The Art of Questions
Whether we are mentoring, coaching, or facilitating a small group discussion, we use questions to draw the BEST out of people. Questions come in many shapes and sizes, each designed for a particular outcome and used with a specific agenda.
There are some people who seem to ask just the right questions. If you haven’t yet met that kind of person, then perhaps you can become that person. In truth, this effect is a combination of listening skills and an toolbox of strategic questions. We’ll get to the listening skills in a later post, but for now, here are three three types of strategic questions that we can use in both individual and group settings to draw the best out of people.
Must-select questions are very powerful, particularly at the beginning of a conversation, or with a person who is being guarded, as it forces a person to both think and respond, while presenting itself under the guise of simplicity. An example might be:
- “On a scale of one to ten, how courageous do you think you are?”
Must-select questions like this are neither classically ‘open’ nor ‘closed’ (see below), but rather provide options within boundaries, priming the person for a follow-up question based on the information they have already given you. Read More…
The Death Lane (Jesus’ Baptism)
When you look at the facts, Jesus’ baptism is a strange story. The only person who doesn’t need to participate in a baptism of repentance, insists that he needs to. Why? Because God was doing something new in the world, momentum was building, the Kingdom of God was near, and Jesus wanted in on the action. If we are serious about imitating Jesus, we need to step in so that God can step us up, even if it means risking the death lane.
Where has the Holy Spirit been silent for too long?
An “Open” Sermon
I’ve been experimenting recently with a style of communication that I like to call an “open sermon”.
The idea behind it is that for so many young (and old) people, the sense of responsibility for personal revelation through the Bible has been lost, or more so, delegated to “professional” pastors who study a passage for a week or so, to later bring the truths to the church table for consumption. The result has been a rapid decline in Biblical literacy, and a consumer mentality within our churches.
An “open sermon” is a teaching of dialogue – and by this I don’t mean lip-service to this term “dialogue” that some indie-churches often profess to action while sadly not making any real changes – but I mean, actual dialogue, which means embracing a new paradigm of teaching.
Just a couple of weeks ago as a youth group we were looking at the Book of Revelation, because apparently that’s all the rage these days! I thought to myself, “I could tell them everything that I know, but what would that actually accomplish?” So I decided to break the teaching up into five sections:
- I initially provided an interpretive framework (this was especially important because of the content), and told them that we were doing things differently (10min)
- I split the whole group into four groups of around 20 youth and leaders, and gave them each a different yet “familiar” passage of the topic text. They read the passage and drew initial impressions with each other. (15min)
- A spokesperson for the group threw their thoughts back to me (everyone listening), and I reflected/paraphrased what they shared, adding more context to each passage. (10min)
- The groups then were asked to discuss the question: Why is this passage in the Bible? (10min)
- They threw their thoughts back to me (everyone listening), and I summed up. (5min)
A warning: it takes a lot more work for the presenter, as you need to be prepared for whatever the groups may throw back to you, but equally an encouragement: it was well worth the effort because that night was fantastic. The sense of exploration was brilliant, and you could witness young people taking ownership of their discoveries.
It’s the difference between being told about a treasure and finding it for yourself.
It’s early days, and I’m still wrestling with the paradigm, but if we can help young people step out of the consumer mentality, whether by practice or paradigm, I believe that we can help cultivate a generation of explorers.
What do you think? Have you ever tried an “open sermon”?
Book Review: The Advice of an Eavesdropping Ex-Terrorist (AND – Hugh Halter & Matt Smay)
In a episode of Chuck, Chuck and Sarah find themselves in a tense situation where a life-changing decision needs to be made, a decision that will shape their direction and purpose well into the future. Just days after running away together they find themselves faced with a choice – to they stay together or to pursue the spy life. In Chuck’s mind it was Spy or Sarah. As they each share the issue with confidants a recently arrested ex-terrorist quietly eavesdrops on both conversations. Sadly, we often find ourselves with a similar mentality when it comes to ministry practice. We struggle and argue with which way is the “correct” way to be missional in our world, gathered or scattered, believing that the entire future is at stake. It is within this context that the ex-terrorist who has heard both sides of the story interrupts and asks the question that can transform our entire missional scope and silences the debate: “Does it have to be a choice?”
Excerpt from: Chuck S03E13, Chuck vs. the Honeymooners
Outline of the Book
In Halter and Smay’s book, AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, they challenge us to think differently, to move away from dualistic division that sets one missional practice over and against the other, to step out from our corners and work together to embody and share the kingdom of God. At the heart of the book is the affirmation that God desires both the gathered church, and the scattered church released through incarnational communities. They do this by firstly outlining the desperate need for the church, then identifying both the benefits and failures of each approach when existing independent of one another. It is from this foundation that the alternative is presented, no longer a choice, but a church embodying a “Yes” to both positions.
