“Either follow the vision I have laid out or I am disbanding this leadership board,” said Pastor Paul after being challenged for his direction. Having a strong personality seems to be what the world sees as a successful leader. China has become a power house in business and thus has many kinds of leaders. Unfortunately Christians are influenced by their culture and secular models when called to be a leader in the Church.
As we look at how leadership has developed within China, it is easy to see the darkside; which is “the inner urges, compulsions, motivations and dysfunctions that drive us toward success or undermine our accomplishments.”1 The differences between the western and eastern philosophies of life seem to accentuate what we would consider to be negative or dark. What is perceived as wrong is often just a misunderstanding of the culture contextualization. In the Chinese context, a leader has to appear strong and confident in his or her knowledge and abilities. If they are weak, the employees will take advantage of them. In China, if someone isn’t watching you can do what you want. Thus a leader needs to keep a tight reign on those that are below them. This creates a natural separation between levels of leadership. If a leader is too friendly with those below them, they are seen as less effective.
Another aspect of business leadership is the depth that alcohol is intertwined with business deals. Business, alcohol and drunkenness seem to go hand in hand in Asia. Sometimes I have a meeting with factory owners and many of them have rotten teeth due to the intensity of alcohol and tobacco they consume. There are government officials and some corporate leaders that hire people to sit with them at meals to be their drink stand-ins when the hours of toasting come. This allows them to keep a clear head.
Another aspect of culture is the Machiavellian-type philosophy that the end result is the most important thing. If a student is required to pass a class, they do it by any means necessary. If an employee is to produce a report or a product, then they are expected to fulfill that demand at all cost. So the result is all that matters-the output is more critical than the ethical concerns. Ethics for many Chinese are often what you can get away with, what your family doesn’t know, or what keeps saving face. Deng Xiaoping former China leader in the 80’s said, “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”2 Meaning the end result is all the matters. This has implications within society and church.
In the churches, the leaders are expected to be like dictators or to be totalitarian in their approach to the church. Congregates are expected to follow in line with the leader. When a meeting is called or vision is cast, the people are to respond and do what is expected to fulfill the vision of the Pastor. If there is dissension, the pastor traditionally removes the trouble makers from their positions and asks them to leave. This is what happened in my friend’s church, Paul. He was challenged in his vision then disbanded the board and asked them to leave. The people of the church rallied behind him and saw him as a decisive and strong leader. Many leaders see Moses as a great model for their life and fall into what McIntosh and Rima call the “Compulsive leader”.3 Many of the pastors grew up in a secular home where results were all that mattered, love was not expressed. The education system reinforces that the top or teacher is always right. Teachers taught while students listened and were not asked to give input. This top down structure has unfortunately tainted the church.
“Many Christian leaders have been taught to blame the “enemy” for their leadership failures. When a leader commits adultery, embezzles money from the church, or gets caught exposing himself, the most frequent explanation among the ranks of the faithful is “Boy, the devil sure is working overtime,” with little attention given to the realities of human dysfunction.” 4 In a society that promotes the one at the top is always right, blame and excuses reign. I do believe the devil is working but believe many times he is working on and through the pastor. “However, because ambition is easily disguised in Christian circles and couched in spiritual language (the need to fulfill the Great Commission and expand the church), the dysfunctions that drive Christian leaders often go undetected and unchallenged until it is too late.”5 Ambition and drive seem to be glorified, even in China. Paul’s “house church” runs over 600 people on a weekly basis and is seen as an example of success. The role of a pastor or a leader is in need of being redefined.
There is a quote from a Harvard Business Review Article that I think is relevant. “As a leader, your role can be simply to create the safe space for people to air their frustrations and process their problems. Through mindful presence, you become the container in which they have space to process the issue, without you stepping in to solve, fix, manipulate, or control the situation[….]This shift in posture can influence how we think, behave, and communicate. In the same way that we can catalyze qualities like confidence through assuming a bold posture, we can induce qualities like awareness, focus, inclusion, and compassion through an uplifted, dignified posture.”6 Creating an atmosphere of trust and humility is what we desire in our leaders even though it is counter-cultural. True open conversations can create a mutual trust that heals and lays long term foundations.
We are and will always be products of our upbringing and culture. Our darksides can never fully be eradicated but with God’s help we can work through and manage these. “Leaders who face their darkside and redeem it accomplish the most over the long run.”7 As God is continuing to redeem me and my faults, He hopefully is using us to point current and future leaders toward the path of that same redemption.
1McIntosh, G., & Samuel D Rima. Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures (Rev. ed.). (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.2007) 29