The next time you’re discussing your Christian convictions, do what Jesus did: Ask a question. He did that a lot, in fact. He asked questions of both friend and foe. Why? Questions are powerful.
Missiologist Paul Weston counted the number of questions Jesus asked during evangelistic conversations in the Gospels. The total was 284. That’s a lot of questions for someone who has a lot of answers. He, after all, is the Creator of the universe and has insight into the most fundamental of all of life’s questions. Despite His potentially unlimited knowledge, He routinely asked questions—instead of merely making statements—to help others understand His message.
We, of course, know far less. We should take a cue from our Master. Use questions as a foundational means of communicating. It’s a powerful tool that’s easy to use. In fact, there are at least four benefits to asking questions.
- Questions can be disarming and inoffensive. When you tell a person what you want them to think or believe, it’s common for them to get defensive. Their walls go up, and they become resistant to what you’re trying to say. It’s almost a reflexive reaction. Ask a question, though, and they become more open to engaging your idea. That’s because questions come across as disarming. They’re not aggressive if you ask them correctly. They can make people lower their defenses because you’re not coming across as dogmatic about your beliefs. It’s a mark of humility when you ask them for input through a question. Plus, it shows you value them as fellow image-bearers of God.
- Questions can tell you what a person believes and why they believe it. This is the core of the Columbo tactic you’ve probably heard us at Stand to Reason talk about. “What do you mean by that?” and “How did you come to that conclusion?” are simple yet powerful questions that clarify a person’s position and their reasons for holding it. By better understanding their view, you will be far less likely to misrepresent it when and if you respond to them.
- Questions can cause people to think about their view. When people are asked a question, it will often cause them to think about their answer and, in doing so, make them explain the rationale and details of their view. Many times, they will see a flaw or weakness in their view simply by being asked to defend it or express it out loud.
- Questions can buy you valuable time. You might get nervous when you’re talking about your faith and convictions. When that happens, it’s easy to lose your train of thought or have a mental freeze. Now you’re stuck without knowing how to respond to a challenge or answer a question. When that happens, simply ask them a question that seeks to clarify their challenge. This will make them take a minute or two to answer your question. Guess what? You’ve just bought yourself some valuable time to think about what they’re saying and formulate a few thoughts for your response.
As you can see, questions are powerful, but they require a key ingredient. No matter the question, you must be mindful of your tone. Every question should be asked with a kind, friendly, and inviting manner. Don’t come across like an FBI interrogator. The person you’re talking to is not your foe. You should think of yourself as sitting down with a friend or family member you love and embarking on an adventure to discover something previously unknown to you. That should be the attitude with which you approach the conversation.
Francis Schaeffer said about the importance of questions, “If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first 55 minutes asking questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then in the last 5 minutes I will share something of the truth.”
That’s amazing. A lot of us might think that if we allowed a Muslim acquaintance to take 55 minutes out of an hour to talk about their faith, their religious experience, and their opinion of Christians and we only shared something in the last five minutes, we would have squandered our opportunity. Or, if we allowed a friend who identified himself as gay to take 55 minutes to share about his life, his experience in a church, his fears, and his experience as a gay man, while we only took five minutes to share something of the truth, many of us might think we wasted our chance.
On the contrary, says Schaeffer. We should take that time to ask questions and find out what is going on inside their heart and soul. That way, when we do have our chance to say something, we will say exactly what that person needs to hear.