HT: Andrew Bunt
We all know how powerful questions can be. A carefully chosen question can often unlock a situation in a way that a simple statement just couldn’t. The right question can help someone to understand themselves better or lead them to a vital moment of realisation. Questions are powerful, and for those of us who get the privilege of preaching and teaching they can be particularly helpful.1 Here are three ways that I have found questions to be helpful.
A hook question
How can you grab the attention of your listeners? I’m sure that’s something we all wrestle with. Those first few moments of speaking are so important. We all want to know how best to use them. How can we draw people in so that they want to listen to what we’ve got to say?
Because let’s be honest, we can never take for granted that everyone in the room (or watching the livestream) comes with the assumption that what we’re going to say will be worth listening to, and so one of our first priorities has to be helping people see why they should want to listen to us. To achieve that, I’ll often use a hook question.
A hook question both hooks people in and gives something on which to hang the rest of what will be said. Ideally, the answer to the hook question will be the main point of the sermon or talk. That means, if you can get people to understand your hook question, they’re already part of the way to understanding your key message.
To make the best use of a hook question, we want not only to help people understand the question but also to understand why they should care about answering it. Sometimes this is easy – for example, sometimes you can pick a question that many people will already be asking. Showing that what you’re going to say connects with what people are already interested in is a great way of drawing them in. Sometimes you have to do a little more work to show people why it is a question they should care about. If this goes well, you’ve ‘hooked’ your listeners and got them interested and you’ve got something you can often use to hold the rest of your message together.
Structure and Scripture questions
That’s great to get us going, but how do we keep people engaged as we move further through our talk or preach? Here too, questions can be helpful.
The three-point structure is a classic, and for good reason. But throwing three – or more – separate points at people, isn’t always the most effective way of communicating. Better, is a series of three interlinked points. It’s like a journey – you want to take people by the hand through the hook question and then guide them from there through your main points all the way to your conclusion.
And one of the best ways of interlinking your points is to use questions. One point begs a question which you can highlight as you bring that point to a close and then use to introduce the next point, and so on. If our points are a progression that unfolds naturally, they’ll be easier to follow and we’re more likely to keep the understanding and attention of those listening.
And these structure questions can often also be Scripture questions. Asking questions of the biblical text is one of the best ways to wrestle with it in order to understand its message. These questions can sometimes be a good way of structuring what we’re saying. And this has the added bonus that we’re also showing people how to read the Bible well.
All this is helpful, but it still leaves things open-ended. How can we end our preaches and talks well? How can we help people to put into practice what we’ve said?
If you’ve got this far, you won’t be surprised by my answer: questions are also a great way to end a sermon or talk. As preachers and teachers, we’re not just trying to communicate information; we’re trying to encourage a response. We could just tell people what their response should be, but it’s far better to help people to think about it themselves.
Posing questions about how listeners are going to respond gets them involved before you’ve even finished talking. Hearing someone else tell you how to respond is easy; it requires nothing from you. Thinking about what your personal response will be, engaging with some helpful questions from the speaker, requires some involvement, some buy-in. It actually starts the process of responding right there are then before you’ve even finished speaking. Encouraging people to think about their answers and to settle on their response before they even leave helps them to go on and put that response into action.
So, how could questions help you? What type of question’s can you employ when you are preaching or teaching? You may find there’s some real power in them.