Park Bench Ministry

by Demi Prentiss

Val Hastings is a Methodist pastor and the founder of Coaching For Today’s Leaders, which developed out of his Coaching For Clergy.  Hastings advocates that every person in ministry (That would be all of us who want to partner with Jesus!) learn coaching skills, especially deep listening and the skill of asking curious, powerful questions.

This week I received an email from Val that told the following story:

It all begins with listening!  Every new coach in our training program hears me say this at the beginning of their training.  Throughout their training, we regularly remind them that while the other coaching competencies are important, listening is the most important one!

 

There is growing evidence to support this claim.

 

Consider the Friendship Bench Program, also known as the Community Grandmothers Program. Quite literally, it’s a park bench — with a higher calling.  Individuals, mostly older women, are trained to listen and offer support.  They sit on park benches and create a safe place for people to talk.

 

Consider the following results of a Zimbabwe study of the Friendship Bench Program:

  • 50 percent of patients who received standard care still had symptoms of depression compared to 14 percent who received Friendship Bench.
  • 48 percent of patients who received standard care still had symptoms of anxiety compared to 12 percent who received Friendship Bench.
  • 12 percent of patients who received standard care still had suicidal thoughts compared to 2 percent who received Friendship Bench.

 

One of the best ways to make a difference in someone’s life is to simply listen.

What about applying this practice in daily life? What if we stopped thinking about ministry as a “project,” and instead thought about ministry as a “way of being” in the world? What would your daily life ministry look like if you started listening like a “Community Grandmother”?

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