No direct commands. Just questions:
“Brush your teeth” became an empowering: “Do you guys know what comes next?” (“We brush our teeth!”)
Her rationale was essentially this: Leaders often lead through imperatives with the result that we end up diminishing the identity of those we serve.
As a teacher, leader, and parent, I often find myself leading through direct command. And I’ve wondered how much of my carefully-crafted content sticks. You might feel the same way.
So I tried it:
Last night, while Mandie was out with some friends – from 6:22pm all the way through bedtime – my kids (Joseph 7, Carston 6, and Hannah 3) got nothing but questions from Daddy.
It was incredible.
Instead of giving directions (“brush your teeth,” “pick up your toys,” “help your sister”), I forced myself to lead by asking only questions.
I didn’t let them in on it.
And they didn’t suspect a thing.
Here’s what I discovered:
1. You create more interesting conversation
Carston, my 6-year old son and I were sitting at the kitchen table, building LEGOs.
“Watcha building, buddy?” I asked.
“A spaceship,” he said. “Hey Daddy…”
“Yes?” I asked.
“What is space? How come the Sun sets? And why does the moon come up?”
Bound by my vow-of-questioning, I only replied, “Why do you think that is?” Carston cocked his head, thought for a second, and launched into a 3-minute explanation of how the earth spins around the Sun using bricks as visual aids.
I smiled. He was thinking. I loved it.
Not quite on the level of Copernicus, but still pretty solid.
Fifteen minutes later his LEGO creation was completed, and Carston was zooming around the house shouting, “Daddy! Look at my spaceship!” Determined to hold fast to my commitment-to-question, I asked, “What’s it called, buddy?”
“Zoom-a-licious.” he said.
2. You create a culture of thoughtful empathy.
Joseph (7) got frustrated with Hannah and threw a book across the room. On any other night, my response would have been: “Joseph! Stop that!” Or “Joseph! What are you doing?” (In all fairness, still a question, but not a very equitable one).
But instead of directing, I just calmly asked: “Joseph, do you think that was the rightthing to do?” (We had been here before.)
“No.” he said.
“Why do you think that was wrong?” I pressed
“Because I made Hannah feel bad inside.”
“What do you think we should do about it?” I asked.
“I should go say ‘I’m sorry’ and ask for her forgiveness.”
I’m sure my jaw dropped because Joseph looked up at me and asked what was the matter.
On one hand, it was gratifying to know that our parenting is paying off. On the other hand it was completely frustrating. I realized that I’ve been teaching backwards for quite a while. Joseph’s a great kid. He knew the answer. But by working it through, he owned. it.
3. Leaders offer to help more often.
Hannah wanted her milk.
I knew her purple sippy cup was in her room. Sitting on her nightstand, in fact.
But I couldn’t say that.
Instead of “Hannah, go get your milk,” I thought for a minute and asked, “Hannah, can we go look for your milk together?”
She took my hand. Walked me down the hall. Right to where she (probably) already knew her milk was.
“Thanks, Daddy. I love you.”
(Seriously?!?! Where has this parenting tactic been?!)
Here’s the kicker:
When I look at the mini-culture I created at home tonight, it’s the same culture I want to see in my workplace and ministry: Conversation. Thoughtful empathy. Leaders acting as servants.
I asked their permission. I asked what they thought.
How about you?
If you’re a leader, there is a powerful lesson here:
Jesus taught through questions. He was great at it.
Force yourself to ask only questions for a few minutes to engage kids’ brains. It will feel awkward at first. But it might yield some incredible results.
Brannon has served as a church planter, youth pastor, worship leader, and Chicago street musician.
In his current role in Global Church Engagement with Awana, Brannon is focused on helping churches develop healthy children’s and youth ministries. He has led the development MOVE, an innovative resource for promoting conversation around children’s and youth ministry in the local church. He is also on staff at Christ Community Church in Bartlett, IL.
You’ll most likely find him reading books – some of which he actually finishes. Or fly fishing – a few of which he actually catches. Brannon and his wife Mandie live in Elgin, IL with their three children Joseph, Carston, and Hannah.
He secretly wants to be a Blue Man when he grows up.
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