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

The Nuisance of Critical Thinking

Written by: on October 9, 2014

In their book The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools, Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder not only make a case for the need for critical thinking, they give practical tools to help us get there. They offer a great working definition, “Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.”[1] Their frequent use of matrices, such as the one labeled “Universal Intellectual Standards”[2] is very helpful. These matrices or charts give us practical tools to evaluate where we currently are, where we need to be, and how to get there.


As we enter on this journey toward a doctor of ministry degree, there comes the realization that our audience is changing. We are engaging more and more with critical thinkers who will ask the hard questions. We cannot present a problem, an idea, or a solution to a body of critical thinkers unless we first approach the topic critically. This little book will be very helpful in evaluating resources for research and in formulating an academic response. (I wish I had bought the hard copy rather than the Kindle edition).


These practical step-by-step methods of thinking critically based on moving through templates and asking key questions could also be a useful leadership tool. Imagine a decision making board that could process tough issues in a logical way. Frequent practice with the tools presented could help this process become more natural or even second nature. This could be intimidating for a leadership board, but the overall benefits would be huge.


One last thought about Critical Thinking:

The “Three Levels of Thought”[3] listed by Paul and Elder
present a challenge to progressively incorporate critical thinking into our lives. While I agree with this on an intellectual level, might there be a place in which being “selectively critical” is desirable? The danger in critical thinking is that we often lose patience with others who do not think this way. We can even lose the ability to mentally “check-out” and enjoy the parts of life that do not require critical thinking. When I am with critical thinkers, I find that we can approach any topic from a logical, critical point of view and enjoy the process of evaluating the snot out of it and presenting it in a better way. When I am with other people, I need to put critical thinking in the closet and just enjoy the moment. For example, I often find that the only way I can enjoy many popular movies with my wife and daughter is consciously become an “uncritical” thinker. When I begin to evaluate “that which shall not be evaluated”, I become a nuisance.

[1] Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 6th ed., 2009. Kindle Edition), Location 41.

[2] Ibid., Location 96-146.

[3] Ibid., Location 92

About the Author

Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

20 responses to “The Nuisance of Critical Thinking”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Brian, thanks for the reminder that we all kind of stand with one foot in each of two worlds. The world of research, study and writing and the world of real people in real relationships. It is important to keep some kind of a firewall between the two of we want to stay relatable and, sometimes, not be forced to sleep on the couch!

    Also, thanks for using the word “snot” in a blog post.


    • Mary says:

      Jon and Brian,
      I too appreciate the acknowledgment that there are times for critical thinking and times that it is best to simply be present. Sometimes if I put much focus on my own ability to critically think, I lose what other sensory ethnographical opportunities there may be.
      And Jon, I love your use of a firewall as a metaphor. Wouldn’t our world be a better place if more of us operated with a firewall?

  2. Nick Martineau says:

    Brian, You knocked the “snot” out of this blog post. Thanks.

    Interesting thought that sometimes we must “turn off” our critical thinking. I agree but it’s Elder & Paul’s “traits” that give us awareness of our audience and how to engage our thoughts with others.

  3. Brian, loved the title!

    perhaps the key to deep understanding is some combination of the postures you list above, and relative to the object of our knowing. If I want to learn mechanics, I probably can adopt a critical stance from the start. If I want to know a person, it might be best to meet them as a person, subjectivity and intuition and emotion all engaging. But maybe later there is a time to step back, evaluate, reflect, and engage a framework for understanding personality (Myers-Briggs, etc) So the two worlds of knowing do meet – but being present (with persons) is the priority, just not exclusively subjective.

    • Mary says:

      Brian and Len,
      Do we have a phrase yet that simply says “amen” to what you both said? Perhaps it’s just that – Amen!!!!

    • Brian Yost says:

      Great insight, Len. This reminds me that we are meant for so much more than we often experience. We are often aware that our relationship with Christ is multi-dimensional, but we sometimes forget that our interpersonal relationships also function on many different levels.

  4. Dave Young says:


    Loved your post! I highly recommend not being a nuisance when it comes to your wife and children. “Happy wife, happy life”, I think Solomon said that first.

