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

Encouraging News, Sobering News

Written by: on October 6, 2022

According to the research and concluding theories of Jan Meyer and Ray Land, students can experience quite a range of success or lack of success, based on their ability to grasp and digest certain key concepts in the curriculum. Some students progress through the learning process easily and successfully, while others struggle to grasp these crucial ideas, which can result in stalled learning or a failure to complete their study plan. Meyer and Land refer to these vital ideas and potential intellectual and emotional hurdles as “threshold concepts,” that when understood and internalized, serve as a doorway to new and more complete views of the disciplinary material that can potentially reveal pathways to an entirely new worldview. David Mossley, building on the idea of threshold concepts, adds that they provide the core of a student’s “learning gain,” opening the possibility of a broader, inter-connected, better-informed understanding of a particular discipline.[1]

I find Meyer and Land’s presentation challenging, exciting, and sobering. The idea that learning “portals” exist through which we can gain an increased understanding of our discipline is intriguing and motivating!  Specifically, I think of my current research project focused on the relationship of humans and nature within God’s created community. I am standing at the threshold but have not yet crossed through the doorway. Having gathered quite a lot of information, I’m still lacking some key concepts that I hope will bring increased clarity, transformation, integration, and some structured boundaries around my subject. I appreciate that scholars emphasize that the learning process through which we gain transformative knowledge can progress slowly and may involve much ambiguity and uncertainty.[2]  This certainly captures some of my current experience.

I also respect that scholars recognize that this knowledge can often be troublesome and difficult to integrate into our practical experience of life and may require changes in our being and behavior in the world. Meyer and Land refer to the Brothers Limbourg’s account of Adam and Eve in the garden who, upon sampling from the tree of knowledge, gain an irreversible perspective on their world that carries grave consequences.[3] An example of an everyday lesson I learned regarding troublesome knowledge with irreversible consequences comes to mind. My husband and I moved to Tecate, Mexico in 1999 to pursue new jobs. I was struck by the intense poverty and uneven acquisition of resources among the residents of the city. It could not be missed, as neighborhoods contained luxurious homes, modest homes, and homes built out of pallets, side-by-side within a single block. I remember thinking that I could ignore this challenging scene of human struggle. Or, I could try to process through it, with God’s help. Once seeing, I could no longer go back to my former worldview. My being and my behavior in the world changed at that point and in the years following. This was troublesome knowledge that for a moment, I considered ignoring.

Meyer and Land give us much to consider as students. Their framework describing barriers to learning and threshold concepts, though not perfect, can be inspiring and motivating. As well, it normalizes the struggles we may experience as we grow and change in our being and behavior in the world.


[1] Mossley, David, Threshold Concepts: An Introductory Tool. (Heslington, York: Higher Education Academy, 2017), 4.

[2] Ibid, 4.

[3] Brothers Limbourg, The Fall and Expulsion from Paradise (1415) in Meyer, Jan H.F. and Land, Ray, Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding, Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge. (Oxon, Abingdon: Routledge, 2006), xiv.

About the Author

Jenny Steinbrenner Hale

16 responses to “Encouraging News, Sobering News”

  1. Kristy Newport says:

    Dear Jenny,
    I can relate to your comment: “Having gathered quite a lot of information, I’m still lacking some key concepts that I hope will bring increased clarity, transformation, integration, and some structured boundaries around my subject.” I am in this same space. I pray God will continue to open new doors for greater clarity to come. I struggle to have patience in this process.
    I am curious what concepts or frameworks you have attempted to “try on for size” in interpreting your research? Have there been some that you have looked at and have been dissatisfied? I am attempting to try some different frameworks myself and still looking for the “right fit”.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Kristy,
      Thanks for your comments and your good question regarding what frameworks and concepts I’ve “tried on for size.” I’m trying to find a connection between 1.) scientific research that shows a positive health benefit between human interaction with nature and 2.) our everyday pursuits to connect to God and each other and the abundant life experience we find in so doing. I think there is value in living our lives as an integrated part of all that God has created, as opposed to seeing humans as separate from the rest of nature. I haven’t found the language or template for connecting these two worlds yet, though I like what Jason was saying about laying two different disciplines over each other to see where the similarities and connections might be found. I also want to learn a little more about the Native American perspective to living within God’s creation. I have thought through the environmental stewardship approach to nature that many churches support, but this mindset still seems to carry a disconnect between humans and the rest of God’s creation. It seems like there is more of a connected relationship that God intended and that the Western Church has not yet fully experienced.

