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

Oh, Now I Get It!

Written by: on January 23, 2023

I considered titling this blog post “Threshold Concepts for Dummies” because after reading these two extensive and comprehensive books I felt like, well…a dummy.

I’m not being self-deprecating; I honestly felt dumb. I’ve been reading, thinking, studying, and pontificating large biblical/theological concepts for many, many years, and yet I have not been exposed to this level of intellectual depth.

Put a point on the board for Portland Seminary, and Dr. Clark’s reading list.

To say this material was “troublesome” and created a “bottleneck” in my cranium would be a gross understatement. While reading this book, literal smoke was emitting from my ears. The sound of grinding mental cogs could be heard a few bistro tables away at my local coffeeshop.

Melodramatic? Sure, perhaps a little bit, but let’s not kid ourselves: these waters are deep and wide.


Deep and wide.


I just had an A-ha moment. Just right now. Allow me to attempt to flesh it out, in real time…


In Latin there’s a concept known as “Solvitur Ambulando” – it’s solved by walking. Often when I encounter a troublesome concept, biblical passage, Kingdom principle, relational juggernaut, or a level of emotional stuckness; what Meyers and Land refer to as the “liminal state,” I go for a WALK. It’s remarkable how often something is Solvitur Ambulando; solved by walking.

The same is often true with “Solvitur Per Scripturam” – it’s solved by writing. As I typed the words “Deep and wide” a few moments ago, I sensed a cognitive shift. The intellectual waters ARE deep and wide, and I AM attempting to navigate them, let’s say, in a small and rickety boat. I resonate with the learning process being described as “stressful, debilitating, frustrating, and intensely emotional. They [students] reported that they were ‘shocked,’ ‘upset,’ ‘hopeless,’ and ‘very anxious’” (Land/Meyers, Threshold Concepts in Practice, p. 4).

I’ll bet those students felt like dummies too.

However, they acknowledged it as a “learning process.” They were cognitive of being in boat on waters that are indeed deep and wide, and that can be frightful, yet there is an understanding, albeit slight, that they are going somewhere.

“Trust the process.” I think I heard that somewhere.


Ambulando it out. Scripturam it out.


Encounters with threshold concepts can be scary or frightening (because the boat is small), but by its very nature it invites learners to engage with that which is believed to be troublesome (because the waters are deep and wide). But once you successfully navigate portions of these waters, our minds discover a portal, and are “opened up to a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking” (Land/Meyer, Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding, p. 3).

I now realize that I have been having these kinds of “a-ha” moments for years. I have been walking and writing through these kinds of “threshold concept portals,” perhaps unknowingly. I preach, teach, and write for a living, and, of course, because of God’s sovereign calling upon my life. I do this on a consistent, weekly basis. Each Tuesday, I sit at my desk with a blank word processor document open. OK, actually I have a standing desk, because it’s been said that “sitting is the new smoking.” Regardless, I often stare at that blank document feeling stressed, debilitated, frustrated, and intensely emotional. Sometimes I become upset, hopeless, and very anxious in trying to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

I get it. I feel it.

In that liminal space I resort to walking – it’s amazing how many big conceptual nuts have been cracked as I walk. Then I start writing. Again, it’s amazing to consider the various biblical passages and theological waters that have been navigated in the “process” of writing.

The Bible, and biblical theology have several Threshold Concepts that I simply cannot unsee. For example: The Kingdom of God. The Exodus. Restoration. The Blood and Redemption. Once I discovered these portals; doorways into Scripture, my understanding expanded immensely and has provided a richer context for much, if not all, of my teaching and preaching.

And, I trust, it has enriched the learning experience of those I lead. I desire for my congregation to have “a-ha” moments as well. This can be achieved as I listen to their struggles. Many people feel frustrated or isolated in their understanding of Kingdom life and concepts. I’m not alone in feeling like a dummy. I must be patient with myself, as well as with others under my pastoral care and instruction. This is a messy process; rarely is it linear. The waters are deep and wide, and the boat is small, as one grapples with threshold concepts.

