As leaders in ministry, we are often called upon to give directives, provide solutions and supply answers. It’s very easy in fact to adopt the habit of being the “answer person” for every issue or problem that arises. There are many occasions, however, when it would be more appropriate for leaders to ask questions of others instead of simply furnishing a catering service of answers.
Jesus, the perfect Leader, didn’t hesitate to ask questions. When a woman was caught in the act of adultery and Jesus dealt with the situation, He eventually asked the woman, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10). When two of John the Baptist’s disciples began to follow Jesus, He said to them, “What do you seek?” (John 1:38). Here are two of the most powerful questions Jesus ever asked: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? and Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13, 15). So, Jesus used questions as a tool to help people receive new insights and to grow. Pastor Jeffrey Curtis Poor cites that Jesus asks over 300 questions (as recorded in the Gospels) and He answers only eight of them!
There is a real art to asking questions. There are powerful questions such as, What are some of the values reflected in your decision? and less effective questions, What in the world were you thinking when you made that decision? Leaders can best help the people they serve by acquiring the skills needed to ask powerful questions. Here are some essential qualities to implement when developing these questions:
· Ask open-ended questions. This is pretty basic but it’s a good starting point. In order to help others, listen to the Spirit of God in them and discern His wisdom and guidance. It’s best to allow them to express themselves by asking questions that don’t require simply a “yes” or “no” response. Avoid questions like, Have you given any more thought to your best course of action? or Will you give consideration to the two options we discussed? Instead, open-ended questions can be asked. What do you think is your best course of action? and What do you think are some of the pros and cons of the two options we discussed?
· Ask non-leading questions. When a leading question is asked, the hidden (or not-so-hidden!) message or agenda is placed within the question. As a leader, in many cases, it is wise to not formulate the question in a way that points to the answer you want to hear. It is interesting that Jesus did not ask His disciples, What do you think about My Lordship?
· Ask questions that demand deeper-level thinking. So many daily questions that people are asked relate to the sharing of information – which doesn’t always demand a lot of thought. Relaying facts doesn’t require deeper-level thinking. But asking something like, In what ways will your personal goals affect your family and the people closest to you? This type of question requires the individual to look within their heart and contemplate areas that they probably hadn’t previously considered. Processing powerful questions requires going beyond surface-level thinking.
· Ask non-judgmental questions. What other stupid ideas do you have for the project? is probably not the best question to ask to elicit wide-open honest dialogue. Okay, this is a pretty extreme example of a judgmental question. So, let’s look at this one – Why did you decide to move forward with that idea? This might not automatically cause someone to shut down but it is generally advisable to avoid questions beginning with “why”. Asking “why” can reflect on the person’s motives and could put them on the defensive. Instead, say something like – That’s really interesting. What was your thought process that brought you to that decision? This question allows the individual to reflect on their personal process and also gives insight to the leader as to how their decision-making process works. It could result in new insights for both parties!
· Invite limitless exploration of ideas. Powerful questions open the door to full exploration of thoughts, feelings, ideas, aspirations, impressions and leadings from the Holy Spirit. When the leader provides the person with a safe environment where they can freely express what is on the inside of them, some amazing things can happen. Greater clarity, fresh perspectives and new solutions are only some of the fruits that can be realized!
As leaders, we must not refrain from providing strong and decisive leadership as it is needed. Likewise, we need to be aware of the many opportunities that we have to ask powerful questions and allow those we serve to glean from the wisdom of God within them.
“Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” (Proverbs 20:5)