Ajith’s Farewell Address to Staff

31st May 2011

Contents

LEONARD FERNANDO: MY SUCCESSOR 2

Thanking God for the staff 2

SIX DISTINCTIVES OF YOUTH FOR CHRIST 4

  1. REACHING UNREACHED YOUTH 4
  2. Our Primary Call
  3. People are Lost without Christ
  4. Creativity

 

  1. Discipling 5
  2. YFC’s Great Contribution.
  3. Discipling is hard work.
  4. We Die for our People
  5. Our Great Joy.

 

III. THE LOCAL CHURCH 7

 

  1. LIFE AND MINISTRY THAT SPRINGS FROM THE Bible 7

 

  1. INTEGRITY 8
  2. It is Possible to Follow what the Bible Teaches
  3. Lying
  4. Borrowing

 

  1. FELLOWSHIP AND ACCOUNTABILITY 11
  2. The Body Concept.
  3. Fellowship Requires Time to Be Spent with Each Other
  4. Spiritual Accountability
  5. It takes Much Effort to Arrive at Agreement
  6. It Takes Time to Get Approval for Expenditure.
  7. God Knows what is Best for us.

 

CONCLUSION: THRILLED TO BE A YOUTH WORKER 15

 

 

 

This is one of the happiest days of my life. For the past 15 years, few things have consistently occupied my mind as the question of who will succeed me. During the past five years this has been one of my major items for prayer and desire.

 

Last year I studied the way Moses handed over leadership. Three things came out of that study.

  • He encouraged Joshua, his successor.
  • He thanked God for his goodness. I hope to do that at the more public event on 2nd
  • He urged the people to be faithful to God, his Word and his call. This is what I want to concentrate on today.

 

 

LEONARD FERNANDO: MY SUCCESSOR

 

But let me say that I will do anything I can to encourage my successor Leonard Fernando. If there is anything you think I should do, please tell me. I want to be his servant and help him to be a greater leader for YFC than I was.

 

I cannot tell you how happy I am to be handing over to Leonard. I had not worked with Leonard before. But several people told me that he seems to have the gifts for national level leadership. I also realised this and then I knew that my fifteen year search was over.

 

  • I am happy to hand over the ministry to him because I know he is committed to the welfare of the full-time staff and volunteers. He is going to help you to become great people under God.
  • Also I am happy because I have seen Leonard as a Godly disciple of Christ. I have seen him being willing to give up his plans for the sake of YFC. This has been my experience all these years. But God has looked after me. And I know he will look after Leonard as he makes sacrifices for the sake of YFC.
  • Then I am happy because he has a proven track record as an effective grass-roots worker. He knows what youth ministry is.

 

Now it is my joy to work under Leonard as I continue to serve as a YFC staff worker. I am proud to be able to call him, “my leader; my boss.” That is what he is. The title Acting is given because of an aspect of our ethos. But he is the leader of YFC—not me. If you have something to complain about Leonard—please do not tell me; tell Leonard. If you are not satisfied with the answer you get, in keeping with our grievance procedure, tell the Board Chairman. Brian Blacker will resign from Board Chairmanship at the next meeting. Please pray that we will make the right choice for this responsibility.

 

 

Thanking God for the staff

 

It would be impossible for me today to be without thanking God for you, the staff of YFC. I will talk about my family on September 2nd.

 

I have always said that the YFC staff are my heroes. Sometimes I am mad with you and think to myself: “Why is that idiot acting like an idiotic idiot!” But soon that is forgotten as I remember all the wonderful things that I can thank God for when I think of you. My consistent attitude towards the staff of YFC over the past 35 years has been one of admiration and thanksgiving. This has been a problem too. Sometimes when I should be scolding you I remember all the good things and forget to scold you!

 

You have put up with all my weaknesses and helped me to do the ministry I have done. About 10 years ago, large mission organisation invited me to consider becoming their General Director. I told them, that they have seen my public ministry, and invited me to take this job. They do not see the way I operate in my ministry. I told them that in real life—I have been propped up by my staff. I can do my writing and teaching before a wider audience because the YFC staff have supported me and given me the space to do that.

 

I think of the specific teams I have led. The first job I had was National Director of YFC. I had been a summer youth ministry intern in a church in USA for four months and got an allowance.

