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Cries of Our Youth

Talk given at a Conference organized by the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka


Ajith Fernando and the Youth for Christ Staff, October 2000



  1. The Pain of Mother Being Abroad


“She doesn’t love me.”  “Saudi kids”  “I wish I had a mother’s love”

Father taking money > often stops work > drunk

Grandparents or aunt looks after.

Uncle abuses sexually.


Mother sends a lot of things – often too much – a lot of freedom

Mother comes home for a month – smothers with concern – protects too much

Used to freedom and therefore a nuisance – relieved when she leaves



  1. Rich Parents Don’t Have Time


Pursuing ambitions and goals

No time for caring for children

Give too much to them – often to silence them to silence their conscience


It’s a different world therefore can’t get involved

Therefore go out for the night – let children have a party at home


  1. Parents Must Get Involved


Too much pressure on children to do it alone

For example – must know what they are exposed to

The music they watch, the TV programmes they see – totally different worldview


Much more powerful than – one hour in church.  Therefore must listen – watch with them and talk about them

For example New Age – must learn to discern – worldview shaped by philosophical Hinduism

Anti-Christian morals – for example sex outside marriage – the norm

Bible – adulterers, fornicators – hell for eternity

Vast difference

But this presented very attractive

Therefore cannot abdicate role



  1. The Pain of Favouritism and Comparison


A lot of expressions


  • One child favoured over the other

When they grow up – they will fight

Hidden wounds emerge and when property divided – what a pain to parents!


  • One child – weak – handicapped – therefore not given full place by parents

Neglected – useless – inferior

“I’m a burden”

Sometimes because of handicap – all the attention given to the child – others neglected


  • Comparison

You’re not like your sister

That’s what Bible teaches – it is good!

Each has strengths and weaknesses

Exam results – how did neighbour fair


I wish I could shout it out loud



Each child doesn’t do as well as the other in everything

God can give a significant place for each


PNF/NSF – The pressure!!  We tell her: don’t be worried – you do as best you can!

What pressure!  – no need to add to it

But the major problem – our values – downright sinful!


The legacy of this

Unhappy people without a sense of vocation

Work – not to be enjoyed.  Rich but discontented – always comparing

  • beget unhappy children


1 Corinthians 12 must be preached

All important – not all equally prominent


  1. Christian Principles of Children Exploited by their Parents


Don’t ask for dovory therefore leave house for the deep hurt – but very real







  1. Unrealistic Expectations by Affluent Parents


They want to achieve their ambitions through their children

Often what they couldn’t achieve


Sports and studies and vocation

Therefore push the children too much

Severe pressure

Fear of displeasing parents

Terror of not making it

Anger over having to do what they don’t like and over being pushed

Note  wisdom   very helpful AF and Univ. with all the pain

At the same time they want to please their parents

Worst thing – often – capability somewhere else – therefore go to the wrong field

Often – status determining factor

Why a nurse?  Why not doctor?  Why a physics teacher?  Why not an engineer?  Why a primary school teacher – paediatrician?  Why YFC?  Why not a minister?  Why someone from such a poor family as your spouse

This is not kingdom thinking

We are too exalted to have such low thoughts!

Our eyes get our values from there

Preachers have a responsibility to expose this low-downness


  1. Underestimated Expectations in Poorer Homes


When children want to do something big apita oyaawa hari-yanne naa

Often family is drifting without any plan

Often – had too many children in the first place – can’t educate

Parents want children to stop studying – work – get married

Study – too much of a burden

YFC – scholarship schemes / tuition – centres – study halls


  1. Responsibilities which are too much for the Children


Sent to work young

Look after smaller children

No time to play – too much work

Work that the parents should do – the children are forced to do – often children sent to work at 14, 15

Father drunk – comes home late

AF surprised – mother watching TV – chatting at water tap – daughter does the work

When girl becomes 18 – now it’s your turn to take on responsibility.  I’ve suffered enough.  I was exploited.

Often mother never really had fun.  Got married very early.  Husband ill-treated her – A lot of bitterness.

Can’t see why daughter should have fun.

There is the idea that the girl must work often like a slave

Sometimes they get children to work and use the money for themselves – drugs – house

Deep pain! – D.W.

Often girls who feel starved of – vision – ambition – love

  • run away with the first person who shows them concern



  1. Plantation Youth in Revolt


Estate workers – downtrodden for 1½  centuries – sub human – therefore look up to masters etc

No ambitions – just live for the day

Children grow up highly restricted  kotu vela

Very small house

Both work, both drink

Drink, of course, a common problem with downtrodden people – helps numb the pain of dehumanization

Keep children at home  viz very small

Yet to day – all this talk of equality exposure to rest of the world

Anger is growing – about home situation – about how society looked down on them

So when they get to about 14 – turn violent

Assault parents and leave home

Join groups like the LTTE




  1. Entertainment and Fun are Important Values Today

Idea: “It is our right to have fun – to be entertained.”

A multi-million rupee industry to cater to this


  1. For many Children, Home is not a Happy Place to be at

Always advising – criticising – scolding – ignoring – no fun in the home therefore look outside

Therefore home doesn’t know about fun

Don’t talk about that aspect at home

Even Christian homes

Home for serious things like – studies – religion

Outside to have fun

But what the world offers: often sin

But today – world not even calling it sin

If you really want to be happy – you must do this

Therefore two lives – religious life – fun life – viz sinful – no Shalom – therefore no fun



  1. As God Created our Capacity for Fun, Only through Him can we truly Enjoy Fun


That looks like silly nonsense

English Language Ministry – fun-filled fulfilled life

Many youth very, very surprised

AF principle: if you can’t do it in a Christian setting – never do it

Therefore YFC programmes – “shallow”

Comes from a biblical theology of pleasure


  1. Christian Homes Must Demonstrate this


Children should know – we’ve had some of our happiest times at home

Parents have a big responsibility

  • to enjoy their family life and do so with their children


Also to show – father and mother enjoy each other

Today films and TV – sexual enjoyment in marriage – not fun

The real fun – outside marriage

A whole book in the Bible to demonstrate that sex in marriage is fun

Therefore parents have to work at their relationship – to demonstrate to their children

Promiscuity – adultery – fornication – not worth it – can’t be happy really this way


We also need to show that John 10:10 also encompasses the celebate life

You can have fun and be single!

Therefore wait till marriage

Be content with singleness – from world – most people – sexually active – not related to marriage – that’s a different subject – not to Christians

Sex love and marriage go together


  1. The Home is the Best Place for Sex Education


Of course to young people sex – a very important topic

World gives a totally different picture

Christian parents have to talk to their children

Alas – only prohibitions – therefore sex is – enjoyable – but sinful


Most urgent message parents need to give

  • sex is God’s beautiful gift
  • God intended it to be a source of great pleasure
  • This is how he intended for us to handle this gift


Very embarrassing – you’ll perspire

But plan it and do it

Teach our Christian parents to do it

If they care enough they will study

Then at different times – children will come and ask

What about masturbating

What does this word mean?

Who is a prostitute?


Because sex is a very important topic of conversation among youth

It will be a common topic of conversation in a healthy Christian home


Of course: we wisely decide when something needs to be brought up.

Of course: you’ll be surprised how much they know

Father with son.  What do you want to know?



  1. The Tragedy of Sexual Abuse


A huge, huge problem in Sri Lanka

Every camp – AF & NF preparing people for marriage – many have therefore deformed view of sex


Various forms

  • mother gone abroad – uncle, father, step father
  • bus or crowded place – boys – girls – AF – But now much more – therefore must prepare our children
  • peeping Tom
  • saw mother have sex with someone else when he/she was small – – severe confusion. Sexually stunted.  Feel guilty / unclean    result – frigid – promiscuous


don’t’ talk therefore always warned

“If you tell – you’ll be punished – you’ll ruin your family”

yet today – a common cause for ruined families.  Especially because sex is so important

Trauma – therefore can’t enjoy sex – partner frustrated – divorce – unfaithfulness


God can heal – but they must bring it up

Must encourage people to bring up and subject it to God’s healing grace


Glenda’s story

RBC when trust is Lost





One of our major challenges – teaching youth to respect their parents


  1. Often Respect is Lost Because of Poor Examples


  • not ambitious for their children in a good way
  • not moral
  • don’t practice what they preach
  • the way they discipline – so bad – more harm than good (rage)


  1. Are Youth No Longer Idealistic?


A great tragedy

I hope I’m wrong

Youth no longer idealistic – asked staff – impossible to live a principled life.  We haven’t seen it



YFC – desperately looking for heroes.

For example Jonathan Edwards, Jonty Rhodes



  1. Some Examples


Some examples

  • parents laugh / scoff / persecute children when they point out a wrong
  • they get very frustrated when parents don’t change behaviour when they are told
  • some parents talk freely about what’s in their heart – only when they are drunk

That’s when children find out what the father thinks are their faults

Unfortunately the neighbours also hear – strong anger with their parents

  • children are sometimes used by parents to do something wrong, like – tell a lie –hurt an enemy of the family


YFC parents worried that children getting too religious – try to get them to drink liquor – encourage them to get a girl friend



  1. The Need for Parents to be Examples and to Accept their Shortcomings


To accept it when they are wrong

Don Rubesh:  Four hardest words –

Everyone knows he’s wrong – we think we keep our status.  But we lose the respect.



In a Christian home – “sorry” – a word often heard





How disharmony affects children – some examples of its seriousness


  1. Children Blamed for Problems in the Marriage


Very serious –

A stray statement “All this is because of you”

“only after you were born” – grows inside after long forgotten


Even without such statements: imagine they are the cause for the problem


They aren’t strong and mature enough to handle such a trauma


  1. One Parent Tells Bad Things about the Other Parent to the Child


Grow up with bitterness about that parent

He made my mother miserable

Grow up – sometimes – take revenge


For stability and security of the child

Must respect both parents


Despite problems: if they refuse to put down other – better chance of healthy recovery


Statistics / studies conclusive – children most hurt by divorce

must find ways to reduce the pain

one way to reduce pain – refuse to talk ill of other


Note:  therefore guilt   “I had to do this”  “He was so terrible!”

RAB and Chryshantha



  1. The Worst Damage is when One Leaves the Spouse for Another


My mother / father was not good enough.

What are they teaching us about marriage – not of repair work to do



  1. The Inability to Bring Friends Home because of Conflict in the Family


Can’t bring friends home therefore because of that

Friends offended – they are angry with parents



  1. Children Get Used to Living Outside the Home Because it is not Peaceful

To road, friends, relatives, trips, sports

  • children get used to not being at home

They may  seem to enjoy their freedom – deep down



  1. The Scattering of Families in the North and East


Families have got scattered because of the unrest

Some in un-cleared areas and some in cleared

One in Trincomalee, India, Germany, Canada


No family sense – all sorts of problems

At a funeral outsiders have to do much of the work – guilt added to sorrow





Family is important

Therefore it calls for our utmost effort

Faithfulness – sexual fidelity

  • trying to practice Christian principles in the home


calls for strong ambition – to make our home Christian

strong commitment – to pay the price


therefore such a serious problem

  • Bring it up all the time in teaching – preaching – pastoral care
  • When wanting an illustration for a Christian principle – see how it applies in the home


Jesuit Priest:  “Give me a child before he is five years old, and I don’t care if the devil gets hold of him after that”

Dropouts in Youth Ministry

Written in October 2007

 Ajith Fernando

One of the sad facts that any youth ministry faces is the number of people who were active in God’s work in their youth who are now not active in service or completely backslidden. Youth for Christ has had to face this fact and admit with sorrow that many who were active with us in their youth are no longer walking with the Lord.


I have several things to say about this sad phenomenon.


  1. When we are so busy with our huge programmes in Youth for Christ (YFC) it is easy to let the major aspects of discipling be related almost exclusively to the youth programme so that we do not prepare the young people adequately for life in society. In theory YFC leaders are always supposed to keep this balance, but we do not always succeed as the urgent demands of programmes keep detracting us from the some other important aspects of discipling. We must labour for real, comprehensive balance. And those of us who are leaders have to really push our staff to ensure that this happens.


  1. While the disciplines of community life are a very important aspect of Christian nurture we have to have as equally or even more important the developing of a Christian mind. I think often our teaching is more exhortational and devotional rather than doctrinal. I do not mean doctrinal in a dry sense, but doctrinal in that we teach our people to approach everything theologically—using the categories of the biblical worldview. It is very easy for youth groups to be deficient here.


  1. Many young people are attracted to YFC because it meets some of their felt needs. It gives them a community where they are warmly affirmed and accepted. They like to have fun with a group of peers that regards them as equals. They want to be involved in an ideological cause which helps them to give expression to the rebellion they have against the hypocrisy they see in the adult generation. Most people, whatever their age may be, come to Christ to meet a need. But they stay on with Christ when they are convinced that he is the truth. This is why Peter said the disciples will not leave Christ after they saw many of those who followed him leaving him. They knew that he had “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).


Many youth will mimic the Christian rituals that form a part of the YFC programme without making the transition from being need seekers to truth discoverers. Such have little resources to combat the challenges they will face from the world outside once they leave the security of the YFC community. This is why we must never be content only because we have large numbers in our youth groups. We must labour to find the most effective ways of giving them “the whole counsel of God;” ways that will enable the truth of the gospel to penetrate their innermost beings.


  1. While I cannot prove this statistically, I can say from observation during my thirty-one years in youth ministry those young people who were led by a person who honestly believed that the YFC phase was a transitory stage in their lives had a better chance of going on with Christ after their youth years. Then the great aim of the leader would be to ensure that the youth under their care are happily settled and living for God in family, church and society—not just in the youth group. While the YFC programme does take a lot of time, this kind of leader would ensure that YFC prepares the youth they disciple for a healthy life in church, family and society.


These youth will have learned to think Christianly about church, home and society long before they get bored with youth programmes. Most young people will get bored with youth programmes and move on to another place of activity. Only some will sense a call to serve youth and remain within the YFC programme as volunteers and staff. We must fashion our organisational culture in such a way as to view as a great victory the departure of a person away from active involvement in YFC to church involvement.


  1. For a para-church youth evangelistic organisation like ours, sending people we reach into a local church is a basic aspect of our call. But this principle applies to church youth groups too. Young people will get involved in the youth group for some years and then they will lose their interest in the programme because it is geared to people of a younger age. By then the truth that this person’s permanent home is in the wider church should have been drilled into his or her soul. They should have been prepared to go into the outside world after some cosy years in the warm protection of the caring peer group in the youth programme.


Yet often church youth workers are guilty of fostering an exclusivistic attitude within their youth group. Often we encounter attitudes like the following: “We are more spiritual than these dead adults;” “Our worship and music is not boring like theirs;” “We are more committed, more geared to mission.” When such youth pass the age of involvement in the youth group, they probably will not have a positive attitude towards the church. With the numerous challenges of young adulthood, such as establishing oneself in ones career and adjusting to married life, they could end up neglecting church attendance.


  1. Most of us leaders are insecure people. We must be aware of this and strive to get our security and sense of importance from God and not from the people we lead. An insecure youth leader could foster an environment where the youth adore him or her to the exclusion of other authority figures like parents and adult church leaders. A good leader would use his or her influence with the youth to encourage them to respect and love their parents and adult leaders.


