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

Thinking About Thoughts

Written by: on October 8, 2014

I once heard the quote, “Nothing effects your life more profoundly than your thoughts of God.”  In light of Richard Paul and Linda Elder’s book, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, I am beginning to think the quote falls short of the full truth.  There is something that impacts your life more than your thoughts of God and that would be your thinking about those thoughts.  Paul and Elder write, “Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.”1itisexam.com

As I read through all the fantastic concepts and tools lay forth in Paul and Elder’s guide, I began to think of the concept of self-awareness.  I work heavily in the field of church planting and a significant stage of the church planting journey is when a potential church planter goes to the Church Planter Assessment Center.  At the assessment center, a planter is probed, examined and watched over a three-day window by assessors who in the end will give a report, ranking and filing the planter into a predicted category of success based on who they have assessed her to be.  The planter in the end is ultimately being judged, yes on her passion, gifts, talents, and past abilities to perform, but more importantly the self-awareness she has of who they have assessed her to be.  Is the planter aware of their passion, gifts, talents and past abilities to perform?  At the heart of the assessment center philosophy is the question, “Is the planter self-aware?”  To me this concept of self-awareness being more important than just being yourself is similar to the claim that your thinking about your thoughts is more important than just your thoughts alone.

The issues of self-awareness and critical thinking further collided, in my mind, as Paul and Elder introduced the problems of egocentric thinking and sociocentric thinking.  As the authors put it, “Egocentric thinking results from the unfortunate fact that humans do not naturally consider the rights and needs of others.”2  Paul and Elder go on to state, “As humans we live with the unrealistic but confident sense that we have fundamentally figured out the way things actually are, and that we have done this objectively.”3  I can think of no better description of such a person other than unthinking and unaware.  This view of an individual seems rather judgmental, but if a person is not aware of how subjective his thoughts and views are he has lost the critical edge to truly examine and evaluate his life and place in the world.

In a recent cross-cultural trip to South Africa, I felt many edges of egocentric thinking within me.  I was surprised several times by being surprised of my personal unawareness of events and dates that have taken place in my lifetime.  To me 1994 was all about the year I was married.  Something happened inside of me on the trip when I connected 1994 with the year Nelson Mandela was elected to be the first leader of the newly established democratic nation of South Africa.  I was taken back by how small a view I held of 1994 and my unawareness of what was going on in the rest of the world.

Worse than such an unthinking and unaware individual could only be a society of such lacking.  Paul and Elder write, “Sociocentric thinking is a hallmark of an uncritical society.”4   In the end a society comprised of egocentric thinkers becomes a cantankerous force and people who pose a great threat to a flourishing world because of at best shallow presuppositions and inaccurate views of cultures, nations, religions, and ultimately history.  Again using this writing as a confessional platform, on that same recent trip to South Africa, as an American, I was convicted by the sociocentric thinking that pervades much of the Western World.  The world and what has been, is and will be, has so many perspectives making up the whole picture.  To think one personal, cultural, national, religious or historical view can tell a dominant story for all is a very dangerous posture.

Therefore our only real hope can be as William Graham Summer states, “The critical habit of thought, if usual in society, will pervade all its mores, because it is a way of taking up the problems of life.”5   In other words, nothing could be more important than the thinking about our thoughts and how we develop them in the world in which we live.


  1. Paul, Dr. Richard ; Elder, Dr. Linda (1999-01-05). The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools (Kindle Locations 41-42). Foundation for Critical Thinking. Kindle Edition.
  1. Ibid,. (Kindle Location 261).
  1. Ibid,. (Kindle Locations 265-266).
  1. Ibid,. (Kindle Location 291).
  1. Ibid,. (Kindle Locations 293-294).

About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer

11 responses to “Thinking About Thoughts”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Hey Phil. First, before I comment I wanted to note that I also highlighted the quote, “Egocentric thinking results from the unfortunate fact that humans do not naturally consider the rights and needs of others.” Something about that just kind of gut-punched me. Just saying…

    Now, the comment.
    You said “This view of an individual seems rather judgmental, but if a person is not aware of how subjective his thoughts and views are he has lost the critical edge to truly examine and evaluate his life and place in the world.” I am wondering how many people will live their whole lives and never truly realize the subjectivity of their thoughts. For this person, his place in the world will always be simply, and simplistically, the center. If a person cannot achieve a critical self-awareness they will assuredly live with crushing self-centricism.