The prayer of the Apostle Paul to the church of Ephesus highlights both the power and the promise of understanding as one wrestle with threshold concepts. Perhaps the most profound of all threshold concepts:  the love of our God.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:16-21 NIV

Oh, now I get it.

About the Author


John Fehlen

John Fehlen is currently the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. Prior to that he served at churches in Washington and California. A graduate of Life Pacific University in San Dimas, CA in Pastoral Ministry, and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA with a Masters in Leadership and Spirituality. He and his wife Denise have four grown children and four grandchildren. John is the author of “Intentional Impressions," a book for fathers and their sons, "Don't Give Up: Encouragement for Weary Souls in Challenging Times," a book for pastoral leaders, and "The Way I See You," a children's book. You can connect with John on Instagram (@johnfehlen) as well as on his blog (johnfehlen.com).

10 responses to “Oh, Now I Get It!”

  1. mm Tim Clark says:

    It’s really important, isn’t it, to be patient with those running into threshold barriers and who are walking through a not-always-linear period of liminality?

    In the “9 considerations important in the design and evaluation of curricula in higher education” (Meyer, 198ff) #3 stood out to me in this respect: It’s hard for someone who has crossed the threshold to fully empathize with one who has not done so when it comes to that specific barrier.

    As you say, as pastors and teachers, we have to remember how long it took us to grasp certain concepts and never expect disciples to “get there” on our time. In that respect, I think this program is really good for me, in that it’s reminding me daily how much I don’t know.

    Question: In our patience with the messy process in others, how do we avoid stepping in too quickly to help them avoid their own pain? In other words, how do we not “teach to the test” on spiritual issues (so they can mimic us), and instead lead people into the uncomfortable liminality necessary for them to ‘own’ their own spiritual life?

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      Wow, I love this question about mindfully not engaging too quickly when someone is moving through their own discovery. And, it is a nice complement to the mindfulness of taking a walk to allow the process to happen. As I get older, I am learning the beauty of adding margin to life, and I think both of these ideas are ways to do that.

      In both cases, is adding margin an act of humility, or an intentional acceptance that we are not in charge? Discovery is not necessarily going to happen in our timetable?

      • mm John Fehlen says:

        Jennifer. I deeply appreciated the connection you brought to that of “humility.” That resonated with me. Perhaps there are concepts we simply will not be able to understand if pride is in the way.

        James 4:10 says to “humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and in due time he will lift you up.”

        So many people, myself included, want to get to the “lifted up” part of the equation, without submitting to the “humble yourself” part. This is challenging to me. Thank you.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Tim. You are I are both “old youth pastors” – I always say that I got “demoted to the senior pastorate” from youth ministry. I’ll bet you can resonate with this: when I see youth pastors (especially ones that work for/with me), I grimace when I see them doing or saying something that I know JUST WON’T WORK. I have to bite my tongue sometimes. It’s easy to jump to the “the fix” and save a bunch of pain and heartache. It helps for me to slow down and try to recall the journey that I too was on. There were lessons that I had to learn, in the words of DC Talk, “the hard way.”

      This is an invitation…firstly, for me it’s an invitation into experiential grace, and for the younger leader, it’s an invitation into experiential growth. Both have to be experienced first hand to be truly and personally captured for a lifetime.

      You asked the “how do we avoid stepping in too quickly” question. I think the answer lies in the form of your sentence. It’s a question. Questions are our greatest tool in this pursuit. Rather than leading with answers, perhaps our best leadership is found in “leading with questions.” Some good resources for this approach are “Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask” by Michael Marquardt (2014), and “Curious: The Unexpected Power of a Question-Led Life” by Tom Hughes (2015).

  2. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Thanks for your honesty in mentioning that you really didn’t get it at first. I admit I still wonder if I’m missing something. IF I’ve understood fully, then the idea of threshold concepts seems plainly true and lived out in our everyday experience (the a-ha moments that you mentioned). In that case, the Meyers and Land books did a good job burying experiential truth in very thick language. But I have this nagging feeling that I’m missing something else buried deep beneath the lengthy explanations. I’m trusting the process, as you said.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Oh Kim…I could not agree more! In journalism there is what’s called “burying the lede,” which has to do with hiding or obscuring the most relevant or important aspects. In my [humble] opinion, that has happened with these stout books (as well as with Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces).

      Welcome to a doctoral degree, I guess!

      Perhaps a more appropriate title for my blog post should have been “Oh, Now I Get It…I Think…”

  3. Cathy Glei says:

    Yes. . . the waters are deep and wide. Small boat, I’m thinking, kayak, compared to a cruise ship. I have never been on a cruise ship, but Steve and I do love to kayak and have kayaked many waters in Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. I too have many ah-ha moments while walking or kayaking, times when I am farthest from a pen and paper. There are so many thresholds to my own understanding that I am working through, the Lord as my guide and helper. When I am kayaking, there are times when my previous understanding of maneuvering through eddies or around log jams/rocks is challenged and proceeding on doesn’t look like it did in a previous paddle. There is so much I do not know but am looking forward to discovering. In thinking about the process of helping others in their ah-ha moments. . . What would jumping into the boat look like in your context as a leader caring for the flock?

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Kathy, you have my heart racing as you spoke of kayaking. Kayaking is one of my favorite hobbies. I’ve learned more about the ways of the Lord while in open water than perhaps any other place. So much so, that I have been working on a book about spiritual formation entitled: “Paddle On…Discovering a Big God in a Small Boat.” You’ve lit a fire in me to continue writing that.

      Oh yah, but first…our graduate degree. First we must wade through the waters of dense texts such Land and Meyers have given us. Bless their hearts. 🙂

      You asked what this would look like in the context of a congregation. A few times I have gone on “group paddles” with a number of people in kayaks or canoes. It’s a different experience than going out solo. Honestly, I prefer solo (solitude, deep thinking, etc). When paddling with a group (ie: congregation), the leader must be mindful of stragglers; aware of those that are struggling. There are those that have yet to “get it” – how to brace, how to flow with the current, how to balance, etc. This takes great patience.

      Secondly, life on the open water (to keep the analogy going) is a wonderful opportunity to ask questions. Questions become the most helpful tool (that I can think of) when helping people process their own threshold concepts.

  4. Travis Vaughn says:

    John, as I read the Ephesians 3 reference you posted here, I thought to myself: I’m only going to be able to embrace the wide and long and high and deep love of Christ during this current chapter of life, career, and doctoral studies (and in a lesser but important way, the “deep and wide” waters we are swimming in here with the new-to-me language of threshold concepts) by remembering and resting in the finished work of Christ…”being rooted and established in love.” Thankfully we get to do this in community with other sojourners. I wonder how many others in the program process new concepts and troublesome knowledge…while walking as you do. Perhaps a poll should be conducted.

  5. Jenny Dooley says:

    John, Thank you for these two gems!
    “Solvitur Ambulando” – it’s solved by walking.
    “Solvitur Per Scripturam” – it’s solved by writing.
    Two profoundly simple ways to break away and open our hearts and minds to a-ha moments. It also has me wondering about how things might be solved by…cooking, gardening, or creating, anything that offers us an opportunity step away to allow our brain to work on the concept subconsciously, while we are doing something we enjoy. I keep recalling specific times a-ha moments showed up and it was never when I was staring at a computer screen or frantically striving to cram information into my head. I have been frustrated by how much I write and then how much I delete as I am trying to process new concepts. You have given me a new found freedom in that area, an invitation to take more walks, and to not forget to thoughtfully engage with things I love to do. It’s all part of the doctoral journey.

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