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Asking the Right Questions: Part 1

by Marc T. Newman, Ph.D.

One of the toughest parts of a Bible study is when the teacher stops the monologue and expects some interaction from the students. Bible study guides -- such as the ones offered through our sister site -- get students to interact through a series of questions. Sometimes the interaction with students is robust and immediate. Other times, getting students to talk is like pushing a boulder uphill. Often, if students agree to respond, they just answer the "assigned" question with all the enthusiasm of someone checking off a box on a "to-do" list.

Before you ask the students any questions, it is a good idea to ask an important question of yourself:

Why am I asking questions?


Are you merely asking the question to fill time? Are you checking to see whether the student can parrot back a fact or an idea? Are you asking as a way of assessing your own abilities as a teacher?

All teachers have been guilty at one time or another of asking questions for these or similar reasons. And there is nothing wrong with wanting to make sure students have a clear grasp of concepts; after all, you cannot fruitfully discuss ideas that students can't identify or understand.

Here are some good reasons to ask questions:

1. To check whether students clearly grasp an idea. Knowledge of facts is important. Students must know the facts before those facts can be evaluated or before decisions can be made based on those facts. A leader can use questions to be sure that everyone understands the basic facts. It levels the playing field before the students dive into evaluation and application of those ideas.

2. To get to know a student better. Sometimes students provide short answers to complex questions thinking that, by doing so, they've met their contribution quota for the evening. To many students, this part of Bible study is a game. However, because you love your students, you want to know why they think and believe what they think and believe, so you ask questions to get to know them better.

3. To challenge students to think more deeply. Sometimes students are simply trying to please their Bible study leader and will therefore rattle off whatever answer they think the leader wants to hear. The student doesn't "own" that answer -- it is not a part of the presuppositions that color the rest of their thinking and it is not reflective of carefully considered reasoning. Our goal as Bible study leaders is not to have our students emerge from study just knowing a little bit more about the Bible. Instead, the goal is to help the student encounter the truth of God's Word in a transformative way, so that they slowly become molded into the image of Christ.

Think about questions like you would about hunting. If you don't know much about what you are hunting, you aren't likely to select the appropriate tools, and so you will -- more often than not -- return from the hunt empty-handed.

Bible study is a bit like hunting. You have a goal in mind -- to love people created in God's image, to win people for God's Kingdom, and then aid them in following Jesus. You need to select the right tools with that goal in mind. Good questions are one of those tools.

Just look at how often Jesus and the Apostles used questions to stimulate thought and draw the truth from a (sometimes) stubborn and even hostile audience. So spend some time thinking about your students. Ask why you are asking questions. It will help you to create and ask the kinds of questions that will enable you to meet those goals -- for yourself and in service of your students.

What is one of the best questions you can remember asking in a study group, and what was the purpose of that question?

Next Up -- Part 2: Bad Questions.

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