The Denison Forum Podcast Episode 48: We’re in between eras. How to have a non-anxious presence: A conversation with Mark Sayers

Friday, December 2, 2022

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The Denison Forum Podcast Episode 48: We’re in between eras. How to have a non-anxious presence: A conversation with Mark Sayers

November 7, 2022 - Denison Forum

Denison Forum podcast logo, protraits of Dr. Mark Turman and Dr. Jim Denison

Mark Sayers, Mark Turman, and Mark Legg discuss the great shift the world is going through, the lingering effects of Covid, how the “gray zone” affects ministry, and how to remain a “non-anxious presence.”

Show notes:

Mark Sayers talks about his faith journey and how he started writing (2:14). The three Marks talk about the significance of our culture’s ongoing shift, and the anxiety that comes from it (8:08). Sayers discusses the role of the internet in that shift, and the “hardware” change our culture is going through, focusing on the effects of Covid (12:50). They turn to discuss the culture’s widespread sense of false security, and how abundance leads to us trusting God less (27:16). Sayers digs further into the idea of the “gray zone,” and why confusion leads to anxiety and fear, and how the Bible applies to those struggles (32:14). Sayers ends by discussing the importance of leadership, and why God’s presence is critical in times of transition (43:19).

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts

Dr. Mark Turman is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

Mark Legg is the Associate Editor for Denison Forum. He graduated from Dallas Baptist University in 2021 with a degree in Philosophy and Biblical Studies.

About the guest

Mark Sayers is the senior leader of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia. He is passionate about spiritual renewal and the future of the church. Mark is the author of a number of books including Strange Days and Reappearing Church.  Mark lives in Melbourne with his wife, Trudi, his daughter, Grace, and twin boys, Hudson and Billy.

Transcript

Transcribed by Otter.ai

 

Mark Turman  00:11

Welcome to another episode of the Denison Forum. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison forum and host for this podcast. Today we’re sitting down with a couple of guests. first of those is one of our own mark leg is Associate Editor for Denison forum. And you’ve likely followed us if you have have read several of Mark legs, articles on the Denison Forum website. He is a very prolific writer, deep thinker. And we’re coming together from various parts of the world, Dallas, East Texas, and all the way from Melbourne, Australia, Mark leg. Welcome to the podcast and tell us a little bit about you and then introduce our guest, would

 

Mark Legg  00:54

you? Probably my name is Mark legg. That’s pretty key around here. Sometimes I’m known as mark the younger.

 

Mark Turman  01:06

And mark the older here.

 

Mark Legg  01:07

Yeah, yes, but I’m very excited to be on. I’ve been involved with the Denison Forum for several years now, which is crazy to say already. I started out as an intern, and then progressed there. And I’ve been very blessed by that. I’ve written quite a bit for the Denison Forum on various topics, and have also been given the opportunity and very blessed to have been given that opportunity. Right now I serve as the Associate Editor here. So I do a lot of things either from the administrative side all the way to writing and researching. My passion is for philosophy and the deepest things. So Mark, you’ll have to cut us off at some point because otherwise we could go on for a long time, pciking Mark Sayers’ brain. So yes, I graduated from DBU with a degree in philosophy and biblical studies. And eventually, I want to become a professor in philosophy. Although I love this form, I would love to stick around here. That’s kind of my plans. For that being said, Mark Sayers, sir, thanks so much for joining.

 

Mark Sayers  02:11

Yeah, absolutely. Pleasure to be here.

 

Mark Legg  02:14

Yeah. Tell us a little bit about yourself about your faith journey. And then, kind of your mission in your ministry, because there’s quite a few books that you’ve written. So we’re also in the midst of that curious about how you came about to writing so many of them? And what drives you to do that?

 

Mark Sayers  02:36

Yeah, so I guess there’s probably the faith journey starts with my father came to faith from a sort of completely unchurched background. And so I was lucky to grow up in a Christian family. But I think really, Faith probably came alive for me probably about 17. I think God was there. And I think I think I was a believer, but it was sort of in the background. But then really, when I was sort of 16, really encountered some sort of mental health challenges came quite sort of depressed. And then just sort of through surrendering my life, in my final year of high school. That’s when God really came alive to me. I went to college to study advertising. But it was actually interesting in my, in between the end of high school and the beginning of college, I spent some time actually in the US working in some sort of quite gang affected urban areas. And it was just when God really spoke to me. And sort of like this call into ministry began. So I went back, kept studying, but then ended up leaving advertising and actually became an intern with the Salvation Army. So I was actually with the Salvation Army for some time sort of doing ministry amongst the poor and then worked at a church or Salvation Army Corps. It’s cold in downtown Melbourne, in Bourke Street. Yeah, so that’s sort of the beginning of, I guess, my faith journey. And I never really intended to write on culture. I just was always interested about sort of culture, I guess, culture and faith and the intersection between the two is my interest. But I guess I just was always interested in the world and curious, I think, and curious how I had lots of unchurched friends and just how I communicated with them was always something that was fascinating to me. And then just one day was asked to right out of the blue, and yeah, just began to so I first wrote for a magazine here in Melbourne called shoot the messenger which is no longer around, which is really about culture and faith. And, and then began to get invited to write and then have been going since then. So I think I think there’s my eighth book. Yeah. Well, you gotta,

 

Mark Turman  04:49

you gotta love a magazine called shoot the messenger. That was a fun title. Yeah. Tell us a little bit about your family before you jump into jumping into the big, big statements with big words that I’ll be watching out for. All right, yeah. Tell us a little about your family and about your church. Yeah.

