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

Don’t just survive, Thrive by leading adaptively~

Written by: on March 2, 2023

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership was written by Ronal Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky. They all bring abundant insights and professional experience from teaching and leading international leadership consulting. This book expands on the theory of adaptive leadership to invite the readers to perspire in “making progress on the most important challenges you face in your piece and part of the world, presumably in your professional life but perhaps in your personal life as well.”[1] The book is organized into five parts: Purpose and Possibility, Diagnose the System, Mobilize the System, See Yourself as a System, Deploy Yourself, and it explains the two core processes of leadership to diagnose first and then put it into action. According to the authors, the system of organization will change when leaders engage in two dimensions of leadership: “You diagnose what is happening in your organization or community to take action to address the problems you have identified. But to lead effectively, you also have to examine and take action toward yourself in the context of the challenge. In the midst of the action, you have to be able to reflect on your own attitudes and behavior to better calibrate your interventions to the complex dynamics of organizations and communities. You need perspective on yourself as well as on the systemic context in which you operate.”[2]

I just came back from a brotherhood retreat that a couple of pastors and I set up to encourage and create a community of EM pastors in our small Korean American denomination. We saw the need for it and initiated it, and it was our 2nd conference. It was short, but we had an amazing time of intimate and powerful sharing and encouragement together. The 4 of us who initiated and set up this conference were the oldest among a group of 15 pastors all over the USA, and many pastors were a lot younger. We were tremendously encouraged together and renewed in our ministry calling together. The system of our denomination represents the current state of many Korean American churches. The majority of the system is old Korean pastors, and the system is running using the Korean language and Korean culture. Many of 2nd English-speaking and cultured pastors couldn’t stick around in the old and distanced system and moved onto and transferred out of this denomination over the years. The authors discussed the theory of “adaptive leadership – changes that enable the capacity to thrive.”[3] This adaptive leadership requires not only recognizing and understanding the problems within the system but also requires new strategies, implementations, and abilities to bring revolutionizing actions within the system. As leaders, we run into so many different big to small problems every single day that brings stress, frustrations, and discouragement.

As I sat down before my computer to read and write this blog, I ran into a huge technical problem. I couldn’t find my book, and I spent about an hour trying to figure out what happened to my book (I checked my amazon orders, and I had to run around the house asking every member of the house if they had seen my book) The book was still missing, and my flesh lazy self told me, ‘Don’t bother, just skip this week and make your life easier. You can’t do it because you don’t have the book.’ I sat down and wrestled for about 10 mins to decide whether I should try to figure out a way or just go give up and relax because I was so tired. Do you like reading physical books or digital books? Being old school, I like physical hardcover books where I can hold them and mark them all over them with my pen. I went to amazon, and I found that there is a kindle version. I paid again and started to read the kindle version. As I read through my kindle version of the book, I was glad that I got to read this book, and I ordered the physical hard book copy again because I wanted to add it to my library collection.

My biggest personal takeaway from this book was the need to distinguish technical problems from adaptive challenges. The authors emphasize, “technical problems may be very complex and critically important, but they have known solutions that can be implemented by current know-how. They can be resolved through the application of authoritative expertise and through the organization’s current structures, procedures, and ways of doing things. Adaptive challenges can only be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits, and loyalties. Making progress requires going beyond any authoritative expertise to mobilize discovery, shedding certain entrenched ways, tolerating losses, and generating the new capacity to thrive anew.”[4] Much of what younger pastors were sharing from the retreat came from two common factors (high stress and loneliness) that Barna’s research recently published about pastors leaving the full-time ministry. The four of us saw a very clear vision to address and encourage many younger pastors who will walk what we walked through in the past 20 years of ministry. We had to do it all alone, but we wanted to provide a different posture for the upcoming NextGen of ministers in our denomination. Through this retreat, God moved very powerfully as we simply created a platform to connect with one another, pray for one another, and share deeply and honestly what was going on in their hearts. We intentionally did not do any teaching, seminars, or coaching. It was simply a time to bonding and fellowshipping as a community because we are trying to create a new system within our old system. This “improvisational ability to lead adaptively”[5] came from recognizing the present situation and trying out a completely new system. At the end of this retreat, the four of us rejoiced because our small dream and sacrifice paid off in blessing the few NextGen pastors. It isn’t much, but it definitely shifted their internal perspectives to overcome their ministry, marital, and financial challenges. But in order to make it happen, we had to challenge the system and change the system last General Assembly. It was a humble and small change, but we saw a glimpse of hope that grew within all of us who were gathered there.



[1] Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009), 223 on kindle.

[2] Ibid, 254 on kindle.

[3] Ibid, 379 on kindle.

[4] Ibid, 463 on kindle.

[5] Ibid, 3357 on kindle.

About the Author


Jonathan Lee

President of Streamside Ministry Lead Pastor of EM @ San Jose Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, CA

8 responses to “Don’t just survive, Thrive by leading adaptively~”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:


    I love how you focused on the technical problems. What diagnostic tools for technical problems did you lift from the reading that you’ll put into practice?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      The author described recognizing default interpretations and behaviors in response to technical problem and adaptive challenge. Recognizing and peeling off different layers of interpretations and behaviors is something I want to put it into practice more.

  2. mm Eric Basye says:

    That is commitment right there, brother! Well done:) I also appreciated that distinction between a technical problem and an adaptive challenge. I would imagine that this is a very informative book for your, both as a pastor in the US, but also in working with youth.

  3. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Well done, Jonathan!
    Nice summary. In the book the authors talk about diversifying stakeholders and including them in the adaptative process, how might you facilitate the young and old pastors working together?

  4. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Jonathan, thanks for sharing an example of how life happens in some unexpected ways while we are in this program. You overcame – good job. The issues of technical and adaptive issues stood out to me as it did for you. What are a couple of the adaptive issues you face in your ministry role right now?

  5. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Mr. JL: Nice analysis; I really got a lot from this book, too. Sounds like the retreat you attended and the reading of this book worked out well.

  6. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Jonathan: I love the example of the retreat you used to connect to this book and the adaptations (or not) taking place with the Korean American church. Did you find any particular section or tool suggested to be one that you feel you could implement in the near future as the church addressed the generational differences?

  7. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hi Jonathan…thank you for persevering through the technical challenging of getting another copy of this book to read! Otherwise we would have missed out on your engagement with this text, learnings, and insights!

    I’m curious if the retreat you mention happened before or after reading this book? I feel so encouraged by the step of faith and courage you and the rest of your colleagues took to lead this retreat in a different way. You mention that you experienced a shift in perspective among the attendees. I’m curious, now having reading Heifetz et.al., how do you hope to build on this retreat experience to encourage further growth in adaptive capacity among NextGen pastors?

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