The paradigm of “leader as expert” doesn’t work in a world where the questions keep changing and old answers no longer apply. Daniel Cash and William Griffith say effective leaders ask the right questions to unleash the creativity of the group and surface new approaches to adaptive challenges.
Those who lead in churches today know that congregations are in the midst of a tremendous season of change. We are facing challenges of what is called discontinuous change. In other words, we have no prior experience or predictable patterns to draw from when facing the challenges of ministry in today’s contexts. The prototype “leader as expert” with all the answers no longer applies because the questions keep changing and we haven’t found the answers yet.
Today’s ministry challenges — from the field of stewardship, to worship, to faith formation — require adaptation in leadership. Adaptive and collaborative leaders will realize the importance of asking questions, both of themselves and those they lead in these circumstances. Doing so will help those they lead in these circumstances. Doing so will help unleash the creativity of the group, and new approaches will surface to the ever-new adaptive challenges.
Learning how to ask the most helpful questions will also be important in this adaptive work of leading. It is through the employment of good powerful questions — such as the types Jesus asked — that potential and creativity can be harnessed to unlock a leader or group from what was previously considered a stuck situation into healthy, helpful forward movement.
Asking the right type of question
Phrasing or forming the right type of question is critical when it comes to using questions for the deepening work of faith formation or for the shaping work of leadership development.
- Closed questions invite a one-word answer. It is often a yes or no response. For example, “Did you go to the gym today?” or “are you feeling better?”
- Leading questions guide a person to the desired response. A question such as “You don’t want to do that, do you?” does not invite thoughtful reflection, but instead suggests a predetermined answer. Open and powerful questions, however, will promote thoughtful responses.
- Open questions call for the responder to think and then share. Here are two examples: “What more can you tell be about that?” or “What happened in your day?”
- Powerful questions invite an even deeper and more thoughtful level of response. Jesus’ question to his disciples in Matthew 16:15, “Who do you say that I am?” is a powerful question. It comes in the context of a conversation concerning speculation as to his identity. It elicits Peter’s famous response “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Powerful questions in Scripture reflection invite readers to find themselves in the story, and to make personal observations about the story’s message for their lives. For example, “Which character in the narrative do you most identity with?” and “What is it about this story’s message that speaks to your life?”
One can ask a lot of questions that do little more than rehearse already known information. Or one can be intentional in asking only a few questions that cause persons to listen, reflect, respond, and grow as disciples and leaders. Leadership is a discipline built around good questions intended to produce forward movement in the lives of those who are being coached.
Leadership is an ongoing part of the work of ministry
Pastors and church leaders engage in leadership activities all the time, through a wide variety of practices and strategies. While it may transpire through formal or informal coaching, more often leadership happens through the daily and weekly obligations of ministry. Pastors lead through preaching, in pastoral care, by teaching a Bible study, or while facilitating a small group. Church leaders lead through running team meetings and in working with volunteers to plan church activities and carry out mission projects.
Leadership isn’t an activity we engage in separately from our other work. Leadership is part of all our work. We see this in the life of Jesus. He was always leading people, often through the use of questions, as he encountered and interacted with them.
Excerpted and adapted from The Changing Church: Finding Your Way to God’s New Thing by Daniel M. Cash and William H. Griffith, copyright © 2019 by Judson Press. Used by permission of Judson Press, 800-4-JUDSON, www.judsonpress.com. The book is available at Cokesbury and Amazon.