How do you answer difficult questions?

The discussion is going well with your students. Even the normally quiet ones are participating.

In fact, Kara, who has not said a word all month, asks you a difficult question, one you don’t know the answer to. Every eye is on you. How do you answer?

Leaders of high school students should expect questions that they feel inadequate to answer. Some questions might reflect different denominational and individual church practices (e.g., baptism) or beliefs (e.g., the second coming of Christ). Some might arise from obscure or difficult passages of Scripture. The natural curiosity of students often brings on thorny questions. After this session on spiritual gifts, your students may have questions about some of them that you can’t answer or know very little about.

Here are some ways to respond to difficult questions without sidestepping issues or providing superficial answers. 

1. Thank the student for asking.

Asking a question in public involves a risk for the questioner. By thanking the student, you keep the door open for her and other questioners. No student should be embarrassed for asking a question. One student’s question is often the one unasked by others in the group.

2. Turn the question back to the group to seize the teachable moment.

The teachable moment includes drawing out students to gauge their knowledge and interests. Make sure to clarify what it is the student actually wants to know, so that you don’t spend inordinate amounts of time answering what he is not asking. Ask something like, “What do you understand about this issue?” This can help to clarify things. Also, by opening up the topic to the group, you discover how widespread the experience relative to the question is. Last, never underestimate your students as you open up the question to others—someone may provide a first-class answer. Even your group’s start on an answer may serve as a helpful guide to what and how much you need to say.

3. Provide an honest answer or make provisions to find one. Think about these points:

• Don’t fake your way through an answer. If you do not feel adequately prepared, say so. You could say, “I haven’t thought about the issue recently (or much). I want to give you a thoughtful response, so let me look into it, and we’ll talk about it in a week or two.”

• Write down the question or related points. This shows you care and you’re serious about the matter. Consider clarifying the question with the student who asked it after the group session to be sure you understand it fully. Make sure you follow through; aim to provide an answer or some feedback next week or soon!

• Make every effort to have your answer informed by Scripture rather than personal experience. If your answer involves your denomination’s or local church’s position on a topic, go to your pastor and ask him to help you prepare an answer with Scriptural backing. Aim for something like this, “Well, this is the way our church does … and let’s see what the Bible says about this … .” Faithful Bible teaching informs our traditions and practice.

• If your answer involves identifying and presenting the unbiblical practices or beliefs about other churches, be charitable in your approach. “That church’s position or view goes like this … and here’s where we would differ with that position and why … .”

• If necessary, ask your pastor or an elder to visit and address the issue. Parents of students can also be resources for a question-and-answer time. It’s a great way to practice using the gifts of the body of Christ in these moments.

• Students, under your leadership, might consider posting questions and answers for a discussion forum on the internet.

4. Bible study is a learning laboratory where students are looking into the Bible to discover and apply God’s truth. 

Questions make up the world of high school life. Young people need to discover and to learn “how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The church is the place to take up hard questions and seek to grow in the truth!

When difficult questions come up, take advantage of the opportunity to model for students that Christians ground their faith and life in the Scriptures. Also, seize the opportunity to practice growing together in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Taking up tough questions can spur on growth in his grace and knowledge; and that is a mark of being the people of God (2 Pet. 3:18).

What tips do you have for other leaders?

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2 Responses to How do you answer difficult questions?
  1. Moses Olabowale Olajide
    March 1, 2012 | 4:55 am

    The Lord bless you RICHLY for the wonderful work you are doing. Bless the Lord GREATLY for this Mission. By the special grace of the Lord, I am a Sunday School teacher/Sunday School Coordinator in my local parish/area church. I also serve as Assistant Pastor in the church. Moses

    • So What? Studies
      March 1, 2012 | 4:11 pm

      The blessings of the Lord upon you too! Thank you for your kind comments.

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