Paradigm Transition-Do We Have Just 25 Years to Do This?

SUMMARY. In my view, a paradigm shift and cultural systems transformation are both needed and possible. With the last wave of Boomers due to retire in 2031, if a church has not yet transitioned to younger generations of leaders by then, they will be in deep trouble. (If a church is missional, its paradigm will inherently lead toward intergenerational mentoring and leadership development, so this is not likely to be such a problem as in conventional/institutional models of church.) The post addresses preparing for our futures (plural), and offers a case study from The City of Ember series to explore what next generations will take as givens, culturally.

In comment #15 in my Missional SynchroBlog post, Grace raised some points surrounding one unexplained statement I made. Here is a repeat of her entire comment:

Brad, I am very interested in your thoughts about transitioning traditional churches. Your statement about having less than 25 years to do so is provocative. I have been thinking about this. It seems that the core issue is whether the central purpose of the organization is for itself or for others. That is basically an either/or choice that will ultimately result in changes that are beyond the surface level as you have described. You’ve given us lots to think about.

Providentially, when the notification of Grace’s pending comment arrived, I was taking some notes for a future post on the question of paradigm transition. My original plan for last week was to act as if I had misinterpreted Missional SynchroBlog as Missional CincoBlog, and have a five-part post that would include (1) a tutorial on paradigm profiling, (2) application of the profiling framework to the missional paradigm, (3) a missional case study to think through, (4) my top five practical suggestions on how to lead a transition toward missional, and (5) what may prove to be a very surprising suggestion on the meaning of missional, taken from my own experiences. (No hints on that one – I’ll just post it when it’s time!). Obviously, I didn’t get all five of my parts done, but hey – three outta five ain’t bad, even if it was a whopping 5,000+ words!

Anyway, after reading a number of the Missional SynchroBlog posts, posts later the same week, and related comments, I realized this subject of necessity and possibility for transition is being raised a lot. In my view, a paradigm shift and cultural systems transformation are both needed and possible. However, it’s not exactly fair to say, “My profile of your paradigm demonstrates that you’re not missional,” if I have nothing constructive to suggest about how to become missional! So – I will plan to overview some core issues and key processes on that subject, as soon as I can get to it.


In the meantime, I see that my post didn’t explain why I believe there is a 25-year shelf-life maximum on this transition period. Which is okay – can’t do everything all in one past (try as I might!). But since Grace brought up the subject, and I had some wind-down time before watching a movie, here’s some of the generational dynamics reasoning that figures into this timeframe.

Boomers are those Americans born in the years 1946 through 1964. I went to the U.S. Social Security Administration website and found that for those born in 1946 must be at least 66 years old to retire with full Social Security benefits. So, the first wave of such Boomer retirees will be in 2012. The last Boomers were born in 1964, and anyone born 1960 and later must be at least 67 to receive full Social Security benefits. And so, the “end cap” group on the Boomer generation can retire in 2031. (In 1965, the birth rate declined for the first time since the end of World War II, and thus the post-war baby “boom” turned into a “bust,” hence the unfortunately named Buster generation began in 1965.)

So – just for the sake of illustration – say every Boomer retired on schedule. Come the year 2032, the youngest Boomers will be 68 and the oldest will be 86. Even just considering ages, how many late-60-somethings, 70-somethings, and 80-somethings do you think will want to be in charge of churches in 2032? Especially if the trajectory of cultural change globally arcs more steeply, and the rate of change of change increases, and the world in about 25 years from now looks significantly different from when we Boomers were marching to the tune of Howdy Doody – not Sesame Street – how relevant will we be?

Yes, we will have plenty of wisdom based in life experience. That will always a factor for keeping us around as mentors instead of putting us out to some [Soylent] Green Pastures. But what about our abilities or even our possibilities to keep up with the leading edges of paradigm changes in: Media? New media? Organizational systems? Business ethics? Human resources?

How many of us who are Boomers will come to the ends of our working careers in 2032 and have been noted as pioneers in any of the emerging disciples, such as: Virtual ethnography? Cultural geography? Transculturality? Green MBA? Strategic foresight?


