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

What Am I Looking At? OK. What Questions Does It Pose?

Written by: on February 10, 2024

This is a late post, because I had a severe sinus cold and throat infection this week. So, if you want a few podcast recommendations on leadership or dementia, private message me. But I also finished a series on Netflix called “Painkillers”, exploding with insight for this week’s post [spoiler alerts]. In order to retain the Sackler family’s reputation, who owned Purdue Pharma, they lied about the percentage of addiction rates to sell their opioid OxyContin. They also incentivized higher dose prescriptions by doctors, which made a lot of people a lot of money. But the deadly consequence is that it has substantially contributed to the “over 300,000 overdose deaths over the last two decades from prescription painkillers” [1], including some in my own community, and perhaps many of yours. But by use of words like “is believed” in sharing stats, they were able to mislead many into falsely trusting the drug’s relative safety. In the series, they claim that no one has misrepresented reality as poorly since Big Tobacco [2].

So, as I finally was able to give Tim Harford’s “How To Make the World Add Up” the focus it deserved, I had the sense that in our world, how we approach stats demands an ongoing discipline. What stuck me were how transferrable these lessons from Economics, Science and Medicine are to Leadership and Spiritual Formation. There are so many sensible ideas in Tim Harford’s book, most of which are healthy ways to take pause, overcome naivety, and recognize that stories and statistics suffer from the marketing realities of supporting the headline they want us to care about.

Out of his ten rules, a few points resonated with me. The concept of ‘naive realism’ in Rule 2 was a useful framing for me to distinguish personal perspective from universal truth [3]. Also, in “Ask who is missing” — Rule 6, the reference to “dark data” (people who refuse to answer in door to door polls [4] was a helpful point for a curious pause when consider what is perhaps not presented. This model of seeing what is missing is also presented as leadership best practice by Lee Bolman and Terrance Deal in their work “How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing”. They argue that leaders who can look at the same thing from multiple perspectives think better, and create a lucid portrait of what’s going on around them, so they can execute better [5]. 

I see the relevance of these principles for everyday thinking as a Christian leader. In my younger years, one of my mentors told me outright that I needed to become more jaded. And so, this call for curiosity that keeps emotions, naivety, limited view, predetermined narratives, and blatant misinformation in check aligns with a path of wisdom.

For me, in my ministerial work and research, it provides a crucial reminder to think wisely about conflict and war stats, immigration numbers, and changing demographics which all impact the work of reconciliation and the polycultural realities of the church in Canada. For each of these, there are many economic, social, spiritual insights and trends. It is vital then, to remain curious, because I have a tendency to over-reach to make others’ stats and concepts connect with my own, when their story behind the statistic might not be quite complete [6]. By asking open-minded, genuine questions, I too may find it’s delightfully difficult to stop [7]. 


[1] Note that the New York Times published a higher number of 500,000.  Hoffman, Jan. “Purdue Pharma Is Dissolved and Sacklers Pay $4.5 Billion to Settle Opioid Claims.” The New York Times, September 1, 2021, sec. Health. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/01/health/purdue-sacklers-opioids-settlement.html.

[2] “Painkiller – Netflix.” Accessed February 10, 2024. https://www.netflix.com/search?q=painKiller&jbv=81095069.

[3] Harford, Tim. How to Make the World Add Up: Ten Rules for Thinking Differently About Numbers. UK: The Bridge Street Press, 2021, 59.

[4] Harford, 156.

[5] Bolman, Lee G, and Terrence E Deal. How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand, 2014, vii.

[6] Harford, 92. 

[7] Harford, 296.

About the Author


Joel Zantingh

Joel Zantingh serves as the Canadian Coordinator of the World Evangelical Alliance's Peace and Reconciliation Network, and as Director of Engagement with Lausanne Movement Canada. He has served in local and national roles within the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, and led their global mission arm. He has experience teaching in formal and informal settings with Bible college students and leaders from various cultures and generations. Joel and Christie are parents to adult children, as well as grandparents. They reside in Guelph, Ont., situated on the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and home to many past, present and future First Nations peoples, including the Anishinnabe and Hodinöhsö:ni'.

