YWAM Leadership in the 21st Century

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Iain Muir has written the following paper that he submitted to the GLT for consideration. Please feel free to get intouch with Iain to discus it! It will be part of the six week LTS seminar under the leadership of Iain Muir - International Director of YWAM - in Wiler from March 29th to May 9th 2009.

YWAM Leadership in the 21st Century

YWAM was born last Century as a child of the Sixties. It was a decade of radicalism; the Hippie movement, "flower power", and then the Jesus Revolution. Some of the early YWAMers looked like hippies. Imagine Floyd McClung in what looked like a long dress with hair almost down to his waist -- and that was after he joined YWAM!; Lynn Green in a "flower-power" shirt; and Loren Cunningham? No, he was never a hippie!

The early leadership still forms the core of the global leadership of the mission. We came into missions as radicals and pioneers with a healthy dose of independence that God blended into inter-dependence. This matched the need we had to go out anywhere and begin new things in missions. That need is still endemic in today's world. There are an infinite number of things out there that nobody has ever done in shaping missions the way God wants. Our young leaders and new recruits need to hear that challenge to pioneer.

Yet in this new century YWAM does face a different mix of factors. We are larger, wide spread and hugely diversified. We are developing new categories like YWAM Affiliates which will enlarge the potential influence models beyond recognition. And of course we are more ethnically enriched than ever before.

Synergism Through Integration

Already, the focus on synergy is growing. Some of our international conferences combine different elements of the mission in the same venue with joint sessions. U of N workshops draw YWAMers from all dimensions of our diversity and the last workshop was named Synergy 2003.

However there is a long way to go in order to maximize the benefits of synergy. The task of global missions will demand a greater emphasis on a leadership style which maximizes synergy throughout the diversity of YWAM; leaders who embrace an integrated view of missions, and will not lose sharp focus but will be able to deploy all the resources available to the breadth of the task.

At the ITU Telecommunications Forum in Geneva last year, I heard the CEO of Hewlett Packard, Carly Fiorina say that "Integration is simply how everything works!" It sounded like a biblical statement because that is how God has made everything, integrating very different elements into every area of his creation. It only works when there is true integration.

In our diversity as an organization, integration is our challenge. Simply put, the ministry of Christ is not divided, nor are the different gifts of Christ independent of each other. Paul the apostle hits us with this truth in his first letter to the church at Corinth (chapter 12) and again when he wrote to the Christians at Ephesus (chapter 2).

4k-Project -- the strategic view of the world comprising more than four thousand "omega zones" is a huge opportunity for integration of our YWAM ministries. In fact, it's the only way that 4K can be tackled!

Synergy through integration -- it's the challenge for YWAM leaders in this new century.

Women in Leadership

This is usually seen or presented as an issue of justice and fairness, equal rights between the genders, and rightly so.

However, it is also an issue of strategic intelligence or wisdom and it might be more important and effective if we view it in this way. The fact is that in the kingdom of God women have vital roles and that has always been true.

In this Century I believe there will be an even greater release of women in leadership roles in the body of Christ and specifically within YWAM. There will be a particular movement of women in leadership roles in Africa, Asia and South America.

Serving in Africa I've noted two strategic factors. First, the number of pioneer women missionaries outnumbers single men. In YWAM Africa we have seen God use outstanding women leaders such as Habona Kisamwa, Gail Wickes, Anneke Doumas, Debbie Smith, Marcia Azolin, Mary Biney, Reine Amu, Elisabeth Schassberger, Silvie Leong, Annelies Daka, and many others. We could name many other women giving vital leadership in other continents.

Frankly, the task needs to be done. We need every gift of leadership available, young and old, male and female.

I think it's likely that there will be a woman President of YWAM within the next decade. On GLT we already have strong female voices like Maureen Menard, Chris Colby, Elizabeth Cochrane, and Wendy Radford; and of course, Darlene Cunninham!

The 21st Century demands that we have every means available to finish the task of world missions.


Biblical world view always challenges current thought. How the challenge is presented is the key question. Jesus met world view at street level. He found ways of response by engaging.

The relational aspect of post-modernism is a strength but the individualization of values, and moral relativism needs to be countered. Cynicism and disillusionment are rife.

Os Guinness talks about "radical non-conformity". Out of the now generation will come a breed of leader who will be what the Jesus revolutionaries were in the Sixties, swimming against the tide. Many of us who came into YWAM then swam against the tide of Modernity, quitting careers, leaving homes and possessions, following a dream.

We already see and hear of young people being influenced by the Factory (out of YWAM Harpenden) and similar youth movements; refusing the moral relativism and the cynicism of post-modernism and taking up the challenge to live for Jesus and take his message globally.

The current leadership faces the challenge of making room for a new generation of young leaders from the post-modern culture. We need to avoid the conservatism of many churches in the 1960s who struggled to open their doors to the young "Jesus revolutionaries". Our formats for community life and teaching must be evaluated to see if we are culturally relevant to the now generation.

The challenge for emerging leaders in YWAM will be to continue to model an alternative lifestyle within a movement like YWAM which now has success and prosperity all around it. If we and they slide into conformity then the game is up.

Values-Based Leadership

In recent years we have been re-emphasizing the values that have been foundational in the formation of this mission movement.

