In A Non-anxious Presence: How a Changing and Complex World Will Create a Remnant of Renewed Christian Leaders, Mark Sayers unpacks the state of our culture to figure out how to lead in a Christlike way.
Sayers is a pastor in Australia and a prolific writer. He has written several books about the shifting culture and the church. In this book, he identifies our chaotic times as an opportunity, rather than a threat, to renew Christian leaders.
We recommend this uniquely clear and straightforward book for its insight into the state of our culture. Sayers uses simple illustrations to demonstrate his points powerfully. Not only this, but he answers this question well: “How should Christian leaders lead in a tumultuous culture?”
The good news is that Christians were made for it.
Identifying the times
First, Sayers unpacks the times. He identifies what he calls the “gray zone,” a military term referring to uncertainty and times between peace and outright war (and the focus of this excerpted chapter). Our culture is in a “decentralized” state, a gray zone, a transition between times of stability.
We used to mostly share the same assumptions and were a “centralized” culture, but now people have been secluded into “tribes.” We identify ourselves by our political party, as “always-Tumpers” or “never-Trumpers,” by our work, by our religion, by our sexuality, etc. These tribes group together, vying for more influence, and regular folks get caught up in the chaotic power grab, increasing animosity and anxiety.
The past century in America was strange since Christianity was integrated with the American “mainstream.” This is relatively odd in history, but it has led to even greater division as Christians try to protect their political and cultural influence, despite the changing times. He speaks with particular clarity in this section, showing his colors as a seasoned cultural examiner.
With uncertainty and chaos now par for the course, at least until we become a “central” society again, how should leaders lead?
Leading with a non-anxious presence
This cultural chaos leads to some predictable outcomes: more conflict and higher anxiety. Every tribe and “side” of the political aisle view everything as an existential threat. So, how do leaders lead?
They lead with their presence of non-anxiety. Sayers tells a memorable anecdote: imagine you’re in a church service and the pastor is delivering his sermon. Suddenly, the fire alarms go off and black smoke pours in from the side doors. The pastor panics and freezes, but a lone audience member stands up and calmly tells everyone exactly what to do.
Who is the leader in this situation?
Our culture is in a state of panic and chaos—just right for the Christian message to be spread with fervor and for Christian leaders to lead. Sayers argues that this state of chaos and uncertainty is like a seedbed for new growth. Now, cultural Christians will start to fade away from churches, and the “remnant” of true leaders who follow Jesus will start to shine.
The “seedbed” of our culture
Sayers’ other books on culture seem to contain the same positive outlook. Christians should see chaotic times as an opportunity to see and experience the stronghold of God’s presence. Then, we get to point others to that stronghold.
While everyone else sees existential threats in every news headline, that fear shouldn’t grip a Christian. The most existential threat is death, and that, for Christians, is gain (Philippians 1:21). It’s also not as though Christ will allow the church to die. In fact, a massive revival across the globe in non-Western countries continues to this day.
But, the day-to-day realities of our world can still stir up anxiety in leaders. So how do they stay grounded?
Sayers notes that many leadership books today say that leaders must stay hyper-focused on mission and vision. They must exude confidence by muscling through it. Fake confidence until you make it. While aiming at a goal is part of Sayer’s advice, it must be more than that.
Muscling through anxiety will lead to burnout and hypocrisy. Instead, a leader must decidedly not rest in his or her strength. Just the opposite. Non-anxious leaders rest in Christ’s strength and presence. Non-anxious leaders who follow Jesus know that God can do things without us. Jesus says that he gives us rest, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
Until leaders take the pressure off of themselves to have all the answers and be perfect, they will never radiate a non-anxious presence. The best thing you can do for your congregation, ministry, or business is to point them to the stronghold of Jesus.
If you are a leader: rest.
Rest in Jesus, exude a non-anxious presence, and others will surely follow.