DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Phone Call

Written by: on April 11, 2019

Today, I was belittled on the phone. A man, whom I’ll call Ted, had a problem with his daughter going on the mission trip my office is organizing. More specifically, he had a problem with the money his daughter is raising to go on the mission trip my office is organizing. Ted felt that it was appropriate to shout at me, talk over me, and then question my commitment to Christianity. Ted said, in almost exact terms, that, “I’d better remember who I was working for, because if I say I am working for the work of the Lord, the Lord wouldn’t be too happy with me…or my work”. This was not the first time I’d conversed with Ted, but the third. Over the course of this semester, Ted has repeatedly told me that he is not happy that I’ve forced his daughter to go on a mission trip to her native country, despite telling him each time that his daughter actually volunteered for this work. Ted has also questioned where my own personal paycheck comes from multiple times, because he just can’t seem to believe that his daughter is raising all that money to go somewhere, and that she is in fact, my own personal funding source. But today….today, Ted had the gall to question my commitment to Christ. And little did Ted know that this week, I had been reading Brené Browns, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.


Brené Brown has been mentoring me from afar for about 5 years.  I was first introduced to her work through her book Daring Greatly, which I devoured, often reading large chunks to my husband in whispered tones after our first baby was asleep. I’ve used her TED talk (hence, Ted’s name) in multiple trainings in my office as well as at my church. A few years ago, after a particularly challenging year at work, I signed up for her online course on Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. Brené’s research style has also influenced much of my own for this doctoral program. I find myself weaving through stories and trying to gather data as my own style of “researcher storyteller”. Needless to say, I am all about Brené.


Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington – Brené Brown Endowed Chair.[1] She specifically studies shame, courage, vulnerability, and empathy and has written multiple books including five New York Times bestsellers.[2] Brené’s most recent work is the culmination of a seven-year study on leadership and it is most evident.[3]


When Ted called me this morning, he had no idea that this week, I have been bathing in the work of Brené. He had no idea that I’d been pondering things like “Courage and Fear are not mutually exclusive. Most of us feel brave and afraid at the exact same time.”[4] I’ve also been working through how to set boundaries and determine for myself, in the midst of chaos at work, what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why.[5] I’ve been sitting in many tough conversations, tough meetings, and had to make many tough decisions, and Brené has reminded me that my job as the leader is to remember the “grounded confidence to stay tethered to values, respond rather that react emotionally, and operate from self-awareness, not self-protection.”[6]


Today, I channeled Brené in my conversation with Ted. I respectfully stood my ground and told him, responded with authority and grounded confidence, that I needed a break from our conversation because it was not going anywhere, and I refused to be spoken to in his tone and with his words. I called him on his behavior and his accusations and told him that if he wanted to speak with me again, it would not be over the phone and that our office would refuse to engage him in conversation until he chose to approach me in a more respectful manner. I very clearly set a definition of what was not okay in our interactions. The whole time, I rumbled with vulnerability when I wanted to armor up.


When I got off the phone, my hands were shaking, and I could hardly see I was so angry. But I looked around the room at the undergraduate and graduate students who had overheard the conversation. Their eyes were full of both bewilderment and pride. I knew that by rumbling with grounded confidence, I’d shown them what vulnerability, and in turn, leadership looked like. So despite a very demoralizing day, it was all worth it because I’m strong and I have practiced what it takes to create and hold space in this work.[7]




[1] “About”, Brené Brown. Accessed April 11, 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. (New York, NY: Random House Publishing, 2018), 10.

[5] Ibid., 39.

[6] Ibid., 169.

[7] Ibid. 171.

About the Author


Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

12 responses to “The Phone Call”

  1. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    First—big hug! What a tough conversational Karen I appreciate you modeling vulnerability even in sharing this experience. It reminds me why Jesus invited people to follow Him. He let them watch how he managed difficult conversations when he was tired. He demonstrated how to walk in grace and truth at the same time. He led vulnerably and today you did too. If you could get Ted in a calm state, what questions would you ask him? What are you genuinely curious about? It sounds like he might have some unique views or experiences that have shaped his perspective. I’m reminded of Berger’s challenge to ask better questions…though that first requires someone to respect your wisely named boundaries. I love what you are modeling my friend.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Thanks friend – good questions! I think I am genuinely curious on what conversations he and his daughter have been having. I am wondering where he is getting his information more than anything else.

  2. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    You are amazing! And also, great work using Ted as this guys name. Wonderful post.

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Sorry for the rough experience especially conveyed over the phone. To your point of bathing in Brene Brown prior to this altercation, I wonder if the Lord prepared you for conflict with this most helpful resource? The point of the question is not for you but me, to remind me to put into action what I need to do instead of armoring up. Kudos to you for listening to the Holy Spirit and Brene Brown! Hopefully, prayerfully, the Holy Spirit taught Ted something that will transform his own armored ego. Many blessings.

  4. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Everyone is going to like this post Karen. We’ve all been there and at some point had to choose to roll over or finally confront our fear or weird Christian niceness, and take action. Shaking hands, fuming mind, and then unable to concentrate on anything else for a period. In a while you’ll be able to have that same conversation with a calm assurance and demeanor. Seeking truth is the map and values guide how we do the journey. Go you.

  5. mm Sean Dean says:

    Talk about a learning lab. Good for you and good for doing it in front of the students. They’ll remember watching you stand your ground longer than you’ll remember doing it.

  6. mm Mary Mims says:

    Thank you, Karen, for affirming the need for us studying this work. At the deacon’s meeting, we had some frank discussions about some serious issues at the church. I was trying to tell them about this book, but I know I was inadequate. I am going to suggest we use this book and the workbook at our church. Hopefully, we will all have the courage to talk about what is holding our church back. Thanks for the example.

  7. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Yes Karen. I try to think about what I can control. You can’t control Ted but you can control how much time and energy you give him and how available you are when he acts disrespectfully. It is hard and I am grateful for your honesty. Those in your office are blessed that their lives intersected with yours.

  8. Hi Karen. I can relate because we both work at Christian higher ed. institutions. It’s tough when we rumble with those we serve (students and their parents), especially when they are brothers and sisters in Christ. I think that’s what makes it more challenging and bewildering. We expect them to behave better than non-Christians, at least I do.

    Your story reminded me of my need to come alongside my staff when they go through similar challenges. I tend to be inquire and get the whole picture when my staff just wants me to listen and be assured that I support them. This is a tough one because as a leader I feel that I have to be objective and just while also making sure I do my due diligence and get the full story before I settle the issue.

    What I’m learning is that if I just listen and not say a word, both parties tend to work themselves out. Another thing I’ve learned is to say after I’ve listened, “..let me know how I can help, I’m here for you.”

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      This is really good, Harry! I’ve found that when my staff really needs me step in, they ask me to! I appreciate the idea of being willing to listen and speak up when they ask. This was a good reminder!

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