Category Archives: Questions

True Humility and Love

Really good insight on true humility working out in not being smarmy but in asking questions of the other person!

Years ago I remember a friend telling me that C.S. Lewis once said something to the effect: “When you meet a truly humble person you won’t walk away thinking about how humble he was. You’ll walk away thinking what a great time you had and how much you were able to share about yourself.” I had forgotten that this was from Mere Christianity, until today when Justin Taylor linked to the quote, as did a commenter on this blog. Here’s the real thing:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

Lewis’ point is well taken, and, as always, well put. The humble person does not draw attention to his humility; he draws conversation out of you.

There are hundreds of ways to love and a myriad of ways to demonstrate humility. But one of the most effective ways to accomplish both is to simply ask questions. True, it’s possible to be nothing but a smooth talking salesmen who cares little for the actual person across the table. But every virtue can be faked from time to time. So let’s not let that deter us from giving others the gift of our curiosity.

Almost everyone loves to talk about themselves. So loving others as we want to be loved should entail asking lots of questions. Ask how the couple met. Ask what their kids are like. Ask what their plans are for the summer. Ask what you do with a packaging degree. Ask where they learned to speak French. Ask when they first came to the United States. Ask what they miss about being at home. Ask if they’ve seen any good movies or read any good books. Ask where they’re from and what they are studying in school. Ask about their health and their jobs. Ask about sports or the weather or the local news. In time, ask about Jesus. Ask about their church. Ask about what they’re learning in the Bible. Ask how the difficult conversation went last week.  Ask how you can pray.

Hard for Some, But Doable For All

Yes, I realize that question-asking comes easier for some than for others. But I don’t think it comes easily for most of us. Even the extremely extroverted are rarely extroverted in ways that center on others. I’m a borderline extrovert-introvert (if you pay those tests any mind). I am outgoing around my friends and like to lead. But it’s much easier for me to be in my study than meeting new people. I don’t think I’m the best model for asking questions. My wife is probably better at it than I am. I’m sure too many people who know me could think of stories where I didn’t try very hard to engage them in conversation. But learning to ask good questions and make other-centered conversation is something I work at. And for all those who feel too shy or awkward to launch into question-asking at the oddly-seated wedding reception, I’m here to tell you that loving others with your questions is a skill you can develop.

It wasn’t until the end of seminary that it really dawned on me that I could ask adults questions or lead in conversation. My whole life I had allowed others to draw me out, include me in, or do the hard work of helping others talk. Teachers asked me questions. Parents  asked me questions. Adults at church asked me questions. I was a relational sponge, conversationally inert until someone cared enough to wring me out.

I’m not sure how I learned to ask questions. Maybe I saw it modeled in more mature Christians. Maybe God worked in my heart. Maybe moving across the country by myself gave me more sympathy for outsiders.  Maybe I just figured I need the skill to survive in ministry. Whatever the cause(s), by the time I graduated seminary I found myself more at ease in engaging strangers in conversation. Suddenly I noticed things I hadn’t noticed before, like the newcomer all by herself or the young man in the circle not saying a word. I still don’t think I am the most gifted conversationalist, but I certainly have better ears for listening and know how to ask better questions.

People Need to Talk

I remember reading an essay by Chuck Kloosterman not too long ago where he mused about why complete strangers will disclose so much to him in an interview. He surmised (or maybe it was the man he was interviewing, I can’t remember) that people feel an insatiable need to tell their stories. Most people will tell you more than you might imagine, simply because someone asked.

We are highly verbal creatures. Which is no surprise because we know God because he has spoken to us. Even with all the appropriate cautions about the disembodied relationships taking root in the new social media, the fact remains that most of us would rather talk to a friend over the phone or by email than sit a room together saying nothing. We love and feel loved, to a large extent, through words.

Like a Good Neighbor

And one of the best ways to love others and demonstrate humility in putting their desires before our own is to ask questions. Don’t be the Brian Regan Me-Monster intent on regaling your audience with tales of the airport in Zurich and how you get, like, a thousand emails a day. And while we’re at it, don’t be the One-Word-Willie wither who shuts down conversations with a series of monosyllabic “Fine’s” and “Good’s.” (I’m not saying we should be afraid to talk. Refusing to answer good questions can be as rude as not asking them.)