 

Mark Sayers  05:09

So I have three kids. My daughter Grace is 14, I got twin boys who attend. Billy and Hudson, and I’m married to Trudy. Trudy is actually involved in a national prayer ministry here in Australia, which is just sort of she’s was for a long time, an occupational therapist, and then she was a teacher of the deaf. But yeah, just God’s just developed a real heart for prayer, and connecting churches for prayer. And so that’s what she does. And yeah, so my church is called Read church. It’s an interesting name. We were talking just before off it, or people often asked Where did this name come from? I did inherit it. But the church that when I came to the church, it was actually a network of congregations. And you know, one of the guys spoke Spanish, and apparently I don’t speak Spanish, but one of the words for net is read. And that was the origins of that name. But yeah, continually asked, What is this? No mean? It’s good for branding, because you know, you just make it read. It’s very you make everything Yeah, yeah, it’s simple.

 

Mark Legg  06:19

Well, that’s great. Well, thanks for introducing that. You’ve written quite extensively, I mean, or you already said, You’ve written eight books. Is that right? This is your eighth?

 

Mark Sayers  06:28

Yeah, this is number, right. Yeah. Wow. Okay.

 

Mark Legg  06:31

So it seems like quite a few of them discussed, as you already said, the intersection of faith and culture. And that’s a lot of interest to us. Because that’s, honestly, the ministry that we’re in is the intersection of faith and culture, and how do we deal with the news on a day to day basis? And then how do we help believers adjust to that? Well, I’ll be completely honest, when I picked up your book, I don’t know I wasn’t expecting it to be that good. And here’s the only reason is because I knew nothing about you. I knew nothing about your ministry. But it was something we wanted to write a book review on. And I thought maybe I would get a few points out of it about leadership in this day and age as a Christian, things of that nature. But I was particularly particularly interested in your assessment of the culture, just from the get go, because you spent a good portion of the this leadership book talking about the culture. And it’s clear, you have a very polished message about where the Western culture is, particularly America, but also in all Western countries. And so I wrote in this book review that it’s uniquely clear and straightforward, for its insight. And so it’s clear that that’s been built up from, you know, the seven other books that you’ve written. So let me ask you this, what caused you to write this particular book? And about leadership? And how did you come to the conclusion, this kind of central point about the non anxious presence being so important?

 

Mark Sayers  08:08

Yeah, my sense is that we were going through a significant cultural change. And I sort of had this sense that for the last few years, and you know, I’ve been podcasting and writing and almost describing this world, that was where we’re sort of moving into, you know, people asking questions, what is it is to live in a post Christian society, probably also, the other interesting thing is being in Australia, probably gives us a slightly unique vantage point, like, there’s lots about Australia, that’s like America, but then there’s bits, which are different. There’s lots of industry that’s like the United Kingdom and Europe, but it’s slightly different. And so in a sense, you’re part of the West, but you’re also on the edge of the West, and Australia is very integrated with Asia now. So that’s what’s also interesting. So you see a lot of Asian culture, and particularly in my life, seeing the area I grew up in, radically changed through Chinese investment, Chinese culture, you know, which initially was like, you know, in a multicultural area. So you see that when you’re in a multicultural area with high migration, but then seeing the geopolitical implications of that, which is fascinating. So I just had this sense, probably in 2019, that a lot of what I’ve been describing the world as this sense of how do we live in a post Christian society, everyone was asking me questions around, you know, what does it look like if we still got this progressive reality and the culture and my cities and state is quite a progressive sort of place, but then I was like, Oh, my goodness, hang on. This is starting to go in different directions I did not anticipate. So that was really one of the root. So I guess presumptions and then I think when COVID happened, it was an interesting break for everyone. But I think it gave me some space to stop and think because I wasn’t doing you know, traveling and doing the things that I did and I just had a lot I have conversations with people who I normally wouldn’t have had the chance to go and travel so early, you know, 2020, I was doing zoom calls with leaders from people that I spoke to often I speak, I spoke to a lot of people in the US and Europe. But then talking to people in India, Singapore, and then seeing almost the uniformity. So there’s different things happening, every culture, but almost the uniformity of the world is radically changing and seeing them all dealing with it. So it asked me the question is, instead of just asking the question, what’s happening in, say, Western culture, I start asking the question, what’s the broad global changes that we’re going through? And how is that going to influence culture? So for example, like, you know, I, I began to see in my area, just in sort of 2018 2019, you know, the effects of the protests in Hong Kong became a cultural issue in my area, which I never expected, I don’t live in China or Hong Kong. But you know, there was posters, you know, the Chinese says, you know, the Chinese national flag was flying over our police station, and our and our town hall, because what happened was that you had the whole thing which you saw, which was you had people putting over government buildings, the rainbow flag. So that was sort of like this thing. How do we how do we head into you know, we’re heading to this new progressive reality. So that’s a sign of it. But then what happened was sort of the local, different groups which, you know, Chinese community said, Well, if there’s a rainbow flag represent that community, we need to have our flag. And so when I saw that I was like, hang on, this is different. This is not where I thought this would go. So I guess all those sort of quests, one example of a number of sort of senses I had, there’s something bigger was happening, and how do we wrestle with that? So that I guess that’s the essence. And you mentioned the non anxious presence. I sensed there was just so much anxiety when I, when I spoke to people everywhere, there was a sense that speak to people in the US, and they talk about polarization. But then I remember talking to leaders in India, and they’re talking about the direction of India and the Modi government, and, you know, Hindu nationalism, and how that made them feel as Christians. And I thought, this is a different scenario. But the sense of anxiety is what everyone’s feeling that there’s rapid change, we don’t understand that the world doesn’t look like it did three years ago. You know, how do we deal with this? So the term non anxious presence is from a rabbi and family therapists, God, Edwin Freeman, who wrote a book called a failure of nerve. And his argument is that to lead, you need to come from this non anxious posture. And that’s what people are looking for. So that’s that was putting geopolitics, that big changes in the world? And then we’ll how on earth do you lead in this is just the two components of the book.

