Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

How to be separate while remaining connected, in an anxious world

Written by: on February 26, 2024

I have plenty going on in my personal life to react to. I have trauma-impacted family situations that require my full non-anxious presence [1] and dynamics beginning to launch a network for peacemaking and reconciling work among Evangelicals which feels like offering a new map in an opposite direction from some more traditional routes churches and denominations have taken [2]. One of the difficulties in reorienting ourselves as followers of Jesus in a post-Christian world is to not become reactive. One of my own difficulties as a father, husband & grandfather in my own family system is to reorient myself to the emotional processes that I need to model which are neither detached from the struggle, nor defined by lowest common denominators. I am in need of growth.

Reading Edwin Friedman’s “Failure of Nerve”, originally published in 2003 from earlier works gathered before and after his untimely death in 1996, feels contemporarily accurate, even prophetic. The chronically anxious society he describes (whose five aspects are reactivity, hoarding, blaming, a quick-fix, and a lack of leadership) is eerily accurate [3]. And his call for clearheadedness in leadership by being “well-differentiated” is like clouds rolling away in the climate of my life [4].

Here are my reflections, first off,  on how to be separate as a leader. This involves “maintaining clarity in one’s own goals, mange reactivity in response to others, and take stands at the risk of displeasing” [5]. Being separate in a well-differentiated way also means being in tune with emotional processes [6] and preserve the self in the face of stress, sabotage, or triangulation [7].

Here are some additional thoughts on staying connected. I love the idea that differentiation, Friedman declares, is “a direction in life rather than a state of being” [8]. Standing in clarity amidst intense emotional systems, containing reactivity, and maintaining a non-anxious presence all sound like mindset and behaviours which will take some time to develop to the full, but I receive them, if only as aspirational goals that push on my more base tendencies or desires.

Upon reflection, I can see that my desire for being separate must be set in a relational climate, where emotional intelligence comes into play when adjacent to others. And all of this comes back to being a human being first, who provides what Bob Thune calls ‘balast’ in my very presence and in what I model, not simply in what I accomplish as a leader [9].

I close with this prayer:

Lord Jesus, you see my difficulties in reorienting my life and service as a leader away from reactivity, detachment, blaming, or disengagement. Provide a way for me to surrender my anxious thoughts to you, and to receive peace. Thank you for being my example of a non-anxious presence in an anxious world, and that you care for me, and will see me through. 



[1] Friedman, Edwin H.. A Failure of Nerve : Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (10th Anniversary, Revised Edition). New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2017, 142.

[2] Friedman, 51.

[3] Friedman, 29.

[4] Friedman, 142

[5] Friedman, 23.

[6] Friedman, 51.

[7] Friedman, 129.

[8] Friedman, 142

[9] “Summary: Edwin Friedman’s ‘A Failure of Nerve’ in 500 Words.” Accessed February 26, 2024. https://www.bobthune.com/blog/2016/06/summary-edwin-friedmans-a-failure-of-nerve-in-500-words.

About the Author


Joel Zantingh

Joel Zantingh serves as the Canadian Coordinator of the World Evangelical Alliance's Peace and Reconciliation Network, and as Director of Engagement with Lausanne Movement Canada. He has served in local and national roles within the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, and led their global mission arm. He has experience teaching in formal and informal settings with Bible college students and leaders from various cultures and generations. Joel and Christie are parents to adult children, as well as grandparents. They reside in Guelph, Ont., situated on the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and home to many past, present and future First Nations peoples, including the Anishinnabe and Hodinöhsö:ni'.

3 responses to “How to be separate while remaining connected, in an anxious world”

  1. Adam Cheney says:

    I do not know much about your NPO. I think it has something to do with reconciliation. Can you share more about it and how seperating yourself as a leader might be intersect with what you are working on?

  2. Adam, thanks for asking. My NPO is addressing intercultural inclusion in the leadership cultures of Evangelically-aligned organizations (denominations, churches, theological schools). It will flow from Racial Reconciliation and Polyculture. Within my NPO, I am naming blind ethnocentrism and racism as issues that need to be addressed. This will likely require non-anxious leadership because of how strong emotions play into the stories and history of this in Canada, from Indigenous/non-indigenous interaction, to increased multiculturalism.

  3. mm Chris Blackman says:

    I am fascinated with your project and look forward to hearing more about it. It is so needed!!
    Just how do you stay separate yet connected? Such a fascinating idea can only enhance and protect your mental and physical well-being, which is important as a leader.

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