5 ‘Ocean Buoys’ We Need – Activation Opportunities

(EDITOR’S NOTE: A few months ago, our Vibrant Faith Team retreated together at a lakeshore Air BnB in North Carolina. In advance, we all read Australian pastor and culture expert Mark Sayers’ new book A Non-Anxious Presence. Our team spent two days exploring the book’s insights and, in tandem with dependent practices that invited the Spirit’s perspective, spotlighted important takeaways for Vibrant Faith and the church at large… Sayers makes the case that we’re no longer navigating on land, with solid ground under our feet. We’re more like sailors getting used to a foundation that dips and pitches and slides under our feet. In this third of a five-part series I highlight another guiding buoy on our ocean path…)

Mark Sayers concludes his chapter in A Non-Anxious Presence on “Leading From the Comfort Zone” with this hard-but-true reality about our relationship with comfort:

“For the… laws of exponential spiritual growth to be activated, we need to grasp a counterintuitive truth. Hard places are good soil for kingdom seeds. Testing in the hard ground of the wilderness is difficult and often uncomfortable, yet it grows us… While we may pine for more stable and predictable times, from a kingdom perspective, this time in history may be the kind of environment that activates a whole cohort of leaders hidden and waiting for activation, for God’s presence turns our Gray Zone into a growth zone.”

If the Gray Zone is our context, then our “activated leadership” will find room to thrive in a messy, disorienting, and unpredictable ecosystem. Sayers describes Gray Zones this way…

  • It is an in-between phase—the overlap between two eras.
  • This makes Gray Zones confusing and contradictory.
  • We can be fooled into thinking that the passing era is still the dominant one, because the traits of a passing era intensify as it recedes.
  • Gray Zones are filled with change and conflict—everything seems up in the air.
  • And we are called to flourish in the midst of these environmental realities.

To flourish in this overlap of two eras, we need to un-learn some things that we have come to depend on…

  1. We’ve been measuring numbers, not soul health. So we need a different scorecard. What are the markers of health in a growing disciple? What causes people to move from a faith on the fringes of their life to a faith that is the center of everything in their life? It isn’t greater discipline; it’s greater relational intimacy.
  2. We have practiced predictable ministry habits that shift almost all the control in any growth environment to the leader alone. Instead, we disperse the learning/discovery adventure to everyone in the room. Because we learned how to navigate on land, not on the shifting and unpredictable sea, we have elevated control over improvisation and “great communication” over “shared discovery.”
  3. We have avoided really talking about the brokenness in people, and in the church. So we need to tell stories of truth about who we really are, and what the church is really struggling to overcome. We are uncomfortable telling stories like this, or inviting others (especially parents) to become more relaxed and real as they uncover and share their life narratives. This will mean we move into discomfort to discover freedom on the other side.
  4. We have learned and embraced strategic leadership, borrowed from the “successes” of the business world. So we need a shift to learning and embracing leadership as spiritually driven—a Spirit-dependent practice instead of a performance-driven practice. Eugene Peterson observes that when the “how” of our mission is separated from the “who and what” of Spirit-dependence, then “mission becomes shrill, dependent on constant ‘strategies’ and promotional schemes…” Nurturing a dependent relationship with Jesus is a spiritual practice that the church has tacitly ignored. Ministry leaders function as the immune system of the church, as long as they are dependent on God.
  5. We can only offer our non-anxious presence as conduits of God’s presence. When we are attached to Jesus as a branch to a vine, we get what He has. But in the culture, as well as the church, we trust our own resources over His resources. Humanism is both the preferred covert and overt mindset of the church. So, relational immersion is our counter-culture goal.
  6. Proper orientation is essential. If we are lost in the wilderness and decide that following the river downstream is the way to get home, we must first ask ourselves: “Where is the river going?” We need to be elevated above the landscape to see where the river we’re following is leading, and only Jesus can elevate us above the landscape. This is what spiritual discernment means, and we need more of it.
  7. In the Gray Zone we find out what we have. If we have nothing and have Jesus, we have everything. How will change our church culture to guide others into this reality?
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following JesusHe’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution, The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. In June 2024 his new book Editing Jesus: Confronting the Distorted Faith of the American Church will be published. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.


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