The joy of ‘I don’t know’
I was at our monthly family service last week and saw something very simple that you don’t seen very often from the front of an evangelical church. Someone admitted that they didn’t really know what Jesus meant by something!
It was actually quite weird, as we’re so used to the speakers having all the answers. In fact, I have to be honest and say that my first reaction was to think to myself, ‘Well perhaps you should have some idea before you presume to speak into a microphone about it!’ But another part of me, on reflection, wondered if perhaps (I can only go as far as perhaps) they were on to something. Perhaps it’s OK for the preacher to admit they don’t have all the answers. And I wonder if, for quite a lot of the people, it was good to hear as they often feel the same!
I think that those of us who work with children and young people can feel under pressure to look like we have all the answers. Children and young people ask a lot of questions and we feel that we need to have tidy answers that leave them with a neat parcel of truth to go home with. But I would suggest that, just like the preacher on Sunday, it’s really OK to say, ‘I don’t know.’ In fact, I would suggest it’s a good thing; let me suggest three reasons why:
1. Leaders can show doubt
You get yourself down off the pedestal that can make us feel that we, as leaders, aren’t allowed to show any signs of weakness or doubt. We then become a fellow pilgrim with the group we lead. We never want to lead our groups in a way that makes the young people or children think that they need to wait until they’re older before the God stuff is for them. If you answer all the questions, you are saying: ‘Thinking about stuff and working out an answer is for grown-ups, you just wait until you’re ready.’ If you can express doubt or a lack of knowledge, then you can show that it’s normal and OK, and is a part of faith.
2. Audience members have their own responses
Even if you know a killer answer, it’s good to help someone think their way to their own response, rather than be spoon-fed by you. So, ask them what they think, ask them if they know any stories that might help us answer it, maybe suggest a story that helps you. Work with them through the stories to see if you can find something that helps with the question. Working this way tools them up to think through stuff when you aren’t there to provide an answer.
3. Questions are asked for a reason
Most young people and children ask a question for a reason, questions rarely come from nowhere. Before you think about an answer, ask them why they asked the question. Clearly do this in an affirming way! But doing this is important and it will give you a sense of where they are coming from as you prepare to help them answer the question.
Sam Donoghue is Head of Children and Youth for the Diocese of London, a keen cyclist and a supporter of Everton FC.