It was very gratifying. About eight years ago, in a Bentham Venture leaders' meeting, Chris Ward said I was the best small group leader he had ever known and I never told the group anything, I only asked questions.
It was gratifying because it was generous praise, of course. It was also gratifying because up to that point it had only been an intuitive technique. I hadn't set out to do all my teaching by questions, refined to bring people to conclusions themselves, but it seemed to have worked and I resolved that it was indeed the best way to lead small groups or contribute to meetings. I have consciously used it as a technique ever since.
Of late I have become more aware of the way people receive this. In 2002 an Alpha small group became very irritated with me and we had to have two further terms of meetings in which I was told, in no uncertain terms that this time I would be the one answering the questions. From January to July 2003 I was in a lovely small group which became, more or less, 'Grill Steve'.
Last year, in a leadership team meeting, I asked why we had a Missionary Gift Day. It was a genuine question. We have had one at St Paul's since long before I arrived in 1992. The question was answered in various ways and it seemed that there might be good reasons to continue. We needn't worry about them now. What happened though was that someone said, 'Steve's point is a good one but...'
I had to make sure, before it passed into formal record, that I hadn't made a point but asked a question. Everyone then realised I had and the meeting notes recorded that.
Last night at our Church Council meeting we spent a lot of time in small buzz groups. One of the exercises was to look at a list of responses to a questionnaire and evaluate which were the key areas with which to deal. One of the people with whom I 'buzzed' was insistent that 'communication' was the key issue. We had this approximate conversation (rather excluding the third member of our group - sorry my friend if you're reading):
St: So what do you mean by communication being the problem then?
M: Well, for instance a lot of people wonder why we now have so many staff and what they do all day?
St: So it's not about communication as a whole but about having too many staff?
M: Well no, that's just an example.
St: So what else?
M: Well a lot of people say we should have a magazine again.
St: Yes, I noticed that from the responses. Do you think that would solve all our communication problems?
M: And there's a real problem with older people knowing the younger people. We used to have profiles in the magazine and interviews up front in church.
St: We still have interviews up front in church. Do you think people read the magazine?
M: Well no, you can't make people read it I suppose.
St. I just wonder if you would help people more by identifying the actual issues rather than blanketing a criticism against communication. Some of our communication is quite good. Aren't we in danger of suggesting it is all bad?
Called to order.
Asked to feedback, M told the chair that 'Steve and I spent the whole time having a debate about communication.'
I didn't respond, but did we do that? I agree I added some speculation by wondering rather than questioning, but I don't think we had a debate. If asked my opinion I don't think M would be able to give it.
Questioners and sceptics of the world unite. Make sure people understand. We're only asking.