The world WILL BE DIFFERENT in 2032! What are we doing right now to prepare those we disciple to receive our legacies and to go forward with verve to meet their own decisive moments in history with godly maturity, intentionality, and ingenuity?

Here is a stunning quote that I have used on numerous occasions to (hopefully) spark some urgency to our consideration of transition being a necessity, not an option. Of the impact of feminism, author Helen Haste notes,

“In the long run, what counts is how the next generation thinks. How far new ideas permeate culture is not measured just by attitude change during one generation, but by what is taken for granted in the next.” (Helen Haste in The Sexual Metaphor: Men, Women, and the Thinking that Makes the Difference, page 149).

For instance, Generation Y (a.k.a. Blasters/Millennials, born 1982-2000) could be called a “post-feminist” generation. Post-feminist does not mean pro-feminist, or anti-feminist. It just means that post-feminist people grew up after the crucial years of the feminist movement and did not experience directly the more radical social upheaval ongoing during the middle-20th-century feminist movement of the (mostly) 1960s and 1970s. Instead, during their “formative years” (child through early adolescence), they inherited the legacy of social gains won by activists in the feminist movement. They are indirect recipients of a feminist legacy, and take as a given the post-feminist assumption that women are potentially just as capable as men (and vice versa) in almost every area of life.

So – if our church or ministry holds as a core value or critical value that the roles of men and women are designed by God to be radically different, and that women cannot legitimately hold specific roles in the church, is it really any wonder that women AND men of the post-feminist generations would consider such a perspective as misogynist (i.e., expressing hatred of women)? And, barring some radical revolution that imposes pre-feminist values and assumptions, the post-feminist mindset is very likely here to stay. For decades if not centuries if not longer! So, how do you think this might figure into the necessary paradigm shifts of the next 25 years, since at the end of that time, post-feminist generations will have replaced the feminist-movement-era generations?

Sidenote: I suspect I will eventually use the issues of misogyny in churches and cultures to illustrate the differences between a ministry stance of syncretism (letting cultures dictate to churches), colonialism (expecting churches to dictate to cultures), and counterculturalism (churches standing alongside cultures and affirming their pro-biblical practices/perspectives while also challenging their anti-biblical practices/perspectives). This would also be a good case study to illustrate differences in operational systems (its strategies, structures, and methodological models) caused by holding to a deep-level missional paradigm versus an institutional paradigm in information processing modes, critical values, and guiding theological principles. Hmmm … stay tuned! …

Anyway, as I’ve said elsewhere: Social change is inevitable, but system transition is intentional. If we choose to transition, then we’ve got a load of questions to answer. Many of these questions relate directly to our paradigm profile, especially at the deep level of information processing mode, critical values, and guiding theological/philosophical principles. So, here are some questions to chew on … and ones that I plan to address at some future date.

  • How do we study the world as it is becoming?
  • Who can best help us study it, interpret it, and discern what organizational directions are preferable?
  • What tools could help us explore the core values of next generations?
  • How do we decide what to do about next generations’ critical values – the ones that, if we do not share them, will automatically opt us out of inclusion in their cultural considerations?
  • When are optimal points in time to begin a transition process?
  • How do we go about changing a paradigm? Cultural systems? Operational systems? Strategies and infrastructures?
  • What can help minimize the level of culture shock our people experience?
  • Would it even be wise to try to minimize culture shock due to paradigm shifts and cultural transitions?


And if you’re interested, here’s a “heads-up” on some narrative material I plan to use to explore concepts surrounding what next generations take as a given. Read the following WONDERFUL trilogy of young adult novels by Jeanne DuPrau. (Also wonderful for the young-at-heart!)

  1. The City of Ember. And be sure to check out the official City of Ember website for the upcoming movie, to be released October 10, 2008.
  2. The People of Sparks.
  3. The Diamond of Darkhold (scheduled to be released late August 2008).

There is a related fourth novel – The Prophet of Yonwood, which is a prequel to City of Ember. But the three listed above constitute a trilogy.

