Reframing the Story

As the spring semester begins tonight at The John Leland Center, new courses will commence, new questions will be asked, new books will be read, new friendships will be made, and hopefully each one of us will experience God in new ways as our eyes open to new colors and textures and our ears pick up on new sounds and tones. For many, with each new semester it isn’t hard to get swept up in a fresh excitement to study, learn, grow, and think. Yet, once the semester is well on its way, we can get bogged down in the details of the work, forgetting the gift that it is to study and embark on the journey of seminary education.

Education and theological training at its best is a journey to become a reframer and interpretive guide in whatever vocation God has called you to explore and lead, whether a teacher, non-profit staff, pastor, branding strategist, lobbyist, FBI agent, stay-at-home dad, community organizer, artist, etc. In this sense, inherent in our eduction is this beautifully artistic endeavor to learn how to become reframers and interpretive guides in our specific contexts. In Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership by Lee Bolman and Terrance Deal, they write that all leaders are artists and interpreters of context which leads to reframing:

“Artistry is neither exact nor precise. Artists interpret experience and express it in forms that can be felt, understood, and appreciated by others. Art allows for emotion, subtlety, ambiguity. An artist reframes the world so that others can see new possibilities.”1

Each one of us, students and professors alike are on a journey together to create space for mutual growth and reframing, guided by the Spirit of God to see new possibilities for the spaces we inhabit. We must struggle together to resist the temptation to get an education without really learning anything, of hearing but not really listening.

Together we must also become reframers, people who develop an alternative lens through which to interpret a situation, experience, passage of Scripture, worldview, relationships, God…or really anything. Reframing is an artistic endeavor, that creates space for ambiguity, complexity, and generosity towards the “other”. No matter what degree track you are in, or vocation you are called into, reframing is not a static endeavor with a fixed end. Reframing leads to new understanding which stirs up new reframing, which leads to new understanding, which leads to reframing and so on, in perpetuity for the rest of our lives. This doesn’t mean that we don’t believe anything, but rather that our posture of believing remains open to the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit and one another and how they are expanding the frames through which we interpret the narrative of the scriptures, our lives, relationships, work, and world.

A temptation that arises with education is a kind of pride leading us to forget that our entire experience and learning is rooted in the power of God, not merely our own striving. As Dr. Toom guided me in my first class at Leland years ago with the help of Helmut Theilicke in A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, our education, if we are not mindful, can become a dangerous source of arrogance:

“Truth seduces us very easily into a kind of joy of possession: I have comprehended this and that, learned it, understood it. Knowledge is power. I am therefore more than the other man who does not know this and that. I have greater possibilities and also greater temptations. Anyone who deals with truth — as we theologians certainly do — succumbs all too easily to the psychology of the possessor. But love is the opposite of the will to possess. It is self-giving. It boasteth not itself, but humbleth itself.”2

So, as this new semester begins, each of us should take some time to recall to mind that our story and experience together is bound up with one another and given meaning by the power of God. We must learn to identify with Christ like Paul when he writes to the Corinthian church, “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”3

The opportunity to study together is truly a gift, but a gift that is not to be enjoyed by oneself, but is instead a gift leading us back out into the larger context, a gift given to us so that we might be a blessing to the entire world. We are invited to reframe the larger cultural story, with a new story rooted in the faithfulness of God. Dr. Hays writes in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, “What we have to offer instead is the story of Jesus. To believe that story is to find one’s whole life reframed, one’s questions radically reformulated. Therefore, much of the work of Christian apologetics will be to say to people, ‘No, you are asking the wrong questions, looking for the wrong thing.’”4

This semester, let us work together to ask the right questions and be open to how God might reframe us and reorient us to become the transformational leaders God has called us to be. And let us pray for the courage to ask the right questions to help each one of us to reframe the story in the luminous darkness of the mystery of God.

By Rev. Josh Hayden

Josh is the Pastor to Students and Director of Creative Technologies at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Warrenton, VA. He’s also the author of Sacred Hope a book designed to foster conversation around the role of hope in our lives. Josh is currently pursuing his Doctor of Ministry degree at Duke Divinity School while raising two boys and loving his entrpreneurial wife, Shey. Josh blogs at


1 Lee Bolman & Terrance Deal, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership; San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997; 17.

2 Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians; Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962; 16-17.

3 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (1 Co 2:1–5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

4 Richard Hays, First Corinthians (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching); Louisville: John Knox Press, 2011; 38.


Leave a comment


  1. Trenda

     /  January 29, 2013

    Excellent perspective on starting the new semester and staying humble is key to all ministry as a student and as a transformational leader. Great insight. “True humility does not know that it is humble. If it did, it would be proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue.”
    ― Martin Luther

  2. Josh Hayden

     /  January 30, 2013

    Great quote Trenda! Humility isn’t always the friend of knowledge, but together they breed wisdom. I hope you have a great semester!

  3. It is good to hear you articulate practicing theology as your artistry Josh. Also, this hits close to home. What a great temptation it is to “posses” knowledge! Great insights.

    • Josh Hayden

       /  February 5, 2013

      Thanks Tom. Theology as art sounds like a good title for something. Did you read the Helmut Thielicke book in your M.Div? I use it teaching now. I love it.

  4. Reblogged this on Faith and Culture Today and commented:
    Pastoral leadership is an art, and it is an art of contextualisation! This post links pastoral leadership with the missional art of contextualisation.


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