As a pastor I am accustomed to being questioned. Every week I have people emailing and asking questions in person. I am specifically talking about questions related to the Bible and Christianity, not stuff like, “Did you see the game? or “Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”
People often say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” People who say this have obviously never been a pastor. There are stupid questions; I’ve been asked most of them. But in the midst of the gloom of inane questions are the shining lights of brilliant questions. These are rare and cherished.
I can throw all these questions into the following categories. Most of these categories consist entirely of stupid questions, with one shining exception, which you will readily recognize when you see it.
1. Testing Questions
Many questions I’m asked are tests. The questioner has no interest at all in my answer. They want to corner me, challenge me, condemn me, mock me, or in some other way make me look ridiculous. These questions used to bother me quite a bit. Now I just answer them as succinctly as possible. “How many angels can stand on a pin head?” My answer: “7.” because seriously how are they going to verify this? These are insincere questions asked by people who want to lecture. These questions are the stupidest questions of all
2. Doubtful Questions
I don’t mind if people ask me about their doubts about the Bible, faith, or Christianity. I’m cool with people questioning such things. Unfortunately, what I’ve realized is that people who have doubts about the veracity of Christianity are usually people who just don’t want to commit to it. So, after I’ve answered their question about their doubt as reasonably as I can, they’ll nod their head and walk away. Six months later they’ll ask the same question. I’ll give the same answer. They nod and go away. Six months later they ask the same question, I give the same answer, they nod the same and walkaway. Six months later . . . on and on and on it goes. These people have doubts and they aren’t interested in the answers because they are enjoying their sin too much. This is stupid.
3. Immature Questions
Growing in Christ is a process. I have become more patient with the process, even though it remains agonizingly slow. I don’t mind questions from people who sincerely want to know the answers. It’s fine when immature people ask immature questions. They simply don’t know the answer. What amazes me is how many people who have been in Christianity for 50 years continue to ask immature questions. The most famous subjects immature questions revolve around are: speaking in tongues, predestination, why did Israel kill people in the OT, hell, dogs in heaven, and such like. Now, I’m not saying these issues aren’t important or that they don’t have curious elements about them. What I am saying is that after 50 years you should have some satisfying answers to the basic questions they bring up. By this time you ought to be teachers, not asking questions that fill the air in college dormitories. Move on to perfection. Get your answer and move forward!
4. Sincere Questions
There is a tiny minority of people who ask questions because they honestly want the answer. These people actually think about stuff and read the Bible and other weird things like that. They contemplate and actually come up with curious questions, often ones I have to research or think differently about based on how they asked the question. These are fun people to deal with and their questions edify the asker and the one being asked. I love these questions. I can’t get enough of them. I like to think and I like to see evidence that thinking is going on in other heads. These questions let me know I’m doing my job. These are not dumb questions; these are genius questions.
I take all questions seriously. Sometimes you don’t know the level of dumbness until you get a response to your answer. Then you’ll be able to figure out what category the questions actually fit into. After a while, you’ll know what to expect when certain people approach you.
I already know the questions half my church will ask me when they walk up to me after a sermon. Occasionally I am wrong in my assumptions. Sometimes testers actually ask sincere questions. Sometimes immature people actually come up with some deeper questions. This is cool to see, but oh so rare.
Be patient. Jesus Christ was asked questions continually. He frequently answered questions with His own question. I’ve tried to adapt this. Poke at the questioner before answering to drive at what they’re really asking. It’s often not what they just asked. “Why do you ask that?” Is a great response. If nothing else, it gives you time to think.
People have questions and it’s flattering that they approach me with them. I deal with them as patiently and meekly as I can. But I’ve also been around a while; I know when people want an answer and when they don’t. Be careful out there.