The Power of Questions to Shape the Future

Kevin Kelly thinks about the future a lot. As the former founding executive editor of Wired Magazine and author of the 2016 release “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future”, Kelly is seen as a man with lots of answers.

And while he has plenty of ideas and predictions, one of the 12 forces he sees shaping our future is “questioning.” During an interview on The Unmistakable Creative Podcast, Kelly said:

“In a world of free answers, a good question becomes more valuable.”

This can be a tough thing for a preacher to hear. We often like to give answers. Many of the click-baitiest sermon series titles are things like “5 Keys to a Better Marriage” or “How to Live Out Your Faith in a Faithless World.”

These types of teachings are motivated out of a desire to help people, but it often ends up with us playing the role of expert. We find answers. We give people a checklist or a road map.

And if your sermons are decidedly less “self help” and more “academic,” your sermons still likely shaped by—if not actually filled with—lots of important information. History, culture, philosophy, theology, word studies, and a poem to close it out…

But what Kelly is getting at is that sources of information are less valuable than they once were. If you told someone what you were preaching on, could they spend a couple hours on, Google, Amazon, and the ebook collection of their local library to come up with a rough approximation of what you’ll say Sunday? Sure, they may be missing your stories (unless you got them from a TextWeek link…), but could they give the background and make a good stab at your action steps?

Of course, our world of free answers is also now the world of “alternative facts,” so part of our role is to help people find the truth. However, the average person in the pews has access to more information than ever before, and they don’t necessarily need you to gather and deliver it.

Value is found, Kelly says, in questions. They can give us direction and guide our thinking. They encourage us to interact with information and facts. They get us to test conventional wisdom, challenging or confirming our assumptions. They allow for multiple perspectives. They encourage synthesis of concepts.

What makes this such an interesting perspective for a futurist is that it’s a very old technique. Some of the world’s best teachers were known as much for their questions as they were for their statements—Jesus included.

I think of when Jesus was asked about whether it was lawful to pay taxes. He responded with a question of his own: whose face is on this coin? This one question brings up so many issues: money, taxes, political power, political imagery, relationship of church and state—just to name a few. This question has a far bigger impact than a yes-or-no answer.

A great contemporary example of a preacher who understands the value of questions is Rev. Brian Combs at the Haywood Street Congregation in Asheville, North Carolina. While appearing on a recent episode of Art of the Sermon, Brian explained that every one of his sermons includes a guiding question that anyone in attendance can actually answer as part of the sermon. He said that these questions and his congregation’s answers are times of transformational co-creation.

So, as we work to improve as communicators, we should think about the role questions play in our preaching. The people in our congregations are constantly bombarded by answers, information, and facts. What’s missing are the guides who can help make sense of everything. By asking better questions, we become powerful and valuable voices in our communities that help to shape the future.

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