DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Critical Thinking is a Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Written by: on October 25, 2018

Obviously, before arriving in Hong Kong for the first Advance of LGP9, it was wise to read Jackie Pullinger’s Chasing the Dragon and Steven Tsang’s Modern History of Hong Kong. While I am unsure of the reasons of the order of the other subsequent texts of DMIN 717, Richard Paul and Linda Elder’s Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools, finally hones in on our pursuit of unpacking critical thinking skills. My first thought upon skimming this back-pocket guidebook was, ”Oh, This, is what Dr. Clarke has been talking about!” In honor of our late brother and mentor Eugene Peterson and his book, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society,” I am ruminating on how critical thinking skills are like discipleship.  That is, while perhaps tedious and clumsy when practiced initially, yet essential to developing intellectual traits and vivacious Christian living.

This miniature guide is crammed with concepts and tools to be referenced at a moment’s notice to enhance one’s critical thinking skills. I am considering carrying it around with me throughout the day to aid my desire to approach all of my tasks with critical thinking questions (especially in structuring my research.) Instead of a “how to” field manual, I view it as a collection of process flow charts. In coaching, we call these powerful open-ended questions as they are intended to open up the client’s thought processes to produce clarity in the mind of the one being coached so they can accomplish their goals. That is, skilled coaches, partner with clients so that the coach is responsible for the iterative process while the client is responsible for the content.

The Stages of Critical Thinking Development[1] reminds me of the stages of a prospective coaching client or coach. The Unreflective Thinker doesn’t know what he or she doesn’t know. Limited to only their thinking and their perspective, they are oblivious to the flaws of their arguments and therefore simplistic and ineffective in their conclusions. Much like math word problems, if the problem has been initially set up wrong, the resultant answer will inevitably be wrong.

The Challenged Thinker is aware of the complexities of the multi-system question and is challenged in how to proceed. Without outside help (a skilled coach to help) to develop critical thinking skills, they will flounder in seeking answers to the question. They will ultimately become stuck and unable to proceed forward to creative solutions and will abandon the pursuit.

The Beginning Thinker is beginning to acquire and practice critical thinking (coaching) skills. Here is the crucial phase where the thinker will continue to apply critical thinking skills or give up under the strain of clumsily applying newfound skills. The Beginning Thinker needs to continue working with a coach to continue practicing critical thinking skills to gain proficiency and most of all self-confidence in their attempts.

The Practicing Thinker realizes that critical thinking (coaching) skills are like foreign language skills that must be regularly practiced to develop greater proficiency (or conversely will be lost.)  Consistent, regular practice of critical thinking (coaching) skills will yield greater proficiency, self-confidence, and fruitfulness. A most effective way to practice critical thinking skills is to begin teaching them to others. The International Coaching Federation certification process would view Practicing Thinkers (i.e., coaches) as candidates for the Associate Certified Coach designation.

The Advanced Thinker realizes that critical thinking skills are not merely an applied exercise but rather a continuous way to think and process the totality of one’s thoughts. Therefore the applied exercises have now morphed to become a consistent way of thinking and processing one’s thoughts. Essential Intellectual Traits are beginning to become internalized.[2] Advanced Thinkers are prime candidates to coach others in critical thinking skills effectively and would be viewed by the International Coaching Federation as potential candidates for the Professional Coaching Certification.

The Accomplished Thinker has given significant time and practice to develop critical thinking (coaching) skills. Their internalized intellectual standards have become second nature and come into play when analyzing and assessing complex challenges (i.e., research) for clients. They continue to develop and enhance their Essential  Intellectual Traits. They are both effective coaches as well as trainers of coaches. The would be viewed by the International Coaching Federation as candidates for the Master Coaching Certification.

I plan to utilize Stages of Critical Thinking Development in upcoming coaching tips and skills for training and development of my Vineyard coaches. I find significant common ground in responding to complex multi-system questions between coaching and critical thinking skills. Again, like discipleship, critical thinking (coaching) skills are tedious and clumsy in their initial application, but with consistent, continued practice, eventually, yield internalized intellectual traits.

[1] Paul, Richard and Linda Elder, Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools, rev.ed. (Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2009) 20.

[2] Paul, Richard and Linda Elder, Critical Thinking, 14-15.


About the Author


Harry Fritzenschaft

Harry is the Coordinator of Coaching for Multiply Vineyard (the church planting resource arm for Vineyard USA) and part-time pastor of business administration for the Vineyard Church of Houston. He is a certified coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and is pursuing a DMin in Leadership and Global Perspective with a focus on internal coaching networks. Harry has been married to Gloria for almost forty-two years and has two grown children; Michelle, who is married to Brandon and has two sons (Caleb and Judah), and Mark, who is engaged to Cannus. He loves making new friends (living and dead) from different perspectives, watching college football with Mark, and helping global ministry leaders (especially church planters and pastors) accomplish their goals in fulfilling their call. He especially loves learning about and nurturing internal coaching networks.

15 responses to “Critical Thinking is a Long Obedience in the Same Direction”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Thanks for the great post, Harry. I liked the math analogy as it makes clear how one small misunderstanding can lead to a major wrong. Since coaching is based on asking the right questions, and I know it may be too early for this question, have you thought of some (a) question that could pinpoint what stage of thinking a client could be on? Research tells us that most people see themselves a lot smarter than what they really are ( and in my experiences, pastors can be the worst at this. I’m thinking that having questions or survey to frame reality would be helpful.

    • mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Great question! Coaching is unique in that you can only coach someone who wants to be coached. This means they have typically reached a sticking point or do not know how to move forward and are looking for a coach to help them process their thoughts in order to move forward. So being smart is a moot point, the reality is they are stuck and are asking for help (which is a place of intellectual humility and probably why all pastors don’t ask for a coach to help them!) Blessings Buddy! H

      • mm Rhonda Davis says:

        Mario and Harry, thank you both for your thoughts. I am encouraged by your comments that the strongest thinkers don’t have to be the “smartest” thinkers. It seems that we could all do with a healthy dose of intellectual humility if we really want to be better thinkers and leaders. In my context, it can be difficult to crack the exterior of those who want to keep up their “smart” image, in an effort to arrive at deeper and more critical conversations about what is needed to move forward. I am probably guilty of this myself more times than I want to admit. Ego gets in the way a lot! Have you found questions that help to crack these hard exteriors?

        • mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

          Critical thinking skills (e.g., my primary motif is coaching) is more about thinking processes which lead to clarity which lead to action steps. The reality is not who is “smart” (which is an egocentric statement) but who is utilizing critical thinking processes to lead to to “smart” decision making. I would say for both critical thinking and coaching skills, you have to want to be helped/taught. If the person does not want to be coached, they won’t be. Not to be glib, but I hope this helps. Blessings, H

  2. Thank you Harry for this great post, Your reference to the iterative process that is required to acquire proficiency in critical thinking rightfully brings home to point that these skills can only be perfected in repeated use. I believe that persistence has no substitute in life for you to succeed, it is imperative for us to pursue these skills with resilience and patience.

    • mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      You said it! One motivational saying states, “Practice makes perfect.” The more realistic statement should be, “Practice makes a habit. Therefore, excellence is a habit!” Critical Skills can only be developed by practice, and this is an humbling process. Blessings, Friend! H

  3. Your post made me think of the relationship between tennis and coaching. I love and play the sport — pretty competitively. I look forward to watching all the slams and even been to a few matches. The one thing that’s unique in the sport is the ratio of the size of the crowd to the level of noise. Notice, a venue can hold tens of thousands and yet during a point you can hear a pin drop. That’s because the sport is so technical and requires a lot of skill and form that a player must use all the power of concentration to stay in the game.

    It’s also been called the loneliest sport because coaching is not allowed during a match. Using Elder’s Stages of Critical Thinking, I can chart the top ten tennis players and place them on this scale, Federer being on top and Taylor Dent being at the very bottom. There’s a good reason why you probably have never heard of him.

    The top players reach and stay at the top because of their strong psych and a quick ability to outthink their opponent. That’s the single most important factor which separates the great players from the champions. I remember when Andre Agassi had the best tennis playing skill when he burst into the scene. However no one took him seriously in terms of winning a slam. That is until he got serious, disciplined and took his thinking to a higher level.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Harrys…both your analogies (coaching and sports) made me think more deeply about critical thinking. What you both alluded to is that you have to get practice before you can progress further along in your understanding, and further still before you can walk other people through this process. It has to be internalized, like tennis skills, before it can be taught. It’s in the muscle memories!

  4. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    You make excellent observations on how critical thinking skills take one’s thinking to more reflective levels that can be observed in outward performance. The idea, that much of performance is mental rather than physical appears to be true. As critical thinking skills become second nature for us all, I am sure we can see application or the need of application all around us! Blessings, Harry (I just love saying that!) H

  5. mm Mary Mims says:

    Harry, I like the analogy of critical thinking with the coaching process. Although I do not understand it all, I remember going up to a motivational speaker after his session and telling him, I know I could do so much better if I could just change my thinking! So now I see that I probably need a coach to help me get unstuck in some of the areas in my life, which I know is because of my thinking. Thank you for challenging us to continue to think at higher levels. I’m looking forward to growing in the faith.

    • mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      I commend you on the path of critical thinking skills and greater self awareness. I would highly encourage you to work with a coach to help you take your thinking to another level and help you move forward to accomplish your goals. Blessings, H

  6. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    For everyone coach you end up teaching these tips to Harry, I can only say thank you!

    I have been blessed with different coaches throughout my life who have helped at very transformational moments in my call. I am very grateful for their assistance, and I am sure yours are as well.

    I wonder . . . there are resources (scholarships) for Presbyterian clergy in my region that help them afford sessions with coaches. Clergy need to apply and then have a certain amount of sessions before they need to pay from their own pocket. Some don’t want to apply thinking they wont win . . . .others don’t want to end up having to pay after a certain amount of sessions. I wonder how our denominational structures could encourage these sorts of ministries more.

    • mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      You ask a very practical and realistic question. Different denominations handle this differently. In the Vineyard we commit volunteer coaching resources for up to 24 sessions/months for church planters (i.e., no charge, however this also causes an issue of value, as typically we do not value what costs us nothing.) The conundrum is for non-church planters. This is left to the individual pastor and coach to sort out. Not surprisingly (in my view) those who need coaching the most, do not receive it because they think they cannot afford it. I am sorry I do not have a better answer for you but see this as a challenge for all denominations. Hope this helps. Blessings, H

  7. mm John Muhanji says:

    Thank you, Harry, for your reflection on this book. Am grateful for your insight on the book which I connect with very well. I am happy that you brought up the idea of how you would be happy carrying around the guidebook as you write your paper and is exactly what I had thought I would do. I was equally happy that the way you have brought out the Thinkers stages (Beginning, Practicing, advanced and accomplishment thinker). I appreciate your reflection brother.

  8. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    I pray you and yours are well! Yes, I think I need to carry around the little Critical Thinking handbook to remind me of the powerful concepts and tools. I pray the Critical Thinking handbook is helpful and challenging to you in developing your critical thinking skills. Blessings on you, dear brother. H

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