What I am saying is that most of us need to see conversation as a way to care for others and not as something we wait fo others to do for us. It would be an exercise of courageous humility for many Christians (especially the young) to make the family dinner table or the church foyer an audience of for our questions instead of our quietness. Not to put too fine a point on it, many of us, pastors by no means excepted, need to grow in our ability and desire to simply talk to others. Love your neighbor as yourself and make him the center of your attention.

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21 Questions for Leaders by Tommy Brister

From Tommy Brister.

Several of you will find these questions familiar, but their familiarity does not minimize the piercing factor for this pastor.  I wanted to put them out there in case others might find them helpful.

1.  If our church would cease to exist in our city, would it be noticed and missed?

2.  If all the pastors were tragically killed in a car accident, would the church’s ministry cease or fall apart?

3.  If the only possible means of connecting with unbelievers were through the missionary living of our church members, how much would we grow? (I ask this because the early church did not have signs, websites, ads, marketing, etc.)

4.  What are the subcultures within the church?  Do they attract or detract from the centrality of the gospel and mission of the church?

5.  Is our church known more for what we are not/against than what we are/for?

6.  What are we allowing to be our measuring stick of church health? (attendance vs. discipleship; seating capacity vs. sending capacity; gospel growth, training on mission, etc.)

7.  Are the priorities of our church in line with the priorities of Christ’s kingdom?

8.  If our members had 60 seconds to explain to an unbeliever what our church is like, what would you want them to say?  How many do you think are saying that?

9.  If the invisible kingdom of God became visible in our city, what would that look like?

10.  In what ways have we acted or planned in unbelief instead of faith?

11.  As a pastor, is my time spent more in fixing people’s problems or helping people progress in faith through training/equipping them for ministry?

12.  Are the people we are reaching more religious or pagan?

13.  What can we learn about our evangelism practices by the kind of people are being reached with the gospel?

14.  What will it take to reach those in our city who are far from God and have no access to the gospel?

15.  What percentage of our growth is conversion growth (vs. transfer growth)?

16.  How many people know and are discharging their spiritual gifts in active service and building up of the body of Christ?

17.  How many people do I know (and more importantly know me) on a first name basis in my community and city who do not attend our church?

18.  Am I using people to get ministry done, or am I using ministry to get people “done”?

19.  Is the vision we are casting forth honoring both God’s heart for the lost (builder) and God’s passion for a pure church (perfecter)?

20. If money and space were not an issue, what is one thing we ought to dream for God to do in our midst where it is impossible for anyone to get the credit except for the omnipotent hand of God?

21.  If being a church planting church is comprised of disciple-making disciples, then how are we doing?

Got any other questions that you could add?  Please pass them along

40 Questions for Leadership

I love collecting questions to ask.

HT: Acts 29
Dr. Bruce Wesley who pastors an Acts 29 church, Clear Creek Community Church in League City, TX (Houston) provided forty questions on leadership.

Leadership Accountability Questions

Self Leadership

How are you unique? (calling, gifts, passions, personality, experiences, sin patterns)
How do you stay inspired? How often do you practice this?
How do you preach the gospel to yourself?  (What’s the message in your mind?)
What are the rhythms of grace in your life? (scripture practices, worship, community, Sabbath)
What idols are calling for your worship?
How do you forsake each idol?
What are the lies that you believe in your head?
How is the gospel applied to those lies?

Interpersonal Leadership
Who gets you and why? Who are your guys? (2 Timothy 2:2)
Who do you pray for?  What are you praying for them?
Who are you considering to become one of your guys and what is your plan?
Are you telling the “truth in love” to your guys, consistently?  When do you tend to “spin” something?
Are you “on time” and following through with promises?
Do you say “yes” and “no” with clarity? Who are the people you tend to “please” and why?
How are you discipling each of your children and your spouse?
Who KNOWS you?

