As any parent will verify, there is nothing more frustrating than the persistent questions of a five-year-old child.
“Why is the sky blue?”
“Why can’t I see behind me?”
“Where do babies come from?”
“Why can’t dogs fly? Why can’t I fly?”
“Why doesn’t broccoli taste like candy?”
“Where does God live?”
“Who made God?”
Questions. Questions. Questions. They never stop. As a matter of last resort, parents will distract their child by buying them something. The funny thing about this story is that it has never changed. Parents, no matter the generation, tell stories of being brought to the end of their patience by the demanding requests for more knowledge from their children.
This doesn’t change just because the child grows up. We all have friends or acquaintances who are always asking questions. You know, the guy who has a thousand questions in history class. The guy who made you stay late in philosophy class because he was always asking one more question. We’ve all seen the frustration of politicians when reporters insist on asking one more question.
Why do I bring this up? Because for the last twenty years, I’ve listened to all the church experts talk about how the church has been pushed to the fringes of our culture. Churches and their pastors are no longer respected in our world and are certainly not given any authority to speak about any issue confronting our society.
So, what do we do? How can we be heard when we’re told that no one is listening? We do what Jesus did. Look at how many times Jesus responded to a tense situation with a question. When being trapped by his enemies about whether to pay taxes to Rome, Jesus asked for a coin, and then asked, “Whose image is on the coin?”
When asked for a definition of “neighbor,” Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan and then asked, “Who was a neighbor?” Jesus was a master of disarming his opponents and engaging his followers by asking questions. This is a skill postmodern preachers will do well to learn.
We no longer preach from a position of power, if we ever really did. Now, we’re outsiders. Other people are the experts. Other people make the rules. Other people know better about truth, human flourishing, justice, and the meaning of life.
Or, do they?
A couple of well-placed questions may change the conversation. What kind of questions? The same kind of questions Jesus asked. Questions such as, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses his own soul?” That’s a Jesus question.
Our congregations are filled with men and women trying to swallow back their remorse because they did indeed gain the whole world – they’ve made more money than they ever thought they would, and they sacrificed their families to get there. Now, nothing fills up the emptiness within them. The generations following don’t want this life, and one of the reasons is that they saw what this life did to their parents.
Knowing what you don’t want, however, helps only for a while. How do you find out what you do want?
By asking good questions. By asking Jesus questions to a world that’s hypnotized by a style that has no substance. Asking good questions will allow our people to begin the painful, but healing, process of being honest with themselves – and with God.
After all, if we ask the wrong questions, we always end up with the wrong answers. So, make sure your congregation has the right questions.
Why? Because great questions will haunt you into finding out the answer. Remember, it was Nathanial who asked if anything good could come out of Nazareth and everything changed for him when Philip told him to come and see.