Understanding Paradigm Paralysis

The following is an excerpt from The Kingdom Unleashed SamplerDownload this free eBook here.

Jesus’ descriptions of the Kingdom of God include images of abundance and fruitfulness, such as catches of fish that break nets and soils, seeds, and plants that bear fruitful harvests. Jesus spoke of yeast’s power to be a medium of transformation and expansion. And He told his disciples that bringing a harvest from every people group into his kingdom would be their Kingdom responsibility. He warned his disciples to never bury the resources that they had been given but to multiply them according to their capacities. 

When we look at the church in the Book of Acts, we see rapid expansion through families and social networks, extending into new, unevangelized areas—exactly the kind of expansion that we see in the Global South today. To recover that kind of growth, the church in the Global North will need to change its entire approach to ministry and even its vision of what the church is about. 

In 1963, philosopher Thomas Kuhn proposed a theory to explain scientific advances in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. His ideas may be helpful to us in understanding the necessary adjustments facing the church in the Global North. Kuhn argues that science operates on the basis of large-scale paradigms or models, rather than on a gradual, step-by-step increase in knowledge. Scientists develop a way of thinking which becomes the widely accepted paradigm. Over time, however, anomalies are discovered that do not easily fit that paradigm. When enough anomalies accumulate, a new paradigm emerges which accounts for both the anomalies and the things that the old paradigm could explain. This paradigm shift leads to a new way of approaching science and paves the way for further discoveries.


This is an excerpt from The Kingdom Unleashed Sampler. Download this free eBook here.


Kuhn then points out that, when a paradigm shift occurs, the new paradigm may use such radically different standards of measurement and assessment that people schooled in the old paradigm cannot understand or evaluate it; they cannot break free of their old way of thinking. This leads to “paradigm paralysis,” an inability or unwillingness to change from the old paradigm to the new—even when the new one solves obvious problems in the old. The old and new models are what Kuhn describes as being incommensurable, or so different that they cannot even be compared to one another, like apples and oranges.

This analysis of scientific paradigms can be applied to the church, as well. The Reformation’s rediscovery of justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers was a paradigm shift, as was the nineteenth century’s renewed focus on bringing the Gospel to all nations. And the twentieth century’s understanding of “nations” as people groups, similarly, was a paradigm shift, one that led to the growth of movements. 

The existing paradigm for the church, for missions, and for evangelism in the Global North has held up for quite a while and has had some great successes, but serious problems are beginning to accumulate. The slow decline of American and European cultures into humanistic worldviews, the inability to make obedient and replicating disciples, and business-driven models of community and leadership—all these factors combine to make the task of completing the Great Commission unattainable.

We in the Global North church are at a point where we need to redefine our paradigms of ministry. This challenge to the church (and to any human structure) was famously summarized by Arthur Jones a few years ago: “All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they get.”

Ironically, the way forward is to go back to the original model for disciple making as taught and modeled by Jesus. As we have seen, the Global North church has drifted away from this over a period of centuries. It is time to return to the way of disciple making laid out by Jesus Himself. 

 

This is an excerpt from The Kingdom Unleashed Sampler. Download this free eBook here.

Order the Full-Length Book Here.

Authors

JERRY TROUSDALE and his wife Gayle were missionaries among a Muslim people group in Africa. He pastored two mission sending churches, co-founded Final Command Ministries, and since 2005, has been Director of International Ministries for New Generations.  He is also the author of best-selling book Miraculous Movements.

GLENN SUNSHINE is a professor of history at Central Connecticut State University, a senior fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the founder and president of Every Square Inch Ministries. He is an award-winning author, and has taught seminars on worldview, church history, and theology across the U.S. and in Europe and Asia.

GREGORY C. BENOIT brought his rich background in journalism, theology, and Christian publishing to this project.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

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2018-08-03T04:33:07+00:00

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