Our recently held inaugural YOBBERS retreat far exceeded my expectations and imagination (read our core authors’ retreat recap and listen to our special retreat podcast for more scoop). I experienced many meaningful moments at our retreat, including one that produced this profound — perhaps obvious — realization:

I am an other brother too.

Maybe I already knew that on some base level; of course, I’m an other brother. I introduced many of our founding members. Your Other Brothers didn’t start with any one person; we did this thing together.

As the months and years have passed, however, and as I’ve assumed more and more responsibilities with YOB, editing blog posts, recording podcasts, shooting videos, planning the future, and organizing a mammoth supporters’ retreat, I know that I’ve also separated myself more and more from the others.

I’ve distanced myself from our YOBBERS, certainly, but I’ve also distanced myself from my fellow authors. Looking back, I understand why. For boundaries. Responsibility and duty. To focus more intentionally on my in-person relationships and less exclusively on my online ones that grow in number by the day.

Some noble reasons. Some logical. It’s been a healthy separation in many ways.

Returning home from the retreat, however, I now realize my relational separation with YOB hasn’t been totally healthy. Boundaries are good. Isolation is not.

I’ve mostly rationalized my distancing for emotional reasons. Getting less involved relationally meant getting less entwined emotionally, and God knows I’m already drenched with enough emotions to flood the Sahara.

YOB is my baby. I deeply care for this thing that once wasn’t a thing. This bizarre and beautiful thing which many guys at our retreat tearfully thanked me for creating.

I don’t want my emotions to take over. I don’t want to mess YOB up. I know YOB hasn’t been perfect, but I also know it’s done way more good than harm for so many people around the world.

As I’ve kept my distance.

I simply can’t be hundreds of people’s friend. Perhaps the best way to build YOB — to nurture this place for our readers, listeners, and supporters — is to remove myself from the fold. To be the distant leader and never the fellow journeyer.

And then the YOBBERS retreat happened.

The second night, I was sitting with my Brotherhood Tribe — our 47 attendees broke into five tribes (small groups) based on our five values — on a picnic table island by myself while three guys sat on one side, five on the other.

It just sorta happened this way without any conscious thought on my end: sitting separately from my group. A fitting metaphor for my long-running role within — above? — YOB.

Then without warning, during a pause in our discussion, one of my other brothers stood up from his seat.

Stepped over.

I wondered where he was going. And then I realized it was toward me.

He said nothing as he wrapped his arms around me.

I closed my eyes and let him hold me. For the first time that weekend, I didn’t feel like the leader. I didn’t feel the need to perform and project and plan-plan-plan. That hug was a relational equalizer like nothing else I experienced that weekend. Like few things I’ve experienced since starting YOB.

The more I think back on that picnic table moment, the more I realize I could’ve just wept. Wept into the arms of someone I’d just met the previous day with seven others watching. Wept for all the disconnect and pent emotions of the last two and a half years.

It’s lonely to lead. Sometimes I wish someone else had created YOB and I could enjoy the spoils. But maybe I still can, in a sense.

Yes, YOB needs leadership. A blog needs a schedule. Podcasts need a flow. Videos need a purpose. A retreat needs a location and activities and a $2,000 grocery budget and lots of Enneagram integrations.

Without this brotherhood, however, I am sinking fast. Sinking deep.

Without our brotherhood, this place is a meaningless echo chamber. A dark well with perpetual drop.

The YOBBERS retreat reminded me I cannot draw from a dry well, cannot lead alone, cannot even journey alone, and I need to lean more on my brothers — my fellow authors and, yes, even our faithful supporters.

New friends.

Yes, I need in-person relationships. But I need not fully discard and distance myself from these online ones.

I loved meeting so many other brothers at our inaugural retreat, and I look forward to journeying further with them coming down from our mountaintop weekend together.

I hope to be a source of leaning for them too.

Are you in a position of leadership? Do you struggle to “fill the well” and pour more effectively into others? How do you experience brotherhood online and offline?

About the Author

  • Tom,
    It was a treasured experience for me to go to the retreat, and also to spend time with you in the brotherhood tribe. Thank you for being you. I can’t imagine being in your shoes! I’m glad you’re one of the minds behind this ministry and movement. I may not be close to you, but I have always related powerfully with your written words. It is lonely to lead, but it is also a labor of love that is deeply appreciated by so many of us who have found this community. May you find the continued support you need as you continue to serve and bless all of us
    God bless you Tom!

