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

Collateral Damage

Written by: on March 15, 2018

“Can we change the world? Well, who knows? Probably not. But we can perhaps, just perhaps, make it a little better by living godly lives as aliens and strangers in it.”1 says Greg Gilbert as he paraphrases James Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. As Christians we are called to change ourselves and be apart of the process to help others change as well, are we not? We gravitate to the easy and quantifiable rather that the supernatural and unexplained ; thus missing the importance of what it means to live a transformational life with Christ.

How do we change the world? Hunter’s book does not answer this question as much as it puts us in a position to think clearly about what to do next. Hunter writes, “The question is wrong because, for Christians, it makes the primary subservient to the secondary. By making a certain understanding of the good of society the objective, the source of the good—God himself and the intimacy he offers—becomes nothing more than a tool to be used to achieve that objective. When this happens, righteousness can quickly become cruelty and justice can rapidly turn into injustice.”2 When we see ourselves as the agents of change and the do-ers of God’s will, it is a quick step to then see that all that we do glorifies God. If our ultimate goal is to change our culture, then cultural change is the focus and not God. Weber said, “We have already seen that being made in the very image of God and participating in God’s grand plan of transforming everything gives human inventiveness, creativity and initiative.”3 We have taken that call and often run far ahead of what God intended under the guise of change and hard work for the Lord.

Proclaimers of the truth have gone around the world to teach, train and share the story of God desiring transformation of individuals and the cultures they live in. In their enthusiasm, some have created their own road blocks because time was not given to understanding the culture that they were trying to reach. An American man went to an African country 100 years ago desiring to share Christ with a village. Without really any knowledge of this particular people group, he decided the area that he was going to minister to. One day he walked into the village, and was met by the warriors of the village all holding spears. They chased him out of the village with the clear meaning he should not come back. He went about a mile away and eventually built a house. After a while of trying to talk with the villagers that came and went from the village, he decided to learn their local language and customs. Years went by as he got to know some of the children and some of the workers in the village that came and went. He discovered that the village had a chief elder and a proper custom for asking the chief for an audience. He decided to try using the custom of the village to ask for an audience with the chief. He began to approach the village and perform the required ritual to see the chief; only to be denied. Every month for several years he would ask the chief for an audience. After about 7 years, he was finally granted an audience and was able to begin building relationships with the village he felt God called him to. Of course this is an over simplified version of the events that took place. Some have viewed this story as a test of perseverance, and I believe there was an aspect of that. I also believe that he offended the village elders with his arrogance and determination to do what he thought he should do and needed years of punishment to restore the relationship.

Sometimes our desire for a quick fix, a moment in the spotlight, or wanting a good story interferes with the goals of bringing true change. The one time that I had a chance to travel in Tibet I experienced the unintended side effects of someone making a political statement and getting their 3 minutes of fame. A couple of weeks before I landed, an American climbed to the top of Mt. Everest from the Nepal side and held up for a photo the Tibetan national flag-a flag that represents that Tibet should be free from Chinese rule. This young climber had to have thought he was standing up for the oppressed. The result was a strong reaction from the government shutting down all foreign travel outside government controlled tour buses. All small private vehicles, tour guides, restaurants and locations not associated with the tour agencies lost all of their business for several months. Thousands of people, that relied on summer tourism for the support of their families for the whole year, experienced the rippling affects of this American climber. I have to assume this climber had no idea that his actions would create this kind hardship for many families in the country he was trying to help. Good intentions do not cover up for bad practice and cultural insensitivity. “Christianity is not, first and foremost, about establishing righteousness or creating good values or securing justice or making peace in the world[….]But for Christians, these are all secondary to the primary good of God himself and the primary task of worshiping him and honoring him in all they do”4 I sometimes wish Jesus’ great commission included some warning not to incorporate your biases -cultural, religious, or political-into the work of God.

“Against the present realities of our historical moment, it is impossible to say what can actually be accomplished…Christians, at their best, will neither create a perfect world nor one that is altogether new; but by enacting shalom and seeking it on behalf of all others through the practice of faithful presence,…that they will help to make the world a little bit better.”5 Hunter’s call for the “faithful presence” should be for all Christians to be the shalom of God. His concept that in all circumstances, where ever we are placed, whatever company or institution we are a part of, that we are to “enact shalom” helping to overcome the destructive tendencies of this world is the challenge we have no matter where we live. Greg Forster said, “Christian influence on culture occurs not primarily by human design but by God’s invisible and supernatural use of the suffering perseverance of his people in their positions of public stewardship in all domains of culture.”6 May it be so in each of us.



2Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World : The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)

3Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. (Los Angeles. Roxbury Pub., 1996) 275

4Hunter, 286

5Hunter, 286

About the Author


Greg has a wife and 3 children. He has lived and work in Asia for over 12 years. He is currently the Asia Director of Imanna Laboratories, which tests and inspects marine products seeking US Coast Guard certification. His company Is also involved in teaching and leadership development.