But this was the first time I got a real salary (Rs 450 a month!). I had no experience in full-time ministry. The first leadership team I led was Brian Balcker, Suri Williams, Richard Brohier and Tomy Senewiratne. They all had several years of experience on staff. Only Tony was younger than me. Brian Blacker was almost 10 years older than me and already had 8 years ministry experience. He had been acting National Director for two years. But how they encouraged me.

They accepted me as their leader and taught me to do ministry! It was a happy, happy experience!

 

At the same time I led the Bambalapitiya Young Adults club with Nelun. This too was a really wonderful experience.

 

There are several other teams that I led after that. I led the Sinhala and English Language ministries two times. I even led the Tamil Language ministry for two years after the 1983 riots.I cannot tell you what a healing experience that was for me. I was grieving over what my people had done to the Tamils in 1983. And God helped me to heal that wound by giving me Tamil staff and volunteers to parent. Leading Youth Guidance, our drug rehab work, was a life-changing experience for me!

 

Leading these groups was a sheer joy to me. I learned so much from the staff. My job was to teach them the Bible, take care of them and give them the opportunities to do their work. They taught me about how to do ministry. And what I learned from them I shared in my teaching and my books.

 

And then there has been the ND office. I have had some wonderful secretaries and assistants.

And we have always enjoyed fellowship. It is always a joy for me to come to my office—just to see the faces of the staff (well, almost always).

 

One person has been with me for the past 20 years or so. He has often got mad at me; and I have often got mad at him! But I can honestly tell you that I would not have had the ministry I have been having if not for Timothy Godwin. He has protected me and done whatever is necessary to enable me to do my ministry. In fact I have to hide some things I do from him, like taking trips on buses or packing the van with too many people, I am afraid he would stop me from doing these. I am proud to be able to say like Paul in 1 Tim. 1:18, “Timothy, my son!”

 

Today I want to talk about six features of our Ethos, which I feel God has given uniquely us as a movement.

 

 

SIX DISTINCTIVES OF YOUTH FOR CHRIST

 

  1. REACHING UNREACHED YOUTH

 

  1. Our Primary Call

The basic unit of YFC is not the youth fellowship—where Christians gather to encourage each other in their walk with God. We also have hundreds of small groups of Christians where this happens. But those are temporary groups that young people will be in until they are settled in churches. And of course we have our groups where the leaders meet.

 

But out job is to go where the church does not usually go; to win youth who would not usually go to a programme organised by a church. Of course, there are a lot of other things we do. We are into music, sports, drama, media, education, vocational training, relief, drug rehab, publishing and counselling. We do this because we are committed to youth and to their welfare. We want to be the best in these areas—not out of a sense of competition, but so that we will honour God by the way we do ministry and so that youth will be blessed.

 

Sometimes we cannot share the gospel in these programmes. This is a restriction we have accepted, as necessary because of the situation in our nation. But while we do these things, we must never forget that our primary calling is to bring them the gospel. Evangelising unreached youth must always be our primary mission.

 

Sometimes the divisions doing these ministries may get so big that they separate from YFC. This is what happened with the Kithu Sevana movement. Sometimes we help other organisations with different missions start off. We have done this with RBC and Navodaya. With YFC’s permission, our staff have helped in the start-up of the Nugegoda Methodist Sinhala congregation, Focus, Global Impact and Colombo Theological Seminary. When these ministries thrive, we rejoice!

 

Sometimes we have refused some major funding, because those funds did not relate to our primary call. We saw this when we were doing tsunami relief. We had decided that we will work primarily with youth. So when funding for other projects were made available to us, we refused this. Often we recommended other groups which would have benefited from this funding.

 

Sometimes we see great need for training youth leaders in churches and we organise Youth leader training programmes. But that is an exceptional thing we do because of an urgent need in the church. Training church youth in evangelism is not our primary call. Our call is to evangelise unreached youth.

 

  1. People are Lost without Christ

One of the things that will help us remain urgent about our call is the realisation that people are lost without Christ. May that constantly be an ache in our souls. May we be able to say with Paul, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. or I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh (Rom 9:2-3). This is not a popular doctrine today. But that is what the Bible teaches.

