SGL: How do you handle questions when you don’t know?

Small Group Leadership: How do you handle questions when you don’t know?


            One of the great lessons from seminary was learning the three most difficult words a new pastor has to learn.  The new pastor wants to look good and to help people consider him well studied and well prepared.  He wants to lead his church and to demonstrate he wasn’t born yesterday.  Yet, his three most difficult words he must learn, if he is going to survive with humility are, “I don’t know.”

            The purpose of leading a home group is not to know all the answers.  The purpose is not to do all the talking.  And the purpose is not to be the “Bible Answer Man.”  The purpose of small groups is to raise up spiritual parents who will be able to lead other people to become spiritual parents.  Therefore, the leader cannot do all the talking.  He cannot answer all the questions.  He cannot be the “head honcho.”  He is the facilitator to help raise up other spiritual parents. Therefore, saying, “I don’t know” should not be a problem.  Consider the following ideas.

            First, there will be questions that catch you off guard.  For example, I was checking on a home group and the group was answering some questions about Revelation.  The question was something about the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven and who would occupy it.  It caught me off guard and I had to say, “I don’t know. I’ll get back with you.”  So I just took some time the next day and got back with the group the next week.

            Second, the issue in a difficult question is not knowing the perfect answer.  Knowing the answer is good and arriving at the right answer is better, but it is also important to send the question back to others in the group and ask them what they know.  Again, it’s important to get other people thinking and trying to verbalize, so they can grow spiritually and become spiritual parents.  Spiritual parents don’t have to know all the answers, but they have to know the answers are found in Scripture.  It’s better to show dependency on the Spirit’s guidance into God’s Word for the right answer than making up an answer that sounds right.

            Thirdly, the issue is caring about the person who asks the question.  It is far more important to care for the person and show unity of trying to understand God’s answer than knowing the right answer.  God is far more honored by unity of thinking than brains on a stick.

            Fourthly, be ready to say, “I don’t know.”  Showing humility and weakness is far more valuable than trying to be the Bible Answer Man for the group.  People respond to humility and weakness and will be willing to step up in spiritual leadership if they know they don’t have to have all the answers.

            Fifthly, find the answer for the question. It is okay not to know the answer, but spend some time in research.  It will be a blessing to you and a help in your spiritual growth.  Ask others to do research, because it will stretch them and help them become better students.  The discovery process and journey is far more valuable than a quick answer.  It shows a diligent student who does not want to be ashamed and rightly dividing God’s Word (2 Tim. 2:15).

            Sixthly, report back to the group your results.  The right answer is always a joy.  But to report back your results that are not definitive is alright also.  You do not have to have the perfect answer when you report back.  Sometimes, it is better to not have the complete answer, because, again, it helps people see that they might be able to facilitate and to lead a group themselves.  That is the goal of a small group – people who are raised up to lead other groups.

            When you do not know the answer to the question, say so. You can always say, “I don’t know, but I know the One who does.  Let’s all do some research over the week and report back what we find.”  That will stir the people up to dig into God’s Word in dependence upon the Holy Spirit to guide them into Truth. Everyone will be blessed.

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