Leverage the Power of Questions
Questions create a powerful learning environment. They encourage people to tell their stories and establish a safe, relaxing conversational tone. When we talk too much or become too directive during a discussion, people lose the benefits of self-discovery and deeper learning that are the hallmarks of group interaction. It might take longer than simply telling them the truth, but when we do that, the learning process is thwarted.
Here are some common kinds of questions that can help:
Closed questions are questions of fact and are right or wrong. “Where was Jesus when he raised Lazarus from the dead?” Answer: “Bethany.” End of discussion. Closed questions are necessary to establish some basic truths and verify that everyone is on the same page. For example, “What two things does this passage say about faith?” is an important question for clarity, but will likely generate little discussion.
By contrast, open questions invite conversation, opinions, and dialogue. Read Luke 9:18: “Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ ”
Read the rest of the passage and you’ll see this invited a variety of responses from those around Jesus. In general, open questions make everyone feel like an expert because we’re asking about their opinion or point of view.
A question like, “When Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies’ what comes immediately to your mind?” doesn’t have one correct answer. Another example is: “If Christians were really known by our love for one another, how might that create opportunities to connect with our neighbors?” That question may even prompt some action.
Transformational discussions move to a deeper level when we use guiding questions that invite people to look at their hearts and weigh how they will pursue life change by putting truth into action, changing a behavior, or dealing with a destructive pattern. Open questions open hearts and get discussion going, but guiding questions move the discussion deeper.
In response to a conflict situation shared by a group member, for example, you might say: “What would it look like, Kevin, if you asked her to meet and discuss the problem over a cup of coffee?” Or you might go deeper about the whole group by asking, “That’s a great thought, Rachel, and it prompts a question. How might our group look if we each begin to live the way of life you just described?”
These questions not only seek further insight and understanding, but often challenge people’s assumptions or beliefs. Probing is not passing judgment or creating unnecessary tension just for tension’s sake. It’s motivated by the desire to help group members look deeply at themselves or their situation when they seem to be avoiding reality or excusing actions they already know are required. Probing seeks greater understanding so we can love people, but also so we can “spur one another on to love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24). Here are two examples: