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

Colored Lenses

Written by: on September 6, 2018

A black Jesus is closer to the truth than many are comfortable with. A middle eastern man that has spent many hours in the sun working wood and then walking from town to town would indeed be dark skinned. Viewing Jesus as someone that is both not like us and like us is the paradox that we find ourselves in. Jesus is for me both some- one that is from an unfamiliar culture (Israel over 2000 years ago) and one that can fully relate to me (as God). Our own culture makes us see Christ and read the Bible in such a way that can be misunderstood to those outside that culture. Now I can hear some of your eyes rolling saying that “truth is truth”. I completely agree as long as we don’t con- fuse our interpretation of the Word to be “the truth”. If we begin to see this tension in our understanding of Jesus and the reading of the Bible then we also see this in our understanding of the Church and the development of its leaders.

In Stephen Woodworth’s article, Prophets, Priest and Kings: the use of metaphors in Training Global Leaders Towards Pastoral Identity1, this problem of cultural understandings is addressed. This article speaks to the tension that exist when train- ing pastors and leaders; the focus on praxis or spending longer shaping a deep Pastoral theology. The problem is, “… our leadership training is producing unbalanced curriculums which place greater weight on practicality and efficiency rather than foundational courses that equip pastors to reflect deeply enough on issues of calling and identity.”2 It is easy to do workshops on what is needed and have those involved in ministry attend; for example how to study, how to organize a group, how to administer aspects of the church. It is probably unfair to call this the easy way rather the way that can get a regular flow of students hungry for teaching. One of the concerns of simply trying to contextualize outside ways of doing church, reading and preaching the Bible or using methods from another culture is that they have not taken into account potential misunderstandings. Many of us have read a book and thought, “that doesn’t relate to my context” and we quickly dismiss the content. This is seen differently in a setting where it understood that the teacher holds all the right answers.

This Confucianist philosophy of hierarchy can be seen even in the current political situation in China. There is a clear distinction between who is the master and who is the servant, who is the leader and who are the ones to be lead. The common saying, “a place for everyone and everyone in their place”3, really defines what Confucius saw as a healthy and prosperous society. A misunderstanding can take place when students are taught about authority without understanding what that teaching means in the culture it is being taught.

Recently I have been a part of a training time in which we dealt with some pastoral theological concepts. During this class concepts were given and set up that appear to be revolutionary to some of the students. These were students who are actively involved in house churches either leading or assisting the leader. It made me realize that many knew how to do church but did not always have a clear understanding of the why. As I reflect back upon this particular class, I see the necessity to make sure we have a balanced approach of giving skills as well as giving a clear understanding of the Biblical foundations.

“Training pastors with the concepts of metaphorical language invite an exploration into the connectedness of pastoral ministry to the life of the community through meaningful symbols and terminology that reinforce…the role of the pastor in their given locale.”4 In China I have seen churches that have tried to set themselves up like an American church. I have also seen confusion come when Biblical stories were taught from a western perspective. The Chinese have such a long history of story telling and mythology that one has to be careful not to allow the stories of the Bible get slotted into that category.

Even concepts like “Prophet, Priest and King” can be viewed in completely differ- ent subtle ways that I will briefly attempt to flush out. Unfortunately, earthly concepts of emperors have influenced the leadership models in China. In a typical Confucius mod- el, in which everyone wants to move up the ladder of success, Christ is seen as the King and the pastor the representative of the King on earth. This creates a view that godly authority (and power) rest with the pastor. So this view is fully embraced by pastors and leaders in Asia but for the wrong reasons.

With this understanding of a strong king-like pastor that holds control over a congregation then is added prophet and priest. A prophet is the mouthpiece of God sharing the Word of the King. A priest, from the Buddhist influence, is someone wholly dedicated to this cause even willing to leave one’s family. So people have come to believe that being a pastor in Asia means someone administering the church with a strong hand, worthy to represent the King of Kings and able to physically sacrifice self while proclaim- ing truth. As one can imagine, this image of a pastor has driven many who are called to feel unworthy.

Sometimes I forget the awesome responsibility it is to teach and train the leaders that the Lord calls. The daily walking with people we love and seeing them in life at time makes us slow to realize the obstacles to understanding the truths that we are to teach. If we do not take into consideration the cultural lenses when entering a classroom, home or sanctuary, then we are simply teaching our own brand of Christianity rather than recognizing the God-given differences that make the world diverse.


