Good And Bad Ways To Handle Tough Questions

Recently, I saw this XKCD comic which I found to be hilarious!

Now, this is pretty funny not only because that’s what all teachers go through, it is also funny to me because that’s what all pastors and church educators go through, too. Truth is, we churchy type people do not have all the answers and, frankly, I’m leery of anyone who says they do. However, it is tough when you’re talking about something and someone asks a question that causes what is in this cartoon to happen. What you’re saying is just fine, no flaw per se in what you’re teaching, but a valid question comes up and, at least at that moment, you don’t know the answer.

First thing is to realize it is OK to not know the answer. Blasphemy to say such a thing, I know. And I, personally, hate the idea. But it’s reality. So, then you are left with the options above. Do I admit I am incompetent (or really that I am simply not God who does have all the answers) or do I belittle the person by saying something to brush them off or do I say some crazy thing like Santa Clause is your parents?

I will confess that I have accidentally done the second one. I was invited as one of two guests to a class on the WCU campus to talk about what it was like becoming and being a female pastor and, as part of the discussion portion, I was asked a tough question about what Lutheran’s believe about transubstantiation. Now, this was not a theology class nor was it a group of pre sem students, so I wasn’t expecting it. Actually, I know what Lutherans believe about transubstation and a whole lot of other stuff. However, I was not sure how to SAY IT…how to talk about it in a non obtuse way to someone who may have really wanted to know.  Instead, I got nervous and defensive because I was sure the student was trying to test me to see what I knew. Well, maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t. Whatever it was, it ended with me not handing it well. I said something sort of smug like: ‘Well, I could explain that but it is rather complex and I probably a bit boring for everyone else in here.’ 

Yeah, I know. That was dumb. And patronizing.

And if I could take it back and re do it, I would.

But I can’t.

So I try really hard to choose that first option. Even if it means risking looking like an idiot. However, some of my campus ministry students have suggested that I do a sermon one Sunday where, instead of preparing a sermon in advance and preaching from that, I just talk about the text of the day. And take questions.

 And take questions??? Are you out of your mind?? Someone might ask me the theological equivalent of why do planes fly upside down? I have no problems doing this in a different kind of setting, in fact I enjoy teaching like this and do so all the time. But what if someone asks me something I don’t know how to answer and…..worst of all…..worse than not knowing the answer…..I turn into that smug jerk again? We shall see if I have the courage to try it.

Of course, I could always fall back on that last option. It is true, you know…..Santa Clause is your parents.

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