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

Critical thinking and wine bar ministry

Written by: on October 8, 2014

Who wouldn’t want to think more critically, who wouldn’t want to increase their ability to be fair, thoughtful, informed in their judgments? Certainly Drs. Paul and Elder’s book “A miniature guide to critical thinking[1]” provides the necessary insights and tools. One of my major motivations for going into this doctoral program was to stretch myself professionally; so practically that means upping my ability to think logically, fairly, and critically. This guide to critical thinking is probably one of the most practical tools I’ve seen for professional pastoral growth in a long time, and it’s only 20 pages! That said, it can also be very disruptive to your norm. How so? I’m thinking of our time with Krish Kandiah during our Cape Town Advance.

Krish, reflecting on his newly published book Paradoxology[2], challenged us that it’s too often the case that we don’t encourage critical thinking in our churches. 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.

One of the points Krish made in his presentation was that a theology that doesn’t question can become egocentric; we want our God to be small and manageable in order to fit into a tightly defined system of thought and sit on our idol shelf. Critical thinking is a form of arguing, of looking at things from various positions, taking into account a wide range of opinions. It questions commonly held positions or conclusions. All of which, in the realm of theology, can make us very uncomfortable. God won’t be defined by a system and won’t live in a box. And that brings us to the most often quoted bit of fiction, as Lucy asks “is he safe?” and Mr. Beaver replies “of course he isn’t safe but he is good.” If we want God to fill our vision like Aslan filled Lucy’s, then we must merge critical thinking into our ministry.

logo2How might we do that? I’ll share my experience, but I’d really like to hear more from my cohort on the topic. Last Monday night I started a new spiritual formation group. The venue, the content and the approach are all different from our norm. We’re meeting in a pub called Cork Grinders[3], a trendy coffee and wine bar with a decent selection of craft brews.

I chose one of the books from our reading list, “Theology: A Very Short Introduction.” From my traditional evangelical perspective I wouldn’t have gravitated towards this book. It’s ecumenical in its approach and academic in its tone. And frankly, it’s not published by someone I know to trust (and it’s published in the UK, what’ with all these British books?). So I came to it skeptically and with a bit of a closed mind. That got me wondering, what would happen if I put a book like this into the hands of my parishioners? Would their concerns, their skepticism, their questions regarding theology also float to the surface? Would we, could we engage in conversation where it wasn’t about spoon feeding brothers and sisters in Christ what they should believe? What if it was more about asking and exploring really good questions from very different points of view? And would such questioning encourage or discourage our growth?

That leads me to the approach I settled on, because of the advice of a 16 year-old. In her humanities course they sit in a circle and take a Socratic approach. We review the book by sharing a brief passage that was especially meaningful or challenging, and then pose a question to the group. One by one the group answers or comments on the question from their perspective. Then the next person takes a turn sharing and posing a question.

We’ve only met once, but in a relaxing public venue, with an open and critical approach and atypical content, it went very well. How do I define “well?” We wrestled with great questions, had interesting dialogue, and heard different points of view. Best of all, a view of God’s kingdom emerged that’s bigger and stronger than before. God’s kingdom can withstand some conjecture, and what I suspect will eventually emerge is a view of God holds to His trustworthiness when everything isn’t answered or even answerable.


1Paul, Dr. Richard, and Dr. Linda Elder. 1999. Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. 6th ed. www.criticalthinking.org: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

2Kandiah, Krish. 2014. Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to Be Simple. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

3 http://corkgrinders.com/

About the Author

Dave Young

husband, dad, friend, student of culture and a pastor.

12 responses to “Critical thinking and wine bar ministry”

  1. henry says:

    I recommend the Pumpkinator (when in season) to assist critical thinking. Bonus points for quoting Lewis.

  2. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Great post Dave! Definitely some deeper thinking about out thinking. It will be great to hear how your theological thinking lab goes over the coming months. I was talking with my boys when I got home about Krish’s session also and inviting my boys into their questions more than what our usual conversations go. I think there is something innate in us that wants to play it safe and avoid uncertain conversations and yet that innate feeling is at war with another innate feeling of wanting to go deeper. I really think that is where a good draft will come in and help ease the tension:). Again, looking forward to hearing now your new group goes.

    • Mary says:

      Dave and Phil,
      Isn’t it true how our kids not only keep us humble (at least I’m eating humble pie all the time) but also keep us thinking in new and fresh ways? I love the interaction you both speak of with your teenagers. I remember when my daughter asked me to try the Socratic Method….a bit nervous at first, but now it’s the staple in a small group I attend.

