“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”  –Galileo

Maintaining intellectual health is often a neglected part of pastoral well-being. Yet, Jesus included loving God with all your mind in the first and greatest commandment (Luke 10:27).  What are you doing to thrive intellectually? How are you expanding the gray matter between your ears? What are you doing, intentionally, to thrive in the way you think?

The mind works like a muscle: use it or lose it! Here are five suggestions from Mark Wilson, Assistant Professor for Discipleship, Multiplication and Renewal at Southern Wesleyan University, to strengthen your brain and sharpen your mental focus. 

Use Your Brain the Way God Intended

1.   Embrace the Unfamiliar

Although it is far more comfortable to follow familiar routines, the only way to grow is to embrace the unfamiliar. Engaging in what is unfamiliar will stretch your knowledge capacity. Make it your goal to learn something new every day, no matter how insignificant it might seem. Travel to a new place. Read a book on an unfamiliar topic. Be intentional to meet someone new. Learn a new skill. Use a new app. Try something you have never done before. Our minds expand according to our ability and willingness to learn new things. 

Are you genuinely open to new experiences? What is one new learning experience you can embrace today?

 2.   Deepen Your Current Understanding

Well drillers say the best water is found in the deeper places rather than the sand point. Thinking works that way too. Instead of relying on information you already know, drill deeper. If you are preparing a sermon, drill through the rock beyond the sand point by studying multiple perspectives. If you are counseling a complex situation, research to discover the best insights. Learn from the deepest thoughts of others. Seek not only contemporary insights, but also those from the greatest thinkers of history. The sweetest water often comes from ancient wells.

Do you tend to rely on the same sources for learning? Do you take the path of least resistance or are you willing to take time to drill a little deeper?

3.   Broaden Your Information Base

One of the most impressive things about General Superintendent Emeritus Dr. Jo Anne Lyon is the breadth of her information base. She is better informed on the issues facing today’s pastor than a dozen average people combined. She intentionally expands her information base by reading widely, taking advantage of learning opportunities, asking good questions and showing up. “When God opens doors, I walk through them,” she said, “I don’t have to agree with everything a person thinks to accept their invitation. This is the ministry of presence. I am able to influence others for Christ and learn something in the process.”

How widely do you read? Do you talk only with those whose opinion you share? Or are you willing to learn from others who think differently?

4.   Sharpen Your Clarity

In decision-making, you can sharpen your clarity by thinking “through it” rather than “to it.” God has a big crayon box with lots of colors. Many people settle for just two crayons (black and white) in most decision-making situations. One way to strengthen intellectual health is to force yourself to look beyond the obvious to see the nuances. Instead of just thinking “to” the first, simplistic solution, look at the issue from various angles: above, beneath, behind, before and sideways. If we combine a high view of Scripture with a humble opinion about our own limited perspectives, our understanding will be enriched and our position will be clarified.

How much thought do you take before making decisions? Can you slow yourself down to prayerfully consider all perspectives before making decisions? How would slowing down your decision-making in this way make a difference in your life and ministry?

 5.   Practice Creative Imagination and Positive Edification

We can strengthen our intellect through the use of our imagination and positive edification. Unfortunately, for many people, sometimes even pastors, “intellectual” is often joined at the hip with a negative, critical spirit. The best way to combat intellectual snobbery is with a fresh infusion of creative and positive juice. We honor God best intellectually when we see possibilities through the eyes of faith, rather than lamenting the impossibilities. When we use our brain-power for its intended purpose, we are actually praising God and uplifting others. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). 

Do you view your intellectual abilities as a gift from God? Do you use them to the utmost in learning and decision-making? How can you bring greater humility and higher intellectual practice together to honor God?

For more insights on intellectual health, see the following suggested resources:

  1. Thinking Theologically: The Preacher as Theologian, by Ronald J. Allen, 2008, Fortress Press.  
  2. Christian Classics Ethereal Library: a treasure trove of Christian literature from the greatest thinkers and spiritual leaders of history. 
  3. When exploring how our thinking can be shaped by great minds of the past, consider C. S. Lewis’ introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation.
  4. Explore books on the latest brain research
  5. For a good, updated Wesleyan-Holiness theology, consider Diane LeClerc’s Discovering Christian Holiness: The Heart off Wesleyan Holiness Theology. (Kansas City:Beacon Hill Press), 2013.


Guest intellectual contributor: Mark O. Wilson, Assistant Professor for Discipleship, Multiplication and Renewal at Southern Wesleyan University.

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus

Curator of content: Dave Higle