Leaders see behind the question

A couple of years after I was called to serve at Forest Lake Baptist, I had a conversation with a lady who had recently started attending the Church. At one point in the conversation, she said, “I have the spiritual gift of discernment.”

It was the first time I had come across someone who gave themselves that description so I asked, “How have you exercised that gift?”

She responded enthusiastically, “I‘ve been to many Churches and I use my gift of discernment to point out the problems in the Church.”

I asked, “Does the gift then extend to discerning solutions?”

Her response troubled me, “No, I just point out the problems. That‘s my role!”

Now, it‘s clear that what the lady above described is not the sort of discernment that leaders need. However, good leaders do have a level of discernment to see behind the question, whether at a personal level, group level or organisational level.

It‘s about asking the questions, “What‘s really going on here?” or “What‘s the premise behind the statement.”

Let me give another (more positive) example:

One of my early bosses in accounting always asked this question when wrapping up a job or task, “How does this fit?” It was basically trying to see the bigger picture and how the task played out with other areas.

So, sometimes, by seeing what‘s behind the question we actually reject the premise of the question. Someone may ask, “Why haven‘t you resolved this problem?” Well, it may be that it‘s not our problem to solve so we reject the premise behind the question.

Sometimes the premises behind the questions become so entrenched that we stop seeing them. Throughout the 1980‘s & 1990‘s, it became just taken for granted that the Church‘s job is to “meet people‘s felt needs.” This became so entrenched in the psyche of the Western Church that it has created a culture of consumerism. So now, when people say, “We need to do this because it‘s what people want,” we fail to see that the premise behind the statement is actually faulty. It may be that people‘s “felt needs” are not actually what they need. They may “feel” they need to comforted whereas what God wants to do in their life is confront them.

As leaders, we need to be prepared to see the premise behind the question and evaluate it.

Jesus did this many times. Here are a couple of examples:

– In Matthew 12, the Pharisees and teachers of the law ask for a miracle. If Jesus were an insecure leader, he may have just given it to them. But, instead, Jesus rejected the premise behind the question, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign!”

– On another occasion, when people try to trap Jesus with a question about paying taxes, Jesus utters those immortal words,

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar‘s, and to God what is God‘s.” (Luke 20:25)

In both those cases, Jesus could see what was behind the question and rejected the premise.

When we are fatigued, it can become easy to just react to a question rather than be thoughtful about the question itself. As Martin Luther King said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” It is easier just to react to the question than do the difficult work of questioning the question.

We are all enculturated in ways we don‘t perceive. So, it takes real intentionality to see the premise behind a statement or question. So, here is the important question to ask: WHY?

– Why do we do it this way?

– Why do we have that expectation?

– Why do we think that is vital or wrong?

I remember speaking with Daniel & Megan Grandemange via Skype a few months into their 12-month missionary journey in Thailand and Daniel said something particularly insightful:

“Things are done differently here and I‘ve been forced to ask myself this question, “Do I feel uncomfortable with this because I don‘t think it‘s biblical or because it‘s just not what I‘ve been taught to see as right by Western Culture?”.”

That, right there, is a prime example of looking at the premise behind what is said or done.

Perhaps take some time with your team to look at the premise behind the question, behind what you do as a Church, behind what you consider a “win.”

“Everyone really does win when a leader gets better.” (Bill Hybels)

God said to the Israelites,

“Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15)

Father, help us to see behind the question, behind the hustle and bustle of work and expectations. Where the premise needs to be questioned, guide our thoughts to see things the way You do and to have your priorities. In the matchless name of Jesus. Amen