When most of us think of ways to help others grow in their faith in Christ, we think primarily in terms of what we have to offer to them. Discipleship for many of us has been primarily a one way street of information imparted from us to them. And this is good, as well as necessary. Jesus often stands up and preaches in the synagogue or to the crowd. Paul taught all night in Acts 20. But what if the people we desire to grow more into the image of Christ need more than for us to impart information? Certainly not less than imparting information! But what if they also need for us to enter into conversation with them through asking good questions?
I’m convinced that asking good questions is the soil for Christian growth. Notice that questions neither give the growth, nor are they the growth themselves. Rather, questions are the soil in which growth can happen through God’s inspired Word (i.e. impartation of information) and the power of his Holy Spirit. I think we see this in many places throughout Scripture in many different forms and functioning for many different purposes.
How can asking questions be a helpful companion to sound teaching, or some form of imparting information? Questions naturally lend themselves to internalization. In order to answer a question, there must be thought. Thought brings about ideas that interact with beliefs. Beliefs (depending on the subject) are connected with emotions. Emotions are connected with the heart. When you begin to ask others intentional questions that flow from the Word, then you are tilling the soil of Christian growth. Truth enters into the thought processes introducing (potentially) new ideas that interact with beliefs, which draw out emotion concerning the ideas, and ultimately begin to expose the condition of the heart.
For example, suppose you are talking with a couple of people about sinfulness. You are discussing Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden and how since then, sin has corrupted the world. This leads to further discussion about the nature of humans, and with Romans 3 in mind, you ask, “Would you say that all people are totally sinful and unable to do good apart from Christ?” This forces them to think about it. They weigh the idea that mankind is totally sinful against their belief – perhaps that humans are essentially good. As this new idea interacts with their belief, their emotions may come to the surface. Remember that while emotions are never the means by which truth penetrates the heart with change, they often expose the beliefs of people’s hearts. In this particular example, suppose that they become defensive and a little bit angry. “Wait a second… are you trying to tell me that out of the billions of people on this planet, not one does good?” Their tones and facial expressions give them away – they do not like this new idea. But through your question, they have been forced to deeply consider the idea. You (hopefully) have gently and lovingly challenged their preconceived notion in such a way that they are driven to wrestle with this scriptural truth that is so hard for them to swallow. And now, you also have a good idea of what they believe, which will inform your approach to future discussions with them.
Earlier, I emphasized that growth in Christ does not come only through imparting information. However, information is an obvious component of Christian growth. How? This is where it comes together. It is not to say that information is not important and essential in the discipleship process. It is to say that the main concern should not be on transference of knowledge, but on transformation of heart. The one serves the other. Part of the goal, then, is to be able to see what areas people need to grow in, and then begin to plot out how to help guide them there through asking really good questions and conversing with them about those questions. This then leads to opportunities to impart biblical truth in a (hopefully) relevant and penetrating way. Your questions become a way of teaching truth and imparting information that is needed, but in a way that hopefully takes truth to the heart, where true Christian growth takes place.
We want to encourage you to begin listening more intently to what the people you are discipling are going through, ask the Lord to show you the needs of their heart, and then begin to ask intentional questions that are filled with the truth of God’s Word. As you begin to do this with others, seek to do this in your own life. Whether studying the Bible, sitting at work, or even after a disagreement with your spouse, begin to listen in each situation and ask good questions. I am convinced that asking good questions is the soil for Christian growth.