The Third Most Important Words in a Leader’s Arsenal

Continuing the series on the most important words in a leader’s arsenal (the first post found here and second one here), guest blogger and fellow student ministries pastor Andrew Hermann writes about another set of words vital to leadership and youth ministry.


Before becoming a Pastor of Students at our church, I had the opportunity to work for Apple in a retail setting. In my two years with the company, there were a ton of incredible leadership and interpersonal lessons I had the chance to learn. One of the biggest lessons I learned was the use of three words.


You read that correctly. I was taught to say I don’t know. There are a lot of things I love about technology, but to be honest, I am not well-versed in techo-babble/jargon. I never desired to be. Ever. There were many times working at Apple it was clear that the customer knew WAY more than I did. A question would be posed and I had no idea. The only answer I had was I don’t know.

A job within the church and a job with technology are actually pretty similar. A user/customer/attender/student could range from extremely knowledgeable and someone promoting the values of each or on the other end of the spectrum with little to no background. I find myself using these words with both ends of the spectrum.

Some answers I probably should know. I mean they are coming to the proclaimed or assumed expert based on my job title, but the response is/was always the same.

I don’t know is a key phrase not only for me, but this is also something we share as a part of our 5 Essentials to becoming a great small group leader in our ministry. As a leader I share it because I believe there are two outcomes that happen when we use the phrase, “I don’t know.”

The first outcome is that it builds trust and credibility.

Most would say that using these words would do the exact opposite. I don’t buy that. You’ll find us telling our small group leaders: Saying, “I don’t know” is not a sign of failure, but of honesty and vulnerability.

Instead of coming up with some terrible bull crap answer, I have to be humble enough to admit that I have no idea. As a pastor, I feel like I am put in this position far more often than I ever was at the Apple Store. I am constantly intersecting with lives of students that are just beginning or continuing a dynamic conversation with God. I don’t always have tech specs on hand about our faith in Jesus.

While I may not have the answers, I believe it builds trust and credibility when we say these words because students and volunteers are put at ease. I can share my own story and journey of processing such questions, but it is nice for others to see that we as pastors are at the same place. We are all on a journey and process of discovery.

The second is outcome is that it gives the opportunity to invite others into the process of discovery.

I do know that we serve an incredible God that, no matter our questions and doubts, never changes. God’s character remains the same, which means we have some time to figure things out.

There are some words I add to the end of I don’t know, that I didn’t mention. Let’s find out. When combined with I don’t know, these words are a force. No longer am I viewed as the anointed one with all the answers. (I hope to never be that.) I am now shoulder to shoulder with a student in this discovery process.

I have the opportunity to ask: What do you think? Where do you think we should start looking? How does that view line up with the other things we know about God?

I love this process so much, that even if I am 90% sure of an answer, I will say I don’t know, but let’s find out. It creates ownership as they begin and continue this process. It allows them to see honesty and vulnerability in action, and it gives me the opportunity to teach the process of discovery. Give it shot next time you are faced with a question you don’t know the answer to, say it.

I don’t know, but let’s find out.

Are you humble enough to take a step back and be willing to say I don’t know

Andrew Hermann

Andrew Hermann is a regular writer over at, where he writes about a little bit of everything of the story he keeps creating. He’s currently exploring a series on what it takes to be awesome, which he knows something about. Trust me.

He’s the Pastor of Students Ministries at the Eagle Brook Church Woodbury campus, and he’s the resident expert on art, bikes, and coffee.

One thought on “The Third Most Important Words in a Leader’s Arsenal

  1. I’m not a leader in any formal sense but I know that”I don’t know” is very important in my everyday life. So important I use it in my job search as one of my strongest attributes.

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