Pilots are Brilliant
The writer points out the difficulty and anxiety involved when communities go through the process of change, with departmental shifts within youth this is a current reality. It is within this context that the idea arises to establish pilot groups to help facilitate change without the danger of panic. The writers point out that “all real change happens at the grass roots level” (p.68) and pilot groups can help promote ideas and generate movement, without it feeling as though the change are top-down orders with the expectation of obedience. This does not reduce accountability, and as leaders we should be giving “quiet permission” to these initiatives, who can then stealthily promote missional movements. Within youth, this would work well, especially considering a Cadre is approximately the size of a tithe (10%). Having a Cadre pilot an idea and then bring others on board could be a successful approach when it comes to missional living. This can become both Research and Development, or perhaps an ongoing ministry. Either way, change is enacted without throwing the existing structure out – it will be transformation, not revolution that will lead the next generation to see beyond themselves.
Tension between ministry work and results is something quite significant when working in a large church. Part of the culture is one of growth and success, and for this reason we need to be very careful with how we handle this pressure. The writer points out two questions that arise when faced with this tension, firstly an unhealthy one: “How do I keep people coming to [SURGE]?” and secondly, a more healthy one: “How do I help every [SURGE Youth] become more like Jesus?”. I found it really refreshing to recognise that both of these questions will produce pain, that there is not a way to escape the tension, but that the tension can be used to increase the (peer) pressure to work for the things that matter. When we don’t just work with the consumer mentality and we ask young people to take responsibility for owning both their growth and their youth group, the reality is “You will lose people” (p.87). I am reminded of the rich young ruler and the cost of following Jesus:
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matt 19:21-22)
There is always a cost involved in ministry, but we must be faithful in challenging people, not simply pandering to their desires – especially youth that we are shaping for the future.
Sodalic AND Modalic
I loved the way the writers were able to forge a synergy between the gathered and scattered, not being satisfied with just one or the other. Central to this premise was the complimentary distinction between the modalic, the local and stable gathered church (pull in), and the sodalic, often identified as mission agencies that push out. Yet these two groups were not designed to function in isolation from one another, but to be one in partnership. In John, Jesus prays:
22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. (John 17:22)
This has implications for the wider church, but also for ministries such as youth, to be prepared to be released and sent, rather than just treating youth group as a time to grow and develop. In reality the sodalic will also generate growth, but too often this is ignored. When we get too comfortable in one aspect, the other must be reignited to balance the ministry out (p.128). It doesn’t have to be a choice, but a partnership – the church in action: gathered AND scattered.
So much of ministry is about balancing tension, weighing up options and ultimately integrating strategies. It is in these situations that we must show great humility, not losing our conviction and passion, but equally being open to see alternatives. Perhaps it is in this context that the ex-terrorist can ask his question, and by doing so, unlock a new possibility within the old.
Halter, H & Smay, M (2010) AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan
The term “free radical” belongs to the field of chemistry, defined by The ARC Centre of Excellence for Free Radical Chemistry and Biotechnology suggesting:
“Free radicals are everywhere, in the air, our bodies, and the materials around us. They cause the deterioration of plastics, the fading of paint, the degradation of works of art, aging related illnesses, and can contribute to heart attacks, stroke and cancers.
Free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons. In their quest to find another electron, they are very reactive and cause damage to surrounding molecules.
However, free radicals are also useful because they help important reactions in our bodies take place and can be utilized to manufacture pharmaceuticals, custom-designed plastics and other innovative materials.”
How well does this illustrate the human state one might ask? For in many ways we are all free radicals in the world; we all carry a charge, one that can be positive, at other times negative, and occasionally neutral. Full of potential, for good or for evil.
For me to claim to be a free radical, whether theologically, socially or otherwise doesn’t mean that I am not content, but rather it illustrates my own passion for movement, change, a dissatisfaction with simple maintenance of the status quo, and a desire to witness the kind of shifts that contribute to the ongoing health of life through the process of exploration. I am convinced that to be fully human we need to explore; curiosity appears to be hardwired into us – one only needs to look at the weekly uptake of tabloids and the incessant persistence of TMZ to be convinced of this.
Yet somehow within the sphere of spirituality, some of this curiosity appears to have been lost. We would much rather reach into the lives of others (the places where we are not welcome), than reach into ourselves and do the kind of difficult but necessary inner-work that God has invited us to do from the beginning of time. We would rather people reflect on us, than to dare self-reflect at the fear of what we may be convicted by. The revelation of others is easy to brush aside, but self-revelation has a way of sticking to our soul with a loud voice that we cannot ignore.
Aren’t you curious about yourself? A free radical contends that there is always more to explore.