The Ministry of Asking Questions

An Introduction

I’m a journalist at heart. My first high school newspaper class tooled me with the five W’s and the H—Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?—and I haven’t stopped asking these questions since.

My inquisitive nature is often an asset. For instance, my husband likes bringing me to his company’s social gatherings because my overflow of questions fills in those uncomfortable silences where nobody knows what to say next. “I never knew that about her!” he’ll remark about an interesting tidbit of personal history I pulled from a colleague he’s worked alongside for years. I can’t help but dig deeper with questions where others might move on to the next subject. It bothers me to skid at surface level.

I’ve come to see my penchant for probing questions as a calling of sorts.

Over the years, I’ve struggled to find my place in the church. I’ve filled many roles at one point or another. Sunday school teacher. Communion server. Worship team and church council member. I’ve mildly enjoyed some roles and felt completely misplaced in others. The problem isn’t the roles themselves, but their limited nature. What if the thing you do best—the thing that makes you come alive—isn’t something church leaders have predefined?

Others I know have also run into this dilemma. When we start attending a church, leaders are eager to plug us in, so they ply us with spiritual gifts surveys and potential ministry opportunities. For some, having a concrete set of activities and roles to choose from can help in figuring out calling. For others—me included—it can be suffocating.

Since it’s expected that I devote my time and energy to x number of predefined ministries, I’ve obligingly done so in the past, assuming this is the way to be a good Christian. But, I’ve often ended up filling up my weeknights and weekends with half-hearted commitments, while still feeling like I am not giving the best of myself to the church.

In her book Assimilate or Go Home, D.L. Mayfield makes a list of unrecognized ministries, including the ministry of baking cakes, the ministry of sending postcards, and the ministry of picking up empty wrappers in the park. The list goes on and on. In short, there are an unlimited number of ways that each of us serves and gives and furthers Christ’s kingdom, and only a few of them are officially recognized “ministries.”

What if we didn’t squeeze everyone into a precut ministry mold right away? What if we gave people the space to do what they do best and gradually work out how that might tie in with the church’s mission? We might see the body of Christ come alive in an entirely new way.

So here’s another to add to Mayfield’s list of unrecognized ministries: the ministry of asking questions.

I’ve often filled up my weeknights and weekends with half-hearted commitments, feeling like I am not giving the best of myself to the church.

In this column, I’ll share some of the ways I’ve settled into my unofficial ministry of asking questions and discuss how this gifting might build up the body of Christ and invite others into it. I’ll explore asking questions as a form of discernment, Jesus’ questions to us, the questions God doesn’t answer, and the role of questioning in the church, among other topics.

The sketches of my own journey are not meant to translate into another predefined ministry, but to serve as an example of how we might break new ground and enlarge our understanding of ministry and calling. I hope my story encourages others to find their own unique ministry—one that doesn’t have to be something already listed in the Sunday bulletin.

I also hope this column ignites a passion for the open-ended questions in the church. Often, we crave predigested answers to quell our uncertainties. But such answers tend to keep us contained in our fenced-in pastures, so that we fear venturing out at the Shepherd’s invitation.

In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, may we learn to “love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

May we all learn to wonder, delve deeper, and embrace our questions, which open us up to the vastness of God.


Click to read the next installment of “The Ministry of Asking Questions.”

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