How Jesus Used Powerful Questions in His Ministry

Guest Post by Andrew Sobel

JESUS Was a Master of Questions
  • He used them to engage people and draw them in.
  • He asked questions to make others think about important issues and help them understand who he was and what he had come to do. He also used questions to blunt attacks by the religious authorities of the day, turning confrontations into an opportunity to teach.
  • Jesus did more than simply ask lots of questions. He always began his relationships by focusing on the other person’s agenda. In a famous scene in John, for example, he goes at night to meet Nicodemus, a top Jewish religious leader. What do they talk about? Theology, of course! Jesus tells him, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3).
  • When he meets the Samaritan woman at the well, he talks about her most important issues, which are isolation, spiritual emptiness, and a profligate lifestyle. He says, “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” He then offers her the antidote: a “spring of water welling up to eternal life”—God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance through Jesus (John 4:18).
  • In the Gospel of Luke, there is a scene where Jesus sees the “arch” tax collector Zaccheus up in a fig tree, looking for a glimpse of Jesus amidst the large crowd that had gathered. He tells him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). As a tax collector serving the Romans, Zacchaeus would have been a despised outcast. Jesus immediately addresses his need for social acceptance byoffering—in public—to visit with him at his home.

Jesus, in short, had an uncanny ability to immediately focus in on each individual’s particular needs. This led to immediate rapport and engagement.

Here are just a few examples of different types of questions he employed:

  • Questions to engage others.   Jesus used simple, short questions to create a connection and draw people in. In the Gospel of Matthew, for example, he frequently asks his disciples “What do you think?” On the road to the village of Emmaus, described in Luke, the resurrected Christ says to the two unsuspecting men, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” (Luke 24:17). When he takes his disciples through Samaria and stops at a well, he asks the lone woman, “Will you get me a drink? (John 4:7).
  • Empowerment questions to instill faith. When Jesus encounters Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, he asks, “What do you want me to do?” (Mark 10:51). In John 5:6, at the Bethsaida springs, he asks the lame man, “Do you want to get well?” He is seeking an affirmation of a desire to change and of their faith.
  • Questions that force his listeners to think about who he is. In Luke chapter five, Jesus is about to heal a crippled man who has been lowered through the roof of the house. The Pharisees are disapproving of Jesus, thinking, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus, knowing their thoughts, asks them, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” His point is that it’s harder to forgive sin, and he is the one who can do both—forgive sins and make the crippled man walk. Later, before entering Jerusalem to face his death, he asks his disciples one of the most significant questions ever posed, “Who do the people say I am? (Matthew 16:13). When they give a somewhat equivocal answer, he turns to Peter and demands, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15 but also Mark 8:29 and Luke 9:20)
  • Counter-questions to fend off his attackers. In Mark chapter 11, Jesus is in the temple courts, and the religious authorities challenge his authority to be there and teach. In reply, Jesus says, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” His interrogators are caught in a bind. If they say “From heaven” they will effectively recognize Jesus’ divine authority and origin; if they say “From men,” the people, who believe that John’s baptism was indeed from heaven, will become furious with them. Since whichever way they answer undermines their credibility, they flee.
  • Questions that teach. In Luke chapter 10, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. It begins with a question from a religious authority, “And who is my neighbor?” When Jesus finishes the parable, he asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” And the religious authority can only answer, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Thoughtful questions are your most important tools for connecting with others, learning who they are, and building deep relationships with them. Powerful questions also help define the real problem and frame the right issues. There is no better role model for how to do these things than Jesus Christ.

Questions for you:

  1. How adept are you at asking good questions and understanding the other person’s agenda?
  2. Are you able to frame your message in a way that resonates with the other person, given their particular situation and concerns?
  3. Are your conversations all about you or are they balanced, with healthy give-and take?
  4. Do you have a strong sense of curiosity about other people?

Put Your Learning into Action: For the next three days, ask more, thoughtful questions of each person you encounter. Try and learn something new about each of them. Don’t just ask “How are you?” Go deeper:

  • “How is work going for you? What are you focused on these days?”
  • “What are you most excited about in your life right now?”
  • “What did you take away from this morning’s sermon—what spoke to you?”
  • “How did you spend your weekend?”
  • “What did you learn from that experience?”
  • “What do you think about…(fill in whatever you want)?”
  • “You’ve achieved a lot already…what are your dreams going forward?”
  • “Where did you grow

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Sobel is coauthor, with Jerold Panas, of Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others. Each chapter highlights a powerful question that transformed a conversation. Andrew is the leading authority on building long-term client and other professional relationships. He can be reached at www.andrewsobel.com

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