Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Greatest Deconstructed Hero’s Journey Ever Dangerously Offered

Written by: on November 11, 2021

Who is your hero?  Who is mine?  Our choice illuminates the battles we choose to fight. It also reveals the deep yearnings we have for purpose, belonging, and hope in better world. Good prevailing over evil, it’s the human yearning. We cheer for the underdog. We sit on the edge of our seats hoping against hope that the good guy or girl will beat back the demons that seem to have the win all but in hand, in a desperate need to see the successful conquering of evil. For in the hero’s accomplishments, we have hope for our own triumphant win over the evil that threatens to take us down. We hope to be courageous enough to choose danger. Storytelling whether through written word, film, or music has been shaped by the archetypal monomyth that developed early in human history.

The Hero With a Thousand Faces written by Joseph Campbell, is a comparative mythology that looks through varied religious lenses. Joseph Campbell unpacks his view that humans understanding and value of “The Hero”, no matter the culture or time, is tethered to the definition of the archetypal hero found in the similar structure of myths. In Part One (and the portion that receives most engagement), Campbell outlines the Hero Journey moving from the ordinary world to the mystical/spiritual world only to return home as victor. This journey is separated into three rites of passage: separation, initiation and return.  Through these rites, Campbell composes the hero motif from the 17 stages of adventure the hero must take, ending with the hero transformed. Although the particulars of the myth may differ, the essence of the hero and the journey are driven by the same structure. Part One of Campbell’s book has been the storytellers “go-to” for storyboarding the plot of the hero.

The Hero’s Journey resonates with humans because it illuminates the overarching truths of humanity’s experience, fears and timeless longings.  Campbell’s “monomyth” informs us of the universality of the hero’s journey in our interpretation of reality. Peter Schakel reflects on the heart of this found in C.S. Lewis’s stories, “In theology as in science, myth supplies not answers but an experience of a larger existence than we can know cognitively. Such an experience touches depths the intellect cannot reach and conveys, to children and adults alike, the sense that this is not just true, but Truth.”[1]

Who is my hero? The top of my list is Jesus. I pondered this in context of the Hero’s Journey, and I struggled. Campbell’s description, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man”[2], doesn’t profoundly connect to the Hero’s Journey of Jesus. This disconnect lead me to ask how does Campbell’s motif speak to the differentiated leader?  Does the “myth” of Jesus and his journey deepen my understanding of my leadership?  I performed a few internet searches: “Hero’s Journey of Jesus”, “the hero with a thousand faces and leadership”, “Hero’s journey and ministry”. It certainly was an adventure. But admittedly, in the end, I had no new wisdom.

My NPO engages worship, mission, and koininia. I have come to place to think that Jesus revealed a Deconstructed Hero’s Journey. Jesus deconstructs the definition of the “classic” hero. He deconstructs the understandings of worship, mission, and community. He deconstructs the concepts of power and love. Jesus deconstructs what it means to share his “boons”. Jesus offers humanity the boon of wholeness, while inviting others to the adventure, and our boon is to invite others on the same adventure.  His journey is an embodiment of the “greatest love story ever told.” [3]

The biggest boon for me on this week’s journey of reading is that I have new language for my NPO. I have a Hero of deconstruction that is my mentor on this adventure. As Friedman talks about the early explorers…the risks taken to discover…having a sense of “adventure in thinking”[4]…to cross equators, I understand more deeply the need to be a differentiated leader. I am called to challenge ministry leaders to have courage to deconstruct ecclesiology in order for a resurrection in church identity to be a place where the deep yearnings we have for purpose, belonging, and hope in better world becomes a reality, where the worlds greatest needs and God’s greatest passion intersect. Yes, it is the greatest love story told…nay experienced, and is definitely a choice of danger!

[1] Imagination and the Arts in C. S. Lewis: Journeying to Narnia and Other Worlds, pg 65

[2] Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, pg. 23

[3] A nod to the television show, Jane the Virgin which reveals several characters hoping to live the “greatest love story ever told.”

[4] Failure of nerve pg 55

About the Author


Nicole Richardson

PC(USA) pastor serving a church in Kansas City. In my spare time I teach yoga and scuba diving

12 responses to “The Greatest Deconstructed Hero’s Journey Ever Dangerously Offered”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:

    I’m delighted to hear this reading deepens your NPO. I wonder how much “story” can be a part of framing your research moving forward. How can you shape your work in narratives? What are the narratives of your organization? What new stories can be written?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Andy I really like the question about story. I’d have to take some time to think about what narratives to weave…of course they would need to be deconstructed!

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Nicole, thanks for detailing how Jesus’ expression of a heroic figure deconstructs many common concepts. I just listened to a podcast where Erwin McManus shared his study on the use of power through the centuries. The idea of reparations and reconciliation in our day, in his opinion, comes from Jesus’ definition of the use of power. Attila the Hun never felt the need for reparations but Jesus changed the use of power in many ways. Do you have any specifics yet on the idea of what deconstructing ecclesiology looks like?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Roy, the areas of deconstructing will be around mission, koinonia, and worship. I started looking at the ways that Jesus did deconstructing around these areas. So much of what Jesus did challenged how the these things were understood or applied. AND I think so much of it cut to the core of power and how power influenced mission, koinonia, and worship.

      The Mark passage for the lectionary today included this: “13 As Jesus was leaving the temple courts, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! And what tremendous stones were used to build all this!”
      2 Jesus turned to them and said, “Take a good look at all these enormous buildings, for I’m telling you, there will not be one stone left upon another. It will all be leveled!”
      I know I may be reaching but I heard this passage as a prophecy for leaders to understand the deconstruction of how we understand ecclesiology…..like I said…maybe a reach.

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Nicole: I will definitely be interested to see how this impacts your NPO in tangible ways moving forward. Have you thought about what relationship a deconstructed ecclesiology has to current understanding of koinonia?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Kayli, I have begun to frame some of that but have a ways to go. I am working from an understanding that Ecclesiology is the study/understanding of what it means to be the church…..the nature and structure. How many churches understand koinonia is tightly tethered to “fellowship”. But the greek word is more dynamic. Looking at the nature and structure Jesus gave for “fellowship” radically challenges how churches live koinonia…the implications of love and forgiveness, if lived out the way Jesus shows/calls us to, would be a HUGE deconstruction for koinonia.

  4. Elmarie Parker says:

    Thank you, Nicole, for your thoughtful journey with Campbell’s book. I really appreciate how you articulate your arrival at the deconstructed hero’s journey of Jesus. It seems to me that so many of the stories Jesus told started with a story (a myth if you will) familiar to the people of his day and then he added a ‘knowing the Father’ twist to it to open up a way to more deeply understand the values and ways of the Triune God. I’m curious how you might follow this pattern of Jesus in your NPO work? What are familiar stories about Koinonia, worship and mission that can be told, but told with a twist that invites people deeper into the journey of risk-filled faithful following of Jesus into the wider communities he so deeply loves?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Elmarie, there are sooo many stories in scripture. I pulled some of them in for my paper at the end of last year. My challenge is finding entry points for people to be able to more concretely apply the things Jesus calls us to. Jesus deconstructed the things of this world but the draw of this world is very convincing. And so churches like the status quo…this is the way we’ve always done things…we need the church to be safe because everything else is chaos…it is hard to find willing people who will embrace the dangers of deconstructed journey.

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    Excellent post. I love your focus for your NPO, and your mentor/Hero along the way.

    In light of Jesus, in what ways do you see that He fit the mold of Campbell’s “hero” and in what ways do you see that He did not?

    PS, still thinking about Q39… that was some good BBQ!!!

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Eric…I am so glad you enjoyed Q39! And I am glad to have “shared” it with you and Kaleb.

      To your question: Campbell says the hero travels from common/ordinary life to a supernatural world. Jesus common life is the “supernatural world”…Jesus travels to our common life. Although I do believe Jesus was indeed tested, I don’t really see Jesus receiving a “mentor”…he was in deep relationship within the Trinity. Now…some would say that Jesus never was enticed by a goddess…others would say that he indeed married Mary Magdalene. Campbell’s premise seems to be that the hero goes on a self-serving journey that in the end he will share the boon…Jesus’s journey was never about satisfying his own need for adventure or growth but to bring others into receive the boon and to “pay it forward”. Jesus was motivated by love of all. Jesus journey, although I think he did have moments of growth in wisdom, I don’t think he was on a journey that changed his character. I also don’t think that Jesus refused to return to his “common life”. He invited all to enjoy his common life. He challenged the notion of hero…That is why Judas betrayed him…Judas and others wanted a particular hero that would restore their power…instead Jesus turned the other cheek and took on punishment and death…..definitely deconstructed hero.
      I am sure I could work this out some more but I am afraid I have bored you by now lololololol 🙂

  6. mm Troy Rappold says:

    That was a well written essay Nicole. And it’s a great happening when the book we read informs our NPO, like this book did for you. I also enjoyed this book and I think the exposure we get to other myths around the world from different cultures can only help to deepen our faith and even our understanding of the human experience. It was a faith-affirming book to me and thankful it was added to our reading list this semester.

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