      I’d love to hear more about the concepts and frameworks you are using to bring clearer understanding to your project!

  2. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Thank you of sharing your experience living in Mexico and the social inequity on the same block. This is certainly a moment where you had the choice of whether to see or unsee.
    That is the challenge in our work is to see what we might be missing or not seeing just yet. I can relate to that feeling in my own research. Much like the Adam and Eve story, that the seeing creates new categories of understanding.
    I am curious if you have a sense of what these new categories might be? In other words, while the clarity is not quite there, do you have a general sense of what you might be searching for that will lead you to new categories of understanding in your research?

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Chad,
      Thanks for your comments and good questions! Yes, I do have a sense of what I’m searching for that will lead to new understanding in my research. I’m searching for ways to link 1.) the scientific discoveries showing the benefits of human interaction with nature to 2.) our everyday closeness with God. I think we might come closer to living the life God intended for humans if we considered living a more connected lifestyle to all of God’s creation. This could open doors to a variety of ways of experiencing and knowing God more deeply. As well, if God created us for connection, we might find increased physical, emotional, and spiritual health if we figured out how to better link to our natural environment. Science is showing many benefits of humans interacting with nature. I’d like to bring these scientific discoveries into the everyday life of the Western church. I would love to hear any thoughts you might have on this subject!

      Also, have you discovered new categories of understanding in your own research?

      • mm Chad McSwain says:

        That sounds great! I resonated with your response because I feel that my research is at the doorway. In some ways, I feel stuck at the “fuzzy goal” point. I have uncovered lots of Need and Problems and so looking for the Opportunity. I think the trail is leading to some sort of integration into the busy life of families. I do not feel that we are going to go back to the 1950s and Blue Law, Good Ol’ Days of the church being the center of activity and connection. Yet, people need connection and purpose more than ever. The challenge for young families is that it is truly counter-cultural to leave the “rat race” of being a young family. I welcome any thoughts or experiences you have as well!

        • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

          I appreciate your thoughts on how difficult it is to live a life that is counter-culture. On the one hand, if we don’t leave, are we teaching our kids to repeat the “rat race” in their own lives, and encouraging them to follow a current that possibly leads to unhealthy and stressful lifestyles? On the other hand, if we do leave, are our kids missing out on a multitude of activities with their friends? A quandary!

          Looking forward to continued discussion and learning on this.

  3. Tonette Kellett says:


    I enjoyed your blog post very much, especially your example of living in Mexico and how that changed your worldview forever. I can certainly relate to you there. Living in Kenya, particularly Nairobi for a time, I experienced much of the same thing. It changes how you view the world around you permanently.

    I wonder, when you returned to living in the States, how did that new worldview carry over? Did you find yourself more sensitive to areas of deep poverty here in the US, for instance?

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Tonette,
      Thanks so much for your comments and questions. My changed worldview definitely carried over into a different way of living when we returned to the States. Also, I experienced an extreme case of reverse culture shock when we came back to the States. One of the most striking things, that our kids even pointed out, was the way that people in the United States used quite a lot of money for things that had nothing to do with survival. I couldn’t help thinking often of our neighbors in Mexico who were struggling to survive week-to-week and who had no money to spend on the extras that were visible everywhere in the U.S. This had an effect on the way I felt comfortable or uncomfortable spending money. It also opened my eyes to the extreme lack of resources in our own country. It’s interesting, though, that in the U.S. the people struggling for resources are often hidden from those people with plenty of resources. Maybe we tend to separate our neighborhoods according to residents with like resources? In Mexico, the differences seem more visible and out in the open. I still struggle with the inequity of resource accessibility and it challenges me in my own personal situation. Praying that I will continue to grow in my perspective of what God intends for all of His people.

