A Non-Anxious Presence

Why does everyone seem so anxious these days? And how can pastors lead their congregations through these anxious times. Those are the questions that Mark Sayers attempts to answer in his book, A Non-Anxious Presence

Sayers first digs into the sources of the pervasive anxiety that seems to sit over the whole culture, even the whole globe. Sayers notes that anxiety is not just an individual phenomenon, but also a cultural one: it can spread throughout whole groups of people. One of the reasons why anxiety is so pervasive is because we are entering a “gray zone” as a world, an “in-between” moment between eras. One era is fading away while another new one is emerging. Yet in the overlap elements of each era are present. The gray zone is a confusing time where many old norms are being smashed while new ones are forming. The gray zone is a disorienting and anxiety-producing time because the solid and safe norms, structures, and expectations we’re used to are no longer there. 

Another major source of anxiety culturally is the fact that our world has moved from centralized strongholds to a decentralized network. The world has gone from complicated to complex, where everything is so interconnected that we cannot predict the outcomes of things at all. Therefore, small random things (like someone uploading a YouTube video in one country) can set off a chain reaction of events halfway around the world. Due to the move to a networked life, the usual set of institutions that have served as a buffer to absorb some of the anxiety of people are now dissolved, with the result that each person takes on more anxiety themselves. 

So what is the solution to leading through this disorienting, confusing, and anxiety-producing time? It’s in answering these questions that while Sayers argues we now live in a complex world his answers to dealing with complexity are remarkably simple. In fact, they are the basic practices of the Christian faith. A remedy for pervasive anxiety is to be a “non-anxious presence.” What does a non-anxious presence entail? It means to “remain present within the unhealthy environment while enduring the sabotage, backlash, and undermining that leaders inevitably face when trying to act as a non-anxious presence” (101). In other words, we must bear reproach. Pastors must be willing to bear with the reproach and sins of their flock in order to lead the congregation to a place of renewal. 

Sayers also argues that the “gray zone” is like a wilderness, and in Scripture, the wilderness is a place of encounter and renewal, not something to be avoided. In other words, pastors must embrace this time, for it is in the hardship that renewal occurs. Yet the hardships of this age are a decision point for leaders for “the personal renewal that leads to corporate change can become short-circuited. How? When the leaders gives into the temptation to retreat into a comfort zone, where we continue to lead but from a space in which walls are erected to keep out that which is difficult and painful” (112). Pastors must be willing to embrace the wilderness. 

They must also embrace the wilderness because it is the place of God’s presence. Leaders must draw from the deep well of an encounter with God to lead through these times. Extended time in prayer and Scripture are essential. Furthermore, they must also realize that when they are at their weakest, God’s strength is most manifested. They can be assured that just like physical pressure produces diamonds out of coal, so God will use the pressure of the gray zone to produce quality character in us as leaders. 

So while the world is complex, unpredictable, disorienting, and many times, discouraging, Christians leaders must be attentive to the basic practices of Christian leadership:

  • Bear Reproach
  • Pray and read the Bible
  • Embrace hardship and shun comfort 
  • Trust in God to use all things for good

Maybe things aren’t so complex after all

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