Here is a link to a post where I explain why I believe small group leaders should often resist the urge to offer up answers to questions that can be seen as tough. If we’re not answering questions, the natural question is this: Just what should a small group leader do when tough questions arise…
The truth is there is no one-size-fits-all, easy answer. There will be times that you will do too much. There will be times that you won’t do enough. But realize that you have a wide number of options open to you. Consider these:
#1) Pray Do it right there on the spot. But pray for real: it’s such a tempting thing in these circumstances to use prayer as a soap box to broadcast what you really think is the answer. While giving the appearance of prayer. This is a bad idea for all kinds of reasons, of course.
#2) Know how your church leadership would like you to do with tough questions before you get to them. You will get questions that are hard to answer. If your Small Group Pastor, Director, or Coach hasn’t given you some direction in this area already, you’d be wise to seek some direction out.
There are several different layers of support you should ask for.
A) If you have good reasons to expect a certain question will come up, you might ask for the specific response leadership would like you to give.
B) If you feel over your head, you ought to ask for a contact person for you to go to with questions and concerns.
C) You might ask for go-to people and useful resources that you can direct questioners to within the church.
#3) Validate the importance of the question O.K. Most of us are probably sick of hearing about active listening, the importance of restating what we hear, and all those related skills. But the truth is, the reason that so much is made out of these is because they are so very import. It’s likely that the person asking is nervous about the question they are asking; they probably know that it is a good/tough question. You response will create a community that feels safe in asking these questions. A few specific ways to validate the importance of the question:
A) Emphasize with the aspects of the question that you also struggle with.
B) Comment on the importance of the question. What are the stakes of choosing right or choosing wrong in this case.
C) Thank the questioner for their courage in asking the tough questions.
#4) Pass the buck to somebody else. Many of us rarely tap into the power we have when leading a discussion. The ability to ask a specific person who might be gifted and wise in a certain area is tremendous. If the question is one which requires a sensetive response, ask a sensetive person if they have any suggestions. If it’s a complex theological issue turn to your resident theologion. A variety of things are accomplished through this technique. First, you demonstrate your faith in the other members of the group. Secondly, you avoid positioning yourself as the dispenser of wisdom. Thirdly, you put the question in the best hands within your group… Or perhaps outside of your group. Perhaps you can suggest that the questioner brings the question to someone outside the group who you know is well-suited to answer it. Maybe you’ll ask for permission yourself to bring it to someone. If nothing else, asking the group for counsel, asking them if they know anyone with the right kind of discernment for the issue at hand is always an option.
#5 Engage in a content-to-process shift. The content of a question is the meaning of the question itself. The process is the question of how the question is formed, and why the person is asking it. A content-to-process shift is a way to change the focus of ourselves and our group.
Ordinarily we focus on the words people say. Sometimes, though, what someone says is not so important as why they say a thing. This is often the case with questions.
A person who questions the reliability of scripture might in fact really want to know if God is trustworthy. If it appears that a person is wrestling with a certain aspect of God, it might be the case that the person is really wrestling with this aspect of themselves. A person who asks why the pastor did such-and-such might really be asking if the pastor is a good person.
Sometimes the questioner might be aware of the thing they want to ask. Other times they may not. Either way, the tricky part of a content-to-process shift is to go about it in a way that does not look like you are condescending to the questioner.
I find it helpful to go about this in the form of a question; when possible I draw a connection between myself and the other person by saying things like “You know, sometimes when I ask those sorts of questions, I eventually find out that the real question I’m not letting myself ask is (fill in the blank) I wonder if that’s the case with you.” Or I might say “I notice that you’ve got lots of questions about (whatever it is) I wonder what makes you so curious about that.”
There are times that this might not be helpful. There are times that people mean what they say and say what they mean. If this is the case, a content-to-process shift won’t generally accomplish much.
#6 Make a plan Often times whatever words you or others might offer won’t change much, no matter how well-intentioned or wise they are. There all sorts of things that a group can plan to do to help resolve questions. After making these plans, a plan to revisit the issue (perhaps at the next group meeting) would be wise.
A) Plan to pray over the issue, perhaps each day.
B) Plan to think it over and communicate through out the week.
C)Plan to seek out counsel from others outside the group.
D) Plan to utilize resources such as condordances and the internet to research scriptural perspectives on the topic.