Christian organizations form values out of what God does in their history. These values become larger than life to the founders and early staff. What the Holy Spirit does stays real for a lifetime!

Yet values may be undermined. If pragmatism becomes a priority, values lose their place. The very things God taught us as being vital get neglected, a drift factor kicks in, and before we realize it our values have been violated. A new generation grows up without the dynamism of the times when values were birthed.

What are the subtle questions which tend to undermine values? Do we really need open-ness? Is trusting God for finances still relevant with new fund-raising techniques? Do we need to hear God speak before we use modern mission strategies that have been already proved? How much intercessory prayer is valid when the world waits for people of action? Why not be more efficient by controlling things from the centre?

We would never want to become so focused on values that we are deaf to the new things that the Holy Spirit is saying now. Fund-raising, new strategies in evangelism and missions, and a greater focus on goals that will help finish the task are all valid when God leads us into them.

Values will be challenged. In the century after YWAM was founded the task of a new generation of leaders will be to guard God-given values. Change the values and you change the essence of any movement. Applications may change but never the essence.

Dealing With the Tests of Success

YWAM is 43 years old this year and some among us would say this is the prime of life! In the Sixties and even in the Seventies -- YWAM was a newcomer on the world missions' scene; unknown, untested, and with no track record. A well known leader named us the "disorganized organization"; happily we learned a few things as we grew. One banker in Germany described us as "people who do everything with nothing", and maybe that's still true!

The decades have brought what the world calls success. YWAM is one of the largest mission movements in history, with operations in every continent, about 18 thousand full time workers, enjoying the use of properties and other assets valued beyond the wildest dreams of a YWAM leader in the early days. Credibility and respect came as God blessed simple obedience. Honor was given.

We are now in the tests of success. They are harder to pass than the tests of struggle or even failure. You see this when you study King David's history. In the tough times he hung into God and heard what to do. Success came and with it prosperity and the good life; that's when he fell into temptation and sin with disastrous results for his family and the kingdom.

When success comes there are things to protect; assets to guard, reputation to maintain, and funding sources to preserve. Success makes us more vulnerable. Defending what the success brought may cause us to drift from what God wants now.

21st Century YWAM leaders will increasingly have to face the tests of success. Greater mission groups than ours have stumbled over such tests. Some of them abandoned Christian principles or doctrines to keep popularity. Others prioritized money and left their Christian image behind. Radical evangelism was offensive to some and was quietly dropped. Some discovered certain projects more supported than others and they listened to support more than the voice of God.

The early leaders of YWAM did not face the tests of success in their youth, only in their mature years. This Century's YWAM leaders will face success in their youth. May they pass the tests of success well!

The "Centre of Gravity" Has Shifted

By this statement I mean that the "centre of gravity" of YWAM leadership is shifting from its Western beginnings into the so-called developing or "two-thirds world". On any count you will find there are more leaders from those nations now than the rest of the world combined. Even in the GLT (that mysterious body!) about one third of its members are from so-called non-Western countries and that fraction is increasing.

This is true in missions generally. Yet resources still influence who makes the big decisions. World missions' issues are still largely controlled in the West. It must change and it will change.

It will change in YWAM. In the past decade Loren and Darlene Cunningham, as well as Jim Stier, have focused LTS venues in the two-thirds world and this has helped accelerate the growth of leaders from those regions.

During 1987 to 2001 when I served as regional director, then as field director for YWAM in Africa, I witnessed and with others served a "sea-change" in our leadership caucus. In 1987 we had only one African national director in the continent; the others were all expatriates. By 2001 we had only two national directors who were expatriates - all the others are now African. There were similar changes in the leadership of bases and schools. This was also happening in other regions of the two-thirds world.

In this Century the trend will continue. Nations like Nigeria, Brazil and South Korea will produce matured leaders who will have greater and greater influence within YWAM. I am convinced we will also see a flood of new missionaries coming out from China. During a recent visit I heard that they have already seen around one hundred deployed into Central Asia.

I have noticed some insecurity in Western leaders when the emergence of two-thirds world mission leaders is mentioned. The task is so huge there is room for all of us. It is all part of God raising up a larger task force to get the job done!

21st Century YWAM leaders will increasingly learn to work in situations where non-western leaders are in seniority.

The Passing of the "First Generation" YWAM Leaders

Well, it will come, and we need to anticipate it. Most of the current GLT are over 40 years of age, some over 55, and one or two over 65. Within twenty to thirty years a generation will leave the planet; they'll need to make room for younger women and men before that happens. It will be a major change in the mission.

Succession is an issue. Some of the changes in international leadership structure have been made in part to begin to prepare the way. From September 2004 we will have an international chairman with a five year term and an international director with a four year term, to work in a team of three with our international president, who has three-year term.

The next generation of senior leaders is among us. Who will they be and what will they be? Will they carry the same values and vision forward?

Take it Cool, God Has Everything Under Control!

Yes, the mission called YWAM belongs to him as the rest of the Christian community. He carries the biggest responsibility. He will do his part.

Yet, we all have a part to play. Let's rise to the task, give ourselves to welcoming and nurturing this new generation of young pioneer leaders!