The Secret Ingredient Behind Critical Thinking

The first time I read 1 Kings 3 I was both awed and inspired. It’s the conversation between Solomon and God about what Solomon desired the most. He didn’t ask for riches or a long life, he asked for wisdom. I vividly remember praying that same prayer as a new believer those many years ago; and I’ve prayed it many times since then.

Here’s what Solomon prayed:

“Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” 1 Kings 3:7-9

He confessed, “I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.” Who hasn’t experienced that feeling of being inadequate and lacking in understanding? I suspect it’s actually an important element in every leader’s life. Some might call it humility.

When I read that sentence, I can’t help but hear Solomon saying, “I don’t think like an adult yet. I need help!” Here’s the man who is now known primarily for his great wisdom, who seemed to have a natural skill for critical thinking, saying he still thinks like a child. 

Of course, we know God was very pleased that he asked for this instead of long life and riches. In fact, Solomon later proclaimed the virtues of drawing on God’s wisdom in Proverbs.

“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.” Proverbs 2:1-11

I wonder if Solomon was thinking about that prayer in 1 Kings 3 when he wrote that first sentence?

The New Testament also reminds the believer to look to God as the source for wisdom.

Solutions ARE available when we choose to seek the Lord. This doesn’t mean solutions will fall out of heaven into our laps. It means God will give us the tools and ability to discover solutions as we apply ourselves to find them.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.” James 1:5

In my experience, critical thinking is a skill that must always be mixed with the favor and wisdom that only comes from God. Too often I have been guilty of trying to figure things out on my own; and although that type of thinking can still bring good results, I don’t believe it always leads to God’s very best. 

“Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regards to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” 1 Corinthians 14:20

“Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” | “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom…” 1 Corinthians 1:20, 25

Critical Thinking – Step 1. What’s the first step in becoming someone who can tackle problems and find great solutions? Two words.

Seek God.

 

photo credit: Davide Restivo via photopin cc

Blind Spots for the Christian Leader

Back in 1955 a couple of men came up with this great model to help people discuss various aspects of self-awareness. The word ‘JoHari’ is a combination of the two people’s first names (Joseph & Harry). In the Johari Window you see four quadrants expressing personal knowledge or lack of knowledge regarding various character traits, weaknesses, etc. The below chart shows each of these quadrants.

Johari-Window3

Open Self: Known to self and others.

This is what we usually communicate to others or is obvious to nearly everyone. It may be something physical, like a blemish or your weight; or it could include things like your education, number of children in your family, a hobby or your job.

Hidden Self: Known to self, but unknown to others.

This is what we conceal from others about ourselves. Sometimes there is a good reason for holding something back, ex. computer passwords or confidential information about others. At other times it may include information you know would not be appropriate to share, ex. a special moment with a spouse or with God. The rest of the time this quadrant will include secrets – most of which we are embarrassed or afraid to share with others.

Blind Self: Unknown to self, but known to others.

Also known as ‘Blind Spots’. This is where our ignorance can truly hurt us. Others see a weakness, flaw, or even a strength and assume you already know about it or choose not to tell you. You’re left in the dark and don’t even know it. For example, perhaps you tend to have strong B.O., often seem angry, rarely smile, or just can’t preach (wait, I meant ‘sing’). On the positive side, it’s very possible others see a gift in you that would be great to strengthen and develop, but nobody ever says anything, e.g. hospitality. Blind Spot’s may run much deeper and darker as well. This is where people have bought into lies earlier in life that they are completely unaware of. Lies may include pride, insecurity, an addiction, stubbornness, insensitivity, and more.

Unknown Self: Unknown to either self or others.

This final quadrant is disclosed to God alone. It will include the inner workings of your life, personality, character, history, sin nature, etc. that may never fully be disclosed to anyone else. That doesn’t mean it won’t one day be revealed. It’s possible God is waiting for the opportune time to reveal an Unknown strength or weakness. David’s prayers were often requests for God to reveal the unknown to him, like in Psalm 139: 23-24.
 


 
If this is your first time seeing this matrix, I know what you’re thinking. “I can’t wait to teach this on a Sunday morning!” or “I should share this with {fill in the blank} – since they have so many blind spots!”

Let’s hold the phone for a while. I’d like to pose a question to YOU first. Here it is.

What are you doing to shrink the “Blind Spot” quadrant in your life?

It’s folly to assume that we don’t have blind spots. Proverbs regularly reminds us to remain humble before both God and man. For example, “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.” Pr. 28:26, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.” Pr. 19:20, and “rebuke a discerning man, and he will gain knowledge.” Pr. 19:25.

There’s an age-old way for you to begin shrinking that window in your life; but it takes great courage to do it. Find some trusted people and ask them to share what they know or think about you. I’m not just talking about your best friend. Select several people who see you in different venues and who you trust implicitly to be open, honest, and loving with you. 

You might think the courageous part is sitting them down to ask them self-disclosing questions, but the really brave moment is when they begin telling you what you don’t know. That is the moment of truth. It’s the moment when you choose between foolishness or wisdom. I have one word of advice. Assume they are telling you the truth. To do otherwise is to be presumptuous – and dishonoring to them.

After all, how can you judge if they are right if it’s a blind spot? At the very least, admit that their commentary about you reflects a real perception, if not reality. 

A few questions to get you started:

  • What do you view as my primary strengths?
  • What do you consider to be my primary weaknesses?
  • Do I seem approachable to you?
  • Do you think people are afraid to confront me about anything?
  • Is there anything you notice in my personal life/family that concerns you?
  • Have you ever been aware of an ‘elephant in the room’ when I have been leading meetings or sharing a sermon? 
  • On a scale of 1 – 10, how would you rate my effectiveness as a communicator?
  • If I hired you as a personal life coach, what would you want us to work on first in my life?
  • Is it possible that I believe I’m good at something that others probably wouldn’t necessarily agree with?

Rethinking How We Think

Years ago I heard a story about a man who tried to steal an ATM machine. His plan was to rip the ATM out of the wall of a store-front by chaining it to the back bumper of his pick-up truck. After securing the chain, the incompetent thief got in his truck and hit the gas. A few seconds later, he heard a loud noise and the truck suddenly lurched ahead. Frantic and scared he would soon be caught, he quickly hit the brakes and ran around to claim his prize. Appalled, he discovered the ATM machine was still secured to the building. Lying on the ground in front of him was the truck’s back bumper which had been ripped off. Scared and frustrated, the man got in the truck and went home. Hours later, the police showed up at his door and arrested him for attempted robbery. He was easy to find. The police just checked the license plate on the bumper left chained to the ATM. I don’t know how true the story is, but it makes me chuckle and I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually happened.

It is incredibly easy to make daily choices without really thinking things through first. Something unexpected happens and we either react (which I’m pretty sure is the basest form of thinking) or we do the first thing that comes to mind that seems halfway reasonable. Often, it’s a shot in the dark whether our half-baked decision will come back and bite us or not.

The old saying “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” has its roots in Scriptures. Psalm 7:15 says, “He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made.” Humanity has made a lot of holes throughout history and, unfortunately, we don’t always learn from our mistakes. 

A Quick Example

Consider the Children’s Ministry Director who is faced with a dilemma. A Sunday School volunteer calls 15 minutes before church to explain that she won’t be able to teach the preschool class. The director is now in a quandary. There will be several families showing up in a matter of minutes and something needs to be done quickly.

He may react and grab the first warm body he sees to fill in; or perhaps he quickly decides to let the teen assistant teach the class alone. Either way, with a little more thinking before leaping he might have come up with several more viable options. Of course, we only ever say, “hindsight is 20/20” when we discover our hasty decision created bigger problems. In our example with the absent Sunday School teacher, the spontaneous and untrained sub might have ended up yelling at the children or left them alone for several minutes for a bathroom break. Not good for the new families who then leave the church with a bad taste in their mouths unnecessarily. 

We are often fine with quick, reactive thinking because it usually gets us by. Anyone with a head on their shoulders, a little experience, and common sense can make a halfway decent decision that saves the day most of the time. So this way of thinking becomes the standard simply because it often works!

