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May 5, 2009

Questioning Discipleship

Why group leaders should be less information-dumpers and more question-askers.

Note: In the next few weeks, we'll be introducing some "blogging all stars" from the world of small-groups ministry. Heather Zempel fits that description. She is Pastor of Discipleship at National Community Church, and she has been training group leaders for a long time on her own blog: Wineskins for Discipleship.


Henri Nouwen said, "We have to keep looking for the spiritual questions if we want spiritual answers." I used to think that my job as a small-group leader was to gather and dispense information. I thought small-group leadership was about controlling the message and making sure everyone knew the right answers to questions. However, the longer I plow the ground of spiritual growth, the more I'm convinced that discipleship boils down to the questions we ask more than the answers we give.

I've never researched it, but I'd love to know the percentage of Scripture devoted to Jesus' questions vs. Jesus' teaching. I bet the percentage looks a lot different from the amount of time the typical pastor engages in both of those activities. Consider the following:

  • Who you say that I am?

  • What do you want me to do?

  • What are you thinking in your hearts?

  • Do you believe I can do this?

  • Why are you terrified?

Those are some of the questions Jesus asked, and they transformed the lives of the people that he asked them to. He asked questions that are confusing, disturbing, realigning, and transforming.

Discipleship is often seen as giving people spiritual answers. It's downloading information. It's teaching. It's cramming in. But is it possible that discipleship has less to do with cramming in and more to do with drawing out? In the four Gospels, Jesus asked 307 questions. And He only answered 3 of the 183 questions that were asked of him.

The more I lead small groups and disciple people, the less I consider my job portfolio as dispenser of information. Rather, I view it as question asker. I'm beginning to use questions as the primary vehicle for disciple-making. They presuppose relationship, build trust, and invite us to explore deeper places of the mind and heart.

This isn't a new approach. Jewish rabbinical training was built on the exchange of questions. John Wesley's "classes" of the Methodist movement used a list of questions to give structure to their small group meetings.

Here are some of the questions I'm asking:

  • Where do you see God most at work in your life?

  • What is something you are excited about in your life right now?

  • What is a big challenge you are facing right now?

  • What fruit of the Spirit is most abundant in your life? What fruit of the Spirit is least abundant in your life?

  • What is stopping you from doing what you know God has called you to do?

My hope is that asking great questions will move discipleship outside the classroom context and into our every day conversations.


Heather Zempel is Pastor of Discipleship at National Community Church in Washington, D.C.

posted by Sam O'Neal on May 5, 2009 10:57 AM

Related Tags: Discipleship, Information, Questions


Great stuff. One question I've found can open up some deeper conversation (even when you're just hanging out) is, "What's keeping you up at night lately?"

Great post. When I think back on the people who influenced me the most spiritually, particularly my small-group leaders, none of them did so because they were constantly feeding me information but rather because they listened carefully. This showed me that they cared about me and not just what they had to say. There is a place for wise teaching to be sure, but you're right to suggest that asking questions - and listening to the answers - can be even more powerful.

Another great question is "What have you learned about Jesus this week?"

A lot to think about. I am currently in a Discipleship Class at seminary. One of our requirements is to disciple someone, and this concept of asking questions is so simple, but so true. I'm looking forward to using some of your questions with her.

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