 

When opposition to evangelism gets severe, we may be tempted to concentrate on another kind of youth ministry. But if we remember that people without Christ are eternally lost, then we would have a motivation to go on despite temporary pain—like unpopularity, assaulting and imprisonment—for the sake of offering eternal salvation to young people. I remember Refuge joking and telling me that we should now do some social work to uplift the conditions in the prisons so that when we get there they will be in better shape.

 

  1. Creativity

Such a ministry calls for hard work and much creative thinking. Getting in touch with unreached youth so that we can adequately share the gospel with them is not easy today. We will have to try a lot of new things; and many of them will fail. I hope they do not fail because of a lack of planning, or preparation, or quality. But some of the plans we think are grand plans with end up as flops.

 

I hope this will not cause you to play safe. Creative people are sometimes a pain in the neck! They are always taking us out of our comfort zones. If you want to do only what you are comfortable doing, YFC is not the place for you.

 

Of course we need conservative people also. They make sure that we do not break principles as we try new things. The creative radicals will sometimes get impatient with them. We will have to take time to debate in our teams about their way out ideas. But the debates should take place out of a background of mutual respect and acceptance. Without that we become accusatory. Then fellowship is broken and spiritual power is lost. The radicals will make sure that we will move forward. The conservatives will help that movement to be done responsibly.

 

 

  1. Discipling

 

  1. YFC’s Great Contribution.

If there is one thing that people see as a unique contribution that YFC has made to the church in Sri Lanka usually they mention our emphasis on discipling. The result of this is the leaders we have given to the church. There are so many English speaking alumni who are now leaders in the church from the early and latter days. From the latter days I am thrilled at the number of pastors, pastors’ spouses and lay leaders who have emerged from our Sinhala and Tamil work.

 

  1. Discipling is hard work.

Taking responsibility for a person is hard work. It calls for physical and spiritual strength. You are going to be often disappointed. When the person rebels against God—they will blame you. We must be ready for that pain. For busy people it is costly to give unhurried time for regular appointments with people. Meeting people, especially difficult people, is hard on the body and the emotions.

 

Some people do not seem eager to meet us or to open up to us. This is an area where I have failed. Some of the people I have supervised come to me when there is a problem or a joy. Others do not come. I have not been disciplined and committed enough to pursue them. This has resulted in some failures in my discipling. I should have pursued them, and I did not.

 

I hope you will pay the price of discipling. It is getting harder and hard in today’s world to meet people face to face. Some people prefer to open up their hearts to friends they do not see, over the computer. Some people are so busy that they just don’t want to give the time to visit people in their homes. I cannot see how you can disciple a person if you do not visit the place that is most important to that person—his or her home.

 

So I urge you—give time for meeting people. It is costly, you must be willing to pay the price.

 

  1. We Die for our People

You have often heard me say that if we die for our people, our people will die for YFC. This is the model of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who dies for the sheep (John 10). Recently this idea has been challenged. During my first 15 years or so, one of my biggest battles was to stop our workers working too hard. I had to force them/command them to take an off day. Now, it seems that many younger people don’t have such an attitude to work.

 

Yet I still believe that, though we may be taken for a ride off and on, love will win through in the end. If our staff realise that we are willing to pay the price to help them, they will pay the price of service. I have seen staff who in their early years were always trying to exploit the system. What privileges can I get from YFC? They were not willing to really pay the price of service and go the second mile above what they were asked to do. But I have seen them changing with time.

They see that we are really committed to them. And they will be committed to us.

 

Some will exploit. But that is a price worth paying to preserve this feature in our ministry. This is the answer to the commitment crisis that is facing the church and the world. People don’t think costly commitment is worthwhile. May YFC leaders demonstrate the glory of this by dying for their staff and volunteers.

 

  1. Our Great Joy.

I do not think I am a good discipler. I know I am a terrible supervisor. I forget things I should ask; I am sometimes irregular in meeting with people.

 

But I can tell you that I have had in my heart the desire to especially care for some people. With my change in responsibilities I have had to revise my prayer list. I have a page for people I have discipled and supervised. I think there are over 40 people who are leaders in Churches or YFC in this list. I do not meet a lot of them regularly now. In fact I am scared to meet those in YFC, lest their supervisor gets upset! But I pray for them. I feel like a parent who has given a child in marriage. When I hear their voice—something in me leaps for joy. That is how I feel when I hear the voices of people like Pandian and Nevil.

