Think For A Change

Great thinking . . . it unveils possibilities, solves problems, births movements, launches innovation, and honors God. Thinking is essential for leadership. But how do leaders practice great thinking? What does it mean to think for a change?

Are We Thinking?

Os Guinness and Mark Noll are intellectual heavyweights. It is not just that they have really big brains, it is the quality and intensity of their thinking that is impressive. These two titans of thought have leveled some thought-provoking charges against Christians in America. Take a look:

  • Os Guinness: American evangelicals in the last generation have simultaneously toned up their bodies and dumbed down their minds. The result? Many suffer from a modern form of what the ancients stoics called ‘mental hedonism'—having fit bodies but fat minds. Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, page 10.
  • Mark Noll: The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, page 3.

As I grapple with their words I have to ask myself if their accusations ring true when it comes my leadership? How much thinking am I doing as a leader? What is the quality of my thinking? These are important questions. Thinking is one of the most powerful weapons in a leader's arsenal.

The Power Of Thinking

I love music, film, and sports, but unless I intentionally reflect on them I will become a passive consumer of what I am hearing, seeing, and feeling. Thinking, on the other hand, makes me an active participant in the cultural arena. Thinking is powerful stuff:

  • "Nurture great thoughts, for you will never go higher than your thoughts." Benjamin Disraeli
  • "Nothing limits achievement like small thinking; Nothing expands possibilities like unleashed thinking." William Arthur Ward
  • "What one thing do all successful people have in common? What one thing separates those who go to the top from those who never seem to get there? The answer: Good Thinking!" John Maxwell, Thinking For A Change
  • "The successful people in industry have succeeded through their thinking. Their hands were helpers to their brains." Claude M. Bristol, The Magic Of Believing
  • "A well-ordered life is the fruit of a well-ordered mind." J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership

Many people attest to the power of mind, but what does God say?

Loving God With Your Mind

Thinking is very much on God's mind. We see this in many places in Scripture:

  • Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 ESV
  • Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 ESV
  • But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Matthew 22:34-38 ESV

The mega commandment (that is what the word "great" means) includes loving God with ALL our minds. I appreciate the words of Clifford Williams who said, "To love God with our minds does not mean that it is our minds that actually do the loving. Rather, we love God by using our minds." Clifford Williams, The Life Of The Mind, p 37.

One way leaders love God with their minds is by thinking carefully about all they do. John Maxwell is a great leader and a great thinker. In his book, Thinking For A Change, Maxwell outlines eleven kinds of thinking that leaders need to exercise:

  1. Big-picture thinking
  2. Focused thinking
  3. Creative thinking
  4. Realistic thinking
  5. Strategic thinking
  6. Possibility thinking
  7. Reflective thinking
  8. Popular thinking
  9. Shared thinking
  10. Unselfish thinking
  11. Bottom-line thinking

Maxwell's book is outstanding. His list is thorough. But there is one category I did not see in his list: Biblical thinking.

How does one think biblically as a leader?

Biblical Thinking

Jesus tells us we are to "love God with our minds. What does that mean? Dr. David Naugle, in The Society for Classical Learning (June 19, 2003), notes:

  • It is not just thinking about Christian things (Jesus, God, eternal life, salvation).
  • It is not just categorizing things as morally right or wrong (marriage between a male/female is right, homosexual marriage is wrong).
  • It is not employing Christian clichés (“God loves you!” “I’ll pray for you.” “You gotta have faith!” “God bless you.”).
  • It is not just supporting Christian causes (but keep doing that!).
  • It is not just having correct theology.

Loving God with our minds is viewing all of life through the lens of Scripture. It is asking the all-important question, "What does God say?" 

We see a great example of biblical thinking in the book of Acts. Luke records these words about Jews who were listening to Paul's message:

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:11 ESV

The Bereans were a thinking lot. They were the kind of people who attended a leadership conference or read the latest offering from Harvard Business Review and then said, “Hmmm, what does God say about that?”

Biblical thinkers filter everything through the Word of God. Like Nancy Pearcey they believe, "There is a biblical perspective on everything---not just on spiritual matters" (Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, page 44).

Biblical thinkers know that there is a biblical view of government, recycling, population control, communication, sports, and leadership. Biblical thinkers believe that the touchstone for reality, truth, and value is the Word of God. They evaluate everything---including their leadership---in light of it.

How Leaders Think Biblically

Acts 17:22-34 highlights the importance of thinking biblically, but it also provides a great template for how to practice it. Paul was in Athens. As he strolled among the idols and icons of contemporary culture, he made this observation.

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. Acts 17:22-23 ESV

In his book, Everyday Theology, Kevin Vanhoozer shows us how Paul's approach provides a biblical framework for thinking (Kevin Vanhoozer, Everyday Theology, page 11):

1. Make a respectful assessment

Rather than being critical or condemning, Paul commended what he saw, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious."

Biblical thinking is taking a respectful assessment of a particular cultural text or trend on its terms. If I read a new book from a popular leadership guru, I should asses its merits. This might include appreciating the quality of the argument, the value of an observation, the thoroughness of the approach, or the practicality of the work.

2. Make a careful analysis

Paul knew the Athenian poets (Acts 17;28), but he analyzed what he was seeing on the basis of the biblical story and biblical theology. In short, he asked, "What does God say?"

These days I'm reading a helpful text by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky entitled, Leadership On The Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. Both men play significant roles at Harvard University. They are well read, have a ton of experience and much to offer. But that does not mean that I should buy everything they say. I have to test their presuppositions, concepts, and suggestions by the Word.

The key question is always: What does God say?

3. Make a thoughtful response

Paul made a respectful assessment and a careful analysis, but he did not stop there. He also provided a thought response:

What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

Good thinking is doing the hard work of responding to the latest leadership text or trend with a thoughtful and substantive biblical rejoinder. Sam Rayburn, a man with a colorful history in American politics said, "Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one."

Paul dismantled incorrect and insufficient thinking, but he was also a barn builder. He offered a biblical alternative.

That's what God wants from his leaders. He wants us to build bridges to people and to erect barns of great thought. He wants to do the kind of think that brings about God-honoring change.

Go Deeper

There is a proverb that has been attributed to the Chinese that says, “If you want to know what water is like, don’t ask the fish!” Christian leaders swim in the water of our culture. It is far too easy to become a consumer--to ingest cultural offerings without thinking about them. Here are some really great resources for thinking and thinking biblically. Just click the link to find out more:

Books: Thinking For A Change by John Maxwell; Fit Bodies, Fat Minds by Os Guinness; Everyday Theology by Kevin Vanhoozer

Website: Warp & Woof: The Writings of Dr. Mark Eckel. Mark is a very good friend and one of the best biblical thinkers I know. Don't Ask The Fish, my devotional blog that looks a life through the lens of Scripture.