The Mentor's Questions

  • Harold Westing
  • Feb 23, 2007

The grand plan of mentoring is to get people to think about their lives in relation to God and take some steps of growth in character and competence. Mentors can be quick to find themselves in the "telling" mood when faced with that challenge. Most likely this only keeps mentorees from encountering God rather than causing them to run into the arms of their Shepherd. One of the most critical roles of a mentor is to ask questions. Yet, some kinds of questioning are more productive than others. 

Elizabeth Elliot warns us that often people receive satisfaction from simply answering questions rather than learning. She says that when someone answers a surface question without serious reflection, then they are not apt to think about the issues at hand. In fact, they may think they are learning when they are not. Growth does not necessarily occur in surface conversations or even when the conversation is spirited. When mentorees see Christianity as acquiring rather than inquiring it may be hard to reach down into their souls for the kind of issues Jesus addressed. Jesus came asking and answering questions, not to relieve reason and moral conscience but rather to increase reason. Not to lighten the burden of thought  but to make it more active. Not to settle our souls but to provoke them. Not to make our lives easier but that we might learn more.

Asking the kind of question that promotes real growth takes a lot of forethought. It is wise to do what might be called, "asking the question backwards." If I sense that a mentoree needs to make a particular decision, I must back up and identify the conclusions that he or she will need to reach before they reach the ultimate conclusion on their own. I must keep reminding myself that when they reach a certain conclusion on their own, they are much more apt to change that behavior. I must know them, how they think and what hurdles they need to climb over to make that ultimate decision. Try not to ask questions that will allow them to answer "yes" or "no." These answers are generally lead to little true transformation. We might say that Jesus was a strategic thinker in his encounters with His followers. God, help me to be a strategic questioner!