 

I have another page for those I have tried to be a mentor to. That list is about 70. What a joy it is when I think of these people.

 

This is one of the greatest joys of ministry is investing in people. And this joy multiplies when you get older. Paul said, Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philp 4:1). When John was an old man, much older than me, he said, I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 1:4).

 

I think you know that my definition of discipling is “looking after people.” It comes from an attitude; an attitude of yearning: “O God I want the best for this person!” O God, Make him a great person!”

 

 

III. THE LOCAL CHURCH

 

We disciple people into the local church. This is something that we have to keep reminding ourselves of. We can get so busy that we can ignore the local church. We are successful only when our youth are happily settled in churches. When the church grows because of us we have succeeded in our mission. We must remember that we are servants of the churches. This is not easy because sometimes churches are very critical of us.

 

We must do all we can to talk to church leaders and explain our situation. Some of our volunteers may do their main ministry in YFC and not be too active in their local churches—though they give their Sundays for the church. We need to explain this to the church leaders. We need to show them that in a few years they will be some of the most valued workers in their church. Most of our volunteers will have church ministry as their main involvement when they get older. The ideal is for the church to release these people as missionaries who serve YFC for a time.

 

On our part, we must keep teaching our youth about the importance of the local church. We must do all we can to settle them in churches. We must teach them to start giving financially to the church, even though YFC programmes desperately need funds. We must avoid having programmes on Sundays, unless there is an exceptional circumstance like a camp. If a church has been damaged because our programme grew, we have failed. May our young people see YFC staff workers as faithful members of a local church, respecting and submitting to the leadership of the leaders of the church.

 

Let’s keep helping churches. Don’t worry; you will not suffer. If you do what is right, God will look after you.

 

 

  1. LIFE AND MINISTRY THAT SPRINGS FROM THE BIBLE

 

I decided that my talk has got too long and that I will not spend time on this point. Just let me say that we look to the Bible as our text book.

 

We need training in specialised topics. And we need to have such courses in YFC. But ultimately everything we do springs from the Bible. That is how we built this ministry. We teach the Bible on what it has to say about how to live (holiness); how to think (doctrine) and how to serve (ministry).

 

Our big need then and now is to have godly biblical Christians as staff and volunteers. Our great aim in discipling is to teach people to depend on God and get their nourishment from the word. John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

 

Today people don’t have time for this. They have so many programmes and so many exciting things to study that careful Bible study is neglected. No wonder the church is in such a mess! No wonder we have so much shallowness among Christians.

 

So let’s do the hard work needed to keep the Bible as our main training and nourishing book. Let’s look to the Bible as our source of nourishment, guidance and ministry strategy.

 

Now for YFC staff that means that we have to be excellent teachers, preachers and appliers of the Bible. We must spend time studying the Word. We must spend time getting to know the world of our youth. We must bring this knowledge into real life through personal work. We are called to be a bridge between the world of the Bible and the world of our youth, so that the truths of the Bible penetrate powerfully into the lives of our youth.

 

It is essential that what you do, whether it is teaching, preaching, leading a discussion or counselling is of the highest quality. You need to keep studying now so that your mind is sharp. I have seen several workers in YFC who have not done this. When they are about 40 years, it really shows in the low quality of their communication. The youth realise this and they begin to complain. This is a really terrible place for a YFC worker to be in—to be rejected by the youth after years of hard and devoted work. Some people say that if a minister does not study, they will die a slow death in ministry. Somebody else responded, they do not die, they commit suicide.

 

So work hard to communicate excellently to youth. If you do not do this, remember you are bringing dishonour to God. This is the greatest crime that one could commit. I have often said that to go for a YFC programme without proper preparation is a crime. The person who does that should be put in prison.

 

 

  1. INTEGRITY

 

  1. It is Possible to Follow what the Bible Teaches

The word integrity comes from the idea that the different segments of our life are integrated. There is no contradiction in what we say and what we do; in what we believe and how we behave.

 

One of the results of believing and applying the Bible is that we insist that it is possible to follow the Bible in all things. YFC has tried to push this in our movement. We have said that the principles of the Word are worth dying for. But we also believe that God will look after us if we obey him.

 

As far as I know we have never overstayed in a house we rented, after the owner asked for it. The law would have allowed us to stay. But we have a higher law. Because God is so great, we want not only to do what is lawful; we want to do what is honourable. But God has always provided places to us. In fact now we have or have funding for 10 centres which we own.

