I’m reading a book by Lisa Cron, called Story Genius, which is all about using how the brain works for writing stories, and I have just been reminded that before the age of 4, children ask thousands of questions. Nothing new there. But the questions aren’t about answering the question of what (facts) but rather the question of why (meaning) (page 61 of the book).
The purpose of the book is to drill down and ask the reason why a character in a story does what they do.
Asking why is something I have done in my consultation work with churches when you are trying to work out the solution to a problem. Check out this article about 5 whys to understand…why. Heres, as they say, is the skinny.
1) You ask why about a problem you are trying to solve.
2) You ask another why relating to the answer to question 1…
3) You ask another why relating to answer 2
4) Ask why the answer to question 3
5) ask why the answer to question 4
By this point you should now have something that looks like the really meaning, the core. Why is the most important question, comes straight after what.
I’ve been thinking about this a great deal over the last few days, and it’s true. Hand’s up, I have to admit I spend far too long telling people what. So I will in detail describe an idea or thought because I personally am fascinated by my own thing, and I don’t want to be misunderstood because of not painting a full picture. I struggle, but the best I have come up with so far is to just give people as little information as possible, and then field answers…which oddly are often why questions! I haven’t got it right, and falling back into old habits is too easy.
Here’s the thing, if children spend so much time wanting the answer to why, how come we teach in our churches far more of the what?
It’s currently Christmas time, so over and over again we tell the story of the nativity. It’s only a few verses long in any of the gospels, but we successfully manage to blow it up into full blown hour long plus passion plays. (ok, I know that’s Easter, but you get the drift). We love a good story. Even the whys get turned into whats.
Why did they have to hang out in the stable? Because there was no room in the inn. But actually it’s still just a description of fact. Why did they have to travel to Bethlehem…because they were to be counted. Same problem.
A better question would be why did Jesus have to be born in that place at that time? Why was it important for shepherds to know first? Why were wise men bringing gifts? Why was their choice of gift important?
Why should Christmas matter to me?
That’s just Christmas. Take a look at published group bible study materials. Often they are like comprehension questions.
I even wonder if the reason so many kids phase out of church is because there are only so many what questions that can be answered. More than that, the questions always seem to come from the ‘teachers’ as tests. So, the teacher knows the answer, but they want to get their pupils to answer it to learn. It would be interesting to see what happens if the teacher was to join the kids honestly in asking questions, and then discover together. Because you can never have enough why questions.
A way forward with why? – encourage the why
So how can we get the kids to ask why more, when we have spent so long teaching them that what is more important, and we are going to spend all our time telling you what before you have even asked it? Perhaps Godly Play would be useful here. Godly play focusses around a very open question of ‘I wonder’. In this, the leader is encouraging the kids to wonder…and when you wonder you NATURALLY start to ask why. It’s the why without necessarily it being a test. They engage together. Why questions become community exploration, which end in relevance.
Nothing wrong with this…in the psalms the question of why comes up over and over because they don’t understand God’s actions. Surely this is a more healthy way to approach a life of faith, because sometimes we don’t understand.
Another resource to look at would be Scripture Union’s new project, Explore Together.
I would be very interested to know your thoughts.
which someone did! (let me know their thoughts that is) Thanks to Mike Haydock for reminding me of the following: