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…
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”?
Open Method vs. Closed Agenda
This morning I was reading the story of Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:1–19 and was perplexed as to how the son of Solomon, the wisest man to ever live (up to that point), could be so stupid. But even while perplexing, perhaps it is not surprising at all, because we do this all the time.
Rehoboam was preparing to receive the kingship of Israel following his father’s death. As part of the transition, he consulted the people and listened to their petition. He asked for some time to think about his response, then consulted elders who had served with his father, and even in practice, widened his sphere of input by including the opinions of some young friends.
While on the surface his decision-making method appears solid, the outcome was one of destruction and foolishness. Rather than running with the wisdom of his elders, he decided on the path of least resistance to his agenda.
13 The king answered the people harshly. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, 14 he followed the advice of the young men and said, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.”
There are so many factors that pour into decision-making, whether it be big or small, but a principle I cannot help but draw from the story of Rehoboam is that:
You can be open in method, yet closed by your own agenda.
It is a common temptation to regularly seek after advice that simply affirms your held position, whether that be through sermons, the voices of friends, or books – but who do I have around me that can bust open my agenda, even when it hurts?
A kingdom may not be at stake, but it may just save me a lot of pain.