 

Don’t be afraid to do what is right, even in Sri Lanka where wrong is accepted as normal in so many places. We must teach our youth that it is dangerous and wrong to

  • to copy at exams,
  • to take revenge against those who hurt us,
  • to break promises we make,
  • to allow people to be treated differently according to their class in society,
  • to give or take bribes, and
  • to give reports to donors that are not 100% truthful

 

Today I want to mention two areas that are so much a part of our culture that they are very dangerous to our movement.

 

  1. Lying

I have been warning our staff and volunteers about lying every year all these years in all the centres I visit. This is because lying is so much a part of our culture that it is very difficult for people not to lie. Why is lying so dangerous? In a passage speaking about accepting and confessing our sin, John said, But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7). We operate on the basis of fellowship. When we are not truthful about our shortcomings and sins, then we cannot have real unity. But unity is essential for our ministry. Jesus said that the world will believe when we are one (John 17:21. 23). So when there is no unity, spiritual power goes.

 

We cannot grow when we are not truthful about our shortcomings and sins. We are all “Christians in the making.” We all have a long way to go. As James said, “…we all stumble in many ways. (Jas 3:1). But by God’s grace we are growing into Christ-likeness. But if we do not accept our weaknesses and lie when we are confronted about them, then there is no chance for us to grow.

 

I have said this often, and I will say it again. YFC gets into a lot of trouble because of some of the foolish things that our staff and volunteers do. They go to churches and say and do things that make church people mad with YFC. We have accepted that this is one of the unavoidable aspects of youth ministry. Some of our people have a lot of zeal but not much wisdom. Any day I prefer a zealous but unwise person to one who is very wise but does not burn with love for God and his ministry.

 

We are willing to live with this handicap. But will not tolerate those who lie. We must confront them when we know that they have lied, without ignoring it. I am sad to say that very often we avoid the unpleasantness and do not confront it. When we keep confronting habitual liars, they will either change or leave. We have seen both these things happening in YFC.

 

One of the commonest things that people lie about is romantic involvements. We know that this is an area where many young people disobey God. So we must warn our youth and volunteers and staff to be truthful about this. We have no right to dictate to our youth whom they should or should not marry. If we do that we will become a cult. But a part of fellowship and of a discipling relationship is being truthful about this most important things in ones life.

 

So if you find that a key person in your team has lied, confront the person. If this person denies, and you know for sure that this person is lying, take disciplinary action against the person. This person may be very important to a programme you are having. Not to use him may be to destroy your programme. But if you use that person, you may have saved your programme, but you are destroying YFC.

 

Please take this as a plea from a man who loves YFC. Do not tolerate lying in YFC.

 

  1. Borrowing

The second area is one that has troubled me a lot. Because of it I am leaving with a strong sense of failure. Personally I do not borrow money. If there is no money for something we just do not do it. That is a Christian principle.

 

But borrowing is permitted in the Bible. However, the Bible also says, “The wicked borrow and do not repay” (Psa. 37:21). Not repaying loans is something that is done by wicked people. Jesus said, people should not build a house or go to war if they do not have assurance that they can complete the project successfully (Luke 14:28-33). The context of this passage is making hasty decisions to follow Jesus. Christians don’t make hasty decisions and launch on projects they cannot complete.

 

When we apply this to borrowing money, we are talking about one of our national sins. Under pressure people borrow money without a proper plan to pay back. But such burdens of loans destroy the spiritual freedom of Christians.

 

Some of our ministries are also doing this. They are borrowing money for a programme but they do not pay back what they borrowed. This is wrong! I do not think that our staff plan to be wicked. This kind of behaviour is so much a part of the culture that people do not think too much before doing it. This demonstrates how the sins of society have become so much a part our lives that we do not see it as wickedness.

 

Do not expect to nurture godly Christians if you do this with your ministry projects. I have come to believe that those who do not pay back their loans do not do well in life. They are not responsible for their actions. Irresponsible people generally do not succeed in life. Their children also do not succeed. Their parents’ irresponsibility becomes a model to them and they too become irresponsible.

