Questioning the Questions

One of the most important skills of any qualified researcher is an ability to craft good questions. Not just any old questions, but the right questions, at the right time.Good questions are direct—they get to the heart of the matter and address the things that need addressing. Answers, on the other hand, can sometimes seem never-ending. Maybe that’s why I’ve loved “Jeopardy” since I was in grade school. By reading the answers, all I simply needed to do was ask the right questions and I would score more points than the rest of my family in our nightly living room competitions.

But even the greatest of questions can be stymied by poor timing. Sometimes the question would be on the tip of my tongue, and my little brother would blurt it out just milliseconds before me. I would shout excitedly, “I got the question, too!” But we all knew that I wasn’t fooling anyone.

When it comes to good questions asked with impeccable timing, there’s no better example than Jesus. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? Whydo you worry about your life? Why do you doubt? Why are you afraid?

I simply can’t compete with that, and that’s ok. (Can you imagine playing “Jeopardy” with Jesus?!) However, Jesus’ way of asking questions offers a model for us as the church that has the potential to change the conversation entirely. What would it look like if we asked more questions that got to the heart of the matter, rather than questions that required complex and convoluted responses?

For this reason, questions beginning with “why” are my very favorite kinds of questions. One researcher discovered that “why” questions are most frequently asked by kindergarten students and least frequently asked by high school students, especially those with high SAT scores. This is because younger individuals yearn to understand cause and effect; as we age, that desire dissipates. Oftentimes, we assume that we already understand the cause and effect of a situation, and therefore brush past this “simple” question in order to pursue higher-order inquiries involving “how” and “which.”

Furthermore, “why” questions can elicit some pretty hefty diatribes, especially on written surveys. But when they are asked at just the right moment, in a way that is direct and sincere, they have the potential to reframe, generate, and transform us.

Why are we putting our energies into this program when there is life in that ministry? Why might tradition be hindering our ability to try something new? Why do we worry so much about attendance? Why do you doubt? Why are you afraid?

This post was originally published in the United Church of Christ’s Stillspeaking Weekly, an e-newsletter for leaders in congregations.


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