Are We (Really) All In This Together?

I was speechless as I listened to the teenager and her mom—and my silence was intentional.

They’d asked to meet after the girl felt overwhelmed by an incident that happened in youth group. Because of a past personal trauma that is triggered in large gatherings, she’d been upset by something on stage and sought help from some of the guys in our group. One of our leaders tried to intervene, but it went badly. So I anticipated a combative discussion—that negative experience with a staff member made a hard situation worse. That staffer joined me for this meeting, as did two others to support the girl.

As we sat down, we naturally gravitated to two sides of the table.

As the girl tried to unpack her experience, her anger kept bubbling to the surface, overtaking the conversation. It was incredibly tempting on “our side” to debate her comments as she sharply critiqued our staff and programming. But I sensed a deeper nudge from Jesus to stay open, and followed His lead as we walked through the fire.

It soon became clear that this girl didn’t intend to attack, but was trying to connect. She wearily shared about her anxiety, often randomly triggered in church gatherings. A great empathy overwhelmed me, disciplining my defensiveness.

Finally, she asked, “So… is there a place for someone like me here?”

Of course, I wanted to respond, “Yes, absolutely!” I could’ve pacified her hurt and affirmed our noble effort to be welcoming and supportive for everyone—like a spiritual Wal-Mart. Instead, I sensed Jesus nudging me: “Be honest.” I was tempted circumvent the hard truth about the girl’s experience in our group—like Adam and Eve, would I try to cover up my nakedness with the fig leaves of well-intended programming?

Instead, I restrained my eagerness to respond and stayed speechless in that liminal space.

Finally, I said: “The truth is… we’re not good at this. I’d like to say we are. Maybe we can be over time. So I’m pledging to be the first ‘student’ as we explore what we can and can’t do. I really do want to one day share how things are better.”

Her face brightened a little, and her composure relaxed. “Tell me more,” she said.

Maybe the journey we began that day can serve you as you enter into difficult conversations in your context…

  • Trust Jesus – Instead of rapid-firing a plan, listen for His guidance and stay sensitive to His Spirit—then do your best to follow Him.
  • Specific Humility – Longevity in our role can turn us into professional “experts.” Don’t let your title or tenure keep you from admitting in detail (versus generalities) where your ministry falls short.
  • Genuine Curiosity – Ask others to share when they’ve felt served well or let down by your efforts. Fuel your fascination with whatever they share by asking follow-up questions, taking notes, and thanking them for their honesty. It’ll sting, but view it as antiseptic versus poison.
  • Seasonal Study – Seek out books, articles, podcasts, or training opportunities that will help you focus on your blind spots for a season. Highlight what moves you most. For help, consider registering for Vibrant Faith’s upcoming MasterClass “Growing As a Less-Anxious Leader,” taught by Jim LaDoux.
  • Community Language – Tell others in your circle that you intend to grow in this area, and invite them into the journey. Offer online and in-person meet-ups to get everyone talking the same language—not just in terms of great answers, but asking better questions.

There isn’t a “side of the table” in situations like this. Lower your defenses and discover what your families are going through. Ministry environments that feel welcoming are led by leaders who participate in others’ struggles and applaud their breakthroughs.

Take some time to ponder… Are we (really) all in this together?

If you would like help as you explore what it means to grow in your ability to enter into difficult conversations and ministry challenges, reach out to connect with a Vibrant Faith Ministry Leadership Coach. Just CLICK HERE for more information. Coaching is an intentional process that moves you forward into the future you long for.  

Tony Myles is a multi-faceted ministry veteran, conference speaker
, and author with a passion for all people and the future of the church. He has a Master’s Degree from Indiana Wesleyan University. And he’s
been trained as a Coach through Vibrant Faith’s ICFcertified program.





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