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

Trouble’s Coming!

Written by: on January 23, 2023

This week, I finished my LCP Assessment. If you have done yours, you know it asks for names of people who have influenced you in your career path. One of the names on my list is Don Harrison[1], who is a consultant we have used in the past, and from whom I have received various trainings. He talks about a concept called resistance, which is a threshold concept for me in Change Management. Don will tell you that resistance is an individual’s attempt to protect their worldview. It is an inevitable function of disruption, and is therefore, predictable. It is not always rational and has no bearing on the quality of the solution that you are implementing (sorry to slip into consultant speak, here). In fact, resistance is an indicator that we are doing something important. If we are messing with a core concept of how someone views the world, they will attempt to protect that worldview. It can be subconscious, like muscle memory. This is where my mind went when reading about Threshold Concepts.

Words are important to me. Finding the right word can sometimes mean the difference between an interesting concept and an impactful one. That is why the phrase “troublesome knowledge[2]” used in connection with the context of threshold concepts resonates well with me. It is a powerful idea because it gets to the heart of what is really at risk when we learn essential ideas. They are threatening my old worldview.

The definition of threshold concepts that I quickly googled was:

“a core idea that’s conceptually challenging for students, who struggle to grasp it—but once grasped, it radically transforms the students’ perception of the subject.”[3]

Radical? That is troubling.

My two boys and I were listening to this week’s video as I was driving to church.[4] (Don’t worry, I was not watching it, just listening!) When Coven started to talk about teenagers learning to drive on a standard transmission, we shared some knowing smiles. Even the kid who has not yet learned to drive our manual Subaru remembers the amount of angst felt during that era of our family history when we taught the oldest. I will not soon forget the emphatic way that my then 15-year-old would frequently, at the end of a driving session, jump out of the car, slam the door and storm into the house, declaring: “This is stupid; I am never doing that again.” He was not a bad driver. We were not bad teachers (I will stand by that, despite what you hear). Coven brings this up as a relatable story to offer encouragement… you will get through these thresholds, after all, we got through learning to drive. And I agree.

Returning to the ideas of transformational and troublesome, I find there may be some buried wisdom layering these concepts with what I know of Change Management. Transformational learning is troublesome and disruptive. It costs us something. And, to some extent, that cost is predictable. And the cost is worth it- after all, if it was not disruptive, it would not be important.

So let me pull a thread here:

  • If we want to acquire/own threshold concepts, it is helpful to understand that they are transformative
  • Transformation is disruptive
  • Our response to disruption can be somewhat predictable in that we will resist it initially
  • We can anticipate our resistance to look like stress behavior

Therefore, learning Threshold concepts, even the ones I seek out will be stressful, and I should prep for that. The good news is that with this challenge comes growth. The teenager doesn’t think twice now about hopping in to that car and pulling away. Off to see new sites and achieve bigger things. Which, as a parent, is its own metaphor.

As we move forward in our studies, what are the Threshold Concepts we will encounter that will challenge our worldviews? How will I also work to share these ideas with others that will help them move through their own resistance as quickly as possible?

As you prepare to grow as experts in your fields of study, how will you make space for the disruption that is to come with these Threshold Concepts?


[1] I. M. A. Worldwide, “IMA’s Implementing Organizational Changes at Speed Blog | Don Harrison,” accessed January 23, 2023, https://www.imaworldwide.com/blog/author/don-harrison.

[2] Meyer, Jan, and Ray Land. Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge. Florence: Routledge, 2006. Web.

[3] “Threshold Concepts,” Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, accessed January 23, 2023, https://taylorinstitute.ucalgary.ca/resources/threshold-concepts.

[4] “Threshold Concepts,” Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, accessed January 23, 2023, https://taylorinstitute.ucalgary.ca/resources/threshold-concepts.

About the Author

Jennifer Vernam

10 responses to “Trouble’s Coming!”

  1. Scott Dickie says:


    Thanks for your thoughts. Some of them are sparking further thoughts for me where my blog and your blog (and your comment to my blog) overlap.

    “Troublesome knowledge” MIGHT lead us to increased growth and maturity as people…or it might simply lead us into trouble!

    Is the following example a threshold moment?

    I’m married but I don’t want to be….but my inevitable resistance tells me not to consider divorce. Stuck in the confines of this religious worldview for too long, I finally consider a truth ‘outside’ my long-held worldview and I make the decision to ‘eat, pray, and love myself’ by bailing on the marriage and travelling Europe, which I find incredibly invigorating and life-giving once free of the communal naysayers. At 45 years of age I am truly alive again and so thankful to have journeyed through this threshold.

    Troublesome knowledge or TROUBLESOME knowledge? Depends who you ask!