12 responses to “What Am I Looking At? OK. What Questions Does It Pose?”

  1. mm Jennifer Eckert says:

    Hi Joel, I found myself nodding in agreement with your mention of Purdue Pharma as a perfect example of profits over people. I also appreciated the signposting you did in your intro. I’m curious how you identify what questions or content is missing for a topic that is relatively new to you? Prayers for continued healing.

    • Thanks Jennifer! I do think this relates back to Threshold Concepts (Meyer and Land). Even when my knowledge is relatively small on topics like the NFL Super Bowl teams competing tonight, I can engage in active, social and creative learning.

      This way, the questions are not simply what data is missing, But my questions come from the curious engagement with visual and active stimuli from content and others.
      Then the questions start coming:
      What can I learn that’s not already available to me by asking who knows more about the players and the teams?
      What is the relationship of the NFL to the American Military complex?
      Why is the NFL setup as a charity?
      How has the sport been doing at addressing concussion injuries?
      How are the fans responding to the latest overt push to online betting?

      This is what I do while watching a game, chatting with others, and helping me build a constructivist paradigm.

      If you have any insight to offer, I’d love to receive it.

      • Adam Cheney says:

        I am looking forward to watching my team, the 49ers win this afternoon:). Well, hopefully, it is not a repeat of 4 years ago when the same two teams played as my team lost. I laughed as I read your comment, especially about the online betting. Yesterday, I heard an ad on the radio about how great online betting is and encouraging betting. The ad lasted about 20 seconds. However, for the next 40 seconds was another ad about helping people with gambling addiction and offering support for those who gamble. How do we reconcile these two contrasting ideas? Americans want our freedom of choice but then we also want to provide support for those who need help. Though my kids will be rooting for Taylor Swift today and her team, I am just happy to have a reason to gather with people for a party.

        • Here is a tie-in to Super Bowl and puppies, as featured in this week’s discussion post by Chad.

          I submit this with full care for people struggling with addiction, and encourage us to continue to speak to the harm of gambling to individuals and their families.

          About betting, and the inevitable virtue-signalling that those profiting from the betting care about the addiction-supports, I wonder about lessons from brick and mortar casino traffic over the course of its run. Likely the online sports betting will follow similar initial trends. Kahneman would encourage us to look at the outside view / inside view to work from a base rate.

  2. mm Kari says:

    Joel, I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with this illness. “Painkiller” has been on my “to watch” list and an excellent example to bring in to this weeks blog.

    I’m curious if there were any specific areas or examples in your own leadership journey where you pushed into your curiosity of a different perspective and found you were led down an unexpected path?

    • Kari, what a great question.

      Here’s an example from my time with when I stepped into a role of Interim Director of our our-house global mission arm called ‘World Partners’ in 2017. I inherited the job of assembling a team to assess the state of global missions engagement in our congregations.

      Along with a team, we conducted our own surveys, interviews and referenced a newly released Canadian survey on many facets of this from our national Evangelical alliance – https://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/Communications/Research/Canadian-Evangelical-Missions-Engagement-Study

      I found with it was in my direct linkage and relationship to global partners (Local leaders in International contexts), that my curiosity developed.

      It was a Rule 6 moment – who is missing.

      Their insights, due to majority world cultural deference, or lack of relationship enough to impact the thoughts or passions for missions in North American mission committees and pastoral leaders we interviewed, were not reflected very strongly in our Canadian studies.

      This led to pushing for their voices in our research, and on our Taskforce.

      I stayed on as Executive Director for World Partners from 2018 – 2021, and got our strategic framework approved.

      The results were that our findings reframed Mission worker recruitment, reporting, partnership development, and campaigns that now have a far-more integrated feel with global partners, cross-cultural workers, and Canadian churches collectively. And of course, it’s still in its early days in seeing deeply entrenched Canadian views adjusting, but unexpected paths often require a long-view towards systemic change. Nicole Jones-Qandah, my successor, is leading that change carefully and wisely.

