We've all been there, haven't we? That moment in time whenever you as the leader ask a question and you get the classic "SSA", also known as the "Sunday School Answer". We all know the joke. A Sunday School teacher asks her class of 2nd graders this question: "What has a bushy tail, climbs trees, and likes to eat acorns." A boy raises his hand and the teacher calls on him to answer her question. He says, "The answer is Jesus, but it really sounds more like a squirrel to me."
Before we talk about how to respond to an SSA, what causes people in our classes to give them in the first place? There are several possible reasons for the SSA, but here are two of them.
One, there is something about being in a Bible study that causes people to give religious answers. Most people do not want to sound like a spiritual idiot, so we give an answer that others in the class will recognize as church "cw" (conventional wisdom). People nod their heads in agreement when they hear a response that rings with their conventional wisdom about the Bible. The classic answer that many people give in response to a question from the Bible often revolves around "God's will". Let's face it, no one is going to touch that answer!
But a second, and very sad reason why people give an SSA is that they don't feel safe in the group. There is a level of insecurity in all of us, and sharing something personal is too intimidating for most people. People might think less of me. So instead, we default to the SSA and opt for the safe answer. We breathe a sigh of relief as heads in the group nod approvingly at our answer, but on the inside we sometimes experience that, "if people here really knew what I think…" feeling.
So how do you cope with the Sunday School answer? Even more importantly, how do you get your people to open up so that a more honest, robust time of sharing can occur? This Sunday, when you go to teach your group, write these three words in the palm of your hand to remind you to use them.
Tell me more.
Yes, that's it. After someone gives you an SSA, just look at them and say, "That's interesting Jim, tell me more." Jim will look back, take a deep breath… and his next answer will have some depth behind it. Listen to him carefully, and then repeat back to him what you heard him say. "Jim, I heard you say… blah blah blah… did I get that right?" After Jim nods in approval, say the three magic words to Jim again. "Great Jim, tell me more!"
Jim's pump is primed! You have done three key things with Jim. First, by sharing "tell me more" the first time, you expressed interest in his answer. He feels safe going just a little deeper. Then, by repeating his answer back to him, you have given him what every person really wants when they talk… someone who will truly listen! Finally, you encouraged him even more by asking him to share further when you said, "tell me more" a second time. My experience with this process is that Jim will go even deeper. Also, other people in the class who a few just a few moments ago were sitting back in their chairs and uninvolved in the discussion are now sitting on the edge of their seat and can't wait to get into the conversation.
Now here is the bottom line. If you really want to develop that sense of community in your class, you have got to go beyond the SSA and get people to open up. It is a skill, but you can do it. Using "tell me more" is a way to bring greater depth of discussion about the Bible and about ourselves so that your class can truly function as a biblical community. You will not achieve biblical community in a class that only shares SSA's!!
By the way, I've seen this process work with 50 year olds, 15 year olds, and 5 year olds! If you are a man and married, some day when the love of your life is talking, look at her and say, "That's interesting honey, tell me more." It's better than a box of chocolates!