An insecure leader could thrive on being hero-worshiped. This could be a very dangerous attitude. If those who adore the leader are from the opposite sex a very unhealthy relationship could develop. Without knowing it the relationship could turn sexual. The relationship turns physical only much later. But the early stages of an affair could be developing when the adoration of the young person unconsciously becomes–to the youth worker–a personal conquest of the heart of the young person. Often the youth worker is viewed as a father or mother, which makes the relationship look very harmless. Psychologists are calling such relationships “emotional affairs” and there is a growing body of literature about this. Gradually the desire for conquest is extended to the body also, and the result is a physically sexual relationship.


All of us leaders must always be on guard that we never get from others the kind of affirmation we should get only from God and our spouses.


  1. One of the best ways to avoid the youth work developing an exclusivistic attitude vis-à-vis the rest of the church is for a senior church worker like the senior pastor to have a warm and friendly attitude towards the youth worker and his or her ministry. I wish for such a relationship between YFC workers and church leaders too. In fact I would like to really push for YFC staff to have a mentor outside YFC—someone they respect and who’s different perspective coming from a different background contributes a lot to the balancing out of the staff workers life.


The older church leader could become the father or mother whom this insecure youth worker never really had. And in that way the youth worker could develop the confidence and security which reduce the risk of thriving unhealthily on the adoration of the youth. If the senior pastor shows up at several youth programmes; if the youth know that he really enjoys seeing the young people having fun and laughs heartily at their jokes; if he is known to be the advocate of the youth before the leadership of the church, then there is a much greater chance of the youth developing a positive attitude towards the church.


  1. I have seen a lot of people who dropped out of Youth for Christ coming back to Christ and to heavy involvement in churches much later, sometimes after a decade or more in the wilderness. I often discover these people when I go to preach in churches. Their warmth towards YFC and what they say about their YFC days shows that what they learned in YFC had not been completely obliterated. Something made them seek involvement in a church or Christian group. That triggered a return to active Christian involvement. What seems to have happened was that the truths that were hidden in their hearts but suppressed during the rebellious years had resurfaced and come to life. Of course, it is the Holy Spirit who revitalises these dormant truths.


  1. I have not mentioned some of the other essential aspects of discipling which go along with the conscious work of preparation of people to go into the world. These are essential to all discipling and so have been left out. For example, I have talked a lot about proper teaching here. It is clear in the Bible that Jesus taught the disciples before he left them in order to prepare them to go into the world (John 17:6-8) and that the way he believed they will be sanctified is through the word (John 17:17). But just after saying that he taught them, he said that he prayed for them (John 17:9). Ultimately it is the Spirit who keeps people secure and there is a release that comes to us disciplers from releasing people to God and to his Spirit to protect. And if growth is essentially something done by the Spirit—then the best thing we can do for them is to pray for them. This is why I now see prayer as the most important work I do in my job.



So let me tell younger youth workers not to be overly discouraged when youth fall away. We must grapple with the failure and ask where we went wrong, and what we should do to minimise the chances of youth dropping out. But if we have faithfully given them “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) we can keep hoping and praying for the day when these lapsed Christians return to Christ.

Yfc Distinctives and Change

Written at the Methodist Guest House in Batticaloa

22nd to 25th June, 2002

To the Board of YFC

From Ajith

Re. Some Factors to Consider in the Current Process of Change.

My dear Colleagues,

This is a crucial time of adjusting our organisational structure and procedures to accommodate the growth of the ministry and the change from a ministry staffer directed financial and administrative structure to that run by more specialised staff—an inevitable result of growth (Acts 6:1-7). In the process of doing so we must not forget principles of our organisational structure shaped through our unique history and biblical reflection. I want to highlight some of these principles in this paper.


God has led different movements in different ways in order to contribute unique insights to the divine mosaic called “the Body of Christ.” The largest missionary organisation in Asia—the Overseas Missionary Fellowship—does not appeal for funds, though they have several thousand full-time missionaries. George Mueller also followed a similar principle, when he had hundreds of children in his homes. That was what God gave as a distinctive to these two groups. And God has richly blessed them, even though most of us would not follow a similar path.


Similarly, I believe that there are several features of the YFC organisational culture, which are unique and important contributions we are making to the Christian understanding of organisational life. These are not absolute features that cannot be changed, as they are all interpretations of biblical principles to fit a particular situation. But we must think really hard before discarding them.


I want to highlight three of these features of our organisational life.





Our practice has been to come to unanimity on major issues and not settle for majority decisions. I think this time of change is a painful one and some of our people are particularly vulnerable sensing that they are being misunderstood or that their motives are being questioned. It is possible that because of these vulnerabilities some could get into a shell and thus not express their convictions. The result of this would be that we would be violating an important principle that characterises us.


Just as the council in Jerusalem debated the issues and were finally able to say, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28), we must all say what we have to say. The process will be painful, but it is necessary. SO PLEASE, DON’T HOLD BACK! YFC’s history is filled with examples of painful and sometimes bruising debates that resulted in great leaps forward for the work of the kingdom of God. While the pain really hurt, it was necessary, given our human weaknesses.


Sometimes the pain is caused through the weakness of individuals who lost control and gave way to excessive responses. This is inevitable when we are working with human beings this side of heaven. Apology and restoration of personal relationships should follow such incidents. Sometimes full restoration comes after a long time, but we have to work and pray till that is achieved. We are motivated to strive for full restoration by the theological conviction that unhealed relationships are an affront to the glory of God.


If confrontation is avoided through silence so that heart unanimity is not possible, we violate our ethos and cause serious damage to the movement. If our ethos doesn’t work at crucial times then it is no point holding on to it.


During this process, there will some members who are “all at sea” during the more technical discussions. I believe we have enough people conversant with the accounts field in our Board to hold the fort during those times. Those who are not so conversant will make a vital contribution at other times. The Board’s job is to give the principles that govern our activities. And while those not conversant with technical details may not say much about the details, they could have much to say about the principles.


Now when there is no agreement on an issue our process of working for unanimity seems very cumbersome and slow. Motivated people find this very frustrating. That is the negative affect of this approach. The positive affect is that we have highly motivated staff and volunteers who have a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the programme.





The late Rev. Celestine Fernando is one who did a lot of study and writing on the organisational structure of Christian groups. He had been chairman of the YFC Board but relinquished his position when Sam Sherrard replaced the old Board with people who grew up in YFC. Often Fr. Celestine used to tell me personally and announce at other meetings that the YFC Board was the only Christian organisational board in Sri Lanka that followed the biblical pattern, because all the members of the new Board were people who were from within the intimate YFC family. I personally do not think that this is the only viable biblical model, but I do think that this is something the Lord especially gave to us.


Our Board members need to be aware of and fully in sympathy with some of the very peculiar features of our movement. I believe that only those who have grown up in YFC will be more in tune with such. I think it is worth losing much by not having some superb people from outside the family rather than take the risk of having persons who are not in full sympathy with our ethos. I am finding that the bigger we get, the harder it is to keep these tough principles. In fact these days we often see these principles violated. But I am determined to keep pushing these throughout our movement. This is one reason why travelling to the various centres and teaching the staff is now one of my primary roles in YFC. I want to keep these principles before our people. If our Board members do not fully understand these principles, maintaining them will become even more difficult.


Let me give a few of the distinctive features of YFC the importance of which I believe the Lord has called YFC to demonstrate to the church at large:

  • The principle of striving for unanimity outlined above.
  • Being a theologically driven movement so that the Bible is our primary foundation for developing all our strategies—that is those relating to administration, ministry or personnel management.
  • The importance of spiritual accountability that comes from a spiritual tie built on trust and deep personal commitment to each other and to YFC. A key to this accountability is openness about very personal things in our lives like our personal finances and our plans for future career moves etc.
    –This is why we have an open salary book. Any one can find out the salary of another person on staff because, in keeping with what Acts 2 and 4 teaches, money is an important aspect of heart unity.
    –Most people today announce their plans for migration at the last moment after the visas have been granted. YFC folk usually share about their intention to migrate right at the start of the application process. They open themselves to being influenced by the body about the acceptability of this proposed action. Of course, job considerations and other factors may dictate that only a few people in YFC know these plans. But these people know about them right from the start. We know that many very good Christians would not follow such a procedure. But it is vital to our ethos.
  • The passion for evangelism which makes us take severe risks and do things that may be dangerous to our safety in order to get the gospel out to unreached youth.
  • The idea that the leader’s primary job is to look after those he/she leads. This will result in such a commitment to our people that we will help them when they are in trouble even if that may appear to hold back our programme and cost YFC a lot.
  • Costly caring for those who leave YFC staff though they are scolding us and not appreciating what we are doing for them.
  • The conviction that class distinctions come from heretical attitudes. This drives us to attempt to totally break the class barrier. The result would be that it is possible for there to be heart and financial sharing between those at the supposed “head” of our organisational structure and those who are in some places misnamed “minor staff.” This principle shows, for example, in the use of “Aiya/Anna” rather than “Sir” when addressing ones “Boss.” This principle is also expressed in our salary structure where the key aspect is not the basic salary but the allowances and where the National Director and the so-called minor staff have the same allowances. This approach to salary structure is extremely difficult to maintain and often results in miscalculations by the office. My attempts to introduce this at CTS were shot down because it was far too complicated. But here, as in many other areas, our theology influences the way we operate even if that produces something that seems to be foolish in terms of current management practices.
  • Commitment to and solidarity with the poor. This causes us to adopt a simple lifestyle and makes us accountable to each other about our personal spending lest we acquire things that might be a barrier to heart unity with the poor. Developing godly leaders of integrity from among the poor is an urgent need in Sri Lanka, and I believe we have a role in contributing towards the meeting of this need.





At crucial times in our history we have made great strides forward through sudden burdens given to us by the Spirit which captured our commitment and became huge and fruitful projects. If this continues these burdens would result in projects which are not reflected in the budget. I believe that we must have room for such projects. I think this could be described in management language under “intuitive decision making,” which is the topic of much discussion in today’s management literature.


The most prominent of these intuitive responses to the Spirit was the Navodaya 88 Conference. At the Lausanne Younger Leaders Conference, held in Singapore in August 1987, the Sri Lankan  delegates decided that we should have a missions conference in Sri Lanka. They became the backbone of the Navodaya Committee. Others were drafted in, notably our own Adrian de Visser who became Director of the conference. While it was not officially a YFC event, YFC was the key player in it, with the office being in our office and Adrian being Director and I being Chairman.


There was a huge budget and we had to find a way to raise this. We had no clue as to how this will come in. We only knew that God wanted us to have this conference, so we launched into preparations before there was any assurance of the funds coming in. We wrote all over for funds. Just after the Singapore 87 Conference I suddenly got roped in as Bible expositor at the Urbana Conference to be held in December 1987. There they took an offering and that resulted in $20,000 coming for the Navodaya conference—a huge sum in 1988. Paul Borthwick, who was then Minister of Missions at Grace Chapel (GC), got interested in this conference and GC gave $ 5000 for the conference. That was the beginning of our long association with GC, which now sends us $10,000 each year for our camps.


There were some key features which contributed to the success of this conference.  There was a strong sense of unity and conviction among the diverse group that formed the committee and the YFC leadership that this conference was from God. The Committee and the YFC family were willing to stretch themselves to make the conference a possibility. My role was to ensure that the diverse committee from varied church and para-church backgrounds was fully united. So I needed to listen to their sentiments and ensure that that these were given full weight. The results of this conference and the two that followed were phenomenal. Still I meet people who look to these conferences as one of the highlights of their life. Often they tell us that even though we have great conferences today—they have had nothing to match the Navodaya conferences which they regarded as “their conference.”


There are several other ventures of faith in our history that we launched out on—knowing they were God’s will but not knowing how we were going to raise the funds for them. Sending the de Visser family to USA for Adrian’s MA in 1989 was one of these. So was sending Satchi to Singapore. Of course, the most daring thing for me was the starting of CTS. The second and third Navodaya conferences and these sabbatical projects do not fully qualify to the type of project I am talking about now as they were planned many years before. But when they were launched we did not know from where we would get the funds, and in that feature they qualify as daring ventures of faith.


Let me add that each of these daring ventures had excess funds after they were complete. The Navodaya committee funded several post-Navodaya events and ventures. I remember that Adrian brought back and gave the office about $1000 when he returned from USA in 1990. I think Mayukha did this too.


I think a vibrant movement needs such daring ventures of faith when we are going to risk all because of the conviction that God has given us a vision of something to be done. There may be a few disasters, but that too is part of the life of faith. If we risk nothing for fear of disasters we will never go forward and we will not attract capable and motivated young people to join us as volunteers and staff. In fact I have almost come to accept as axiomatic that daring ventures of faith are an essential ingredient in a movement capable of capturing the commitment of gifted and motivated people.


Of course, these ventures must not be regular things. They should be the result of occasional bursts of insight, which capture the imagination of the whole movement and thrust us forward as a people with a united passion to pay the price to do the impossible. Without such, however, we will fall into a pattern of mediocrity and not attract brilliant and motivated youth into our volunteer and staff team.


Here are a few examples of occasions that can give rise to such visions.

  • An area suddenly opens up in a window of opportunity that may not last long, such as the Wanni or another area, which had been previously closed.
  • We are suddenly offered the opportunity for a ministry that comes right within our primary calling—something that we would love to do but which we had not dreamed possible.
  • A riot, war or cease-fire suddenly creates a completely new set of circumstances that calls for new ministries to be started immediately.
  • In the middle of the financial year we realise that a ministry division is not doing well in some area and that some special programmes—not reflected in the budget—need to be urgently initiated to remedy the situation.
  • The Lord gives “a word” to the movement as he did to the church in Antioch asking them to separate Barnabas and Saul to the work of missions. They responded immediately (Acts 13:2-3).

I believe that in the forging of our new financial procedures we must have a place for these flashes of insight. To put it in management language—there should be a place for intuitive leadership in YFC.





The description in Acts of the process of making administrative changes to accommodate growth in the church has a most interesting climax. Luke reports: “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). That’s the bottom line: hell-bent sinners finding salvation. For us that translates as unreached youth meeting Christ and entering a community discipleship process.


I think we are still doing this effectively. But, if we do not change some of our structures soon, we may open the door to serious problems that will jeopardise our witness. So we must go about this process of change with utmost dedication and determination. But in all of our discussions may we be driven by our mission. May the fact that lost youth find Christ be what excites us most. May a loss in the number youth converted or the presence of a hindrance to the conversion of youth be what upsets us most.


May it be said that, as a result of the changes made in 2002, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in [Sri Lanka], and a great many of the [youth] became obedient to the faith.”

Reflection: They Laughed!

I decided to write down my reflections after a testing experience of having some young people laugh right through a message I gave.


One Saturday morning Nelun and I did a seminar on the Christian family to adults at a regional gathering of a denomination. Most of those there were converts from other faiths and the Christian lifestyle was very new to them. I was told that some of them were still wife beaters and some still had problems with drink and lying. As this was a new situation, we prepared a completely new seminar. I was up preparing till 3.30 a.m. and then after about three hours of sleep I went for the seminar with Nelun. I think it went very well.


In the afternoon I spoke to the whole group which included children and youth. At the start of my talk I saw a few young people laughing. The laughter grew as the sermon progressed, and they looked right into my face as they laughed. I had preached this same message three days before to over 500 youth at a camp of another denomination and the Lord had richly blessed it. As I was coming home after the meeting I began to reflect about what had happened.


  1. I was speaking from 2 Cor. 5:9-11 on how the prospect of judgement motivates us to obedience and witness. It was an urgent theme and I was quite urgent in my delivery. It was in a very big hall and there was no PA system, so I had to speak loud in order to be heard. As the laughter grew, my urgency was becoming anger! Angry thoughts were racing through my mind. “Don’t these people appreciate the sacrifice I have made to speak to them?” “Don’t they realise that I am speaking about a matter of life and death?” I found myself becoming more explicit in presenting the stark contrast between heaven and hell. My voice was also getting louder. After some time, sense prevailed and I decided to ignore these people and proceed with my message without looking at them.


