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Towards an Understanding of Leadership: What is Motivating the Discussion?

April 18th, 2012 · No Comments · News

Loren & Darlene Cunningham, Lynn Green, John Dawson, Jim Stier – edited by Miranda Heathcote

As we explore new ways of leading YWAM, an obvious question to ask is ‘Why?’ What has motivated the changes to the way we refer to leaders and our understanding of the role they play?

YWAM’s global elders (formerly known as Team 3+) recently recorded a discussion they had about these issues. Some of their thoughts are contained in this article.

Back to the Beginning:

First and foremost, this shift is motivated by a desire to return to the way of doing things that God showed us in the early years of YWAM. During that foundational period, there was clearly a functioning eldership. As Lynn Green says, "Then, for several years, we became more organisational in our language, but God began to pull us back to eldership."

What is Motivating the Leadership DiscussionThese leaders are keen to emphasize that eldership being the focus of the discussion does not imply that other forms of leadership are not valid, or necessary. As John Dawson points out: "We understand that the local level – a training school for children, for instance – needs to have a leadership team, a legal board, all those things. But even at that level, we want (to encourage) the principle of a gathered eldership." Lynn Green underscores this, saying: "We know we need policies and procedures at the local level. Though we must be servant leaders everywhere, we need appropriate organisational structure at local levels, but not beyond that."

Those who were members of Team3+ form a group of mature people that John Dawson describes in this way: "We love one another, are mutually submitted to one another, aligned with Lord, aligned with the YWAM values, and we take a priestly, prophetic, and pastoral position in prayer." This is the sort of eldership group we would love to see more of throughout the mission.

Loren Cunningham develops this thought, saying that one characteristic of elders is that, "They have greater corporate memory than one who has not been around as long. They have a role in passing (those memories) on to the next generations, so that they will keep the integrity of the DNA of what God started in the first place. They have that protective role for our values, vision and corporate beliefs."

Expectations of Leadership

In addition to this desire to return to something that was foundational to our beginnings, the leadership discussions are also motivated by a desire for our language to more truly reflect how YWAM functions, so that we do not create wrong expectations by using inappropriate language.

Lynn Green explains that, "We want to use Biblical terminology where ever we can–more family language, as opposed to business or government language." Jim Stier elaborates: "We’ve never had anything other than relational authority so it’s time we stop using language which implies that we do." John Dawson adds that, " YWAM has many institutions and at the level of those institutions, we need (appropriate) language: the language of education is appropriate for when we run a school, for example, and we’re not dismantling or criticising that."

The reality behind this motivation is clarified by Loren Cunningham, who says "YWAM is a spiritual movement, not an organisational hierarchy." Lynn Green adds that, "To use terminology which implies a legal structure (beyond the local) is misleading … it creates an expectation that certain people have the authority and responsibility to make everything run smoothly, but we know that we can’t do that. Rather, we call on God, obey Him and He will act."

Getting Ready for Growth

By wrestling with what leadership should look like in YWAM, we are also seeking to position ourselves for huge growth, both in the numbers of missionaries serving through YWAM and in the number of YWAM locations. Many leaders throughout the mission share the sense that in this next season we are to expect unprecedented expansion. What sort of leadership will be required to facilitate multiplication and effective mission on a larger scale?

Preparing for Hardship

In addition to trusting together for massive growth, many YWAM leaders acknowledge that growth will not come without persecution. Already there are stories around the world of growing persecution in certain places; preparing for this is another motivation behind the process of change. As the global elders shared their thoughts about leadership, Loren Cunningham expressed his sense that persecution will increase and that, "When the persecution comes, we should not be in a high profile position, we will be less vulnerable as we are more grassroots”.

So we see that many considerations are contributing to a desire to dialogue about leadership in YWAM. What sort of leadership has God called us to, so that we fulfil His purposes for us as a movement of missionaries? How can we avoid expectations that we are unable to meet, or that are inappropriate for us? And how can we prepare ourselves for this next season, with both growth and persecution? The discussion is not without its challenges – but we can be assured that it is motivated by a genuine desire to follow God’s call on YWAM as we enter the next season.

Read more about what YWAM’s global elders are thinking about the structure at – search the resources section for “Eldership.”

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