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Finding Your Way in the Gray Zone

Written by Paul Spilker on

When was the last time you felt like you didn’t know what to do? What is your gut reaction when you encounter a moment like that? I have to admit, I try to avoid points of uncertainty as much as possible. I hit “Start Route” on Google Maps before departing on a trip. I like having pre-reads for meetings. I even take joy in checking restaurant menus online beforehand so I can start narrowing down my options (usually a salad vs. something spicy).

While there is certainly wisdom in preparing (Prov. 21:5, Luke 14:28), some moments offer no time to prepare, no clarity on options, and no control. And some of these moments are far bigger  than picking a less-than-perfect meal. On a broader scale, how does uncertainty impact entire groups and societies, such as when the institutions or leaders fail? How do we, as Christians, live as hopeful people amidst an anxious and uncertain culture?

For our THINK|24 conference, I had the privilege of facilitating a breakout session unpacking Mark Sayers’ book A Non-Anxious Presence: How a Changing and Complex World Will Create a Remnant of Renewed Christian Leaders. This book was the subject of study for both our elders and Directional Team in recent months. Sayers offers us a few key principles to help us find our way in the gray zone.

Why Do the Times Feel Uncertain?

We are living in a season of cultural change, political polarization, economic challenges, and rapid technological change. Every few weeks I read a news story about another company downsizing its workforces because AI systems can do some of the work of humans.

On top of that, we live in a highly networked society, where we see crises around the world as they happen, compounding our anxieties about issues closer to home.

How does this affect us? We find ourselves in a “gray zone”: that is, we can tell that one era is ending, yet we do not yet have clarity on what is coming next. Because institutions in our society, such as government or financial systems, are less secure, Sayers argues that anxiety is created and flows in a viral way through systems and social networks. He says, “With the devaluing and disappearance of institutions, individuals [are] left to absorb the culture’s anxiety, which means that anxiety grows exponentially in a gray zone” (pg.103).

Challenges Activate Spiritual Growth

So, how do we find our way forward? Sayers offers the encouragement that in the economy of God, challenges carry a different value. In fact, challenges and uncertainty create in our hearts the environment for renewal. Crises precede renewal.

The Bible presents numerous examples when a work of God comes out of a season in the wilderness. Moses spent forty years in the wilderness to then be called by God to lead the Israelites’ exodus from slavery. God met Elijah in the desert. Jesus spent forty days in the desert and was tempted by Satan, to then begin his ministry “in the power of the Spirit”. The Apostle Peter denied Jesus three times, saying he did not even know “the man,” eventually leaving and weeping bitterly. Later Jesus tenderly restored relationship with Peter and renewed his call as a disciple (John 21:15-19).

Look to Jesus & Live by the Book

Sayers rightly makes the case that in Jesus our shepherd, “we find a biblical model of leadership, of a non-anxious presence, which is not dependent on reserves of personal power but on the presence of God – encountered in the wild places” (pg. 175). As we dwell in God’s presence, we are renewed with the mindset, emotional peace, and spiritual resources to have hope even when we do not have certainty, clarity, or control. Remember, there’s nothing gray about the love of God to those who are his. It takes the fundamentals to continually dwell: Sunday worship, regular Bible reading and prayer, community that edifies, and continually casting our burdens onto the Lord because he cares for us.

Although we are living in a gray zone and often don’t know what to do, in Jesus we have both the Way (himself) with us and the way forward.

Paul Spilker

Paul serves as Lead Executive Pastor at College Park and also as an elder for the East Carmel Parish. He and his family started attending College Park in 2007, and he joined the staff team in 2008. Paul is passionate about aligning the people, staff, and resources of College Park for the greatest missional impact and health. He and his wife, Jennifer, have four kids. They enjoy spending time with family and friends, exploring the outdoors, and grilling.

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