Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

An Accomplished Thinker

Written by: on October 9, 2014

An Accomplished Thinker


A Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking, Concepts and Tools is a remarkable little book for a number of reasons.  Brief, compact, helpful, practical, all are words that accurately communicate characteristics of Paul and Elder’s work.  Each of these is laudable and has been mentioned already in my colleagues’ posts and since I’m late to the WordPress party this week, I’ll just say, it made me think.  More precisely stated, it made me think about thinking about how I think…. I think.the_thinker

I’m pretty sure I have never truly considered how I think and the implications of that consideration, I have always just thought.  Thinking comes naturally to me but I am coming to realize how narrow my natural thinking tends to be.  Speaking for the human race, I can affirm that we generally hold tightly to the belief that the way we think things are, is how they actually are.  And further, we have a hard time understanding why everyone else doesn’t think the same way!1  Honestly, why do those people over there (barbarians) think it’s ok to drive on the wrong side of the road?!  And it’s not called “take away” it’s called “to go!”  Honestly…

Wow.  the road to becoming an accomplished thinker is long and winding and very few will ever traverse its full length to the place where “intellectual skills and virtues have become…”2  instinctive.  As I reflect on our time in Cape Town, I wonder if I will ever arrive there.

After reading this book, I realized something important.  I do value thinking at a high level but you know how some values are espoused while others remain aspirational?  That’s how I feel about the prospects of becoming an accomplished thinker; at this point, it’s purely aspirational.  What I mean is, I can fully embrace and endorse it as a really good idea, giving mental assent and even establishing it as a personal goal but the actual, measurable characteristics of an accomplished thinker remain well beyond arms-reach.  It will be a major accomplishment for me to simply move from the occasional critical thinking practices characteristic of a beginning thinker to being more firmly “committed to lifelong practices… beginning to internalize intellectual virtues” of an advanced thinker.3

I generally walk the razor’s edge that thinly separates the beginning thinker and the practicing thinker, spending about as much time on one side as the other.  What I am trying to figure out now is what factors are present in my life when I am on the forward side (practicing) and when I am found back in beginner-land.  For now, I will be thrilled if I can find my way forward to the place where I am firmly positioned as a full-time practicing thinker, enjoying the occasional foray into the ranks of the advanced — like at an annual DMin LGP Advance when I am surrounded by scores of accomplished thinkers, calling everyone upwards.

Which leads me to my last observation, a question really.  Why should it only be at the annual Advance that I feel elevated in my thinking rather than pulled backward?  Why am I not surrounded by accomplished thinkers in my daily life?  I suspect the answer is aptly articulated by David Young when he observed:

Family and friends are surrounding us in the pews and they will likely have some serious questions about their faith, specifically about what they see in Scripture. Are we simply avoiding the tricky passages, and therefore encouraging a lazy engagement with the Bible? If that critique reflects my own approach to preaching and teaching then I’m providing a poor example, and, even worse, I’m leaving them spiritually immature and rigid—an awful combination especially when life gets tough.4

In other words, we, as leaders, are creating our own intellectually weak environments.  We surround ourselves with, and encourage, weak thinking.  I won’t propose to answer the question of “why” here.  That’s another conversation for another day.  Or maybe I will just let the reader come to his/her own conclusions.

I think.

1. Richard Paul and Linda Elder,  The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking, Concepts and Tools (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2009. Kindle). Location 260.
2. Ibid. 259.
3. Ibid. 259.
4. Dave Young, “Critical Thinking and Wine bar Ministry,” DMINLGP.com, October 8, 2014, accessed October 8, 2014, http://blogs.georgefox.edu/dminlgp/critical-thinking-and-wine-bar-ministry/.

About the Author

Jon Spellman

Jon is a husband, father, coach, author, missional-thinker, and most of all, a follower of Jesus.

12 responses to “An Accomplished Thinker”

  1. Nick Martineau says:

    Jon, I love that you quoted Dave!

    During our advance I learned you are good at asking questions. It’s one thing to just ask questions to ask questions but another thing to ask questions to learn and I feel like you were always asking to learn.

    There was a welcoming spirit of question asking at the Advance. To think well we must ask questions and as leaders we must create spaces where questions can feely be asked. Definitely something I can do a better job at in my hone and church.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Nick and Jon,

      I agree…Jon, you are gifted in asking the right questions at the right time!

