safe spaces

Do you ever find yourself in the middle of a more than usual busy week full of meetings, emails, and task lists, and yet, you feel isolated and alone?  So often we get into our “to-do” list – heads down, making changes happen, moving projects forward – but we miss out on connecting with the team of people that we get to do it with.  Then, for some of us, the team of people that we are partnered with is dysfunctional, hard to get along with, and triggers us at every turn.  When we pause long enough to take a breath and check in with our tired soul, we find that what we really crave is to be seen, known and valued.

The truth is (and we have all probably heard this at some point in time if we have been part of a church for any length of time), we are not created to move about life alone.  We were created for community – to work together, play together and yes,even struggle together.  

Jesus prays for us in John 17 saying:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

When was the last time you felt unity with other people, connected to a common purpose, like all of you were pulling on the same rope in the same direction? As leaders, one of our main roles is to foster connection and community for those that we lead. Multiple times in scripture we see the importance of togetherness – Adam and Eve in the garden, Ruth and Esther journeying to a foreign land, Jesus and his disciples at the passover table, Paul and Timothy as the leadership baton was passed – and so many more. When we journey alone, we actually miss out on the full expression of who God is – the togetherness that Jesus prays for us in John 17.

The Risk of Being Known

For the past 15 years of ministry, I have seen healthy versions of community and toxic versions of community. I have seen relationships strengthened through conflict that then pursued reconciliation and I have seen teams torn apart by conflict that was ignored or pushed to the bottom of an inbox.  

A few years ago, the staff team that I was a part of decided to get a bit more intentional about developing community. We met weekly with an executive coach and he began to give us language to express our emotional needs (sounds super fun and not uncomfortable at all right?!). At first our team was not too sure; the truth was that I didn’t really want the guys on my team to know that sometimes I felt inadequate and that I didn’t ever let anyone come close to seeing it because I was worried about being judged. I had put in a lot of effort to make sure I knew how to minimize tears in meetings and hold it together. With all that effort came a lot of loneliness, isolation, and a feeling of suffocation at times that no one knew just how overwhelmed I was at the growing lists of tasks and the organizational dysfunction. 

One day in our lovely, totally comfortable (if you haven’t picked up on the sarcasm here, please do) emotional needs group, it was my turn to share.  All I had to do was look at a list of 10 emotional needs and name the one I needed. As I looked at the list, I saw one that stuck out: “containment”. Containment is the emotional need that just asks for a safe space to say the ugly things; to cry and be upset and for it to just be held and left there – not fixed or strategized upon. I needed that. My body needed an emotional pressure release if I was going to be able to keep doing all that I was doing. 

So I took a risk and I shared.

I talked about the pressure I felt to hold it all together and the microscope that I felt the congregation had me under. I cried…big ugly tears…then I took a deep breath and waited for what was next. Silence…more silence…and then our Operations Director spoke up. With tears in his eyes he thanked me for being willing to be so vulnerable and then shared that my honesty was so refreshing and that he never would have known how I felt. “You are just always so happy and put together.” He said that if I felt that way, then he felt more free to embrace and share the pressures that he was feeling and how it impacted his mood and leadership. Through his tears he thanked me and held such beautiful space for my loneliness and pain.  

What I couldn’t have known then is that this particular colleague and I would go on to have quite a few moments of conflict – BUT – because of that moment where we made space to move towards each other in friendship and express what is often too hard to let people see, we were able to move through the conflict and actually still really like working with each other.

Moving Towards Each Other

Currently, I have the absolute honor of facilitating cohorts throughout the FILO Community. I am specifically passionate about creating space for female technical artists – women who find themselves doing really meaningful work in a male dominated field. The goal of the cohorts is to create a space for these women to be seen, known, valued, and developed. It is often one of the few places where they can be honest about what it is like to be the gender minority and still fully embrace what God is calling them to. The community that is formed has put breath back in their lungs.

The first week we talk about relationships and our community. We get honest about how our current relationship is with the leaders above us and the leaders next to us. The homework assignment then is to move towards a leader that you have a tense relationship with and offer a bit of an olive branch. The goal is to actually acknowledge that you know it is hard between the two of you and that your desire is to have a good relationship, and then, you show up with their favorite drink or coffee etc. One of the women from our cohort community decided to totally take me up on the homework challenge. She had a colleague that she was constantly at odds with. She knew he really liked Diet Coke, so on her way into work one day she ran through a drive through to grab one, stopped by his office to drop it off, and expressed her desire to do better together. Then the best part was that she got to come back to our cohort the following week and share how it was going as we cheered her on and encouraged her.  

When I think about the role of a leader in the development of and nurturing of community, I think about those verses in John – that Jesus wanted the same unity for us that He has with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.  As leaders, our role is to hit our knees in prayer the same way Jesus did and then to lead by example in vulnerability and to creative safe spaces for our people to show up as their whole selves and not be judged. So I am curious, what is one way that you could create safer, more authentic spaces for yourself and the teams you lead?


Interested in joining a community of other technical artists working together to create healthy relationships and community? Check out FILO Coaching! You can even sign up for our Cohort Waitlist if you want to be the first to know when a new coaching cohort is coming soon!

Aubrey Wentz

Aubrey Wentz

With a heart for development and creativity in multiple disciplines of the arts, and a drive for collaboration and team leadership, Aubrey Wentz is both passionate and skilled in coaching teams to create spaces where creativity and the movement of God meet. Aubrey leads her own leadership development and creative coaching business where she finds great joy in partnering with organizations to help them reach their full potential and bring their vision to life.

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