At the family seminar, when I was talking about living at peace with our neighbours, I had presented the principle outlined in Proverbs 12:6: “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.” Now I was having an opportunity to practice that same principle. I realised that if laughers and hecklers do not disturb others it is best to ignore them. I have taught young preachers that they must not get louder and faster when they encounter resistance to their preaching, and here I was doing the same thing!


  1. John Wesley, whose journals I am reading these days, often had crowds heckling so loud that sometimes he had to stop preaching. Sometimes people would throw stones and mud at him and at the audience. What I experienced was nothing in comparison. So I did not need to get angry, though I think I should have been very sad that these young people seemed careless about eternal realities. I think I was sad, but there was unnecessary anger too.


  1. I was upset that these young people were trifling with eternity and expressing this attitude of carelessness in public. But as I thought of some of the things I had done that same week, I realised that I too had displayed the same attitude, though not in public. I had acted without the careful vigilance that characterises those who know that they could be called suddenly and unexpectedly to stand before the judgement seat of Christ. How easy it is for us to apply some truths to our audiences without applying them to our own lives!


  1. Preachers are heralds of the good news, of the most important message that people need to hear. Some will listen to it, and that will bring great joy. Others will reject it, and that will bring much sorrow and sometimes anger too because they are squandering an opportunity to discover the reason for which they came into this world. We mustn’t take this as a blow to our egos. Instead we must do all we can to present this message in as clear, relevant, appealing and challenging way as we can. Our aim is to see hecklers becoming believers. This is what happened to some (though not most) of John Wesley’s hecklers.


  1. While most of the people in the audience were poor people, originally from non-Christian backgrounds, those who were laughing were well dressed, middle-class people probably from Christian backgrounds. The great danger with such is apathy. Perhaps heckling is better than apathy. Perhaps the message was uncomfortable, and that caused them to try to brush it aside with laughter. If so, they must have been listening, even though they were laughing!

The Most Important Things on a Teenagers Mind

Teen Club, 6th March 1999

The Topic for the day was “The most important things on a Teenagers mind.” The junior leaders helped me prepare the message by giving what they thought were the most important things on the minds of teenagers. At the meeting we asked the youth to write down their own list of most important things. Here’s a summary of what was written.


Basically the biggest thing was to be HAPPY.


But that came under different categories.


To be happy by


BEING ACCEPTED–popularity, admiration by the opposite sex, being cool, boy friend/girl friend.


SUCCESS–in sports, studies, extra curricular activities like music and debating.




FUN– through sports, parties, dancing, clothes, watching TV, listening to music, good food, playing at the computer.


SATISFACTION–through filling up what is lacking in life, not being afraid of anyone (this person had two crossed swords next to that entry)


A small number included GOD–pleasing him, knowing him and serving him.

Reaching Youth in Asia

Note: Unedited Document: Proof-reading not yet done

Ajith Fernando, Youth for Christ Sri Lanka

A Paper read at the International Conference of Evangelism, Rawalpindi, Pakistan

19th October 2005



Acts 17:16-34



In this paper we are dealing primarily with Evangelising youth, especially unchurched youth. Such youth are very different to youth who have a background of involvement in the church. Therefore what we are talking about is cross-cultural evangelism. Paul was a master at this. And in this paper we will observe his ministry in Athens.





Acts 17:16 gives us a glimpse into the heart of Paul: “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (ESV). These things that Paul was so upset about were housed in some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. “From an aesthetic standpoint, Athens was unrivalled for its exquisite architecture and statues.” However Paul was in a rage! The word translated “provoked” (paroxuneō) means “to stimulate, to provoke to wrath, to irritate; passive to be angry.” The people of Athens were missing what they were made for because they were worshipping idols rather than God. And Paul was broken inside over that.

He expresses a similar attitude when he thinks of the unbelief of the Jewish people:

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For 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. 9:1-3).


To evangelise unreached youth you need to be broken by the fact that they are living outside of Christ. There is a sense of urgency here. Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, said: “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” That is what we need: broken hearts over lost youth. This means that even older people can be involved in youth evangelism if they have this burden for lost youth. Of course, they will not do all the work. Their job may be to enable others to do the work, and to give them a protective covering so that they can try new things in their efforts to reach more young people.


This passion for lost people gives rise to a passion for sharing the gospel. Paul said, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). Paul goes on to say how he is willing to do whatever it takes to win people for Christ. In 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 he says how, in order to win different groups of people he became like them. He became like a Jew, like one under the law, like one not having the law. He even says he became weak in order to win the weak (9:22a). Then he says, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (9:22b). I sometimes tell our Youth for Christ staff that if God wants us to stand on our heads to win young people to Christ, we will do it.


Passion, of course, is a characteristic of youth. Idealism is a feature of youth culture. They want to change the system, to attack hypocrisy, to make a difference in this world. Yet they have their ups and downs. One day they are ready to change the world. The next day they are too lazy to leave home for an important meeting. Such youth would respond to persevering passion—leaders who persevere with them without giving up when the youth have their down times.


So youth leaders need to be passionate about the work of youth evangelism. They present the grand theme of the Great Commission to idealistic youth who latch on to it and give themselves devotedly to the task. The New Testament presents seven different versions of Jesus’ Great Commission, each one presenting a different aspect of the commission. As a good motivator would do Jesus, during his last days on earth, kept hammering away at this great theme with his disciples so that they too would catch the vision.


A youth leader will not give up when the young people have lost interest. He/she will keep working hard. If leaders do not work hard and are not enthusiastic about the work they will have little chance of seeing their youth groups grow. This has been our experience in Youth for Christ (YFC). If the leaders do not work hard and if they are not enthusiastic about the work, usually the motivated volunteers lose motivation and drop off. Colossians 1:24-29 has a comprehensive description of Paul’s ministry of evangelism and discipleship. He climaxes it by talking about how hard he works at this task: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:29). There are two words “toil” and “struggle” which present a picture of a hard-working servant of God who perseveres amidst much hardship.





Paul was upset by the idols in Athens, but he does not express his anger outwardly. He was not like the prophets who addressed Jews who knew the Word of God. They needed to be rebuked for their disobedience. But the Athenians did not know God’s word. So Paul uses a different method to the prophets in his response to idolatry: “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there” (17:17).

The word translated reasoned here is dialegomai which has been defined as follows: “to reason, discuss, discourse; to argue, dispute.”  The word is essentially used in Acts for speaking, but it allows for feedback and discussion. Reasoning and discussion are very important in sharing the gospel with youth and with people of all ages.


  1. Our audience may not be interested in listening, but by involving them in the dialogue we can draw them into the discussion. I spoke once at a YFC camp to a group of young people who knew very little about Christianity. I had to finish my first talk very soon because the audience was very restless. I preached only for about fifteen minutes and ended up exhausted. During my second talk I engaged the audience in conversation through questions and discussion. The group was very attentive even though I spoke for about forty-five minutes, and I did not feel exhausted at all at the end of it!


  1. Their thinking is so different to ours that we do not know what has gone into their minds. We can find out by discussing with them. After I had given an evangelistic message on John 3:16 at a YFC club, I found out that there was a Buddhist boy there. At the end of the meeting I took him aside and asked him what he thought about what I had said. He said he liked it very much. And then he said that Buddhism also teaches the same thing. I thought I had made it clear that the gospel is vastly different to Buddhism. But he had taken my Christian message and sent it through his Buddhist way of thinking and ended up hearing a message that agreed with Buddhism.


  1. When we give an opportunity for people to talk we are able to respond to their objections and to their questions about the Christian gospel.


  1. Often though our audiences may be looking at our faces they may not be paying attention to what we are saying. Their eyes are fixed on us, but their minds are far away! By involving them in the conversation we provoke them to take the message seriously.


At our YFC evangelistic camps the young people are usually divided into different groups. After some key messages we have the youth to go into their groups and discuss what they heard. We find that some youth make the major decision to commit their lives to Christ during these group discussions.




We are told that Paul “reasoned… in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there” (17:17). Ancient writings record that Socrates (469-399 BC) did the same thing in Athens. Athens was the city of Socrates, and when Paul shared the gospel there he used the method of Socrates. This was a university city and the people were very intellectually oriented. So the speech he gave later on was intellectual and philosophical in style.


One of the most important questions we ask in evangelising unreached youth is, “How can we win a hearing and keep their attention?” In order to do this effectively we study their religious beliefs and practices. We find out what they like and how we can use that to make contact with them. We may need to find out how they usually learn about a programme? With westernised youth we have found that attractively produced handbills are effective. With poorer youth we once found that a van fitted with a loudspeaker on top announcing the meeting was a more effective method. Usually our experience with poorer youth is that the most effective means of getting people to come for a programme is visiting them at home. Our volunteers do this all the time even though this is one of the most tedious activities in youth ministry. Affluent youth may respond more positively to an attractively produced document that is sent by e-mail.

We must ensure that they feel at home once they come for the meeting. A good motto to follow is “The unbeliever is king or queen at our youth meeting.” This would include giving them a warm welcome when they come, and refusing to use Christian jargon which would immediately make them feel like a stranger because they don’t understand what we are saying. We must make sure that we do not include any item the programme which will make them feel out of place or confused. The believers must resist the temptation to hang out with their Christian friends during the programme, and instead they should move with the newcomers.


The way we start the programme is especially important. The newcomer’s attitude to the programme is often formed by what happens at the start. We often start our programmes with games (called crowd-breakers or ice-breakers) which help to make the people feel at home. We have found that books from the west describing such games are very effective when used with westernised urban youth. With non-western youth, however, these games were not very effective. In fact, in some places the people told us that they would not come for our programmes if we have such games. The games coming from the west are geared to individualistic youth who are used to doing things alone in public. But most Asian cultures are more community oriented. With them we have found that games which have a team emphasis are more effective.


We must remember that youth culture changes constantly. Therefore our methods must also change all the time. What worked in one year may not work in the next. Till about 20 years ago we found that football (soccer) was very effective in attracting male youth to our programmes. Over the years however cricket has taken that place, because TV came to Sri Lanka and our team began to do well internationally in cricket, unlike our football team.


One of our effective means of outreach is taking young people on trips to places young people like to go. This works well with youth from the Sinhala race. But it does not do well with Tamil youth as Tamil youth are checked by the Police because of the on-going war. They are afraid to go on such trips for fear of being arrested.


Cultures change according to geographical areas also. For example, rural youth are very different to urban youth as we saw from the illustration about individualistic games. Sometimes we will have different cultures within the same geographical area. In the city of Colombo we find youth whose first language is Sinhala, English and Tamil. Each of these groups has a different culture. Similarly the affluent youth in a given area have a vastly different culture to the poorer youth.


These days TV is beginning to bring some uniformity as many of the youth may watch the same programmes. However, youth usually choose what they are going to watch according to their tastes. This is why I am a bit cautious about terms like “Global youth culture.” I think we use terms like “global middle-class culture and affluent youth culture,” but I would be hesitant to say, “global youth culture.” I believe that poor youth constitute a majority of the worlds youth population. As is often the case, the poor are neglected in these discussions about youth culture.


It is important to remember that the young people know best about youth culture. The older ones in youth ministry need to make a special effort to be in touch with youth culture. I try to listen to radio stations which young people listen to, and I occasionally watch TV programmes that are popular with youth. Popular music is a good indicator of the direction in which a culture is going.


Of course, the young people will be the best evangelists, though I know some older people who are very effective youth evangelists. Often the older person’s job is to enable others to be effective evangelists. The young people are our best teachers about youth culture. Over the years I have personally had to make sure that my younger colleagues and friends educate me about contemporary trends in youth culture.


Having young people teach us about their culture could be a way of helping opening their lives up to the gospel. I served as a youth worker in a church in USA when I was a student. A girl who was not a Christian was assigned to do some work in that church by the government. Her culture was totally different to that of the youth in our youth group. She was very interested in rodeo. So I got her to teach me about rodeo. It was the first breakthrough we had with her. Eventually she came on an evangelistic camp and committed her life to Christ.


So we are always asking, “What works with young people?” and “Can we use that as Christians?” William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, said, “Why should the devil have all the good music” and started putting Christian lyrics to the tunes of secular songs. The people liked the tunes and there was nothing innately sinful about the tune!


Once we decided to focus our evangelism on unchurched youth, we found that we had to relearn a lot of things. So we had non-Christian musical and drama specialists teach us music and drama so that we could use the art forms which the young people we were trying to reach were used to using.


Of course, when you start making these innovations in youth ministry many Christians will not understand. The answer to this is not for the youth leaders to isolate themselves from the rest of the church. Sadly, this happens often. If the youth leaders remain close to the church leaders and try to explain what they are doing, then, even though the leaders may not understand what the youth are doing, they will support them because they know that the youth leaders are sincere Christians who are seeking to honour God.


Often God uses older encouragers who are trusted by the youth and by the church to help build bridges between the youth and the adults. This is what Barnabas did when he went to the first gentile church in history in Antioch. He must have seen many short-comings in this brand new church. But Acts 11:23 says, “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad….” To see the representative from Jerusalem glad must have been a great encouragement to the Christians in Antioch. With that opening Barnabas was able to help them: “…and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord.”


Let me urge more adults to get alongside youth movements to be encouragers. The young people could really benefit from their wisdom, and they could be like advocates for the youth in the church. For these older encouragers just sitting back and looking at the way these young people do great things for God could be a great thrill!


Adults are often quick to criticise youth programmes without really asking why they do what they do. This alienates the youth and often they get discouraged and the work dies off. Sometimes the youth leaders are determined to persevere with their programmes despite the opposition. The danger here is that these groups can become cultic. They are disillusioned with the rest of the church, and they can become arrogant and judgemental. Group like this are in great danger of becoming imbalanced and cultic. They become critical of everyone except themselves and tend to have an unhealthily strong influence on the youth to the exclusion of other influences. God intended Christians to grow in a family where young and old learn from each other.





While it is true that Paul involved dialogue in his evangelism there was a definite message that was being communicated. Acts 17:18 says, “Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler wish to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.” The expression, “Preaching Jesus and the resurrection,” is significant. The familiar Greek word euangelizō is used here. Here is how it is defined: “to preach (bring) the good news (gospel), often with a focus on the content of the message which is brought. In the New Testament it always refers to the death, burial, resurrection, and witness about Jesus Christ, including its implications for humankind’s relationship to God.”


God has spoken definite message to the world. This message is the only hope for humans to come out of the mess they are in. Therefore in all Christian ministries the message must have a position of primacy. All programmes are servants of the message. It is very easy to get carried away with games and other activities and to feel happy that we have attracted many youth. But that is not enough. We must get the message across. This is not very popular in our society, especially if conversion results.


Acts uses the word “persuade” seven times to describe the evangelism of the first Christians. This word (peithō) means “to convince someone to believe something and to act on the basis of what is recommended.” We are working for a definite change of heart and mind. Today persuasion in connection with evangelism is frowned upon by some. It is said to reflect arrogance and disrespect. This is strange because persuasion is a very common practice in society. This is how marketing and politicking operates. Advertisers try to get us to purchase their products or vote for their candidate by using persuasion.


Arrogance is impossible for a Christian because we are servants of the people. Those who serve Christ are serving a servant Lord who wants us to be servants like him (John 13:15; see Phil. 2:5-11). Besides, our message makes arrogance impossible. To be a Christian is to believe that we can do nothing to save ourselves, and that we do not deserve salvation. How could such a person be arrogant?


