They came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”
Mark 12:14-16 (NRSV)
Sometimes the questions we ask are more important than the answers. I found that to be true as I began to work on this article. I was asking myself “What should I write?” And I was coming up with precious few ideas. Then I stumbled across an article called “New Questions for a New Day” by Jeffery Jones. In it he says: “It’s time to start asking new questions. Better answers to the same old questions about the church will not get us through the tumultuous times in which we live. This is a time for out-of-the box thinking. Old questions keep us in the box. New questions invite us to move outside.”
And that got me thinking. What new questions do I need to ask? Rather than thinking about what I should write, I began to think about what I felt others may need to hear. And as I did, I remembered the encounter Jesus had with the Pharisees and Herodians in Mark 12. They came with a trick question, and Jesus knew it. So his “answer” was a question. Jesus knew that changing the question was vital to getting to a productive, and insightful, answer.
So, what questions do we need to change? What might we learn about ourselves if we ask different questions? In his article Jones offers some suggestions. I’ll share a few of those here, and add in a couple of my own.
Jones writes; “one question that has been asked consistently through the years, and even more so in these days of declining church membership is, ‘How do we bring them in?’ It would be better for us to ask, ‘How do we send them out?’”
He also suggests that “when congregations have financial struggles, they ask, ‘How do we survive?’ Instead they might ask, ‘How do we serve?’”
I’ve been asking myself, and others, “How do we find teachers for Sunday School?” When maybe the question that needs to be asked is “Why is Sunday School important?” And, maybe even more importantly, “What do we want to learn during that Sunday School time?”
There is a problem with questions like these, however. Namely, there are no easy answers. There is some instruction on sending people out to do ministry (Luke 10), but how that plays out in our current context is a little uncertain. Jesus talks about the importance of service (Matthew 20), but we still don’t have concrete “step-by-step” instructions on how God is calling us to serve in and around Marshfield, MO. And, I have never found a reference where Jesus talks about Sunday School in the Bible, but he does talk about the importance of teaching others about God (Matthew 28).
So, without any clear-cut answers we are left to live into the questions. We are left to journey together, with one another, and with God. As Rainer Maria Rilke writes in Letters to a Young Poet, “Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live right into the answer.” May God guide us as we live into the questions of life and faith.