Leadership is a Call to be Prophetic and Reframe

“No future can be stuffed into this presence except by being dead.”1 Resurrection is impossible without prior death. Scriptural imagination is often difficult to perceive until one has the eyes to see and ears to hear and is simultaneously shaped by the cosmic scope of authority, power, and kingdom that Jesus claims is to be made on real on earth as in heaven (Matt 6:10). Leadership, inspired by scriptural imagination is helping to provide an alternative view on reality, that is, creating the particular space for change and the in-breaking of God. Leadership is submitting to the radically subversive lordship of Jesus that challenges every presupposition, the tendency to see through the lens of binary options of how to participate in the world (choices between naive hope and despair), and ultimately to take on the task of becoming a reframer. This kind of leadership, that both attests to the in-breaking of the future into the present and is capable of providing an alternative view of reality, is only made possible through the path of suffering and cross; because, without the cross there is no resurrection.

Situating Matthew’s Gospel as a prophetic text, and Jesus as a prophet in Matthew’s narrative, reframed the scope and function of the text for me and helped me to have new eyes to see. It also helps to explore Walter Brueggemann’s description of prophetic imagination as:

The task of prophetic ministry is to bring the claims of the tradition and situation of enculturation into an effective interface. That is, the prophet is called to be a child of the tradition, one who has taken it seriously in the shaping of his or her own field of perception and system of language, who is so at home in that memory that the points of contact and incongruity with the situation of the church in culture can be discerned and articulated with proper urgency.2

The prophets are not loose canons looking to dismantle the tradition and break down boundary markers of identity unless those boundary markers and traditions have become inconsistent and divergent from the memory that birthed the contemporary incarnation of the community and shared story. In this sense, Jesus is not only a prophet, but also a reframer, whose memory of the tradition and story of God is reoriented to new possibilities, and is a fulfillment of the spirit of the memories of the past. Jesus did not come to abolish the law or prophets; no, Jesus came to fulfill them (Matt 5:17). Fulfillment is only possible with knowledge of what came before so that it may be actualized in the present. Peter Rollins describes this process of reframing in order to fulfill as learning how to ask “circumcision questions”, i.e. questions which ask us to “remove something previously thought of as vital in order to help unveil, in an apocalyptic way, the central scandal of Christianity.”3 Reframers must be willing to help find out what must die so that new life might be able to emerge.

However, reframing is not simply an ideological endeavor that is meant only to shape imagination. The telos of reframing through the development of scriptural imagination is for transformation of the community where “the glory of God in Jesus Christ that makes itself visible in fleshly communities conformed to Christ’s image.”4 Leadership then is the ability to attest to the in-breaking of God who writes on our hearts and bears witness to the covenanted community “whose lives, transformed by the Holy Spirit, bear undeniable witness to the truth of God’s work in their midst.”5 Reframing is all-encompassing and cosmic in scope as all of creation is groaning towards the making right of all things. Leaders reframe perspectives by attesting to an alternative reality and way of participating in the world that is a signpost of the manifestation of God in our midst.

Leadership and the art of reframing 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.’”6 Leaders help us work together to ask the right questions and be open to how God might reframe us and reorient us to become the transformational communities 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, who is the author of the words on our heart, lest we mistake ourselves to be the Word ourselves.

Strangely enough, leadership and the invitation to become a reframer is a calling that I sought to avoid, because while the truth may set me free, it does so by turning my life completely upside down.7 It seems to me that one of the most pressing tasks for Christian leaders today is to “sketch a portrait of an alternative Christianity, one that is as ancient as it is new…a work of memory and imagination, of dangerous memories as well as daring ways to imagine the future.”8 But this task will inevitably lead to suffering, or if Wendell Berry is right as quoted above, the future cannot become the present without death. And while the good news of Jesus is that through the resurrection the kingdom has come, as leaders we must learn how to help cultivate and proclaim scriptural imagination so that our churches can bear witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit that is seeking to “create communities that prefigure and embody the reconciliation and healing of the world.”9 And it seems to me that the battle over our imaginations whether through national identity, consumerism, war, corporations, rampant individualism, and ceaseless connection via technology is a perpetual struggle for leaders today in the church. For me, to accept the call to lead in the church today is in essence an acceptance of the call to weakness and seeming foolishness: “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor 1:25)”

If you are looking for a way to dream of an alternative reality that seeks to imagine how the power of Jesus can change systemic injustice you won’t want to miss the event hosted by The Leland Center this weekend:

Journey to Justice is a daylong spiritual formation event focusing on the ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other great people of faith during the civil rights movement. This inaugural seminar will be held on Saturday, April 27 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, VA. Dr. Jim Melson, Leland’s Director of Spiritual Formation, will moderate Journey to Justice in 3 formative sessions. For more information about event registration click here.

