The Value of a Good Question
I am lousy with math. I have trouble counting along with Big Bird. My extended family assumes that is why I married an accountant. I avoid numbers. This explains why high school algebra frustrated me. I just wanted the teacher to tell me if my answer was right (or more likely wrong). What I didn’t want to hear was, “So, Lynn, why do you think that answer is right?” Sigh. I would have to reason through the steps to justify my answer.
In the process I learned something.
What my teacher did was nothing new. Socrates, one seriously old Greek philosopher, was known for teaching by asking questions. We often think the quickest way to learn is to read a book or sit through a lecture, but Socrates would ask his pupils questions. The questions forced them to think critically and come up with their own insights.
Teach by asking. Socrates’ approach works just as well in a small group Bible study. Asking a good question requires group members to think. And when they think, they process and internalize the truth of Scripture. Let’s admit it: we’ve all sat through a Bible study lecture that we heard but didn’t really think about. Questions will challenge your group to think … and get them talking about what they’re thinking.
Consider these questions that have been interwoven into a study of James 1:1-4:
- What pressures squeeze the joy out of life?
- What keeps you from reacting joyfully when the pressure of life feels overwhelming?
- What emotions did you feel during your most recent trial?
- During your most recent trial, how did you see God walking with you?
- How have you been encouraged by the endurance of others during trials?
Note some traits of these questions:
- They don’t call for a single right answer. A question with only one correct answer will feel like a school test question.
- They don’t have an obvious answer. Group members may need to ponder it for a moment before they answer.
- They don’t call for a quick, short answer. In other words, they’re designed to spark a conversation.
- They call for a personal response. I love questions that begin “What do you think …?” Even if you ask, “What do you think Paul meant when he said …,” you’re not asking for one right answer; you’re asking what they think.
Isn’t that dangerous? What happens if their discussion and conclusions move away from biblical teaching? Your role as the group leader is to keep them tuned to what the Scripture says. Give the group the passage’s context and background as necessary, and guide them to think through the Scripture. But never tell them something they can discover on their own. Which brings me to my last point.
We remember best what we discover on our own. You’ve had this experience. In your personal Bible reading, you read a passage that you’ve read and heard preached a dozen times before. But on this particular morning, it’s like you’re reading it for the first time. The light comes on. You have a fresh insight, one that makes you say, Ah, I get it. It’s an “aha” moment, and what we learn in those moments are the things we remember best.
When we tell our group what the Bible says or how to apply it, we rob them of their own “aha” moments. On the other hand, a good question makes them think the passage through, and we lead them to create their own “aha” moments.