“My ministry feels stuck.”
If you’ve had that thought or said those words, you’re not alone. It happens to every youth pastor from time to time.
Unfortunately, many youth pastors perpetuate the problem by asking the wrong questions. It’s been said many times that if you ask better questions, you’ll get better answers. But I’ve rarely found any concrete guidance about what constitutes a better question.
Many of our questions lead us straight down a path toward complaining, procrastinating, and blaming. Those questions, according to leadership expert and author John G. Miller, are the ones that start with “Why,” “When,” and “Who” (Flipping the Switch, p. 11).
Think about it. If you ask, “When will things turn around at this church?” you have not included yourself as a responsible party to help lead the change effort.
If you ask, “Why don’t more people volunteer in my ministry?” then you have to have put the responsibility for the problem on the people who aren’t volunteering yet.
You get the point, right?
That line of questioning leads to a place you don’t want to go. Instead, Miller suggests looking behind those initial – often negative – questions to find the “Question Behind the Question.” Miller’s shorthand for that kind of question is QBQ.
The three characteristics of a QBQ are:
1. A QBQ begins with the words “What” or “How,” not “Why,” “When,” or “Who.”
2. A QBQ contains the word “I,” not “they,” “them,” “you,” or “we.”
3. A QBQ always focuses on action (Flipping the Switch, 8).
Consider an example that many parents can relate to…
You wake up in the middle of the night because you hear something out of the ordinary. It sounds like it’s coming from near the front door. So, you get out of bed and move quietly through the dark house because you don’t want to wake up your kids.
Wham! You stub your toe on a chair in the kitchen. What’s the question that you immediately ask? If you’re like me, you’re asking, “Who forgot to push in the chair?”
You steady yourself and start pacing toward the front door again. In the living room, you hear a crack beneath your feet and feel the shockwaves racing up your shin. You stepped on a pile of Legos that your kids left in the middle of the floor. Instinctively you ask, “Why can’t the kids put their toys away?”
You get to the front door and look out the window. You don’t see anything, so you walk back to your bed…a little more careful this time. When you lay back down, you ask those two questions again: “Who forgot to push in the chair?” and “Why can’t the kids put their toys away?”
With the questions framed that way, you’re a victim and a blamer. You’ve taken zero ownership of or accountability for the problem or solution.
But then you remember the QBQ idea. You change the questions (and hence, the answers).
New Question #1: How can I be more careful?
New Question #2: What can I do to help the kids put their toys away?
Those two questions lead to answers that put the ownership and accountability on you, not someone else. That’s why they’re better questions.
Try this instead…
Now that you understand how the idea works, I want you to try asking these five questions in your ministry over the next five days:
1. How can I help [student’s name] take his next step on the journey of faith?
2. What can I do to partner with parents more effectively?
3. How can I show my volunteers that I care about them?
4. What can I hand off to students to help feel ownership in the ministry?
5. What action can I take today that will help my ministry go further, faster?
When you ask better questions, you get better answers.
Don’t stop at the first, reactionary question that pops into your mind. Oftentimes, that question will be negative and put you on defense rather than offense.
Instead, start asking the QBQ…the Question Behind the Question:
*Start with “How” or “What.”
*Include yourself, not others (“I,” not “they,” “them,” etc.)
*Focus on action.
When you ask questions like that, you won’t have time for complaining, procrastinating, or blaming because you’ll be busy learning, loving, and leading.
So, what’s the fastest way to move your ministry forward (without spending any money)?
Ask better questions that force you to take personal responsibility for your results.