Lesson 6: How to ask questions
Let’s talk about how to ask questions. You may not have thought asking questions could be an art because you ask questions all the time. For instance, “What’s your name?” “Where do you work?” or “Which aisle has the coffee?” But as one person said, “If you ask shallow questions, you get shallow answers. If you ask profound questions, you get profound answers.” Because you are trying to help people transform their lives, you need to help them ask profound questions and find profound answers. But how?
Stick to the script in the Leader’s Guide: Coming up with profound questions can be difficult. A truly profound question seems simple on the surface, but it encourages a person to dig deep—maybe deeper than they ever have—to discover new and valuable insights into a particular topic. Unless you are already very experienced in coming up with profound questions, you may find it difficult to do so.
So here’s some relief: we have provided you with profound questions in the Leader’s Guide for Traction Group Discussion! The questions in this guide have been formulated after much thought, and they have been tried and tested and proven to be effective in getting people to go deep and discover new things about the Gospel and about themselves that they had not previously realized. For this reason, we strongly encourage you to stick to the script. Ask each and every question in the order it appears in the Leader’s Guide, just the way it is phrased. It makes it easier on you, and allows your group to take advantage of proven effective questions.
As you ask these questions, here are eight things to keep in mind to help you become great at asking questions and leading discussion. Don’t feel pressure to remember all these things, but thoughtfully consider them and when you need them, they may come to mind.
Good preparation starts with prayer: An important part of your preparation for a group session is to pray, specifically asking God to give you
You don’t have to be fancy in how you ask it, just ask Him to give you each of these five things. Then pray that the Holy Spirit will lead the participants in your group to discover and own the truths revealed in the Bible verses they will be discussing (this is the Holy Spirit’s ministry of conviction spoken about in John 16:7-15).
Keep it relevant by getting to know the individuals in your group: Good questions matter to the listener. Being able to discern where someone’s at and then challenge them with questions that touch them where they are is a skill Jesus modeled and will take a time and effort to learn. Each person has their own unique history, struggles, and dreams.
To start simply, remember that many teenagers find questions about themselves to be the most interesting ones. In contrast, mothers tend be most interested in questions that relate to their family relationships, children, and family welfare. Often men tend to relate best to questions about their work or sports and hobbies. The better you get to know the individuals in your group, the more you will discover what sorts of things each individual will find more significant. Again, all this takes time and it takes paying attention to who seems to be more interested in what.
If all this seems like a lot to keep track of and work on, remember…if you stick to the script we provide you in the Leader’s Guide, these challenges will be easier because we give you questions that have proven to work for people from diverse backgrounds. But the more you get to know the participants in your group, the better you can see what they need.
Priming the Pump: Although it is very rare that NO ONE will answer a question you ask, it can happen. After you ask a question (from the Leader’s Guide), and you wait for at least 15 to 20 seconds (which can sometimes seem like several minutes of silence), and still no one begins the discussion by offering their thoughts, what do you do?
At this point you may need to “Prime the Pump.” That is, you may need to ask a simpler question to break the ice. For example, let’s suppose you are reading the very first question in the Leader’s Guide. After you have someone read Proverbs 23:7, the Leader’s Guide instructs you to ask the group this question, “What does this verse, Proverbs 23:7, mean in your own words? Might this mean the same thing as this first Trophy Insight?” If no one says anything after you have waited 20 seconds, then you could encourage someone to say something by asking a simpler question. Here are some examples of simpler questions you might ask:
Once one of these simpler ice-breaker questions gets the discussion going, then you can return to the original question.
Teach them how to use the Bible to find God’s answers to hard questions. What should you do when you ask a question and someone in the group gives an answer that you are pretty sure is NOT what God says about it? One VERY IMPORTANT skill and practice you need to teach in your discipleship group is the importance of searching the Bible to see if statements being made are actually what God says in the Bible. This is why we have Bible verses associated with every question in the Leader’s Guide for the Traction Group Discussion Questions. We are trying to get them used to examining what God says in His Bible about any question that might come up in life. We are modeling this in the Traction discussion group, and so should you.
When a participant makes a statement that you know is wrong (or you are not sure if it is right), and if no one else in the group offers a counterpoint to correct that error, you don’t need to crash to a halt and get distracted making sure every answer is perfect. The good news is this is a process of maturing that takes time. What you should do is keep reminding the group to search the Bible in their own time to see if the statements they have heard is what God actually says in His word. This is a really important life skill that every Christian should develop and we talk a lot more about this in Lesson 9 of this discipleship leaders training course.
Cultivate Ownership: Again, discipleship is all about encouraging and cultivating ownership of the teachings of Christ (Matthew 28:19-20 defines discipleship as teaching Christians to obey the commands of Christ). It is one thing to know what Christ commands; and another to actually trust in his commands enough to act on them. That is ownership. A Christian needs to understand and own the teachings of Jesus Christ as their own. This is transformation.
So, how can you help your group participants to take personal ownership of Christ’s commands? The answer is simple but can be hard to do: a person is more likely to own a command of Christ if the Holy Spirit leads them to discover it for themselves. This is why instead of just telling everyone the “right answers” we use group discussions centered on Bible verses related to important insights about the work and teachings of Christ (and that is what the 14 Trophy Insights in the Traction adventure are).
In the Traction discussion group we provide an environment that encourages each participant to think more deeply about the Bible verses discussed. In the process of doing this, we are trying to get them to discover both the truth and the personal application of these verses in their lives. Ownership is more likely to happen when people are talking with each other, and not so much when you are lecturing and they are listening. When you tell them the answers, it tends to short-circuit the personal discovery that leads to ownership and lessens the likelihood that transformation will occur. Please think about this. If you really want effective transformation to occur in your group participants, you will allow yourself to be convinced of the power of this principle.
How to respectfully cut short a rambling answer. Sometimes, when a person is rambling on and on or getting off on a rabbit trail, you can stop them by asking a very specific question.
For example, you might ask them about something they just said. When they give you a short answer, before they can elaborate, thank them politely for their answer and then ask someone else in the group for their thoughts on the original question.
You could also consider using the phrase, “Thank you for that, but back to the question…” then repeat the question and ask someone else to respond.
Listen. Being a good listener is a powerful thing, but it is a skill that must be developed through practice. Active listening includes such things as
The next time you watch a TV talk show host interviewing someone on TV, observe how actively and warmly they listen to encourage their subject to open up. It’s so much easier to open up to someone who is carefully and consciously listening to us.
Stay on point. Keep all comments focused on the question. Have a plan in mind for what you will do when you encounter rabbit trails. Anticipating diversions becomes easier as you get to know the individuals in your group.
One practice that will help you keep the discussion on point is to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the material you are going to cover ahead of time. This means you should read the questions and bible verses in the Leader’s Guide ahead of time for that session. Also, you might want to go back and review lessons 3, 4 and 5 of this course for inspiration BEFORE each session, trying to picture in your head when and how you will use the advice given in those lessons.
If you keep thinking about these principles, over time you will develop a life-giving skill of leading discussion groups into profound change and transformation in Christ.