    • Bradley, you’re a gem. Always humbled and grateful for your affirmations. So glad you’re journeying with us. So great to cross paths with you from retreats to Chick-fil-As alike.

    • Wow Bradley…what a wonderful experience you must have had! Your words were such a blessing to read!

  • I can totally relate. It would be so frustrating when I was in ministry and many times my students were about my age and we would begin to get close but I would have to draw back to maintain a “professional” relationship and not let it be so much a friendship just yet, and many times I felt like that caused me to isolate myself and sabotage potentially good friendships. Balance is key and we learn that usually making mistakes along the way. Hang in there brother and hang on to all of us. We love you and what you’ve done and I’m glad the retreat was good for you as well and that it was not just about you giving but also receiving

  • So very true, Tom. Being emotionally distant is a safeguard of sorts. None of us is an Atlas. We cannot bear the weight of everyone’s needs and problems. But the safeguard can also be a trap of isolation, to where we aren’t as vulnerable or accountable to others as we ought to be. And then when you add leadership into the mix, well, that further compounds things.
    I love you, brother. You are valuable and important. To both God and to the community you have created. And to me.
    Thank you for writing this. For allowing us a glimpse into your own mindset and heart…into your own struggle of finding out not just how to lead, but also how to belong.
    I think, at the bottom of everything, that is what we are all trying to do.
    God bless you.

    • I definitely wrestle with that tension between safeguard and accountability. Such a hard thing to discern. Hoping this retreat revelation is a vital step forward for me. Much love to you too, Kirk.

      • Hang in there, brother.
        Oh, and by the way, love the pic. What’s with the headband? Are you the new Karate Kid or Ninja Turtle? Tom, his headband, and mighty stone of brotherhood. Beware, isolationists!

          • Aha! So it is the great TMZ come to wage war against the droll influences of this frightfully individualistic and impersonal age. And why not? David slew Goliath with a stone. Might not we slay some others with the stone of brotherhood?

  • So many hearts for this. You and El are the leaders, sure, but also our brothers. We welcome you into the tribe. <3

  • Thanks Tom for your wonderful post. It definitely resonated with me.
    When I worked for a Christian Service organization, the head of our Field Services department was a single guy who was responsible for the care of all our people around the world. He did a great job…totally dedicated to his work.
    But one day, something terrible happened. In a horrible turn of events, he snapped and took his life in the building. There is no way I can describe the horror of that day…something I will live with the rest of my life. He was a loner…and stayed to himself. But…he seemed to enjoy my company and we went on a number of day trips together. I still agonize over the fact that I failed somehow.
    My worst nightmare came true when they asked me to take over his job. I was thrust into his “shoes” and my life changed. I had to isolate myself and build walls around myself to protect not only myself, but confidential information about people. I had never made friends outside in the community…my whole interaction had been within the organization…which was a big mistake on my part. There were many hard days in that position and the one thing that kept me going was I was trying to serve the Lord and do it with eternity in mind.
    So, I can understand from experience what you have shared. Tom…you and the others here do fantastic job…and fill a vital role that has been sorely needed. You have no idea how grateful I am. I ask nothing from “you all”…except…how can I encourage you and build you up. Thanks for allowing me to be here.

    • As I recall those days so vividly, the responsibilities I was thrust into weighed heavily on my heart and life. I was on call 24/7 and had to be ready at a moments notice to handle any emergency around the world. I had no cell phone or computer and had to do things the “old fashioned” way. And…trust me, there were a number of emergencies that would lead me to work nearly around the clock. It would lead me to complete exhaustion and a near breakdown. Sometimes, I would take some time off to spend an afternoon at a museum or go sightseeing…which helped a bit. I ended going for counseling at a service provided by a Lutheran church in the city, and it helped just to talk to someone. I could tell stories till the cows come home but what I have shared hopefully will help from someone who has walked this road already.

  • I don’t want to “hog” this thread, but as I was out walking in the calm of the morning, I said a prayer for you and the other brothers here. I believe that God put you here “for such a time as this” as it says in the book of Esther. When He put this on your heart…he has equipped you like He did Moses to lead the people out of Egypt. The responsibilities can seem overwhelming and “heavy” but know we are here for you too.

