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Bibles, Bow Ties, and Black Belts

Josiah Hagen S’19

Josiah Hagen S’19 still has the Bible a visiting pastor gave him when he was a kid. That day was the first time he felt a call toward becoming a pastor.

Since then, Hagen had several people—even complete strangers—tell him to go into ministry. But he didn’t quite buy it. He sold kites and games, worked in a warehouse, served food in a restaurant, and even taught martial arts on his path toward finding the right vocational fit.

“But I always—eventually, after a while—hit a wall,” Hagen says. One time, while working at the martial arts studio, Hagen says he heard a small voice saying, “Maybe you already know what you need to do.”

He quit that job and felt an immediate, overwhelming sense of peace. He was drawn to the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program at Bethel Seminary, in part because of the diversity of thought among students and faculty members.

“There are lots of different denominations represented, and I have come to love that tension,” Hagen says. “We’re not all cookie cutters or identical—that’s the body of Christ. I’ve seen individuals who are totally rooted and centered in Christ and his Word, but they have different traditions and interpret Scripture completely differently.”

There’s diversity of experiences, too. Some seminary students are fresh out of college, some are on their second or third careers, and some “just love Jesus and want to deepen their faith—for themselves,” Hagen says. At first, Hagen took just one or two courses at a time in the evening, making it easier to keep track of projects and assignments while caring for his young family. He did it all while working full time as a merchandise control specialist—and resident writing implement expert—in the Bethel University Campus Store.

At times, Hagen lightened his course load to just one class at a time, allowing him “to sit and soak and do the deep reflection” that he loves. He dubs the M.Div. “the pastor degree” and notes that it carries a certain weight and seriousness. “In my studies and in my preaching, I want to represent God well,” he says.

This spring, Hagen was a finalist in the Omark Preaching Competition. It was a chance to put into practice some of the preaching principles he picked up from his peers and professors—and speak in front of the undergraduate students he sees daily in the Campus Store.

In his sermon, “The Foreign Concept of Justice,” he focused on Ruth and the representation of foreigners in the Bible. Sticking to the assigned topic of justice, he acknowledged the political sensitivities in our nation today and drew parallels to the cultural tensions and parables in the Bible.

“What does God have to say about justice? It’s a lot—it’s everywhere in Scripture. Humans just don’t get it…that’s why it’s repeated so much,” Hagen says. Especially with such a complex and polarizing topic, he notes that preaching has to start with a lot of prayer and humility. “Preaching is allowing the Holy Spirit to transform you—and sharing that with the congregation. It’s a very personal process.”

“Jesus taught in parables,” Hagen says. “Why? Because it’s a narrative form we understand.” While preaching, he leans on storytelling to break the ice and help complex themes click for his audience. But it’s not always easy.

“Preaching is exhausting to me. But if God has called you to something, He will equip you,” Hagen says. He says one of his seminary professors, Paul Ferris, helped deepen his passion for the Hebrew Bible. “I’ve become really passionate about helping people understand the whole of the Bible. There’s such a richness there, to be grounded in the history of God.”

He also recommends How to Read the Bible for All its Worth—required reading in many Bethel courses—to everyone he can. Another favorite book, Andy Stanley’s Communicating for a Change, helped him create a framework for communicating effectively and defining his unique speaking style. “And boring is not a style!,” he’s quick to add, a favorite quote from Stanley.

So in the preaching competition, Hagen wrapped up his sermon with a personal statement—and a bit of self-deprecation—to drive a complex message home for the students in Benson Great Hall.

“So, I ask you, ‘What would justice look like for a shepherd? A nursing major? A physics major? A professor—or a geek who works in a bookstore?” Hagen asked. “Being in the Word—and being people of prayer—are two steps we can all take. And they empower us to take action.”

Josiah and Kat Hagen live in Roseville with their daughter, Zoey. Josiah works in the Bethel University Campus Store, where he puts his love of fine writing implements and quality paper to good use. He loves reading, hearing, and telling a good story. Josiah is nearing the completion of his Master of Divinity and has a special place in his heart for the Hebrew two-thirds of the Bible. He also enjoys cooking, playing games, and wearing bow ties.

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