Bill Mowry

Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

The Three Dumbest Questions I’ve Asked in Disciplemaking

asking-questions

I walked into my teacher training class my junior year of college expecting tools for teaching social studies. You know what I received that first day? One question after another.

My professor was not interested in content or lecturing but in asking questions. He called it the “inquiry” model of teaching. His purpose was to engage us in thinking and asking, not in sitting and listening. That class launched me on a lifetime of asking questions, helping people discover truth for themselves.

Asking questions is more than an educational philosophy. Jesus was the master at asking questions. After all, he asked over 300 questions in the gospels. His questions provoked, clarified, and enlightened. Jesus’s questions drew people into the learning process. I want to model this way of teaching and disciplemaking.

I’ve asked a lot of questions over the years. It’s been said that “There’s never a dumb question.” I know this statement is meant to reduce the fear of asking questions but I’ve asked and used some poor and thoughtless (“dumb”) questions over the years. Here are three examples.

1. Performance questions. Any book or seminar on disciplemaking encourages accountability. This is good and biblical. However, there’s a poor accountability question that I’ve used. The question is, “Did you do (whatever you committed to do) this past week?”

What’s the emphasis of this question? It’s on performance — did you do something? Now there’s nothing wrong with performance, after all, obedience is expected of Jesus’s disciples (John 14:21). But this type of question puts an emphasis on life as a check list — did I do something. What would happen if we turned this question into a relationship question?

Relationship questions focus on the heart. For example, instead of asking “Did you do _______?” ask instead, “What did you learn (about God, yourself, others) by doing _________?” “How did this action draw you to the Lord?” “What did you discover about your motivation for doing ________?”

Asking heart questions will naturally reveal whether someone followed through on an action (the purpose of accountability) but the emphasis is on relationship not performance.

2. The same old questions. When I conducted my research for my master’s degree in adult education, I attended a lot of church classes, seminars, etc. As part of my research, I recorded all the questions asked by teachers. After reviewing hundreds of questions, I discovered that two questions were the over-whelming favorites of adult teachers.

The questions were “what” and “how.” “What do you observe in the passage?” and “How can you apply it?” Now, these are important questions but their constant usage does little for the adult learner.

Let’s mix it up. Let’s ask questions to:

Analyze. “Why do you think ____________?”

Correlate. “What other verses would add insight to ___________?”

Imagine. “What if ____________?”

Define. “What do these words mean?”

Repetitive questions, asking the same ones over and over, puts a damper on learning. They do not engage disciples in thinking, reflecting, or imagining. Put some zest in your disciplemaking times and ask some different questions.

3. Guess-what-I’m-thinking questions. I catch myself asking these questions a lot. I want people to provide my pre-determined answer. Sometimes these questions are hard to spot but generally people know when asked a guess-what-I’m-thinking question.

Guess-what-I’m-thinking questions are phrased in such a way that there’s only one right answer and someone needs to guess what I think is the right answer. For example, a Navstaff friend asked me this question, “What do you think is the most important thing to do as a leader?

It was obvious that he had an answer in mind. With a slight smile, I replied, “No I don’t know Jeff. Why don’t you tell me what you think is the most important?” As a friend I could be this direct.

Guess-what-I’m-thinking questions are convergent questions. They “converge” to one right answer — usually the answer that I’ve pre-determined for people to arrive at. What’s the opposite of a convergent question?

We must ask divergent questions; divergent questions explode a subject. These questions do not have just one answer but engage people in thinking and exploring. For example, “What have you observed about the most important things a leaders should do?” A question like this opens up discussion rather than fishing for the right answer that I think people should arrive at.

We all want to be imitators of Jesus in His life and ministry. Here’s a simple but overlooked way to model the Master — ask good questions… and avoid my mistakes! Poor questions encourage performance not heart, bores people by repetition, or leads people to guess what I’m thinking. Take time to expand your question tool box, asking heart-felt, diverse, and exploratory questions.

2 Comments

  1. Great article Bill. You must have read “The Questions Jesus Asked,” by an author whose name escapes me now. He gave the 300 questions stat, but added: “Jesus only DIRECTLY answered 3 questions asked of Him.” Hmmm??? And His favorite questions was: “What do you want me to do for you?” How would you answer Him right now? What does your answer say about you? If no ready answer what does that say about you?
    We’re enjoying the Couples Class you lead. Haven’t felt entirely released from the Young Adult ABF. We’d like to be in a class that needs us. We’re checking on the HomeStarters class too.

  2. Thanks Bill. Your thoughts are helpful. I particularly liked your comments on the “Guess what I’m thinking” questions. They are ubiquitous and I have been guilty of asking them too — to no good effect that I can see. Those kinds of questions are not very helpful and I am trying to change my ways, but with inconsistent success. I appreciate your thoughtfulness concerning the other types of questions too. You are a blessing.

    Andy

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