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The Process of Paradigm Change (pt. 1)

Laura and I recently began rereading Brian McLaren’s novel A New Kind of Christian. In the introduction, he talks about the process of paradigm change: stability, discontinuity, disembedding, transition, and reformation. As he described what each of these stages meant, I began to recall specific events in my life that fit within these categories.

Over the next few posts, I’ll be going through each of these stages and telling my story. When appropriate, I’ll give other examples from the Bible, my friends, and quotations from others who experienced similar shifts in thinking. 

Today, we’ll simply define these five stages so that you can begin comparing them to your own life as we go on a journey together over this upcoming week. 


Stability is when everything is working as intended. The explanations you were given in Sunday school and from the pulpit are satisfactory. Any questions you might ask have already been answered by the good men and women who came before you. Brian McLaren likens this stage to Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz living happily in Kansas. 


The answers and theories that made you feel comfortable and safe before don’t provide that same security. Things aren’t off the rails quite yet, but you may go home Sunday morning feeling that something must be off. This stage, as Brian describes, is reflected socially in Dorothy’s run-ins with her neighbor, psychologically in her desire to run away, and physically in the approaching thunderstorm.  


Eventually we find ourselves present in the Sunday assembly but not present, there but not there. Like Dorothy being carried away by the tornado, we begin to disconnect from our present situation. 


In this stage, one begins their departure from the old world. When Dorothy first arrived in Oz, there was a lot of Kansas still in her. It took her time to adjust to her new surroundings. She wasn’t in the new world quite yet, but the journey had begun!


With the new world before us, we decide to dive in. We may find friends like the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion to accompany us who have their own needs and desires, but together we go head first into a fun, scary, and mysterious journey. 

The Hourglass

As Brian does in his book, one may liken this to an hourglass on its side. The left hand side is spacious and comfortable at first, but as you move towards the middle, it becomes cramped. In this stage, a person or group may begin to complain about the old way, how it doesn’t work as well as they thought it did. Another word for this is deconstruction. 

Then, people slowly begin to reconstruct. They come up with new theories and answers as they design the new paradigm. During this stage, they must battle with their inner voice that longs for the comfort of the old way, even if they don’t believe it works. There is also a fear of those in the left side of the hourglass. Their judgement, which may include withholding financial support, may just be enough to keep one stuck in the cramped section of the hourglass, where they know the answers don’t work, but, at the same time, they can’t venture too far without enduring the wrath of their predecessors. 

Finally, freedom! One ventures into the open space of the right side of the hourglass. For now, this new paradigm offers brand new freedom and possibilities. Of course, the time will come when new questions, people, or ideas present themselves and the process starts over. 

I look forward to sharing with you my story over the next few articles. Perhaps something I say here will help you on your own journey!

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