Developing a thinking environment

On a visit to the UK about 18 months ago, a local pastor gave my wife and I the book Time to Think. While Rachel read and raved about it almost immediately, I have only just found the time to read it – yes, I am aware of the irony!

First of all, credit to the book-giver, who heard about the kind of work Rachel and I are involved in and felt this book would be a good fit. And it was.

The author, Nancy Kline, manages to put into words many of the ways of working we have stumbled upon during our seven years of facilitating activities relating to cross-cultural integral mission in Durban, South Africa. Kline is particularly helpful in articulating a framework for our Spirit-led discoveries that is transferable to meetings, coaching, marriage, mentoring, parenting, leading teams, and thinking about church.

It is not clear whether Kline had faith-based applications in mind. However, what she writes resonates deeply with the idea that mission is about joining God in releasing everyone’s holistic potential, rather than focusing on their ‘poverty’. Kline believes, as we do, that people already have all that they require to solve their own problems, their way. Our role as leaders therefore requires us to empty ourselves in order to create space that stimulates independent thinking in others. Kline writes:

The most valuable thing we can offer each other is the framework in which to think for ourselves. The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first. The quality of our thinking depends on the way we treat each other while we are thinking.

Attention, equality, appreciation, encouragement and diversity are some of the components Kline defines that enable people to ‘think for themselves with rigour, imagination, courage and grace’. This has certainly been our experience in Durban. As one participant in a vibrant conversation on cultural practices testifies:

Where else would you find such a diverse gathering of people discussing, as equals, what matters to our communities? I have learnt so much today!

Listening to people without correcting, interrupting or judging is absolutely critical – finishing off others people’s sentences is one of the things I know I need to avoid more.

In describing how to create a thinking environment in more detail, Kline suggests starting meetings by asking everyone to share what is going well or what was helpful in response to a presentation. In similar situations, I would ask, ‘What have you heard that is new?’

Kline believes it is helpful to ask people what they want to think about or what they want to achieve. I have tried this in church on Sundays; it sounds risky, but it results in something far more relevant than simply preaching at people.

I don’t usually review books, probably because I am wired in a way that means I forget most things I read instantly. But this is one of those books with so many applications – for church, discipleship, development, integral mission, leadership, life, prayer etc – that even a month after finishing it I have not stopped thinking.

Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind by Nancy Kline

Time to Think elegantly combines theory with details of practical sessions. It demonstrates how to use its principles in leadership, team development, organisational change and coaching, and in building business and personal relationships of stunning quality and depth.

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Phil Bowyer
Phil Bowyer is a director and co-founder of Soul Action, a network of 700 individuals, 200 Christian organisations and 40 local churches operating in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.