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  • Becky Ykema

Avoiding Hard Conversations

I hate confrontation. I hate hurting someone’s feelings. I hate disappointing people and not living up to their expectations. You hear me?

This is not something I enjoy, and so choosing to live into my darling-ness within friend, work and ministry circles, I worked twice as hard to make sure I continued to win the approval, joy and the high regard of those around me.

Imagine a mallard duck. Its feathers are all in place. She has a brilliant emerald green sheen on to her outer coat. Her yellow duck bill clean and pristine. She is something to look at. In the water, it almost appears like she is lounging in the water, letting the gentle waves carry her along on a warm summer day.

Now put on your goggles and take a peek under the water. Her webbed feet are working overtime, frantically scurrying back and forth and back and forth to move her larger body ever so slowly across the pond. You can’t see it from above the water, but this little one is working hard!

This is how hard I worked at avoiding hard conversations. Like, let me burn myself out trying to please everyone and everything so that we don’t have to have the hard conversation. Cute, right? Self-sacrificing. Maybe fosters a victim mentality… that’s for another post!

In ministry, we never want to hurt someone. The picture of church from the book of Acts is to give to one another in need, and lift one another up as Aaron did with Moses’ arms as his people crossed the Red Sea. It is a community who shares the load, reminds each other of the teachings of Jesus and discusses in groups what Scriptures meant. It is a community designed to lift up songs in harmony with one another as we collectively give God thanks. Everything in us might want to avoid the hard conversations that are found in the micro-work of ministry. But we must not avoid the hard because truthfully, it will only fester and grow if not addressed. Let’s take some examples here.

Ex. 1

Matthew believes he was made to lead the song “Graves Into Gardens” on Easter Sunday. Matthew has been a part of the team for awhile playing acoustic guitar and singing. The trouble is, no one told Matthew that he perpetually sings off key and his voice trails off the melody frequently.

To mitigate this problem and to not disrupt the waters of the team, the worship leader and sound engineer had a sidebar conversation and chose to simply mute Matthew’s voice in the house, while still allowing him to hear his voice in his in-ear monitor mix. Now Matthew wants to lead a big song in the second biggest service of the year, and the worship leader is in a real conundrum. Probably a couple conversations need to happen out of this. The worship leader with good intention, has dug themself into a hole.

Ex. 2

Say, you are a worship leader and the senior pastor has the final say on a lot of things. The pastor has decided that they no longer want a specific volunteer musician to play on stage because “they dress too old and make weird faces when playing.”

This is a real sticky wicket.

The worship leader here has a couple crucial conversations to have. First though, the worship leader needs to search their heart and take this matter to God in prayer. Consider:

  • Is this a matter that can be remedied in some way?

  • Is this a hill I feel I’m being called to die on?

  • What might the outcome be if I engage the senior pastor in prayerfully reconsidering their command, and giving me time to work with the musician?

  • What might the outcome be if I engage this musician and remove them from team due to these matters?

Two conversations are going to need to happen.

  1. With the senior pastor.

  2. With the musician.

Take at least a day before you do so to write down answers to those questions and anything else that comes up. Hard conversations are difficult, but needed. I say this from personal experience. They get easier the more you do it. Your amygdala in your brain (the fight, flight, freeze activator) will intensify less and less as you normalize leaning into confrontations with a well-balanced nervous system. But it’s clunky at first.

I remember having to have a very difficult ministry conversation with a leader.

It was just an all around yucky scenario. Culture was leaking, it was becoming toxic and shaky, and I was given a very difficult task to do. I tried everything I could to change the outcome. I tried to please, I tried to stretch, to mediate, to de-escalate tension between parties involved. I tried to be the savior of someone on team, and redeem a bad experience. But finally, a very difficult conversation had to happen. A necessary ending was coming. For weeks leading up to the hard conversation, I was sick. Like literally nauseous, with a consistent upset stomach. My cheeks would flush when I’d think about what was coming. My heart felt like it had a twist in it and a weight set on top.

And then finally, it happened. It was messy, confusing, difficult. I fumbled and spoke quietly. I felt like an utter imposter. But it had to happen.

There are a lot of “what if’s” when I look back at that one moment, and other moments where I put off having a clarifying conversation from the get go.

A couple takeaways I’ve learned:

  • Always, always trust the Spirit of God, trust your gut, trust what your intuition says.

  • Always clarify things from the get go.

  • Make it weird from the start if it needs to be

  • Don’t avoid the hard conversation. Matthew 18 this stuff as soon as able. It will serve you well in the future.

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