    Yet, it’s also true we want a deeper dialogue with those we love. That of course may not be all about critical thinking approach but simply talking about things that matter in a thoughtful spiritually discerning way. Larry Crabb writes a book called Soul Talk. Think of it as a guide to communicating with the help of the Spirit. That might be a better guide when it comes to loved ones then Elder and Paul…

    • Mary says:

      Brian and Dave,
      When you, Brian, mentioned a board having critical thinking skills as an asset, I thought of how discernment tools are also necessary – something that relates to your comment from Soul Talk, Dave. The use of the mind is valuable and can be developed in its intentional use, but unless it involves the work of the heart, soul, and body, it ends up running amuck.

      • Brian Yost says:

        I was challenged by your statement, “unless it involves the work of the heart, soul, and body, it ends up running amuck.” American pastors are often criticized as being over-educated and ineffective. While I do not think being educated is tantamount being ineffective, I do understand the point that is being made. I have met and counseled with many pastors who are brilliant, yet they are lousy pastors. Theology and leadership techniques are of little value without a heart that loves people.

  5. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Brian, Not thinking critically, intentionally at times is a funny consideration. To the degree that I believe if you have concluded at any particular time to not think critically, you have actually thought critically in order to arrive at such a moment. Unless you arrive at an uncritically thinking moment unintentionally, you can make no such claim as to not be thinking critically. (Really, is this what I have become???:)

  6. Travis Biglow says:

    Brian how are you?

    I agree with you about selective critical thinking. You have to be around the right people for that type of thinking. I get frustrated when one person is pulling you one way and another person is pulling you another way and they don’t want to hear about other perspectives. I am a fair person I feel and never jump to conclusions. But a lot of church members do. And they want me to do something on the spot. That really gets my goat but i don’t just respond. I wait and do as much critical thinking and prayer i feel I need until I get some type of answer to proceed with!

    • Mary says:

      Brian and Travis,
      As I read about your struggle, Travis, with church members who all want something at the same time, the image of Jesus bending down to write in the sand came to mind. I’ve preached on it before, and the perspective that I offered was that Jesus wasn’t so much “thinking” of the right answer, but simply asking the question, “what do you want me to say, Father God?” Does that mean some of our critical thinking involves asking questions before we think it all through?

      • Brian Yost says:

        This reminds me of the process of Spiritual Direction. When we listen to the Holy Spirit, we can ask the right questions to help others begin to hear from God. Our role often becomes a voice that brings clarity to that which is already known. Once there is clarity, the next steps become more evident,

  7. Dawnel Volzke says:

    Brian, I love your post this week. Right now, we are all sunk into the trenches of our academic journey and being very purposeful about critical thinking. I wonder, over time, as this becomes more natural to us, if we can really turn it off and on.

    I hope that every person feels that I care about them and listen to them, although I will admit that there are some people that I just have trouble relating to. For example, coming back from Cape Town and going to church on Sunday I had a hard time adjusting to routine. I saw things differently and was more sensitive to actions and behaviors of people…especially those who seem shallow. Your post acted as a friendly reminder to me. It means I don’t turn off critical thinking as it is just a part of me. Rather, it is a reminder to me that critical thinking doesn’t equate to being critical of others or their ideas. Even when someone seems shallow, their thoughts and feelings are valuable to Christ…so I need to engage with them and to see them through the eyes of Christ. I need to also remember to rest and spend quiet time in Christ, which includes resting my mind.

    • Mary says:

      Brian and Dawnel,
      Your words, Dawnel, of “critical thinking doesn’t equate to being critical of others” were a healthy reminder of the values that Elder and Paul offer in their little booklet – humility must accompany the world of intellectual pursuit if it intends to bring generative and positive results.

  8. Mary says:

    Your comment about our “audience is changing” stopped me in my reading. I took some time to reflect on the changes that have already occurred as a result of our blogging, spending time in Cape Town, reading and writing, and pursuing a possible research focus that hopefully will be beneficial to those around us. Yes, I will be asked some harder questions now, something that scares and exhilarates me at the same time. And I hope that I will start asking harder questions. But will my audience change? Yes and no. Our advisors sure kept us busy thinking and pondering. Our experience in Cape Town has continued to keep me thinking and pondering. But for those I speak to who have not changed, do I have the ability to speak a language that can be understood by them? That in itself will require some critical thinking.
    I appreciate how you forced me to think beyond where I wanted to go.

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