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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Just Asking

I recently attended a conference workshop where the speaker asked a lot of questions. She was talking about postmodernism (yeah, we still have to have the "Postmodernism" talk every time we get together), and sharing from her experience with a postmodern European guy. She presented their interaction as a case study, to illustrate the challenge of cultural translation of the good news. After she told her story she, for the sake of discussion, asked her audience: "So what would you do if you were in my shoes and ministering to this postmodern European guy?"

And then it began.

Instead of taking the speaker's question (she is an excellent communicator, by the way) as a conversation-starter, they heard her asking for advice on how to handle the situation. Never mind the fact that the speaker was asked to speak because of her wisdom and experience in ministry to postmoderns. Never mind that she had already been ministering to this individual for some time. People actually raised their hands and offered their answers to her "problem!"

"Have you tried confronting him about his sin?"
"You should give him a copy of 'Evidence That Demands A Verdict.'"
"I'd move him to the back burner and look for someone more open to the gospel."

I'll admit that I was secretly comforted by the response the speaker received. I've often found myself in the same situation; asking questions to inspire discussion but met with words of advice from an oblivious audience. Until now, I thought it was me.

Now, please don't hear me say that I don't want or need the wisdom of others. I, of all of us, certainly do. But there's something disheartening about interactive discussion being shut down by a know-it-all. More than the answers, I think it's the attitude that ruins things. It's the "I've already got these things figured out. I'll go to the trouble of sharing the solutions with you, but I won't venture to honestly revisit the question." You can almost hear them saying: "Look, I gave you the answer. I solved your problem. If you spend any more time talking about it, you're a fool."

But what that says to people like me (as if there were more than just me) is that the know-it-alls don't really have it figured out at all. They have a working "solution," and either for fear, laziness, or ignorance, won't suffer questioning it again. I never want to be that guy. But for some reason, our subculture often seems to hold "that guy" up as the leader.

I am encouraged, though. It's been a long time since "that guy" has been invited to lead a workshop.

I say, let's ask questions. Even the ones we answered a long time ago. Especially the ones that are scary to ask. Let's, for the sake of discussion, re-ask questions about God and His people from the perspective of know-nothings. I think there's a lot to be learned by asking questions. Don't you?


CharlieMac said...

I love asking questions that make people think. It is very interesting to me that so many times the question I thought I had worded in such a way the answer had to be thought out is answered with a statement right out of the current accepted text.
I alternate teaching an adult men's class with an attorney. he asks questions and then answers them. I ask and shut up. Sometimes the silence gets thick
if the class is really thinking.

knnuki said...

It is sometimes uncomfortable for people to ask questions for which there are not immediate, tidy answers. Which is a shame. There's a good deal of wisdom merely in the art of asking a good question; it's a pity when someone has to ruin that by rushing to conclusions rather than enjoying the question, the ambiguity it brings, the issues it surfaces. I want to be a question-asker, too.

Brittany said...

But for there to be discussion doesn't someone need to take the first step in offering an idea or thought? I agree - it's all in the attitude. A response offered from an attitude that suggests, "Let's figure this out together" differs greatly from an attitude that states, "Here's what you need to do ..." But are all suggestions wrong?

Bob said...

Our little world really has trouble with the idea that somebody doesn't have answers. Complete, tidy, boxed answers. "Successful" people have it figured out, while the little people don't. Unfortunately, I still have yet to see many "answers" really working. We will teach everyone else about church planting, but don't seem to be able to make it work.

Real wisdom means asking questions. It means recognizing that we don't have it figured out. James said real wisdom means living well and living humbly (3:13 MSG). Proverbs tells me over and over (maybe it tells other people this, too) that thinking I have the answers should probably tell me I don't, and that not listening to others is a bad road. That's how I want to live.

I'm with you. Let's ask questions like why aren't there new churches in our part of Europe? Why are we still fighting about new directions that aren't really that new any more? Why can't we acknowledge that we don't have it all figured out and published by LifeWay?

Why are there some Catholics I know who seem to walk closer to God than some Baptists I know? Why do I have such nice stuff in my house when my national pastor friend struggles to survive? Who decided we can't do it this way or that way?

