggles by suggesting a simple remedy.

Don’t make it about you. We all suffer from me-too disease, and we think we can help when we’ve been through something similar. Your suggestion may be helpful, but take care to listen and understand first.

Do speak the gospel. Remind your friend of God’s love, Jesus’s work, and the Spirit’s presence. Don’t offer flimsy, Hallmark hope—we have a better, brighter, sure hope. Don’t let a Christian despair over their sin.

Do offer practical help. The help and power we need to defeat sin comes from God. But sometimes he supplies help for the fight through his people. You might suggest a book, a Bible passage, a quotation, or a phone call. Specific options (while leaving room for the person to decline your offer) are often more helpful than a general offer of aid.

Do pray. Pray during the group meeting. Pray later. Pray frequently. I try to jot down notes during my small group meeting so I can pray through the week.

Do follow up. It means the world to know others are praying. The simple act of sending a text or making a phone call can be a burst of encouragement. Consider asking for an update at the next group meeting so others can be reminded to pray or be encouraged at the way God has worked.


Photo Credit: Thomas Szynkiewicz (2012), Creative Commons License

One Surefire Way to Harden Your Heart

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When the Exodus narrative hits chapter 8, a curious thing happens. Moses takes a back seat. So does Aaron. Instead, the narrator zooms in on two characters: Pharaoh and God.

A Hard Heart

It’s impossible to read these early chapters of Exodus without pondering Pharoah’s heart. God tells Moses he will harden Pharoah’s heart (Ex 4:21, 7:3), and then we see it happen. Over and over and over.

No one wants a hard heart. A hard heart is stiff and rigid, dry and impenetrable. A hard heart is cold. Throughout Scripture, to have a hard heart is to be stubborn, persistent in one’s own way, and resistant to the things of God (Dt 15:7, 2 Chron 36:13, Mark 8:17, Acts 19:9, Heb 3:13).

Who Hardens the Heart?

In Exodus, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12; 10:1; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; 14:8) almost as often as Pharoah hardens his own (Exodus 8:15; 8:32; 9:34). It’s not one or the other—it’s both.

It’s uncomfortable, but true: God hardens some hearts (Rom 9:18). This is his prerogative, and those whom God hardens wouldn’t choose any differently. God may simply make more available and more abundant the ends they would seek for themselves.

And yet, Pharaoh hardens his own heart as well. What does this look like?

How to Harden Your Heart

As Pharaoh’s heart hardened, one of his behaviors is mentioned more than others—five times to be exact. And though Pharaoh was not regenerate, I suspect we harden our hearts in much the same way.

He did not listen.

Now, one of two things is happening in these passages. Either Pharaoh doesn’t listen as a result of hardening his heart, or Pharaoh hardens his heart as a result of not listening. I’m guessing both are true—a hard heart and a resistant ear form an obstinate, continuous loop. (Check out Exodus 7.13, 7.22, 8.15, 8.19, 9.12.)

Hebrews connects Pharaoh with a relevant warning to the church. In Hebrews 3:7–19, the author quotes the language of hard hearts (Pharaoh) as directed to the Israelites (Psalm 95) and applies it to us. The chief warning is this: If you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.

So, if we want to avoid a hard heart, we need to listen. Chiefly, we need to listen to God. We need to listen to the Bible, where God speaks. We need to listen to our pastor as he preaches and to our elders as they warn and encourage us and to our friends as they comfort and rebuke us.

The surest way to a hard heart is to stop listening to God.


Photo Credit: Ralf (2016), public domain