Actually persuasion is an expression of the respect we have for people. Even the great God of the universe will not force his way into people’s lives. He says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isa. 1:18). We will appeal to people and help them to make an intelligent decision about the truth.


There are, however, two false methods of persuasion which express disrespect to people and which we must avoid. The first is manipulation: Here factors which are not part of the essential gospel are used in influencing people into making the decision to follow Christ. This happens when Christians give people the impression that they will give them some aid if they become Christians. The aid could be economic assistance, a job or an opportunity to go abroad. But such methods are dishonouring to Christ.


In YFC we found that it is possible to emotionally manipulate people too. At our camps we used to have a very tight schedule. The youth have a lot of fun, and enjoy some great fellowship. Because of their tiredness they can become vulnerable to an emotional appeal. If we keep on making the appeal to people to accept Christ in such an environment some would succumb to the sheer pressure applied to them in their emotionally tired state and make a decision to follow Christ which they would not have made under normal circumstances. This realisation caused us to change our programmes so that the youth are not subjected to such pressure.


The most extreme form of emotional manipulation is brainwashing which cults indulge in. This is a trap which youth movements are also in danger of falling into especially because youth tend to respond positively to strong leadership and dogmatic proclamations.


The second disrespectful way of persuasion is imposition. Here ones authority used to unreasonably influence people to make a decision for Christianity. This could happen in Christian schools where non-Christian children are forced to do things which Christian only do. This happened during colonial times when colonial rulers used their powers to influence people into becoming Christians.





Paul is able to secure an invitation to speak to the Areopagus (Acts 17:19-21), which was the main administrative body and the chief court of Athens. His speech is a model for anyone seeking to preach the gospel to the unreached. He starts by stating, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” This is not a case of flattery as that was discouraged as a way to start speeches at the Areopagus, according to the ancient writer Lucian. He was making a point of contact with his audience through an observation he makes about them.


Actually the next verse shows that Paul had discovered a thirst which the Athenians had: “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god’” (17:23a). They seem to have had a god for every conceivable area of their lives—love, safety, wealth etc.—but they were still not fully satisfied. So just in case they missed out something they had an altar for “the unknown God.” This was an acknowledged need—a felt need—in their lives. And Paul says, that this need is met by the God he is proclaiming: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (17:23b).


Paul was presenting the gospel as the answer to their questions. We sometimes say that Jesus is the answer. But we must ask whether we are presenting him as the answer to our questions or to their questions? Our questions may be different to theirs. So we begin with what they are asking and, having made a point of contact, we move on to what we think they should be asking (e.g. how they can receive forgiveness for their sins and have a relationship with God).


So in presenting the gospel to youth we should be addressing their questions and felt needs. Here is a list of the questions we have found to be important to youth in Sri Lanka.

  1. Their relationship with their parents. I mention this first because this is a serious concern of youth. Here are some of their areas of concern.
  2. a) Alcoholic fathers;
  3. b) Mother is working abroad (sometimes mother is abroad and father is not working but using the money the mother sends on alcohol);
  4. c) Rich parents who do not have time for their children;
  5. d) Over-ambitious parents who push their children too much;
  6. e) Under-ambitious parents who want their children to drop out of school and earn for the family;
  7. f) Distant parents who have little communication with the children;
  8. g) Parents who favour one child over another and/or constantly compare children;
  9. h) Parents who exploit duty conscious children so that their own progress is hindered;
  10. i) Broken homes, and parents who are unfaithful to their spouses;
  11. j) Parents who are involved in serious sin and crime;
  12. k) Families ruined by conflict and unhappiness;
  13. l) Parents who are out of touch with youth culture and do not understand their children;
  14. m) Youth are beginning to get a taste of freedom; they are getting ready to be freed from their parents to take responsibility for their lives. This is compounded by the Asian cultural tradition of dependence upon parents even in adult life clashing with the western tradition coming through the media of independence from parents.


In YFC evangelistic camps the session on parents is often the most popular session. We try to present our Father God as the One who heals the wounds of children and gives them the strength to relate positively to parents.


Though many youth are in conflict situations with their parents, deep ties of love remain which cannot and should not be erased. We must do all we can to strengthen the ties between youth and their parents. Sometimes the place of the parents may be temporarily taken by the youth leader in the minds of the young person. While this is flattering to the leader, he or she must not encourage it.


When working with non-Christian youth the youth workers should try to make contact with the parents, if this is at all possible. We have found that this has resulted in a lot of reduction of persecution to the new believer. The fears of the parents about their child going to a strange religion are reduced because they know and trust the youth leader.


  1. Sex


Adolescence is the time when youth discover their sexuality in a big way. They are sexually mature physically but they have a long way to go before marriage. Naturally sex is a big topic in their thinking. Therefore it should be a big topic in Christian youth work too. In youth evangelism we can tell the youth we are trying to reach how Christianity approaches this all important topic in their thinking.


Here are some issues that our youth face relating to sex:

  1. a) The invasion of western morality through the media. E.g. dating, boy-friends and girl friends;
  2. b) The pressure of living in a sex-saturated society;
  3. c) Easy access to pornography has resulted in many youth become porn addicts;
  4. d) In cultures which appear to be very “conservative” like in the villages of Sri Lanka, there is severe immorality which is taking place privately and secretly, so that youth may themselves be exposed to severe sexual temptation or images;
  5. e) Young people who have been sexually abused carry deep scars which need to be healed;
  6. f) Homosexuality is becoming more and more accepted as an alternate lifestyle. Often in Asia homosexual inclinations were considered a stage which some teenagers may pass through. Now it is being presented as a legitimate lifestyle so that the youth are not encouraged to drop these inclinations.


  1. Love


Love has always been an issue that young people grapple with, and those considering the claims of Christ need to be told the way Christians approach this issue. Here are some of the specific issues faced by youth:

  1. a) Who will I marry?
  2. b) When should I start looking for a mate?
  3. c) I love this person, but people say I am too young.
  4. d) I am ugly/I am not very capable/I am a poor student/I come from a problem family; who will want to marry me?

The beauty of living under God’s plan and waiting for him to satisfy our deepest needs can be a liberating thing to a young person plagued by the above questions.


  1. Uncertainly Regarding the Future


The bleak economic prospects of Asian countries place huge pressure upon youth which is difficult to bear. Here are some issues they face:

  1. a) Bleak economic situations and prospects.
  2. b) Rampant unemployment even of graduates.
  3. c) The competitive educational system which places much stress on the student and in which some students are going to be left behind.
  4. d) Not having funds to get the best education, e.g. to go to a good tuition class.


A youth ministry will need to be involved in several fronts here. Most important would be helping the youth to hand over their lives to the God who has a good plan for their lives. Most poor young people do not go to schools with a good standard of education, and they cannot afford to go for tuition classes. Therefore many Christian groups have found holding tuition classes to be a very effective means of helping youth and in the process making contact with unreached youth. YFC started providing teachers to schools in poorer areas which did not have teachers to teach Christianity to the Christian students. Once we went in to these schools the principals would ask us to supply teachers of key subjects for which there was no teacher in the school. In addition, vocational guidance and opening doors for better vocational opportunities should be part of a healthy youth ministry.


  1. The Problem of Identity and Self-Worth


So many changes are going on in the lives of youth that they don’t know what to make of it. They wonder whether they will make it favourably to adult life. This is aggravated by the fact that they are living in an increasingly competitive society. Parents aggravate this problem by comparing their children with others when trying to motivate them. Usually in a young person’s life there are four features which boost their sense of self-worth. These are

  1. a) How beautiful or handsome they look,
  2. b) How intelligent they are and how well they do in their studies;
  3. c) How capable or talented they are in sports or some other activity.
  4. d) Their status in society, which is measured usually by their family background and wealth.


Here are some typical responses of young people in their attempt to compensate for their sense of low self esteem:

  1. a) Conformity: this illustrates the power of peer pressure;
  2. b) Aggression: they try to win the attention of the people through aggressive behaviour of which the extreme expression is juvenile delinquency;
  3. c) Clowning, laughing it off: For example, fat young people often respond to their fatness in a jolly manner.
  4. d) Withdrawing into a shell: The mind is a hive of activity, but these people are private people. Sometimes they shock everyone by suddenly exploding and committing a terrible act of violence.
  5. e) Escaping: They are unhappy with their present situation so they try to escape into another world. This world may be the internet or the security of belonging to a gang. Sometimes a girl who has faced misery at home runs away with the first boy who shows her some concern (and regrets that decision the rest of her life).
  6. f) Succeeding at something: This is the best way to compensate. But if the self-worth issue is not solved the drive for success could take some dangerous forms.


The gospel has a wonderful answer to this question of identity which humans lost as a result of the ravages of sin upon the human race. Christianity has a three-fold answer to this problem which is a very powerful source of attraction to young people.

  1. a) You are accepted into the kingdom family. This gives them acceptance. This is a time of much stress in the lives of youth. There are huge physical and psychological changes taking place. There is increasing conflict at home. They will seek security through friends who are going through the same problems. The Christian community can provide such friends who not only identify with their struggles but also truly care for them.
  2. b) You are a child of God. This gives them identity. Usually it takes some time for the youth to grasp this. Actually for all of us accepting fully our identity in Christ is a process which will go on until we die. We first give them the theory as given in the Bible, and that will surely impress them. Gradually through understanding what the Word says, through the acceptance of the Christian community and through using gifts God has given them they will begin to have the thrill of feeling like children of God.
  3. c) You have been made useful through gifts God has given you. This gives them A key to effective youth ministry is to get the youth involved in a great cause that is worth dying for, and making them realise that they have a significant part to play in fulfilling the goals of that cause. All successful youth movements are driven by a strong sense of mission. The youth sense that they are in this to help change the world, and they have been commissioned by the Creator and Lord of the universe to do this.


Our youth programmes need to fashioned in such a way that those who participate sense acceptance, and discover their identity and significance.


  1. The Idealism of Youth Gives Rise to Revolutionary Fervour


It is no secret that youth have been involved in many of the revolutionary movements of the world. As free market economic policies become more and more accepted in developing nations, we can expect the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. I believe that because of this the revolutionary fervour of youth will grow in the next few years.


Here are some Christian responses to this situation:

  1. a) We must show that Christians agree with their protest against the hypocrisy, corruption and inequality in society. While we disagree with the methods of many revolutionary groups, we agree with their condemnation of injustice and exploitation and with their desire to do something to change society.
  2. b) Sometimes these revolutionary feelings are aggravated by nationalistic feelings. We must show that Christians are true patriots. That is, (i) we want equal rights for everyone in society (not just one group) and (ii) we do not condone the strangling of our nations by powerful foreign economic giants.
  3. c) No one should feel that they have to deny their national culture in order to become a Christian. In an age of globalisation when young people are attracted to western culture, youth workers need to think long and hard about how their programmes can be relevant and exciting while being nationally authentic.
  4. d) Wherever possible Christian youth groups should be involved with movements trying to establish justice in society.
  5. e) The youth should get the sense that when they join the Christian youth movement they have joined a truly revolutionary group. The history of the church is studded with great leaps forward that the church made through the enthusiastic and devoted ventures of young people. A great example is the Haystack movement which began in 1806 with five young university students who met for twice-weekly prayer for revival at Williams College in Massachusetts. They met in the fields as they were ridiculed by their fellow students. One day they had to take cover under a haystack as it was raining. That day they committed themselves to missions and American missions was born! May it happen again! And may the church leaders be humble enough to allow great youth movements to grow and change history.


  1. The Fear of Spirits


This is a felt need especially with adults. But youth are not immune to it. We should show how Christ is Lord over all principalities and powers.


  1. Poverty and Suffering


Most of the youth in Asia are poor and suffering is a major problem. Other religions have explanations for this problem. Because this is such a felt need, those evangelising the poor need to explain what Christianity has to say about this? We should not only explain the theological teachings on this but also present concrete programmes where in our small way we are acting to alleviate poverty at least in the lives of a few youth.


One of the most powerful attractions when working with poor youth is a community which treats every one as equal. Generally there are two models used in ministry among the poor. One is represented by the large groups, like the international NGOs, which help poor, but where the workers of the group do not have much close contact with the people. Much good is done through these programmes, but this is not the way to go for churches and Christian youth groups. Often the poor come to such groups with one thing in mind: “What can I get from this group?”


The biblical model of ministering among the poor is the incarnational model. Here the leaders get close to the people who are treated equal to the leaders. It will be necessary for the leaders to adopt a relatively simple lifestyle if they hope to get close to the poor. Through incarnational ministry a Christian community develops where people are equals and accountable to each other. It becomes difficult to be dishonest in such a community. The lack of integrity is a major problem when working with the poor. I believe the best way to overcome this problem is to practice true Christian community where there is spiritual accountability.


The greatest blessing of this incarnational approach to ministering with the poor is that leaders develop from among the poor. And in the process we demonstrate the breaking of the class barrier. However to do this we must make some important structural changes so that poorer youth will not feel second class. We should be very careful about the use of English which is usually known by the more affluent youth but not by the poorer youth. We should fashion criteria for leadership so that the biblical requirements such as godliness, wisdom, skill and ability to motivate others are uppermost rather than educational qualifications and the knowledge of English.

We should get the poorer youth also to contribute financially and to help with the raising of funds, and make sure that the big donations of the richer people are not given greater prominence than the much smaller but powerful mighty mites of the poorer people.


When poor young people see such community life among Christians, where the rich and poor clearly have equal status, they would be greatly attracted to Christianity.


  1. Fun and Pleasure


Youth have boundless energy, and they want to use it by having fun. This is one of the blessings of youth, and all youth ministries must reckon with this. We must show that God is the creator of our capacity for fun and pleasure and that he alone can fully satisfy those desires. I often say, “In Youth for Christ we are serious about fun.” And that is true! We see fun as God’s creation which we want to use for his glory. Therefore our programmes must emerge from a theology of pleasure.


This places on youth leaders the responsibility of finding good programmes of fun. Sports has been very effectively used in reaching unreached youth. But we must bear in mind that different types of youth like different sports. In our ministry we often organise softball cricket tournaments which attract hundreds of young people. The Christians do the organising the non-Christians play cricket! Out of the hundreds who participate in such a sports tournament about 5-10 youth may end up coming for our other programmes. But that is a significant figure when you realise that these are totally unreached youth. Yet we know that some youth, especially those from very affluent backgrounds, are not usually attracted by sports programmes.


I am always amazed at how receptive youth are to music. Styles differ, and what works with westernised youth does not usually work with youth who are less influenced by western culture. But the significant thing is that, whatever the culture, youth like music. They are provided with top quality music now through the media. Therefore Christian youth groups need to really work hard on developing good quality music teams. In YFC we have decided that it is well worth spending considerable sums of money to train our musical people.


One of the most pleasant learning experiences I have had in youth ministry was when I first visited Mannar, a city in North Sri Lanka, where we had just started a YFC ministry. Those who started this work were from Mannar itself and had come to Christ in a YFC camp and decided to start YFC even without asking us! Now we had an official YFC centre there. And I was making my first visit. They had an evangelistic programme at which I was going to speak. To my surprise, they started with about 20 minutes of worship. Normally we start with ice-breakers like games.


It was my first visit and I decided that I will not comment on this departure from YFC tradition. Later I understood that the non-Christian youth loved the music used for worship and found the free expression of praise and lively communication with a personal God very stimulating and attractive. From this brand new YFC programme we learned that worship can be an effective means of attracting youth to our programmes.


