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

Looking back to see forward

Written by: on March 1, 2019

“I love change, as long as I can control it” I have jokingly said this many times talking to people about the uncertainty that we face living in a world of change. I used to spend a day every few months moving the furniture in our apartment around to give me a sense of change in a world that sometimes seems monotonous. I have lived in our apartment for about 4 years without moving any furniture. I wonder if this is because these last four years I have seen a “rise of VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity”1 and my home is one of the few stable places. How we engage the complex world we live in, I believe, shows how well we are navigating the ever shifting sands that have been the foundations of our faith, our work and our life.

We have a joke when crossing the street, “look all 7 directions before you cross…even up.” I know you are sitting and reading this trying to count how there are seven directions to look. You don’t need to do that, the meaning is look all directions and keep looking as you cross the street. For you never know when the unexpected will occur. I agree that we need to “focus on the possible,” but keep your eyes out for the unexpected. Asking different questions Taking multiple perspectives Seeing systems2

I will admit that I thought the book this week was overly simplistic and obvious. I was reading about Hudson Taylor this week and kept thinking that he had to deal with a complex world as well. Granted there may be some aspects of our future that are unique to our time in history but, I also think there were issues Taylor had to address that we don’t even think about. He did have to ask questions looking for answers others were not asking. He did have to look from multiple perspectives as well as see what systems were in place and who they benefited. Hudson Taylor thought, engaged and acted differently then other foreigners in his day not because he was a charismatic leader rather because he saw the world as flexible and he knew he needed to flex with it; despite the criticism of his peers.

When Taylor arrived in China he asked the questions of what was separating foreigners from the locals? He made a radical decision to dress in Chinese clothes, shave his head and have a pigtail, and eat Chinese food.3 Taylor was a leader that recognized that the system needed an adjustment. He was not happy with most missionaries and believed they were more concerned with status and other worldly pursuits. Taylor also began asking why those in the west are only concerned with themselves. “Can all the Christians in England sit still with folded arms while these multitudes [in China] are perishing—perishing for lack of knowledge—for lack of that knowledge which England possesses so richly?” He began an organization whose purpose was to recruit and send 24 missionaries to the interior of China. This was a huge step forward to an area that was dangerous and was contrary to what others had modeled. These missionaries would have no guaranteed salaries …simply trust God to supply their needs.4

Hudson Taylor was challenged that every province in China would hear the gospel. This was his impossible task due to the size of the country, the population, and the political situation (boy that all still sounds familiar). He trusted that this was God’s vision to fulfill and not his. This allowed him to take others views and work to find creative avenues to fulfill this dream. However, the cost was higher than even he anticipated.

Taylor paid a high personal price in order to accomplish this impossible mission. His beloved wife Maria died at the age of thirty-three. Four of his eight children before they reached the age of ten. In the summer of 1900[while Taylor was in Europe], the Boxer Uprising spread through China. Fifty-eight missionaries of the China Inland Mission and 21 of their children were murdered. This broke Taylors heart.”5

Other than those that lost their lives in the Boxer Rebellion, there were also those that were killed by the Red Army in the 1930s. John and Betty Stam were put to death in 1934. The night before the execution, John quoted Philippians chapter 1 verse 21 and wrote,For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.John’s last letter to his father included this poem:



Of what?

To feel the spirits glad release?

To pass from pain to perfect peace?

The strife and strain of life to cease?

Afraid? Of what?

Afraid to see the Savior’s face?

To hear His welcome,

and to trace The glory gleam from wounds of grace?

Afraid? Of what?

A flesh – a crash – a pierced heart; Darkness—light—O heaven’s art!

A wound of his counterpart!

Afraid? Of what?

To do by death what life could not – Baptize with blood a stony plot,

Till souls shall blossom from the spot,

Afraid? – of what?

Hudson Taylor’s world was also a VUCA world. It was Volatile even though he chose to not have the protections of any government military, Uncertain in where salaries would come from each month. His world was Complex in dealing with the ever shifting political realities and culture, and Ambiguous when sharing about a Christ that was seen connected with Opium Wars and the foreign white devils. Though the future may be complex and uncertain in terms of working in jobs that are not yet created or dealing with issues that are unforeseen, fear should not keep us from seeking the answers to the questions that we and others have as we minister and lead in creative and ordinary ways.

Some of the Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion

1Berger, Jennifer Garvey, and Keith. Johnston. Simple Habits for Complex times : Powerful Practices for Leaders. Stanford, California: Stanford Business Books, 20158

2 Ibid.13

3 https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/missionaries/hudson-taylor.html

4 http://www.reachingchineseworldwide.org/blog/lectures/between-two-worlds-j-hudson-taylor-and-the-clash-between-british-and-chinese-customs-cultures-and-laws

5 Wing Yui So. The Passion, Vision and Strategy of Hudson Taylor. Accessed at https://sosir.whc.org.hk/sites/sosir.whc.org.hk/files/attachments/Mission%20Strategy%20of%20Hudson%20Taylor.pdf

6 Peter Stam, SR, “Precious in the Sight of the Lord,” China’s Millions 61 (1935): p.24.

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 “Looking back to see forward”

  1. M Webb says:

    Good opening and thanks for the Hudson Taylor review from your viewpoints. Taylor and the other missionaries and families counted and paid the cost for following Jesus Christ. I can only imagine but am hopeful God’s grace covered and protected them at the appropriate times during their suffering and death. They were martyrs for the cause of Christ that inspired others toward the Gospel, which continues even today.
    Thanks for your post, it convicted and inspired me.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Greg says:

      You know Mike that our passions and convictions drive us to do what we are called to do. I am glad there are people that were faithful through the years that each our work is built on.

