Sheep are ruminators. They rechew their food just like cattle. They don’t have four stomachs but instead have four compartments in one stomach. This rechewing allows them to get the maximum amount of nutrients from what they consume. Rumination takes time and also means they can not be taking in more grass while they do so.
Just like sheep, we need to stop and ruminate on what we have already taken in. In short, we need time to reflect. Reflection is more than keeping a journal to remember what was done. Reflection is taking time to carefully examine and glean from the experience. This is where critical thinking enters the picture. Here’s a definition that can help us here: critical thinking is the disciplined process by which a person continually evaluates his or her beliefs and values in light of experiences, observations, and study. Let me explain each part of this definition.
Disciplined process. Whether we realize it or not, we evaluate all information we receive against some type of belief and value system. The issue is not that we process it, but rather how we process it. We can take in lots of information at one time, but that does not mean we can process or pay attention to all of it. If we can only handle (with a critical eye) a limited amount of information at one time, then some type of disciplined approach is required. The discipline involves asking questions that define the key facts, dismiss the irrelevant, and begin the thinking process.
Continually evaluates. Life does not take place in a vacuum. New experiences take place daily. We encounter new thoughts and ideas or at the very least a new connection to a previous thought or idea. These new experiences and thought encounters force us to examine and evaluate them in light of our previous experiences and frameworks.
Beliefs and values. These are the total of our personal criteria and filters for what we will accept or reject when making a decision. We act based upon them consciously and unconsciously. These beliefs and values may be formal or informal, written or unstated. These beliefs and values grow throughout our lives (what we understood about God today should be fuller than what we understood 10 years ago). While a person may have all the required information (cognitive learning domain), it is his or her feelings about and evaluation of that information (affective learning domain) that determines what he or she will eventually do (psychomotor learning domain).
Experience, observation, and study. These three elements make up the total of what we encounter intellectually. These encounters may take place intentionally or serendipitously. If we accept the concept of God’s sovereignty, we must also accept the idea that all encounters are purposeful and should be carefully examined and interpreted.
Here’s the problem for most believers. We participate in a Bible study, we may read the Bible passage and do some study prior to the group gathering, but the focus is what happens in the group time. Once that group time is over, we tend to move on to another experience where we take in more Bible content. We rarely are encouraged to stop and think about what we experienced or studied. Giving people the opportunity to reflect and ruminate was one of the driving factors behind the creation of the Explore the Bible Daily Discipleship Guide. Questions and study helps are provided for the group time but so to are daily study activities to be done in the week that follows. This gives the group an opportunity to ruminate on what the group studied. A Daily Discipleship Guide is available for both adults and students. The Family Cards for Kids makes it possible for parents to help their child ruminate as well, since the activities are built on what was done in the group time the previous week.
Since we are sheep, we need time to ruminate and we need tools that will help us do so.
Dwayne McCrary gives leadership to Explore the Bible resources at Lifeway. Explore the Bible resources are one solution that helps you better feed your sheep. Secure samples here