What Youth Ministers Can Learn From Sherlock Holmes

What Youth Ministers Can Learn from Sherlock Holmes

Youth pastors must critically think about their youth ministry context.

When youth pastors think critically, this is what they do:

–  conduct empirical research (empirical research is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience)

–  apply their knowledge that has been tried and tested from direct experience and education directly to their youth ministry context

–  study youth ministry models and strategy

–  write, teach and evaluate youth group sermons

–  read a lot of the youth ministry books, articles, blogs and magazines

–  visit other youth ministries and learn about what other youth ministries are doing

–  articulate and solve both complex and uncomplicated problems

–  adjust and keep readjusting their youth ministry philosophy and programmatic structure based off their learnings

I am arguing that youth pastors who are able to think critically for their specific youth ministry will be highly successful in the 21st-century postmodern context.


Youth ministries across the country all have a different: sociological landscape, lifestyle, culture, psychological mind-set and way to experience God. Youth pastors that think critically about their context while applying (and reapplying) their knowledge, education, experience and observations will have a very strong, sustainable and contextualized youth ministry.

Who can youth pastors turn to and learn superb thinking tactics from?

The greatest detective of all time—Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes is legendary because of his quick wits, sharp observational and thinking skills, intuition and perception, remarkable intellectual capacity, and his insane ability to analyze and solve the greatest mysteries.

Here are seven (of the many) thinking techniques Holmes used:

Developing an Agile Mind – Holmes had a remarkable way of cataloging and storing information in his brain. He essentially retrained his brain to be durable and to cope with any number of new demands made upon it. Holmes was notorious for doing mental exercises in order to increase the volume of his hippocampus (a part of the brain that stores both long- and short-term memory). Here are ways to regularly exercise your brain in order to get memory increase and retention: (1) Crossword puzzles (2) Letter scramble (3) Number sequences (4) Word ladders (5) Word Wheels

I am a brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix. –Sherlock Holmes

My mind is like a crowded box-room with packets of all sorts stowed away therein—so many that I may well have but a vague perception of what was there. –Sherlock Holmes

Developing a Focused Mind – Our minds are in a state of flux. We keep a lot of stuff in our heads, which means we have to maintain a degree of control over our thought processes by concentrating on whatever needs to be concentrated on at any given moment. We have to keep our minds concentrated. Here are a few tips on how to improve concentration: (1) Rest, eat and relax well (2) Keep routines fresh (3) Shot of caffeine (4) Don’t multitask (5) Eliminate environmental distractions (6) Find times during the day you concentrate the best

My mind is like a racing engine, tearing itself to pieces because it is not connected up with the work for which it was built for. –Sherlock Holmes

Logic and Deduction –  Holmes arrives at his conclusion by using his process of logical deduction which entails: (1) Accumulate evidence (2) Ask the right questions (3) Formulate hypotheses (4) Evaluate hypotheses (5) Reach a conclusion

I never guess. It is a shocking habit—destructive to the logical faculty. –Sherlock Holmes

Thinking Laterally – Thinking laterally means to look at a problem from many different angles rather than looking into it head on. Getting multiple “trusted” perspectives on any given problem is key. This is why Holmes had Watson. Holmes was a guarded person and trusted people only when they had proven themselves trustworthy and loyal. So be sure to open up and talk through your conclusions with someone you do trust, to use them as a sounding board when you’ve worked through the deductions.

What is out of the common is usually a guide rather than a hindrance. –Sherlock Holmes

Nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person. –Sherlock Holmes

Listen Better – Many of us don’t listen because we’re too busy, smug, lazy, certain of the answer before we’ve learned anything, selfish, preoccupied or just don’t care what others are saying. The art of listening can never be over-emphasized, and Sherlock Holmes was a master at this art. It may seem like magic when someone recalls everything you’ve told them, but in actual fact it’s simply good concentration and memorization put to excellent use. A good listener will pick up not only what is said but also that which is not said, the gaps which often tell the other half of the story.

Understand How to Read a Situation – There are three parts to reading a situation:

    • See. What do you see that is happening?
    • Observe. What do you notice that is different; a stain, a weapon, a lie? What is a bad idea? What is bad timing? Bad implementation?
    • Deduce. What does this imply? Use the logic and deduction method.

Be Humble – Holmes never saw any benefit if anyone knew his method or manner or successes in great detail, and to reveal such would dispel the entertainment and effectiveness of what he did. It is important to follow his example and keep successes, accomplishes, methods close to yourself and avoid going around accusing people of anything until you’re absolutely certain.

You know a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick; and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am very ordinary. -Sherlock Holmes

This article originally appeared here.

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Jeremy Zach
Jeremy Zach easily gets dissatisfied with status quo. He reeks with passion and boredom is not in his vocabulary. He becomes wide awake when connecting with student pastors, thinking and writing about student ministry, experimenting with online technology, and working out. He is married to Mikaela and has two calico cats, Stella and Laguna. He lives in Alpharetta, Georgia and is a XP3 Orange Specialist for Orange—a division of the REthink Group. Zach holds a Communication degree from the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities and Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary.