A few miles from my office is the site from which Lewis and Clark famously began their journey West some two hundred years ago. Our city, and neighboring Louisville, is littered with streets, parks, and monuments dedicated to their achievement. What is rarely celebrated, and even more sorely absent from our city’s churches, is the underlying virtues that enabled their expedition in the first place: courage and curiosity. We seem content to travel familiar roads and offer the same solutions we were given from pulpits and books to our fellow travelers. This is not to say that the answers themselves are wrong, but rather that our journey into the unknown may be more about just that—sojourning through uncertainty—than arriving at a destination. In short, discovering truth is often more powerful than hearing truth.

The image of pastor as shepherd is a helpful one here. Wise shepherds do not simply tell the sheep where good pasture is. They patiently, gently lead them there. The goal of the Christian life is maturity in Christ, being filled with the full measure of the presence of Christ (Col. 1:28; Heb. 6:1; Eph. 3:16-19). This is not something that can be spoon fed from an adult to a child. Maturity in Christ requires an individual to take responsibility for their life, to draw their own conclusions, to learn to trust the voice of the Sprit inside them. This requires the people around them to be filled with courage and curiosity. The best way we can express these virtues, and serve our brothers and sisters, is by cultivating the long lost art of listening.

 

A Community of Curiosity

I’ve participated in some form of Christian small group ministry for almost 20 years. During that time, I have witnessed the same pattern pop up like weeds in April. Someone finally musters the courage to share a genuine thought they are having and they are abruptly met by two types of people: the correctors and the fixers.

The correctors are on high-alert for heresy and take every opportunity to correct the mistake in thinking someone just made. Perhaps someone shares that Easter is hard for them because it reminds them of their mother who passed away a few Easter’s ago. “It makes me so sad and scared,” she shares, “and it’s become really hard to trust God.” The Corrector jumps in to remind her that God works all things for the good of those who love him. The Fixer jumps in with suggestions for how she could feel better (essentialy suggesting ways to distract her from her pain).

There is a place for correction and problem solving. There is an important role for instruction and rebuke in the Christian life. Most Christians, however, assume that the place, time, and role is “now” and “always”. We may provide someone with an answer, but we will rarely help them see what they need most, God himself. As pastor Eugene Peterson writes, “My job is not to solve people’s problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives.”[1]

Listening is a way we serve our brothers and sisters. And our service, when done well, can help them see the grace of God at work in their lives. Through my years of small group discussions, I’ve found a few simple yet profound ways we can listen to one another.

  1. Ask Courageous Questions

    Questions are at the heart of curiosity, and good questions are at the heart of discovering the presence of God. Unlike your college professor, I believe bad questions exist. Courageous questions move away from content and towards motivations of the heart. So instead of asking, “what did she say?” we ask, “why do you think she said that?” Instead of asking, “what happened?” we ask, “why did that make you feel that way?” These kinds of questions require courage because they move us from the safety of superficial relationships to which we are accustomed. The questioner must acknowledge the potential for offending someone or being rejected. We must face those fears and press past them. When we do, courageous questions help our brothers and sisters process what they’ve lived. Courageous questions create opportunities for them to see what God may be up to.

  1. Ask Humble Questions

    Questions are humble when we rely on the Spirit to lead a person and fight the temptation we all have of thinking we know what this person needs. In other words, we allow a conversation to develop as opposed to strong arming people into making the conclusion we think they need to make. A question like, “how do you think God is calling you to respond?” is much more powerful than, “don’t you think God wants you to go talk to that person?”

    Humble questions help people learn to recognize the voice of the Spirit speaking to them, whereas leading questions often leave people looking for another expert to show them the way. Henri Nouwen describes the sad result of this pattern when he writes, “sometimes one feels as if one half of the world is asking advice of the other half while both sides are sitting in the same darkness.”[2] Wise Christians seek counsel from godly men and women, but we must not neglect the Wonderful Counselor living inside each of us.

  1. Ask Open Ended Questions

    Nothing kills a conversation like the dreaded one-word-response question. If someone can answer “yes” or “no,” it’s more often than not a bad question. Instead of asking, “does that make it hard for you to trust God?” ask, “how did that influence your view of God?” This requires reflection and creativity from the one being asked. And the result is a greater sense of connection with their community. Not only that, the pump of self-discovery is primed again.

I long to see the church I pastor filled with curious christians. I want them to be curious about the wild and wonderful world God has given us. Most of all I want them to be curious about each other. I’m thankful our church is in the shadow of the Falls of the Ohio. It’s a great reminder that a handful of people accepted the risks and headed out into the unknown. They discovered uncharted territory and changed the course of a nation.

Despite their great achievements, Joe Christian has something they never did—the Spirit of the Living God inside of him. The journey may be mysterious and filled with danger for us, but we have a guide who leads us into all truth, who is not scared, who has never been wrong. Take courage, Christian. He is with you. Now go get curious, and get ready for the wonders he is about to show you.

[1] Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, 5.

[2] Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out, 39.