NOTE: Originally posted on Tuesday, November 14, 2006 at the [Subversive Underground].
I have learned something important about myself in the process of leading a house church that has taken me by surprise.
Over the last few years of my life I have become fascinated by the teaching style of Jesus. He told stories, he provoked thought, he invited questions and more often than not he allowed questions to go unanswered.
In my own personal life I have prayed that God would help me to be more of a teacher like Jesus who is not afraid of questions and who is able to provoke people to thought, to change and to action by his stories and by the way he allows people to figure things out for themselves without throwing out easy answers to everyone.
That's the goal. The reality is something else altogether.
I have an old poster that I took off the wall in the Art Department where I went to college. It says, "Well-formed questions are more useful than well-formed answers". I love that poster. I love the radical notion that sometimes questions are more useful than answers.
In the scriptures, Jesus was asked something like forty three questions and he only actually answered two of those questions. The others he either answered with a question of his own, or he outright refused to give an answer at all. I love that about Jesus. He was not focused so much on the answers, but he was interested mostly in helping people to think things out for themselves.
I am learning that, as much as I value this quality, I am not comfortable with it in everyday practice.
One of the things that frustrates me most about the modern Christian subculture in America is our fixation with providing answers. I hate that we have tried to reduce the Gospel into a sound bite, thus removing from it the true power it has to transform us. I hate that we often employ answer-based evangelism whether or not the people being evangelized have ever asked us the questions. I long to see more question-based forms of evangelism and communication come out of the Church and this is mostly because it brings our own need to live out the Gospel message into the light and the conversation.
Still, what I have learned about myself through our house church is that I personally am terrified of questions in a group setting. The last few weeks God has pointed out to me my annoying habit of answering each and every question raised in our house church meeting. I realize that I do this mostly out of a sense of feeling uncomfortable that someone else might answer it incorrectly, or out of a desire to display my inherent wisdom and understanding of the passage of scripture or the topic at hand.
I need help.
Just a few weeks ago this scenario played out during one of our Thursday night gatherings and I share it with you now to illustrate what I mean.
We were having a wonderful dialog about the book of Job together. Someone pointed out, brilliantly I might add, that the entire point of the book of Job is found when Job utters to God, "My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen you". Although God did not appear to Job in bodily form, he had somehow "seen" God. How was that accomplished? By the sufferings he endured Job gained a powerful perspective of the fact that God is God and that Job is not. Without the suffering he endured, Job would only have "heard of" the Glory of God, but now due to the suffering, he could say he had really "seen" God's Glory. (Job 42:4-6)
At this moment, one of our members asked, "So then, is suffering the only way to see God?" If I could travel back in time, to that moment in my den, I would wrap a roll of duct tape around the mouth of the host...which is me.
What I wouldn't give to go back in time and, instead of answering that person's question for her, had turned to the group, or back to this person and asked another question like; "I don't know. What do you think?"
Wow. That would have been one very cool conversation. But it's a conversation that we will never have now because I took the opportunity to answer this volatile question all by myself.
I repent of that. I pray that I can learn from this and next time, when someone asks a question in our group like that, I will bounce it back to them and ask them what they think the answer is.
In theory I love the idea of allowing questions to breathe. I love the idea of welcoming input and dialog, even if there is the danger that someone will arrive at the wrong answer or get distracted by some misunderstanding. In reality, I am still learning to come to grips with the idea of a living question in my presence. I am still learning how to welcome such radical inquisition into my home without asking it to first submit to my so-called wisdom.
In fact, I've written articles in the past on this very topic. I've pointed out the importance of asking questions and I've criticized those in the Church who fear the question unnecessarily. Now the whole thing has come back to bite me in the butt. I suppose that's why the Word of God is sometimes referred to as a "two-edged sword".
I hope that one day I can find the inner resolve to allow questions to flourish, to breathe, to dance in my living room without being smothered by the big, fat answer I hold behind my back. I hope that God will teach me to welcome questions and to be more comfortable with allowing people to work things out for themselves.
More and more I am learning, through our house church experience, how to live out the values and the convictions I have within, in ways that I never could have in any other way.
I suppose that in the process of making disciples, we have to admit that we are also disciples who are in the process of being made.