 

Mark Turman  12:50

Right? If I can jump in here for just second, I’m just curious a thought comes to mind is, it’s a little counterintuitive when I was reading through some of your book, and I’m sure we can get to this in various ways. But there’s so many things that we start talking about, well, what generates all this anxiety, okay, the the rapid pace of change, and things weren’t changing, as much as they were COVID brings in this reality of, of unbelievable change that we’ve only kind of read about in some history books, but never something on this scale, you know, but I’ve always kind of felt like the good and the bad of the pandemic was that it happened everywhere. And that it, it wasn’t, it wasn’t just in one place where we could kind of ignore it if it wasn’t our place. But there was a sense of, okay, well, we are kind of really all in this together now in a way that we’ve never been before. But then in your book, you point out that communication on the scale that we have it now actually breeds more anxiety, can you kind of speak to that a minute, because we would, a lot of times we would have thought, intuitively no way that we can communicate with each other, that’ll be a good thing that will help us to navigate whatever’s coming. But to your point in the book, it is having the opposite effect. And Mark just wrote a great article for our website about Doom scrolling. And, and being so aware of everything that’s happening in the world, that you know, all of this global communication coming at us at one time, actually breeds an unbelievable amount of anxiety in us. Can you kind of unpack that a little bit?

 

Mark Sayers  14:47

I think early on some of the utopian promise of the internet was that if we can all just talk everything will be okay. The reality of how we’re seeing this is that when humans connected in life groups, we become more attuned to negative emotions. So for example, that just say you’re in a movie theater, and you’re sitting there to pack movie theater, if 20 People stood up and started screaming and ran out of the movie theater, even if nothing was happening, the chances are you’re going to be running out of that movie theater. Because there’s something infectious about fear, and negativity, gossip. And I was talking to a pastor of a large church in Melbourne a few years ago, and he talked about the fact that they had this incredible moment, at least, like 12 people from an unreached people group who migrated to Melbourne came to faith, incredible story, you know. And then they also had thing where one of the leaders had a moral failing. And he said to me, the moral failing, pretty much everyone in the church of 1000s knew with probably in 24 hours, they had to have this whole program to communicate the good news of these people being saved. And there’s something that you know, you hear gossip, it goes, and I think what’s happened is, as the Internet has become monetized, and early on, people struggle to believe that now but early on, one of the questions with early internet culture was how do we monetize this because everything’s free. And anything like Napster, everyone just getting free music and back in the days, and one of the ways they found to monetize it, particularly through social media was that negative emotions go viral, and anger, anger, and jealousy and envy, and negativity is something viral too. It’s almost like COVID, it just spreads. And I think that what we’ve seen is as the world’s been corrected, that’s happened. Secondly, to the area of our responsibility has changed. There’s something about I remember a number of years ago, most five years ago, there was a terrorist bombing. At I think it was Istanbul airport, I think it was an ISIS bombing. And I remember seeing the news, and it was a person on their phone talking, that this had just happened. And I remember seeing the fear in their face, you could see the explosion, they’re running out. And I remember thinking as a human, that is so much more capturing of me because humans are relational, we see faces. Whereas if I’d read that, in the New York Times, in a well written article, I would not have the same emotional connection with that. That’s happening all the time. Now, we are just bombarded by this emotive, almost, it’s almost like virtual reality, in a sense, you almost have a leaving it when you see these videos. So I think that’s just spreading and spreading. And I think there was a bit of naivety, I think one of the Christian tenants is the doctrine of original sin, you know, that, that, you know, by just connect everyone, everything’s gonna be great, we, it just doesn’t work like that. It gives a chance for good things to spread and good things do spread. But also, it’s we’re connected to the sin and brokenness of the world. We’re aware of it in a way and experience it in ways that we didn’t in the past.

