Note from Randy: Tim Keller writes, “The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”
It’s hard to imagine more relevant words than these while churches and pastors are still reeling over a year plus of fighting over COVID and politics: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19, NIV). I think this means not only that we should listen when people happen to speak, but also we should ask them the kinds of questions that invite them to speak further and at a deeper and more personal level.
I love this article by Blake Glosson, a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, about the importance of asking others thoughtful questions as a way of ministering to them and showing interest in their lives.
Think about people who make you feel loved. What about them makes you feel this way? Without knowing you (or them), I can almost guarantee that they ask good questions and listen well. As David Augsburger has observed, “Being heard is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” Show me a person who asks questions and listens, and I’ll show you a person who makes people feel known and loved.
Sadly, this is an increasingly rare gift. As Stephen Covey observed, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” In other words, most people don’t actually listen—they wait. They wait for you to stop talking so they can talk. Some of this is a matter of attention span—trained by short videos on social media, minds quickly wander. But at a deeper level, most people are simply more interested in what they have to say than what the other person has to say.
This makes asking questions and actively listening one of the rarest (and most powerful) ways to communicate love. And when we bless others by asking good questions and listening well, we reflect the character and love of God in a unique and powerful way. Question-asking was one of Jesus’s favorite tools. Even though Jesus knew all things (John 16:30)—including people’s hearts (John 2:24–25)—he still asked over 300 questions in the Gospels alone.
Though we know this from experience, we can often feel ill-equipped to actually do it ourselves (and ashamed to ask how). This is particularly true for younger generations, whose social development is often shaped more by social media than genuine human interaction. To that end, here are three principles for question-based conversation.