It’s often said leaders are learners. I agree. It’s important to learn from others by reading, listening, and engaging with others who may have a different or new perspective. We may not always agree, but we can always be ready to learn.
I think there’s a similar concept that often gets overlooked in this statement. It’s not that leaders are just learners, but leaders know how to ask good questions. Questions open our minds to exploring topics unearthed or opinions unknown. It doesn’t mean you have to agree, but you do have to begin with a question.
I first learned the importance of asking questions as a journalism student in college. One of my first journalism classes was news reporting. Each week, our professor gave us a story idea or subject. Our assignment was to interview others and learn how to report our findings by writing a story on the subject. As a shy 18-year-old, I was forced out of my comfort zone and had to seek out others and engage them with thought-provoking questions. It was a skill I learned that continues to serve me well today.
So, why is this skill important to ministry leaders, and how do you ask good questions? Here are a few reasons I think asking good questions is an important concept to your leadership.
First, I’ve observed that leaders who ask good questions are genuinely seeking to expand their thinking. Consider the next podcast you listen to—especially if it is someone who is interviewing someone else. Some of the best podcasts I listen to are not just sermons or lectures. It’s a conversation where the host is engaged with their guest. One of my favorites is Carey Nieuwhof. I believe his background in law makes him a natural for asking good questions. He engages the person he interviews and although I’m sure he doesn’t always agree with the theology of the person he is interviewing, you would never know. He comes across unbiased, yet curious and excited to learn from others. Or, consider the next time you watch a reporter ask questions on television. Are you drawn to those who are actually asking questions for the purpose of learning or for the purpose of arguing? For me, watching a reporter ask good questions is a masterful art. Leaders should do the same.
Second, good questions aren’t simply “yes” or “no” questions. This goes back to my news reporting class where a good journalism teacher instructs their students to ask who, what, when, where, and how questions. Whether you are leading a small group Bible study or you are having a one-on-one conversation with someone you want to learn from, remember to focus on digging deeper. Ask, “Why do you think that?” “How did you come to that conclusion?” “Where in Scripture did you find that answer?” Not only do leaders ask good questions, but good Bible students approach Scripture with thought-provoking questions. There are close to 700 instances in Scripture where the word “ask” is used. Jesus told His followers to ask and it would be given to them. Job asked God difficult questions in the midst of his suffering. What did he learn from asking questions? We find an answer in Job 42:1-4: “Then Job replied to the Lord, I know that you can do anything and no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this who conceals my counsel with ignorance?’ Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wondrous for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak. When I question you, you will inform me.’”
Finally, asking good questions implies you are an active listener. If you’re asking good questions and not fully listening, you aren’t truly seeking answers. How much do you remember from the last Bible study you did? Can you remember last week’s sermon? If you’re an active listener, you not only hear what is said, but you act on what is said. James admonishes believers in James 1:22 to not just be hearers of the word, but doers of the word. We may not always agree with the answers, but good questions are either followed up with another question or put into practice. Often, I find myself writing down notes to help me connect words to paper. Whether I look at those notes again, the process of listening and writing it down gives me the opportunity to dig further, to ask more questions, or to seek out additional information.
Practice asking good questions this week. Seek out a leader from whom you want to learn. A good leader is a curious leader who asks questions.
Kelly King is the Women’s Ministry Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources and oversees the YOU Lead events. Join her this year and get to know her heart for ministry leaders. Follow her on Twitter @kellydking.