Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Concepts Within Threshold Concepts

Written by: on January 25, 2024

High school and college all-nighters were a constant in most of our educational upbringing. It feels just like yesterday. The agonizing thoughts surrounding an upcoming paper in that subject you were shaky in, or even worse, that dreaded midterm or final exam. Those memorable, miserable thoughts of reading, rereading, cramming, comprehending, anticipating, sweating, and then at times just sitting with a frustrated hand on the forehead looking for that supernatural move of God. I knew what I was hoping for…I was waiting for God to extract and export all the words, phrases, pertinent information and answers I needed, miraculously move in a suddenly and immediately kind of way, and then instantaneously impart and download all things pertaining to the assignment or the exam from the book to my mind! Ok…Don’t leave me hanging or was I the only one with these celestial cerebrum experiences?

As I reflect upon past experiences, I look back and say there was a lot of wasteful energy expended trying to tackle and simultaneously comprehend every book I read. The most unfortunate finding in all of this was the revelation of how to approach understanding came far later in my educational journey. I must admit I was in my feelings as I came to the section of troublesome knowledge when unpacking the definition of “inert knowledge”. My issue is how much stuff is truly stored in my mind’s attic that rarely gets dusted off except when duty calls.

The introduction of threshold concepts is truly a powerful tool for learning. To understand ideas or concepts within a particular field of study that, once understood, creates a transformative shift in a learner’s perception and understanding.  Looking through the lens of seeing these concepts acting as gateways can be pivotal, taking one from a surface-level way of understanding to a deeper and more advanced path toward comprehension. The utilization of these thresholds could often lead to a profound and pivotal change in the way an individual thinks about and engages with particular subjects.

I find threshold concepts at play in my own life through my ministry context. My calling leads me to intersect with people of different races, faiths, creeds, and cultures. I have used these concepts to enhance my cultural sensitivity as I have grown immensely in the area of recognizing, realizing, and respecting cultural norms, differing values, and traditions, which may be a huge departure from my original train of thought. “In gaining access to a new way of seeing an individual has access to being a part of the community.”[1] As a senior pastor, I am often called upon and encouraged to practice empathy in many areas. Threshold concepts for me are the gateway to cultural competence and sensitivity that I know I have shrugged off in times past with either misinformation or my own personal bias.

I am reminded of my time at a global leader’s workshop summit in Kenya. The topic of the speaker’s presentation was Death to Self. As I recall how he emphatically shared this presentation, all eyes were on him as he riveted the audience with his premise based on broadening our perspective. Threshold concepts do such a thing, it broadens our horizons. As suggested, this is not a fail-proof method but rather a broader alternative to traditional thinking and understanding.

I think about the role of teachers in this process of broadening our perspectives. Meyer and Land suggest that “teachers must be able to identify these concepts in their subject”…[2] As students are truly the beneficiaries of embracing these concepts, teachers are even more valuable. One knock often railed against teachers in our contemporary society is their inability to engage and employ new methodology thus leaving students with a traditional train of thought or approach. This one-dimensional approach has hampered both students and teachers in improving potential outcomes. Teachers must be adept in assisting learners with threshold concepts.

On a personal note, one experience comes to mind as I ponder upon my son’s high school homework experience with as I attempted to assist him with a math problem. His methodology of solving a problem and showing his work greatly differed from how I was instructed. As I looked at him, not only did I learn something new, but I also employed and incorporated the new math concept into my daily practice. It was a threshold concept that was introduced which impacted both he and I. The strength and significance of threshold concepts lie in their transformative nature. These concepts are an aggressive challenge to both our lived and historical beliefs, causing one to reframe one’s way of thinking and understanding. The question is, are we willing to go there?


[1]Meyer, Jan H.F., and Ray Land, eds., Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge (London: Routledge, 2006), 74.

[2]Ibid., 82

About the Author

Daren Jaime

10 responses to “Concepts Within Threshold Concepts”

  1. Debbie Owen says:

    Lots of thoughtful content here Daren. I’m sure the presentation about “Death to Self” invited many listeners to consider this seminal Christian concept in new ways.

    You also mention your own threshold concepts with regard to cultural sensitivity. What, specifically, about this topic invites you to “enter a portal” and come out on the other side with a new identity?

    • Daren Jaime says:

      Hi Debbie. I was struck by the process of integrative nature and the correlation to otherness. “Failure to grapple with the interconnectivities of social identities can result in serious misunderstandings…”(Page 134)
      I can easily recall instances where I did not look at what connected me to a person, place or cause versus me immediately doubling down on my stance, belief and personal bias. Applying this concept has helped me to better understand diverse communities and cultures.

