Tripp starts out by noting that many of us have permanently casual relationship and we never really get to know people or assume that we know them based on our own experiences. We tend to be either too busy or think that we struggle with unique problems that nobody else suffers. Tripp admonishes that we must move beyond the casual and not get comfortable with it.
Tripp presents Christ as a model of “data gathering”. Quoting Heb 4:14-16, he notes that we can come to Christ knowing that He gives mercy and grace appropriate to the need of the moment. We have the promise of personalized and not just general help from Christ. Christ understands all the temptation we face and will face. He defines data gathering, then, as understanding people so that we can serve them in their live. We, like Christ, need to be committed to entering into their worlds so that we can apply the truths of the gospel in a way that is situation-and-person-specific.
He notes the dangers that come about when we make assumptions about people and jump to quick conclusions. One of the assumptions we make is theological – since we know a Biblical anthropology we categorize people too broadly and forget to note that no two people are exactly the same and don’t respect the differences. Each of our stories is unique. We have to ask people about their story and get to know them. The second assumption we make too quickly deals with our experience. We assume we know much more about people than we do based on a sense of shared experience or things that we’ve seen before.
Toward the end of making sure our conclusions are correct about our understanding of another, Tripp exhorts us to do three things: (1) Always ask people to define their terms (What?); (2) Always ask people to clarify what they mean with concrete, real life examples of the terms they have used (How?); (3) Always ask people to explain why they responded as they did in the examples they have given you (Why?)
We don’t get to the right answers without asking the right questions. Insight into others is not by some sort of hidden talent that doesn’t involve gathering information about them through questions. People were made by God to be interpreters, and the questions we ask ourselves are what we use to try and make sense out of life. When we bring well-crafted, creative, and biblically shaped questions to a person’s life we are doing more than getting to know them and uncovering where change is needed. We are ministering to that person. When we ask questions of people they would never ask themselves, we are teaching them to view themselves through biblical lenses. We’re teaching them a new way to interpret reality according to how God has revealed in His Word. Asking good questions is doing the work of change.
He presents four principles to keep in mind when asking questions with sample questions for each:
- Always ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no”. Open-ended questions cannot be answered without the person disclosing what they are thinking.
- Ask a combination of survey and focused questions. Survey questions scan the various areas of a person’s life and look at the person as a whole. Focused questions look intensively into one area of a person’s life.
- Remember that certain kinds of questions reveal certain kinds of information. You must constantly ask yourself question what you don’t know about the person to fill in the gaps.
- Ask a progressive line of questions, in which each question is based on information uncovered in the previous question.