    How do you think a person can move from toxic self-centricism to healthy self-awareness?

    Thanks for starting us off strong!


    • Mary says:

      Jon and Phil,
      Your question about moving into more self-awareness, Jon, is something I’ve pondered quite a bit. And one thing I’ve noticed is that it starts with realizing that we aren’t naturally self-aware. Somehow, in that honest statement like a confession, the Holy Spirit is able to move in and do the work of cleansing our heart to make us more aware. There’s a guy, Prochaska, who talks about change beginning in the nano-second of simply becoming aware of being aware. Doesn’t sound like much, but apparently, it’s the start we need.

  2. Dave Young says:


    First let me say I appreciate your self awareness. How you can both process what you are thinking as well as what that might indicate about you in relationship to others, or in relation to your community.

    I believe self awareness can be taught, it can be grown but I think some of this is also generational. Millennials seem to process not only what they think about something but why they think it. For example, I recently changed the format of our Sunday service to include discussion around tables. The Millennials loved it as did my generation. They could tell you why they loved, how they needed to take time to process what was beings said. The older generation largely doesn’t like it and beyond the surface “this isn’t church” they struggle with “why?” they don’t like it. There is something under the surface of the feeling and they don’t know how to dialogue about it. So “thinking about thoughts” is an important skill that needs to be strengthened in our churches.

  3. Nick Martineau says:

    Phil, I agree with your comment that being self aware and being able to think about your thoughts is a similar thing. It is easy to see how important that would be when evaluating potential church planters. I’m glad it is you that has that job and not me. (-:

    What percentage of potential church planters would you say are self aware? I’m not a part of many “pastor groups” but unfortunately I’d say there are a lot of pastors that lack self awareness.

    • Mary says:

      Phil and Nick,
      In your comment about the evaluation for potential pastors, Phil, I think I remember mentioning how very “Ignatian” that process is. The 30 day exercises from the Jesuit tradition of determining the call of priest requires meeting with a spiritual director which is a discipline of self-awareness, sometimes uncomfortably so. I wonder if we all took 30 days to explore what calling we have in life how that might impact what we do.

  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dave, I think the generational difference is a great point. The modernity/post-modernity shift really does not only require a different kind of thinker, but probably more accurately produces a different kind of thinker. I have thought at times that we as the Church create a bit of an injustice when we go “po-mo”, which we need to in order to reach people in today’s culture, on many of our existing congregants who are products of modernity. It seems to be an interesting tension to manage as we lead the existing church into tomorrow.

  5. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Nick, Technically speaking, if they have “passed” the church planter assessment center they all are self aware:). But actually I would have to say it is really more about the journey. Even the planters who have a high-degree of self-awareness at the time of the assessment center are not guaranteed “success” other than based on being able to stay self aware as life and ministry begin to come at them from whole new angles. If they are not self aware they are doomed. If they start self aware, that actually only gives them a chance.

  6. Mary says:

    Phil – I appreciate your insight and vulnerability with what you learned while we were all in Cape Town. It sounds like the experience had a profound impact on you personally and vocationally. Your choice of the quote that said “figured it out” struck a chord with me. I remember when I had to go through some significant interior work how my spiritual director suggested I give up the phrase, “when I figure it out,” so that I would lean more heavily into trusting what God had for me. Somehow that piece of self-awareness has provide tremendous freedom for me.
    My other thought was your use of “cantankerous” and “flourishing” in the same sentence, especially in light of your potential topic for the program. I never realized how obstructive stubbornness and lack of cooperation (definition of cantankerous) can destroy a flourishing environment. Some who are cantankerous may say they are good critical thinkers, but that’s when it is carried to the extreme.

  7. Travis Biglow says:

    God bless you Phil,

    I like that you realize that a person should be evaluated by who they are not how people think they should be. I know what thats like being in my denomination. The board that ordains elders want them to memorize this little black book from our denomination and they are tested from it. They cant have opposing views or verbalize their real feelings about anything. If they do the “egocentric thinkers” will evaluate them poorly. May God bless you in your church planting efforts and i hope the best for you.

  8. Brian Yost says:

    I love that your process of developing church planters involves ways for this kind of “diagnosis”. It would be interesting to see how the process they go through effects that way they develop their leadership boards and others in key ministry roles within their new churches.

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