    • I do think the time is ripe in our culture for authentic confession and conversation about these topics of sexuality and masculinity. I hope we step into everything we’re meant to be, representing Jesus on this earth. Thanks for praying, Dave. Please continue doing so. For all of us.

  • Tom,
    As a fellow author and friend, I have seen you grow so much! You are transparent almost to a fault, which is very difficult for us introverts. Obviously you have developed significant courage and conviction in order to be that way.
    I don’t think anyone could reasonably object to you setting boundaries to protect yourself! I have never felt more than a right and appropriate distance in your friendship with me. I continue to feel your love through your hugs, your time, and your words of encouragement.
    You are doing so many things right, Tom! That’s why I trust you when I need advice about boundaries in my own life!
    Thanks for being the right kind of friend to me over the years. I hope to continue to be a friend to you myself. Haha thanks also for tolerating my gushing 2-ness.

    • I’ll tolerate you as long as you’ll let me, Marshall. Thanks for being such a rock of stability in my life and in this community. Your words of affirmation carry great weight.

  • Hm I don’t suppose I’ve thought about this before, but maybe this highlights a difference between leadership and discipleship? Leadership is setting a course and going ahead. Leadership is having people follow you. It’s what Moses learned to do in the desert. But I think people in positions of leadership do have to draw some tough boundaries–maybe it’s just the nature of leadership.
    However, discipleship in Jesus is bringing people into the family. Jesus brought his disciples into his family, made brothers of them, and I think he also received something from them in turn. He calls us to follow this example, making brothers and sisters of one another. You have some boundaries with family, but they work differently and they’re drawn in different places. You can’t be best friends with 100 people, but there’s no reason you can’t have 100 brothers, all of whom have your back and care for you deeply!

    • I agree. I marvel at the capacity I find within me to love brother upon brother upon brother, as God brings them into my life. I count them all friends. Sure, I’m closer to some than others, but I love them all, and will be there whenever any of them need me.

  • Well, breeetheren, I will dip my oar in the water of this discussion only to say that I have the opposite problem as Tom. I just can’t bring myself to build protective barriers around myself. And, believe me, it has given me a lot of heartache, as people I have willingly given my time and efforts to have crushingly disappointed me. Sigh. My heart is so big, I just want to give myself to and pour myself into everybody. Not possible. And that’s okay. I’m learning that it is okay.
    One of the greatest leaders I have ever known told me that this happens with people. You give your all and then some people render you evil for good.
    So…. What do you think, brothers? I have had so much bad happen to me in my life. I should be withdrawn and wary and selfish. But I just can’t be. Jesus has done so much for me. I need to learn healthy boundaries for my own mental health’s sake.

    • Kirk, I can certainly relate! I love people and I give a lot of my heart, time, and energy to help them. I can think of many times when people have mistreated me in response to my love. Jesus commands us to forgive, and God continually gives me grace to do that.
      If I forgive someone for hurting me, often I still need to remove myself from a situation that would only hurt me again and help no one.
      I think of boundaries as a way to protect those I am helping, not just me ! If someone is demanding too much of me in an unhealthy way I just say “no”, partly for me, but also to make time for others who benefit from my time and energy.

      • Thanks, Marshall. I like your thoughts about protecting those who love and trust us. Amen.

    • I admire you for wanting to give so much of yourself for others. I could definitely stand to borrow some of that energy for myself (as I’m sure you’d like to borrow some of my own dispositions with boundaries). If only it were as easy as making a deposit or transfer to someone else’s relational account. Alas. We live and we learn and we adjust as we go.

      • **ZAP!!!** There, Tom. I just funneled some energy over to you. Freely you have received, freely give. LOL.

    • Just wanted to say how much I appreciate you dear brother. It is such a blessing to see how you give of yourself so much to the “family” here. You have no idea how much it means to me and your example shows me Jesus in all you do and say!

      • Well, those are very kind words, WaveDave. I don’t really know what to say. Thanks, brother.

  • Leadership can be lonely if we let it. Community is for everyone, no matter how many people look to you. I’m thankful you found this realization in that moment at the retreat. Thank you for sharing, brother.

  • Thankful for you, TMZ. Your vulnerable leadership shows your dependence on Christ, your natural giftings, and over-all badassery. Accept the love, and let it propel you through future bruhaha.

  • Love you Tom. You will always be our Brother, even as you Lead us. Thank you for sharing this story and your heart with us!

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