Asking the Dr. Phil Question

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Dr. Phil McGraw is a television personality famous for a question that he often asks people on his show. The question, usually asked when a person is explaining why they do what they do, is: “How’s that working for you?”

It’s a great question. I often pose the question to non-believers after asking them to describe their spiritual journey to me. It’s good to listen to their spiritual journey and then ask the question: “How’s that working for you?”

More often than not, they will answer that it’s not working, but that they have some sort of hope that it might in the future. Asking the question allows me to gently offer an alternative to their predicament and often to point them in the direction of Jesus. 

I think the question is helpful in many discipleship settings and very much a tool in the Regional Pastor’s tool box. I like to sit with pastors and listen to their plans, their hopes, their dreams. It's invigorating! But I’m also aware that behind many of those beautiful stories is a lot of pain and suffering that it is helpful to address. 

People fall into patterns. They keep doing the same things over and over again. They often keep doing what they do even if it is no longer effective or helpful. Pastors are not immune from this disease. We are creatures of habit. This can often be a good thing, but it can also be detrimental. Churches like consistency, even when that consistency is killing them.

Asking pastors, “How is that working for you?” invites them to reflect on the actual benefit to the kingdom, the church, and themselves. It isn’t an inflammatory question if asked with genuine concern. Nor is it judgmental. If asked properly, it’s a question that invites self reflection. Sometimes the question is answered that everything is going great and they are indeed doing great. That’s heartening to hear, but sadly, quite rare. Most often the opposite is true. For the Regional Pastor, the question can open the door to areas where pastors are frustrated, angry, or hurt and allow us to bring comfort and help. 

Recently I met with a pastor from another denomination who was telling me a little about the exciting new evangelism outreach plan he was implementing in his church. He seemed fairly enthusiastic about it, but I sensed some hesitation as he described some of what was required of him as he lead the effort.

When I echoed Dr. Phil and said, “How’s it all working for you?” it opened the floodgates and he, through tears, was able to express his frustrations with his council and with his church. It became an opportunity to ask the next hard question which was, “Why are you working so hard to implement something that by your own admission isn’t really working and doesn’t have much chance of working and a lot of the church is indifferent toward?”

The question became an opportunity for him to share his exasperation with a powerful person in the congregation who he was trying to appease and who was making the demands for the new program. What followed was a beautiful time of being able to listen to him pour out his heart and a rich time of praying together.

I’ve enjoyed asking the Dr. Phil question in a variety of settings and found it to be a useful tool. It most often effectively opens the door to deeper level conversations. It can also uncover long standing sin patterns and invite people to repentance. It can help people see what they are afraid of and where their fears truly lie.

I love that Jesus often asks questions in response to questions. Someone said he was asked 183 questions in the Bible, but that he only answered three. We’re quick to give answers. Jesus wasn’t. He also often answered questions with questions. Jesus didn’t become the Bible answer man. He asked probing questions that more often than not demanded self reflection and self discovery. 

“How’s that working for you?” is a good question, I think. It invites us into self examination and in doing that, it invites us to turn to Jesus.

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