Mission and the art of powerful questions

craigieburn-wallan church

In my sharing with gathered communities across our Church, I am convinced we are helped by those among us who can ask ‘powerful questions’.

Powerful questions is a term made popular by Canadian business strategist Eric Vogt who was convinced that:

  • questions are a prerequisite to learning;
  • questions are a window into creativity and insight;
  • questions motivate fresh thinking;
  • questions challenge outdated assumptions and;
  • questions lead us to the future.

Eric quotes Albert Einstein saying: “The important thing is to never stop questioning.”

So much opens up for us when we ask a powerful question. Such a question might excite our imagination and energise us in new directions.

The art of powerful questions is a tremendous skill to learn and practice.

In Luke 10, we read of a teacher of the law who came to Jesus one day with a question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” After a brief exchange another question is asked of Jesus: “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus then tells the story of the Samaritan who helps a beaten man on the road to Jericho. The story is a prelude to what I would call a powerful question, where Jesus asks: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

This question leads the man (and those of us who read this account) to insight, fresh thinking, challenges and a new possibility.

How might this notion of powerful questions happen today as we seek renewal as gathered communities called to participate in God’s mission of love for the world?

Over recent years, the congregation of Craigieburn-Wallan, located in the northern fringes of Melbourne, has sought to renew their mission plan. The closure of the long-running opportunity shop at Wallan triggered a particular focus on the future possibilities for the Wallan church site. With help from the presbytery, the congregation was encouraged to learn more about the Wallan mission context – a rapidly growing suburban satellite of Melbourne.

Warning! Here come the powerful questions that excited me…

Through contacts nurtured over the years, some representatives of the church were able to speak with the local secondary school principal. She thought it might be best that they meet with the school’s student leadership team. After explaining to the team that they had come to listen and had no other agenda, the church representatives asked questions like:

“What needs or issues are you facing as young people in Wallan?” 

Also: “In what ways might our church be able to help you?”

These questions are powerful. They are made more powerful of course by the context in which they are asked. Powerful questions are pregnant with possibility.

Soon the replies and discussion flowed from the student leaders:

“Our parents work and are not home when we leave for school, nor when we get home. Hanging out on the streets is dangerous. We need a safe space … to relax… to do homework… to talk together”.

A spirit of possibility began to take hold and ideas of collaborative effort were discerned. The students suggested that if the church wanted to pursue something, then they’d like to help.

The mission planning team spoke to the local police, telling them about ideas around a homework club and a safe space for young people. And the police were keen to help and added further ideas. The Shire of Mitchell was also consulted and officers spoke of isolated mothers in nearby new housing areas. The team shared a further idea of re-invigorating the opportunity shop with the manager of a local Salvo store. She was supportive and even suggested one of her own volunteers as a capable possible manager for the venture.

Powerful questions invite collaboration and invigorate an infectious energy. The presbytery was excited by the ideas that were flowing, and later the skills of the synod’s property team were welcomed to explore the possibilities of the property and facilities they had. The creativity and energy continued.

The synod’s Vision and Mission Principles are alive in this effort and the Statements of Intent are discernable.

Craigieburn-Wallan presently has many exciting mission possibilities on the drawing board. Although that’s a nice problem to have, they are cautious not to overreach.

They have shaped their new mission plan and are taking the first steps to improve their existing facility to create a more welcoming community space. Preparations are under way towards the relaunch of the opportunity shop initiative. They are also seeking to pursue some ‘sparks’ of new life while honouring the existing signs of their faithful witness. Other new possibilities have been named and will sit before them until the time is right.

With love and support from folk at Craigieburn, the small congregation at Wallan ‘pack a punch’ way above their weight. But if the power of the Spirit of God is at work in their journey, boundaries will be overcome and new life will spring forth.
Their vision for mission is being renewed by the Spirit through their willingness to step out into their community and simply ask a power-full question.

May the Spirit inspire us all to do likewise.

P.S. Albert Einstein also said:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

[If interested in reading further, search the internet for a copy of a paper The Art of Powerful Questions by Eric Vogt et al]

David Withers

Strategic Framework Minister

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