by Al G., Thailand
To ask a good question, you first must know your subject matter well. You need a good understanding of what’s involved, of what God says about it. It’s very difficult to come up with an insightful question if you are devoid of any insights regarding the issue at hand.
Second, you need to know your audience. Where are they and where do they need to be? What might be a challenging question for one person might be totally irrelevant for another. As facilitators we need to ask ourselves what questions will serve to prod our students to move to the next level of maturity.
Obviously, Christ is our supreme example of how to ask good questions. Even at the tender age of 12, he manifested an amazing grasp of the issues being discussed by the adult teachers of the law. (Luke 2:46-47) Later, when Jesus had just begun his ministry, John informs us that he “knew all men, and … did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25) Jesus knew his audience inside out!
Let’s look at a few things a good question can accomplish.
It can shake us out of our complacency and bring us face to face with reality. As fallen creatures we have a huge capacity for self-deception and reality-avoidance. After Adam and Eve sinned, God bombarded them with question after question (Where are you? Who told you you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree? What is this you have done?) as he confronted them with the real consequences of their actions.
It can force us to get off the fence and take a stand. Commitment is fast becoming a rare commodity. Taking a stand and sticking to it no matter what is bound to offend people around us. But Jesus didn’t hesitate to question those on the fence. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is? … But who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:13-15)
It can challenge us to reconsider a long-cherished belief. We all have preconceived notions and prejudices we’ve never taken time to question. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day assumed they knew what it meant to keep the Sabbath. But Jesus constantly confronted their bastions of belief through questions. “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good, or to do evil, to save a life or to destroy it?” (Luke 6:9) “You hypocrites, does not each one of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:15-16)
It can prod us to practice what we preach. So often we say one thing and practice another. We’re lulled into thinking it’s enough to hear and understand what God says. (James 1:22-25) But a good question can expose this self-deception and call us to action. In Luke 10:25-37, the expert in the law knew the right answer, but Jesus wanted to know if he was living it. So he presented that expert with the parable of the Good Samaritan, followed by a question – “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” – designed to turn the theoretician into a practitioner. In case he missed the point, Jesus added for good measure, “Go and do the same.”
Good questions are powerful tools to move those we teach further down the path of spiritual maturity. May we learn from our Lord how to better use them in this ministry he has entrusted to us.
This article appears in the spring 2017 edition of Engage.