  2. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Hey Daren,
    I did high school all-nighters, but it certainly wasn’t studying :). I resonated with your writing, and I am pondering how to take teachers out of the traditional throwing of information out to more hands-on, meaningful teaching (not really sure what that looks like).
    Your ending question, “The question is, are we willing to go there?” is an intriguing one. What popped in my head was that a lot of young people are realizing that trade schools are cheaper and more available than a college degree, I think this concept falls in line with that. Hands-on experience with book learning.
    How else do you see this panning out, if we are indeed willing to go there?

    • Daren Jaime says:

      Hey Chris we must begin to place a higher regard on how we things. I can be considered now old school or an OG as my son likes to playfully refer to me. Your point about college vs. trade is an excellent example. We also have AI and Google and how this can be immersed into the educational format, not as a replacement but seeing and using it as an educational
      and supplementary tool, which many presently refute. There is a lot of meat on that bone you threw out in your question! I believe it begins with a commitment to embrace the foreign and new and what we don’t understand. This would be a huge first step.

      • mm Chris Blackman says:

        It was such a simple question!! LOL. Thanks for you answer. Kari talked about a program she was involved in where the first step was to “unfreeze” everything. Maybe that concept would work with your concept of embracing the foreign and the new.
        Love it!!

  3. Chad Warren says:

    Daren, great post! I am most interested in your statement, “Threshold concepts for me are the gateway to cultural competence and sensitivity that I know I have shrugged off in times past with either misinformation or my own personal bias.” What specific cultural competence and sensitivity did you have in mind with that statement? I think an example would help me better understand.

    • Daren Jaime says:

      Hey Chad! Thanks for asking. I have worked with the Asian and African population for years now. In my initial engagement I was put off by the way my clients would seem to be disinterested or disengaged. I particularly was upset because they would not look me in the eye. After understanding their culture, I was educated how looking someone in the eye was a sign of disrespect. My relationship began to change with them and they became valuable to our team as I was committed to learning more about the culture and not just the American way of doing things. I then had to pass on and instruct our team so they could better feel a sense of belonging which occurred after a few months.

  4. Nancy Blackman says:

    Daren, Daren, Daren!
    You took me waaaay back on those all-nighters, but mine were in college. 😬

    You referenced from the book, “In gaining access to a new way of seeing an individual has access to being a part of the community” and it reminded me of a conversation Chris and I had just today about how cultures that value community understand how to engage with one another and honor and respect in ways that cultures that value individualism do not. Of course, I’m thinking of the American culture because globally it is known as an individualistic culture. But there’s so much more to that, right? Part of that is so connected to Death to Self, as the Kenyan leader pointed out. Within community, you do a little dying to self in order to reap the benefits of community, but it is often well worth it.

    Chris grew up with a Mexican best friend, who’s family taught him the value of community. The family was not wealthy at all, but he was always welcome to eat at their table. There is a saying that goes with Mexican families (and it is the same with Korean families). Your table is always open to friends, families and strangers. The Mexicans say, “we just add more water to the beans.”

    From the book “Healing Our Humanity: Practices for Revitalizing the Church,” Grace Ji Sun Kim shares, “This is a powerful symbol of hospitality and embrace. Ruth Padilla DeBorst says: Hospitality means conversion from individualism to community, from autonomy to interdependence, from idolatry to true worship, from grasping to receiving, from oppressive dominion over creation to loving care of it, from indifference to passionate, prayerful action, from Western definitions of “development” to loving participation, from competition to collaboration, from protagonism to service.” (p30-31)

    I just thought that was one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in awhile and your words reminded me of this.

    I wonder how you will integrate threshold concepts into your research as you create aha moments for the youth in your community?

  5. Daren Jaime says:

    Nancy! Thank you so much! As adults and more particularly in the culture of the present church we use age and years of service as the foundation and false premise of how knowledgable we are. We have our preferences and feel threatened by new ideas, and vision because they challenge both our comfort and knowledge zone. Allowing young adults to not just sit at the table but set the table is the substratum for success in church. Listening without interjecting and applying some of the nuggets this demographic has amassed would be fruitful for churches and ministries. I am beginning with this approach and moving deeper from there.

  6. Akwése Nkemontoh says:

    Wow, I really enjoyed reading this Daren. Death to Self is such a great invitation to enter into thinking about threshold concepts and the change that must take place within us. You ended with a question of “are we willing to go there?” and I think that is the key to this all. Everyday we’re presented with these opportunties but are we willing to be troubled and challenged for the sake of deeper growth and understanding ( which often isnt felt/seen on the surface).

    In both your examples of threshold moments, you were presented with a choice. It would have been easier in many ways not to adopt new ways of thinking and being, and I think that’s the whole point and that’s why these concepts place a lot of emphases on identity.

    Overall, this was a good reminder that God invites us into more but gives us free will to choose and how any suffering ( feeling threatened /uncomfortable in those liminal phases) experinced along the way will eventually be used as the foundation of what makes us more rooted, empathetic, connected, etc…

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