Knowledge Problems and Necessary Virtues


(Here’s my editorial from the spring 2012 issue of Enrichment, which is available online.)

In a February 12, 2002, press conference, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made the following statement: “[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don’t know.”[1]

Rumsfeld was answering a question about the apparent lack of evidence connecting Saddam Hussein’s government and terrorist organizations seeking weapons of mass destruction. But his remark applies to the knowledge problems leaders face in any organization, including the church. And they suggest certain virtues that all leaders, including ministers, need to develop.

Start with Rumsfeld’s first two categories: known knowns and known unknowns. The older I get, the more I realize how ignorant I am in most areas but how knowledgeable I am in a few. Career specialization is the reason for this lopsided ratio of ignorance and knowledge. I have been a vocational minister for half of my life and all but 2 years of my professional career. Consequently, I have the knowledge base and skill set necessary for vocational ministry. Had I chosen or been called to a different profession when I was 21, no doubt I would have a very different knowledge base and skill set.

When you know what you know and do not know, it helps you develop appropriate virtues. In the case of known knowns, confidence, and in the case of known unknowns, teachability. In 2007, I transitioned from associate pastor at a megachurch to senior pastor of a turnaround church. I was not afraid of the new task of preaching weekly because my previous ministry experience had prepared me for it. I approached the pulpit with confidence. But I had never led a board meeting or annual business meeting, never been responsible for formulating the entire budget for the church (as opposed to my department’s budget), and never done a thousand other things that senior pastors routinely do. I was unconfident, but I was teachable. And I benefited from mentors both inside and outside the church who were willing to share their knowledge and skills with me. Had I approached my known unknowns with confidence, rather than teachability, the growth of the church would have been stifled by my ignorance (and pride).

The real problem in ministry — or leadership generally — is how we respond to unknown unknowns. Consider the Early Church. It was entirely Jewish. Then Jesus Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on Gentile God-fearers without their being circumcised, keeping kosher, or observing Sabbath. The Early Church did not know how to respond to this novel situation, which they had not even imagined would happen.

When you experience unknown unknowns, two extreme responses are common: resistance and ditching. In the Early Church, Judaizers resisted the law-free gospel and clung to the necessity of the ceremonial law, while antinomians went to the opposite extreme and ditched the moral law along with the ceremonial one. The proper response, as articulated by Paul? Flexibility. Paul flexed with the new wind of the Spirit blowing among the Gentiles without being uprooted from Scripture’s foundational “law of love.” In the crazy, rapidly changing times in which we live, ministers similarly need to know what can change and what must remain the same.

To Rumsfeld’s three knowledge problems, philosopher Slavoj Žižek adds a fourth — unknown knowns,[2] “the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values.” Žižek was writing about what happened at Abu Ghraib.

Sometimes we ministers overlook and even justify sin in our churches. We do not confront the abusive dad because he is chairman of the board. We give the gossipy woman a pass because she does so much for missions. We take out loans for building campaigns but do not have money in our benevolence accounts. Repentance is the only appropriate response, and we ministers should lead the way.

Confidence when we know what we know. Teachability when we know what we do not know. Flexibility when we experience unknown unknowns. And repentance in the face of unknown knowns. These are the knowledge problems we ministers face, and the virtues we need to develop.

Notes

1. http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=2636. Accessed 18 January 2012.

2. http://www.lacan.com/zizekrumsfeld.htm. Accessed 18 January 2012.

Ask the Superintendent with Dr. George O. Wood (January 23, 2011)


In this video, I interview Dr. George O. Wood about current events and pressing issues in the Assemblies of God. He addresses a range of issues, including the plight of Iranian AG adherents who have been arrested by the government, the consolidation of the three national AG schools, the involvement of AG pastors in politics, and many more. Dr. Wood is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God in the United States. He’s also my dad.

Interview with Dr. Craig Keener, Author of “Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts”


In this video, I interview Dr. Craig S. Keener regarding his new book, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic). The book (and the interview) ranges widely across New Testament studies, philosophy, contemporary field sociology, and systematic theology.

Review of “The Circle Maker” by Mark Batterson


Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011). $19.99, 224 pages.

In the First Century B.C., during a period of extreme drought, a Jewish man named Honi stood outside the walls of Jerusalem, drew a circle around himself, and prayed the following prayer: “Lord of the universe, I swear before Your great name that I will not move from this circle until You have shown mercy upon Your children.” Jerusalem’s religious leaders were appalled at this man’s audacity. Then it rained.

Mark Batterson opens The Circle Maker with this story and challenges his readers to pray like Honi. Utilizing biblical narratives, personal testimonies, and a gift for aphorism, Batterson challenges his readers to “dream big,” “pray hard,” and “think long.” In other words, he dares them to ask God for things only he can accomplish, to be persistent in the asking, and to think not of short-term, selfish gain but of long-term, far-reaching benefits for others.

Early on in The Circle Maker, I started to worry that Batterson was veering into “name it and claim it” territory. Like the Honi’s Jerusalem critics, I was forming the impression that Batterson was being presumptuous. But Batterson dispels this impression in a single paragraph: “God cannot be bribed or blackmailed. God doesn’t do miracles to satisfy our selfish whims. God does miracles for one reason and one reason alone: to spell His glory. We just happen to be the beneficiaries.”

But we cannot be God’s beneficiaries if we aren’t encircling our lives with bold, persistent, long-term prayer. That is the enduring lesson of this excellent. Indeed, isn’t that the enduring lesson of the Most Excellent Book: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16)?

P.S. Batterson is releasing a Circle Maker Curriculum Kit, which includes “one hardcover book, one participant’s guide, one DVD-ROM containing four small-group video sessions, a getting started guide, four sermon outlines, and all the church promotional materials needed to successfully launch and sustain a four-week church experience.” Here’s a promotional video for the book and the DVD-based curriculum:

P.P.S. I’m interviewing Mark Batterson about The Circle Maker on Thursday, December 8, at 3:00 p.m. (CST) on MinistryDirect.com/live. You can email questions for Mark to questions@ministrydirect.com, tweet them using #MinistryDirect, or post them on the Facebook message board on the live page. (You must be logged into Facebook to use the message board.)