BECAUSE questions call for a response—either oral or mental—they help to get your listeners involved. Questions can help you to start conversations and to enjoy a stimulating exchange of thoughts. As a speaker and a teacher, you may use questions to arouse interest, to help someone reason on a subject, or to add emphasis to what you say. When you make good use of questions, you encourage others to think actively instead of listening passively. Have an objective in mind, and ask your questions in a manner that will help to achieve it.
To Encourage Conversation. When you engage in the field ministry, be alert to opportunities to invite people to express themselves if they are willing to do so.
Many Witnesses begin interesting discussions by simply asking, “Have you ever wondered . . . ?” When they choose a question that truly is on the minds of many people, they will almost assuredly have a fine time in the field ministry. Even if the question is new to the thinking of the other person, it may stimulate curiosity. A wide variety of matters can be introduced with such expressions as “What do you think . . . ?,” “How do you feel . . . ?,” and “Do you believe . . . ?”
When the evangelizer Philip approached an Ethiopian court official who was reading aloud the prophecy of Isaiah, Philip simply asked: “Do you actually know [or, do you understand] what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30) This question opened the way for Philip to explain truths about Jesus Christ. Using a similar question, some modern-day Witnesses have found people who were truly hungering for a clear understanding of Bible truth.
Once they are given opportunity to express their own views, many people will be more inclined to listen to you. After asking a question, listen attentively. Be kind rather than critical in acknowledging the person’s response. Offer commendation when you can do so sincerely. On one occasion, after a scribe had “answered intelligently,” Jesus commended him, saying: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34) Even if you do not share the same view as the other person, you can thank him for expressing himself. What he said may make you aware of an attitude that you need to take into account in sharing Bible truth with him.
To Introduce Important Thoughts. When you talk to a group or converse with an individual, try to use questions to lead up to important thoughts. Be sure that your questions involve matters of genuine interest to your audience. You may also use questions that are intriguing because the answer is not readily apparent. If you pause briefly after posing a question, your audience will likely listen with heightened interest to what follows.
On one occasion, the prophet Micah used a number of questions. After asking what God expects of those who worship him, the prophet set out four more questions, each including a possible answer. All those questions help to prepare readers for the insightful answer with which he concluded that part of his discussion. (Mic. 6:6-8) Could you do something like that when teaching? Try it.
To Reason on a Subject. Questions can be used to help others follow the logic of an argument. When delivering a serious pronouncement to Israel, Jehovah did this, as shown at Malachi 1:2-10. First he told them: “I have loved you people.” They failed to appreciate that love, so he asked: “Was not Esau the brother of Jacob?” Then Jehovah pointed to the desolate condition of Edom as evidence that because of their wickedness, God did not love that nation. He followed this with illustrations interspersed with questions to emphasize Israel’s failure to respond properly to his love. Some of the questions are phrased as if the unfaithful priests were asking them. Others are questions that Jehovah asked the priests. The dialogue stirs emotions and holds our attention; the logic is irrefutable; the message, unforgettable.
Some speakers effectively use questions in a similar way. Although no oral reply may be expected, the audience becomes involved mentally, as if sharing in a dialogue.
When we conduct Bible studies, we use a method that calls for participation by the student. Of course, the greater good is done if the student does not simply recite the printed answers. In a kindly tone, use auxiliary questions to reason with the student. On key thoughts, encourage him to use the Bible as the basis for his reply. You might also ask: “How does what we are discussing fit in with this other point that we have studied? Why is it important? How should it affect our lives?” Such a method is more effective than expressing your own convictions or giving an extended explanation yourself. In this way, you help the student to use his “power of reason” to worship God.—Rom. 12:1.
If a student does not grasp a certain idea, be patient. He may be trying to compare what you are saying with what he has believed for many years. Approaching the subject from a different angle might help. Sometimes, however, very basic reasoning is needed. Make liberal use of the Scriptures. Use illustrations. Along with these, use simple questions that invite the person to reason on the evidence.
To Draw Out Inner Feelings. When people answer questions, they do not always reveal how they really feel. They may simply give the answers that they think you want. Discernment is needed. (Prov. 20:5) As Jesus did, you might ask: “Do you believe this?”—John 11:26.
When many of Jesus’ disciples took offense at what he said and abandoned him, Jesus invited his apostles to express how they felt. He asked: “You do not want to go also, do you?” Peter put their feelings into words, saying: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life; and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69) On another occasion, Jesus asked his disciples: “Who are men saying the Son of man is?” He followed this with a question that invited them to express what was in their own hearts. “You, though, who do you say I am?” In response, Peter said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”—Matt. 16:13-16.
When conducting a Bible study, you may find it beneficial to take a similar approach to certain issues. You might ask: “How do your classmates (or workmates) view this matter?” Then you might ask: “How do you feel about it?” When you know a person’s true feelings, this makes it possible for you as a teacher to be of the greatest help.
To Add Emphasis. Questions can also be used to add emphasis to thoughts. The apostle Paul did this, as recorded at Romans 8:31, 32: “If God is for us, who will be against us? He who did not even spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, why will he not also with him kindly give us all other things?” Observe that, in each case, the question builds on the clause that immediately precedes it.
After recording Jehovah’s judgment against the king of Babylon, the prophet Isaiah expressed strong conviction by adding: “Jehovah of armies himself has counseled, and who can break it up? And his hand is the one stretched out, and who can turn it back?” (Isa. 14:27) By their very content, such questions indicate that the idea expressed cannot be denied. No reply is expected.
To Expose Wrong Thinking. Questions that are carefully thought out are also powerful tools to expose wrong thinking. Before healing a man, Jesus asked the Pharisees and some experts in the Law: “Is it lawful on the sabbath to cure or not?” After performing the cure, he followed up with another question: “Who of you, if his son or bull falls into a well, will not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” (Luke 14:1-6) No reply was expected, nor was one offered. The questions exposed their wrong thinking.
At times, even true Christians can fall into wrong thinking. Some in first-century Corinth were taking their brothers to court to resolve problems that they should have been able to solve between themselves. How did the apostle Paul handle the matter? He asked a series of pointed questions to adjust their thinking.—1 Cor. 6:1-8.
With practice, you can learn to make effective use of questions. However, remember to be respectful, especially when speaking to older ones, people you do not know personally, and those in positions of authority. Use questions to present Bible truth in an appealing way.