Read Previous Asking Good Questions Part 1
Closed Questions vs. Open Questions
During the two sub-par meetings, Peter focused entirely on the Bible passage. We covered the book of Jonah, so Peter asked, "Where did Jonah flee?" "To a ship bound for Tarshish," a member replied. "Great answer," said Peter. "Anyone else?" Silence. "Why did Jonah flee?" asked Peter. "Because he was disobedient," said another member. Peter tried to get more people to talk. "Would anyone else like to share?" A few mumbled a variation of the same answer, but when all was said and done, there was only one answer: Jonah was disobedient.
Peter listened well, gave positive feedback, and did everything right. What more could the group say? There was basically only one answer to give. Jonah fled because he was disobedient. Someone might have added a few more adjectives like, "Jonah was gravely disobedient," but why bother? Even a superb, highly trained leader could not elicit more discussion from the question. Peter could have waited in silence for an hour, hoping for someone else to talk, and we had have sat there in silence with him.
I talked to Peter a few days later. I shared with him my own failures and discoveries—especially in the area of asking questions.
Fortunately, something clicked in Peter, and the next lesson was excellent. We covered Psalm 46:1, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." Peter began with a few closed, observation questions to help us understand the biblical text. But this time he quickly applied the passage to our lives with questions like, "When was the last time you had a crisis? How did you handle it?" Peter followed with another application question, "How did God become a refuge in your life through your crisis?"
Everyone had something to share. "Many years ago I administered the most successful tailoring business in the country," Paul began. "I loved my job and even made suits for the President. At the height of my success, the doctors told me it was either my health or my job, so I had to leave it. But God… "
Then Carol shared, "Recently, my daughter Mary said she'd be home at 10 p.m., but at 1 a.m. she still hadn't arrived. I'm a nervous person anyway, but this time I was beyond myself. Through prayer, God began to… " Our group shared deeply that night. We bore each other's burdens. We came away edified, encouraged, and eager for more.
Preparing the right questions before you start the meeting can give you assurance that the discussion will be lively and dynamic. Closed questions have only one correct answer. When a leader uses too many of them, he positions himself as a Bible expert who's trying to discover the brightest, most Biblically literate students. Open-ended questions, on the other hand, elicit discussion and sharing. There is more than one right answer. Open-ended questions stir cell members to apply biblical truths to their own lives.
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