 

Mark Legg  17:59

Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. I was just about to go there and ask you about how that connects to original sin. Because the first thing that came up to me is there’s a lot of talk, even in the secular world, about how this is doing so much damage, and how connectivity is maybe not as great as we thought it was. But there’s that original connection of whenever we have a promise of a utopia, we should always be very, very skeptical, or just maybe rejected outright. But as Christians, because we know about that doctrine, or you know, honestly, just that people are broken. And we’re just gonna simplify it. That’s the baseline, what the Bible’s communicating, were broken. And so there’s a lot more of a chance for that spread. So I guess, do you think? So you’ve talked about how this kind of destabilizing effect is global? And so there is that geopolitically, as you talked about, there’s all these concerns of about nationalism, from here, all the way to India and all across the world. Let me ask you talk a little bit about how there are software changes that happen on computers. And societies throughout time have these software changes, where it’s like, okay, these things are changing. Maybe the political side is changing a bit. We have a new party, maybe things like of that nature, or we’re going through a hardware change. And I thought that was a pretty compelling example, I just switched from a Windows computer to a Mac. And I can speak to some differences there. So let me ask you that, like, Can you unpack that change? Why is that happening, where you see that coming from?

 

Mark Sayers  19:42

A number I was about four or five years ago, I was walking through Melbourne. At night at that stage, Melbourne had won the world’s most livable city award for multiple years in a row. And I’d come from a soccer game and it was kind of this backstage. him, and I’m walking through the city and it’s just restaurants filled with people. There was a basketball game on another football game, there was a massive concert with Taylor Swift or something. And I’m walking through the city, I’m just going this is this is unbelievable. I totally get why some people, if you’re 27, and you’re in this place, why do you need God? You got all these options, you know, it’s all around. And, and I remember thinking as a minister, this is I’m battling this, I’m not like battling some, some great crisis in the culture, it’s like, everything seemed too good. And I think part of what I felt at that time was this is just going to keep getting better, the world’s going to keep improving technology will get better the world to get smoother. And I think that’s around 2018 2019. I just noticed, even international travel got got easier. Like, I could use my Uber in Melbourne, in Los Angeles in London. You know, I remember running out of, you know, like, sometimes when you’re traveling, you haven’t done a wash, you need to buy a shirt, you’ve spilled something, buying a shirt, and just walking into UNIQLO. And going, Oh, I looked at that one in Melbourne, the other week, I’m now in London, I’ll get that exact same shirt shirt to the same money. So the world was becoming this super smooth place. And part of my argument was, that’s what’s creating a sense of leave to secularism. And so some of the ways which we’ve argued about secularism, and post Christianity rightly, is around the battle of ideas and 100% believe in that. But I just began to say, Hang on, there’s a structural reality as well. And I remember thinking, if I took some of these people in Melbourne, and I dumped them in rural Afghanistan, in a village, where they were having to live under the Taliban, how would their lives change? How would their worldview change? And I realized that a lot of our worldview is actually shaped by the structural reality. And then I began to realize, like, what if some of the things changed, like the thing I noticed there was, one of the things I found fascinating was when 911 happened in Melbourne, on the other side of the world, we saw a bump in church attendance for a couple of months. i That’s fascinating. Like, we didn’t get attacked, like, it wasn’t our country. Why? Because people the bubble of this, this safe, controlled world got popped. And people saw Americans who they thought looks like them. We’re seeing the same thing with Ukraine, you know, like people are seeing, you know, the thing of, of people who look, you know, like, innocent, I’m gonna say this thing of this young, I think it’s like a young barista art student, and he was lining up. Because all men had been called up. And him just saying, a week ago, I never thought I would fight in the war. But here I am now signing up, you see that it’s arresting, you know, because it’s like, Oh, what was that? What if that was me? Now, so what we saw happening with COVID, is he realized that this this world that creates this environment for secularism that we’ve experienced in the West, if you tweaked a few things, it would start to go off. And we’ve lived in the world global globalization system has lived out of this on a number of things, it’s lived on American power, because the US military has enabled the sea lanes of the world to operate, and we can fly planes and, and it’s also on bid on just in time manufacturing, where, you know, I was talking to a builder here, and he said, you know, he could order something and a piece of timber in China, within a week could come to his building site, he just whatever he wants to hang on, a few things just went off here, this system would start to short circuit a bit. And then COVID began to do that, like we saw in COVID. There are places where people only really last down for like, six weeks. And I’ve spoken to pastors in US states who had a very short lockdown, then had very few rules after that, and they lost a third of their church. And I’m just like, wow, fascinating, or if there was change a couple of dials of the system. So I think my argument is, I think we do need to keep talking about ideas and the battle of ideas. That’s really important worldview. But I realized that I think that what we’re going through is not just ideas, we’re actually going through a significant structural change in the world. And you know, we’re seeing this, you know, I read an article last night by the English historian Damien, Dominic sandbrook, who said, The Golden Age of travel may be over, you know, the cheap flight to Mexico. And you know, you can get and fill your tank with gas and drive to see your relatives four states away. He’s like, What is that it’s over. No one’s thought about that. And if the options come down, food prices more expensive. You can’t go to that cool cafe and have your avocado on toast because it’s just really expensive. It’s going to change how people see the world is it going to I’m not saying it’s going to cause some massive revival, everyone’s going to fall on their knees and say, oh, we need God, because I don’t think it’s a full white crises, but it’s a dialing down of expectations about life. And we’re seeing, I think, a more realistic thing around life. So one final thing like the thing that struck me when the Ukraine conflict began, was how many people From hipsters in Kyiv, to people in Europe, saying, I can’t believe this is happening in 2022. Now, if you said this, this was happening all over the world, what made us think that in our special control system that we created called the developed world, that we wouldn’t have wars anymore? You know, that’s an eyeball that just got exposed. And there’s a structural change happening in the world. And I think seeing that is really key.

