Liminality – Beyond the Information Deluge

By Ken Morgan

[3 min read]

Christian leaders in the 21st Century have never had it so good. Sermons, blogs and TED talks from the best preachers and most influential leaders are just a google search away.  For a couple of clicks and a few dollars we can have books by leading thinkers before our eyes or in our ears almost instantly.  There is a super-abundance of high-quality, low cost information available to anyone with an internet connection and a credit card.  Yet despite our access to such rich content, leadership remains a complex and demanding task, while the church on the whole grows smaller and older.

Modern western society is information-saturated.  Staying focused and functional requires an ability to rapidly evaluate and dismiss the vast majority of content that comes before us.  Judiciously ignoring and forgetting stuff has become a key survival skill.  We’ve learned how not to engage content.

Information is seldom transformative in and of itself, even when we go beyond data to ideas and concepts. We might find a podcast or a TED talk stimulating, but the demands of life mean we’re usually too preoccupied and committed to our existing mental models to let new ideas genuinely rearrange our intellectual furniture.  Instead, we just add concepts to our existing mental décor, like mismatched knick-knacks on an already crowded mantelpiece. 

Genuine shifts in mindset often occur in crises when we’re forced to disengage from the everyday routine.  It might be an accident, a health scare or a sudden job loss that disrupts our preoccupation long enough for us to step back and evaluate.

What if we could intentionally slow down, unplug and re-evaluate without waiting for the circumstances of life to force time-out upon us? What if learning could be transformative rather than the accumulation of concepts like some kind of intellectual hoarding?

The Retreats (or as we affectionately call them, Residentials) that form a key component of our programs are consistently described by Arrow participants as the highlight of their experience.  Rather than cramming lectures and workshops into an already hectic schedule, Residentials enforce a time of slowing down, disconnecting from the demands of work, and entering a separate space for deep work in trusting community.

Retreats can be understood as ‘liminal’ experiences, drawn from the Latin ‘limen’, meaning ‘threshold’ – a point of entering.  Liminality can be understood as an ‘in-between’ time, when existing presuppositions and thought patterns are challenged, and new ways of understanding can take root.  

Liminality means a separation from our routines and circumstances, an extended break from the familiar patterns and habits that reinforce our pre-existing ways of thinking.  Liminal experiences often involve challenge — experiencing the discomfort of reaching the limits of our understanding and capacity.  We return from liminal spaces the same yet somehow different.

Excellent leadership is not a matter of doing ‘okay’ leadership with greater speed and efficiency.  It’s about personal transformation that can’t be achieved by merely exposing our brains to a relentless barrage of information.  Transformation is about the deep change that liminality affords.

Where do you need to position yourself in order to experience transformation that liminal spaces afford?