14 responses to “Collateral Damage”

  1. M Webb says:

    I like your missionary-tribal story. It is like a smokers Surgeon General Warning “The Great Commission can be hazardous to your health” and like your American mountain climber, hazardous to the health of others. I do not think God is surprised one bit when we mess things up. He gave us a Book full of mess-ups and even after we have learned and become accountable, we still mess up. Praise God that He still extends His grace, love, and forgiveness to the repentant sinner turned Saint. Consequences, yes. Forgiveness and let’s move forward in developing your Christian character, absolutely. I doubt we will ever really grasp the fullness of Romans 8:28 until God orders His factory recall for “Christ’s faithful” and finally and eternally restores us to His creation design and image.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Greg says:

      Mike. I agree that I could fill books of my own mistakes and have always been thankful for the honesty of the OT. I am just happy to know he desires to use this often faulty person- needing a factory recall- 🙂

  2. Kyle Chalko says:

    Greg, I’ve learned so much from you by your many different stories and missionary lessons and Chinese political references you bring in to many of your posts. That’s a crazy story of the Tibetan flag on Everest. It reminds me of how little I knew about SA before going there, and again here is another conflict playing out on the world stage that I’m so removed from I can hardly imagine how it could have any impact of my life with. Now that makes me feel like I can’t change the world at all.

    But I suppose mentoring my 6 or so interns does change a piece of the world.

    • Greg says:

      You know the older we get more we are able to admit we are clueless and know nothing. Make sure you give those interns enough space to grow ( both from good and bad practices)

  3. Greg,

    The climber story is a good one to illustrate the problems we create by imposing our agendas. Thanks for sharing it.

    People who live and work cross-culturally have so much to teach the Western church about how to adapt, contextualize, be patient, learn the language, understand the culture, etc. If we could only get it through our heads that we as a church in exile in the West no longer are “home” but in a cross-cultural environment, we would be well on our way to becoming faithfully present to our pluralistic communities.

    • Greg says:

      Mark, I do wonder if my practice is as good as my advice. I strive to not be caught up in my own world and agenda that I forget to listen to those around me.

      As you know we like to make where we live our home. Love that concept of the church in exile, one day heading to the promise land. Beautiful imagery of what is important.

  4. Jason Turbeville says:

    Thank you so much for your insight, it is always a wake up call for cultural invasion. I have experience similar things in other parts of the world and have learned it never about me and how I think things should be done. I, of course, have offended at times, but I always strive to understand a culture before I go to work there. A friend of mine who is a life long missionary has always been a good teacher. Understand the people and culture where you are going and find ways to move without upsetting was always his advice.


    • Greg says:

      Jason as you are aware, Your own neighborhoods have a world of people coming for different world views. Especially those that have grown up in the states. I am sure that is a challenge for every ministry to find ways to impact and not offend, finding and understanding the long term affects of the programs we do. This is a challenge for me as well.

  5. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Greg,

    Can one person make a difference? I am reminded of the sand dollar story where a grandpa took his grandson for a walk on the beach, where thousands of sand dollars had recently washed up on shore. The grandpa started throwing a few back, and the grandson questioned if the effort was worth it with such overwhelming odds, to which the grandpa stated he had made a difference for the ones he threw back…

  6. Shawn Hart says:

    Greg, you wrote, “I sometimes wish Jesus’ great commission included some warning not to incorporate your biases -cultural, religious, or political-into the work of God.” In all fairness, when Christ taught His disciples to pray, it included, “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed by YOUR name. YOUR kingdom come. YOUR WILL be done.” I fear we just forget those parts sometime.

    I appreciate once again the other side of the world perception that is brought to the this program by yourself and others. It is the necessary reminder that not everyone in the world is like Americans, nor do they all want to be. So how do we bring the message of salvation to them, without feeling as though we have to indoctrinate them into our culture as well? I feel your first story gave great insight into that question.

    • Greg says:

      Shawn I hear ya. We just need a warning label on the whole book. 🙂
      Striving to read the Word without our own agendas is a tough one. We have often taught using simple questions to get people( especially new believers) thinking about how this impacts their lives and culture.

  7. Jennifer Williamson says:

    “We gravitate to the easy and quantifiable rather that the supernatural and unexplained ; thus missing the importance of what it means to live a transformational life with Christ.”
    Yes. So true. Because we can create metrics around those things and raise money based on those metrics. Too cynnical? Perhaps. And I’m not even against creating means of measurement for ministry. But I do think we are often measuring the wrong things.

    Such great stories about missionary mistakes. I struggle with this with the pressure to receive short term groups. They often can make mistakes that set us long-termers backwards in our efforts.

    Your thoughtfulness and wisdom inspire me. I may quote you in my dissertation!

  8. Greg says:

    Jenn. I hope I didn’t come across as too cynical myself. I think metrics can be helpful ( spoken as a leader) yet I am in agreement that in our attempt to hold accountable or appease our leadership, we do ask the wrong things of our teammates. I am currently in a evaluating and goal setting time with my teams hopefully challenging them to find that balance between doing and being.

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