 

Mark Turman  25:27

And I can kind of affirm what you’re saying, because over the weekend, I was talking with a friend who has about 10 years left 1012 years left of his working career. And he was talking about, he was thinking about making some pretty significant decisions, and even the purchase of possible retirement location. And he said, we’re talking about why he wanted to do this move away from a major population center here in the US move into a rural environment. And he says, Look, I’ve seen things in the last couple of years, I never thought I would see, one of them in particular, being Scarcity on the shelf at the grocery store, I never thought in America, in this modern world, that I would go to a grocery store and not find everything and anything that I wanted, immediately and abundantly there. And it’s just got me thinking that the way the world has been doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the way it’s going to be. And maybe the best thing that I could do long term is to be as simple in my life as I could be. And, you know, having little or no debt, and being as self sustaining as I could be. And, you know, I had a, I had a professor one time, who said, you know, if you look at the biblical account, every time Israel went to the big city, they got in trouble. Again, you know, there’s there’s something to that idea, right. But it’s an interesting thing is, you know, what if What if our world doesn’t have as many options in it, as we’ve come to expect that are always going to be there?

 

Mark Legg  27:16

There’s a sense of absolute security, absolute abundance, that no makes it seem like we don’t need God as a fortress. We have the greatest military in the world, or and I think we’ve had that sense of security for a long time. Now. 911 did shake things up, culturally speaking, but at the same time, at least in my generation, that I feel that it’s that sense of security, is very strong still. And I wonder, Mark, I know you’ve done a lot of thinking about this. So I, I was just reading a book, it’s a bit of an older book, it’s called the next evangelicalism by assume genre, and he has discussed how he thinks a big source of where the church’s strength will be. I mean, he’s talking specifically in America, but in general in the West as well, that a lot of strength can come from immigrant communities, who are believers or who come to Christ, because there is a sense of, there’s a connection to the Bible that they have in their need. There’s the sense of insecurity and like uprooting with some of them with hardly any money, coming to a completely new country where you don’t speak the language. What does that look like? What does church look like for them? And he discussed how a lot of immigrant churches are. There’s a lot more face to face kind of ministry happening. There’s a lot more. And you said that you started your ministry, kind of in the thick of it, right? at Salvation Army. So thinking about how kind of the face to face service, hardship, Christianity that we see in that, do you see that in Australia, like you said, with a lot more immigration and and does that connect to how we’re seeing a revival of Christianity in Asian countries? Right. And so I’m just wondering if you can connect those dots.

 

Mark Sayers  29:19

I mean, Australia is a very secular country. And I was stunned when I worked on with people who lived on the streets in Australia, how almost all of them having spiritual conversations was so easy. And our so many of them had a faith of some kind. And that was really interesting for me to encounter. I was in the UK recently and spent some time with a ministry called Ilan industries, who’s a ministry working with Iranian people in the Iranian diaspora and the and the underground church in Iran. And, you know, I just sat and listened to stories that are just just incredible. It’s like hearing stories from the early church and You know, we were seeing a revival, I would call it a revival amongst the Iranian people who have been traditionally, you know, in the, in the last sort of couple centuries, Iran has been a really hard to reach country. But then in 1979, you had the Iranian Revolution. And, you know, you had many people travel around the world become displaced. And God’s, you know, worked in incredible ways we have at our church, Iranian asylum seekers who literally, you know, like, on a boat between Indonesia and Australia, and having like visions of Jesus, like, you know, out in the water, there’s never, you know, the stories you don’t hear often in secular countries. And, you know, this is something I think about being displaced, about being insecure. You know, which, which you need, you know, and our absolute realization of our lack of our own power and ability to achieve things and have things leads us to God. In Australia, we also have a points based immigration system, which is basically I guess, weighted to Ward’s wealthier migrants as well. Now, it’s interesting, you know, we have lots of very wealthy migrants who come from India and China and these places, and you don’t always see that need there. So I think it’s, it’s maybe less about migration, as it is about need, you know, financial needs structural need. And but I think there’s a really key point in that, that, you know, so much of this is, how do we attune ourselves to the opportunities to come as scarce we move from possibly a culture of abundance to a culture of scarcity? And, and, you know, again, to like, I don’t think it’s going to be like, you know, we’re heading towards becoming, you know, you know, underdeveloped nations more. Yeah, exactly. It’s more. Yeah, exactly. But it’s more that we have had generations who are just grown up with, I expect to have everything at the click of a button. And when that doesn’t happen, you know, what sort of, you know, opportunities, does discipleship and evangelistic does that raise for us?