In the above example, the quick thinking of that director would have saved the day if nothing went wrong. Instead, it ended in disaster and, in hind-sight, he probably wished he had thought things through more thoroughly. An extra 4 minutes probably would have sufficed!

Those extra moments thinking things through woul likely have led to several safer and potentially more appropriate options. Was there another trusted person serving that morning who could have filled in for a while? Could the director himself have filled in? Maybe a sign on the door apologizing and saying the room would open in 10 minutes – to give more time to find a good solution. Could two classes be combined?

The act of simply stopping and thinking through options before deciding can make a huge difference – in both ministry and life!

There’s a better way.

I believe we can learn to think better. To be able to view a problem from different angles & perspectives. To see possibilities and solutions where they may not be so obvious initially. Generally speaking, this activity is called “Critical Thinking.”

For years I assumed most people knew how to think and make good choices. But after watching people make seemingly obvious mistakes over and over, I began to realize that it’s a learned skill – one in which I was unknowingly trained in during my early tenure in leadership & ministry. Understand, I’m still guilty of making some stupid choices. I certainly haven’t arrived! But I do understand some key principles that will help me make choices that are hopefully more wise than I would have years and years ago. 

Over the next few posts, I  will explore more thoroughly, how we can all learn to think differently. 

Check out the next post in this series: Critical Thinking 101 – Seek God

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

Knowledge Empowers Leaders To Make Wise Choices

knowledge-empowers-leaders

A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength; for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers. Proverbs 24:5-6

There is very little that will frustrate a true leader more than lack of knowledge. Knowledge, when wielded by the right individual, is like a sharp sword that is capable of cutting through confusion to find truth and wisdom. Lack of knowledge leaves us whacking away at ghosts in the darkness, hoping we will stumble upon the right path. Empires have fallen because of lack of knowledge. Relationships have come to ruin. Bank accounts have run dry. Employment opportunities have passed people by. All because someone didn’t have the information needed to make a wise choice.

The church world is not exempt from this truth. When leaders have access to the right information, it empowers them to make wise choices. Those wise choices ultimately lead to transformation in the lives of the broken and hurting people in that community.

Proverbs 24 (quoted above), reminds us that leaders can have ‘great power’ and ‘increased strength’, which can lead to ‘guidance’ when facing battles. In other words, we have a greater chance of victory than we did without them (wisdom & knowledge); we are ’empowered.’

If wisdom were a fire keeping us warm and giving us light, knowledge would be the wood and fuel feeding that fire. Of course, knowledge must be given to the right person, a wise person, in order for it to make a difference. Otherwise, it is simply wood sitting in a pile on the floor. 

Charles Spurgeon said it this way: “Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.”

Knowledge is not our ONLY source of wisdom. There are other sources as well, the most important Source being God Himself, who promises to give wisdom to all who ask it (James 1:5.) But I suspect that knowledge is one of the primary tools God gives us to make wise choices.

How does this apply to you today? What area of your life or ministry are you struggling with? What challenge are you facing that seems overwhelming and insurmountable? I recommend you start with prayer and then begin asking lots of questions. Go on a treasure hunt. Look for answers and don’t stop until you’ve found them. 

Image from istockphoto.com.

Critical Thinking Series – Introduction

The articles in this series are from my e-book, “Thinking for a Change: a fresh look at critical thinking”. The e-book is available for download at a price of $2.99 at the Transforming Leader Online Store.

critical-thinkingYears ago I heard a story about a man who tried to steal an ATM machine. His plan was to rip the ATM out of the wall of a store-front by chaining it to the back bumper of his pick-up truck. After securing the chain, the incompetent thief got in his truck and hit the gas. A few seconds later, he heard a terribly loud noise and the truck suddenly lurched ahead. Frantic and scared he would soon be caught, he quickly hit the brakes and ran around to claim his prize. Appalled, he discovered the ATM machine was still secured to the building. Lying on the ground in front of him was the truck’s back bumper which had been ripped off. Scared and frustrated, the man got in the truck and went home. Hours later, the police showed up at his door and arrested him for attempted robbery. He was easy to find. The police just checked the license plate on the bumper left chained to the ATM. I don’t know how true the story is, but it makes me chuckle and I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually happened.

