by Todd Lowans

I sat intently and listened as Jon talked about how broken, devastated and utterly hopeless he felt. I listened for what must have been an hour straight (it was definitely 2 venti coffees). There were a ton of times I bit my tongue as to not cut in. I knew I needed to listen and take it in. By it I don't just mean what he was saying but what he was feeling and communicating, under the veil.

Then it was my turn. Jon said, "What do you think about all this? How do i fix it?"

This would be the even more challenging part. You see the it wasn't a parental divorce, or a major life decision, it was that his girlfriend of 7 weeks broke up with him. In the grand scheme of life, not devastating, not life changing, not a big deal (can I say that?). But to him, in this moment, it was earth shattering.

As Campus Life leaders our job in these situations (and other more serious ones) is to listen well then ask great questions that get to the core of the issue. That way we can bring it back to the Gospel in an intelligent way.

It's important that while listening you note flash points to go back to, statements, questions, body language at specific times etc. that you can go back to when it's your turn to talk and ask questions.

For instance if Jon said "I've never felt loved like I did from her...", you might ask for specifics. Ask, "What was it about her love that was different than anything you've experienced in the past?" not "Why?".  The first question directs him to give an answer that will have a helpful result in you assessing the core issue, the second one is less directed and can lead to irrelevant information.

We've all heard while writing small group questions to not write closed-ended questions. Questions that can be answered with one or to words.  In appointments you should never ask a question that can be answered in one sentence. It's also extremely important to ask followup questions. In the course of an appointment we typically know where we need to go with it, so use followup questions to help direct the discussion, gently, in that direction.

Being a good listener is always key in going deep with students, it makes them feel like you care and they're being heard. However failing to offer good questions and insights can easily derail a deep conversation. One cannot exist without the other in authentic Christ sharing relationships. 

Here are some points to remember on Asking Good Questions:

  • Open not closed - Ask open-ended questions that require at least a sentence of two in response.
  • Ask questions you don't know the answer to - Many times we just ask questions so we can hear what we want to hear, but ask questions to learn where the student is  and what they truly think.
  • Follow-Up questions - Clarify, dig deeper to the why, how, who etc. Help the student begin to unpeel the layers covering the core issue.
  • The core is the Gospel - The core issue is always connected to the Gospel, but that doesn't mean that the core issue is any less real. Address the issue at hand by connecting it to the Gospel and telling God's story well.


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