Adventure outreach which is popular in the west could, I believe be a new frontier for growth for youth ministries in Asia. Here the youth experience the thrill of doing exciting and dangerous things, like climbing down steep precipices using a rope (abseiling). They experience good fellowship as they struggle together, and learn many valuable lessons about life. It is important that well trained qualified staff always be there at such programmes, as the wrong methods could result in serious accidents.


Through the programmes involving fun and pleasure we must demonstrate that we can have the best fun in a clean way. You do not need to sin to have a riotously, hilariously, crazy time of fun. You do not need to be one person in church and another when you are with friends because you have fun when you are with friends. Church is also a place where you can have fun. One of the greatest attractions of Christianity to youth is the joy we have in Christ. Even when we do not indulge in sinful pleasure, it is because we want to preserve our joy! We don’t sin because we want to be happy J


Here, then, is a list of felt needs about which we need to we think when we evangelise youth. We must find out how the gospel meets those needs and communicate that to them in a dynamic way. When we tell youth how Christianity addresses their real problems they realise that Christianity is relevant. It has something practical to say about the day-to-day issues they struggle with.


There are different ways to highlight felt needs. One way is to incorporate programmes meeting these needs into the programme of the youth group, as we have shown before. Here are some such ways to do this during evangelistic proclamation:

  1. a) The evangelistic message is a certainly one of the most powerful ways of doing this, especially when it is illustrated by examples from real life.
  2. b) A drama illustrating a real life situation that highlights these needs could be a great introduction to an evangelistic message.
  3. c) Many of the secular songs and films illustrate these needs. We can use clips of these during our programmes.


Felt needs are an important subject of study for those doing youth evangelism. We must listen to youth; spend time with them; study about them; and watch and listen to what they watch and listen to. We older folk will need to consult younger people when preparing our messages to youth so that we can speak relevantly to their lives. We can use the felt need to launch into a discussion about the gospel.





Paul speech in Athens is a model of how to present the unchanging message of the gospel in ways that are relevant to the audience. Here are some examples of how Paul was relevant.


  1. Paul was speaking to a philosophically oriented audience and so his message was what John Wesley called “a divinely philosophical discourse.”He used a style of speaking that his audience was familiar with.
  2. While Peter’s and Paul’s messages to Jewish audiences were loaded with quotations from the Scriptures, this speech had no quotations at all. However, as the great New Testament scholar Prof. F. F. Bruce says, “His argument is firmly based on biblical revelation; it echoes throughout the thought, and at times the very language, of the Old Testament.”He presented the message of the Scriptures but not as direct quotes because the audience did not accept the Bible as a significant book.
  3. It is interesting that, though Paul made no direct quotes from the Bible, he quotes (probably twice) from writers familiar to the Athenians. Verse 28 says, “…for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Of these two statements there is a question about whether the first is actually a quotation, but the second certainly is.Paul would not, of course, agree with the philosophical system out of which these statements arose, but he could agree with the individual statements and use them to buttress his argument.


When working with unchurched youth, we, like Paul, could use quotes familiar to them, especially from the lyrics of popular songs. We must not use language which Christians readily understand but which they will not understand. Sadly, many preachers do this as the following examples show:

Preacher says: “You remember what John said.”

Young Person thinks: “Which John is he talking about? John Denver? John Lennon?”


Preacher says: “When the angel Michael came…”

Young Person thinks: “This must be Michael Jackson. He certainly dances like an angel.”


Even when we use necessary words like “Old Testament,” “salvation” and “sin” we must make sure that we explain to the hearers what we mean by them.


  1. I need to add one word of caution. Studying youth culture can be dangerous to our spiritual health. There are many obscene things that we will encounter. I was shocked to hear some of the things that were aired over the radio in Sri Lanka. We all know what a dangerous world internet opens us to. Therefore anyone who is going to a study of contemporary trends should be have accountability partners who ensure that they do not fall into the trap of exposing themselves to unclean material under the pretext of educating themselves. This is a very easy trap to fall into.





All our searching for relevance would be useless unless we clearly present the unchanging message of the gospel to the youth. This is what Paul did in Athens even though what he was saying sounded strange in the people’s ears. Through using creative and relevant means we may be able to attract unreached youth to our programmes. But, as Jesus said, it is when they know the truth that they will be set free from the bondage of sin (John 8:32).


One of the great traps of youth work is to be satisfied with relevance and not give full attention to the message of the gospel. Big crowds are coming for the meetings, which makes us look very successful. But lives have not been changed permanently. The youth programme meets their present felt needs, but it does not meet the most important need they have, which is for a vital relationship with God through Jesus Christ. When they pass from the youth phase of their life, they forget Christianity.


Therefore we need to work hard at making the gospel clear, understandable, acceptable and attractive to the young people. I will not deal with this issue as I have done so in two books, The Supremacy of Christ and Sharing the Truth in Love: How to Relate to People of Other Faiths. These two books arose out of my efforts to share the gospel to non-Christian youth and to respond to their questions and objections regarding the gospel. They are classified by the publishers in the apologetics category. I never intended to be an apologist. But by talking to non-Christian youth about the gospel I realised that I needed to work on the issues they were bringing up, and I was forced to go into the field of apologetics.


Let me make some brief comments about some features of Paul’s message in Athens and their relevance to youth evangelism today.


  1. God.

Most of the space in Paul’s message was given to his response to the Athenians wrong ideas of God, especially idolatry, and to his explanation of the biblical idea of God (Acts 17:24-29). He had been debating with the two groups: “…some of the Epicurian and Stoic philosophers” (17:18). The Epicurians were like the deists of the modern era who believed that even if there is a God, he is uninvolved in the universe and irrelevant. Though the Stoics believed in a Supreme God it was in a pantheistic way, that is, God is in everything, so everything is divine. Paul clearly responds to both these views in his speech.


Unreached Youth today have very different views about God to those of the Bible. We must know these views and show how much fuller and more glorious is the biblical view of God. We will find that the youth we work with will have several objections to the Christian understanding of God. For example, many youth in Sri Lanka believe that modern science has disproved the biblical idea of God. We will need to respond to these questions.


  1. Jesus

Like in the other evangelistic messages in Acts, Paul introduces the person of Jesus here too: “…because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (17:31a). There seems to be only a passing mention of Jesus here. But we must remember that the speeches recorded in Acts are probably only a summary of the actual speech with a note of the distinctive highlights of each speech.


In the evangelistic messages of Acts there is a strong emphasis on the person, life and ministry of Jesus. This is a key to our evangelistic proclamation too. If we are asking young people to become followers of Christ they must know who Christ is. Therefore we need to tell youth the story of Jesus. This is what the Gospels do, and the gospels were evangelistic documents. I have found it helpful to simply narrate the story of Jesus without much explanation. The story speaks for itself. Of course the various films about Jesus could have a powerful effect upon the youth.


There is a great appeal to young people in the life of Christ. Youth think that religion is an esoteric thing which is not related to life. Anyone who observes the life of Jesus would be charmed by how “down to earth” Jesus was. I believe that the “down to earth” nature not only of Christ but also of the Christian life is one of the greatest attractions of Christianity to a young person.


Today youth are disillusioned with their leaders. They see that those who are regarded as good people cannot be very successful in society, while the successful people are those who break principles. They have lost their confidence in leadership, and some are resorting to revolution to express this. The whole world recognises that Jesus was a truly good man. But not only was he good, he was also very successful. He founded the most globally influential movement in history. This is the type of leader that the youth are looking for.


Presenting the power and lordship of Christ is important not only because young people respond to strong leadership but also because, if they became followers of Christ, some of the most powerful forces in their world would be enraged. They could be afraid to make a commitment to Christ because of the prospect of this opposition. But if they were convinced that Jesus is more powerful than the opposition, they would realise that the safest thing would be to commit their lives to him.


  1. The Huge Difference in Worldviews


Paul’s speech ends with a reference to the resurrection of Jesus as proof of his message: “He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (17:32b NIV). This reminds us of what a huge different there is in the worldviews of Christians and that of other peoples. No wonder some of Paul’s audience in Athens mocked when they heard of the resurrection of Christ (17:32). My experience has been that it has been very difficult for unreached youth to warm up to the idea of Jesus rising from the dead as proof of the Christian gospel. It is such an alien concept that they tend to switch off when they hear about it. This is an illustration of the fact that there are the unique features of Christianity which most non-Christians will find difficult to grasp.


To most people, religious systems are a group of beliefs to adhere to and actions to do in order to progress in life. The religion is a way of life. The events which are part of the history of the religion are not so crucial to the religious system. In fact, in some religions, like Hinduism, it really doesn’t matter if these events even took place. What is important is the teaching. When the Buddha lay dying, his disciples asked him how they could remember him. He told them not to concern themselves with remembering him. What is important is the teaching. The teaching presented the way of life prescribed in the religion. That’s what is important, not certain historical events.


In Christianity what is important is not what we do to progress in life, but what has been done on our behalf through a historical event. It is not so much a way of life as it is a way to life based on what Christ has done. So Christianity stands or falls on whether the resurrection took place. Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). This is why in Athens he described the resurrection as the proof of his message (17:31).


We can see that before non-Christians accept the gospel a huge shift has to take place in their thinking.


This presents a huge challenge to the Christian witness. We will have to carefully think about how we can help effect this shift in thinking. One way would be to present the logic of the gospel. Here are some things we may need to do.


  1. a) We can challenge the people with the thought that, if Jesus really rose from the dead as a proof of what he has achieved, then they should take what he did seriously. In this process we may need to present the evidence that attests our belief in the resurrection. They are left with the inescapable fact of an event that they have to reckon with. If Jesus really rose from the dead, as he predicted, then what are the implications of that.


  1. b) We can show how the idea of one dying to pay the penalty for ones sins reallydoes makes sense. When doing this we will need to answer some of the questions they ask:
  • How could the defeat of a good man who lost his battle against wrong and died a shameful death win the salvation of the world?
  • How can one die for another’s sins?
  • Must we not pay for our wrong doing?
  • How could the death of one person, result in salvation for so many people?
  • How can an event which took place so long ago be effective two millennia later?
  • Is it not unfair that Jesus should suffer for what we have done?
  • It is not unfair by the persons we have hurt when we are not punished for what we did to them?
  • Is it not a mockery of justice to let another pay the penalty for my sin?
  • Isn’t this a cheap way of salvation which opens the door to irresponsible living?


Almost all these questions have been asked of me, and I have tried to respond to them in my book The Supremacy of Christ.


  1. c) We need to pray that the Holy Spirit will open their minds so that they can understand the truth. Ultimately the work of persuading people about the gospel is the work of the Spirit (John 16:8-11).


  1. d) We must present a consistent testimony of the Christian faith. This is done in different ways:
  • through genuine love and care for these persons and through Christians living the Christian life radiantly;
  • through them seeing the power of God manifested in wonderful ways in answer to prayer;
  • through us faithfully presenting the content of the gospel to them.


Often people open their minds to consider the gospel only after they have seen the gospel at work in real life. The features presented above are well expressed in Paul’s statement, “…our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” (1 Thess. 1:5).


  1. The Need for Patience


The above point about the vast difference in worldviews reminds us of the need to be patient when working non-Christian youth. There is such a huge shift of worldview (or approach to life) involved accepting the gospel, that it may take a long time before they understand the heart of the gospel. Sometimes they may accept Jesus as the Lord whom they want to follow without yet understanding the meaning of salvation by faith through the grace of Jesus Christ.


We have seen this in our ministry often. We have a close friend who was a Buddhist woman. She was impressed by the change that took place in her brother’s life after he came to Christ in a YFC camp. This resulted in her accepting Christ and getting baptised. We thought she had understood the meaning of grace, but her subsequent actions showed us that much of her worldview was still Buddhist, and that she often thought of religious duties as things that one does to earn God’s favour. It was much later that she fully understood the marvels of grace.


This how the Hindu scholar Pandita Ramabhai came to Christ. As a Hindu campaigning for women’s rights, she had been attracted to Christ because of the way he treated woman. This led to her becoming a baptised follower of Christ. Only later did she understand the primacy of grace to Christianity and become a believer in the biblical sense.


This shows the need for comprehensive follow-through care of those who commit their lives to Christ. We have found that the small group Bible study is the ideal place for such care. Here they can apply the truth of the Bible to their personal lives through discussion. The group also provides warm fellowship and care and is a good environment for fostering growth in grace. In our ministry, almost all of the youth from other faiths who we know grew to be strong and mature Christians were part of a small group in their early (and later) years as Christians.


So we need patience when we are working with unchurched youth. In our impatience to show some measurable results of success we may proclaim as converted people who have not yet understood what the gospel is. Or we may move to working with youth who are more receptive to the gospel—like nominal Christians who come to church. Or we may give up evangelism and go into training, especially the training in evangelism! Or we may simply concentrate on giving good programmes to the youth who are already committed to Christ.





We need to mention that there is strong resistance today to the idea of “converting” young people. We need to be very sensitive to this. One thing we have done is to be very low key in the way we publicise our work. People of other faiths feel very intimidated by the sense that we are triumphing over their youth. Their memories of being defeated and ruled by western colonial powers makes them very suspicious of anything that looks like a triumph by our so-called western religion. The typical western methods of publicity do not go well in our cultures.


Another thing we do is to make sure that there is no dislocation with the families of the young people as I mentioned above. We encourage them to get as involved as they can in family functions, even though they will need to abstain from involvement in the religious rituals. For example, whereas they never washed dishes after these functions and swept the floor before them, now they will do that, much to surprise of their parents.


We do not usually recommend that young people from other faiths get baptised until they become legal adults. They can participate in a church without taking this step. After all, baptism does not save a person. It is held back because of the legal complications of being baptised while you are still legally a minor. Of course, some churches do not encourage such a delay.





It is important for us to remember that young people represent one segment of society that is open to change. They are interested in new ideas. In this way they could provide an entrée to a whole unreached community. This has been our experience in YFC. The children come first and through them whole families have come to faith in Christ. While we cannot report of huge numbers of families who have come to Christ this way, the figure is significant. This we can say for sure, young people in Asia are generally open to listening to the claims of Christ. We must be faithful in telling them!


Sexual Understanding Before Marriage

Written in January 2004

It is customary for couples who are planning on marriage to get physical in their mays of showing affection. We know that this can lead to a slippery slope of unnecessarily sexual involvement before marriage. Therefore it is very necessary for couples to develop some guidelines in this area.


A key aspect of this is that it is the woman who often needs to hold the brakes. It is best for the couple to talk about this early in their relationship. Perhaps someone else who wisdom as a counsellor is respected by the couple could also help in this conversation. As the couple will not get married immediately developing guidelines here is going to be particularly important.


One thing to remember is that often the two people come from different cultures where standards and practices of showing affection differ. But such cultural differences will not affect sexual happiness and pleasure within marriage. For example a woman from a very conservative background can have a wonderful sexual relationship with a man from a more liberal attitude towards physical expression.


It is helpful to bear in mind some keys to happy sex life within marriage even before marriage. This way you can wait patiently and eagerly to fully enjoy “the real thing.” Here are some keys:

  1. Both need to have a healthy theology of sex that sees it as something to be enjoyed thoroughly and as a means to deep intimacy with each other. Some highly religious people do not have this theology and that can pose a big problem. They have only been told about the dangers of sex and therefore they think about sex as being something dangerous and unclean though necessary for having children! That is a very unbiblical attitude as Song of Solomon clearly shows us.
  2. Very important for physical enjoyment is emotional and mental unity. If a couple are mad at each other, they will never fully enjoy physical relations. They need to first come to “of one mind” before physical relations are to be enjoyed.
  3. It is very important that we always remain sensitive to the partner’s needs, preferences and desires. When you make it your goal to make the other person happy you find that you will derive great happiness from that.
  4. Within marriage the only rules are that you will not do things that the partner is uncomfortable with. You are free to fully enjoy and experiment and try new things, so long as both agree to this. The prospect of full enjoyment of sex within marriage will become an incentive to self-control before marriage.


