Jesus is our model for disciple making. In the following article, Matt Dabbs, an experienced disciple maker and church planter, shares what he has learned about a crucial component of discipling people, and that is, asking questions. We often think of discipleship—which is the state of being a disciple—as something that leans heavily on bible education. But Jesus shows us that there is so much more, especially the way he asked good questions.
– Bobby Harrington
Jesus was a master teacher and like any good teacher he knew how to ask good questions. Questions are an essential part of our learning. There can be just as much good in understanding the questions to ask, and when to ask them, as there is in understanding a solid approach to answering the question – and the answer itself.
In John 5:6 Jesus asked a paralyzed man, “Do you want to get well?”
The answer doesn’t take a masters degree to figure out. Of course a paralyzed person wants to get well. However, there is more to this question than that. Does this man want to take on a life that is required of him when he is able and has full agency? More will be expected of him on the other side of healing. The truth is, some people would rather stay with what they already know than get better. Health can be far scarier than paralysis for some. It is important that he owns the answer to Jesus’ question before Jesus heals him.
Or, how about Matthew 8:26 where in the middle of a raging storm Jesus asks his disciples, “Why are you so afraid?”
Again, the answer is obvious… or maybe it isn’t. The sentence right before the question is, “You of little faith.” They are with Jesus. They don’t need to be afraid. However, fear is a natural human emotion that is understandable in those kinds of circumstances. Instead of saying, “Don’t be afraid,” he asks them ‘why’ they are afraid, and it is important that they wrestle with their own answer to Jesus’ question. They might not all have the same answer!
Both the paralyzed man and the disciples in the boat have something in common. They are both learning and growing in their faith and Jesus is working with them.
Like Jesus, when we disciple people, we need to use questions. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come natural to many of us. Try this–the next time you meet with someone (or a group) you are discipling, take a mental note of how many times you use declarative sentences versus interrogative sentences (periods vs. question marks). The next time you meet with this same group, try to convert some of your statements into questions.
So much of our teaching can be done most effectively when we let people wrestle with things rather than by simply telling them things. When you feel like telling someone who you are discipling something, make sure you aren’t short-circuiting their learning process. Stop for a moment and consider if what you are trying to teach them might best be learned by converting your statement into a question–then work through their answer with them.
When all of our instruction ends in periods rather than question marks, we can create disciples who are far too dependent upon us for the answers. The reality is that it can feel good to have people depend on you for answers and wisdom, but if the goal is for them to learn, then it isn’t about what makes you feel good as their guide, but rather, what it takes to grow them closer to Jesus. We can also feel like we aren’t a successful teacher if the person you are discipling doesn’t get it right away. We can buffer that anxiety a bit when we ‘tell’ rather than ‘ask,’ because it is much harder to determine if those being discipled get what we have taught when we tell rather than when we ask.
Here are ten questions to add to your disciple-making repertoire:
- What is the Holy Spirit trying to teach you in this moment?
- How do you navigate this decision in a way that upholds your integrity?
- How can I really help you? (Matt 20:32)
- What do you need most from God right now?
- What is keeping you from doing what you know you are supposed to do (obedience)?
- What good thing is God doing in your life today that we can celebrate together?
- What is on your mind/what are you thinking in your heart? (Luke 5:22)
- What is one thing you are going to do with what you just learned?
- Who is someone with whom you can share what you learned?
- What is God doing in your life right now?
These are a few questions that can work in concert with your learning to convert your statements into questions. This allows the person you are discipling to have some investment in and ownership of the conversation and the process they are walking through. Questions allow people to turn from passive recipients of a disciple-making process to active and engaged participants. The level of growth and maturity you can see through shifting from declaratives to interrogatives can be huge!
For King Jesus,