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

The Land of “Not Yet”

Written by: on January 25, 2024

I have spent several years teaching middle school and high school students.  Watching some some wrestle more than others over foundational concepts.  Those kinds of concepts are that are absolutely crucial if one is to move forward to a deeper and more clear understanding.  I can remember working to find ways for more students to “get it.”  Even now, with a smile on my face, I remember fondly the “aha!” moments expressed on the faces of many when it finally clicked. While reading this week, I said out loud many times, “That’s what that’s called!’ 

“Threshold Concepts,” “Troublesome Knowledge,” and “Liminality” are terms that have helped clarify what I had observed in students for years but did not know how to classify.  This was a very cool week!  

Most helpful for me was thinking about threshold concepts as not crossing a line or the threshold of a doorway, but rather as entering into a portal (Land/Meyer, Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding, p. 3).  It helps give the perspective of a process or time of “in-betweenness” and the implication of emerging on the other side differently.  “A dynamic experience that moves a student from one state to another.”(Land/Meyers, Threshold Concepts in Practice, p. 5). Reference was made in both books read this week that threshold concepts and the associated liminality could be understood through the notion of a “right of passage.”  This was a very helpful perspective. 

A few years ago, when leading a Bible Study with undergraduate students, I was first introduced to the idea of a “right of passage.”  This particular group was composed of students from the U.S., China, Ethiopia, and Kenya.  Somehow, we got onto the subject of manhood and how that is defined in each student’s native culture.  Kenny, from Kenya, his story of “Becoming a Man” with great detail and enthusiasm. In Kenya, his culture is shaped by many generations of tribal traditions, which involve a very clear transition to manhood.  His story begins with the sound of drums pounding as the men of the tribe approach the homes of teenage boys on one particular night each year.  When they arrive, they take the boy from his parent’s home to have him circumcised.  This would be the last night the boy would be allowed to shelter under their parents’ roof.  The boys were entering a portal of social and emotional change.  In preparation for this right of passage, the families prepared a dwelling on their property a part from the main lodging.  The separate dwelling would be where the boys would go after they were circumcised to stay for a period of a couple months.  During which, they would be visited by circumcised men of the tribe who would bring them food and drink.  Kenny described this period as confusing, disorienting, and very emotionally mixed.  The men who visited would often sit with the boys to talk with them and answer questions they had.  When their time in seclusion and healing was finished, they were brought out into the streets into a procession and celebrated.  Recognized as men and no longer boys.  

The notion of a right of passage resonates as I enter this doctoral program.  I am already experiencing disorientation and levels of anxiety.  But having navigated what I now know as threshold concepts before, I am hopeful and confident that God is faithful during the transforming process and that there is another side of the portal.  I am also grateful for those who come alongside me during the seasons of liminality to encourage and help. Like the men of the tribe who visited Kenny during his season of isolation, are those doctoral mentors in the this program encouraging me to, “Trust the process” and “Stay the course.” As I continue on this journey, I definitely feel somewhere between “No longer” and “Already” in the land of “Not yet.”

I  appreciate Myers and Land’s portrayal of the impact resulting from the transformation initiated by threshold concepts. According to them, “The transformation can also entail a shift in the learner’s identity. The result may be that students remain stuck in an ‘in-between’ state of liminality in which they oscillate between earlier, less sophisticated understandings and the fuller appreciation of a concept that their tutors require from them.”(Land/Meyer, Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding, p.196) Making the liminal journey is aided by a good teacher or even a good coach.   A coach helps to bring clarity during a period of disorientation, confusion, and anxiety, which may result in feeling “Stuck.”  Good coaches come alongside and help their coachees better understand their identity in Christ, their design to flourish, and the discovery of their “Sweet Spot.”  I see the coaching, described by Camacho in Mining for Gold, being of tremendous benefit during seasons of liminality.  As I seek to add coaching to my leadership toolbox, it will certainly be strengthened by understanding threshold concepts and their effect on those navigating them.

About the Author

Chad Warren

A husband, father, pastor, teacher, and student seeking to help others flourish.

10 responses to “The Land of “Not Yet””

  1. Noel Liemam says:

    Hi, Mr. Waren, I like your description of the ‘threshold concept’ as likened to rite of passage, and then to this doctoral program journey. I felt the same way as we embark on this doctoral journey. Every day is an adventure for me. And for every work is opens my eyes and my mind to new thoughts and ideas that I never thought of or learn of. Thanks again, Mr. Warren.

  2. Debbie Owen says:

    Chad, I love Kenny’s story. I agree that it is a good analogy for what we are doing right now (minus bodily injury!). You also discuss the quote about the shift in a learner’s identity. In terms of our journey right now, what identity would you say you entered with, and where are you now, or where are you heading (presumably)?

    • Chad Warren says:

      Debbie, in terms of identity, one aspect that I came in with was a question about my own intellectual capacity and some assumptions about what a doctoral program entails. I presume I am heading toward a different level of humility and appreciation for academic work.

  3. Jeff Styer says:

    I actually read Kenny’s cultural story this week as I started reading and researching Joseph Campbel, next week’s reading. I believe what I read actually related to the woman’s role in this ceremony comparing it to the Oedipus myth and the role of a snake in stories.
    In your post you quoted Land and Meyer stating “The transformation can also entail a shift in the learner’s identity.” How do you think your identity is changing along this journey?

    • Chad Warren says:

      Jeff, in my reply to Debbie’s comment I mentioned one aspect of transformation I think I am experiencing is in humility and appreciation for academic work.

  4. Daren Jaime says:

    Hey Chad! I appreciate your recapturing of trust the process. I view this as a threshold concept, a portal to seeing and understanding in a new kind of way. I also agree and also spoke of coaches (teachers) being pivotal in the helping of learners. Shifting a learner’s identity is never an easy task, and it takes a skilled teacher to bring this to pass, especially considering our long-lived theology. Thanks for your insights.

    • Chad Warren says:

      Daren, thank you for your comment, especially the thought about long-lived theology. I feel like that is a term loaded with meaning. Would you be willing to unpack that a little?

  5. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Hey Chad,
    Loved your example of Kenny from Kenya. It brings in leadership and mentoring principles from last week’s lessons intertwined with this week’s reading. I am making assumptions here, but the village men must have been watching the boys to decide who was ready, and once they chose them, the mentoring began.
    The boy’s threshold concepts might have been a little more painful than most, but to be taken away from the familial home and forced into manhood in the way they were is a threshold concept at its core, I think. What a way to take them out of their comfort zone and into a new way of thinking,
    Will continue to pray for you to find a rhythm that works best for you in this busy journey that we are all in.

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