Jesus was and is a master of the well-placed question. In his ministry, we see him use questions that range from simple to stumpers, from setting up a new topic of conversation to challenging the motives or deep-seated assumptions of both his opponents and his disciples. He can reframe a problem, or empower a person to realize the truth and speak it out, just by using the right question. There is something incredibly powerful about the way this engages people’s wills and intentions. It is hard to be passive in an interaction with Jesus when he asks questions like: “Do you want to get well?” “Do you believe I am able to do this?” “Who do you say that I am?”
For us, too, questions can be powerful tools for discipleship. In our recent coaching webinar, Tom Camacho, our Multiply Vineyard coaching specialist, explained,
“Questions are the tools that you are mining with. You are trying to get below the surface and the easy quick answers. Asking insightful questions is a skill we develop so the person thinks more helpfully about their problem.”
Asking great questions like Jesus does is a skill that can be learned, both by listening to the Holy Spirit in the moment, and by practicing good question-asking techniques. Here are a few tips from our coaching experts to help you hone your skills.
This might go without saying, but it’s important. You may have great insights to share, but try to wait before doling them out. Give ample space to the other person to speak, and really pay attention to what they say.
2. Ask “what else?”
As you listen to people talk, watch for a spark—do they seem particularly passionate, excited, distressed, or confused about something? Stay in tune with the Holy Spirit to help you see where there is more to their story. Then ask questions to open them up on that subject: “Tell me more,” or “what else?” or “I’d like to hear more about that.”
3. Ask open questions.
An open question asks for more than a yes/no answer. In Luke 10 starting in verse 25, open questions help Jesus steer the conversation about neighbors in both deeper and in a different direction by asking who in his story acted like a neighbor. He uses an open question, “who do people say I am?,” to initiate a discussion with his disciples about his identity, leading to Peter’s affirmation that Jesus is the messiah.
You can use open questions in a similar way to get below the surface in your conversations with people. Phrases like, “what do you think about…,” “what did you notice…,” “why do you think you feel that way about…” can all help initiate conversations that go to the heart.
4. Ask questions that look forward, not backward.
When confronted with people who are sick or needy Jesus often asks them what they want, not how they got that way (it is the bystanders, not Jesus, who want to know exactly who in the blind man’s family is to blame for his blindness).
When someone says “this is not working and I need help,” don’t just rehash what’s not working (this can be helpful to talk about, but don’t start there). Instead, ask what their preferred future is—”what will it mean to you to stop yelling at your family?” “What would it look like if you had a healthy, biblical way of handling money?” Help them get new insight by looking ahead to where they want to go and encourage them to dream. What do they hope for? What are they looking forward to? By asking these questions, you are helping them move away from de-motivating guilt and regret, and toward hope and vision for the future. By asking these questions, you are helping them move away from de-motivating guilt and regret, and toward hope and vision for the future.
By asking these questions, you are helping them move away from de-motivating guilt and regret, and toward hope and vision for the future.
5. Reframe the problem.
People often hold hidden assumptions and have a limited perspective on their situation. Use discernment and stay in dialogue with the Holy Spirit to see where these might be. Ask questions that will help them see where those assumptions are, or help them see the problem from a different angle. “Is that the only option you have?/Is there another way to do that?” “Why do you need to do things in this way?” People often overlook, discount, disqualify, or forget potential solutions and sources of help in their lives because they have created boundaries around the problem that are too narrow. Your questions can help them redraw those boundaries.
Jesus does this often—flipping around the way people understand keeping the Sabbath, or paying taxes, or being neighborly. As you reframe or clarify problems, people will often say, “oh that’s a good question,” because you have helped them see a side of the problem they hadn’t considered yet.
Like with any tool, you become more effective at using questions in discipleship the more you practice. If this is something you’d like to get really good at, try using these techniques for the next couple weeks, and see how it affects your effectiveness as a discipler. And, for more great ideas about how to disciple and raise up leaders, check out the webinar we did on those topics a while back.