By Rick Lawrence
Vibrant Faith Executive Director
I was never in a garage band, but whenever I hear a phrase that sounds like the name of a garage band (my daughter said the phrase “dissected squid juice” the other day, for example), I tell people that it was actually the name of my band when I was in high school. I’m guessing I’ve now told people that I’ve been a member of more than a thousand garage bands when I was a teenager.
That might be bizarre behavior, but I wish I was the kind of guy who’d been in a garage band called Dissected Squid Juice. Playing improvised music with your friends has a magnetic attraction to my soul. And even though I’ve never been in a band, I’ve “played” with thousands of people in my own version of an improvisational collaboration—leading adults and teenagers in highly interactive and experiential quests to undercover the riches in Jesus’ heart and live out the priorities of the Kingdom of God on earth. I’m the ringleader for a constant flow of interaction—in pairs, trios, foursomes, and the whole group. I give context and direction and lots of feedback to these conversations, but the output is squarely on the shoulders of the participants and always a surprise to me, and therefore my responses are always improvised in the moment.
The best garage-band players find ways to integrate their distinct “voice” into the band’s collective “voice,” and the best conversations have Jesus as their focus and an improvisational, risk-taking interplay among the “players.” Nothing’s more energizing and satisfying than a long garage-band-jam of a conversation. These kinds of conversations are the fields in which all good things grow. They require fearless engagement to provide the best soil, and therefore grow the best crops. When we’re fearlessly engaging others we’re “making beautiful music” together. For starters…
Ask More Demanding Questions
I don’t mean we ask questions in a demanding way; I mean we ask questions that make others wrestle with the truth, explore what they believe, and see Jesus and the Kingdom of God differently than they have before. Jesus asked questions all the time—he was constantly responding to questions with questions of his own. If you count every question he asked in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) you come up with an astonishing number—287! And these weren’t easy-answer questions—for example:
- “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’” (Mark 2:9, NIV).
- “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?” (Mark 9:50a, NIV).
- “Why do you call me good?” (Mark 10:18a, NIV).
If we pay close attention to the kinds of questions Jesus asked, they were always 1) surprising, 2) specific, and 3) personal. And the more surprising, specific, and personal the questions we ask others, the more likely we are to start or propel a really good conversation.
- Surprise means there’s something about the question that is attention-grabbing.
- Specific means that we narrow the question from a broad focus to a very narrow focus.
- Personal means that the question includes something that requires a personal response, not a theoretical response.
Surfacing Courage In People
We need a more thoughtful, discovery-friendly way of asking questions of people. For example…
From… Don’t you just hate people who judge other people?
To… When have you experienced judgment as both a good thing and a bad thing in your life?
From… How was your day?
To… What’s something that happened today that made you want to pray?
From… What was your childhood like?
To… If you had to choose one experience in your childhood that impacted who you’ve become more than any other experience, what would it be?
From… How many pets do you have?
To… What’s one way your pets have changed your life for the better, and one way they’ve made it harder?
Great questions, by the way, often have nothing overtly to do with Jesus or faith in God—we ask pursuit questions to both explore Jesus more deeply with others, and to lay the groundwork for that kind of conversation. The goal is to dig past the surface soil and get to the rich stuff underneath.
Good questions surface courage in those who respond to them.
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily.