5 Keys To Surviving A Christian Paradigm Shift

Many of us experience paradigm shifts in our faith. Sometimes these paradigm shifts are a result of shedding off the faith structure we were given as children and adopting a new one, sometimes they’re a mid-life paradigm shift as we realize we’re quite different from the younger version of ourselves, and sometimes they just come out of the blue… triggered by who-knows-what.

It seems that so many of you have experienced (or are in the midst of) a similar shift to what I have had. One of the most common e-mails I get from readers is something to the effect of: “I’m starting to experience what you experienced– how do I get through this?

This is a tough question to answer, because not all paradigm shifts are the same. Some have shifts that take them away from faith, while others have shifts that push them deeper into faith. Mine was the latter, and that’s quite honestly the type of shift I hope to trigger in others. For me, my paradigm shift was realizing that Jesus was the missing link in my Christian religion. When I decided to actually follow him instead of simply worshiping him, it led me on a crazy journey of tension, grace, and radical living.

Everything changed. This is perhaps one of the areas where the preachers from Christian summer camp got things half-right. I remember come-to-Jesus campfire sermons where we were promised that “accepting Jesus into your heart” would result in a life that looked radically different than before. Honestly, I never found that paying Jesus mental assent changed anything.

It seems too often in American Christianity that Jesus can be “accepted” and then neatly placed on the mantle of our beliefs, blending in nicely with everything else we have. Jesus becomes a nice addition, but not someone who flips tables over to invite us into a new way of living. However, I have also learned that “following” Jesus instead of “accepting him into your heart” actually does result in a radical new life… it results in a paradigm shift that keeps on shifting the further you explore this radical new way of living and loving.

But, paradigm shifts are scary. As I write about in my upcoming book, Undiluted, my transition was one that eventually thew me into a crisis of faith. I realized that I was about to graduate a highly respected seminary, but that I didn’t have a clue what I believed anymore. All I knew was that I wanted to follow the teachings of Jesus– everything else was up for debate.

And so, I just started following Jesus and let the shift happen.

I’m so glad I did.

As I reflect back, there are some things I accidentally did well, and some things that I could have done better during my transition. I’ve boiled them down to 5 pieces of advice that I think will help you safely navigate a paradigm shift in your Christian faith:

1. Find safe space.

You’re going to need to do a lot of processing in order to figure this out, and you’ll need to find safe space (community) where you can do that. Thankfully, in my shift, I was able to make some friends who loved Jesus but didn’t care that I was still figuring things out. These friends gave me space to breathe, process, question, doubt, wrestle, and rediscover. You’ll need this too. Understood, it can be hard to find in-person community sometimes, so at least find a safe place online where you can get to know some people and wrestle with your faith. There are plenty of folks/groups out there, so plug into one and have some mutual exploration.

2. Give yourself permission to set boundaries with people.

 Not everyone will need to do this, but if it comes up you’ll need to give yourself permission to set healthy boundaries with some people. If you are moving in the opposite direction of a far right or far left paradigm/community towards a more reasonable center, there’s a good chance it’s going to freak out the others. Instead of respecting your process they might be hounding, badgering, or otherwise making the situation worse. In these cases, it is okay to set healthy boundaries with some people. It might be as simple as hiding certain people from your Facebook newsfeed, or might mean that you’ll need to have a difficult conversation with some who won’t respect your need for space. You’ll never have safe space to process if you don’t set boundaries with people.

3. Embrace your time in no-mans-land.

Think this is as easy as trading one paradigm for another? Nope. This isn’t a situation of “I used to like apples but now I prefer oranges.” Instead, when you have a paradigm shift in within the Christian faith, it is more like: “I think I’ve misunderstood the beauty and complexity of apples. I am now going to begin a journey to discover a new and better way of understanding, appreciating, and enjoying apples“.

 It’s not as easy as changing one thing for another. This is a process of shedding an old paradigm without having a new one to replace it with… yet. You’re going to need to be okay for a season of not having this all figured out (well, you never have it figured out- that’s the secret). This is one of those things where the sooner you embrace the tension of the unknown, the sooner you can begin working to get out of this stage of the paradigm shift and onto a place with more solid footing.

4. Read.

You’re not going to magically wake up today understanding what you didn’t yesterday. The only way you’re going to get from no-mans-land to somewhere you can plant your feet and press forward in life, is if you read. Now, if your paradigm shift is within the Christian faith, first and foremost the best thing you can read (over and over again) are the Gospels– because this is the part of the Bible where you’ll rediscover Jesus– and that’s who this movement was always supposed to be about. Jesus actually claims that his words carry “more weight” than anything previous in the Bible, so go to his words– and dive in deep to what he teaches. Beyond that, I would highly suggest Shane Claiborne. Be sure to read Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said? and then read The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. And of course, in August I hope you’ll read Undiluted: Rediscovering The Radical Message of Jesus by yours truly.

Reading is going to be key because new knowledge is how you discover a new paradigm. No one can do the work for you, so get reading.

 5. Just do it.

Okay, so a lame/overused slogan– but seriously– just do it. Just start doing the things you see Jesus doing. Start loving the way you see Jesus love. Mimic him in every way you can, and everything else will fall into place. This entire “Christian religion” was originally a simple invitation to follow and be like Jesus– so just start doing it. Once you start loving radically, giving generously, embracing the outsider and all of the other crazy stuff Jesus does, you’re going to discover a new life that you won’t want to turn back from. This Jesus stuff, minus some of the cultural baggage often assigned to it, is life-giving beyond anything you can imagine. Just start doing it and you’ll see what I mean.

This is how I not only survived my paradigm shift, but came out on the other side with a faith that was more practical, relevant, and alive than anything I had ever imagined. Give these 5 keys a shot, and see where they take you!

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  • Ryan Hite

    That is exactly what I did in my own life and experiences and that is exactly what I want people to see and embrace. It is unfortunate that people either do not know or do not understand this concept. We would have a better world if it was not so controlled that truth became joke. http://www.amazon.com/Virtues-Vices-Ryan-Hite-ebook/dp/B00IFRF9RY/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1392408626&sr=1-2&keywords=virtues+and+vices

    Ryan Hite is an author, philosopher, blogger, editor, entrepreneur, and dreamer based in Boulder, Colorado.
    Follow him on facebook, twitter, and tumblr

  • http://stephenmatlock.com/ stephen matlock

    Yeah, this.

    This describes a lot of my own journey.

    It’s scary at the beginning but there are helpful signposts along the way.

  • Robert Lofgren

    Wow…others who are going through what I’m going through right now!☺️

  • http://stephenmatlock.com/ stephen matlock

    It’s interesting to read the Bible, especially the New Testament, and see how utterly radical Jesus is, and then to compare him and his message and work to the safe, secure, predictable system in America that has replaced him.

    To think that we spend 52 weeks a year sitting in a lecture hall being instructed what to do–at some point we actually do it, right?

  • Tracy

    I am in the transitioning stage – so much of what I used to think has/is changing. it’s so exciting tho, but scary at the same time. Sometimes i feel like yelling at God cos its too much to cope with – one idea after another is being challenged. It’s like when you pull out one block, the whole pile starts to fall over. It started about 2 years ago discovering grace, and from there it has just snowballed. I LOVE to read and that is part of the problem. The more I read, the more ideas get challenged. But i am ok with it now.. I just hold on to the fact that the cross is my foundation and Jesus is my savior.. anything else is up for debate i guess.

  • Robert Lofgren

    Yes…I’m going through this right now!

  • Donna

    This is exactly where I am in my life. My paradigm shift was triggered by a life event that forced me into the realization that my faith was inadequate and not very grounded in Jesus. Our Sunday morning class is going through “The Good and Beautiful God” by James Bryan Smith, where he talks about these paradigm shifts (he refers to them as our inner narratives), and I’m finding this helpful and challenging, and also painful. Thanks for your post!

  • http://stephenmatlock.com/ stephen matlock

    Mine was not nearly so beautiful. I just had someone point blank ask me an uncomfortable question, and that started the journey.

  • Donna

    My shift was actually triggered by a pretty horrific event. My brother took his life in 2007–kind of throws you to your knees and knocks the wind out of you. I’m still dealing with the questions, anger, and trying to navigate this paradigm shift–not always succeeding, but still trying.

  • http://stephenmatlock.com/ stephen matlock

    I am truly sorry for your loss.

    I wish we could unwind the clock of time. I wish we could go back and undo the things we have done to get us to where we are today, or to go back and say something or do something different.

    My thoughts are with you.

  • Donna

    Thanks BTW, I wish the same. I’m clinging as hard as I can to the belief that God is good, that Jesus is the exact representation of God, and that in the end, all things will be put right and make sense.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    ^^ THAT ^^ is exactly what you need to cling to.

  • http://stephenmatlock.com/ stephen matlock

    Yeah, I cling to this, too.

    I love the Narnia books, but especially the line about when Aslan returns all things will be put right.

    Thanks for being vulnerable on the Internet. It can be chancy.

    What I’ve learned in the past few years is the wonderful, radical hope. That “religion” isn’t confined to a church lecture. That we have a lively hope and a lively Savior.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    So sorry, Donna. I too lost a family member to suicide when I was 17. Other community members here on the blog have experienced the same. Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing– we’re with you in this journey!

  • Donna

    Thanks Benjamin–sorry for your loss as well.

  • gabi532

    Yes! :)

  • gimpi1

    I went through a completely different paradigm-shift when my father died. I had been his caregiver for… well, forever. He suffered traumatic brain-damage before I was born. When he passed away (when I was in my mid-40’s) I lost my sense of self. It sounds odd – losing something that was, in many ways, a hard task – should leave you feeling so lost, so well, empty. But it did. I had to re-invent myself as something other than a care-giver. It took a few years to find myself a new identity.

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    I’m glad you’re writing on this, Benjamin. My own paradigm shift was pretty radical, and now I’d call it “within the Christian faith”, but my definition of that is now vastly expanded. At the time, it more appeared, and still does to much of my family of origin and extended family and earlier group of friends, as leaving “The Faith”.

    Still, I must say that I never felt I was losing “faith”… expect for faith in the forms of authority I’d accepted (traditional ways of taking Scripture’s authority and its interpretation systematically… I was already “theologically trained”). Part of the reason I feel I did NOT struggle much emotionally (except re. close relationships) is that I was well educated/experienced in psych and counseling (along with theology) and I began to investigate more broadly in religion/spirituality. Also, importantly, “spiritual phenomena” such as NDE’s, out-of-body experiences and the longer-term effects of these, with their “window” into deeper reality, and also other areas often considered even more “fringe”. But I was finding, by listening and reading some in cutting edge physics theory (non-technical) and such, that these were NOT necessarily out of line with the deeper aspects of science, nor of Scripture. Actually, areas like the “paranormal” or parapsychology are helpful interpretive lenses for understanding the Bible better, IF they are studied and understood beyond the typical popular lore…. Look for the credentialed and responsible authors.

    Yes, it took “intellectual work” but I happen (happily) to find that a real positive… a sort of fun game, though also “more” than a game. Like you say, one almost MUST read, and a lot… along with listening to or watching good recorded lectures. And yes, even, discerningly, regularly taking in “Coast to Coast AM” (and earlier, “Dreamland” on Sun. nights, with Art Bell and/or Whitley Strieber, was helpful also… and led me to people to then read, etc.)

    I’d also suggest that one way to deal with the social/relational stresses and the boundary-setting issues MAY be (depending on the person and the others around them, etc.) to take initiative and go, carefully, on “offense” rather than only be reactive as people around may catch wind of your doubts, changes, etc.
    In my own case, I didn’t handle it quite ideally, but I think what I did helped. I waited a while to be somewhat settled in new perspectives, and then hit a number of closer relatives (who I wasn’t living real close to or in frequent contact with) all at once with a long letter explaining my view changes and some of the reasons… too long, mind you, but I do think some of the detail was warranted. It “scared them off” for the most part more than I intended… maybe because they knew, with my education and careful research, that I’d have an answer for almost anything they might use to try to “straighten me out”. Or they realized (rightly) that I was not going to be “turning back the clock”. I did have some engagement but people mostly were willing or maybe eager to go into “we’ll have to agree to disagree” (and not bring up such issues anymore).

    If one is not very knowledgeable and/or confident in dealing with the Bible, theological or worldview concepts, etc., such a “going on offense” approach may not be wise… or if one is easily intimidated or particularly shy to engage a “debate” or sensitive discussion, even with a person who DOES probably care about you. It’s not really about debating but others are likely to approach it as such, trying to convince, challenge, etc. If you fit more the latter description, then a more “drawing of boundaries” approach, refusing to engage anyone who is too pushy, is probably your better strategy. Regardless your knowledge level or ability to articulate a position, you deserve and should guard the integrity of coming to your own conclusions, and as slowly as you may want or need to.

  • Becca

    Thanks for this. I haven’t known what to do with myself. Finding your blog has been one of the few assurances I’ve gotten that I’m not alone in undergoing this paradigm shift. I just feel so hurt by so many facets of the Church that I don’t know who to trust. Space is all I really want.

  • http://stephenmatlock.com/ stephen matlock

    I hope you find peace, Becca, and I hope you find a community of people who can support you.

    Give yourself some space and some time. Do some thinking. Doodle. Write. Talk out loud. Visit places and do things you didn’t do before. Give yourself the honor of trusting your instincts and the longing of your heart.

    You’ll be OK.

  • TJ

    I have recently left a church for the third time. In the past 30 years I have wondered what is wrong with me that I can’t just be satisfied to attend those “canned” services like everyone else. I have hopped from church to church because what I desire isn’t in any of them. I am devouring your articles They define what I want …and I believe what God wants. He has been re-molding this broken vessel for the past 30 years. I am not currently able to make drastic changes but I am going to explore my possibilities and begin with baby steps. I can fo that. Thank you for your encouraging words.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    If baby steps is what you can do, just do baby steps! I will walk this path with you. I’m so glad you found the blog.

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    So I guess I did not ‘survive’. Clinging to survival is often part of the problem.