Questions Wanted for the THINK Conference
There are three main reasons why we’re trying to get the questions ready beforehand. Firstly, open Q&As have a couple of intrinsic drawbacks. They are not particularly democratic, in that they tend to favour the first person to stick their hand in the air or the person with the loudest voice, rather than focusing on the things the majority of people want to talk about. They also tend to be somewhat imbalanced, with the opening couple of questions often setting the tone for the content of all the others, and the spontaneous nature of the process can make the questions which are asked somewhat less clear, or less compellingly presented, than could have been the case if they were worked on beforehand. So pre-prepared questions have an advantage, all other things being equal.
Secondly, our experience last year was that some questions are simply much, much more important than others, and it can be frustrating if there is not space for them to be addressed because of the number of (less relevant) issues raised. That was my fault, and a number of you were good enough to write to me about it. My hope is that this year, getting questions in advance will enable greater focus and structure, and allow us (if desired) to spend most of our time on two or three key topics, with an opportunity to explore things in a bit of depth. (Of course, you might prefer to ask all sorts of random questions, in which case we can do that instead.)
Thirdly, having Tom with us is a great opportunity, but it will no doubt also present certain challenges. There will be a lot of things people will want to ask, for a start, and we won’t get through all of them. (If nobody submits any questions, by the way, I will quite happily chat to him at the front for an hour about all sorts of things I’ve been wondering, so please don’t feel obliged to ask things!) Not only that, but Tom has spoken openly about his experience of feeling misunderstood by a great many sincere Christians, and it would be enormously frustrating for him - and, I suspect, for others - to have questions that express these misunderstandings framed in unhelpful, confusing or even hostile ways (“why do you deny justification by faith?”, for example, would not be a winner). Preparing questions beforehand will allow the discussion to take place in the most positive possible terms. I hope it goes without saying that this doesn’t mean we won’t ask direct, or challenging, questions. I have a cluster in my back pocket, and many of you may do too, so the last thing we want is a sycophantic chat, as if he was appearing on The One Show. But neither do we want confusion, Chinese Whispers or crossed wires. Clearly, Tom is not infallible, but he is a great gift to us, and we want to honour him. Hopefully, getting the questions up front will help us do that.
So: if you have questions that you’d like us to talk about at THINK, stick them in the comments section, or if you’d rather be secretive about it, click this link to email my PA, Judith. And if you haven’t booked in yet, there are still a few places left here. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a dead horse outside I need to go and flog.