1 Woodworth, Stephen. “Prophets, Priest and Kings: the Use of Metaphors in Training Global Leaders Towards Pastoral Identity”. Theology of Leadership Journal, Vol 1, No 1, 43. Accessed

2 September 5, 2018. http://theologyofleadership.com/index.php/tlj/issue/view/v1i1/v1i1 2 Ibid, 80

3 Confucius 101. http://www.china-mike.com/chinese-culture/understanding-chinese-mind/ confucius/ accessed September 6, 2018

4 Woodworth, 84

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.

11 responses to “Colored Lenses”

  1. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Greg,

    Thanks for the peek into Chinese culture regarding hierarchy. I love it when you do that. As I was reading your writing, I was reminded of the difference between being authoritarian and authoritative. Seems to me the Chinese are authoritarian minded, while authoritative is what most in the west would prefer. I read this article in speaking to yours and found it interesting…


    I appreciated your closing paragraph, “If we do not take into consideration the cultural lenses when entering a classroom, home or sanctuary…”–I agree. I was able to hear Livermore speak this summer about exactly what you describe, regarding cultural intelligence, and you obviously are doing so well in this area.

    • Greg says:

      I am glad you have had time this summer to continue the journey you are on in growing and reshaping what kind of leader you are and are becoming. I think I would have enjoyed hearing Livermore as well. I have not done much reading on the difference between those 2 concepts, it is would be interesting to see how some define those 2 words and how they suggest they are lived out. Thanks.

  2. Kyle Chalko says:

    Greg, you wrote and quoted… The problem is, “… our leadership training is producing unbalanced curriculums which place greater weight on practicality and efficiency rather than foundational courses that equip pastors to reflect deeply enough on issues of calling and identity.”2

    I kind of see it the opposite being more of a problem. I see too much of other sider being focused on in seminary and students not actually knowing the mechanics of how all there theory of shepherding people will turn out. Of course I think the classes you are talking about are more liek church conferences and church training in whcih case I agree.

    I will go back and look at this article since it directly relates to my dissertation!

    • Greg says:

      I agree in the context of an “official” seminary, the opposite might be true. I suppose the read this with my own colored lenses and saw this in the realm of how we are doing pastoral training and our local seminaries. I not sure I said it but sometimes our urgency to get the message out or worry of time in classroom we pendulum swing the way of too much praxis.

  3. Love this, and couldn’t agree more! I’m in the middle of the best book I’ve ever read on cross-cultural ministry. It called “Global Humility” byt Andy McCullough, and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It touches on a lot of these same ideas.

  4. M Webb says:

    Greetings friend. I missed you and hope your trip to Idaho with your son starting school went well.
    Good introduction and challenge to the cohort on “truth.” I like your discussion on the Confucianist philosophy on who is the leader versus the servant. As we prepare for our 2018 Hong Kong Advance your post helps keep me keep focused and prepared for the adventures we will share and experience with LGP8.
    Good use of the Eastern ethnographic images to enhance your discussion on the black Jesus, Mary on the donkey, and Christ’s baptism.
    The Armor of God coins that you helped me with are completed. I look forward to sharing them with you and our cohorts in HK.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Greg says:

      Mike, I am sorry we were able to connect when dropping my son off it was such a short window of time. Glad you are still around brother. I am looking forward to also coming with an openness and fresh eyes when we come to HK in a few weeks as well. See you soon.

  5. Dan Kreiss says:


    Yes, it is far too easy to arbitrarily apply our own cultural interpretations of scripture to other contexts and thus our ‘gospel’ becomes more about enculturation than discipleship. I wonder how you avoid this tendency in your own situation, particularly given the constraints you are under.

    • Greg says:

      Dan, what a great question. This is indeed a problem that we all face every day. Sometimes I desire to influence the interpretation of the gospel because I want my students to see another perspective than what they have been taught but others times fight it because I know I will be seen as having all the answers. I think this is a tension probably many teachers and students relationships face, it is just more pronounced in an Asian context.

  6. Chris Pritchett says:

    Hi Greg, thanks for your thoughtful post about training leaders theologically. Do you see this as the primary responsibly of the seminary? For me, it seemed similar to Kyle’s experience. I did an MDiv at Fuller and a ThM at Princeton and it seemed to me that theology of leadership was not lacking, but rather forming leaders to develop capacity to suffer was something I needed. I suppose a theology and sense of call do in fact lead to a greater capacity – the more I learn about God the more willing I am to follow – but I’ve always wondered if my experience in seminary was too bookish and not formational enough. However, I must give credit to both Fuller and Princeton for trying their hand at spiritual formation of leaders, but I wonder if they are equipped for that task. Anyway, thanks for helping me think more on the subject and my own experience.

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