 

Mark Legg  32:09

Yeah, well, absolutely.

 

Mark Turman  32:14

The market, you talk a little bit in your most recent book about confusion being one of the biggest reality symptoms. And that that’s characteristic of, you know, I think it was Francis Schaeffer, or CS Lewis, maybe both of them talked about, if you happen to be living at one of the times when what they call the hinge moments of history, you may, you may be standing at a place where God does one of those most amazing things. But if you’re not living or standing, at that moment, have one of those big hinge points that doesn’t make your life any less. But you do talk about how we’re moving in this, that we are in this gray zone, between what has been and what will be can you kind of unpack that in the characteristic of confusion? I think one of the things that I think is really most helpful in reading your book, and also in doing podcasts like this is to help people kind of understand and be able to define their reality, so that it can be more comprehensible to them. And when it’s when it is more comprehensible. It’s less scary, right? And they can they can see what they’re dealing with. I think that’s really one of the big values of your book is to be able to frame things for people to have a lens to look through. Okay, I’m not the only one that’s confused. I’m not the only one that feels disoriented. Why is that? Why? Why does it seem to be that way? And how did it get that way so fast and talk about this gray zone a little bit and what we’ve been and where we’re going?

 

Mark Sayers  33:57

Well, sort of when I started thinking about this book, I was almost like, hoping I could come up with a new name for the new era. Like I felt we’re entering into a new era. I grew up I can name that, you know, and then you know, I’ll have named the new era and there’ll be all these books about how do we do ministry in the new Hira, you know, whatever I called it. And then I began to realize that hang on. I don’t know exactly what’s emerging, like you can see elements of what’s emerging and see technology. And you can see like when the metaverse was announced, it was interesting, because a lot of people saying, Oh, this is going to be the future and we’re going to live in a Metaverse but there’s others like, I don’t think it’s gonna happen. And like, Now hang on, where are we going to the metaverse or aren’t we? And, you know, I began to realize that what was actually happening was we weren’t entering into a new era. We were entering into the period let’s a corridor between eras. A quote from the Indian novelist or Ronda hottie Roy in the Financial Times at the beginning of the pandemic, and she said this fascinating line which, which stuck with me was pandemics are the portals between worlds. I was like, wow. And I listened to a couple of podcasts and read a book on the Spanish flu and how much the Spanish Flu did change things. And it ended up being sort of this, you know, end from the end of World War One into what began in the 1920s, the roaring 20s. And so I began to realize that actually what was happening, so to give you an example, and I was in London, last last few weeks, and, you know, been to London and a lot love the city. And I was fascinated, what is post COVID London, like, you know, and you got there. And in many ways I got there on the Jubilee weekend. So it seemed full of people, I think it seems like old London, but ego that stores not there anymore. That’s changed. And, but then in the second week, we’ll be there. And the Jubilee crowds went away. It was like, wow, this is quiet. I’m on the tube, midweek on a Monday morning. And there’s an empty carriage in the underground, this is not normal. So it’s like I’m in London, but it’s like slightly off. And I had that sense. I get in Melbourne downtown, and there’s all these stores closed, and there’s more homeless people. And it’s something’s changed here. But it’s not fully, like I’m still here. I can recognize things but something’s changed. And you feel that about the world. You know, you’ve watched sports, and it’s still sports. But hang on, it’s changed a bit or, and I had this sense that we’re actually in this period where a gray zone is a term I took from, actually a term that was used around the first Russian incursion into Ukraine, where people ask the question is, is this a war? Or isn’t it, you had these like, call them the little green men turned up and all these military installations in the Donbass and Crimea, there was cyber attacks. There was information warfare, but it wasn’t like a full war. Like in the past, it was clear, we’re at war, we’re not at war, this was something in between, and arises that’s very characteristic of the world now. So in a gray zone, you’ve got one era ending, so you still see some characteristics of it. And you’ve got another era emerging, but it’s not fully formed. And you’re leaving with both. So that creates confusion, because the markers which you look for to find a sense of place, and understanding, we call eras by certain names, we talked about the Victorian era in Britain, because it was marked by Queen Victoria, who created this order. And there’s a clear sense that this is what everything was, but we’re now between audits. So it’s this very confusing place to live in. But I think once you understand that, we’re in a transitional point, it becomes clearer. And that’s, that is a marker of how to understand our place, something’s ending, something’s beginning. But there’s sort of it’s like the sun setting and rising on two different horizons at the same time.

 

Mark Legg  37:39

And confusion, is, it’s not very far to lead from confusion to fear. I mean, they’re Yes, in many ways, they’re kind of the same thing. It’s darkness is very, like, make people afraid, because you don’t know what’s in the dark. So we’re in this time, I think it’s really helpful to think about it like that, like a gray zone, where we’re in between. You talked about this is a great quote, I don’t mind I pulled it from your book that says God’s presence, turns an unformed wilderness into a garden of growth, of holy growth. And I’ve been thinking a lot about how God takes because we might think this is a very unique struggle of ours, of a 21st century. But I think back to Biblical stories of the Israelites who were under existential threats from nations much larger than them all the time throughout the Old Testament. And so we have a framework to view not only us an existential crisis as a people as a culture, because Israelites are going through that all the time. And so we’re going through the wilderness. And so you’re talking about the wilderness too. And so, we just know that our God is a God who makes beautiful things and new things out of existential crises out of fear and confusion. And, and so as people are in this state, first of all, kind of generally, how do you I mean, we don’t we can’t predict how, Lord, the Holy Spirit’s gonna move, but how do you see churches? Following through that and saying, Okay, we know we’re in confusion. We know we’re in this this lane between areas. Have you seen churches step up to take advantage of that, and how have they have they done that?

