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When You Don’t Know the Answer

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One common challenge faced by leaders, including pastors and church leaders, is the fear of embarrassment—especially when met with hard questions or situations where we might not have all the answers.

We’re afraid we’ll look dumb in front of those we lead. 

Some of the greatest leaders in history have struggled with this. Consider Moses’ burning bush interaction with God. When God called Moses to lead the people out of Egyptian slavery, the first question Moses asked God was about his own identity: “Who am I to . . . lead your people?” (Exodus 3:11 CEV). But notice the second question: “What should I say, if they ask me your name?” (Exodus 3:13 CEV). Moses is worried he won’t know how to answer the Israelites’ questions.

I know many pastors who resonate with this fear. Everyone expects the pastor to answer any question about Scripture and life in general. But no one knows everything. If you had to know the answer to every question to be the leader, you’d never lead.

God responds to Moses with an answer that, at first, seems odd. God tells Moses what God’s own name is. God says, “I Am Who I Am. This is what you must say to the people of Israel: ‘I Am has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14 GW). The name that God tells Moses points to God’s eternal, unchanging nature.

Today, parents often choose names for their babies because the names are cute. But in Bible times, you were named for your character. Throughout the Old Testament, the Bible uses many names for God. All those names tell us something about who he is and how he works in our lives. When God tells Moses God’s own name, God is reminding Moses not to root his identity in himself. Instead, Moses needs to root his identity in the eternal, unchanging nature of God himself. 

Psalm 124:8 gets at this: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (NIV). In our society, we observe this dynamic in action through law enforcement. If you see police officers chasing someone, you may hear them yell, “Stop in the name of the law!” The police officer’s request for the person to stop is based on the authority of the law, not the officer’s own authority.

There’s a difference between authority and power for us as leaders. You don’t have all of God’s power or all the answers he has at his disposal, but you have God’s authority based upon his name. That is more than enough for any issue you’ll face. 

When confronted with a difficult question or situation, it’s okay to admit, “I don’t know the answer, but I trust in the God who does.” This stance doesn’t diminish your leadership. Instead, it amplifies the authority by which you lead—the authority of God’s name.

You don’t need to answer everyone’s questions based upon your own authority. Your authority wouldn’t cut it anyway. But just as Moses had the identity and authority of God to point toward, so do you. 

You don’t know the answer to every question that’ll come your way in ministry, but you serve in the authority of the eternal God, who describes himself as “I Am Who I Am.”

God knows every answer to any question you’ll ever be asked. Pastor, that’s all you need. 

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