Small questions won’t get you big answers

A few posts back, I identified a board’s willingness to ask pointed, even uncomfortable questions as a characteristic of exemplary governance. I’m sticking with that assertion, with the addendum that the scope of a board’s questions matters too.

Small questions lead to small results. But ask big, and the sky’s the limit. Or so suggests pastor and blogger Keith Anderson over at Leading Ideas, the online newsletter from Wesley Seminary’s Lewis Center for Church Leadership. He’s writing to pastors, but what Anderson has to say is apropos to leaders of other faith-based nonprofits as well — all types, all sizes.


From the local homeless shelter to World Vision, from Saddleback Church to the tiny Methodist church around the corner, asking outside the scarcity-bounded boxes into which we’ve shoved our organizations is a must. And all the more so when the goal is  our utmost for God’s highest.

As Anderson sees it, however,

we are afraid to ask questions to which we do not know the answers because we believe religious leadership is about having the answers. We choose apparent certainty over wonder.  We ask tactical rather than strategic questions. We boil many things down to money because it can be counted and contained on a spreadsheet. It gives us a false sense of control.

Right now is a time for asking big questions in the church (and ministry organizations of all types). Big questions open us to unthought-of possibilities. Big questions lead to innovation. Big questions leave room for God and the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the face of challenge and change, when new thinking is demanded of us, when new patterns of religious life are being re-imagined, we need be asking the bigger questions.


Thom Jeavons and I addressed this very issue in Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry, where we encouraged boards and other leaders in faith-based organizations to flee the trap of meager expectations – another way of describing “small questions.” We cautioned that too low expectations and too much acquiescence to the inertia of the status quo do little to build the self-confidence of organization or the donors who support the work with their gifts.

It’s the board’s responsibility to engage in honest, clearheaded examination of the organization’s capacities, strengths, and weaknesses. Doing so requires that board members are ready, willing, and able to ask questions that are sufficiently pointed and appropriately sized. Anything else just isn’t good governance.

Talk back: What has your board done to equip itself to ask big questions? What steps have you taken to make your boardroom a pointed-question-friendly zone?

What's your take on this topic?

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