I Talk to Myself: Ask Questions

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I wish I could go back and sit my twenty-year-old self down and have a heart-to-heart. Yesterday, I wrote that if I could, I would go back and tell myself to find a local church that would invest in my spiritual formation such as the program offered through Generation LINK. Once I finished that conversation, I would give myself this counsel: “End more sentences with question marks than with periods or exclamation marks.” [quote]“End more sentences with question marks than with periods or exclamation marks.”[/quote]

You may have been far brighter than I was in my twenties, but when I look back and consider some of the things I said, beliefs by which I lived, sermons I preached, and decisions I made, I think, “What in the world was I thinking?”

Now we may excuse some of these as simply marks of immaturity and the natural product of youthful ignorance. I actually think the culprit is far more sinister: Pride.

I think that I really believed that I knew far more about life, God, the church, and God’s mission in the world than other people. As a result I would do things like:

  • Sit down with someone experiencing pain and brokenness and immediately launch into my five, airtight theological answers for how to fix the issue without taking the time to listen, care, or pray.
  • Dominate meetings by presenting inadequate solutions to complex problems, and instead of field-testing my ideas, I would attempt to apply theory immediately to practice in the local church.
  • Teach moralistic behaviorism in an effort to help people fix their problems because my teaching was not rooted in a robust understanding of the good news of Jesus, thus undermining the means by which a listener could apply the very concepts that I taught.
  • Pick trivial fights with other novices about matters of theology or church leadership that often resulted in a chaotic struggle of cumulative ignorance.

The list could go on and on.

I talked far more than I listened, gave solutions more than I asked questions, and presented trite sound bytes rather than listening well. I ended far too many sentences with periods and exclamation marks and not nearly enough with question marks.

According to Proverbs, I was often a fool. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is a folly and shame” (Prov 18:13). My answers revealed my unwillingness to listen to God and the wisdom of saints who had walked this path far longer than me.

A surprising thing has humbled me in recent years. I find that, while my knowledge as grown, I am increasingly aware of the vast amount that I simply don’t know. This is particularly true when it comes to practical matters regarding leadership in the church. I’m now six years into this thing called “church planting” and I find that people are now coming to me for answers. Ten years ago I would have given them all the answers (or so I thought). Now I find myself wrestling through these matters with prospective church planters and trying to discern how best to lead God’s people to make disciples in and through the local church.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that prides itself on giving black-and-white answers to complex questions. To ask questions or to admit that there are things about which we lack clarity is thought to be a sign of weakness. The result is men and women who run into ministry roles without having put themselves in the role of a learner for any significant season of time. This is often true of those who emerge from formal training in a Bible college or seminary. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for seminary education (in fact, I’m writing a dissertation on its importance for the church). But many people may assume that their season of learning culminated in them graduating from seminary. If, however, a man or woman has not been forced to apply their knowledge to the practice of leading God’s people in the church through counseling, teaching, preaching, or missions, then we may produce leaders who outtalk their wisdom and prove to be a fool. Graduation from seminary is, in many ways, only the beginning of the most intense season of learning most pastors and ministry leaders ever receive. [quote]Graduation from seminary is, in many ways, only the beginning of the most intense season of learning most pastors and ministry leaders ever receive.[/quote]

I wish I had humbly acknowledged how much I had to learn far earlier than I did. If I could go back, I would draw up a list of questions and make it my mission to sit down with as many wise and mature leaders as I could. I would ask them about how they are pursuing godliness, investing in their marriages and families, and developing their leadership skills in the church. Then, I would sit back and listen.

Asking more questions in my twenties would have protected me from out talking my maturity and provided me with more things worth saying today!