Organizational Leadership
What mission and vision has God entrusted to you?
Are you aligned to this mission and vision?
To what extent is your identity wrapped up in your position or your mission?
Where is there “sideways energy” in your life (schedule)?
Do people in your organization know with clarity what you expect of them?
What do you expect of others in your organization?
How do assure that each person under your charge connects expectations to mission?
In what ways do you personify vision and values?
What opportunities did you decline for the sake of mission, vision or values?
What are the stories that define the culture of your organization?  How do you capture these stories?  How are the stories being shared?

Team Leadership
Who is your team?  (Roles, Styles)
Who is going to replace you?
How do you demonstrate your love for each team member?
What dysfunctions on your team are you addressing?
With whom do you sense the most synergy?  How can you maximize that?
With whom do you sense the least synergy?  Why? How are you minimizing that?
Who do you struggle to trust?  Why?  Do you address issues of trust with them?  Why or why not?
What inspires each team member?  (Ask each one, “What aspect of your work brings you the most joy?  What stories do you tend to tell most often?)
Do team members feel empowered to exercise their greatest gifts and talents on the team?

Pastoral Leadership
What does faithfulness in your calling look like for you?
In what new areas are you learning to apply the gospel?
Describe your system for managing your availability and “interruptability.”
How do you develop men by involving them in ministry and making decisions?
What opportunities have you had / taken to herald the gospel in serving others?

Asking Questions to Shepherd – Observation and Open-ended

Often when we shepherd people, we will feel like the Lord has given us something to say but we will not know how to bring it up. Those conversations  in the back of the church building, at the end of a shepherding group meeting, or in the midst of a conversation can be extremely valuable if we are skilled. How are we to handle this situation? To not bring it up is to ignore the person. To barge in is to speak tactlessly and perhaps damage the relationship.  What to do? May I suggest the following, two step pattern that the Lord has taught me through much trial and error?

1. Start with a true observation (s).

2. Follow with an open-ended question.

For example, you might say,

“John, I noticed that last Sunday and this Wednesday you seemed down. “(True observation) “What has been happening lately?” (Open ended question).

“Bob, I was praying through the church list the other week and realized that your name is not on the covenant.” (True Observation) “Are you not a member? What is your thinking on that?”  (Open-ended question).

“Sarah, in shepherding group tonight you said, ‘God never wants us to suffer.'” (True Observation). “What verses do you base that belief on? Help me understand your thinking. ” (Open-ended question).

“Barb, last week you said to me that ‘I am having trouble with my sister-in-law.'”  (True Observation). I have been thinking about that all week. What did you mean by that? ” (Open-ended questions).

“Mary, last year you were wrestling with the issue of baptism.” (Observations). “How did that ever resolve itself? What is your current thinking on that issue?” (Open-ended question).

This type format give you an opportunity to express very real thoughts that the Holy Spirit has put on your heart AND still inquire as to what the other person is thinking. Once you ask the first open-ended question, you can follow up with more questions also.

As we seek to help different ones progress in their faith, may I commend this method to you?

More Questions – This time from Tim Shorey

The use of questions to help people see the needs and issues of their hearts is a common biblical approach to personal care and correction.* It is not the only valid approach but it is an extremely effective one. One of its advantages (in contrast to a more informational and advice-giving approach) is that it allows people to hear their own thoughts and attitudes without having to be told them by others. In this way, under the blessing of the Holy Spirit, the process of conviction goes on more personally and directly.**

If you obtain my full booklet on this topic (Live Together or Die Alone: a Call to Radical Fellowship), you will see an example from my own life of when I was led into seeing my own heart through a brother’s effective use of questions. In that situation, I do not think I would have seen my heart as clearly if I had been approached by someone loaded with observations and words of wisdom or correction to bring to my attention. The use of gentle questions was effective in opening my heart to see my own issues without proud defensiveness or argument.

Here is a list of questions that can be useful for our conversations/fellowship together:
1. What evidences of grace are you experiencing these days (i.e.-clear signs of growth in Christ and joy in the gospel)?
2. What is one specific truth you gained from that sermon or study or book?
3. What is one specific application of it that you plan to make in your life?
4. What are you struggling with these days?
5. What are biblical terms for this struggle?
6. Why do you think you are struggling with it?
7. How might your view of God affect this struggle?
8. How does the gospel affect you in this battle?

