Don’t give a test.

When the task at hand involves drawing out the facts of a text, there are some important questions to be asked that have right-or-wrong answers:

  • Who are the primary characters in this passage?
  • How did the jailer respond after the earthquake in Acts 16?

Because fact-finding or observation questions tend to have right answers, and because the person asking the question has usually spent more time examining the text than the responders have, such questions can easily make a discussion feel like a test.

What does a disguised test question look like? It may ask for mind reading: “What five key features of the sanctified mind does Paul describe in Romans 8?”

Since Paul doesn’t list five principles in any obvious way in Romans 8, this question asks responders to read the questioner’s mind. The group leader has identified five principles in the chapter, and the group’s job is to figure out what they are.

Alternatively, a test question may ask people for information not currently available to them: “What does Paul mean by the term flesh in Eph. 2:3 (NASB)?”

Flesh is a somewhat technical term in Paul’s vocabulary. Scholars have a lively debate running between at least two points of view. It would be helpful to explain this word in a few clear sentences to your group; but unless you know your group has heard this information before, it’s probably unwise to ask them to supply it. You’re likely to be met with embarrassed silence and have to answer the question yourself. You have then asked a rhetorical question, not fostered a discussion. Chances are that if you do this often enough, people will begin to assume that all of your questions are rhetorical and will stop trying to answer them.

Even worse, a test question may ask people to defend themselves:

  1. What do you think Paul means by saying we were dead in our sins?

A: I think he means . . .

Q: Why do you say that?

“What do you think” is a perfectly respectable way to ask a question. It asks for information that the responder has and the questioner does not have. However, “Why?” as a follow-up question can make people fear you think their answer was defective.

Here are some other pitfalls to avoid when asking questions, and some suggestions on how you can avoid the pits.[1]


[1] Discipleship Journal, Issue 130 (July/August 2002) (NavPress, 2002).