Here’s the scenario: What if it looked as if the world was going to war again, but there was enough time for experts to build an underground city that could be self-contained and self-sustaining for 200 years? That would allow time enough for whatever devastation “The Disaster” might inflict on the surface lands to be overcome by nature. Only a small number of individuals would be sent to the underground city as the founding pioneers, with specific instructions on what to do. At the end of 200 years, a special time-activated lockbox would open with special instructions for what is next. But something went wrong. It’s been over 220 years, and all supplies are dwindling. Perhaps even worse, the electricity generator is failing, no one knows how to fix it anymore, and the lights in Ember are flickering out more frequently …

A few do-it-yourself questions on The City of Ember:

  • What happens when younger generations are not instructed on the legacy created by previous generations? What do they have? What are they missing?
  • What happens when citizens of any generation and culture suddenly find themselves living in a world that is obsolete? What is the most essential issue? And what are their options?
  • Who would likely make the best individual leader or team of leaders for moving from the obsolete world to whatever is next, and why?
  • How is the plotline in The City of Ember similar to the paradigm shift and cultural system transitions I state are necessary within the next 25 years? How is it different?

You have 100 days before the film … Read and enjoy!


5 thoughts on “Paradigm Transition-Do We Have Just 25 Years to Do This?

  1. I hope that it is a sobering reminder to those who have been blinded/stuck by being content with the status quo that whatever they do or do not do in these next 25 years will be significant in framing the future. We are truly the only generation who have connections to the time before the information age (through our grandparents and parents), when connections were SLOW as SNAIL mail by train and boat (pony expess 🙂 ). The internet era has changed that forever and the global connections mean that those who held power by holding onto information (sharing with only those of their choosing and at their discretion) find themselves losing their grasp….

    God help us step up to the challenge … which he has already done by giving us YOU, brother.

    Luv yer werk, dood!

  2. Pingback: Straight From The Horses Mouth « Missio Dei

  3. G’mornin’ Tracy, and thanks for your comment. Glad this got some spiritual-think-juices going for you!

    I’m sort of reeling too … but for other reasons. It’s barely even 5 AM yet West Coast time, and I woke up early (it’s a God thing) and am in the midst of taking notes. I’m trying to outline an eventual post on practical suggestions that bring together the post on Paradigm Profiling and this one. It’s hard to identify and then explain clearly and practically whatever critical steps our churches can/should make to move toward a vital and sustainable paradigm that gets us through the next 25 years and beyond. Yikes! Hard work, but necessary, and guess if I can’t (or won’t) attempt that level of hard think-work myself, I shouldn’t be blogcasting my suggestion that others do it.

    So – looking forward to see what unfolds. Would appreciate your prayers that I can do a credible job, and communicate as kindly as possible, to be of help … and meanwhile, heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s back to work I go!

    Cheers –

  4. Peggy – thanks for dropping in yesterday to give The Abbess’s commentarium. You make an excellent point about those of us who are bridges to the prior dominant paradigm … and who (at least for some of us) have been living from within the next dominant paradigm while it’s moved into the ascendancy. What an odd, ODD cultural space to find ourselves in! But what a fascinating providential opportunity …

    Perhaps more on my personal history another time, but coming from a Western frontier state, I am a third-generation pioneer on both sides. One great-grandmother rode a conestoga wagon in the last Oklahoma Land Rush in 1890. One of my grandfathers trained people to guide 4- and 6-horse wagon teams, the other immigrated from Europe as a 13-year-old, and both grandmothers’ lifespans covered the era from the conestoga wagon almost to seeing a man land on the moon. What a breath-taking world they encountered!

    I grew up when you could still hear old-timers in our small-town Lutheran church occasionally break into speaking with clusters in Swedish, Norwegian, German. Those were times when many who had immigrated spoke in their native tongue mostly to remember the old days, but used English as their everyday language to support their new status. And is our generation really all that different? We who are Boomers have essentially that same opportunity to remember and reflect on the old days and ways in our own paradigm languages, but to support the development of the new cultural status and paradigm and its languages – even if these do not represent our native “heart language” (though for some of us, they do).

    More on all this later. Definitely …

    And meanwhile, glad as always to be connected with The Abbey, and The Virtual Abbess!


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