With a little practice, you can become skilled at guiding people through meaningful discussion. Once you are comfortable with the basics of asking good questions, you can continue to advance your abilities a little further. Here are 6 tips to help…
1. Sometimes it is wise to explore the answer someone may give …even if their answer is technically correct.
Ask follow up questions to discover how clearly they understand the response that was given.
Example: “How is a person saved?”
Possible answers: “By having a relationship with God.” “By grace, through faith in Jesus.” “By becoming a child of God.”
These all are correct answers; but can you tell by those answers if someone really understands salvation (repentance, God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness)?
Follow up Example: “Yes, a person is saved by having a relationship with God; but explain how a person begins a relationship with God. What makes a relationship with God possible?”
Follow up Example 2: “Yes, a person is saved by grace, through faith in Jesus; but what does that mean? What is grace? What is faith in Jesus? What did Jesus do in order to offer salvation by grace?”
2. Think of how and when to ask direct and personal questions.
You want each person to deal with the deeper issues in their heart; so direct and personal questions will have a time and place. But be careful… digging deep too quickly may shut the group down and/or cause them to be reluctant to open up in the future.
Example: “Bob, you said that everyone struggles with doubt at times. Can you give me a specific example of when you have struggled with doubt? Where have those struggles led you?”
3. If a person’s response does not fully answer the question, affirm their response, but encourage them to dig deeper.
If there is still more to discover, invite other people in the group continue to dig deeper until the answer is reached and/or the possibilities are explored.
Question – “How is God’s character displayed in the parable of the Prodigal Son?”
Possible Answer – “It shows us that God loves us no matter what.”
You could stop there with one correct answer; but there is still much more that can be uncovered.
Follow up question – “Good answer! Can anyone think of another aspect of God’s character that is displayed in this story?”
Note: Be careful to avoid embarrassing a person if they give an incorrect answer.
4. Allow the group to ask relevant questions of their own.
When the group asks questions of their own, this is often a great indication that people are engaged in the conversation. Encourage them to think through the discussion, and give them the freedom to explore. Also, make sure they know it is ok to say, “I don’t understand.” or “What does that mean?”
5. Encourage every answer, thought, and opinion; but be careful – it is easy to quickly get off target.
Although you want the people in your group to ask questions of their own (see #4), try to avoid long rabbit trails.
6. It’s alright to leave some things unanswered.
There are times when you will need to fight the urge to make sure every discussion is wrapped up in a nice neat package. Sometimes you may need to avoid a rabbit trail. Sometimes you may not know the answer and need to research during the coming week. Sometimes they may be questioning things in scripture that are mysterious or difficult to fully understand on this side of eternity – especially things that reputable scholars have debated for years. God sometimes uses unresolved questions to grow us in ways that simple answers cannot.
BONUS: Make the questions your own.
Whether you are writing your own questions or using a pre-written study guide, it is important for you to be conversational and comfortable. Word (or reword) the questions in a way that feels natural and conversational for you. Avoid sounding like you are following a script off the page. (Don’t say things like, “Well, the next question in the book is…” or “It says here to ask what verse 4 means to you.”)
By Eddie Zdanio
What tips would you add to this list?