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The Two Different Kinds of Knowing

Robert Carnes
Robert Carnes Monday September 30, 2019
<? echo $type; ?> The Two Different Kinds of Knowing

In the 1984 comedy Top Secret, Val Kilmer plays a rock star turned spy in Cold War-era East Germany. In one scene, Kilmer is trying to order food at a German restaurant but admits that he doesn’t speak the language. 

I know a little German,” responds his female co-lead. “He’s sitting over there.” The camera cuts to another table where a short man in lederhosen stands up and waves. He’s a little German.

The scene is funny because it’s a wordplay on the two different kinds of knowing—knowing information and knowing a person. Ironically enough, this joke wouldn’t be as funny if told in German, because the pun would be lost in translation.

A Little German

I know that because I also know a little German (and I do mean the language)—enough to know that there are actually two different words that mean ‘to know.’ One is ‘wissen’ and the other is ‘kennen.’

Wissen means to know something as in knowing a fact or information. It’s similar to the English word wise. On the other hand, kennen means to know or be familiar with a person. This is a subtle, but important distinction.

This difference is important because it largely impacts how we treat those we know.

The Importance of Knowing

The theme for the 2019 Orange Conference was ‘It’s Personal: Everything Changes When It’s Someone You Know.’ We explored the idea that when you get to know the people in your community it transforms how you do ministry.

But how are we meant to know the people in our community? Kennen or wissen? Is it enough to know them on a factual level? Or do we need to become more familiar with them? These are rhetorical questions because the answer should be obvious.

When other people feel known, they feel safe and not alone. When people feel known, they’re more willing to trust us and listen to the gospel we have to share.  We can know our community on an intellectual level, but we need to have a relationship before we can have influence over them.

How God Knows Us

It’s also important to acknowledge that God knows us in both ways—both wissen and kennen.

He knows every detail about us—from the number of hairs on our head to the number of days we will live. But he also wants to know us personally, too. Despite knowing everything about us, God seeks an individual relationship with each one of us.

For our part, we’re called to know God in both ways, too. It’s not enough just to know information about God. There’s more to faith than Bible studies and theology. We are called to form a personal connection with our Heavenly Father, through prayer and worship.

We can also know God on a personal level by knowing his people. When we lead others into a relationship with the Lord, we all grow closer together.

How to Know People

So how do we get to know people in a personal way? How can our church see people not just as data, but as individual stories? What are some practical steps any church leader can take to make it personal with their congregation and community?

  • Meet people for lunch or coffee.
  • Give them your phone number so they can call or text you.
  • Invite them over to your home for a meal.
  • Ask them questions about themselves.
  • Be honest and transparent with them.
  • Understand and help to meet their needs.
  • Listen when they speak.
  • Learn about their interests.

Each of these actions seems simple, but they’re much easier said than done. Hopefully, any of these steps can be the beginning of a deep personal relationship that helps you know someone better.

Who do you wish you knew more about?

Robert Carnes is the Church Engagement Director for Orange Leaders. He's the author of The Original Storyteller, a devotional for leaders who want to become better storytellers. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and daughter.