Got Milk? is an extremely successful American advertising campaign encouraging the consumption of milk, which was created by the advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners for the California Milk Processor Board in 1993, and was later licensed for use by milk processors and dairy farmers nationwide.  Just two words in the form of a question, but powerful.

Here is a key question for every leader: does your management, preaching, teaching, counseling, and informal conversation have enough “rising intonation”?  According to Cambridge Dictionary, “Rising intonation describes how the voice rises at the end of a sentence. Rising intonation is common in yes-no questions.”

I observe a tendency to primarily lecture in those of us who pastor, parent, and lead.  Can I debunk a common myth-leadership is not lecturing (many of us would do well to cut out some unnecessary meetings)!  This style of leadership will never bring our listeners, followers and teammates to the moment of decisive response.  Instead we produce an apathetic, non-responsive, unwilling to collaborate kind of follower that honestly is not following.  Over the past few months, the Lord has been teaching me through responses to my parenting, husbanding, counseling, and preaching that questions need to play a more prominent, sacred role.
How do we get more of “yes’s” and even “no’s” (which are better than “whatever’s”)  to repentance, ministry, marriage, parenting, witnessing, discipling, and every other call of God that we are sounding out in our pulpits of influence?  I would submit it starts with a simple but epic paradigm shift of asking a boatload more of questions.

Here are some high truths that should elevate the profile of our probing questions of influence:

Questions are the only doorknob that truly open the door to meaningful conversation.

Too many leaders are having a monologue where dialogue is needed.  You cannot lead just by talking.  In fact you are leading most, not when you spouting off answers but when you are humbly floating out questions.  The only avenue to hearing what is upon the heart of any person is to ask them and the wait through the awkward silence or roundabout before they do so. Proverbs 20:5 asserts, “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.”  That is, a discerning person can help another bring to the surface his true thoughts, intentions, or motives. Often a wise counselor can help a person examine his true motives-thoughts he may not fully understand otherwise.  Often the answers to your heart-searching questions will be more of shock and bring greater clarity to the speaker, than to you the listener.  As one author put it, “Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and fingertips.”  Your know-it-all approach stifles that process, your questions open the proverbial floodgates.  I have been there repeatedly when that moment of raw self-awareness occurs and any other approach that is “quicker or easier” cannot even begin to measure up.  By the way, this also creates “feedback loops” for you as the leader to hear honest assessment and consider personal consequences of your leadership in the lives of others.

Accusations harden the will, but questions stir the conscience.

Questions can actually bypass the will to allow the Holy Spirit to work in a heart that would otherwise be resistant to God’s truth.  The place to start with the most confused heathen is not with a litany of rebukes but questions.  Proverbs 18:13 reminds us, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”  Leadership without asking questions will always lead to folly, shame, and diminished influence.  Notice the following response on Facebook from Kevin to a recent couples conference that Heidi and I had the privilege of teaching:

“I was encouraged by his command of Scripture although I didn’t like his questions too much. They were convicting. Thanks for having him come. I learned so much.”  Did you notice the response of conviction was the result of uncomfortable but biblically-based questions?  Wow, what will God do in this heart, home, and others who are being taught through questions!  What power is in a Spirit-led question to search, try, and reveal any wicked way or just the next step of growth in our followers!  Don’t crowd out the work of the Holy Spirit in hearts around you by preempting it with your premature analysis and assessment!

Intentional questions create a void that demands an answer.

For many leaders reading this blog, your calling is to communicate answers to questions that others did not even know they had prior to your influence.  Have you ever heard of the “Socratic method”?  According to Merriam Webster, “The Socratic method is the method of inquiry and instruction employed by Socrates especially as represented in the dialogues of Plato and consisting of a series of questionings the object of which is to elicit a clear and consistent expression of something supposed to be implicitly known by all rational beings.” While we would disagree with the premise that the answers are within man, we should know that all the right questions have been implanted in man by God.  We need to appeal to them even when hidden to the person who houses them…unknowingly. There is a void in every man, woman, boy, and girl filled with gnawing questions that only God can fill; the effective leader leverages that universal reality in their witnessing, discipling, counseling, and preaching.  The greatest leader in any given room is the one who is most eager to ask questions and most reluctant to offer answers.   Leadership expert Simon Sinek has made a career out of explaining what makes good leaders great ones. When it comes to meetings, he has one big piece of advice to aspiring great leaders: Be a better listener by being the last one to speak your opinion in a meeting.  “The skill to hold your opinions to yourself until everyone has spoken does two things: One, it gives everybody else the feeling that they have been heard. It gives everyone else the ability to feel that they have contributed,” he explained in a speech. “And two, you get the benefit of hearing what everybody else has to think before you render your opinion.”  This unnatural restraint to not impetuously blurt out the answer piques the curiosity of your God-given audience before you eventually respond.

Questions linger in a memorable way because they are not passively received but processed over time.

Here at North Life, we just had our annual missions conference and God reaffirmed this principle in many of our hearts.  Dr. Ken Fielder with World View Ministries, our keynote speaker, preached several times but one utterance of his I have heard repeated by our church folks more than any other. Here it is: “We have profited from our salvation; has God profited from our salvation?”  Notice that it is not some profound quote of a missionary hero or some tear-evoking antidote; it is a question that the Spirit is truly using in our hearts still!  Recently one of our staff texted me a notice that I been included in my alma mater’s yearbook (Pensacola Christian College) after preaching there last fall:

Do you notice, of all the powerful preaching I had the privilege of serving up (just kidding on the “powerful preaching”), what type of sentence did the college faculty and yearbook staff select to be the caption under my picture-one ending with a question mark! In my preaching, I color-code my outlines and red is always indicative of what I anticipate to be the most important points…this question in the yearbook was not red in my sermon notes.  I have still much to learn, but at least I have figured out that more of my “red” content needs to be framed as questions.  Much of your legacy will not be knowing the right answers but knowing the right questions that launch an outlive-you conversation between God and your descendants!

And the most important reason…God effectively uses/blesses wise questions throughout Scripture.

I give you just one example of many that is probably my favorite in 1 Kings 18:21 “And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.”  What follows-the false religion of Baal is exposed and the literal, fiery answer of Jehovah God falls from heaven on Who alone is the one true God.  Throughout Scripture, God and his prophets consistently begin not with the divine answer, but the painfully probing questions that facilitate the individual/national receptivity to special revelation.  Let’s be honest leaders, we get in a hurry.  We rush right to giving the answer before insuring that the question has been rightly framed in the mind and that hearts are fully surrendered to receive and respond to the answer from the Lord.  As Francis Bacon asserts, “A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.”

Being married to an English teacher, I have relearned that a sentence ending with a question mark is called an interrogative sentence.  The term interrogative means “having or conveying the force of a question.”  The force.  Could it be the reason no one is responded demonstratively to your influence is because there are two many passive periods and not enough questions marks with a supernatural punch?  Do you long for more people to respond wholeheartedly to your preaching?  Do you dream of becoming a more effective counselor?  The ideal, highly-inspirational parent?  The mover and shaker at work?  I know it sounds simple, but ask more questions!  There is irresistible force that God can bless in them.  To get/give power, you have to not only get milk on a physical level but get adept at asking questions on a spiritual level.

“The smart ones ask when they don’t know. And, sometimes, when they do.” ~Malcomb Forbes

I need your help with a potential follow up post in the near future: What probing question from the Bible or a Spirit-led leader/writer has most impacted you?  How?

Featured Image Credit: Ted Kelly, unsplash.com