  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Greg!

    Whoa, my goodness. Lost his wife, 4 of his 8 kids before the age of 10, 58 missionaries and 21 of their kids murdered. Forgive me Lord for my pettiness.

    Thanks for your review of Hudson Taylor. I am humbled, inspired and embarrassed all at the same time…

    We all appreciate you much, Greg. Thanks for your amazing contributions to our Cohort.


    • Greg says:

      I didn’t want to focus only on the extreme examples of his life but Taylor’s world was rocked by joys and tragedy repeatedly. I do not hope that kind of VUCA life on anyone.

  3. Hudson Taylor was a Rock Star! He’s one of my heros. And I agree, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are not unique to this generation.

    I wonder, for you project, if the “seeing systems” piece is playing a role.

    • Greg says:

      Jenn. I am sure “seeing systems” is playing and/or is going to play a role. I think recognizing what is going on in the society and seeing some of the overarching themes is a crucial piece to helping not only ready foreigners but prepare them as well.

  4. Dan Kreiss says:


    Hudson Taylor has long been one of my heroes and a man I take inspiration from when considering his willingness to buck the trends of his contemporaries to reach the Chinese people in a way that affirmed them and their culture. Yes, he took all sorts of criticism for his efforts but also inspired generations to embody more incarnational mission work.

    I think you are correct that the text this week assumed a lot regarding our own time, neglecting the VUCA that has always been a part of the human experience. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Greg says:

      I don’t want to diminish our own unique time, but it bothered me a little that there was such an emphasis on “us and now”. I think my blog may have been a little reaction to those feeling;-)

  5. Great post, Greg!

    It was interesting to see how you compared Berger and Johnston to your own context and presented a globalized perspective.

    You assert, “How we engage the complex world we live in, I believe, shows how well we are navigating the ever shifting sands that have been the foundations of our faith, our work and our life.” I completely agree! Change reveals our ideals as well as our idols – it reveals our loyalty and trust.

    You mention Hudson Taylor in your text and reveal, “Taylor was a leader that recognized that the system needed an adjustment. He was not happy with most missionaries and believed they were more concerned with status and other worldly pursuits. Taylor also began asking why those in the west are only concerned with themselves.” It’s not enough to ask different questions unless we’re willing to respond in different ways. The actions of Taylor need to lead the church of the 21st century. Many have an understanding of the new ways of thought, but they work to debunk and find offense with the new. This has caused many to leave the faith and exit the doors of the sanctuary because the NEW is considered repulsive to the TRADITIONAL.

    What ways have you changed your organization in response to asking new questions? How has that change been received?

    • Greg says:

      I have sat throughs many strategy session in which we mapped out what was needed and even a plan. however there was not any follow through so all that attended felt like we just went through the motions so a leader could check off a box rather than truly want change.

      I guess for me Colleen, I do my best to listen and move forward with idea that local leaders have. I just spend a day with a young leader that has had a visit from the authorities recently. We talked about how to move forward, what could be done, what was safe, how to keep connected to the larger org. and I just asked the questions and help him flush out what he and his team were going to do.

  6. Greg,

    Loved the icon of the Boxer Rebellion Martyrs… but you knew that I would already. 😉 Their feast day is October 1 which is fascinating, as John Paul II would have strategically selected that feast day to offer a religious counterpoint to the Chinese national holiday on the same day. As you know, JPII saw the dark side of communism as a Polish priest, and through his leadership (along with many others) the Berlin Wall came down.


    You and Jenn who both live and minister in different cultures than your home culture have been living out this VUCA reality every day since you left the USA. And Hudson Taylor, too, as you pointed out. I think that’s why you might have perceived the book as being overly simplistic because you are living at such a intense level of complexity where nothing means what it looks like, and you’ve had to retrain yourself to ask a million questions and uncover all the supportive systems yourself.

    • Greg says:

      Mark. I pasted and removed that icon twice because I didn’t want to be misusing it or have it seen as a superfluous picture. They are heroes of the faith in way even I don’t fully comprehend.

      My wife read this blog and she said, “do you think this book is simple to you because of where you live? Are those that live in the states going to connect with it in greater way?” Love when your wife touches on what I believe was the authors intent. You know the flexibility that is required to live outside you home country and I agree that Jenn and I (as well as a few of this cohort) would see and understand the VUCA world that has and is and will be. 🙂

  7. Kyle Chalko says:

    powerful. After reading Boxers and Saints, It was easy to forget about the real-life martyrs. really loved you including that picture.

    Also when it comes to heroes of the faith like this, I tend to think there are many things they didn’t worry or have to think about. I think every now and then a anointed man or woman of God comes around and is gifted so intuitively they ascend these sorts of book. But these books are there for the Joe Shmoes like me to help me be a little bit more like them. what do you thik?

    • Greg says:

      Mr. Smoe. I will admit that sometime these books catch me frustrated….I am sure you know what I mean. I guys that is where I was this last week. Don’t get me wrong there was some good reminders in it and maybe those living outside there home countries live a little more obvious VUCA life then others. Thanks Kyle for little push back 🙂

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