When most of us learn the basics of sharing our faith, we learn to articulate information, to explain the key elements of the Gospel or even learn to anticipate common objections and memorize verses to counter opposition. We rarely spend much time learning how to create a conversation within which we can hear what the other person is thinking and feeling.
Jesus was a master at asking questions. He used questions to help people articulate what they wanted from Him. He answered questions with questions. Here are four types of questions that enhance our effectiveness in getting to the real issues people have.
Probing questions go after more information. Jesus encountered a man with a withered hand, who was probably unable to work and provide for himself. Jesus, sensing the Pharisees were waiting for Him to break the Sabbath by healing the man, probed, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to kill?” (Mark 3:1–6). Jesus wanted to probe their hearts, to expose their stubbornness, and to appeal to a higher sense of mercy. By asking rather than accusing, He exposed the hardness of their hearts.
Personal questions help people reveal their inner feelings. Because of the potential for personal questions to expose people, it’s a good idea to word personal questions in a way that asks permission. Mark 8:27–33 records Jesus talking with His disciples as they walked between villages. Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” Then Jesus went deeper, asking, “But what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Jesus wanted them to disclose what they personally thought.
Process questions give the questioner insight into how another person is handling a situation. An 85-year-old woman was informed that she needed dialysis to stay alive. This woman asked her daughter what to do. The daughter gently responded, “Mom, I can’t tell you what to do. The decision needs to be yours.” The mother decided to let nature takes its course.
A friend of mine helped the daughter process these events by asking, “What is it like for you to know your mother is choosing to die?” That helped the daughter process her feelings, by telling someone about the weight she was carrying.
Provocative questions generate thoughtful conversations. One time I said to a group of colleagues, “You all mention the name of Jesus freely. What do you really think about Him?” After the snickers died down, my question provoked a lively conversation. No one had ever asked them before. Over the next several days, conversations about the Lord grew out of this discussion.
Jesus excelled at provocative questions. He sparred with those who tested Him, with those who refused to believe. When the teachers of the law and the elders approached Him and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things?” Jesus answered them with a provocative question: “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!” (Mark 11:27–33). Jesus’ provocative question put them on the defensive.
Provocative questions create conversation and discussion because opinions reside behind statements. And behind statements reside feelings. An energized discussion can allow hidden feelings and opinions to emerge.
Questions open doors into another person’s life, but asking questions requires us to focus on the other person—and implies that we need to listen to and value what the other person has to say.
Excerpted from Let Me Ask You Something by Becky Brodin in the September-October 1997 issue of Discipleship Journal. Used by permission of NavPress.