More Questions

These are from my mentor, Dave Gadoury.

  1. How would you describe what has been happening in your walk with God in the past months?
  2. What is one joy and one struggles you’re experiencing in your life or ministry?
  3. How would you describe your walk with God in the past year?
  4. Where do you feel you would most like to grow as a Christian?
  5. Could you give me a sketch of your spiritual history?
  6. What’s one thing you discovered recently in your devotional life?
  7. What have been some ups and downs in your spiritual life since coming to Christ?
  8. What do you need from me as a friend and fellow believer to go on to maturity in Christ?

Questions to Stimulate Fellowship Beneath the Surface

The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out. (Proverbs 20:5, NIV)

As a shepherd, we should be skillful in the use of questions to draw out those in our church.  In addition, we need to be equipping others to use questions to draw out others.

I’d like to encourage you to grow in a habit that is sorely needed in our church.  So many, when they get together with other Christians, never get below the surface.  The talk is of the weather, the sports of the season, the big project at work.  Whether this is done at the back of the church building on Sunday, in a living room during the week, or at someone’s house over a meal, this passes in most people’s mind for Christian fellowship.  But somehow, when it says the early church devoted themselves to the fellowship, I can’t believe this is what they were actually doing.  As this shallow talk perpetuates eventually those who have tasted of real fellowship become the minority and what I am about to suggest seems strange rather than the norm.

The word fellowship is the word koinonia which means to share in common.  So fellowship is to share something in common.  The world has “fellowship” everyday around the weather, the big game last night or the latest big work project.  We as Christians share something much deeper, the Lord Jesus and His active work within us.  So true Christian fellowship occurs when we are sharing the Lord Jesus.  And that occurs as we talk about Him and His work within us and listen to others share about His work within them.

The early church devoted themselves to this.  This was not just haphazard. It was something they valued and held dear – on the par of ministry of the word and prayer.  So when a Christian habitually (not occasionally due to illness, etc.) walks out of a service or small group meeting without interacting with other Christians on a deeper level something is missing.  When this characterizes a church, something very important missing.  In the same way, the daily spontaneous connections within a church are so vital.  When these are consistently around something other than the Lord and his kingdom (even good things) then the spiritual level of the church will go down. This is why I am writing you.  The desire to interact on a deeper level comes from the Lord.  But the skills necessary for this to happen can be learned.

How to put this into practice? Arrive early at church (or SG) and plan to stay later than the end of the service.   Both before and after the service breathe a prayer to the Lord asking him to show you who to interact with.   Ask the normal questions that go with regular social interaction but rather than ending the conversation or pursuing those topics further than needed, catch up with them spiritually by asking a spiritually probing question. Remember, Scripture says that the purposes of man’s heart are deep waters but a man of understanding draws him out. Use the ones in the following list that seems most appropriate or that you are most comfortable with.

  1. What has God been doing in your life lately?
  2. What’s been going on with you spiritually this week?
  3. What’s your biggest challenge these days?
  4. How do you see God at work in your family/ the church lately?
  5. What has the Lord impressed on you in the word lately?
  6. What new insight has God given you recently?
  7. What particular praise or promise has God place on your heart recently?
  8. Have you been reading any good books lately?  What have you been learning?
  9. What has the Lord been teaching you lately?
  10. How can I pray for you? (And do pray the following week.)
  11. What are you asking God for that I can pray for along with you?
  12. Tell me something to encourage me!

I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at how open most people will be and the blessings of interacting at this level.  Likewise, most people will ask you that same question in return.  You might write the questions you like best in the flyleaf of your Bible so that it can prompt you if you are at a loss for something to ask.

I cannot tell you how important this type interaction is to the health and strength of a church.  Those times surrounding a service, shepherding group meeting or over at each other’s house for a meal are times when the Lord just seems to stand in your midst, ministering to you and the person you are talking to.  There will be times you will encourage the person, times their answer will be just what you need to hear and there will be times their eyes will well up with tears that someone cares to interact with them on that level.  I urge you to ask the Lord for a desire to minister this way and the skills to ask good questions.