“Jesus came not to settle minds, but to jolt them.” That’s what the author of the book Why Nobody Learns Much of Anything at Church said. Howard Hendricks once said, “The average church attender is not excited by the truth – he’s embalmed by it.” Is your group’s Bible study an insult to people’s intelligence? It doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t you want the people in your group to come alive spiritually? You don’t want to bore them to death – so here are a few things to think about as you formulate questions to engage your learners. I’m sharing content from the above book that can change your teaching, especially the questions you ask. For starters, let’s agree that:
- People today are seeking answers, and they are not looking for quick and easy remedies dispensed by authority figures. So help your group members find answers. Most will not respond well to, “Just do this because I said so.”
- People don’t need to be told what to think – they need to learn how to think. The more we tell people what to think, the less they rely on their own decision-making abilities.
- We help people grow not by giving them all the answers, but teaching them how to discover the answers on their own. That way they can learn and grow even when we are not around.
So how will we help our learners think? How can we prepare them to use the Bible to discover answers to their ongoing questions about life? It starts with the kinds of questions we ask of them…
- Ask the right questions. A teacher once asked a group of young children, “Where was Jesus born?” Answers included Jerusalem, Heaven, a hospital, and on earth. Weary of wrong answers, the teacher tried to help the group and stated, “Jesus was born in a m-m-m-m-m-” The kids still didn’t get it, so the co-teacher blurted out, “In a manger! He was born in a manger!!” That kind of question dulls thinking and wastes time in class. It may exercise someone’s memory, but it doesn’t exercise their critical thinking. A better question would be, “Jesus was born in the cold where the animals were kept. What do you suppose that was like for him and his mother and father?” The group members now have to ponder what it meant for Jesus, the King, to humbly be born in a dirty manger when He came to earth.
- Give learners time to think. Teachers often dread silence after asking a question, and too quickly fill in the answer when no one responds quickly. To give group members time to think, wait at least 10 seconds before restating or rephrasing the question. In fact, up to 20 seconds may be required in order to give people time to respond to a well-crafted question. If you avoid answering your own questions, you’ll teach your group to think for themselves and to answer the question at hand because they have learned that you will no longer supply them with the right answer.
- Avoid asking questions with predetermined answers. Christian educator Dorothy Furnish says, “The practice of asking questions with predetermined answers results in hypocrisy on the part of children because they tell us what they think we want to hear.” Case in point: a Sunday School teacher of a a fourth grade class asked the question, “What animal is small, brown, has a bushy tail, and collects nuts?” A boy raised his hand and said, “Jesus!” The teacher gently said, “No, it’s a squirrel,” to which the boy replied, “That’s what I thought, but I was sure you wanted me to say ‘Jesus.'” As you craft discussion questions, craft open-ended ones. If your question leads to a specific answer, you’re leading your people toward a dead end.
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