      How has your experience and the key concepts you integrated into your life in Kenya and in your current location changed your worldview and the way you interact with your community?

  4. Shonell Dillon says:

    I appreciate the personal information that you shared to help us understand the threshold comments that you experienced. I can definitely understand your perspective. I believe that we will always have those thresholds concepts that we wish we had not ever had to learn. I am glad that God is leading you here in ministry so that you can be a voice for others.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Shonell,
      Thanks for your comments and encouragement. It is interesting, isn’t it, how threshold concepts can be exciting and welcome or unwelcome in our life experiences. Thankful for God’s leading as we encounter hard learnings.

  5. Jenny,
    I like the way you referred to your current research project and where you are in relation to your desired project “crossing through the doorway”, Intriguing and motivating indeed isn’t it. Amazing resources, information and awareness coming our way! Hopeful as time goes that the ambiguity and uncertainty will clear as we land to that Ahaa moment towards whatever projects we are looking at. I am reminded of the truth that “to whom much is given, much will be required” It’s my hope and prayer that our NPOs and results of our studies will help bring lasting positive changes to the challenges of human struggles daunting everywhere we look.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Jean, Thanks for your comments and insights. I, too, look forward to more of those ahaa moments, as you mentioned. I agree with you that it is exciting to see how God is leading us in a variety of ways, through our projects, to hopefully contribute positively to our communities as we journey through this learning process. I appreciate your reminder that to whom much is given, much will be required. I wonder what that road looks like for us, as individuals and as a cohort in the long and short-term seasons ahead.

  6. mm David Beavis says:

    Hi Jenny,

    Another aspect of a threshold concept, in addition to the new knowledge being troublesome, is that it is integrative. It becomes a part of your mental models and informs how you see the world. That being said, since your time in Tacate, Mexico, exposed you to a place where there was a great gap between those with resources and those with out, how did that inform your time in South Africa? I remember being picked up from Cape Town airport. As we were driving along the freeway, I noticed the houses on one side of the freeway were very different in size and quality from the houses on the otherside.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi David, Thanks for your questions and comments. I think my time in Mexico did inform my time in South Africa. The various neighborhoods that we visited and passed in South Africa, and especially the region where we attended church, felt familiar. When we went to church, I was reminded of the various poverties that struck me when we lived in Mexico: financial poverty, relational poverty, a poverty of faith, etc… I found it interesting that in Mexico, those that experienced financial poverty, seemed to be quite rich in tight, extended family relationships, as well as faith. I’m guessing it might be the same in South Africa.

  7. Alana Hayes says:

    I love the phrase “learning portal” connected to your NPO! I think you have found something there. I cannot wait for you to run with it.

    What is something in nature that sends you into a space with Jesus?

    For me, its doing a specific task in a specific truck on the farm that was my papa’s. We still use his old truck daily which always makes my heart happy. However when I go hall water at the well for our house its such a special place to connect with the earth and Jesus. I know that I papa prayed thousand of hours there. It’s one of the places I feel him the most, and also the ground/air just feels different there.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Alana, Thank you so much for your comments and thoughts! I love how you described feeling connected to Jesus and the earth when you haul water from the well for your house, just like your Papa did. That is powerful. I wonder if your Papa knew what a gift he was giving his family in praying at the well, and that place would be special to you all partly because it was a place where he was connecting to God?

      I feel connected to God when I’m running on the trails at Forest Park. It feels wild, untamed, and I love the way all my senses are attuned to God and all He has created. I can feel my heart pounding, my feet hitting the dirt… the air is fresh… the birds are singing… especially on a summer morning, it’s amazing.

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