Philosophy Behind Good Question Sunday School Lessons
by Josh Hunt
My most life changing experiences have been engaging conversations.
When I look back over the topography of my life, many of the peaks have been spiritually and intellectually stimulating moments of dialogue.
The purpose of Good Question is to create these moments in the classroom each week. My goal is to help you create moments for your students. Moments that come and go but leave footprints. Footprints that forever mark the learner. Moments about which students will later say, "I remember one time we were talking in Sunday School and. . ." The learner is forever touched by that moment. Moments like that last forever--moments where the Spirit of God is forever present. It is in these moments that disciples are made.
The goal of Christian teaching is to make disciples--men and women, boys and girls who love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. People who are putting relationships together. People of faith and prayer. People of character. People of passion for God. People who "know, love and follow Christ."(1)
The test of the teacher is the life of the student. Paul told the Corinthians that they were, "a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (II Corinthians 3:3) The test is not the preparation or the level of knowledge of the teacher or even the quality of the lesson. The test is the life. The bottom line is not creating great lessons; it is creating great lives.
As you teach these lessons keep this focus in mind. Your goal is not to cover the material or to ask every question. Resist the compulsion to ask every question. This is a cafeteria style approach. Choose what works for you. Choose those questions that will help you create disciples in your group. Let the conversation flow freely. It is in these moments disciples are made. Avoid allowing the conversation to drift aimlessly. It is your responsibility to guide the conversation according to the teaching aim for the day and the needs of the students. The greater priority, of course, is the needs of the students.
Do not try to teach too much. We often teach so little because we try to teach so much. One simple truth, pounded deeply into the hearts and minds of the students, is a formidable task and a worthy accomplishment. You will notice that in this book, every question that could be asked is not asked. Every verse is not studied. Another 4,000 good questions could be written. I have isolated one or two main themes per chapter and centered the questions around these.
The best lessons are prepared like good chili: slow cooked over a long period of time. My great fear in preparing this volume is that lesson preparation may become so easy that teachers fail to prepare themselves. If you think you have in this volume a ready made lesson, you will be disappointed. Lessons cannot make disciples; people do. You can take one of these lessons and walk into class with virtually no preparation whatsoever and present a reasonably good lesson. However in doing so, you will not make disciples. You will only present good lessons. There is a difference.
I invite you to begin reading both the text and the questions early in the week. Read them slowly. Let the stories fill your imagination. Feel what the original writer felt. Live with the text. Bombard the text with questions of your own--thousands of questions. Thinking teachers create thinking disciples. The role of the teacher is not to present all the answers. It is to engage the mind of the student. Do not be too quick to give answers. Let the students struggle. Do not let them drown; do let them imagine they might. This is the stuff of discipleship.
Pay special attention to the "Jump Ball Question." This is the heart of the lesson. Let me explain. There is more than one way of looking at most everything in Christianity. The jump ball question could be answered legitimately in more ways than one. The tension that exists when differing opinions occur is what creates stimulating dialogue. As these opinions are expressed, a conversation will develop among the people in the group. Contrast this group interaction with a simple dialogue between the teacher and individual members. If you, the teacher, do not understand the tension in the jump ball question, a simple answer may be assumed and the whole lesson will go flat.
Here is an example of a jump ball question:
Is Christianity easy or hard?
A well-educated disciple will see that, on one hand, Christianity is easy and, on the other hand, Christianity is hard. Jesus said, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:30). "Then he said to them, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'" (Luke 9:23) In a way Christianity is easy, and in a way Christianity is hard. Of course, it would be easy enough for a teacher to simply tell this to a group. However, I have experienced that it is far better to lead a group discover this on their own--in the context of mind-bending discussion. Discovered truth is remembered truth.
Many times, the group will all jump to one side of the jump ball issue. In this case, the teacher needs to jump on the other side--but not too strongly, lest he persuade the whole group too quickly. The goal is to create an engaging conversation, not to mindlessly persuade.
