A ransom note isn’t a question. It might use words like “please” or “I was wondering if…”, but in the end it means, “if you don’t do this, I’m going to hold it against you / hold it over your head”.
When people ask you one of these questions; questions that sound like questions but seem to carry a ransom note tone to them… its worth just asking if you’ve heard them right. “Is this a question that you’re happy for me to decide either way?”, “Are you going to be completely ok with whatever I choose?”, “Are you asking me what I think, are are you really just trying to tell me what you think?”
Chances are they don’t realise they’re giving you a ransom note. That’s ok… But don’t simply answer every question assuming its a real question.
How’s your church going? How would you test it? What measurement would you use? Who would you ask? What about the individuals? How’s that person going; with godliness, prayerfulness, living out of grace not law, being generous?
But, what happens as you test for those things? What happens when you ask people how they’re going with bible reading? What happens when you ask people about their gospel motivations?
It affects them… it brings an area of their relationship with God to the fore and causes them to dwell on it. And you can never really know where they were at… in fact, they can’t really tell you where they were at with those things – because they weren’t thinking about them.
This is why good churches try to build a culture of people asking each other how they’re going. Those very questions change the results.
*Yes, you might call it “The Observer Effect Church” – but “Heisenberg’s Church” sounds so much cooler… We’ve just got to work out what the complementary properties of a church are… any ideas?
Whether you’re leading a growth group, preaching a sermon or just a one on one… don’t just say everything and rely on people’s hearing and memory. If they are listening to you, they’ll be able to finish your sentence.
What’s more; people remember what they say 1000% more than they remember what others say. You ask someone what they learned in your GrowthGroup last night, and they’ll rattle off WHAT THEY SAID – regardless of what the passage/study was about.
Also, getting people to finish your sentences forces them to do serious thinking; it requires listening, understanding, integration, creativity, boldness and humility. Don’t deny them that.
Lastly, if you let people finish your sentences, there’s even a chance they’ll find a word that picks up everything you want, but communicates it even… ?
When it’s clear someone has a concern, the longer it takes to get the concern out of them, the more likely there is that there’s other concerns still sitting behind that one.
Once you’ve started digging, and they’re opening up about the issue they have with you, or church, or whatever… squeeze the pus. Keep creating space to let them get it all out. Keep thanking them for their opinion, thanking them for having the guts to come and talk to you, keep asking if there’s anything else.
It might even be worth getting to a certain point and writing it down; “So you’ve raised a few issues… first it was X, then you raised A, B and C. I’m really glad I got to hear those. Is there anything else?”
If you can help Christians answer this question for themselves, for their own lives and their own ministry involvement, you help them take a big step towards maturity as they face fear with the god who provides and promises to look after them, even while their worst fears come true before their eyes.
I reckon this is the big question to get people to answer for themselves as they approach thinking about doing MTS and a life of full-time ministry. If they can identify their deepest fears about giving their life to the work of the gospel, it might not make the decision easier, but it will afford them the chance to grow in their love and dependence on God.
Don’t ask it straight off the bat… You gotta work to get that deep.
Whether you’re in a small group or answering questions from out the front, this is a good rule of thumb.
If someone asks a question, and assuming its a genuine question, you don’t want to beat around the bush or make them feel any more stupid than they probably already do. So just answer the question as simply as you can. That might mean you don’t go into details and just give a big principle answer. That’s ok. But try not to answer with a question unless you really need more info to be helpful.
But many times people don’t use question time to ask questions (or they hide their statement in a question like, “wouldn’t you say that…”). These people want to comment, make a statement. Many times these statements can be really helpful. Many times they are not.
How do you respond to statements? Most people respond by making another statement. But it might be better to answer with a question. Not a direct question, but a hypothetical question. A principle question.
For example, “Thanks for that comment, we do want to love people like you’ve said,but a question we have to keep asking ourselves is how will those people fare on the last day when Jesus returns if we don’t try and tell them hope Jesus offers them now.”
You can take the comment, deal with it, and respond with a hypothetical question that allows you to move on.
Sometimes, the best apologetic is just to make your opponent believe you understand their issue. Validate their question, spend time convincing them you really do understand their question. If you don’t do this, they won’t believe you’ve thought about your answer.
If you do work hard at clarifying and understanding their question, there’s always the chance they’ll see their own inconsistencies before you do.
Whatever the group, big or small, whole church or growth group, it has a culture.
There’s a commonly agreed way things are. A commonly held idea about how things happen; evangelism, bible reading, singing, everything. You only notice it when someone does something different and all of a sudden it seems weird to everyone else.