      Nick, one of the things that I appreciate most about our cohort is the spirit across the group that allows us to each question and to share our thoughts with one another. I agree that, as leaders, we need to make space where others are free to do the same within our day to day environments. Do you have any suggestions on how we can proactively do this within our churches? This is difficult when there is a culture that doesn’t accept new ideas and feels threatened when someone asks questions.

      • Mary says:

        Jon, Nick and Dawn,
        You guys hit on something about questions – the value of them if they are based on the desire to learn. I remember a Chemistry teacher saying just the opposite of what I typically would hear, “yes, there are actually dumb questions.” After I recovered from feeling betrayed by all those years thinking I could ask any question, I realized what he, and now you all are saying, is that questions are valuable if we apply some critical thinking to them. That doesn’t mean we’ll get an answer, but I think the movement towards living into the questions (isn’t there something about Jesus asking more questions, than making declarative statements?) is significant if we realize that good questions actually lead us to greater understanding.

      • Jon spellman says:

        Dawnel. Great question! Appropriate… How do we lead that way in environments that are not always open and receptive. I think that’s the leadership challenge that presents in a lot of situations. It seems that sometimes the way a question is fashioned can take te confrontational edge away. Maybe a question that says “how can we…?” Rather than “how do you…?” Might disarm a potential adversary and enfranchise her. Leading by questions is an art/skill combination for sure!

  2. Dave Young says:


    Cool! That may have been the first time I was quoted, at least in a positive way. 🙂

    Questions leave space. Space for thinking, for further questions, for conjecture, and even for further doubt. But it seems to be that when I’m allowed or encouraged to enter that space then whatever I might learn there is truly owned, as opposed to borrowed. I’m afraid that much of my teaching, much of my spiritual direction may be on loan with those who’ve received it. Without the questioning you’re speaking of, the space you’re encouraging -then those we’re trying to influence will be loaners versus owners of faith.

    • Mary says:

      Jon and Dave,
      Just the other morning I was listening to http://www.pray-as-you-go.org (a great lectio divina that’s read aloud) whereby the phrase “Be Not Afraid” used again and again in scripture was noted for leaving space for God to now work. Don’t we usually ask, “what’s going on here?” with our questions, but in that stance, we can actually experience God – what a provocative thought from both of you. Thanks!

  3. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    I recently (six months back or so) saw the quote, “You are as smart as the average of the five closest people to you.” Sure, it is a bit like “mom” use to say, “Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.” I really think this applies to what you are talking about with the question of to what degree do the people I surround myself with think critically. The answer probably has great impact on who we are and what direction our critical thinking abilities veer. Good thoughts Jon. Thanks for the post!

    • Mary says:

      Jon and Phil,
      And something I realized while in Cape Town, being around people who think so differently than me challenges me even more. I had a “mom” who said “I only trust those people who have at at least 1-2 friends who are different than they are.” Caused me to do some intentionally friendship-building.

  4. Travis Biglow says:

    Cool Jon,

    I also liked how you asked questions a lot and they were very intellectually and thought provoking. You really were coherent in all of the lectures where at times i found myself a bit lost in some. Becoming an accomplished thinker takes time and takes intentional steps. The Advance really is a step in that direction. Discussing what the advisors will be looking for in our work is a great head start in being intentional in our studies and in our dissertation. By the time we get out of here I am sure we will be at a higher level of thinking for sure!

    • Mary says:

      Travis and Jon,
      I appreciated the way we all brought our own gifts to the table while we were together. I agree with you, Travis, that Jon brought some great thoughts and questions to help us all become better thinkers. And I believe you, Travis, brought us some profound moments of passion around helping in the settlement of Khayelitsha.
      How fortunate I am to be part of some amazing followers of Christ who have a passion to think well.

  5. Mary says:

    You spoke of espoused vs. aspirational values – ouch! That’s where I operate so often. I want so much to be the kind of person who is willing to learn, but then find myself entrenched in “I’ll do it my way” (I think I just read recently that Frank Sinatra’s song is actually the way paved to hell). I appreciate your humility in acknowledging what we all struggle with when it comes to the fruit of our lives.
    Perhaps by working together for these aspirational values, we’ll be able to reach them.
    Sure appreciate your eagerness to learn. It’s inspirational (that’s pretty close to aspirational 🙂 )

  6. Brian Yost says:

    Ouch! Way to be brutally honest. I wish it were not true, but I believe it is. We can be so narrow in our thinking and yet make decisions that have profound effects. Even if we disagree with what others think, we should still seek to understand why they think what they think and how they reached their conclusions.

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