Celebrities or Servants – How Christian Leadership should be

William Chalmers Burns


After a short while in China, Hudson Taylor met someone who had a huge impact on him and helped further shape his own ministry.

A Bright New Star Arrives on the Christian Scene
By today’s standards, the Scotsman William Burns could have been as great a celebrity as any successful leader. He could have published extensively, taken speaking engagements across Britain and America. He had, after all, just witnessed a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Sensing his own call to take the gospel to the nations, Burns had considered India as well as China but had suddenly been offered the opportunity – as his first ministerial assignment – to preach in Dundee for Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

M’Cheyne was already well known in Scotland and had gathered a large congregation. Humanly speaking it would be fairly tough to match his standard of leadership. For Burns, this was his first regular preaching assignment – but something unusual happened!

Holy Spirit Revival!
Undeterred by a possible nonresponsive Scottish reserve, Burns had prayed for and now preached for conversion, trusting God for the power of the Holy Spirit![i]

The meetings went well, and returning for a meeting in his home town of Kilsyth, he preached there and the power of God fell. He describes the scene:

[I began] ‘to plead with the unconverted before me instantly to close with God’s offers of mercy, and continued to do so until the power of the Lord’s Spirit became so mighty upon their souls as to carry all before it, like the rushing mighty wind of Pentecost !

During the whole of the time that I was speaking, the people listened with the most riveted and solemn attention, and with many silent tears and inward groanings of the spirit;

but at the last their feelings became too strong for all ordinary restraints, and broke forth simultaneously in weeping and wailing, tears and groans, intermingled with shouts of joy and praise from some of the people of God.’[ii]

Returning to Dundee, at the regular Thursday evening prayer meeting, he told the congregation news of the outpouring he had just witnessed.

The Holy Spirit was poured out once again and every night for four months meetings were held and thousands felt the impact. One biographer says ‘the whole city was moved as family after family were converted![iii]

The Relative Obscurity of Faithfulness
Following such a hugely successful season of evangelistic preaching we might have expected Burns to redirect his steps and stay in the UK. However, he followed through with his conviction, left Scotland, and became an obscure missionary to China where he spent the rest of his life.

What a great encouragement he was to Hudson Taylor, as was Taylor to him. Burns followed Taylor’s example of adopting Chinese rather than European dress.

But what a lesson for us – in a day when publishers and people so love the celebrity status of our leaders, to observe one of the most highly gifted Christian leaders move out of the publishing spotlight into years of humble ‘unseen’ service for those who don’t know Christ.

To read the next part of the Hudson Taylor Story click here

For the first part of the Hudson Taylor Story click here

© Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] Memoir of the Rev William C Burns, Islay Burns (London, James Nisbet, 1873) (Current edition: Lightning Source, UK)

[ii] ibid

[iii] Old Time Revivals, John Shearer (Revival Library)

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