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Want a Different Answer…Ask a Different Question

On an episode of “The Knowledge Project” which I recently listened to, Jennifer Garvey Berger was speaking on the topic of mental habits of highly effective leaders. At one point, she began talking about the concept of asking different questions. The general idea is that our actions (or reactions) are really answers to specific questions (whether implicit or explicit).

As I considered the concept, I began to wonder what sort of questions I have been asking, as well as what sort of questions I might ask to help me reframe the world in more theological terms. Despite my background in theological education, theological research, and Christian ministry, navigating the world’s complexities theologically isn’t easy or automatic. It still requires a set of strategies that keep me from defaulting to behaviors that are less Christian than they are cultural…in other words, it’s easier to be a “nice guy” than it is to be a theologian in my daily life.

“Asking new questions” has proven to be a helpful strategy to get me thinking about what I’m doing (or not doing) in theological terms. Some of the basic questions I’ve been using are:

  1. How can I convey God most faithfully in this specific situation?– This question is a helpful reminder of purpose. If I believe (which I do) that the chief aim of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, I should be aligning my behavior so as to live according to that purpose in the varied situations in which I find myself. Conveying God won’t always mean puppies and rainbows…sometimes hard words and tough choices are required to testify to God faithfully. In addition, sometimes conveying God will mean that I do what is good for the body of Christ and not what might be best for me. It is a tough question to answer and there isn’t any one response that will apply in all scenarios. I’m finding the need to do a lot of quick discernment and am getting more and more used to being wrong.
  2. From what God-given gifts, talents, and perspectives might I learn from through this interaction?– I have limitations. Whether my limitations are physical, intellectual, or emotional, I can’t be everywhere all at once, see everything all at once, or regulate my responses perfectly. When I interact with others (whether planned or unplanned), I don’t want to completely surrender who I am. At the same time, I know that I need others and that I can learn from others. Rather than only looking to put up boundaries to preserve and protect myself (thus effectively shutting others out), I also need to be looking for those places where I can be vulnerable and learn…where I can be challenged, pushed, and transformed by those God puts in my path.
  3. What might I be doing right now to be a blessing to others that I’m not doing?– Arguably, this question is the hardest for me to ask and answer. In a world of “doing” it is easy for me to tally up all the “good” and “necessary” deeds I’ve done and become complacent…content with the perception that I’m making a contribution. Am I making a contribution? I think so…but that isn’t the point. The question isn’t about contribution in the abstract or the counting up of deeds done. It’s about what I could be doing that I’m not doing. In other words, I view this question as one that prompts suspicion about the stories I tell myself about life. It is a question that requires me to question whether making a meeting on time or hitting some arbitrary deadline is more important than being present with those God has brought into my life.

Asking new theological questions is helping me change the way I see the world and interact with it. While I’m not exactly sure why its helping, I think it has something to do with (a) being more aware of who I am deciding to be in any given moment and (b) more intentional about conveying God to others. It has provided a new way for me to think theologically about and within the various situations in which I find myself. So, if you want to change the way you think and act, maybe you should consider asking some new questions.

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