DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

I Don’t Know

Written by: on September 9, 2020

“Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and he will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come…. No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’”[1]

No one knows. Not even the Son of God, the one seated at the right hand of God. God only knows.

And yet, how often do we hear someone, usually someone with credentials, standing, status, position, influence, and/or a platform, telling us how they have it all figured out? They claim to have all the answers.

In times such as these, with so much unknown and uncertainty around so many things, it is very easy for someone to step into the empty place and make bold claims. We are most vulnerable when we are scared and unsure and if someone else seems to have the answers, it can make us feel like we have a little more control.

In their book, “Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity,” Diana Renner and Steven D’Souza quote psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who said, “Overconfident professionals sincerely believe they have expertise, act as experts and look like experts. You will have to struggle to remind yourself that they may in the grip of an illusion.”[2]

When I was ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church, one of the things said by my bishop to our ordination class was, “Take authority to preach the Word of God, administer the Holy Sacraments and order the life of the Church.” Many, if not all of us, find ourselves, at least once in our career, truly struggling to understand the nature of this authority. And there are times when we overstep the bounds of this authority and justify it by thinking the church and/or society needs reassurance or certainty from spiritual leaders. The authority bestowed upon us at ordination is not an illusion, but there are plenty of times when leadership feels like we are just making it up as we go along.

What’s nice is knowing I’m not alone here. Jesus’ words remind who would listen that there are things in this life that NO ONE knows. There are things even Jesus himself would not claim to know. And it’s ok, maybe even Scriptural, for leaders to own this, when our natural inclination may be to press for certainty or fill the gap with sensationalist speculation.

Knowing might be comforting, but there are a great many things in this life that will never know. The life of faith is one that invites us to place our trust in God, the one who does know all, rather than settle for the temporary balm of the so-called, self-proclaimed experts eager to ease their own anxieties by graciously offering to interpret the signs for the rest of us.

There is much we do not know. And that’s ok.

[1] Mark 13:5-7,32 (NIV.)

[2] Diana Renner and Steven D’Souza, “Not Knowing: The Art Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity,” (New York: LID Publishing, 2016,) 38.

About the Author


John McLarty

Husband. Dad. Pastor. Play a little golf.

10 responses to “I Don’t Know”

  1. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    John, “I don’t know” might be the toughest words for a leader to say. I’ve found in times of transition and disorientation, people aren’t so concerned if I don’t know, but if they think I know something and am not sharing.

  2. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    “…there are plenty of times when leadership feels like we are just making it up as we go along.”

    John, your humility regarding your leadership role is always refreshing to me. I was thinking about Jesus and his leadership, and I wonder if in many ways it wasn’t the same as what you described here? If Jesus truly abided in the Father, then it likely felt like he was making it up as he went because God was leading by Spirit minute by minute. Sometimes he had a glimpse a little further in the future, but the perspective was still hazy-all the details were not revealed. He modeled what it looks like to abide, to walk by faith, to trust fully the One who knows all. Why would our expectations be any different? And yet, they are. Thank you for the reminder, it’s ok to not know it all.

  3. mm Dylan Branson says:

    The first real leadership role I had was as a co-director of a drama ministry when I was in university. To put it simply, I had no idea what I was doing and my pride stopped me from asking for help or advice. I thought I could shoulder the whole burden by myself and was never able to utter the words “I don’t know” during that time. At the same time, I also felt like I COULDN’T say those words because of who else was part of the ministry. It was a group of people who demanded answers and to acknowledge I didn’t know what was happening or what I was doing meant that any authority I had would be thrown out the window or met with patronizing comments.

    It was no surprise that my refusal to acknowledge where I truly was at the time and my own ignorance eventually drove the ministry into the ground. It was my first taste of leadership and, by all accounts, I had failed miserably in it. Maybe if I had actually acknowledged I didn’t know what was going on, maybe it could have been salvaged.

    Part of being able to admit we don’t know something is to feel like we actually can. The expectations that people put on leaders stops them from being able to say those words instead of allowing them to be honest about their situation.

  4. mm Greg Reich says:


    I think what is missing from many pulpits is authenticity and vulnerability. It is one thing to be confident, yet quite another to be arrogant and self sufficient. Even the disciples were recognized to be men of authority not because they were highly educated but because they were recognized as having been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13) i once heard an old Pentecostal preacher say the he would rather serve with a holy slug than a charismatic lion. At the end of the day character and holiness still matter.

  5. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Reading your piece made me wonder if the authority given by the Spirit to “elders” is so that they can order or steward.

    Order, to me, implies control, power, certainty.
    Steward, to me, implies listen, respond, question.

    The former seems to have a destination in mind. The latter seems to perceive the process as important as a destination.

    What’s been your experience of embodying the “authority” granted you as an elder?

    • mm John McLarty says:

      It’s a great question. For me, “order” has probably at times had more to do with control, but on my better days, I think of it as “responsibility.” My ministry journey has definitely been one of discovery and each new appointment or ministry season is a chance to reset and remember that I’m ultimately leading people toward a life of servanthood, so I better be able to show what that looks like.

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