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The Art of Asking Questions

The Art of Asking Questions

I think most people would say that a lot of theological training is centered around a combination of a few things: proper biblical interpretation, pursuing Christ-like character and leadership, and preaching/teaching. And I believe most of us would say these are worthwhile pursuits! During my husband’s time in seminary, he learned all those things and so much more, and we would both describe his time in seminary as a beautiful season of life full of rich spiritual formation. Whether you have received a formal theological education or attended conferences or trainings in the past, almost all of us would agree that those environments hold incredible value for pastors and church leaders.

If you had asked me when I started in full-time ministry almost 7 years ago what I needed to grow in as a minister, I would have told you that I needed to grow in having a more robust knowledge of Scripture. I needed to grow in my ability to preach God’s Word in a way that was clear and connected with students. This is what I saw those in ministry around me prioritize, and this is what nearly every conference I had been to centered on, so that’s where I focused my efforts. I still believe both of those things were true for me as a young minister; however, there was one thing that surprised me as time went on. There was one area that I recognized I really needed to grow in, and I realized after a while that many other ministers and pastors needed to as well. As I began to meet with students regularly, I realized that I knew how to tell students about Jesus and His Word, but I was not very good at asking the right questions to get them to engage with and think deeply about Jesus and His Word.

Discipleship looked a lot like asking the same questions over and over and then filling in the gaps for them after they shared (or even just answering it for them altogether if they didn’t know). I began to realize that the art of question-asking was a skill I had not developed but one I desperately needed if I was going to try to be more effective in engaging students in discipleship. Once I realized this, I began to look at Jesus’ ministry. I saw how He skillfully and intentionally used questions to prick the hearts of His audience and invite them to look inward and evaluate their hearts. He asked questions like, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15) to the disciples. “Do you love me?” (John 21:17) to Peter after His resurrection following Peter’s betrayal. And “Do you want to be healed?”  to the paralytic (John 5:6). Jesus asked so many powerful questions that made an enormous impact on those He was speaking to. I believe that if we want to maximize our impact on students through discipleship, we have to follow His example and grow in the skill of question-asking.

In 1999, a Christian psychologist named David Powlison published an article in The Journal of Biblical Counseling called X-ray Questions: Drawing Out the Whys and Wherefores of Human Behavior. I stumbled upon this article in that season of pursuing growth. For years, I have taken questions from this article, personalized them, and adjusted their language to make them my own and personally fit my students. It has single-handedly been one of the most powerful and practical resources I’ve ever used, and it has been instrumental in growing in the skill of question-asking. Here are some examples from the article of great questions you can equip yourself with and personalize for your students:

  1. What are your plans, agendas, strategies, and intentions designed to accomplish?
  2. What really matters to you? Around what do you organize your life?
  3. Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, pleasure, and security?
  4. Whose performance matters? On whose shoulders does the well-being of your world rest? Who can make it better, make it work, make it safe, and make it successful?
  5. Who must you please? Whose opinion of you counts? From whom do you desire approval and fear rejection?
  6. Where do you find your identity? How do you define who you are?

Questions like these can be launch pads into potentially life-changing conversations because they are invitations for students to evaluate their hearts and discover for themselves that Jesus is the One they truly need to meet their soul’s deepest desires for love, acceptance, purpose, comfort, security, identity, and significance. In my experience, we are ministering to a generation that puts a very high value on understanding and having their own thoughts and opinions. They begrudge the idea of being forced to think a certain way or do a certain thing, and they crave the individuality of making their own choices. While this reality may often feel like a hurdle you have to overcome as a youth worker, I believe it is actually the very thing that God will use to empower our young people to be more confident, bold, and courageous in their faith. I pray you are challenged to meet your students where they are to help them discover for themselves the beauty and adventure of knowing and following Christ.

 Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:

  • How can question-asking be better implemented in your discipleship ministry?
  • What tools do you have to help equip your volunteers or staff with the skill of question-asking?

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