Having moved to a new city, my wife and I recently found ourselves visiting churches and noticed a trend that I think is represented rather broadly in American evangelicalism: question and answer segments. While I think such times can be really helpful to do periodically throughout a sermon series, I think it is also critical that pastors be keenly aware of their own limits when answering questions. Simply put, despite how gospel centered we’d like to be on absolutely everything, the gospel does not purport to have the answer to life’s every question. A good pastor recognizes that being an expert on the Bible does not make him an expert on everything. Good shepherding requires speaking less forcefully and saying less about some things than others.
One of the most profound evidences of the divine inspiration of Scripture is found a little comment Paul made to the church at Corinth before addressing questions about marriage, singleness, and betrothal, “Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgement as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy” (1 Cor. 7:25). Paul then couches the advice he gives to the church at Corinth in conditional terms like, “I think,” “I would,” “I want you to be,” and “yet in my judgement.” Paul’s declaration that his advice in these verses is not a “command from the Lord” implies that all he has previously written was. That, however, does not mean we should dismiss what Paul says 1 Corinthians 7:25-40 on grounds that it is not a “command.” I think, when rightly understood, the conditional way Paul speaks about marriage, betrothal, and singleness at the end of 1 Corinthians 7, is a divinely inspired example of how Christians should speak about issues on which Scripture is unclear.
Despite the many articles and conferences on “gospel-centered whatever,” I think good pastoral counsel requires that we be clear on what Scripture is clear on and in everything else we strive for wisdom. While Q&A times can certainly be helpful, churches who incorporate these segments into corporate worship would do well to heed the following advice:
Not all questions are created equal. Some questions are going to be helpful to the entire church, “what are some practical ways we can honor God in our homes and families?” Other questions are probably too personal or too unclear to warrant discussing in front of the entire church body, “should we move into a bigger house?” Whoever is going to be answering the questions probably shouldn’t be the only one involved in screening them. Compile a team of trustworthy people to help you select questions that will be helpful. If you know a particular sermon is likely to spawn particularly controversial questions, solicit questions ahead of time and work with this team to talk through what a faithful, biblical, and edifying response might look like so that you are prepared to speak with the grace and nuance difficult questions deserve.
Are the questions concerning a core doctrine of the faith like the inspiration of Scripture or the deity of Christ? Is the question concerning a sin issue on which the Bible is abundantly clear? Then be clear. Don’t beat around the bush, such questions are soft balls and should be hit out of the park with clear, biblical answers.
With some of the most difficult questions whose answers are not readily apparent, wisdom may require saying less than everything you think about a particular subject. You may have what you believe to be a very sound dating policy, but if you cannot back up every point of that policy up in Scripture, you probably shouldn’t share it in detail. What you can do, however, is provide your congregation with some wise principles from Scripture for them to consider as they seek to navigate relationships with people of the opposite sex. When you, as a pastor, strive to exercise wisdom in your answers, you will encourage church members to seek it as well.
People love to ask what is and isn’t ok to do in a Q&A segment. However, no one is going to ask one of these types of questions where the answer is obvious. Be prepared for this. I would encourage you to either avoid such questions that you can’t answer biblically or answer them very carefully. The Bible doesn’t directly answer whether Christians should watch R-rated movies or do yoga—so if you are going to tackle such questions, be very careful that you do not set up a law for your congregation where there is none in Scripture (Luke 11:46).
If you are doing Q&A times because you have a very gifted, intelligent, and articulate pastor, that is probably not a good reason to be doing it. What we do in corporate worship should always be done for the edification of the body (1 Cor. 10:23, 14:26; Rom. 14:19; ). In other words, don’t put your pastor on a pedestal. By all means leverage his giftedness for God’s glory, but remember that there is a fine line between that and putting your pastor’s giftedness on display. If the focus is not on shepherding, edifying, and pointing the people in the pew to Christ, then you’re doing it wrong. As pastors, we should always be considering the motives behind everything we seek to do in the local church.
Remember, “‘Everything is permissible,’ but not everything is helpful. ‘Everything is permissible,’ but not everything builds up” (1 Cor. 10:23).