 

So if you have a loan—let it occupy your thought all the time. Think of it when you go out to eat as a team. Think of it when you meet for planning. Your thinking should be, “I must get right with God.” “As long as I have this amount in my account which I promised to pay back—I am not right with God.” “Now I have to somehow find this money.” “Otherwise God will not bless me and my ministry.”

 

I fear that some of you are reluctant to raise funds for your projects. If that is the case you should not have launched that project. Fund-raising is part of the life of a para-church organisation. If you are a leader in YFC, this is one of your basic responsibilities.

 

Something I learned early in my ministry about fund raising has really helped me. When we ask people for funds we are giving them the wonderful opportunity to partner in a great work. This is how we view our work! It is something really great—we are giving people the opportunity to receive the greatest treasure there is. And if they accept Christ young, they have a whole lifetime to enjoy it.

 

Robert Murray M’Cheyne quoted one Mr Henry who said that he would beg six days if he has the privilege of preaching on the seventh. We are willing to do whatever it takes for the privilege of leading young people to Jesus. So we will go through the struggle of fund-raising.

 

 

  1. FELLOWSHIP AND ACCOUNTABILITY

 

The Bible presents the whole church as a place where people are of one heart and one mind and have all things in common (Acts 2:44; 4:32; Phil 2:2). We want at least our YFC teams to characterise this. We want it said of us, as was said of the early Christians: that we are people who “devoted themselves… to the fellowship” (Acts 2:42).

 

In the early years all the full-timers had warm fellowship with each other. Now we are too large for that. So we hope that the different teams have fellowship among themselves and that the national leaders who represent those teams would have fellowship with each other.

 

  1. The Body Concept.

In a large organisation like ours we need a theology of the body to have this kind of fellowship. Workers are transferred and they join new teams. Those who have a long history with each other may not want to welcome this new worker into the fellowship. But that is wrong. Our primary commitment is to the kingdom of God and not to our small group or even to YFC. When someone from another ministry joins your ministry—you must extend a hand of friendship to that person because we all belong to the same body.

 

Paul shares the rationale of this in Eph. 4:4-6: There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:4-6). The word “one” appears 7 times here. There is so much that joins us into this one body. Because of this we accept each other as our brothers and sisters.

 

When a staff worker comes from another team, I hope you will not be like the church in Jerusalem when the young convert Paul tried to join them. I hope that the full-time workers will do what Barnabas did with Paul and help the others to accept him.

 

  1. Fellowship Requires Time to Be Spent with Each Other

How much time Jesus spent with his disciples! How much time Paul spent with his team members! He was able to tell Timothy: You, however, have followed [or observed {NRSV} or know about {TNIV}] my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,my persecutions and sufferings (2Ti 3:10-11 ESV). They had spent so much time together, that Timothy knew everything about Paul.

 

That is our model for ministry teams. This is why when I wrote my book on team ministry—I called it Friendship. Our ministry teams are groups of friends. This is why some of our committee and planning meetings go on for a long time. We do not only do business. We also chat and have fellowship, so that we remain as spiritual partners together for God.

 

So spend time with the people you lead. This includes regular team meetings and informal times of fellowship—just chatting about each other and the things of God. Team meetings are a must in any team. If you do not have regular team meetings you are not a team. If you don’t have relaxed times of fellowship with your team, you are not a Christ-like leader. In the context of relaxed conversation people talk about things that are troubling them. These are the things that destroy fellowship and ruin ministries.

 

Yes, we are very busy. It is difficult to find time to chat. But if you are a team—there is no other way!

 

Let me also say that chatting about the things of God with friends is one of the greatest joys in life. C. S. Lewis talked about this in his book The Four Loves. I remember when I was supervising the drug rehab work, I often drove miles with Janaka, Chrishantha and Asanga from Colombo to the centre, and also looking for a land to purchase. What wonderful times of fellowship we had! I will never forget the joy of grappling with the issues of life from a scriptural perspective as we drove along.

 

  1. Spiritual Accountability

Some aspects about what the Bible teaches on walking in the light (1 John 1:7) and confessing sins one to another (Jas. 5:16) requires special friendships of spiritual accountability. We cannot be confessing our sins to large groups. To develop spiritual accountability is not easy. It requires good friends whom we can trust.

