Why I Don’t Always Give People an Answer

question everything: Why I Don’t Always Give People an Answer

I have a theory, which I practice often.

I’ve been using it for many years—as a leader, father, a friend and a pastor. It’s not always what people come looking to me for, but I think it’s the best practice.

I don’t always give people answers.

  • As a pastor, people came to me for answers.
  • As a dad, my boys, now grown, often still come to me for answers.
  • As a friend, people come to me for answers.
  • As a counselor, people came to me for answers.
  • As a leader of a team, people come to me for answers.

In either case, I don’t always give people answers.

I don’t try to solve their problems for them. I know that seems hard to understand, maybe even cruel of me, unless you understand why I don’t.

Now, if there is a clear biblical answer for their problem or issue, I give it to them, as I understand it. And, there are certainly things which are my responsibility and I have to make a decision. I make dozens of these type of decisions every day. I’m not afraid to be the deciding voice when one is required of me.

I’m talking about decisions which are the responsibility of other people to make. These are the issues more difficult to discern. Things such as career choice decisions, the calling in life decisions, who to marry, how to respond to a marriage conflict, how to deal with difficult parents or children or friends, etc.—the unwritten answer type decisions. When there are multiple, seemingly good options available, I don’t try to solve their problem.

For those type of issues, I probably have an opinion, but I almost never “have” the answer.

Instead…

I help people discover a paradigm through which to make the decision.

  • I help them see all sides of an issue.
  • I ask probing questions to spur bigger picture thoughts about an issue.
  • I share Scriptures, which may speak to both sides of a decision.
  • I serve as an outside voice and become an objective listener.
  • I connect them with people who may have experienced similar issues.
  • I often diagram the problem, as I hear it, so they can see an issue on paper. (This is one of my favorites.)
  • I help them learn to pray and listen for the voice of God.

And then I release them to make a decision.

Here is my reasoning…

If I solve the problem for them (or attempt to):

  • I’m just one opinion—and I am often wrong.
  • They’ll resent me if it proves to be a wrong decision, and trust me less the next time.
  • They may never take ownership of the issue.
  • They’ll likely do what they want anyway.
  • They won’t learn the valuable skills of listening to the voice of God.
  • They won’t learn from personal experience. (And, that’s the best way we learn.)
  • They will only rely on someone giving them the answer next time, failing to develop real wisdom, which comes through years of wrestling through the hard decisions of life.

My advice—for leaders, parents, pastors and friends:

Don’t always have an answer—or at least not THE answer.

Help people form paradigms through which to to solve problems and make wiser decisions.

Ideally we want people to develop healthy decision-making skills. We want them to gain dependence on God and the acquired ability to seek and discern wisdom. If we always make the decisions for them—if we always tell them exactly what they should do—they become too dependent on others and may never develop fully into who God has designed them to be.

Are you too quick to have an answer sometimes?

This article originally appeared here.

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Ron Edmondson
Ron Edmondson is a pastor and church leader passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Ron has over 20 years business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and he's been helping churches grow vocationally for over 10 years.