It is incredibly easy to make daily choices without a good and proper dose of critical thinking. Something happens to us and we either react (which can barely be define as thinking at all) or we do the first thing that comes to mind that seems halfway reasonable. Often, it’s a shot in the dark whether our half-baked decision will come back and bite us or not. In fact, the old saying “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging” has its roots in Scriptures. Psalm 7:15 says, “He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made.” Humanity has made a lot of holes throughout history and, unfortunately, we don’t always learn from our mistakes! Check out some of these quotes that so aptly capture our propensity for doing or saying something prematurely.

  • “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” -Albert Einstein
  • “I like to think of my behavior in the sixties as a ‘learning experience.’ Then again, I like to think of anything stupid I’ve done as a ‘learning experience.’ It makes me feel less stupid.” -P.J. O’Rourke
  • If you don’t do stupid things while you’re young, you’ll have nothing to smile about when you’re old. –Author Unknown
  • When you’re thirsty, it’s too late to begin thinking about digging a well. –Japanese Proverb
  • Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once. –Author Unknown

Consider the Children’s Ministry Director who is faced with a dilemma. A Sunday School volunteer calls to explain that she won’t be able to teach her preschool class (which is starting in 15 minutes!). The director is now in a quandary. There will be several families showing up in a matter of minutes and something needs to be done quickly. He may react and grab the first warm body he sees to fill in; or perhaps he quickly decides to let the teen assistant teach the class alone. Either way, with an extra minute or two, he could have come up with more viable options. Of course, the old saying “Hind sight is 20/20.” is only quoted when we discover our hasty decision created bigger problems. In this example, what if the ‘last minute’ sub ended up yelling at the children and left them alone for several minutes for a bathroom break. The quick decision might end up with new families who are angry and unsure if they want to continue attending church or not.

One reason we are OK with this way of thinking is that it usually gets us by. Anyone with a head on their shoulders, a little experience, and some common sense can make a halfway decent decision that saves the day . . . most of the time. So this way of thinking becomes the standard simply because it often works!

In the above example, the quick thinking of that director could have saved the day if nothing went wrong. In hind-sight he might also wished he had thought things through more thoroughly. An extra 4 minutes would have sufficed!

There’s a better way. I believe we can learn to think with perspective. It’s my personal goal to be a ‘critical thinker’ (not a critical person!) as often as possible; and I’m beginning to see that my goal can and is being realized in my day to day life.

To read more, check out the next article in this series or purchase the e-book at my online store today!

photo credit: steven n fettig via photopin cc

Pixar and Creative Thinking

 

I love to hear stories of people who know how to engage in creative thinking. Creative thinking is a very important ingredient in a thriving, growing and culturally relevant organization. One of the important questions creative thinkers will eventually ask is, “Why?”. (Note: check out my eBook, ‘Thinking for a Change‘ to learn more about the critical thinking process.)

This 2 minute clip by Pixar Studio’s vividly captures what the creative process can look like, and how it can lead to simple solutions and great ideas (even if the finding the solutions weren’t that simple).


If you can’t see this video, try clicking this link.

Thinking for a Change: a fresh look at critical thinking e-book

I’m pretty sure our ‘default’ style of thinking errs somewhere between “not too simple that I look stupid” and “just enough to get me average results.”

I’ve heard it said that progress is only one idea away. With some fresh ‘thinking’ tools and a renewed motivation to press through the status-quo I am sure that, in Christ, our lives and ministries can reach their fullest potential!

That’s what my brand new e-book, ‘Thinking for a Change’ is about: Critical Thinking. I’m convinced that most of us can be critical thinkers, but first we need to learn how. I hope ‘Thinking for a Change’ will equip you and your team with tools to be successful wherever you are. Cost is $3.99.


Here are a few suggestions on how you might utilize ‘Thinking for a Change: a fresh look at critical thinking’.