  3. Jon Spellman says:

    Thanks Dave. You asked for our opinions on how we can merge critical thinking with our ministries. I’d like to take a stab at that.

    It seems that in the church, much of the activity is simply done as a result of tradition. Oftentimes we don’t have well-reasoned reason underpinnings for the things we do, we just do them because we have always done them… If we were to apply a few critical thinking skills to the activities we spend our energy on, one of two things may be the result. Either our resolve and commitment to the activities would be strengthened because we reaffirm the value of the activity. Or, we would reallocate energy and resources away from some activities and direct them toward other, more fruitful behaviors. Either of these would be helpful!

    Critical thinking leads to clarity.


    • Mary says:

      Jon and Dave,
      When you make the statement, “critical thinking leads to clarity,” I was immediately reminded of the Godspell song, “Day by Day” where that clarity can only come with the three phrases together:
      See thee more clearly
      Love thee more dearly
      Follow thee more nearly
      What do you think? critically speaking? 🙂

  4. Dave,

    Good thoughts. Curious how I run into similar roadblocks even in the missions community. For some reason, getting a group of Christian leaders to think beyond their training much less to read books outside their tradition.

    The way we have chosen to sneak past the passive resistance to thinking outside the box is to do similarly to your formation group, however, we don’t discuss the tenants of the author’s point but what was actually stirred in our hearts as we read. In other words, unless we are able and willing to exegete our own soul we really have no business exegeting another.

    Looking forward to hearing more…

    • Dave Young says:


      I’m so glad that you’re in this community and that you’re an alumni too. Thanks for introducing me to it.

      You know how I feel about exegeting the soul. If critical thinking is tough, then that’s even a harder but of course with the work comes the fruit. Frankly I’m thinking some of this is generational too. Do you have millennials and gen x in your mission community? Do they gravitate toward looking beneath the surface more readily? Just wondering.

      • Mary says:

        Dave and Dave,
        I love your interchange; sounds like you guys have some history. Dave Young, I appreciate your phrase “exegete the soul.” I’m gonna keep that one as I feel like that’s what soul tending is, as long as it’s done in the loving embrace of our Father God.

      • David Shepherd says:


        I must admit, I thought you were headed to Asbury so am aquifer pleased to see you at GFU. Good question about the Gen Xers. The majority of those I’m thinking about are between their 40’s and mid 50’s, which I find confusing for a number of reasons. Having lived in this part of the world, I wonder if you’ve given any thought to a previous discussion we’ve had about taking on the prevailing sin of a culture? I just wonder if this isn’t a factor as we did not run into such resistance living in Easrern Europe.

  5. Mary says:

    Your willingness to risk right after we returned from Cape Town with your congregation is refreshing (albeit, beer is always inviting, and I don’t even like the taste). I can’t wait to hear how the conversations continue as you venture into new territory.
    In some ways, what you are doing with your congregation is what you’re wanting to explore about ex-pat communities – how to do you stretch them beyond their comfort zone so that they start to listen to one another, right?!
    Finally, your words of “spiritual immature and rigid” sent a chill up my spine. It was that immaturity and rigidity that caused me to jump ship, so to speak, as a pastor. I’m so amazed by the courage of you and the other pastors who are willing to shepherd folks who can be so frustrating. But now that I’m doing some of my own critical thinking and self-awareness, what does it say about my own immaturity and rigidity? Don’t need to answer that one, it’s a rhetorical question. 🙂

    • Dave Young says:

      Thanks for your encouraging words and your thoughtful comments. Yesterday I had a rather lengthy but stirring conversation with my elders. It seems some of our adjustments designed to create community and spur on reflection have hit some resistance. That of course is to be expected. So instead of simply moving forward towards vision, we have to shepherd towards vision, which is slower and messier. We have to enter into the resistance and get people to listen to one another. I know that’s a bit vague, this is a public post, but just know that I resonate with your comment that “shepherding folks can be so frustrating”.

  6. Travis Biglow says:

    Hey Dave,

    God bless your new venue and meeting. I praise God for you being innovative and trying new things. I am like you and i don’t want to not give my best when it comes to critical thinking about the word of God and issues that people have. I believe like you do, God is too great to put Him in a box like a lot of people like to do. I never want to be that type of preacher, knowing that God cant be contained in the heavens. We as Christians have to bypass a lot of religious stuff and critically examine God from all angles. Even though we will never fully have all the answers but at least our thinking wont be relegated to box thinking!

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