 

Mark Sayers  39:27

Yeah, I think that you’re hitting the essence of one of things I was trying to do in this book, which was reframed this moment. And one thing I noticed that I talked to a lot of pastors in 2020 and 2021, on zoom around the world, and and what I noticed was very marked by here’s what I can’t do. You know, you know, I can’t meet at the moment because of the governor restrictions or people haven’t come back or I can’t get the volunteers that I had, or you know, it was it was all what I don’t have, but it’s interesting. I also would hear these things where they might throw The end of the conversation I’ll be, you know, it’s so much easier to talk about Jesus, I’m having conversations at the school gate or something. And our team saw that, like, in Melbourne, people having spiritual conversations everywhere, people were reassessing their lives, you know, yes, there were people who walked away from church, but we’ve had people who were super flaky on the edge of our church, who are now completely switched on for Jesus, because they went through this life reassessment. And, you know, unlike I try and send to people, you know, it’d be almost like, I don’t want to, I don’t want to minimize what’s happened with COVID and everything, or what’s happening in that world. But in a sense, perhaps a worse fate was everything just got better and better and better. You know, I mean, people, but like, one of the big trends that people were talking about in church was people are coming less and less regularly. You know, there’s one denomination, which I know of, which is redefining regular attendance from every two weeks to every six weeks. What a nightmare. I hate you decided to go every six weeks, keep putting their kids in sport over church is becoming more and more normal, you know? And so I thought, hang on, what if this is actually an opportunity? And you mentioned the wilderness there, you know, if you think about Israel’s wilderness experience was in between Egypt and the promised land. And that in between space was a time of incredible preparation, where God did so much to the people of God, he created a remnant. He took them really on this sense of discipleship and formation. And I also was inspired by the life of David, you know, David, all the wonderful things we submit David De Santis defeated Goliath, you know, it all comes from the formation he had, you know, looking after the, you know, the flock in the wilderness. So I was like, let’s reframe this, you know, and in answer the question, I don’t see, this sounds bad. I don’t see hipster churches, really grabbing this moment, there is a lot of stuff happening. Like I know, like, in our area, perhaps the churches haven’t worked as well as always before this. But it was quite amazing in in our, in our church, we had a long lockdown here in Melbourne, and one of the amazing things happened that the churches in this area, began to pray together. My wife organized a prayer walk, so we could we couldn’t meet, but people could walk, you could have your daily walk. We had over 500 people from different churches walking our local area praying, I wouldn’t ever seen that. We had one church, which became the center of food collection. And the police came to the churches and said, How can we help we going to people, we can go to houses, and we’re encountering all these people in need? Can the churches give us food packs to give to door so we had all these churches working together, praying, getting food, and the police partnering with the church to give to the poor, like amazing stuff happening, you know, in the midst of it. So I think I saw that if they hang on, there’s advantages here. let’s reframe this moment. There’s a lot that’s out of our control. I have no control over the war in Ukraine apart from prep, if you know, and, but what can we do where the people of God, and these are the moments that rationally built for let’s reframe the opportunities, let’s not do what we can’t do? Let’s see, then the creative creativity that then creates when you’re limited limits create creativity and innovation.

 

Mark Turman  43:16

The good word, that’s a good word.

 

Mark Legg  43:19

You Yeah, I was just reading. The other day in Hebrews, as I was preparing for this, it stuck out to me from my net reading of Hebrews 12 says, Let’s be grateful for receiving a kingdom that can’t be shaken. And that was an encouragement to me, because no matter how much we shake around, that’s not true. You need to show how unshakable and eternal the kingdom is. So maybe just one final question here is why we talked, we touched on this, but why non anxious? Presence? So you know, you spoke about how we want leaders in the midst of this. Obviously, not to be anxious, but But what about that, in particular, communicates the gospel, you know, how does that connect back to our faith.

