If you’ve watched much TV courtroom drama, you know that attorneys often lead witnesses because it is to the interrogator’s advantage to make the witness say what he wants the jury to hear. You also know that leading the witness usually causes the opposing attorney to object.

A small-group leader may want the group to get at some important information. Being committed to a question-and-answer format, she may ask something like:

  • Don’t you think that not taking the Lord’s name in vain includes being careful about saying “God told me”?
  • In what ways are you like the Pharisees in this passage?
  • Does this passage make you feel angry or glad?

Each of these questions puts words into the responders’ mouths. “Don’t you think” is a manipulative way of telling people what to think. There’s nothing wrong with a leader saying what he thinks, as long as he takes responsibility for those thoughts: “I think that not taking the Lord’s name in vain includes  . . .” “Don’t you think” introduces a teaching point or opinion disguised as a question.

The second question assumes that everybody in the group resembles the Pharisees. Perhaps it’s true that all Christians are hypocritical or greedy or cowardly to some degree, but most prefer to confess their own sins rather than having others do it for them. This question has the feel of “When did you stop beating your wife?”

The third question offers an either-or alternative. It assumes there are only two possible responses to the passage. Anyone who finds the passage unnerving or sad, or perhaps partly encouraging and partly threatening, is out of luck. Either-or questions usually lead the witness.[1]

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