Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

November 2007
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Addressing the Current Leader Development Crisis #5

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Paradigm Shifts

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:

  1. A dominant paradigm is seldom, if ever, stated explicitly; it exists unquestioned.
  2. Once paradigms are accepted, our minds cling to them tenaciously.
  3. 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 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.

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.

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!

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.

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!

Comments 2
  • Iain Barraclough
    Posted on

    Iain Barraclough Iain Barraclough

    Reply Author

    Just a belated note of thanks to you for your letters and particularly the thought-provoking Leadership Letter #103, which dealt with “Paradigm Shifts”.

    You may be interested to know that I referred to it especially and quoted/used large parts of it in my blog post, here:

    I consider that your newsletters often provide worthwhile reading, on matters relevant to human organisation in general, and I circulate some of them to colleagues/friends as a matter of interest. Some of these recipients have taken up subscriptions to your newsletters, themselves.

    So that people can more easily find it, I have put a link to your site on my blog’s website (referred to above).

    Iain Barraclough
    (New Zealand)


  • pastor mike mhango
    Posted on

    pastor mike mhango pastor mike mhango

    Reply Author

    am being so much blessed by your teachings here.This revelation is never found in renown bible schools.Thanks for being such a blessing and you are making a difference in churches here in malawi.