This is my favorite. I love a good Bible discussion. I love it when people disagree. I love it when there are different points of view.
It happened just the other night in our Tuesday night small group. The passage was one that relates to the topic of this book. It was the passage in James speaking to the idea that teachers will be judged more strictly. I have always thought of that as meaning judged by God more strictly. I have always taken that to mean that to some degree teachers are held responsible for the behavior of the people they teach. This is why it says, “Not many of you should try this.” (That is my paraphrase.)
But someone in the group had a completely different take on the same verse. He posed the question, “Is this judged by God or judged by others?” I had always assumed it was judged by God. He assumed the opposite. He talked about how all of us tend to judge teachers more strictly. The text seems to support that. It seems to support my view as well. This is what makes for a great discussion.
The heart of the discussion is what I call the jump ball question. This is a question that can legitimately go either way. The truth is often a careful midpoint between two extremes. We must lead people to find the narrow way. Jump ball questions help us to do that. Here are some examples:
- Is Christian living easy or hard? Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Christian living is either easy or impossible. It is easy because it is not us living it. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” Yet, the Bible says in another place, “we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
- Is Christian living about striving and straining and trying really hard to be good, or is it about letting go and letting God? Is Christian living active or passive? Is it getting out of the way and letting God live His life through us, or is it trying really hard to live a life He has called us to live? My answer? Yes.
- Does God save people against their will? Does God keep people saved who don’t want to be saved? Can Christians misbehave as badly as they want and still go to heaven when they die? If God has predestined who will be saved, then does it matter whether or not we witness? Why do missions if God has determined who will be saved?
- Are we saved by faith alone? Are we saved by faith that is alone? If a person says he has faith in Christ yet never shows any fruit is he really saved?
The jump ball question is the heart of the lesson, but it is not the whole lesson. I write lessons for a living. I think I’ve written more lessons that any human, living or dead. Here are some question types I often use:
- What does the text say?
- What does the text mean?
- Who can locate Ephesus on a map?
- How does your translation have Romans 12.1?
- What are 10 ways we could serve our community? (Note: I am not asking for commitment at this point; just brainstorming.)
- How do you think the son felt as he approached the father near the end of the story? It is always a good idea to read the Bible with an emotional question.
- Can you think of any other verses that speak to the same idea?
- What does this passage teach about God?
- What does this passage teach about us?
- Why don’t we do this more often?
- How do I become a person of faith and confidence?
- Yes, but how?
- How will it benefit me to serve? To give? To forgive? To be obedient?
- What will it cost me if I don’t serve? What if I don’t give? What if I don’t forgive? What if I am not obedient? What will it cost me if I don’t?
- What do you want to recall from today’s discussion?
The key to making questions work is just the right amount of silence. Too much and it feels awkward and weird. Too little and people don’t have enough time to think. It is in that quiet moment, when people are thinking that life change is actually taking place. Effective Bible Teachers have a feel for what is just the right amount of silence. Rule of thumb: it is likely a little more than you think. Most teachers, it seems to me, are afraid of silence. Sometimes I will say to a group, “Don’t be afraid of the silence. Just think for a moment.”
If you use question-and-answer regularly, you’ll regularly run into situations where people offer the wrong answer. There are several ways of dealing with this:
- If the answer is wrong but not particularly damaging theologically, sometimes I just let it go. I might say something like, “Anyone else?”
- If I know the group well, and especially, if I know the person well who gave the wrong answer, I might simply say, “That’s not quite right.” Caution: if you do this too often people will just quit answering. Here’s another thing: if people are giving wrong answers all the time this is not a reflection of the class so much as it is a reflection on the teacher. School teachers who flunked the whole class don’t have stupid kids, they are bad teachers. They either have not taught well or are simply asking questions that are too difficult. Asking questions is an art. People like to answer questions that are on the edge of their knowledge. If you ask a question like, “Who died on the cross for our sins?” No one will answer. It is too easy. If you ask a question like, “who was Melchizedek and why is he important to our theology?” I doubt anyone will answer that one either. (I am not sure I have the answer to that question.) People like to answer questions that they are confident are right but they also think that they are the only one in the room who knows the right answer. So a real key in asking questions is to ask questions that are hard enough to be challenging but that people actually know the answer to.
Wrong answers tell us something extremely important. They tell us what the group does not know. They inform us about the general level of knowledge that is in our group and tell us where we should be pitching our teaching.
We have over 100 recorded examples of Jesus asking questions. (I actually list these in my book, Teach Like Jesus.)
Effective Bible Teachers use question and answer constantly when they teach.