I had a woman set up an appointment with me a number of years ago. She came into my office and after some small talk looked at me and said, “I can’t believe that this church would be so narrow to say that belief in Jesus is the only way to heaven. How could you believe that? That is such a narrow, limited view of the world and all the diversity in it. How could you guys believe that?” There was quite a bit of emotion in her voice. Now I immediately thought of all the right answers. I thought of John 14:6 and Acts 4:12. And I was instantly ready to defend our church’s position on this critical question. But instead, I stopped and asked a follow up question.
I said that is a good question and lots of people have that question. Is there anything that’s happened in your life that makes you especially want an answer to this question? She said she really liked our church and enjoyed the people but didn’t think she could keep coming unless she resolved this question. But even with my first question she seemed to relax. We talked some more about the church and I said, "it seems like there was lots of emotion behind that question. Is there something that is bothering you related to this question?" That question sparked even more emotion and she started to cry. She said that her grandma recently died and her grandma was a really good person but never went to church and she really wondered what happened to her grandma after death. It was a moment that I will never forget because we got to her real need and we talked about the pain of losing her grandma and her question in light of this new information. But we would have never gotten there if I had valued the right answer more than her question.
You see, questions are an indication that God is working in people’s lives. When people have questions the Holy Spirit is at work troubling them, prodding them, and causing them to wrestle with the spiritual. This woman was pretty troubled to go to all the effort of calling me setting up an appointment and asking me her question. It was obvious that God was at work.
The initial questions many times aren’t really the real issue. Questions are a way to test the waters to see if this is a safe place to share what I’m really feeling. This woman came with a big philosophical question but that wasn’t her real issue. She was grieving and wanted to know, is this going to be a safe place to share what is really troubling her. So if I would have launched into the “right answer" that would have communicated to her that this wasn’t the safe place to ask her true question.
To have a culture of belonging in our community we have to value questions over having the right answer. There is an incredible openness on the part of people to discuss spiritual issues. But what they want is a dialogue and not a monologue. They are looking for a place where their questions are taken seriously and not met with an immediate answer that’s simple, rote and puts them down for not knowing the “obvious answer.” These people come with million-dollar questions, they don’t want two cent answers that don’t value them or their struggles. This doesn’t mean that we never get to the “right answers” or ignore them. But that we simply don’t lead with the right answers. We want to value the questions first and have space for dialogue so we can learn more of what’s behind the question.
Our Foundations class starts on Tuesday January 23rd from 6-8 pm and this is a place where we value questions and have dialogue so we can all learn more and allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. The class is for everyone. Please join us! You can sign up here.