Because this beautiful area of your life involves so much emotional energy and desire, and because you need to wait till marriage to fulfil it, you both will need to exercise a lot of restraint before marriage. You should talk about this frankly and come up with some rules that will govern your behaviour, and then keep talking about those rules and bringing them up in various situations. Because men are usually the ones who initiate the physical side and in whom the desire and energy is very strong, they may often feel like going beyond what the rules allow. Then the woman will need to help apply the brakes! The man must recognise this as a necessary part of the relationship and learn to appreciate these brake applications.


Usually it is a blow to a man’s ego to be held back by a woman in this way. Therefore the woman must be very sensitive and not harsh in the way she holds the brakes. The man on the other hand must learn to accept these brake applications as a necessary aspect of a disciplined, loving and holy life. This helps him to overcome the humiliation which comes with the “rejection.”


This principle of self control learned during courtship becomes very helpful later on after the couple have married. Even married couples need to exercise a lot of self control because sometimes when one partner wants to have sex, the other partner is not feeling positive towards it. Generally for a man sexual temptation gets more intense after marriage because and area that has been kept under control for so long has now been opened up. Therefore often a man gets more tempted to getting sexual pleasure outside marriage after marriage than before marriage. Also men are notorious for having sex when their wives are not in the mood. This is a sure way for the beautiful thing called sex to turn sour within a relationship. So learning self-control before marriage is a very important key to happiness within marriage.



This prayer was never used as the tsunami hit and we got so involved in that process!


May I be so holy that my

team members would look at me

and say, “That must be how

Jesus lived.”


May the members of my family see the

beauty of Jesus in me. 


 May I be so joyous that

 people will be attracted to Christ

 and his ministry by observing me.


May I be so thirsty for

 God that I am quick to accept

my faults and eager to apologise

for them, and always willing to

deny self and take up the cross.


May my prayers be so

powerful that they will

change the course of history.


May my team and I be so filled

 with the Spirit that

evangelism would be the natural




 GOD that everything I do will be

characterised by excellence.



 Youth for Christ is a

 movement founded on the

 Word and built with the love,

 sweat, tears and creativity of

 godly, Spirit-filled leaders.

Evangelizing Young People In Poor Communities

A study PAPER  Written by Ajith Fernando in Consultation with Colleagues in Sri Lanka Youth for Christ



Chicago, USA

July 1993
A Biblical Priority and a Worldwide Reality

Youth for Christ and the World’s Poor

The Scope of this Paper

An International Strategy?

Identifying with the Poor

The Problem of  Low Motivation

A De-motivating Environment

The Power of Visionary Leadership

The power of Spiritual Parenthood

Develop a Sense of Ownership of the Programme

Trusting the Poor

Sharing of Heart and Possessions

Opening our homes to them

Contributing to the Programme

Ministry Styles

Liberation from the Bondage of Poverty
Socio-Economic Assistance



The Place of Education

Development Projects

Learning to Trust in God


Representing the Poor before the Rich

An Enemy of Evangelism?




The aim of this paper is to encourage YFC programmes to minister in poor communities. When I use the words poor and poverty in this paper, I am referring to economically needy people. There are many other forms of poverty in the human experience. But here I am restricting myself to economic poverty.


The Great Commission is could be considered as the basis for this paper. Christ asked us to take the gospel to the world. 46% of the world are classified as poor, and 23% of the world are classified as absolutely poor.1 If this so, the Great Commission should drive us to a major emphasis on the poor.

Studies have shown that “in a great many countries today,  including many industrialized nations and developing nations that have enjoyed rapid economic growth in the past, the poorest 20% have not shared in the benefits of that growth.” This is true even of places like the United Kingdom and the United States.2 With the euphoria following the collapse of Communism in the former Soviet Union dying down, we are now faced with the fact that for many families [there] the economic situation is rapidly worsening. “In 1989, official figures showed 11% of the families across the Soviet Union living below the poverty line; in many regions today, over three-quarters of the population has fallen into poverty.”3

Yet the poor of the world are, and have always been, neglected by the people of God. Neglected groups are presented in the Scriptures as being worthy of special concern. We are not saying that the poor are more important to God than the affluent. Rather, we say that because they are often neglected, the Bible gives special emphasis to their needs. Many special considerations,  for example, are given to them in the Old Testament laws.

Isaiah 61.1 envisaged the coming of the Messiah to be associated with preaching the good news to the poor. And Jesus quoted that statement in Nazareth in Luke 4.18 when describing the ministry he was to have. While he did not neglect the rich, he lived as a poor person and ministered among them. John the Baptist once sent his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else” (Matt. 11.3). Jesus asked them to go back and report to John what they saw of the many miracles that he performed. After listing some miracles, and says, “…and the good news is preached to the poor” (Matt. 11.5). That the poor were being evangelized was evidence that God was doing a great thing among them.


If YFC is to fulfill its role as a movement pioneering in reaching unreached youth, we will need to consider afresh the call to reach the poor youth of the world. Statistics may reveal that we are not doing this with much success; that, like many other evangelical groups, we may be best at reaching middle-class people.

But signs of change are being evidenced. That the YFCI Strategy Task Force has identified this area as one of four areas needing special emphasis is a good sign. The Asia Pacific Area conducted a New Wineskins consultation this year in partnership with World Vision International specifically to study this issue. Many national programmes have been talking about new strides into poor communities in recent years and some have made significant progress in this direction. Sri Lanka YFC moved into this area in the mid-seventies, and now the the vast majority of those we minister among are poor.


Like any contextualized ministry, ministry among the poor makes serious demands on us to adjust in order to be appropriate to the culture. But it is impossible to present a model of an ideal ministry among the poor, as the poor in different areas differ vastly. We have found that, within the same city in Sri Lanka, the culture of poor youth in different areas may differ vastly in certain features, such as musical taste.

In this paper I hope to present some principles which may work in many areas, and also share some convictions that have grown out of our experience. Some lessons we have learned may not exactly fit into all cultures, but they will give the reader useful hints contextualizing for ministry among the poor.

an international strategy?

This paper will not present a strategy that is acceptable worldwide. I must confess that I am skeptical about such strategies.

In the past twenty years or so, we have seen many international organizations develop international strategies of ministry. These strategies have attracted the financial support of pragmatic business-people. Much money is raised, huge world-wide programmes are launched, and impressive statistics are presented of the their success. The programmes are carried out by obedient, but unmotivated, nationals who are duty-bound to carry out the wishes of those who pay their salaries.

But when the total impact is measured after some time, it is discovered that the impact in terms of transformed lives does not tally with the impressive statistics presented initially. The pragmatic businessmen who have been given these preliminary statistics, are satisfied with the results and are waiting for the next international strategy to support. I believe that one of the greatest scandals of the last two decades is the huge input in terms of financial resources that has been made for projects that have had minimal lasting impact.

I believe that if YFC is going to impact the poor youth of the world it will be done by workers with a passion for the poor who will pay the price of persevering, long-term identification and ministry among the poor. Let them go and identify, and let the YFC community support them. They can get hints from others. But they will have to develop their strategy after they have gone in and learned what methods are most effective with the poor. Often they will learn this by making mistakes. So YFC will have to give them all the support they need in order to help them persevere amidst discouragement. YFC will have to be patient with them if they do not produce quick results. YFC will back them with prayer, funding, personnel, supervision, encouragement and accountability. It would be best not to spend huge sums of money on big projects until we have firmly set our roots in the area and got a sense of what works best there.

So our strategy is to pray for, recruit and train people with a passion for the poor who are accountable to the larger body. This was what Jesus did. He saw the crowds and “had compassion on them …. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field'” (Matt. 9.36-38). He then spent time with the few who joined him and prepared them to reapers of the harvest.4

As we pray we should present the challenge of the poor to our people, as Jesus did with the Great Commission. Those who sense a burden should be challenged to study the topic further. A key to this study would be to learn what the Bible has to say about the poor.5 Then they should learn whatever they could  on the topic through reading, observation and through courses of study. Armed with such knowledge, they should pray, strategize, launch out in ministry and keep adapting the strategy as they encounter new challenges.


Paul’s model of becoming all things to all men in 1 Corinthians 9.19-23 and Jesus’ model of incarnation would require that we too adjust our lifestyles and ministries in order to reach the poor. What adjustments are required are best learned from experience. But they are sometimes not as simple as we think.

One of our first discoveries of the cultural uniqueness of the poor was made about 17 years ago when we started a club to attract the poor in a certain area. A Christian family let us use their nice middle-class home with a hall big enough for meetings. But no one liked to come to that home. The poor did not feel at home in such a place. We found that community halls or cheap temporary sheds were more suitable than houses big enough to have meetings.

We soon found that many games that were popular in our Westernized ministries did not fit in here. In fact in one area the youth told us that they would not come to our meetings if we played those games. The reason for this, we concluded, was that these games were very individualistic in orientation coming from the West where individual initiative is valued highly in comparison with community solidarity. The poor live in small houses where often everyone in the family, and sometimes in the extended family, live in a single room. They do things together, and community-life is strong. They are uncomfortable with individualistic games where one person goes to the centre and makes a fool of himself or herself.

Yet we found that team games are a key to attracting youth from these areas. They love sports. But they don’t have the facilities or suitable playgrounds to play. YFC can arrange sports programmes and make contact with and attract the involvement of poor youth through this means.

The strong community orientation of the poor would also mean that it is not advisable to work exclusively  with the youth. We must involve the whole family in our programmes. Organizing programmes for parents, establishing friendships with the parents and helping solve family crises will become part of the YFC workers responsibilities.

Though family and community have a high place among these people most of the poor communities we work with have shown serious family unhappiness. Alcoholism and sexual immorality are common problems. Many come to our programmes starved of love and therefore looking for attention and concern. Many have alcoholic fathers and mothers who have had to work hard to earn for the family. They have not had the time or the inclination to shower their children with tender loving care.

So in ministry with such people, as in all Christian ministry, love is the greatest aspect of identification. They come to us with deep scars, feeling that they are rejected by their families and by society. They come looking for acceptance. When we shun the conventions passed down by the unjust class system and treat them as equals and as important people, they respond with enthusiasm. Accepting these people as equals would involve going  to their homes and eating with them. Usually they are not immediately eager to take us to their homes, for they are ashamed of the conditions there. But when they realize that we are at home there, it is a great joy to them.

There are many other things that increase the sense that we consider these people as significant. Examples are, remembering things about their families, introducing them to others as our friends and equals, being there at events important to their families such as weddings, funerals and puberty celebrations.

When we get involved with these families, they begin to include us when planning for their important events, and we can use our knowledge to help them. The fact that they know they can depend on us in their times of need is sometimes a nuisance to our highly planned schedules, but it is a key to effective ministry. We will often also be called upon to mediate in family quarrels, to be there and pray when someone is sick and to take the sick person to the doctor. All this is part of the identification process.

Living close to these people and feeling the pain of their struggles, greatly influences our preaching and teaching. We begin to present Christ relevently as the answer to their problems. This often comes out of deep struggle as we ask ourselves, “Does Jesus really have something specific to say to these people?” In our evangelistic camps the session on family has always been a favourite. But we have found that, considering the difficult backgrounds these people come from, we had to increase the comforting aspect of the healing balm of Christ more than the challenge aspect to honour and obey parents. We also began to speak a lot about poverty and our identity as children of God. Our list of sins to condemn, especially in the discipling process, got more defined and specific.

We will soon discover that in every culture there are some things which enhance the sense of inferiority of the poor. In our country speaking in English is one of them, as that is synonymous with upper class values. It is sometimes referred to as wielding the sword. You cut down a person by doing so. Early in our ministry we decided that we will abstain from talking in English when we are among these people. Yet these youth want to learn English, as that is a necessary pre-requisite for advancement in Sri Lankan society. So we sometimes have English classes to meet this need.

These are a few random thoughts on identification. More can be said, theoretically and practically. But I trust these have given an idea of what is involved as we seek to identify with the poor. Other related thoughts will emerge in the sections that follow.


One of the common frustrations of working with the poor is the long time taken for mature Christians and motivated leaders to develop.

A De-motivating Environment

There are some who say that if only the poor work hard enough they would emerge from their situation. They point to a few examples of people who rose above their circumstances and say that others also could do the same. I believe this is unfair because those who succeed out of these backgrounds are exceptional people, and their experience should not be taken as the norm for our expectations from everyone. The poor face many de-motivating factors in the environment in which they live that are difficult to overcome.

  • Some do not receive proper nutrition in infancy, and that affects their intellectual development.6
  • In Buddhist and Hindu societies, the feeling that poverty is the inevitable result of unrighteousness sown in previous lives could cause a passive resignation to ones “fate.” This is possible in Muslim societies too where fate is viewed as the will of God. Because of such views the ambition required for liberation from the trap of poverty is difficult to muster.
  • There is the sense among poor people that others regard them as inferior. This can result in an inferiority complex, which could have dangerous affects on their lives and cause de-motivation.
  • Many of the facilities that should be rightly theirs are not available to them. The quality in their schools is poor. They may not have electricity in their homes, and fuel prices would make the use of good lamps difficult, making it difficult to study.
  • The atmosphere at home is also not conducive to study. Usually there is no one to encourage a young student. Parents often apply pressure on the children to start working so that they could provide for the family’s basic needs. An alcoholic father’s temper tantrums and other conditions of unrest in the home act as barriers to achieving the concentration needed for studying.
  • Models of people who succeeded from similar backgrounds are few.
  • There are many alternate anti-social activities readily available to capture the attention of young persons discouraged about the possibility of making the grade in school.

Such a formidable array of de-motivating factors should have a sobering affect upon anyone hoping develop leadership and responsibility among the poor. They show that we need to be patient. They drive us to seek appropriate ways to help the poor become liberated from these de-motivating factors. We will now consider some of the proven methods of developing motivation among the poor.

The Power of Visionary Leadership

Since receiving independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has had three leaders who have attracted large masses of poor people to follow them in their programmes. The first, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, who was an assassinated head of state, spoke of liberation from the vestiges of Western Imperialism and of opening the door of equal opportunity for all by replacing English with Sinhala as the national language and by abolishing the class system through the redistribution of wealth and land. The second, Ranasinghe Premadasa , who was also an assassinated head of state, initiated massive welfare programmes that aimed at making the “have nots” and “unables” into “haves” and “ables.” By initiating self-help, employment-generating and housing programmes, he won the support of the poor through what his critics called “the politics of expectation”.  A. T. Ariyaratne, started chapters of the Sarvodaya movement in thousands of cities and villages and used foreign aid and local volunteers to initiate socio-economic development projects in these areas.

All three had a definite programme of upliftment which they presented to the masses. All three were inspiring orators. All three presented easily understood visions of liberation. Their success convinced me that visionary leadership is vital for ministry among the poor. The poor have not lost hope completely. And someone who can identify with them and give them a hope they can understand could capture their attention and their allegiance.

Many have done this in Christian circles too. Perhaps this is why prosperity preaching is so popular among the poor. I do not think it is biblical. But it has appealed to the hopes of poor people. On the other hand those who approach the problem of poverty from an intellectual stance have rarely won the hearts of the poor. They have mainly attracted educated people.

