It’s been said before that Jesus’ questions were simple, clear, never condescending, [and] always provocative (Karen Lee Thorp). Have you ever thought about that? Consider:
- Luke 9:18 – Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And Jesus asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
- John 5:6 – When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”
- Matthew 22:42 – saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to Jesus, “The son of David.”
- Luke 18:41 – [Jesus asked] “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.”
- Matthew 21:31 – [Jesus asked] “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.
Thorp identifies 10 principles for asking great questions in her book, How to Ask Great Questions: Guide Your Group to Discovery with These Proven Techniques (NavPress 1998):
- This is a discussion, not a test – Avoid asking people questions that make them feel threatened with a test. Rather, ask to lead towards conversations.
- Avoid leading the witness – Sometimes questions can unintentionally (or intentionally) move someone towards a desired end. Don’t ask with ulterior motives in mind.
- Ask one question at a time – Have you ever been on the frustrating end of someone asking and asking and asking questions without giving you the chance to answer? Enough said.
- Make your questions accessible to everyone – In the context of a spiritual conversation, be careful using too much vocabulary that would be unfamiliar to someone with limited background in the Bible.
- Say what you mean – Rather than beating around the bush to get to the main question, work hard to say what you mean the first time to reduce ambiguity.
- Take the direct route – Similar to #5, good questions are usually direct and to the point.
- Ask open-ended questions – Although it may seem contrary to the above points, the best questions for a healthy conversation cannot be answered with a simple yes or no answer.
- Help people talk to each other – If you are asking questions in a group setting, aim to ask questions in such a way that others feel the freedom to engage with one another, not only with the facilitator.
- Pay attention to details – While your personality may be different (and praise God for that fact!), remember that some people like to ask and keep asking. That’s ok. Digging for details can be helpful.
- Don’t lose sight of the big picture – As much as we can learn a lot from diving into the weeds, good question “askers” also know how to keep the conversation moving. It’s easy to miss the forest because of the trees.
I want to encourage you to pick one or two of these principles and put them to practice the next time you are having a meaningful conversation with someone. Perhaps you will talk with a friend or co-worker member this weekend or maybe you’ll talk with your spouse or child. Whoever the Lord places in your life, I challenge you to use these techniques to dive below the surface of most conversations and explore how you can serve someone at a heart level!