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A young college student approached me one day and said, “I’m in a part-time youth ministry job in a small, growing church. My brother gave me a ‘youth ministry manual’ that had enough content for about three good program nights in it, and that’s about all I know about youth ministry. I just used the third night’s material. Help!”

You Know What You Know

Face it. Most of us didn’t grow up in big, flashy youth ministry settings with slick programs, high technology, and hundreds of kids. Most of us were ecstatic when our semi-cool youth director provided a somewhat semi-cool video on a Sunday night. Forget innovation. We just kind of did the same thing week after week with the same leaders and the same crowd of 15 or so teenagers. Not much changed, because those youth ministry leaders back then, much like today, knew a bit about youth ministry but not enough to push out to the edges of creativity and innovation in either content or structures for youth ministry. They simply knew what they knew.

We all know what we know, based on who we are, where we’re from, what we’ve experienced, and what we’ve learned along the way. Our knowledge is the multiplicity of thought resulting from genetics, environment, academic pursuit, and acquired skills, the combination of which readies us for the work of ministry. Whether that knowledge is expansive or limited, we all know what we know, and our ministries are limited to that.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Conversely, we are all also faced with the fact that we don’t know what we don’t know. After retiring from 32 years in pastoral ministry, I had a little conversation with myself. I thought, “Self, you’ve been listening to yourself preach for 32 years. Maybe you ought to get out there for a while to hear what other preachers are saying and see what other churches are doing.” I really wanted to explore some, to find out what I didn’t know about the contemporary church, and to see how God was working in ways that I had not yet imagined. And I’ve learned a lot in visiting over 25 churches (some multiple times) in a year and a half, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. That’s true for all of us – we don’t know what we don’t know. And if we’re not careful, we’ll be perfectly happy with our self-chosen arrogance or unwitting ignorance. In order to expand your ministry you have to expand your knowledge and understanding and then be disciplined enough to apply what you’re learning.

Here’s What You Can Do About It

You don’t have to live in arrogance or ignorance! By getting out there I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the ways you can expand your knowledge and your ministry. Here are some ideas:

  1. READ and examine other resources. Ask your compadres in youth ministry what they’re reading and what is most helpful.
  2. EXPLORE. Visit other ministries to see how they’re doing what they do. (And you don’t have to wait until you retire!)
  3. GATHER. Form a small group of professionals who want to grow with you. Some prefer to have a group of others similar to themselves. Others like to have a mix of people so that they can benefit from different personalities, ages, perspectives, and even areas of ministry. The choice is yours.
  4. CONFERENCE. Attend a national convention to get energized and to pick up ideas and resources. Better yet, take volunteers along and let them find out what they don’t know, too.
  5. MEDITATE ON THE “WHAT IF” QUESTION. If you’re not making time in your week for imaginative reflection and prayer, you’re missing out on one of your mightiest resources. Put it in your weekly schedule. By asking, “What if we …,” you open the door to creative thought.


You know what you know. And you don’t know what you don’t know. How utterly simple and how utterly profound! May your journey into the unknown bring glory to God, as well as joy and fruitfulness to you and to those that you serve.