The three Sri Lankan leaders I mentioned earlier came from very different backgrounds. Mr. Bandaranaike came from an aristocratic Westernized family, as his names Solomon West Ridgeway Dias suggest, and had a brilliant career at Oxford University. Mr. Premadasa came from a very poor family and had minimal formal education. Mr. Ariyaratne hails from a middle class family, and is a teacher by profession. But they had in common the fact that they spoke in language that was attractive to the poor. Their speeches were not intellectual treatises but practical appeals delivered in impassioned, flowery Sinhala using the idiom of the masses.

If we want to appeal to the poor, we will need to work at our styles of speaking. The year after I returned from my Seminary studies abroad, we had a General Election. I went with my colleagues to many political rallies to learn how to speak from people who were acknowledged Sinhala orators.

So we will need to pray to God to give us a vision of what he can do through us in the lives of the poor, and we need to involve them in tangible programmes that are derived from that vision.

Jesus is the supreme example of the visionary leader. Whenever he called people, he called them to himself and to his programme of upliftment. He asked the weary to come to him and find rest (Matt. 11.28), the thirsty to drink so that “streams of living water will flow from within” them (John 7.37-38). He asked people to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow him, and by losing their lives in this way to find it and also inherit an eternal reward (Mark 8.34-38). He said that following him they would become fishers of men (Matt. 4.19). He challenged them to be the salt and the light of the world (Matt. 5.13-17). This is visionary leadership.

He also fed people, but he never appealed to or encouraged the welfare mentality, though that would have won him many followers. After he fed the 5000, the people tried to make him king by force, but he withdrew from them (John  6.15). The next day he rebuked them for following him only because he had fed them and urged them to believe in him because he was the bread of life (John 6.26-36). Ironically they were willing to make him king, but they were not willing to believe in him. In fact  many stopped following him after that discourse (John 6.60).

So while we must give visionary leadership we must ensure that our vision is a biblical one. Many evangelicals working with the poor today are adopting methods that pander to the welfare mentality. They major on hand-outs that increase the sense of subordination and dependence among the people.

The power of Spiritual Parenthood

Another aspect of Christian leadership among the poor is the call to be parents to these people who lack good models of parenthood.  Paul called the former slave Onesimus, “my son” (Phlm 10). Just like the Holy Spirit comes alongside the believer as the paraclete, we are also called to come alongside them and help them emerge as whole persons. Spiritual parenthood, not only provides a good model, and an encouragement to grow to wholeness, it also helps develop Christian identity among the poor. They may be tempted to think that they are not equal members of the body of Christ along with the more affluent people. But the fact that one of the key members is their parent helps seal their identity in the body.

I have seen spiritual parenthood abused by insecure people who have found too much ego-gratification from helping those they lead. They have taken the poor along with them sometimes to paths of unrighteousness, and the children have continued to be faithful to their parent because he or she had done so much for them. This is the way many cultic sects have developed. Yet this misuse should not discourage us from the biblical principle of spiritual parenthood.

Develop a Sense of Ownership of the Programme 

Developing of a sense of ownership in the programme is another key to developing motivation among the poor. The biblical method of doing this is to foster true Christian community. That’s how Jesus related to his disciples, and that’s the model they adopted in the church described in the book of Acts.

Trusting the Poor:  For people to be fully part of a community, they must sense that they are trusted and accepted. But many working among the poor find it difficult to trust them. Given their background and lack of self-respect the lack of integrity is a huge problem. I am convinced that the key to rooting out this problem is biblical community life.7 In a biblical community people get close to each other through accountability. There it is difficult for dishonest persons to survive. They will either change or leave. Or, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), they will be disciplined by the Spirit through the confrontational probing of the leaders. We have seen all these things happen in our ministry.

With the security of close community-life the leader is emboldened to trust the people he or she works with. This is a big risk, and many times the leader is going to be disappointed. But without being trusted the poor persons will not accept that they are really a part of the community. My colleague Adrian de Visser says, “Believing the poor is the biggest sense of ownership we can give them.” Of course, we must be careful and not foolishly place temptations to dishonesty in areas where people are vulnerable. We need to strike a balance between care and risky trust.

Sharing of Heart and Possessions: A great aid to biblical community is the practice of sharing of heart and possessions described in Acts (2.44-45; 4.32-35).8 This would necessitate a simple life-style on the part of the leaders. Those who live a relatively extravagant life will find it difficult to be truly one with the poor.

  • They will have to hide certain aspects of their financial life and thus not be truly one.
  • The poor members will be tempted to be dishonest with organizational funds as they will resent the huge difference between their life-style and the leaders’ life-style.
  • They will not be motivated to sacrificially contribute financially to the movement when they realize that their money goes to support the extravagant life-style of the leaders.
  • When they get an opportunity for financial betterment outside the organization, usually through another job or through a foreign donor, they will leave.

I have seen these four things happen frequently in ministries where there is a huge disparity in the incomes of the leaders and the members. I have heard missionaries say that it was impossible for them to trust the locals. They do not realize that their lifestyle may have encouraged dishonesty. In fact often people of integrity shy away from associating with such people. Those who come are those who hope that something of the wealth of the missionary will come to them also.

Opening our homes to them:  Opening our homes to the poor is an important aspect of our sharing with them. One of the first converts to Christianity from the supposedly lowest caste in Sri Lanka was the son of a chieftain. He once told me, “Our people will come to Christ, but don’t expect them to come to the church.” When I asked him why he said that, he answered, “When we come to your church buildings you will welcome us warmly, but if we come to a Christian home, they get us to enter from the back door, and give us food from different plates to the ones they use.” I bowed my head in shame.

Over the years we have had desperately poor people contacted through our village ministry come and live in our home for a few days at a time. Most often they had come to Colombo for medical treatment. This has not been an entirely comfortable experience for us because we are used to more privacy than them and they are not generally used to using our type of toilets. But our joy has been much greater than the inconvenience, especially when we see that some of the non-Christians who stayed in our home are now Christians. We did not directly lead them to Christ. But the welcome they had in the Christian home may have helped in their spiritual awakening.

Contributing to the Programme:  In developing this sense of ownership it is important for the members to contribute to the programme financially and with their ideas. We should not only present our pre-planned programmes but also let them show us the best way to do ministry. We have been thrilled by innovations that have enriched our programme through the contributions of the poor. We must also look for ways in which they can use their talents in the ministry. If the programme takes an intellectual form it might increase the sense of inferiority among those with minimal education. But these people could excel through their contributions in drama and activities like handwork and construction where manual skills are required.

Ministry Styles:  We also need to develop styles of ministry which challenge the poor, without giving them the impression that they are culturally alien. People may flock to some programmes in large numbers to satisfy their curiosity, but leave convinced that they do not want to have anything to do with the people who organized the programme. The programme was too foreign for their tastes. This principle applies for evangelistism, training and worship.

I find that in Sri Lanka Christian leaders from poorer backgrounds thoroughly enjoy training programmes organized in top hotels where the daily fee is close to their monthly salary. They return from these conferences grateful for the physical and intellectual refreshment they received. But they will not sense that it was “their” programme. Conferences held in very uncomfortable settings similar to what they have at home have, however, fostered a sense of ownership. This is specially true when the organizers and speakers lived with them at the conference site without traveling daily from nearby hotels.

There is an urgent need to develop styles of ministry which are simple but excellent, models that represent the simple beauty which is the great treasure of the poor. Simple but badly planned programmes do not help to develop the motivation to do things well for the glory of God.

Effective models, discovered in the grass-roots, must be circulated far and wide. Alas it is mainly in affluent societies that people can afford the luxury of separating time to write down the things they have found out. The rest of the world is unable to benefit from the discoveries of the poor. It is the affluent who generally write and influence the thinking of the church worldwide, including the church among the poor. This is a plea for the poor to write, and for communities to encourage the creative among them to write. Often people who are burdened to write leave the community and go to affluent places that offer attractive packages to help fulfill their dreams. But the most penetrative theologizing comes from the grass-roots, not from the well-stocked libraries of  theological and research institutes.

Liberation from the Bondage of Poverty

One of our great aims in ministry with the poor is to help liberate them from the bondage to poverty. This is a mentality that looks at life as a sequence of unfortunate circumstances from which there can be no escape. It is an attitude which approaches people with a begging bowl seeking a hand-out. It is a sense of inferiority that makes full participation in the body of Christ and in human society an impossibility. We believe that the guidelines presented in this paper will help effect such a liberation.

When these people find their identity in Christ, their hearts are so full of gratitude that they want to give to the world some of the blessings they received from God. They look back at their past with gratitude. The bondage of the past is not a fact which produces shame and needs to be hidden. Rather, the memory of it is a doorway to gratitude to God for his wonderful liberation. This gives them a passion and a strength to help others to be liberated as they were. So they become active in ministering to other poor people and helping them overcome the handicaps of their background.

There are some people who have overcome the economic aspects of  the bondage of poverty, but have never experienced the freedom of being sons and daughters of the King of kings. They hide their past. They even lie to conceal features about their background of poverty. Such people are never really free. They are looking for identity from the world. And this competitive society, which specializes in alienating people, is not the place to look for identity. Those who look for it here will ever be dissatisfied. For, though many may accept them, some will reject or ignore them. And that one rejection causes them to forget all the acceptance they have received. They become bitter with the society which does not give them their due place. They give all their energies to their insatiable quest for upward mobility. They forget the community that led them to Christ. In fact they soon find that they have no time for Christ either.

These people will not help the poor. They have lost their desire to identify with the poor. Besides they have no spiritual energy to handle the reality of poverty. They are locked into the bondage of upward mobility, destined for perpetual dissatisfaction.

A key stage then in the liberation of formerly poor people is when they can freely talk about their poor background without shame and with gratitude for God’s liberating grace.

One of the things we discovered in the early years of our ministry with the poor was that shortly after their conversion many people expressed anger and often misunderstood the leaders as discriminating against them because of their poverty. We have come to regard this as an inevitable step in their incorporation into the body of Christ. When people who have been treated as inferior realize their dignity in Christ, they may respond to the injustice with much more anger than they did as unbelievers resigned to their fate.  We are grateful that we see this less now. Perhaps it is because they realize that the staff are not guilty of the oppressive attitudes of the rest of society.

Note:  The urgent issue of the complexity of incorporating poor converts into middle-class churches will not be discussed in this paper. Churching of converts from unreached backgrounds is a perennial problem in YFC and, hopefully, one that we have already struggled with.9

socio-economic assistance

No-one doing evangelism with the poor can neglect their socio-economic needs. The Bible has much to say about this in the Old and New Testaments, but it is beyond the scope of this paper and my qualifications to give an authoritative and comprehensive statement on this topic. Here we will confine ourselves to some brief practical observations.

Proverbs 19.17 says, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done”. What expressions should this kindness take? We will consider three stages of socio-economic change that help uplift the poor. They are (1) relief, (2) development and (3) transformation. We will also use the analogy of feeding the hungry to show how these three stages are accomplished.10


We warned about the danger of majoring on handouts and encouraging the growth of the welfare mentality. However the Bible is clear, and common sense agrees, that we cannot ignore urgent needs of food, clothing and housing which must be met for people to barely survive (e.g. Luke 3.11; 2 Cor. 8.13-15; Jas. 2.14-17). We may call this relief. This becomes particularly acute after a natural or a human inspired disaster like a storm or a riot. The poor usually suffer the most owing to poor housing and proximity to conflict.

Jesus exemplified this type of compassionate ministry. In the Gospels the word “compassion” is used in connection with the feeding of the hungry (Matt. 15.32), the healing of the sick (Matt. 14.14; Mark 1.41); the raising of the dead (Luke 7.13) and the teaching of the people (Mark 6.34).

Using the feeding analogy we can compare relief with giving a hungry person fish to eat.

There is a rapid trend among most countries of the world toward economies with a free market orientation. Governments now consider the financial profitability of ventures before launching out. International aid organizations like the World Bank pressurize the governments of poorer nations to scrap “unprofitable” ventures. So less money is being spent on welfare programmes. The church may be called upon to help bridge this gap in relief expenditure. The Old Testament had a complex system of laws which “show a distinct bias to the poor. They make provision for the poor and prevent their exploitation….The poor and weak must be cared for because [the Jews] too were once slaves and oppressed in Egypt and were delivered by Yahweh.”11 If the state does not adequately fulfill this role the church will have to compensate for the lack.

YFC rarely has the funds to initiate relief and development projects. But there are many non-government organizations (NGOs) and government bodies which are looking for trusted groups in touch with the grassroots who can take on projects in keeping with their goals. We can tap the resources of these groups through carefully composed project proposals. Each year about $5 billion (US) is given by NGOs in the industrialized countries in support of programmes to meet basic human needs. This is about the same as that given by governments in industrialized nations for this purpose.12


If we continue with the feeding analogy, development would be equivalent to teaching people to fish and helping them find a place to fish. It is looking for a more permanent solution to the problem of poverty. The first step in this process is studying the causes of poverty in a given are. Each area has different primary causes. They may be moral causes like drunkenness, natural causes like the lack of water, or social causes like the caste system. After finding out the causes for povety we must look for ways to overcome them.

The Place of Education  When I discussed this paper with my colleagues, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many of our centres working among the poor give a high place for educational programmes. That is to be expected. If the poor are to be freed from poverty they must develop new attitudes, and education is one of the best ways to help do that.13

There are special teaching challenges associated with the discipling of the poor.  We must constantly teach on Christian personhood and our identity as children of God. This helps them realize that they should reject the stereotype of inferiority thrust upon them by society. It also tells them of their dignity in Christ which makes it impossible for them to resort to demeaning professions and life-styles like prostitution, alcoholism and spouse and child abuse.

There needs to be education on how to live in society. This would include such issues as the use of money, especially the concept of saving, health education, nutrition and hygiene. To equip them for this our workers are trained regularly in primary health care by medical doctors.

We need to teach people the importance of education and give them educational opportunities. Many of our ministries have tuition classes, which is a standard thing for middle-class and rich children as the instruction in schools is inadequate but which the poor cannot afford. School drop-outs also should be catered for with instruction in basic subjects like reading, writing and arithmetic and also vocational training. We have programmes in sewing for girls and in carpentry, masonry, metalwork and animal husbandry for boys. Poor children are often under pressure to drop out of school from their parents for economic reasons and from themselves because they can’t afford to get clothes, shoes and books. So we have scholarship schemes to give students some of those necessities.

Development Projects  Most poor communities can be blessed by development projects. Employment generation, upliftment of health facilities, improvement of the environment, training in better farming practices are some examples of such projects. We would be wise, of course, to stay clear of  huge projects which could be done by the specialists and which we usually do not have the expertise to handle.

There are many things which the government should do which are not being done in communities because these people are powerless to persuade the corrupt and negligent officials that they are worthy of receiving their rights. The YFC worker can represent these powerless people before the authorities and ensure that they are given their rights. Often they do not know what their rights are. We could study the regulations and inform them of these. We could help them fill out the applications for assistance from the government and accompany them when they go to hand them in.

Sometimes the YFC worker can help bring about change by challenging people in the community to take leadership. Some of our volunteer leaders went to India as refugees as a result of the war in our land. They lived near a very poor and depressed village. They immediately began to witness for Christ in the village. This village was not getting what the government should give them because they were represented by outsiders in the local councils. Our volunteers encouraged the villagers to contest the elections, a thing they had not previously considered because of their supposedly lowly state. A person from the village won a seat in the local council and was able to help the village in a much more fruitful way.

