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Church Isn’t the Place to Avoid Hard Questions

Do you like questions?

I question how much I like questions.

Sure, for someone like me who likes to have a good discussion or debate, questions are a powerful tool.

They can innocently be used to obtain new information or they can be used coyly to try and trap someone in a logical corner.

In a classroom setting, they are a true asset. A question makes the student think, ponder and re-evaluate previously held ideas.

Have you ever had a question you felt like you couldn’t ask? Or a question you wanted to ask but didn’t? It can be a painful thing.

I had a professor who would call for questions at the end of a lecture. If no one had any, he would remind us to “not suffer from the pain of undelivered speech.” Holding it in can hurt.

And Voltaire asserted that we should “judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”

Growing up in church, I didn’t ask many questions and I didn’t like to be called on for answers, but I paid attention as well as anyone.

And I can remember that feeling in youth group when the poor Bible study leader, who had endured a long week at work and spent their last 20 minutes on a Saturday night studying the lesson, was forced to teach Revelation and field all our adolescent interrogations.

While I can now feel sympathy for them, I still left the room bothered by avoided questions – not only about more difficult subjects like the meaning of Revelation, but also anything that pushed us out of our comfort zone.

It made me wonder if there are major holes in our faith that need to stay hidden? Do we need to avoid the questions in order to maintain the illusion of confidence and security in what we believe?

Is the church nothing more than the Wizard of Oz imploring Dorothy and friends to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” while totally exposed to oncoming inquiries?

It’s out of those beliefs that early on in my youth ministry career I created an approach that can serve as a helpful tool for congregational leaders in seeking to better engage members’ inquiries.

I call it “The Question Box” and the concept is rather simple. It’s a box. And you put questions in it.

We don’t always have time in Bible study for all the questions that get asked. So we have times for the youth to write down questions and put them in the box – no subjects are off limits.

We’ll spend an entire Bible study or small group time pulling questions out of the box and doing our best to answer them. I’ll give any insight I might have or point to Scripture passages that seem relevant, and also open it up for the group to give their thoughts.

My primary objective is not so much to give answers to the questions – though I do my best and feel free to say “I don’t know” when necessary. My concern is to demonstrate that there’s no reason to fear the pursuit of truth.

God gave us brains, and even if they’re too small to understand every great truth in the universe, we can put them to use by asking good questions and thinking deeply about where they lead us.

So are you willing to ask questions of yourself, your beliefs, your faith, God? Is your church a place where questions are allowed and encouraged?

Our neighborhoods and surrounding communities are filled with questioners, inside and outside the church. As Elizabeth Elliot said, “Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.”

We may not have all the answers – even more so if we never begin asking.

Logan Carpenter is minister to youth and families at Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. A version of this article first appeared on the Second Baptist staff blog and is used with permission.