Great Teachers Ask Questions
Great teachers ask questions. Like windows to a room, questions open minds to the wonders of God and His creation. Questions link big ideas together in the way bridges connect treasures from diverse and distant lands.
Watch carefully and you will observe that great students also know how to ask questions. They want deeper understanding. They desire to know more. Curiosity drives their questions.
Christian missionary Francis Schaeffer mastered the use of questions during his three decades of educational ministry to young people in Europe. A recent study suggests that his use of questions can help Christian educators today.
Francis Schaeffer’s Use of Questions
Many are familiar with Francis Schaeffer, the apologist and author of How Now Shall We Live? But what may be less known about his legacy is the learning community he founded with his wife, Edith, in the Swiss Alps. From 1955–84 students came from all over the world to study with Francis and Edith Schaeffer in the little Swiss village of Huémoz at a place they affectionately called “L’Abri,” which is a French word that means “shelter.” Under the tutelage of Francis and Edith Schaffer, L’Abri students learned about the reasonableness of the Christian faith and how it connects with culture. Students gained a biblical worldview to see the Lordship of Christ in all of life.
L’Abri was a unique living-learning community. It was never a formal school or church. Instead, it was a community of people who were free to come and go as they wished. Some students stayed for only a few days, but others stayed for decades.
A fascinating discovery has been made about Francis Schaeffer’s educational ministry at L’Abri. In a study of formerstudents (n=30) all of them (100 percent) mentioned the use of questions as integral to their learning experience under the Schaeffers (Rasmussen 156). Every single student interviewed spoke positively about the use of questions at L’Abri.
No questions were off-limits to students at L’Abri.
One participant in the study recalled, “No person was catalogued as unworthy. No questions called stupid or silly” (Rasmussen 158). No questions were off-limits to students at L’Abri. A recurring theme was “honest answers to honest questions.” Speaking of Schaeffer, one former student said, “He never said you must believe these questions are resolved. He was quite the other way around. What you believe should be the consequence of weighing the different options before coming to your conclusion.” Another student said, “Francis Schaeffer honored questions. He encouraged questions. If you did not have questions, he would raise them himself.” Another student said, “No question was ruled out of bounds. Every question was honored” (Rasmussen 158).
Christian Education in a Time of Doubt Francis Schaeffer taught in a time of doubt, during the difficult days of the sixties and seventies. Lovingly and with wisdom, Schaffer engaged students who had “checked out” from formal education and church involvement.
Lovingly and with wisdom, Schaffer engaged students who had “checked out” from formal education and church involvement.
It is easy to see the similarity with the current situation. Young people of our churches still have questions today. But what happens if they do not ask their questions and find answers at church?
Duriez, Colin. Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. Crossway Books, 2008.
Jones, Robert, Daneil Cox, Betsy, Cooper, and Rachel Lienesch. Exodus: Why Americans Are Leaving Religion—And Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back. Public Religion Research Institute, 2016.
Rasmussen, Adam. Francis Schaeffer and Educational Ministries at L’Abri: A Historical-Conceptual Study with New Qualitative Research. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2019.
Smith, Christian, and Melinda Lundquist Denton. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Oxford University Press, 2005.
Adam Rasmussen teaches students to flourish under the Lordship of Christ in all of life as they grow in their understanding of faith, reason, and culture within a biblical worldview. He is the associate professor of humanities at Arizona Christian University. His PhD in educational studies is from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.