Living and Leading in an Age of Anxiety By Scott Rodin
Learn to Resist the Anxiety the World Provides
Mark Sayer’s new book, A Non-Anxious Presence, How a Changing and Complex World Will Create a Remnant of Renewed Christian Leaders, suggests that anxiety is the dominant theme in our world and our leadership. This anxiety is generated by what he calls the ‘gray zone’ in which we now live and lead. This is a time of confusion and chaos as one era passes away, and the next is yet to be defined. We are experiencing the deconstruction of the foundations of a culture we once knew while a host of competing and conflicting ideologies vie to shape the meta-narrative of the new era. It is a messy, disturbing, and contradictory time. And thus, the age of anxiety.
Sayers challenges Christian leaders with a reality check,
“The gray zone will be the context in which you live and lead. We must understand it and learn to flourish within it.”
Mark Sayers, A Non-Anxious Presence, How a Changing and Complex World will Create a Remnant of Renewed Christian Leaders. (Chicago: Moody Press, 2022), p. 27.
After a lengthy assessment of our current situation within this gray zone and some history of how we got here, Sayers brings the discussion around how leaders will need to lead if they are to be part of God’s renewal in this time in the wilderness.
The Non-Anixous Presence
For Sayers, the gray zone is a place God can use to shape His people for the future into which He is calling them. The defining characteristic of renewed leaders will be their ability to stand in the chaos of the gray zone and provide a non-anxious presence. This does not mean an aloof or disconnected company but a fully engaged leadership while remaining quietly confident amid the cultural dystopia breeding fear, confusion, disorientation, and anxiety.
The fundamental principle was to remain present within the unhealthy environment while enduring the sabotage, backlash, and undermining that leaders inevitably face when trying to act as non-anxious presences in anxious social systems.
Mark Sayers, p. 101.
I appreciate Sayers’s analysis, and I agree with his remedy as far as it goes. I wonder, however, how leaders prepare themselves for this demanding role without a fundamental change of heart. How do they’ keep their nerve,’ as Sayers puts it? I would propose it’s less about knowing how to lead and more about how we are prepared for it. Almost nothing in leadership training or teaching in the past 50 years has prepared us for this type of leadership. We can’t just flip a switch. So how do we hope to be this non-anxious presence when the same anxieties of life overwhelm the hearts of leaders, with the added stresses and strains of leadership itself?
To this question, I return to our understanding of the steward leader vs. the owner leader. As I read Sayers, I could not help but think about how helpful it would be to integrate his understanding of a non-anxious presence with the theology of the steward leader. Unless our hearts are transformed from owners to stewards, our desire to be this non-anxious presence may end up as one more tactic or technique that we will try to employ with the hope that it ‘works.’ It’s hard to imagine we could do so without that process in and of itself causing us yet more anxiety. However, when a heart is transformed from a two-kingdom, owner mindset to the worldview of a steward of all of life, we are set free to be that non-anxious presence as we seek to be faithful to the one who owns, controls, and ultimately redeems all things.
Simply put, until we are at peace in our spirit and fully embrace God’s absolute ownership and our true calling as faithful stewards, we can never provide the non-anxious presence Sayers is proposing. Yet, as faithful steward leaders, his book encourages us to see how God-confident leadership is needed for this gray zone in which we live and lead.
To partner with God as he brings renewal in the world, in the systems and organizations where we live and lead, we must learn to detect his voice before moving forward… Voice recognition is a crucial leadership skill because we must learn to distinguish the voice of God from the evitable anxious voice of the crowd that the leader encounters as they emerge into their leadership… detection and differentiation become easier as we learn to walk in intimacy with God.
Mark Sayers, pp. 162-163.
In other words, everything begins with intimacy with God. The leader’s ability to hear, know, and distinguish God’s voice amidst the loud noise of our culture is perhaps the most critical skill of leaders whom God can use to navigate these times. This is the starting point for the journey of the steward leader. Intimacy with God is the first step on the upward spiral that leads to the fullest expression of steward leadership, just as the stagnancy in our relationship with Christ leads us toward leadership failure.
I recommend Sayers assessment and challenge and would offer these comparisons with our steward leader teaching.
- Anxious leaders seek to control outcomes to assure the prosperity and happiness of the people they lead.
- Steward leaders seek to be faithful to God’s guidance and direction, trusting and striving toward Kingdom outcomes.
- Anxious leaders are attracted to quick-fix solutions that rapidly exit conflicts and avoid pain.
- Steward leaders are free to work for systemic solutions, being a source of confidence and resolve to work through conflicts and endure pain as they lead their people through them.
- Anxious leaders become easily disoriented by the cacophony of voices looking to them for answers and, as a result, often fall back upon self-reliance to get them through.
- Steward leaders can discern God’s voice in and through the people they lead and unify their people toward his vision amid disinformation, confusion, and fear.
Scott Rodin is the Senior Consultant/Chief Strategy Officer for The Focus Group. Over the past thirty-eight years, Scott Rodin has helped hundreds of organizations improve their effectiveness in leadership, fund development, strategic planning, and board development. His books and articles have been translated into over twenty languages, and he has taught and consulted with ministries across five continents. He also serves as a Senior Fellow of the Association of Biblical Higher Education and as board chair for ChinaSource.
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