For example, if you were to ask the question, "Is Christianity easy or hard?" you might get the simple answer, "It is hard." To which I would immediately respond, "Then why did Jesus say, 'My yoke is easy and my burden is light.?'" Immediately the mind switches on: "How can that be? It always seems hard to me. What is it that I don't understand? What is it that is missing?" Sit back and watch as the piranhas go after the meat. This is the climate in which disciples are made. Let the group grapple with the jump ball question.
You might ask the question, "Is Christianity easy or hard?" and hear the answer, "Easy." In this case, push the jump ball back to the center by asking, "Why did Jesus say, 'Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!'?" (Mark 10:24). After the group has wrestled with the issue, summarize by saying something like, "In a way Christianity is easy and in a way it is difficult. If Christianity is a day-to-day struggle, you are probably losing. There is a certain grace and flow to living the Christian life that is easy. When you are walking in the spirit, the fruit of the spirit naturally flows out. On the other hand, if discipleship is not the most demanding thing you have ever encountered, there is a good chance you have missed it. . ."
As you prepare, make sure you understand the tension built into the jump ball question so that you can direct the question into an engaging conversation and summarize the truth on both sides.
Types of questions
Several types of questions are employed. Each has a specific purpose:
Life exposure question. These are somewhat bizarre, off-the-wall, ice-breaker questions. Their purpose is to get the group talking and to build fellowship. They are loosely related to the text. Don't spend too much time on these, but you will find them helpful in getting the group going.
"What does the text say" question. You have to know what the text says before you can know what it means and know how to apply it to your life. Do not assume that the group knows what the Bible says. Get the truth in front of them. This should not take long, but is an important foundation for the rest of the discussion. Often, very simple question can be used to draw out quiet members of the group. You might ask, "Silent Sally, how did God demonstrate his love for us according to Romans 5:8." This simple question will build Sally's confidence and make it easier for her to answer more difficult questions. One other hint: make sure Silent Sally can answer the question. Otherwise, the last state will be worse than the first. These simple questions should not take a lot of time. They quickly set the stage for what is to follow.
WHAT DOES THE TEXT MEAN? QUESTION These are the bread and butter questions. Examples include:
What does the word redemption mean?
What does it mean to be a fisher of men?
HOW DID THEY FEEL? QUESTION These questions help the group to get into the passage in a personal way. An example is, "How do you think the prodigal son's father felt when he first saw his son?"
REAL LIFE QUESTION Instead of talking about the text, these questions expose life. Suppose you are doing a study on I Peter 5:7 "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." You might ask, "Can you tell the group about a time when you were able to cast all your cares upon God? What happened?"
JUMP BALL QUESTION This is the heart of the lesson. Pay special attention to the tension in the question. There is more than one way of looking at things. See discussion above.
APPLICATION QUESTION The key to life change is application. The keys to good application are:
Simplicity. The more simple the application, the greater the chance they will do something about it. Don't ask them to memorize 50 verses. Ask for one.
Specific. Don't ask how they will do better in general. Ask for one specific act.
Time. Ask what they will do this week, today, now. Applications without a deadline are only good ideas.
ACCOUNTABILITY QUESTION These can only be used in a limited way in open groups. (Open groups are groups like Sunday School classes where people can enter at any time.) Keep the accountability of short time duration. Ask how they applied last week's lesson; don't ask them how they are doing on the six month plan the group is following.
The Big Idea
Each chapter centers around one or two big ideas. This volume makes no attempt to cover every idea in every chapter. On the contrary, I have selected one or two themes from each chapter and built the lesson around these. Often, we teach so little because we try to teach too much. If you are looking for questions related to a particular verse, you may be disappointed as I may have skipped over that verse altogether. Space limitations simply would not allow this to be an exhaustive treatment of every verse in the New Testament.
I love small groups. I love the laughter. I love the friendship. I love the unpredictable, off-the-wall comments that people make; that is part of learning. I love the mind-boggling confusion that sometimes arises from a good jump-ball question. I love the clarity of truth that often results. I love the smiles. I love the tears. I love the reality. I love the life change. Most of all, I love to see lives change.
This web page is dedicated to you, the small group leader who will change lives through your small group. My life is richer because of people like you. My prayer is that your teaching will be richer for the use of this volume.
1. Schultz, Thom and Joani, Why Nobody Learns Much of Anything at Church: and How to Fix It.
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