So its worth getting a few observant people together and get them to answer that hard question… what’s become normal for “us” and are we happy with that as our normal?
If someone asks you a difficult question, or a personal question, or an emotionally charged question, chances are they’re not going to be listening to what you say.
Instead, all that’s going to be going through their mind is… How will he deal with my feelings? How will he feel about me after I ask this question?
By asking a question, they’re really putting themselves out there. So don’t leave them hanging. Reflect their emotions back to them. State the feelings behind the question. E.g. “I can imagine that could have taken a lot of courage to ask that. Thank you.”
Only after you’ve dealt with their feelings and fears have you then got the opportunity to answer their question.
As a general rule, people who end up in Full-time paid ministry are they type of people who can either say “yes” to everything (and get it done), or they’re the type of people who feel comfortable saying “no” to things that others want them to do.
If that’s you, that means your weird!!!
Most people can’t deal with saying “yes” everything, and most people don’t feel comfortable saying “no” when asked to do something.
Now, simply stating that people should feel comfortable saying “no” misses the point. You know that, because you probably find it easier than most, or you’ve learnt how to do it for years.
So, understand you’re different and that people probably aren’t all like you. And after you thank God, help them work out whether they should be saying “no”.
Not every time, but sometimes, its really helpful to ask people to translate their feelings into numbers… just a simple scale of 1-10.
It’s great because it avoids too-positive and too-negative assumptions. When someone says, “Yeah, I’m ok” what do they really mean? Can you trust your gut to read their facial expressions and non-verbal cues? The fact is, I’ve been married for 14 years, and I still have trouble working out how “ok” Julie is when she says she’s “ok”. So how do you expect to know your staff, your members.
So ask them to put it on a scale… “1-10 How are you dealing with this? 1 being a complete mental breakdown, 10 being like you don’t even think about it?”
If their “ok” turns out to be a 3, you’re going to deal with them and help them very differently to if they’re a 7.
And the good thing is, there are loads of categories; how tired are you feeling? What’s your energy levels? etc..
“Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things’” Matt 21:27
We have a very peculiar cultural rule; that if someone asks you a question, you have to answer that question. We seem to think we’re somehow obliged to answer, as though we’re permanently standing in some courtroom with a lawyer saying, “Answer the question please… and do remember, you’re under oath”.
But you’re not.
A valid answer to some questions is simply, “I don’t feel comfortable telling you that.”
In fact, I believe that many times, that is the best and most loving answer to give. It protects people, both the hearer and the speaker. It may even be protecting other people.
What’s the big theological principle behind this? Simply this… “everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” Matt 12:36
You don’t have to answer every question you get asked, because you only have to answer to God.
If you’re in pastoral ministry; teaching the bible, meeting up with people, etc., you start to loom large in people’s eyes. And that’s not bad per se. It’s partly how God has made humans. But it requires some important caveats.
If you ask people a question, especially a personal question about sin or their personal struggles, they will feel obliged to tell you – even if they don’t really want to. They will feel more obliged to tell you (their pastor) than someone else.
Now, on one hand, that’s simply their problem. They “should” know that you’re not their priest, and they don’t need confess to you if they don’t want to. Jesus is their Lord, and you’re just a brother or sister, offering a chance to talk – that they don’t have to take up if they don’t want to.
And that’s the key… You (as their pastor) know they don’t HAVE to answer to you, confess to you, share their struggles with you. But do they know that?!? Have you pastored them to know that? Maybe not?
So do still ask those hard questions (because they’re good questions to ask), but be humble enough to also say, “Don’t tell me if you don’t want to”.
Help them to make the decision themselves, not just let you make it for them.
Most questions get asked because of wrong assumptions. They’re still good questions. They’re not stupid questions. But people ask them because what you’re telling them doesn’t fit with their existing believes, and they assume you’re wrong.
So that’s why the best answers to questions (especially in public “question time” type things, or in walk-up situations) don’t immediately answer the question.
Instead, before you answer, start with your own system or grid. Two Ways to Live is a great one to start with.
Are they asking about sin? Talk about box 2.
Are they talking about knowing God? Talk about box 1, and then box 4.
Are they talking about life after death? Talk about box 5.
This doesn’t cover everything, but the principle is that there’s usually some important element they haven’t got that’s led to the question. So start with your system, and move to their issue.
One great question answer-er I knew once said, “There’s only about 10 questions, but those same questions keep getting asked in different ways”