At the recent Indiana Annual Conference Session, I was struck by the importance placed on asking the right questions. I don’t know if anyone else overheard it, but I appreciated how Archbishop Joseph Tobin at the Prayer Breakfast spoke about getting the questions right. The Archbishop shared how it took Roman Catholics and Lutherans close to 500 years to reach an agreement on the doctrine of justification. In 1999, they concurred on what they called a “differentiated consensus,” meaning that they found a way to agree on what the right question was.
Later in the morning during the Ordination Service, Bishop Coyner also mentioned the importance of asking the right questions. Quoting the book by Peter Block The Answer to How is Yes, Bishop Coyner stated how important questions are to organizations. Asking good questions may be the most significant thing we can do to guide families, churches and communities into a deeper sense of who they are and what they do. Questions matter.
Jesus, of course, asked questions. One of the most famous was before Pilate: “What is truth?” Another was “Who do you say that I am?” He asked more, of course.
John Wesley, too, was known to ask questions, certainly of those who would preach but also of those who participated in class meetings and conferences. Questions like “How is it with your soul?” and “What shall we teach?” became ways to guide the early Methodists. The exercises were part self-examination and community discernment, but they were very much part of a common mission to spread holiness. Even Charles Wesley’s hymn “And Are We Yet Alive?” invites us to consider our life before God by singing the question.
I wonder what lessons United Methodists might take from Archbishop Tobin and Bishop Coyner’s insights about getting the questions right. What kinds of questions do we need now to be asking? Do we agree on what they are?
It took Catholics and Lutherans close to 500 years to agree on what questions to ask. That’s a long time! And yet, after only 45 years as a denomination we are currently facing similar struggles: for example, what is the basis of our unity and life together? What is God seeking to do through us, and how shall we participate in what God is doing?
There are more questions, to be sure, but the point is simple: questions matter. They can help guide us. At present may we all pray and see where they will lead us.