Perhaps it is a remnant of my years as a campus minister, but August and September always bring a feeling of change, challenge and opportunity. Of course, we all have experienced this in our own elementary and secondary school days and during college. We see it now with our children and grandchildren. A new grade, new friends, new beginnings—to a large extent these are forced on us. We are dropped down with a new group of people and must deal with unfamiliar surroundings and ideas.
Educational institutions are fortunate that they have this continuing infusion of new people. There are always commonalities among any group of students, but each group has unique characteristics and special challenges. This not only allows but demands a certain receptivity to change and new ways of looking at things.
In A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren discusses this idea of bringing in a new day with new people. He includes this quote from scientific philosopher Thomas Kuhn: “Almost always the [people] who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change.”
The uninitiated in a discipline often ask “dumb questions” because they do not understand the background or context. They are trying to put all the pieces together, but sometimes they come up with a different configuration. In so doing, they bring a fresh perspective to life, study, and even ministry.
There is so much we do in the church that is tied to an old paradigm—times of service, expectations of leaders, methods of education, allocation of funds. When those unfamiliar with the system come on board, their questions can be the opportunity to rethink and change. As McLaren notes, “And it’s the seekers who are welcomed into a faith community that often transform that community, just as a new infant or adopted child can transform a family.”
Although this is not a comfortable process, the questioning and reconceptualization of paradigms—“the way things are”—encourage growth and new learning. If you want to understand your situation better, try to explain it to an outsider and be ready for the questions.