 

But I must tell you that I do not know where I would be if not for my accountability partners. We have been friends from 30 to 40 years. They have helped me with all the major decisions I have made. I share all my major financial issues with them. If I get a large gift, I tell them. These friends know my weaknesses. They discipline me if I fail in an area of weakness. Yes, the YFC national director also gets disciplined. Foreign travel has a lot of pitfalls. I can say one reason why I am going on happily in the ministry today is because my friends helped me avoid some of the pitfalls of travel and leadership. This group is a great source of protection in my life.

 

Don’t expect YFC to find such friends for you. You look and take the risk of trusting someone enough to share the deep things in your hearts. Some people may betray your trust. But God is greater than them. He will use their unkindness to do something good in your life. So if someone disappoints you, don’t give up looking for some trusted friends.

 

Even after you start such a group, you may find that not every one in the group shares openly. You may be surprised that some of the members do not struggle with temptation and weakness the way you do. Don’t get angry about that. Thank God that not everyone struggles in the areas you struggle! But do not be discouraged when you know that some members of your group do not share openly. Some share relatively unimportant things, but do not talk about the major issues of their lives. That is their problem. You make full use of your accountability partners to help you in your walk with God.

 

  1. It takes Much Effort to Arrive at Agreement

Because of our commitment to accountability we get permission for the things we do in ministry. Some people are afraid to do this. This is partly because they have been hurt by others and they fear that they will be hurt again. They fear that everything they propose will be rejected. So they do things without getting permission.

 

But that is not the way we work. If we are hurt by someone, in Christian fellowship, we must talk about it and clear it up. If we go on being angry and hurt with a team member, we are disobedient to God. In Matt. 5:23-24 Jesus talked about the urgency of reconciling with a brother who has something against us before we go to worship. In Matt. 18:15-17 Jesus gives a procedure to adopt if our brother sins against us. This is when relating to brothers and sisters in Christ. How much more urgent is the need if we have a disagreement with a ministry team-member.

 

Don’t be afraid to be under a body. Some people are afraid of committees, so they avoid having them meet. They are afraid that committees will buckle their plans. That is not the way we work. We never do things alone in the body of Christ. The idea of the lone soldier battling it out for Jesus is not biblical. You must take time to respond to the objections brought against your plans, to explain what you have in mind and to debate in support of your plans. Invariably they will accept your idea and usually the idea will be refined and improved as a result of the debate. Of course, for this to work out, our committees must have people who have a passion for the ministry. If passion is missing, our system of working for being in one mind, does not work. We must be very careful when we put people into our committees.

 

But it takes time and effort to get others to agree with your plans. There may be debates, and struggles, but in the end you have the body behind you. Then there is spiritual power in the work. Otherwise you do your job, but it is not done in God’s way. So God’s power will be lacking.

 

  1. It Takes Time to Get Approval for Expenditure.

We are an organisation that is accountable to the government and to our donors. Our accounts are audited by a very strict auditor. And we like that. We have developed some procedures for the spending of money. People cannot spend money any way they want. Sometimes the request for funds for a project has to go through a committee. Sometimes the request is refused. That is very frustrating, especially if you had to wait a long time to get this “No”.

 

I have experienced this frustration. I have had situations where YFC did not allow me to spend in ways that I wanted to funds I had got from my preaching and teaching and writing. These funds are used for the welfare of the staff. I was asking for permission to do that—not to use it for my ministry projects. I used to reason that had “earned this money” (Not true!). It hurt me to be refused.

 

But I am so grateful that there are people who help regulate my life. I can make mistakes.

I have seen so many gifted ministers in Sri Lanka becoming relatively useless after they pass 40 or 50 years. Almost always a key reason for this is the lack of accountability! Do you want to be fruitful long term? Then learn to be accountable!

 

Sometimes our accounts staff are really afraid to refuse a request for funds because ministry staff snap at them. Christian leaders never act impolitely with others. We have too exalted a call to act like small people. When people snap at others when they are refused a request, they are making a statement about their character! It is almost like they are saying, “Look, I am not qualified to be a minister of the gospel.”

 

  1. God Knows what is Best for us.

As for me, I have chosen to be subject to the will of YFC for all my ministry. But God has looked after me. However much I try, I cannot be sorry for myself. I have no reason for self-pity.

 

Let me give you two examples. I chose to give everything I earn from ministry to YFC. Now it is a policy in YFC, but in the early years it was not. I reasoned that I had joined YFC as a full-time Ministry worker, so whatever I earn from ministry should go to YFC. I also knew that a man I greatly admired, John Stott, also did that. Now I earn about 5 or more times my salary from speaking, teaching and writing.