  • Discuss With Your Team
    Critical thinking and strategic thinking have a lot in common. What better way to ensure everyone is ‘thinking’ together than to talk about ‘thinking’ before you really start ‘thinking’.
  • Give To Your Key Leaders
    This book can be a great tool in the hands of your key leaders. Armed with a fresh perspective about how to approach problems, you may discover they spend more time working up solutions than in coming to you with their problems.
  • Give To Your Staff & Volunteers
    I didn’t market this book as a leadership book for a reason. It isn’t. It’s a book about solving everyday challenges. It’s use ranges from cleaning the carpets to dealing with the photocopier to facing scheduling, financial, relational challenges and more. 
  • Promote To Your Congregation
    Obviously, ‘thinking’ applies to everyone, everywhere. Although most of the examples in ‘Thinking for a Change’ are ministry oriented, the principles will apply in every aspect of life. You may want to consider letting your congregation know about the book and point them here for purchase.
If you do choose to purchase this e-book, I invite you to also consider giving me your feedback. What did you like? What didn’t you like? How could I improve on the content? Was there anything missing? I’d love to hear from you. Thanks!
Purchase your copy today! Cost is $3.99.
Also, checkout my other products at the Transforming Leader store.

Photo compliments of joecicak at istockphoto.

Do Something Different

 
This past Sunday our church did something unique. It got people talking, created some buzz, added value to the message, and created a memory for our congregation. It was something different.

We held a ‘No-Show’ Sunday. We removed all of the volunteers from the schedule and replaced them with cardboard silhouettes. We trimmed down the service to almost nothing. No projection, videos, lights, or worship team. Our worship leader led from a guitar. The words to the songs were in the  bulletin – which people picked up themselves because there were no greeters or ushers. Everyone left right after the service because there was no cafe. Staff and key elders ran the preschool – there was no programming for gradeschoolers. I could go on, but you get the idea. Our series title is ‘Me to We’ – we’re talking about partnering together in ministry through service in the church. It was awesome.

When was the last time you did something unique, different and memorable?

I ran across this video clip at churchm.ag today. It’s about a store called ‘The Limited’ that did something different. What could you do in your church or community this winter that people would always remember (in a good way)?

Can’t see this video? Click this link.

Thinking is Hard Work!

How many times this month have you noticed some problem and didn’t try to find a solution? I bet it happens a lot more than you are willing to admit. You walk to your car and notice, again, how inadequate your parking lot is; or you are reminded during your Sunday service that the drums overpower all of the other instruments during worship. Perhaps you have a recurring problem with Sunday School volunteers showing up late; or you find yourself embarrassed to discover that your website is out of date again.

This weekend I got to spend a day talking about strategic planning with some of the leaders at River of Life Fellowship in Copenhagen, NY. It was exciting to hear about the recent growth they have been experiencing as well as some of their future plans. Their unique mix of excellence and their commitment to the cause of Christ for their congregation and community were so refreshing.

We ended our day brainstorming ideas on what they might improve or change in order to accommodate ongoing growth. They were full of some new and great ideas. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they implemented some of those new thoughts within a few short days.

That day reminded me how often we tend to let problems slide simply because a solution isn’t obvious or readily available. Usually, we simply don’t want to stop and really think things through until we find a solution.

Thinking is hard work. I’m not talking about the kind of thinking we do every day to operate our vehicle on the way home from work. I’m talking about the kind of thinking we engage in when we have to complete a final exam, prepare a sermon, or learn something new. The energy and focus necessary for that level of thinking is taxing, which is why we shy away from it. I know I do. It’s a lot more satisfying to see a problem and find the solution without breaking into a sweat first!

Last night I revisited some of my own past posts regarding critical and strategic thinking. It seemed appropriate to point them out to you this week as well.

That’s why I’d like to introduce you to my new e-book:

Thinking for a Change: a fresh look at critical thinking

I’d love it if you would consider purchasing the book and letting me know what you think. You can learn more about this e-book right here or feel free to purchase it right now! Cost is only $3.99. Thanks!
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