Anonymous said...

i'm glad to see discussion about this topic...questions make me hopeful, not because we have to come up with a fix-all solution, but because we are all journeying together and you might be a little further along than me...or you might see the situation from a differnt perspective.

my question though is(appropriate?!) in this situation do you help facilitate conversation and not just recieve the "silver bullet" answers?


stepchild said...

I think questions can be even more powerful than "answers." Maybe we forget that Jesus responded to some of the biggest questions with questions of his own.

But I agree that question-asking is an art. A good question-asker can expose the Sunday-school answers. At least that's been my experience.

Scratching My Head said...

If you are going to ask questions, you better be prepared for answers! I think I was in the session in question, and I think more than a few people were a bit stunned by the expertise of the speaker and felt compelled to offer alternative solutions--she did ask. Every M has to see themselves as a learner, but aren't we also all leaders? I thought the seminar leader was thought provoking and the discussion was good. I'm not sure what the group could have done to be more "postmodern". Please help out a modern guy learn the new language. Clearly I'm not getting it and I want to.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Stepchild,

I'm sorry I haven't posted for so long. My attention has been given to the IMB conflict, trying to help with a solution. I'm still enjoying reading every one of your blogs.

Love in Christ,


stepchild said...

scratching my head,
Sorry if I said something that made you think I wanted the group to be more "postmodern." I wanted them to be better listeners and better learners than I thought they were.

I agree that we are leaders. But what does being a leader have to do with asking questions? Are you saying that followers ask questions and leaders give answers?

I'm glad to hear from someone who was in the same workshop. Maybe I was the only one who had trouble with it. I agree that it ended up great, but only beacuse the speaker did a brilliant job of responding to the people who patronized her with "Well, you just gotta pray, share the Gospel, and move on" sort of answers.

I guess my point in the original post was just that communication through "questions" is underrated, and that discussion by way of "answers" is overrated and underused in our circles.

Scratching My Head said...


I love your blog and the discussion it stirs up! My point of saying we are all leaders is that we all have something to contribute to the discussion--not final solutions or pat answers. I wasn't really hearing pat or patronizing answers. Maybe it sounds like a pat answer if it is one you don't agree with or one you think doesn't go far enough (fair enough), but isn't that the point of discussion, to allow others to contribute? Perhaps the "answers" to the leaders questions can be couched as "here is one idea, what do you think?" rather than "here is what I would do" or "here is what I think you ought to do." But, her (the leader's) question was "what would you do...?" How else do you discuss or respond to that kind of question in conversation? None of us there were academics discussing theoretical situations. We all deal with the real world and real people, so we all can draw on our own experience to contribute to the discussion.
The biggest issue, IMHO, in that seminar was that several people didn't agree with the speaker's conclusions and approach initially because they didn't understand her terminolgy, especially her use of the word "validate". I think that is what sparked a lot of the initial responses, until she and others explained her terminology. I think people began to realize she wasn't saying this fellow's beliefs were valid as such but that he was "validly" trying to find answers to life and she didn't want to stifle that process. I also think she was intentionally provocative (which is cool). There was a great deal of wisdom and experience in that room besides the speaker. Many had some "valid" things to say and it wasn't only the speaker who helped it come right in the end. I think one purpose in encouraging discussion is in allowing the group to work through the messy process. Maybe everyone is better for it in the end.

stepchild said...

scratching my head,
I appreciate your comments. I am interested to read your thoughts on the workshop. If there was further misunderstanding, maybe that was the problem. Since most of my readers (He said, as if her had several to speak of) weren't there, I'll just try to clarify:

"That's what I did. What would you do?" is, I think, a great discussion starter. Then, people can respond with "Well, in that situation, I would..." (Which is great!)

What I thought I was hearing was "You ought to try..." or "You just need to..."

As I said, maybe I was being too sensitive. Maybe it's just a matter of preference or something.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Stepchild,

To whom do you refer when you write,, "most of my readers"? Do you mean me and your mom? :)

Love in Christ,