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Asking God for Questions, Not Answers

One of the congregations I’m coaching is in the midst of a pastoral transition—at the same time, their building needs major repairs and they are generally unsure about their future. They have lots of questions and are looking for answers. So they’ve decided to examine and redevelop their mission and vision statements. Recently, they brought in some leaders from a congregation whose mission statement they really like and asked how they got there. These leaders described an intentional process (led by their coach) fueled by three retreats over the course of three months. These retreats, they said, were not built on the conventional “corporate” mission-statement model. Instead, they were rooted in Scripture, silence, prayer, and listening to God and each other.

During the second retreat the process broke open. Their coach led them in a practice that re-focused their momentum—instead of asking God for answers, they were invited to ask God for the right questions. They had been pursuing God around two questions: “How do we save our church?” and (connected to that) “How do we bring youth back to our church?” But they weren’t getting any clarity. But when they took the time to reflect and pray, they discerned God wanting them to ask questions that led them in completely different directions—“Who are we called to serve?” and “Do we need this giant, expensive building?” 

Once they started asking these questions, a whole new path opened up for them. Their focus shifted to serving elders in their community—they realized that their building could be sold to finance that mission for decades. It set them on a path for mission and ministry that has brought tremendous change (including letting other congregations focus on youth ministry) and tremendous new life to their congregation.

Now, how often do we back up a step and ponder with God whether or not we’re asking the questions he is most interested in? I’m usually so busy asking God for answers that I don’t stop to wonder: “Am I even asking the right question?” But then, as I think about Jesus’ ministry, that’s certainly what he did. When people came to Jesus for answers, more often than not they left with a different question…

  • “What did you go out in the desert to see?”
  • “Who do you say that I am?”
  • “Do you believe I am able to do this?”
  • “What were you talking about on the road?”
  • “Which of these was a neighbor to the man?”

What questions might God be wanting you to ask? Is it time to create the space in your schedule, individually and with your team, to delve into Scripture, silence, and prayer and see what God has to say?

If you are asking…
How do we rebuild our Sunday School?
Maybe God would have you ask:
What kind of support do the kids at the nearby school need?

If you are asking…
Why aren’t there more people in worship?
Maybe God would have you ask…
Where are people gathering for support and community and how might we join them?

If you are asking…
What do we do now that we can’t afford our program staff?
Maybe God would have you ask…
Who is God calling to step into leadership in new ways?

If you are asking…
What does our congregation think we should do?
Maybe God would have you ask…
What do our neighbors need?

If you are asking…
Why can’t we get people to volunteer?
Maybe God would have you ask…
Has this program completed its life-cycle? What could we do instead?

If you are asking…
Why can’t we do this ministry anymore?
Maybe God would have you ask…
What community partners could we work with on this?

If you are asking…
How do we get back to what we were doing before?
Maybe God would have you ask…
What is God inviting us into for the future?

Asking God for Questions

Rev. Erik Samuelson is a leadership and transformation coach who works with individuals, teams, congregations, judicatories, non-profits, and educational institutions. His wider work is in the areas of vocational discernment, spiritual formation, organizational innovation and change, leadership development, and alternative theological education.

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