    One other wondering: how do we as Christians live out a posture of openness to change and new truths through threshold experiences while simultaneously being convinced (at least somewhat convinced) that we have found THE truth (not a truth) in the person of Jesus? Is such religious certainty, if even moderately held, an ‘unhealthy resistance’ or a necessary conviction?

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      Have we talked about Swoboda’s book, yet? (1) Forgive me if I have already covered this, but I found his writing on the topic of deconstruction both challenging and comforting- a pretty tough balance to set.

      Could this quote draw some appropriate lines?
      “There’s a world of difference between deconstructing wrong beliefs and deconstructing the faith, just as there’s a difference between remodeling a room in our home and tearing down the house. Distinguishing between the two is essential: one is intellectual repentance and the other faith abandonment. One is healthy deconstruction; the other is faith destruction.”

      I especially find that part about intellectual repentance compelling!

      (1) Swoboda, A. J. After Doubt : How to Question Your Faith Without Losing It. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021. Print.

  2. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Your mention of feeling resistance reminds me of my limited experience with spiritual direction. I’ve often heard the question, “Where are you feeling resistance?” Or “What do you think that resistance is telling you?” (Ok, I might be misrepresenting the well-articulated questions of my spiritual-director friends, but that’s how I remember them.) It’s true that if we look at threshold concepts in terms of spiritual growth, that feeling of resistance can often speak volumes. Usually it means, at least in my experience, that God wants to do something, change something in me. Sometimes I can get myself to dive right into that liminal space, but sometimes it takes me a while to be ready. Your mention of it reminds me to ask myself, “Where am I feeling that resistance in my life in this season?”

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      “It’s true that if we look at threshold concepts in terms of spiritual growth, that feeling of resistance can often speak volumes. Usually it means, at least in my experience, that God wants to do something, change something in me”

      Yes. And, as I understand it, resistance can tell us a lot about our values, which may or may not be a fun thing to call out.

  3. mm Russell Chun says:

    Transformation is disruptive! Good grief yes. Thank you so much for your comments. My immigration project is moving along (as well as my ESL classes), but I spent 4 hours trying to make Zotero and Word References work for me and nothing. I am so frustrated and angry. But I realize now that I am coming to a threshold moment! An AHA experience is in the making! I am part of the NORM in gaining some new experience. OR I am going mad. Shalom.

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      I love your optimism here, and I agree that the change is coming. Also, I agree, the technical challenges have greatly outweighed the learning ones, for me so far. Technical changes can be just as hard to move through as theoretical/mindset ones!

  4. Travis Vaughn says:

    I loved the fact that you ended this particular post with this question: “How will you make space for the disruption that is to come with these Threshold Concepts?” I’m in a bit of a liminal space — I’m sure that word may now be overly used, but it’s a good word nonetheless — recognizing the reality that I’m simply not sure. I even wrote in my notes, “Right now, I’m in a liminal state. In this program.” I’m not really anxious, at least not in an unhealthy way, but I do wonder what might change in some of the ways I see the world and the people around me. Will “comfort” or “personal peace” or “job-security” or “control” (of my career, income, status, distance from what might be less preferable, whatever, etc.) fight for prominence in what will undoubtedly be new and perhaps transformative frontiers, inviting more exploration? I read your question and the the most challenging thing that came to mind was whether or not I would be willing to make any “new” (radical?) decisions that would take my career trajectory into more unstable footing. Great post. I’m thankful my parents made be learn to drive a manual car, by the way. Alas, I did not follow their example. Our children learned to drive in cars with automatic transmissions.

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      Wow. It sounds to me like you are really open to new directions, which is pretty cool. Is this liminal space sort of like the feeling of having one foot in two canoes? If so, pretty nerve-wracking at the same time!

      Send your kids on over… we will get them driving a manual transmission soon… even as adults!

  5. Jenny Dooley says:

    Jennifer, Thank you for this nugget, “…resistance is an indicator that we are doing something important.” So often I encounter resistance as stubbornness and not wanting to do the hard work that I know I need to do. This reframe helps me see resistance as an invitation to do something hard and worthwhile. That feels lighter, doable, and purposeful! You noted that threshold concepts are transformative and stress is expected. How do you prepare for the stress that comes with tackling new threshold concepts?

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      What a great question! If I have my head on straight (big “if” there) I recall what I know about myself and what I need to refill. For my personality, I need alone time to regroup as well as time and space for creative endeavors that are unrelated to my work. I am very blessed to have a husband that understands that and if I verbalize it, he usually helps me create that space. For others, this can take various forms, but basically, it is knowing that what I am entering into will be an energy drain, so I need to make space to refill that reserve.

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