  3. Elysse Burns says:

    Joel, thank you for this informative post. I remember my undergraduate days as a business student and feeling uncomfortable in marketing classes. I enjoyed the creative aspect, but I was bothered by some things. It’s amazing what you can hide by just changing a few words here and there!
    You mentioned, “[You] have a tendency to over-reach to make others’ stats and concepts connect with [your] own, when their story behind the statistic might not be quite complete.” Would you mind sharing an example of this if appropriate for a public space (i.e. security reasons)?
    I ask because as someone who lives overseas, I am often surprised how exaggerated or inaccurate the information (from abroad) becomes once it spreads stateside to churches and/or supporters.

  4. Chad Warren says:

    I always enjoy your thoughts. I appreciate your emphasis on “Naive Realism” from rule 2. In my reading this week I flew by that idea without much pause. Your post gave me pause as I consider the ways I assume my perspective to be the normal one everyone else sees. Thank you!

  5. Akwése Nkemontoh says:

    Joel, first off I’m sorry to hear you haven’t been feeling well, and am praying for your full recovery! Despite you being stuck in bed it sounds like you were still able to be productive, tying insights from Netflix into this week’s assignment. I also appreciate your openness in naming some of your own growth edges.

    Towards the end you spoke about the importance of thinking “wisely” while also highlighting your own tendency to “over-reach to make others’ stats and concepts connect with my own”. Especially when operating in global missions, what does it truly require of you to operate ” wisely”, as someone from the minority world, whose work is focused on the majority world?

    It made me wonder how we remember to ask questions and actually explore the answers before we make descisions. I know for me I will often find myself
    full of questions both from data and “from the curious engagement with visual and active stimuli from content and others” yet while the desire is to dig deeper, if I have to make a decision on something that is pressing I have to admit it can be hard to really do my due diligence in allocating adequate time to explore something. That said, ” it being hard” is not an excuse and I think part of our responsibility as global leaders is to be good stewards of our power and privilege.

    Would love your thoughts on how you engage accountability in this.

    • I am writing this in response to both Akwése’s and Elysse’s followup questions.

      A current example of seeking to walk wisely is with regard to the war in Gaza. Through the Peace and Reconciliation Network, accountability comes before framing any calls to action or calls to prayer offered to and through the World Evangelical Alliance, by elevating the voices from the context above my own.

      But a theological paradigm of liberation (Jürgen Moltmann) insists that true liberation must be for the victim and the perpetrator, and that God, on the cross suffers with all who suffer. In Gaza, “God is under the rubble” has been used by peace-advocates. Yet in the midst of the struggle, these theological truths can seem callous to the real pain in real time.

      While I don’t always get it right, I do need to get behind the story of the stats and the theology, in order to steward my privilege for justice. Rather than make a statement here, I offer these as questions from a Western perspective trying to lift up the MENA voice:

      How do we speak in solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis who have been in a multi-centuries zero-sum game approach to winning territory for their people? How do I speak this to Canadian Evangelicals, some of whom are Zionistic and apocalyptic in how they think of this, with little regard for the genocidal elements of this assault?
      How do I respond when my Middle East Christian brothers and sisters look to South Africa, because of their presentation to the International Court of Justice, as those with moral authority?
      How do I reconcile the West’s approved billions in support for Israel without accountability or conditions, while washing our hands of any responsibility for the loss of Palestinian lives?
      How do I uphold these accountabilities while recognizing I too will easily be maligned or associated with one extreme view?
      How does one say, I am against terrorism, hostage-taking, and evil brutality, AND against the abuse of Gazans as civilian casualties of war with nowhere to go, and insufficient humanitarian aid?
      How do I refrain from prescribing my own solutions without understanding the intergenerational trauma being played out?

      These layers all speak to the multiple accountabilities to God, to Christian brother and sister, and to humanity.

  6. Diane Tuttle says:

    Joel, thank you for asking those questions in your reply to Elysse and Alwese. There is depth in them that caused me to reread them and pause. I wonder what the world would look like if more of us and especially world decision makers were also asking them. They seem fundamental to our faith and mutual human existence on a finite earth.

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