Those in the practice of leadership coaching frequently call attention to assessments and questions. Assessments are “interpretations or judgments we (and our clients) have of self, others, or a situation based on prior experiences” (Karen Curnow and Stell Anderson, “Supporting a Life of Choice”). We take a look at something or someone, and based on the factors noted above, we form an opinion, one that may be right on target or dead wrong. Sadly, when we get stuck in ungrounded assessments (those that lack basis in fact), we slam the door on our potential for growth.
On the other hand, questions are open-ended. They leave room for exploration. Good questions prompt reconsideration and invite people to look at others or situations from a different perspective. The right question posed at the right time in the right way has enormous potential to foster change and growth.
Assessments and questions provide a good set of lenses for viewing the story in Mark 3:20-34. In typical Markan fashion, the Gospel writer has divided one story in two (3:20-21, 31-35) and used it to frame another (3:22-30). As Mark tells it, word reached Jesus’ family that Jesus was working so hard he was neglecting to eat and take care of himself. Some were saying that his frantic activity was a sign he’d lost his mind. In such circumstances, families tend to ride to the rescue, and Jesus’ family was no exception. They set out to “restrain him” and bring him home. Notice that Jesus’ family accepted these reports at face value. They asked no questions. Instead, they assumed the worst and acted on their assessment.
Similar dynamics are in play when the religious leaders confront Jesus (vv. 22-30). They, too, had gotten word of Jesus’ activities and came down from Jerusalem to investigate. When they met with Jesus, they zeroed in on his power to cast out demons and evil spirits. Just as Jesus’ family did, they made an assessment: he has the power to cast out demons because he’s in league with the prince of demons, Satan himself! The religious leaders asked no questions; they arrived on the scene with assessments already set in concrete.
Jesus, however, repeatedly asks questions, both of the religious leaders and his family. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” By means of those questions, Jesus sought to challenge the assessments of those who knew him best (his family) and those who were supposedly able to discern the work and presence of God (the religious leaders). By means of his questions, Jesus challenged both his family and the religious leaders to see that God’s work doesn’t always conform to our preconceived notions. Our assessments about who God is and how God works can often leave us “outside” (v. 31). When we are chained to our assessments, we lose clarity and are often unable to tell the difference between good and evil. We lose the capacity to discern what is truly of God and what is not.
Don’t get me wrong: assessments are necessary! But questions are far more powerful and can generate genuine transformation. An effective pastor asks lots of questions. In so doing, he or she teaches the congregation to check their assessments at the door and ask questions themselves. In so doing, both are better equipped to see what God is really up to. In so doing, both stand a better chance of getting in on God’s work instead of remaining on the outside looking in.