 

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 joshuarhayden.com.

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1 Wendell Berry, Given: New Poems (Emeryville: Shoemaker Hoard, 2005), 27. 

2 Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 2.

3 Peter Rollins, Insurrection (New York: Howard Books, 2011), xii.

4 Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in The Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 146. 

5 Ibid., 150.

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

7 John D. Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, 30.

8 Ibid., 35. 

9 Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation; A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1996), 32.

The Language of Leadership: Adopting a New Language Posture

Originally uploaded by Dave Gray

Originally uploaded by Dave Gray

A postmodern geographic culture shift has occurred. Many philosophers, theologians, and churches try to communicate with people, especially young people, in modern terms located in outdated cultural understandings and geography. Speaking broadly, Church wants to tell people what to believe and the way to believe because that is the way it is according to the Bible or name your authority.

Words, even from scripture, are greeted with suspicion by post-moderns and often proved false because they are often times culturally and geographically framed. Therefore our language makes no sense and is irrelevant.

Take my friend *Jane for instance. Jane was at every church event, leading Vacation Bible School, her family was plugged into church stuff and she gave generously from her resources. Her Dad was an Episcopal priest and she was baptized Episcopalian as an infant. She was not a member of the church I attended. She was not allowed to be a member because by our church’s belief in what the Bible said she had to be baptized by immersion. She was not allowed to vote on church issues.

In the same church, a person who was baptized as a 10-year-old that never came to worship, never helped with anything, and never gave of their resources for our common mission was considered a member who could make official decisions about the church. That person could vote. Something about this belief made no sense to me and still doesn’t when I encounter it in various Baptist churches. Jane was a great church “member!” I’ll take her any day over the lukewarm bench warmer that was baptized when they were 10 years old.

Language

The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. Any nonverbal method of expression or communication

The days when the people in the neighborhood walked to the nearest local church left the Washington, D.C. region long ago. People moved into the neighborhood and they believed all sorts ology’s and isms. They had all sorts of different life experiences. They could not belong to the local church though and therefore it became irrelevant to their life. They spoke a different language.

To share the love of Christ with people surrounding us we must learn a new language from which to lead. We must learn a language that helps restore and reconcile and give hope. We must provide postmodern geographic mutts an opportunity to belong before they believe. To do so we must adopt a particular language posture.

Posture

Posture: A particular way of dealing with or considering something; an approach or attitude

 
Example – How does the word “justice” posture us? Let’s look at Isa. 1:17: Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.What does adopting a specific “language posture” mean? It means we work to adopt the values of biblical narratives through the language of words, images, and actions.

What does “justice” mean to you having read this verse? Why does it mean that? This verse invites us into a certain way of living. Based on how we understand the language we can learn what our trajectory is and invite people to belong to that posture with us. It becomes a way of being. Who will you be because of how you understand this Bible story and how will you lead others?

Why the language of leadership? I do believe that unless our churches adopt a corporate narrative we will struggle to locate ourselves in each other’s stories and in God’s story. Put simply, unless we identify a common language we will find it hard to collaborate with a group of people towards a unifying principle.

Think about it. Language is the starting point for significant participation in any particular field like law, engineering, or theology. For a church immersed in a postmodern context that is often times geographically diverse that language needs to be a particular “way” in order for people to belong. It cannot be particular words. Words are relative until we agree on the common story. The truth in the language we use is found in the way we live those words out not in the definitions give them. In our case, I suggest the way of Jesus to get at the truth of the matter so that we can join with God in co-creating his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Tom Lynch lives in Arlington, VA with his wife Lore, son Joe, and daughter Evelyn. He serves as associate pastor for youth and children at McLean Baptist Church and as the Director of Ministry Rotations for the John Leland Center for Theological Studies. He holds a master of divinity from the Leland Center and a bachelor’s in communication from Michigan State University. He volunteers as a justice advocate for International Justice Mission and serves on the board of trustees for The Network for Theological Education.

 

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 joshuarhayden.com.

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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.

 

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