Our last several Letters presented significant paradigm changes regarding leader development that are necessary to deal with the crises of quantity and quality of church leaders around the world.
It is clear that these all require significant changes of thinking – or, “paradigm shifts.”
In his famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn defines a “paradigm” as “a constellation of concepts, values, perceptions and practices shared by a community which forms a particular vision of reality that is the basis of the way a community organizes itself.”
Thus, a paradigm is an overarching mindset, a worldview, a particular perception of the way things are. Moreover, a paradigm is shared by the members of a broad community. The fact that it is a shared belief system makes paradigms at once powerful and yet difficult to discern. Frequently, paradigms are implicit and hidden assumptions. What gives paradigms their subtle power is that we generally don’t distinguish between what’s being thought and the paradigm it’s being thought through. In demonstrating this point, Kuhn traces scientific disciplines in their shifting of gears over the past 400 years, and he points out three surprising patterns:
- A dominant paradigm is seldom, if ever, stated explicitly; it exists unquestioned.
- Once paradigms are accepted, our minds cling to them tenaciously.
- The unfolding of a new paradigm is always discontinuous. Intellectual and emotional resistance inevitably arise when a new way of looking at the world is presented.
Joel Barker, in The Business of Paradigms, makes the following points about paradigms:
- Paradigms are common. We have them in almost every aspect of our lives, including our spiritual lives. We have paradigms of how we understand “church,” “Christian leadership” and, of course, “leader development.”
- Paradigms are useful. They help us identify what is important and what is not. They focus our attention. They offer us models for problem solving and ways of acting and reacting.
Paradigms themselves are not bad. In fact, we need them. The problem occurs when our current paradigms prevent us from seeing new and better ways of doing things.
- Sometimes our paradigm can become the paradigm – the only way to do something. This can lead to “paradigm paralysis.”
Consequently, when we’re confronted with an alternative idea, we reject it out of hand.
Paradigms can be so strong they act as psychological filters – we quite literally see the world through our paradigms. Any data that exists in the real world (or even in the Bible) that does not fit our paradigm will have a difficult time getting through our filters. We are quite literally unable to perceive the facts right before our eyes.
Thus, our greatest strengths can become our greatest weakness by not allowing us to see both the need and the opportunity for change.
- The people who create new paradigms are usually outsiders. They are not part of the established paradigm community.
They have nothing to lose by creating the new paradigm. This means, if we want to find the new paradigms that are developing in a certain field, we usually must look beyond the center, sometimes even beyond the fringes!
- Those practitioners of the old paradigm who choose to change to the new paradigm have to be very courageous.
New paradigms threaten the old ones. The higher our position, the greater the risk. The better we are at the old ways, the more have invested in it, the more we have to lose by changing paradigms.
- We can choose to change our paradigms. We can choose to question our old paradigms and adopt new ones.
May the Lord Jesus give us the insight and honesty to challenge our traditional paradigms of leader development and the courage to return to biblical truths!
Next Letter: Three Approaches to Leader Development
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