We ended our last blog considering how Christ displayed kingdom leadership by washing His disciples’ feet. Today we’ll consider the way we approach each other, and how to use questions as a way to invite others to engage with God and another to reveal their story.
A friend had been caught doing some things a missionary “should not do,” and her team was looking to me to sort out whether she would go on their missions trip after the incident. Despite age and cultural difference, I was the authority, so what I said would happen.
I sat down with her and asked a couple of open questions. I didn’t reprimand her; I didn’t insist on enforcing rules … I just asked questions. And she opened up. She opened up about her fear of future failure, and that some of the reasons she chose to make the decisions she had made were a type of self-sabotage. She was grateful that my response showed that I loved her more for who she was than what she could do for the Lord, and in light of that she repented and committed to living a lifestyle that would exude Christ, whether she was in missions or not. Encouragingly, she went on to tell many people about the mercy and kindness of a God who places us in loving fellowship with each other.
What kind of questions did I ask? It definitely wasn’t “How dare you…? How could you…? Do you have any idea…? Don’t you understand…?” Those kinds of questions don’t promote vulnerability, but build shame and cause people to shut down. Unfortunately, these kinds of questions can be asked with our tone and body language even when they are not spoken. Instead, I had learned to invite vulnerability that leads to revelation and true transformation.
I now use questions like: “Help me understand what you were going through in that situation…?”, “What were you hoping would happen if you…?” or “What areas of life are you hoping God will fix today, this year? How will you feel if He doesn’t?” In these types of questions, I can offer emotional support instead of answers. Here, I give room to the other to explore and share their hopes and dreams, fears and failures. My goal is to create a space that is free of judgment and shame that will allow the Holy Spirit to become increasingly present in and through loving responses. This method of discipleship requires trust that the Holy Spirit will draw the other towards Christ in deeper ways.
Clearings for Days
In my early journey towards facilitating growth in others, I saw some unfortunate results based on the kind of approach I took. If I asked questions in an accusing tone, I reaped defensiveness and shame. If I offered advice after the first question I asked, I found myself finishing the conversation before it really had a chance to allow the other to come out of hiding and into true fellowship. I realized I needed to do a little more work in the actual conversation!
I began to ‘show up’, both physically and emotionally, when I met with people. I learned to ask about his/her journey, and as they shared their journey I learned listen and to continue with Spirit-led questions. This demands that I resist my compulsion to offer advice and teaching or overthrow the conversation with my own story of how I also experienced “so-and-so.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian and activist, calls this the “ministry of listening”.
In this type of dialogue, I imagine that I’m clearing a space in a crowded wood for the two of us… and I have to be patient with the process. I’m moving stumbling rocks of judgement around us, cutting down bushes and hedges of fear and shame and inviting the presence of God. Then, as we settle in the clearing we can stretch out our bodies and let our hearts emerge. My work at clearing the space means honoring the other’s own story and own context to share. Then, if I’m listening well, my Spirit-led questions will illuminate where Christ is ministering or working within them already. In these moments, we experience communion with each other through Christ, by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
When we work to create space for each other to become vulnerable in a loving environment, we find Christ already at work to heal and redeem, and our gifts become a way to lead the other back towards Christ.
I imagine such a moment like this happened for blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). When Jesus asked him, “What do you want for me to do for you?” Jesus was affirming the dignity of the blind beggar by offering him the space to give voice to his desires. Here, Jesus reminds His disciples that it is not just miracles that people need, but presence and attention. This is what love can look like: an open and honest question, direct and kind attention, and communal hope that together we will find Christ as our healer, hope and the source of life between us.
Find a quiet space to journal your inner responses to the questions below. Note any key questions that help you engage with God honestly or get to the heart of your issue. After you’ve experienced responding to these types of questions with God, consider a friend, a discipleship situation or a family member to whom you could bring some of these questions in order to support them in their journey with God.
- Where have you found the Lord meeting you in your stresses or pains? In your disappointments or fears? In your joy and celebration?
- What areas of life energize you and bring the most life? In what places or activities do you feel closest to/experience God most?
- What would over-whelming grace and kindness look like to you in this season from a friend? from God?
- What do you hope will happen this year? How will you feel if it’s delayed?
- What would it look like to help carry your grief/stress/longing/hopes with you?
2 thoughts on “Inviting Change”
Again I have enjoyed your thought provoking insights on discipleship that invites vulnerability and true transformation. In your journey have you come across some wisdom on when it can be useful to share one’s own experiences in a discipleship relationship?
I think why we’re sharing is as important as what, so if we’re sharing our personal stories to build connection and establish trust, it’s great. If it’s to teach someone, that’s fine, but it won’t have the same impact as leading someone through their story to become more aware of what God is up to.
I don’t claim that the main thought behind the approach outlined in this blog is the only healthy form of discipleship conversations, but one that has not been explored or modeled as much as others. It’s also a fantastic way to expose unhealthy motivations.
Mixing this approach with more standard models (like giving someone a book to read, or listing biblical principles, or sharing personal values from our own stories) will be up to each person. But asking “why am I approaching this conversation like this? How would that make this person feel? What am I hoping to get out of this experience” will help surface motivations that can be lovingly offered to God in presence of Holy Spirit.