How do I get to heaven? Ever met this question in your Sabbath School class? How did Jesus respond to the rich young ruler who asked, “What must I do to have eternal life?”
Effective and meaningful Sabbath School class interaction thrives in an atmosphere of inquiry, searching, and sharing. Questions are indispensable. Questions allow us to make sense of the world. They are the most powerful tools we have for making decisions and solving problems, for inventing, changing, and improving our lives as well as the lives of others. Questions are central to learning and growing.
Several models of questioning have been proposed. Bloom’s classic Taxonomy of Educational Objectives focuses on competencies and skills: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Jerry Goldberg introduced the concept of the Three-Story Intellect. His concept is patterned after Oliver Wendel Holmes’ idea that all fact collectors who have no aim beyond their facts are one-story men. Those who compare, reason, generalize, and use the labor of fact collectors as their own are two-story men. Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict, and their best illumination comes from above the skylight.
An important goal of Sabbath School teaching or facilitating is encouraging and leading members to search for truth from God’s Word. This role is crucial in this age and time when false teachers and counterfeits abound and the enemy is exerting his utmost to deceive God’s people. Facilitators take the sacred task of developing the thinking powers, “to be thinkers rather than mere reflectors of other men’s thoughts.” Ellen White presents the danger of merely training the memory and neglecting independent thinking: “As the student [i.e., class member] sacrifices the power to reason and judge for himself, he becomes incapable of discriminating between truth and error, and falls an easy prey to deception” (Education, p. 230).
While we do not ignore the value of asking for information, e.g., who, what, when, where, we need to encourage members to dig deeply into their storehouse of knowledge and critically reason to strengthen their faith relationship with Christ. Consider three types of questions:
“Counsel in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out”
- Inductive, Drawing-out Questions. “A person’s thoughts are like water in a deep well. Someone with insight can draw them out” (see Proverbs 20:5). Inductive questions seek to elicit members’ thoughts with examples or specifics discussed. For example, Jesus’ question, “Who do men say that I am?” (Mark 8:27) elicited not just His followers’ knowledge about Him but, above all, their inmost thoughts based on their level of relationship with Him developed through daily walks with Him. When discussing the story of Daniel and the three other Hebrews, we first deal with their early training, their daily decisions as youth that developed the habit of faithfulness to God. Such instances, also drawn from the Scriptures, form the basis for responding to the question: What made Daniel and his three friends able to stand even the threat of death to be faithful to God, not worshiping Nebuchadnezzar’s image?
- Reflexive Responses or Questions. Questions may also be used as answers to questions.When the rich young ruler inquired, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Jesus answered: “Why do you call me good?” (Matt. 19:16, 17). The value of this approach is in its inherent quality to lead the inquirer to answer the question himself. In the dialogue between Jesus and the rich young ruler, Jesus’ response sought to lead the ruler to consider Jesus’ qualities and the deeds that He thought were essential to everlasting life.
- Testing Questions. Reflexive questions also deter questions that seek to test the knowledge or ability of the facilitator. When a member asks: “Do you think Abraham did right when he told Sarah to tell a lie before the king?” a reflexive question or response may be: “What do you think?”
- Reflective or Application Questions. An indispensable aspect of Sabbath School facilitating is reflecting on and relating biblical principles to actual life. “Who is Jesus to you?” or “What does the Bible mean to you?” or “What will you do with the truth you now have?” These are questions that provide the facilitator and members an opportunity to reflect on, evaluate, or assess their level of commitment to Christ and the truth they have embraced. Going back to Daniel and his three friends, we can ask, “How would you have decided if you had been in the place of Daniel and his three friends?”
Challenge: Continuing Search
Members hope to find the right answers to their continuing search for truth in our Sabbath School classes. How then do we answer questions that deal with life-and-death issues? Jesus Christ positioned questions at the heart of His teaching. In His questions and responses, He impressed upon His listeners precious truth essential to their salvation, truth from God’s Word.
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists