The Single Most Important Habit for Growing, Thoughtful Christians

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

Recently we had a delightful young couple in our home for dinner. They told us the story of serving in a discipleship school in Italy. With high hopes they had raised support and moved to the school. Quickly, it became a difficult situation mainly because they asked questions which were not “allowed.” After two years of trying to make it work, they returned to the States wounded and broken by a Christian organization that didn’t know how to deal with genuine questions.

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I have a friend who also asked too many questions of the leadership of a Christian nonprofit organization. Conflicts arose not because questions were asked but because certain people did not want to deal with the questions themselves. He is now working a “secular” job and loving it.

You may have your own stories about asking questions when that sort of activity was not welcome. It seems to be prevalent in Christian organizations and churches. Growing up in a fundamental Baptist atmosphere, I was not encouraged to ask questions except the kind that would advance an agenda like, “What do Baptist’s believe?” If it ever turned into something like, “Why do they believe that?” “Where did that idea come from?” or “What is the real meaning or consequence of that idea?” then the discussion turned into a debate about who’s interpretation of the Bible was right. It was better not to ask.

So, most of my Christian friends never ask tough questions of their church, denomination, leaders, or even the Bible. They just go along with the prevailing teaching of the moment. As a result, they get stuck, stagnant in their Christian walk.

However, good questions need to be asked. Good questions are a mark of an eager learner. When we stop being a learner we stop being a Christian. Good questions make us good Christians. Like children, it’s the simplest and most effective way of learning. Yet, it is frequently forgotten as one gets older. Maybe this was an aspect of faith Jesus was addressing when He challenged His followers to have a “childlike faith.”

What is a Question?

  • a sentence, phrase, or word that asks for information or is used to test someone’s knowledge
  • a matter or problem that is being discussed
  • a subject or topic
  • doubt or uncertainty about something

This is one of the challenges of raising the issue of asking questions. The listener may not know what kind of question is being asked. They may see the question as a threat when it may simple be introducing a matter for discussion. The question may be due to doubt or not. The question may be for clarification not to be confused with a personal attack.

He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever – Chinese proverb

WHY is good?

Simon Sinek has made a career of helping people ask “Why.” He writes:

Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. When I say WHY, I don’t mean to make money – that’s a result. By WHY I mean what is the purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? and WHY should anyone care? (Start With Why, 2009, p.39) 

WHY do I exist as a human being? WHY am I a Christian? WHY does the Church exist? WHY do I interpret the Bible the way I do? WHY do I sin? WHY do I believe? Don’t settle for pat answers. Keep asking WHY.

Yet, this is only the beginning.

Good questions lead the learner on a journey in which there is a balance between content (who, what, when) and process (how, why).

What is good Questioning?

Nicola Watts, freelance strategy and research consultant, highlights how to master the art and science of asking effective questions. We can learn from her — 

1. Create an environment where curiosity is welcomed and rewarded.

2. Become a keen observer of everything you see, hear, and experience.

3. Look at the world with fresh eyes, question the familiar, assume nothing is obvious.

4. Understand the power of different types of questions – how they should be used and when.

5. Keep asking why until you can go no further.

I’ll add #6: Truly listen to the answer to your question. Do you really understand the answer? Does the answer create more questions? Ask those as well. Keep asking. Keep learning.

Christian organizations and churches would do well to heed #1. Individual Christians need to apply #2-5, especially #3: “assume nothing is obvious.”

Why don’t we ask questions? 

What makes this difficult for churches and church leaders is that they may assume too much when a question is asked. They think a question is asked because a person is being disloyal, rebellious, or obstinate. They may fear the person is doubting God or their “right” understanding of God.

A big problem for the person with questions is that they don’t know what questions to ask or how to ask them. But usually, they don’t ask for fear of being labeled, dismissed, or “blackballed.”

Paul Sloane, innovative thinking expert, asks the question: Why don’t we ask questions? Here are his answers:

  • Laziness – people assume they know all the main things they need to know. Why bother to ask more? They cling to beliefs and remain certain of their assumptions. Dr. K: Is this not THE main reason most Christians do not ask questions? They already know what they believe. Don’t confuse them with the facts!?!
  • Perception – people don’t want to appear weak, ignorant, or unsure. They like to give the impression that they are decisive and in command of the relevant issues. In fact, asking questions is a sign of strength and intelligence. Dr. K: Been here; done that! This is really a pride thing.
  • Busyness – people don’t slow down to ask, research, or study. They rush headlong because life is short and things need fixing. Dr. K: We’ve got to do ministry. People need Jesus. That’s all that matters. Questions distract us from our real mission of winning the world to Jesus.

And, I’ll add:

  • Fear – for two reasons: 
  1. People are afraid of the answers. They might find out they are wrong or have been misguided. That means they would have to change. They don’t want to change. 
  2. People fear being labeled, dismissed, or “blackballed.”

What are good Questions?

  • Open vs closed – they inspire discussion and reflection  – How can kindness be expressed in everyday life? vs. Do you express kindness everyday?
  • Essential vs superficial – they seek to elicit deeper issues – Why do you think you react to disagreement like that? vs. What disagreements do you have with him?
  • Genuine vs accusatory – Almost any question can be accusatory. It’s the tone of the questioner more than the question itself. These questions could be asked either way: Why do you believe that? Are you sure? What is the problem?

It’s unfortunate that asking too many questions can get you into trouble especially with Christians. Yet, ask you must. When good questions, even those outside the box, come to you search out answers. You’ll grow as a Christian that way. Don’t settle for the status quo and the pat answer. Keep asking why. 

 Intelligent questions stimulate, provoke, inform and inspire. — Paul Sloane

Be a catalyst for change, for yourself and/or for your community or family, by asking good, effective questions.

Dr. K