Why I’m a Pastor Who Stopped Giving Answers

Jesus often answered questions with questions. Maybe we should do the same.

“Stop asking so many questions. Your problem is that you are too curious.”

I remember the moment clearly.

I was a high school student attending a ski trip that was the collaboration of several different churches’ student ministries. The hour-long drive to the ski resort allowed for some time to talk, and a handful of us students got into a conversation with two youth pastors on the bus. Normal chatter turned to more serious questions about the meaning of life, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, how prayer worked, why there was suffering in the world, whether the Bible could be trusted . . . you get the picture.

Read more in Tom Hughes’ book, Curious.

I had a lot of questions, and we had an hour to kill. I was not alone in my questions. But the response from the two youth pastors who were present could not have been more different.

One of the youth pastors, who was from a different church than the one I attended, rebuked me. “Stop asking so many questions. Your problem is that your too curious.”

Thankfully, Jerry, the youth pastor of the church I attended, didn’t respond that way. Instead, he stayed with us, sitting and listening as our questions kept coming. Sometimes he replied with a probing question of his own. Other times, he answered what he could, shared from his own experiences, or simply said, “I don’t know. I’ve wondered the same thing at times.”

Simply staying with us in our questions was a powerful act. For the first leader, curiosity, it seemed, could kill faith in Jesus. But for Jerry, it seemed that maybe curiosity was a way faith is formed and courage is created to live the life God invites us to live.

Jesus: the ultimate question-asker

Jesus was curious.

Throughout the four Gospels in the Bible, Jesus was asked 183 questions. Of those 183 questions, how many do you think he answered directly? Four. He responded to the other 179 questions sometimes with a story, sometimes with an action, but most often with another question.

Jesus was the master of leading people with questions. In fact, Jesus himself asked an astounding 307 questions. Why is it that Jesus, who knew the answers, spent so much time asking so many questions to people like you and me? I am curious about that.

Fast-forward from that high school ski trip to today where I am a pastor of a church in Los Angeles. As a pastor, I often have people coming to me seeking answers, guidance, and direction. Every time that happens, I count it a great privilege to be included on such pivotal moments in my congregants’ lives.

And yet, years ago, I started relying more on asking people questions than dispensing advice and answers. I have discovered it leads to much greater passion in people, much greater momentum to follow Christ, and much more creative and powerful outcomes.

For example, Sarah was a twenty-something who had become part of Christian Assembly, the church I serve. A former art teacher, she had moved to Los Angeles to make it in acting, but that had not worked out.

Over time, Sarah was exposed to one of the questions we were asking as a church: “If we moved from the neighborhood, would anyone who does not attend care?” We were seeking God’s help to live into the answer to that question in such a way that it would matter to our neighbors in tangible ways. As it happens, Sarah ended up being the person God used to lead us into one answer to our question.

Living your way into the answer to a question

Sarah had a heart for at-risk kids. She could have been classified at-risk herself growing up. As she prayed, she decided to approach the principal at our local public elementary school about starting a tutoring and mentoring program for at-risk kids in the school. Each mentor would spend one hour per week mentoring one child in whatever the local teachers felt was needed. We began with a handful of kids, and as with many new things, there were suspicions to be overcome. We even had to promise one family that we would not mentor their child.

Seven years have passed, and today we have 80 kids being mentored on a weekly basis. It is not only making a difference in their test scores; it is making a difference in their lives as well. I am so glad I asked Sarah how she felt God might be inviting her to live into the answer of our question rather than just telling her my answer. It would not have been nearly as powerful — and Kids Hope USA might not exist.

Blythe was asking a different question. She is a twenty-something who works in the fashion industry here in Los Angeles. She loves dresses. She also has a deep compassion for the millions of women and children trapped in the global sex slave trade. So the question that arose for her was, “God, what I can do to help combat this injustice?”

The answer Blythe lived her way into with God’s leading is something called Dressember. The basic idea is to mobilize women to wear a dress every single day in the month of December, posting a picture on social media. The women ask friends to sponsor them, with all the money going to a reputable organization that combats the global sex slave trade in Jesus’ name. It started originally just as a style challenge until Blythe had the idea to connect it to her rising question about human trafficking.

In 2013, Blythe aligned Dressember with International Justice Mission, an organization that combats human trafficking in Jesus’ name. The goal was to raise $25,000. They hit that goal . . . on the third day of Dressember. By the end of the month, they had raised $165,000.

The most recent Dressember (2014), Blythe’s little campaign went viral with registered participants from 32 countries across six continents. Dressember 2014 raised $462,000 in a single month to combat human trafficking. How many women and children will be rescued from modern-day slavery because of that $462,000? A hundred? Five hundred? A thousand? I do not know the exact number, but I am so grateful for Blythe’s courage to ask God questions and then courageously trust him to help her live into the answer.

Curious enough to ask and caring enough to act

Now, when people come to me, I am hesitant to offer them my answers to the questions they are asking. I now usually meet their question with a question designed to lead them to prayerful consideration of what God is inviting them to do.

Leading people with questions was one of Jesus’ most often used practices as he interacted with people. However, he did not stop there. He invited them to be curious enough to ask, but then he invited them to care enough to act. His questions were never idle. He always was leading them to the moment when they had to decide if they trusted God enough to begin to live into the answer.

It is an amazing thing as a pastor to now have a front-row seat to watch God at work unleashing the most unexpected power through a question-led life. It is also a humbling thing to think of stories that might not have happened if I had jumped too quickly to tell inquirers my answer rather than stay with them in their questions, trusting God would lead them one day at a time into his answer.

Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it does wonders for living out daily faith in Jesus.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Tom Hughes
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