 

Mark Sayers  44:15

So, non anxious presence comes from Edwin Freeman, who’s a family therapist, and he was a rabbi, and a family therapist, and he worked with families and he noticed that often the person who had bring healing in a dysfunctional family was not necessarily the father or the mother, or the authority figures who was the person it could even be a child who was the least anxious in an anxious system. And he said that what would happen is, they would by being calm by not playing into all the games that slowly and if you know, they could bring healing through being that knowledge, his presence, and he came up with the leadership theory, which was that it’s not actually charisma or height, or accolades or achievements, which makes someone a leader It’s actually the fact that they can present something not anxious, like I talked about in the book, you know, if you were, say, at a town hall meeting, and the mayor and the officials of the city were at the front, and all of a sudden someone screamed fire. And the mayor and the officials who at the beginning of the meeting looked like the authority if they started crying and rolling around on the ground, if someone at the back said, Okay, everyone, that’s the exit, let’s calmly leave at that point, that person becomes the leader, because they’re like, not anxiousness in this moment, and they could just literally be, you know, a 12 year old, high school girl with no positional power. And, you know, I think that, that that’s something that is really key now, he then has, you know, a whole theory in his book of failure, which, you know, I really found incredibly compelling. One thing I had a little bugbear with, was, there’s an element when you read his arguments that what will happen is when you’re in non anxious presence, it’ll bring healing, but you’re gonna face backlash, you’ll have people who don’t like the fact that you’re being anxious, they want to envelop you in their fear. And he talks about triangulation, that people find in anxious moments, a sense of solace, when other people join them in that, like, you know, after a meeting, like why did you feel that their meeting with a bit off, oh, you too, and all of a sudden, at the watercooler, you got three people, it becomes four, and then all of a sudden anxiety flows through the system like a virus. They said, the leader can be a non anxious presence and a healing presence by being resisting, then the second wave of sabotage that corrupts. Now, I 100% agree with that theory of lift. It’s hard. It’s so hard. Yeah. And the conversations I had with pastors hot, I had heartbreaking conversations with pastors, these churches fully became toxic in the last few years, and their families were ostracized their kids, experienced that at school, people stopped talking to people really, really hard to do that. And so I love Edward Freeman’s contribution that he’s brought, I think there’s so much there. But what I realized is I can’t do that mainstream. Like, I can’t resist that, you know, and as the world gets more into agrees, and I think polarization, all this stuff, it’s really difficult. But what I realized is what I can be a non anxious presence with God’s presence. So I think that was the missing part that Freeman doesn’t add to his so I want to say, yes, Friedman has a really valuable insight here. But it’s actually our faith, which routes us in Christ that enables us it’s in history for not ours. You know, he’s our protector, he did say we’re going to experience persecution, he did say, you know, it’s sort of come even divide families. And so my encouragement is, when we face backlash, I think the days of saying to leaders, hey, if you do this 10 things from the business world, that’s all you’re gonna make. You’re a successful leader. They’re helpful. But ultimately, you’re going to face backlash, increasingly, like the trouble is ation of toxic stuff is not going away next year, it’s going to be around I think, for a period. Yeah. So how do we lead as long as presence in that, but I see that as an opportunity to that forces me back to God forces me away from my proficiencies to his. And so that’s a moment for renewal for leaders, that’s probably saying to leaders in this moment, this yes, it’s hard, it’s probably much harder than it was five years ago. But there’s an opportunity for us to be more centered on God. And, and just quickly to end every, every, you know, I did a thing a couple years ago, I just read as many biographies of Christian leaders were turnaround moments, you know, it when they managed to like be a vessel for God and those hinge moments, I could not find one, where they did not get to a point of coming to the end of themselves, and sort of collapsing, and, and God using them. And, and, you know, that’s there for us, we have that opportunity to turn to God in moments of great cultural tumult.

 

Mark Turman  48:53

Which great greatly said, I think that just how important it is to spend time with God daily, and to make sure that you’re consistently connected to Scripture to the Word of God, more than you’re connected to the news media and the news stream, that’s got value to it. And we all need to be aware in various ways, but there needs to be a healthy limit to that. And we need to do all that we can to be more aware of the activity of God and of the presence of God, both in history and in the present. And then I would, I would also say, mark that, you know, get around other people of faith, you know, and wherever you get to be that person of non anxious presence, you can actually be contagious. Just like fear is contagious. Faith can be contagious, right? And that’s, and if you’re spending that time with God and you’re building your confidence in him, then let that be contagious to the people around you and look for those people that can also be encouraging and contagious to you. And, and that’s how we give testimony to the kingdom. That’s how we give testimony to the presence of God, even in this uncertain moment. I think that may be the key descriptor, right is that we’re living in a time of uncertainty. But we have the Spirit of God, we have the word of God, we have the fellowship of God’s people. And we can lean on in into those things. And we may not know, we’ve never really known everything about where we were going. The people, you know, as, as the founder, our ministry says, nobody in the Bible got a five year plan, right? So but what we do have is a very present help in time of trouble. We have the Spirit of God with us all the time. And how can we hold hands with him and with each other, and walk by faith as he leads us? So thank you, Mark, for taking some time with us. It looks like tomorrow is going to be a good day because well, you’re already in tomorrow. Yes. Maybe maybe the next time we talk you can explain how that how it can be tomorrow when it’s not tomorrow. Yeah, but this that’s that’s the advantage of living in Australia, right?

 

Mark Sayers  51:16

Yes, yes, living in the future.

 

Mark Turman  51:19

Thank you for being a part of this. Thank you for your ministry. Thank you for your book. Again, if you’re looking for great read, it’s Mark Sayers, a non anxious presence, and we hope you’ll pick it up and that it will be a blessing to you and, Mark, we look forward to talking with you again and thank you for being a part of the Denison Forum Podcast.

 

Mark Sayers  51:36

Absolute pleasure. It’s been great fun. Thank you so much.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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