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Questions Build Trust & Understanding

Everyone wants to have life-giving conversations. These conversations are started with questions because we build trust and understanding through questions. I’m afraid that in many ways we’ve lost our ability to converse. We limit our conversations to texts and tweets. We’re afraid of offending so we don’t ask and because we don’t ask we don’t understand. We have a hard time communicating about things of significance, even truths of eternal significance. As Christians we want to talk about Jesus because he’s changed the world and us. Yet, we have a hard time having a conversation about him because we have a hard time conversing. Over the next few weeks at church and on the blog I want to unpack some truths I’ve seen about conversations from Jesus’ interaction with the disciples in Matthew 16, here are three.

Our best conversations happen in the “real world.” One of the reasons I think people struggle to talk in church or in class is they don’t want to be wrong. When you have a conversation in the “real world” guess what, there is no right or wrong answer. I’m just asking a question, so tell me what you think. There is no wrong answer in the coffee shop or lunch table.

I particularly love conversations that happen about Jesus outside of church. Once a student of mine (from the community college where I teach) told me he bombed my test because he had spent the night before the test smoking pot! He knew I was a preacher but because we were in the “real world” not at church he felt safe to share that with me. He probably didn’t know he wasn’t “supposed” to tell me because we were just out there in the world - no pretext just reality.

If we want to start having great conversations in the real world we need to allow time for them. We walk fast; we leave early or arrive late; but the best conversations happen right before or after an event! So, take the time to walk slowly and talk with someone.

Questions start the best conversations, so ask! If you want to have better conversations ask good questions. Questions about reality, about the real world. It doesn’t matter where you have the conversation, work, lunch, home, but you should talk about reality. Ask open ended questions like: “How Are Things Going?” “What’s Going On? “Who do people say that I am?” Too often we asks questions like, “Did you have a good day?” (Yes or No), “Do you believe Jesus is God?” We get a lot better response when we ask questions like, “What was your day like? Tell me about it.”

Some of the best conversations I’ve had lately have been about President Trump and politics. I loved asking when the election was swirling, “What do you think about the election?” I loved hearing responses because they would start with their concern. “I’m concerned about healthcare so I’m voting for…” or “I’m concerned about the economy so I’m voting for…” These concerns are our concerns and they help us build understanding and trust between us - even if we disagree.

People grow comfortable sharing what they think if you remain curious. Instead of being curious we look for a way to define, to pigeonhole someone, and “know their type.” When someone gives you an answer accept it as his or her answer. Then ask more about it. Accept their answer and accept them; ask more about it and you show how you want to know more about them! Now some people don’t like this. If they hear a “wrong answer” they want to correct it. If you do that, you’ll make sure you never hear an unfiltered answer ever a gain. In short, you’ll make sure you have shallow conversations filled with half-truths.

This is especially important for parents to remember about their children as they grow. Questions help faith grow. Fuller Youth Institute has identified four necessary ingredients to create a faith that sticks or as they call it, “Sticky Faith.” One of those four is, “A Safe Place For Doubt.” They write “Doubt is not toxic to faith; silence is. Young people want conversations in response to their hardest questions, not just answers.”  In short, your kids want you to remain curious about them and what they think. Your questions will build trust and understanding with them and they will grow in their faith with you.

Give it a shot and try it. You'll see how powerful questions can be in strengthening your understanding and trust with other people. If you need more help check out this great TED talk on conversations by Celeste Headlee. I really enjoyed watching it as I prepped for Sunday.