In 35 years of ministry, I've been asked a lot of questions.
Some are easy to answer, others leave me scratching my head.
I used to stress over the hard questions. Or give pat answers. Or take a stab at an answer and hope I’m right.
I don't do that anymore, since I learned the value of three wonderful words.
I. Don’t. Know.
I encourage every pastor to memorize and use those three words. Not a lot. But whenever appropriate.
Here are 9 reasons why:
1. It's Honest
There is no more essential element to life, faith and leadership than the mandate to tell the truth. If you don’t know it, admit it.
An honest ‘I don’t know’ is always better than a false answer.
2. It Builds Trust
This feels counterintuitive.
We think we’ll lose people's trust if we don’t have all the answers. The opposite is almost always true.
Saying ‘I don't know’ when you don't have an answer lets people know you’re not faking it when you do have an answer.
People are more willing to trust leaders who are honest about their vulnerabilities than those who only show their strengths.
3. It’s Less Damaging than a Fake or Simplistic Answer
When people ask hard questions from their pastor, the stakes are often very high. Their faith might be hanging in the balance. This is not the time to spitball it.
If we really know the answer, we should give it. But if we don’t, a fake or pat answer can send them down a bad path. It’s less dangerous to be ignorant than wrong.
4. Sometimes a Hard Question Is Hiding a Deeper Issue
When people ask hard questions, they’re not looking for easy answers.
Sometimes they’re not looking for answers at all. Just an listening ear, a praying friend or a reassuring conversation.
For instance, when we answer a devastating question such is “why did God let my loved one die?” with a pat theological answer about fallen humanity, we might miss the chance to cry with those who cry. In situations like that, the tears of a friend are better than the answers of an expert.
5. It Demonstrates Humility
A pastor’s typical day is filled with the most complex aspects of life. God, theology, the Bible and people.
If you must have an answer for every question, get a job at Google. Pastoral ministry requires bucket loads of humility.
6. It Honors God
Saying ‘I don’t know’ is not the same as saying ‘God doesn’t know.’