 

I began to feel the weight of this when I realised that my son wanted to go to seminary. I come from a family that values education. My father and his five children share the equivalent of 20 degrees between them. My father arranged for me to go abroad on a full scholarship. Now you cannot get such scholarships. Many international students who got such scholarships stayed on in USA after their studies. So people and institutions got discouraged about giving full scholarships to students. I felt really sad that I could not send my son abroad.

 

Most of my friends abroad were supporters of YFC, and I felt I could not ask them for money for my son. We have a queue for sabbaticals in YFC and he was nowhere in that queue. So I sadly gave up the idea.

 

Then a friend of mine, who was President of one of the best Seminaries in the world, said that he will make sure that my son will study there. He applied and got accepted. But I found that they were going to give a 50% scholarship not a full scholarship.

 

In faith we started the project. My brother in USA said he will pay for him what was needed and he paid a huge amount. My family sold a house and I got a lot of money. I used part of that for his studies. There is a family in USA which supports YFC. But I see them as personal friends, because they were friends of my parents and me even before I joined YFC, and their home is my home away from home in USA—where I do a lot of my writing. Without my asking, they gave funds for Asiri. A personal friend who administers a foundation gave funds from that, Other friends and family members also gave funds, again without my asking. The church where Asiri worshipped in USA helped out a lot. They support YFC. But that giving was not reduced in order to help Asiri. So we were able to send him to school without YFC losing a cent.

 

The second example is about my doctorate. My professor in USA suggested in the mid-1970s that I stay on and complete my doctorate before I go home. But YFC was waiting for me to come and take over. So I gave up the idea. I realised later that, because I will not be a full-time academic, I do not need a doctorate. Later schools in the USA offered me jobs where I could teach and pursue a doctorate. I replied immediately refusing their invitations.

 

Then in the late 1980s Asbury Seminary, where I studied, asked me to come as their graduation speaker. They were giving Nelun and me free airline tickets. And they wanted to give me an honorary doctorate. But YFC had given me criteria for travelling abroad. This trip did not fit in to those criteria. Also I would have to miss our evangelistic camps. So I refused, somewhat sadly.

 

Then in 1989 Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary gave me an honorary doctorate, while I was on sabbatical there. Asbury Seminary, the school whose invitation I had to reject, wrote to me and asked me to tell them when I am in USA and am free. They said that they want to have a special convocation during the school term to give me a doctorate. I was able to go there a few years later. Now I have four such honorary doctorates!

 

Don’t be afraid to submit to the body! Yes, our plans will have to be changed because of the will of the body. But take it as something to expect. Take it as a means for God to bless you. Then you will not be upset. Over these past thirty-five years, I had to do a lot of crucifying of my plans and desires because of YFC. But as I look back almost all my dreams have been fulfilled, often five or more years later than I planned! And you will have the thrill of seeing God supply your needs in amazing ways.

 

 

Conclusion: THRILLED TO BE A YOUTH WORKER

 

My prayer for you is that you will be faithful to the call that God gave YFC. And what a wonderful call that is! What a privilege it is to be involved in such a great work. Actually you are the ones who did this work. I just helped you to do it. I am really, really proud to call myself a youth worker. Once when I said this I heard some of the staff workers whispering to each other. I asked what the issue was. They replied that they are glad I said that I am a “youth worker” not a “young worker.” Yes, I am no longer young. I am sixty-two years old. But I am thrilled to have had a part to play in bringing eternal salvation to hundreds of young people. They have their whole life to live with God and then they will go to eternal glory. Just think of it. We were instrumental in giving them the greatest treasure there is in this world.

 

One of the benefits of getting old is that heaven gets nearer. That is my great ambition and desire now—to go to heaven. Of course, I have a lot of things I want to do before getting there. But my heart is bursting with the desire to go to heaven and see the face of Jesus (1 John 3:2; Rev. 22:4). And what a great time of rejoicing that will be. We are going to have a great party and truly enjoy seeing all the people there. We will see someone and say, “Hey, you are also here!” And they will thank us for the investment we made in their life. Man, what joy!

 

I am thrilled to be a youth worker. I hope you are too!

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