For many years I did a question-and-answer session after each worship service. At the end of the service, just before the benediction, I would say, “Anyone who would like to ask a question about something in the sermon, or in the service, or about our church or Christianity in general—you are invited to stay and ask me those questions. Immediately after the postlude, we will conduct a 40-minute Q&A session right here down in front of the podium.”
We had anywhere from 30 to 150 people stay afterward every week.
Three Kinds of Questions
When I began the session, I would reiterate the subjects we wanted to address (sermon, service, church, Christianity). I said they didn’t have to stay on the topic(s) in that day’s sermon, but that I especially welcomed questions about what I had preached on. Then I took questions for the 40 minutes or so. There were generally three kinds of questions:
- Specific questions about the sermon and the subjects it raised.
- Skeptical questions posing objections to Christianity or asking for evidence for God or other Christian tenets.
- General questions about Christian beliefs and living.
A majority of the people who stayed were those newer to the church. There were a fair number of skeptics but also plenty of Christians who simply wanted to learn more about the church and its teachings.
As you might guess, there were many questions that kept returning again and again. That’s why, at the very end of the session, I would say this:
Thanks for coming. If you’ve been coming to this Q&A for a number of weeks, and some of the questions posed are ones you’ve heard before, it might be time for you to go to one of two other classes being offered at this same time every week—“The Credibility of Christianity,” for people exploring whether Christianity is true, and “Basic Christianity,” for people who want a survey of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith.
The reason for this little announcement was that the Q&A was to some degree the beginning of a process of assimilation into the church. The non-Christians needed to get into a venue where they could more systematically explore the case for Christianity. The Christians needed to get to a place where they could be more systematically instructed and readied for church membership and other ways of participation in the body.
Afterward I always left time to talk to those who lingered. There were usually one or two who had a question they didn’t want to pose publicly. For many people, my accessibility at those moments, and my interaction with them, was an important way for them to come to trust the institution of the church. Martyn Lloyd-Jones had a similar time of “calling hours” after each service when inquirers and others could see him, usually briefly, to get an answer to a spiritual or pastoral question.
Here are five reasons to do this yourself:
1. It’s a way to get instant feedback on your sermon.
You will quickly discover if you raised more questions than you answered, if you gave false impressions, and so on. The Q&A is good pedagogy. Lecturers leave time for questions because they want to be sure listeners have understood them. Often the Q&A teaches you that you weren’t as clear as you thought you were. It’s a tremendous way to upgrade your preaching.
2. It’s a way to get bystanders—people coming but not committing—to become more involved.
For many it was their first step in doing something more than come to worship. It was a way to get to meet the pastor of the church personally (since the Q&A was a much smaller gathering than the service itself) and often to meet others in the church.
3. It’s a way to do evangelism on Sundays.
Not every Sunday, but usually, non-Christians asked me questions and I was able to point them (and the other non-Christians present) to the gospel. Many non-Christians were actually shocked that a minister would let himself be publicly questioned, and that a church would provide a forum for skeptics to express their doubts. It was also a way to draw non-believers into a longer process of exploring the faith.
4. It’s a way to model how Christians should talk to people about the faith.
There were always a few longtime members who stayed for the Q&A to learn how to field objections to Christianity and questions from their own colleagues and friends. I often had prickly or even hostile people say abrasive things to me in the session. That was a great opportunity to teach how to not be defensive, threatened, angry, or patronizing, but to be gracious to someone with an opposing view. Many non-believers watched carefully how those kinds of angry objections were received. When we responded with grace, it made the gospel look much more plausible.
5. It’s a way to learn to think on your feet, and to develop good, brief answers to the main questions people in your time and place have about Christianity.
It will make you both a better pastor and preacher. In particular, it helps you as a preacher discover what’s on people’s minds, both believers and non-believers. It helped me to understand the culture in which they were living. It also helped me, later in my sermon preparation, to address from the Word of God the issues troubling them. It’s too easy for preachers to answer questions from the Bible their people aren’t really asking.
I am so grateful that a post-service Q&A session was part of our church’s rhythm for many years. The benefits were enormous, and I commend the practice to you.