So much of leadership boils down to asking challenging questions. I find some leaders reticent to ask challenging questions, yet without this critical component of spiritual leadership, you won’t have significant impact. Jesus constantly asked challenging questions. Jesus asked over twice as many questions of others as people asked of Him. Why? Because people often settle into what’s comfortable or easy rather than stretching themselves. Questions respect the freedom of a person while challenging them to take next steps of growth. Of course, most of the time asking challenging questions requires relationship—or at least respect. But assuming you have this, let’s explore several categories of questions you might ask this week.
Questions of Faith
Jesus asked people who didn’t really trust God challenging questions about life and faith. “What good is it if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?” “Are you thirsty?” “Why do your worry so?” “Why do you call me good?” Sometimes I find it helpful to ask people exploring faith probing questions about their deepest desires: “When all is said and done, what are hoping for out of life?” “What matters most to you in life?” I find almost always, the answers to these questions have to do with love, relationship, purpose, meaning—all things God alone can give that lasts. I might then probe with questions of why that’s so important, even pointing out that God claims He hard-wired us that way.
I’m always asking people, “Tell me about your relationship with God.” “Where are you at with Jesus?” Sometimes a simple question like, “What’s stopping you from opening your life to God’s forgiveness and leadership?” is all it takes for that person. I’m amazed how often people say, “I guess nothing.” Then I help them pray a simple first prayer of faith (see Mud and the Masterpiece, chapter 9 if you’re not confident doing this). Who in your life could use a few well-placed questions of faith? Will you ask them?
Questions of Growth
Left alone, most people drift spiritually. If you don’t believe this, just observe yourself more carefully. We need each other to keep challenging each other. That’s why the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Jesus constantly asked questions to prod or prompt growth: “Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread? Don’t you understand even yet?” (Matthew 16:8-9)
We encourage those in our Life groups of 8-15 to each have 1-2 Spiritual Running Partners—those you will be completely transparent with. We find asking each other a couple of simple questions regularly can prompt growth: “What do think God is saying to you this week?” “Where are you seeing the fruits of God’s Spirit growing?” (Gal. 5:22 has a list to reflect on). “What sins have you struggled with this week?” “What’s one thing you will do this week to help you stay connected and grow?” Who will you trade answers with this week?
Questions of Service
When the disciples of Jesus were jockeying for position, Jesus asked, “You want to be great in God’s kingdom? Then become a servant and lay down your life like I do” (Mark 10:35-45 paraphrase). Getting people to serve others is always good for everyone. But it requires a challenging ask almost always! When I challenge a person to serve in some capacity, I know two things: There will be resistance, and it will be good for that person who serves. I’m constantly asking people, “Are you connected and growing? Are you using your gifts to serve in meaningful ministry?” In the past week, I asked two women to serve our students. I told them, “You are so dynamic, God could use your life to change the trajectory of students’ lives forever—will you pray about it?” I asked a retired couple, “Since you have time and so much experience, would you move to Branson for 6 weeks to help serve our campus there?”
There will always be resistance (human nature is self-centered), but ask those hard questions to help people make the best decisions with their time. I find people never have “enough time.” So I almost always ask them if they will simple pray about where their time goes—and I even challenge them to time-audit themselves, write down what you spend time doing for one week. They almost always do have time, but not without making choices (like choosing less TV, facebook, golf, etc.).
Questions of Sacrifice
“Do you really want to follow me?” Jesus challenged his disciples, “Then deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow” (Matthew 16:24-25 paraphrase). As spiritual leaders, we must be willing to challenge people to make sacrifices. Again, it’s in that person’s best interest to invest in the kingdom of God, not just those destined to perish. But it almost always requires asking challenging questions: “What are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of God’s kingdom?” “Are you honoring God by tithing? If not, why don’t you trust Him? How will you stretch yourself in this area?” “Are you willing to take a demotion if it means saving your family?” These are challenging questions—people might be angry that you’re challenging the path of least resistance, but I find they’re always grateful in the end. When done well, they actually feel loved.
Who have you invested in and loved enough to ask challenging spiritual questions? What questions do you need to ask? What questions do you need to ask yourself?