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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

All About the Top Dog

Written by: on March 2, 2018

“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

3McIntosh, 103-108

4Ibid.155

5Ibid,15

7McIntosh, 55

About the Author

Greg

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.

12 responses to “All About the Top Dog”

  1. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Adultery and embezzeling seemed like “normal” ways that pastors fall from grace, but “exposing themselves”! ?!?! Is that a common problem?? That one caught me off guard.

    That, and the idea of hiring someone to drink shots. Too funny. And where do I apply?

    I can’t imagine how challegning it must be to design a culturally adapted leadership program that incorporates the values of trust and humility and even service and accountability. But I’m sure there are also aspects of Asian culture that reflect values that we in West need to better incorporate. What are some of those?

    • Greg says:

      Yea the exposing oneself was new to me too. YIKES. also you do NOT want to apply for the drinking joy….this is not wine but Chinese clear vodka called bai jiu. I have been in restaurants and have seen fall down drunks at 8 pm. Not enjoyable. I did focus a little on the negative, it is easy for a westerner to focus that difference as being negative. China has many good things including its focus on family and community mindedness. I think seems to be really different than the west push for independence and isolation.

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Greg,

    I was not aware of the alcohol/tobacco situation with Chinese business deals. Shouldn’t surprise me though. In Montana, unfortunately most of the political gatherings are full of the same. In fact, at several functions in support of morality and value, several politicians have driven home drunk. Quite a disconnect…

    Were you able to identify some of your own dark side tendencies?

    • Greg says:

      Hi Jay, I need to spend more time in this book to process my own darksides. Our current pace of books (as we all know) doesn’t feel like it gives me a lot of processing time.

  3. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    As always Greg, its so intereting to see about the cultural context of the Chinese. I lived three years in Japan when I was a kid because my dad was in the Marine Corps. Much of my Asian culture comes from that experience and my philipino brother in law. Power is certainly acted out differently in each of these cultures! I feel like only recently has taking actions toward health has been seen as wise and not a sign of weakness. In cultures were power and strength are so glorified, I imagine it is even harder to deal with a darkside. “If I was only stronger, I would not have to worry about this darkside”

    • Greg says:

      I didn’t know you grew up for a few years in Japan. Having a global influence as a kid can be a good thing. I think even for us balances respect, authority and power can tricky things.

  4. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Greg,
    I love getting the insight from China, your discussions of how the church there would view things so much differently than in the U.S. is truly fascinating. Do you find that there is a high rate of what would be considered moral failure here as just given the excuse of “the devil made me do it” and how do the churches move forward after these failures.

    Jason

    • Greg says:

      This is tough question Jason, because sin is so hidden. There is so much domestic and child abuse that is never heard of publicly. I don’t know that answer to the moral failure issue. People would cover it up and either start their own group or ask the leader to quietly resign. (depending on the group structure). The spirit world is never in question here as well. There is definitely a section of believers that would blame all of the devil more than personal responsibility.

  5. Chris Pritchett says:

    Hey Greg, thanks for your thoughtful post. You always have interesting things to say. I was resonating with your explanations of leadership and China and was reminded of the Taiwanese congregation I led a number of years ago. This notion of being anything but directive and authoritarian is considered weakness, makes a lot of sense from the short time I spent with the Formosan church. There were some wonderful moments of breakthrough, when, as you quoted, a container was set for people, particularly the 1.5-2nd gen members, for them to share their significant challenges as Taiwanese-Americans, when they were not able to share these struggles at home. I appreciate your humility and imagine that it is your most valuable resource in leadership in China.

    • Greg says:

      Thanks Chris. We do view our task in to help create leaders shaped differently. This is a messy and challenging adventure. In some of our college work we have chinese that will share some of the deepest pain with foreigners because they are “safe” places and no one in the family wants to hear it. Creating safe spaces for Asians is key to hurt, healing, and transformation.

  6. Shawn Hart says:

    Greg, I noticed in the comments that everyone found different things in your post that caught their attention. I was wondering if your friend Paul put out a book on how to get rid of those troublemakers that insist on challenging you…this might be a new approach worth entertaining. LOL.

    Seriously though; something you said really did hit a note…do you think the problem is not so much our dark sides, but rather when people support our dark sides? If a preacher gets up and preaches a racial sermon and everyone gives up a hearty “AMEN”, I imagine the encouragement received will reinforce that behavior. At the same time, if they reprimand him and demand an apology, his bad behavior is put in check and hopefully he learns from his mistake. I wonder how many leaders feed off of the encouragement they receive. I studied Simon the Sorcerer this morning and how he saw the power of the apostles at work and wanted it for himself…what if instead of getting rebuked, he was praised for his desire to show the power of God? I wonder how that story would have ended up.

    provocative post bud

  7. EB says:

    I learned something new from this article. Thanks!

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