Leaders do not need answers. Leaders must have the right questions.
These two sentences introduce one of the most popular features in each issue of “Leading Ideas,” the online newsletter of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary. This feature grew out of Director Lovett H. Weems’s realization years ago that leaders spend far too much time trying to figure out the “right answers”...
Leaders do not need answers.
Leaders must have the right questions.
These two sentences introduce one of the most popular features in each issue of “Leading Ideas,” the online newsletter of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary. This feature grew out of Director Lovett H. Weems’s realization years ago that leaders spend far too much time trying to figure out the “right answers” to a range of issues facing congregational life while that time would be more profitably used in discerning a few key questions that can change the direction of a church.
Leaders are so accustomed to providing answers for the questions of others that they often fail to engage the people in identifying and addressing the major adaptive challenge in the current chapter of a congregation’s life. Since people tend to remember about 20 percent of what they are told, but about 80 percent of what they discover for themselves, questions have the beauty of allowing both the issues and the solutions to arise from within the life of a congregation.
There is also great value in having a repertoire of questions that can be used in a range of settings along the path of leadership. Becoming an adept user of questions makes it less likely that your first response to any topic is to state your opinion or “answer.” Probing questions honor others and provide additional information for you and those with whom you are engaging. The customary reactions of “I think” or “my take on it is” tend to limit options rather than expand them.
But question asking is not primarily a delaying tactic or a shrewd way to get more information before then giving your view. To use questions in this way quickly reveals a manipulative style and diminishes the leader. Instead, the use of questions is to gather more information in order to clarify for you and others exactly what is at stake.
Questions are common in the Bible. Jesus was an adept questioner. The questions in this resource are more practical than profound, but the gift of thoughtful questioning can enhance leadership without necessarily rising to biblical significance.
In response to requests for a collection of questions used in “The Right Question” column over the years, we have organized selected ones by topic and are making them available in this collection. The topics are: The Church’s Purpose; Remembering a Ministry’s Purpose; Identifying and Supporting Leaders; Communication; Reaching New Disciples; Seeing Your Church as Others Do; Reviewing Programs; Creative Abandonment; Assessing Differing Directions; Planning; Understanding Your Church’s Identity; Knowing What’s Going On; Making the Most of Meetings; Making Good Decisions; Facing Challenges; and Personal Reflection and Assessment.
Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr., is distinguished professor of church leadership and director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. He came to this position in 2003 after 18 years as president of Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri. Previously he was a local church pastor in Mississippi for many years.
A native of Mississippi, Dr. Weems is a graduate of Millsaps College; Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University; and Wesley Theological Seminary. He holds honorary degrees from Baker University and Central Methodist University.
His years in local church ministry in Mississippi were marked by emphasis on both evangelism and social concerns. His work in Mississippi led the distinguished Mississippi writer Willie Morris to describe him as “one of the persons who added much to the growing civility of Mississippi.”
He has been a clergy delegate to several General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
The author of several books published by Abingdon Press, his most recent include “Focus: The Real Challenges That Face The United Methodist Church,” “Bearing Fruit: Ministry with Real Results” (with Tom Berlin), and a revised edition of his classic “Church Leadership: Vision, Team, Culture, and Integrity,” described by Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School as “an invaluable guide to leadership in the church.” His book “Take the Next Step: Leading Lasting Change in the Church” is used by churches seeking revitalization. His books “Leadership in the Wesleyan Spirit” and “John Wesley’s Message Today” are used widely by United Methodist laity and clergy. He co-edits the online newsletter, “Leading Ideas,” available free at www.churchleadership.com.