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Paul’s Spirituality of Non-Anxious Leadership – by Dr. Carlus Gupton

COVID-19 is the great disrupter. Most church leaders are diligently reconceiving worship, community, giving, and helping. Concurrently, we have stark reminders of the unfinished work of racial justice. These combine into a complex context of leadership.


A helpful way of conceiving leadership is self-differentiation, being deeply connected to people who are highly anxious while remaining separate (differentiated) from the anxiety and providing thoughtful leadership. The leader becomes a non-anxious presence with calm, deliberate functioning characterized by these competencies:

  • Self-managing, shapes the environment
  • Responsive, intentional
  • Open, light-shedding, aware
  • Resilient, sense of proportion
  • Breadth of understanding, allow things to process
  • Take responsibility for self, learn when challenged, define self from within
  • Relaxed, at ease, sensible
  • Take turns, collaborate, stay in touch when tension grows
  • Clear, objective
  • Create space, options, common goals*


This resonates with Christian spirituality as modeled by the Apostle Paul. For example, in Philippians 4:2-9, Paul presents his own presence as a source of strength to an anxious congregation by saying, “whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice, and the God of peace will be with you” (4:9). At issue is the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche (4:2-3), and he offers these women and the church a way of finding “peace” (4:7, 9) over against being “anxious” (4:6). He also offers a set of spiritual practices to rejoice in the Lord’s nearness (4:4-5), request his intervention (4:6-7), and reflect hopefully on others (4:8) toward this way of peace.


This less anxious posture sheds light on Paul’s leadership in other parts of Philippians:

  • Reassures followers of one’s belief in them and of unconditional love and affection. (1:3-5, 7-8)
  • Reframes difficult experiences as an opportunity for spiritual formation. (1:6; 9-11)
  • Reminds others of how God uses adversity to advance the gospel. (1:12-14)
  • Rejoices in the productive ministry of healthy persons. (1:15-18)
  • Refuses to become hooked into the dysfunction of others by anxious reactivity. (1:15-18)
  • Restores confidence that prayer and divine intervention will equip the faithful to prevail over circumstances and insure sustained progress and joy in the faith. (1:19- 26)
  • Repeatedly emphasizes the call the corporate unity. (1:27-30) • Redirects preoccupation with self-interest and frustration over unrealized personal goals toward an intentional concentration on others’ welfare and the mutual benefit of the body. (2:1-18)
  • Redeems opportunities to highlight the servant spirit of exemplary believers and describe it in terms of the healthy behaviors that should be imitated. (2:19-30)
  • Rebukes legalistic spirituality and refocus the congregation on healthy spiritual disciplines. (3:1-4:1)
  • Receives and praises every act of kindness shown to you, even when the kindness was not required. (4:14-19)


This is a challenging time for leaders. Non-anxious leadership, especially as revealed through Paul’s relationship with the Philippians, demonstrates the power of a calm spiritual center rooted in God’s presence and power. This was Paul’s way of being and doing, a spirituality of leadership that allowed him to minister effectively to an anxious church.


*Pete Steinke, How Your Church Family Works, pp. 11, 91-92.

Course Notebook, BMIN 5883, Managing Conflict and Change in Ministry, Harding School of Theology Class use only (no copy w/o permission), Dr. Gupton, cgupton@hst.edu, LifeandLeadership.com, DISCPersonalitySource.com