Learning to Trust in God   In our efforts to free the poor from the welfare mentality we will discourage them from depending on us. But learning to depend on God would be one of the most important ways people develop. One of the best ways to help people learn this is to demonstrate the power of prayer. Praying for needs is an important aspect of evangelistic ministry as people are attracted to the message when they see the wonder-working power of God. It is also an important way to teach people to trust in God for great things.


The third stage of the process of helping is called transformation. In our feeding analogy this would involve “the search for ownership of the fishing pond, the distribution system for his products, and even a national structure.”14 Often people are poor because of  what has been called structural evil. There is something wrong with the political and economic system which  needs to be changed. This is called macro change. This is done by representation in the political and official arenas. While YFC staffers may not be called to directly involve themselves in such projects, they could encourage others to be involved.

In this way evangelicals have often been involved in bringing about peaceful social change. The early Methodist movement had many converts from poor backgrounds who talked about the struggles they had in their workplaces. This caused the Methodists to speak out about the way poor labourers were treated. The early Methodist movement has been credited with having a major role to play in the developing of the trade union movement. They are also credited with helping avert a repetition of a bloody revolution like the French revolution. They sought change using Christian methods rather than through violence.

Representing the Poor before the Rich

To ensure that the poor are given justice we may need to represent them before their employers. This becomes embarrassing if the employer is a Christian. But here we work for justice along with harmony in the body of Christ. We must never forget that the employer also may have some things to say which will help understand the issues.

The majority of members in my church are poor converts from Buddhism and Hinduism. It is a Sinhala language congregation and is administered along with an English language congregation that meets in the same building. Some of our members are servants in the homes of members of the English language congregation. Sometimes they complain about their employers. We used to listen only to their side of the story and twice members of our church have helped them find other jobs without discussing it with the employer. After unpleasant subsequent meetings with the employers we have come to realize that this is the wrong procedure.

Our aim is to bring about justice along with harmony. How significant it is that God included in the canon a book written to bring harmony between Philemon and his slave, Onesimus. Paul asked Philemon to accept “him back for good– no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother” (Phlm. 16). That’s how important harmony between the rich and the poor is to God!

An Enemy of Evangelism? 

Is social concern an enemy of evangelism? Many think so. This is because many ministries have neglected evangelism after they took social concern seriously. But this should not be so. One does not have to become disobedient in one area of God’s will in order to be obedient in another.

Yet anyone involved in the battle for obedience to God will know the difficulty of being obedient in all areas of the call of God. Most of us neglect some areas and emphasize others. To do all, which is the heart of YFC’s philosophy of the balanced life, is difficult. In fact for most of us in Christian ministry, the balanced life is our cross. To shun one area is to shun the cross for a life of comparative ease. When we get involved in social projects we can get so engrossed in meeting the many needs there are that we begin to neglect evangelism.

One of the ways I have tried to tackle this problem is to constantly place before our workers the lostness of people without Christ. They would be condemned to an eternal hell unless they are reconciled to God. When that is imprinted in our minds, love would cause us to do all that we can to bring them to the Saviour.

We have also tried to ensure that all our staffers are godly, witnessing and discipling Christians. All Christian ministry, including social action, is done in the Spirit. Only those who are in the Spirit can do such ministry properly. One of the primary qualifications for those who were chosen to wait of tables was that they should be filled with the Spirit (Acts 6.3). Often we hire staff for so-called non-spiritual activities without much regard for their spiritual status. This is destroying many evangelical social service agencies today. This becomes a particular problem when these people need to be promoted after faithful service. They become part of the leadership team and take the movement away from its evangelical foundations.

Often in evangelistic groups doing social work those gifted in evangelism are forced to give much time to manage social projects, which is a task they are not gifted in. They are detracted from their primary call. All Christians should be witnesses. But not all are gifted specially to be evangelists. Those with this gift will have to give some time for social projects, especially if they are leaders, but their energies should not be allowed to get dissipated by making them concentrate on an area of incompetence or of secondary priority in terms of their calling. When the church appointed seven people to oversee the table ministry it was so that the Apostles could be freed to concentrate on their primary call: prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6.4). This was not because one was more important or significant than the other, but because the Apostles needed to concentrate on their call.

I believe that if the above guidelines are followed, and if the leaders are constantly alert and  willing to make mid-course corrections when failures are detected, social concern will be a helpful partner, rather than an enemy, of evangelism.15

Paul, the great exponent of the gospel of grace, the father of evangelical theology, went to Jerusalem and explained his message and ministry to James, Peter and John. Paul says that in response, “They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Gal.2.9-10). They must have feared that emphasis on the gospel of grace might result in the neglect of the poor. But they were wrong. Paul was eager to help the poor.

Yet their fears have not been unfounded. Many evangelicals, who look to Paul as their hero, have dishonoured him by neglecting the poor. May we not be guilty of the same.

Leadership in Youth for Christ

Youth for Christ Sri Lanka Publications Division

Unedited Documents

 Some Issues

Ajith Fernando

The leaders in Youth for Christ asked me to prepare something about the way we appoint leaders and some of our ideas about things like leadership and position in the organisation. Here I hope to present some qualities essential to leadership and also some ways in which we select and pay leaders.


There are essential leadership qualities and practices that are necessary in all Christian groups which emerge from the biblical picture of leadership. We will look at these first. Then we will look at features particularly relevant to the organisational culture of YFC.





Godliness and Maturity. There are three major areas in Paul’s list of qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. First, they must exhibit godly character. Second, they must have a reputation for godliness. And third, they must conduct their family-life in a way that is honouring to God. Also mentioned in this list is that they must not be recent converts. So godliness and maturity are basic qualifications for leadership. However capable a person may be, if he or she does not exhibit the fruit of the Spirit and is not mature, that person cannot be a leader in a Christian group. They can be involved in the ministry of the group, but not in leadership positions. Paul’s list in 1 Timothy 3 shows that not all capable and long-standing members of a group can become leaders.


A problem arises when people, who are senior in the organisation and expect to be promoted, are not promoted because they do not exhibit some character traits which are required of people who lead a wide group of believers. These are not issues that warrant dismissal from the organisation. They may work hard and therefore they can stay within the organisation, but because of their character flaws they must not be in a position of leadership of a large group.


Paul told Timothy that the way to overcome criticism of his leadership was to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Without going on a frantic programme to clear our name and assert our authority, if we concentrate on being godly and doing what is right, sincere people will change their mind about us and come alongside us to support us in our leadership. There are some who will support their leader because they are afraid that they would be punished if they don’t. We don’t want such people in YFC. We want godly people who will be happy to work with leaders who are striving with all their heart to be godly.


Masters at Crucify Self. Crucifying self is a basic aspect of the normal Christian life (Gal. 2:19-20; Rom. 12:1-2). If so, leaders must excel in this. A leader’s primary task is to help Christians to follow God in doing his will for their lives. As our will often clashes with God’s will, we need to have good practice in crucifying self so that God’s will is done in our lives.


Paul often needed to keep changing his personal plans because of the greater plan of God. It is not wrong to plan and have ambitions. But all those plans are surrendered to God through a crucified will so that only his will is done. This was especially true of Paul’s deep desire to visit Rome. After many delays God finally took him along a path that led to Rome. But that included what looked like a foolish trip to Jerusalem, an imprisonment of several years and a shipwreck. Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”


During my time in YFC I have had to constantly change my plans and take on assignments that seemed to go against my personal ambitions. But I have accepted those out of the knowledge that God has called me to YFC and therefore what the body thinks is best for YFC should be the best for me too, even though I may not see that at first. I have not liked doing some of these things. But in the end I have found that they have helped me personally to be a more effective servant of Christ.


Crucifying self needs to takes place when the body thinks that someone else should do what we want to do. We may think that we are the best person for a promotion or to take on some responsibility. If the body thinks otherwise, a good leader—after his or her natural initial disappointment—submits to the will of the others believing that, even though the decision was a mistake, the sovereign God will work it for good. That is part of what it means to submit to a body. They reason that now that the decision has been made and nothing can be done to change it they will accept it without bitterness and move on believing that God can salvage situations spoiled by wrong decisions. Such leaders do not have the bitterness which destroys fellowship and makes the model of body leadership we are advocating impossible to practice.


If leaders are angry about decisions which seem to eliminate them, the other leadership must talk to them and seek a resolution. If their anger continues, having sincere fellowship through which the body moves forward becomes impossible. At such times Christian groups are often forced to adopt an unbiblical model in order to survive. I have tried to go into earnest prayer to overcome such problems. But we have had situations where people not in tune with the body remain in the group and hinder spiritual leadership for long periods of time. Sometimes in YFC such dry times have gone on for too long because we leaders do not spend enough time talking to the angry persons. I have often failed in this regard.


Faithfulness. Faithfulness can be defined in different ways. Here I am using the word in the way Paul used it in 1 Corinthians 4:2: “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” Here the trustworthiness primarily refers to the communication of “the mysteries of God” (4:1). That is an important aspect of leadership. We must faithfully give the message to people not avoiding the unpleasant truths. Another similar statement is found in 1 Timothy 1:12: “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.” God knew that Paul would do the work he is asked to do.


Both these statements refer to faithfulness in being a steward of the gospel. But the idea can be extended to other aspects of ministry also. This was the quality of Moses about whom God said, “He is faithful in all my house” (Num. 12:7). Jesus talked about “the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time (Matt. 24:45). This is not what we call “spiritual” service. He was doing the job entrusted to him. Jesus went on to say that when the master comes back, if the person is not doing that, he will be punished. Paul admonishes:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free (Eph. 6:5-8).


Paul is talking here about unexciting things that a slave does. But if doing those things is a slave’s responsibility a Christian slave will do them well. Faithful people do whatever job that they have been entrusted with doing. When you ask some people to do something you can be sure that it is done. There are some others about whom you cannot be sure like that. Those are unfaithful people. When faithful people are given an assignment they do it overcoming the obstacles they encounter along the way (unless the obstacles are absolutely impossible to overcome). They don’t come back and give all sorts of excuses as to why they could not do the job. The jobs may not be in the area of their primary gifting, but they are necessary for the group to move forward.


As a leader of an organisation that depends on donations, I have to write a lot of letters. I would much rather study or prepare talks than write letters. Actually most of what I do in YFC does not come within my primary gifts. But I must do these things because they are required of a leader. If I do not do those things I must be removed from my job. (Of course, in areas of incompetence we will ask others to fill in for us).


When the letters I write are ready for posting those who mail them must do so on time. Their heart may be in preaching. But if they do not faithfully mail those letters on time they disqualify themselves from the work of preaching. Sometimes we find that our administrative staff who serve as volunteers in the grassroots ministry neglect an administrative responsibility because of ministry challenges. They are not faithful people. And such people should not be made ministry leaders because they have developed the habit of not doing their duty.


There are many such aspects in YFC’s ministry which are not prominent assignments but which are vital and so must be entrusted to faithful people. Here are some:

  • maintaining equipment in good shape so that those who take it for programmes always can be sure that the equipment is usable and of the best quality;
  • reminding people of meetings on time;
  • being there on time for our meetings;
  • care with the use of YFC’s equipment;
  • scrupulous use of funds in the most honest way;
  • learning a skill that is required for doing the job properly such as typing, computer skills, language skills and driving.

If a person is found lacking in these areas, that person is not a faithful person and therefore should not be made a leader, even though they may have good ministry gifts.


We have found a problem with some people who have come into YFC staff without any working experience in the “secular” world. Because of culture of patience and forgiveness that prevails in YFC they sometimes get away without doing their job properly. When they are entrusted with a task and they don’t do it because of some obstacles, they give excuses. In many successful secular establishments they would lose their jobs or suffer some serious setbacks in their career if they don’t do such things. For this reason we find that it may be helpful for staff to get bashed around in a secular job for a time before they come to serve full-time in YFC so that they can be tough and conscientious for the ministry job. YFC ministry jobs do not have so many tangible measures that indicate whether they are doing their job properly or not. Sadly, it is easy for lazy people to survive in ministry!


If leaders don’t faithfully fulfil their responsibilities, the others in the group lose their motivation. And soon motivated and capable volunteers will leave. Our experience in YFC is that leaders who don’t work hard, usually can’t develop a team of capable and mature volunteers.


It is an established fact that leaders are usually tired people. The reason for this is that because they are in a leadership position there are a lot of things they need to do to keep the movement healthy, which they cannot delegate to others. They cannot say they are tired and ignore the responsibility when there is an emergency. Yet they cannot neglect their families and their prayer and study life either. Doing all of this results in tiredness. But if good times with the Lord and his Word are included in their schedules, then they will remain spiritually fresh and emotionally at ease in the midst of their tiredness.


Of course, leaders must not do things that others can do. Delegation is an important aspect of leadership. For example, we don’t need to personally care for everyone in our group. As leaders, we must ensure that all are cared for. Others may care for many in the group. Delegating responsibility is also an aspect of faithfulness.


As I get older I am finding it more and more difficult to remember the things I need to do. I know that soon that will become such a problem that I will need to retire from executive responsibilities. I have tried to solve this by doing something I am reminded about the moment I am reminded about it. This is because I know that if I postpone it the job may never get done. This results in a somewhat chaotic life, but hopefully I would have done the job entrusted to me. If I cannot do something immediately I must ensure that I am reminded to fulfil this responsibility. This may be done through a notation in my diary or by asking someone to remind me.


However hard I try, I find that I often fall short of my responsibilities. Then I must admit to my failure and apologise to the people I lead. The temptation is to ignore the issue. Even though we ignore it, the people we lead won’t forget. Then they are going to be upset both by our failure to fulfil our job and by our refusal to accept responsibility that failure. The result is that we lose our credibility. One of the most important results of apologising for the failure to fulfil a responsibility is that our people lose their anger against us and thus remain motivated.


Appreciation. From Paul’s letters we see that thanksgiving is the first thought that comes to his mind when he thinks of the people he leads. So thanksgiving for his readers is mentioned in eight of his thirteen Epistles. In other words, leaders admire the people they lead. They are the leaders’ heroes. They have learned the discipline of appreciating them. Yes, it is a discipline that must be learned. Paul instructs: “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). Elsewhere he says, “outdo one another in showing honour” (Rom. 12:10). If leaders find it difficult to admire the persons they lead, they should earnestly pray that God would show them things to admire in those persons.


Of course, we are not talking about flattery and telling untrue things about people. We must look for real things that we can appreciate in the people we lead.


People are so insecure because they have faced rejection from all over in our competitive society. They are bombarded with the message that they are not good enough or not truly significant in society. Therefore they would be suspicious of leaders and cautious about following them with all their heart. They fear that the leaders will also hurt them like the others. But if they find that their leaders truly appreciate them, then they would lose that fear and want to work with these persons who recognise their worth.


Sometimes we do not personally like the people we are asked to lead; and they too may not like us. But through earnest prayer and the hard work of being a servant to them, that attitude can be overcome. We know that the love of Christ and those great truths and spiritual realities which unite us (See Eph. 4:1-6) are greater than our personal prejudices. We know that God wishes our relationships to be loving and to be a reflection of unity of the body of Christ. If he wishes that, then he can help us achieve it. So we can persevere in hope until attitudes change. I have seen this happen several times in my life.


Capable of Enabling and Fostering Unity. Leaders consider it their privilege to help those they lead to achieve their fullest under God. In YFC two of the greatest roles of leaders are to enable others to minister effectively and to help the team to be united as Ephesians 4:7-13 shows. Here Paul says that those with public gifts use their gifts “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (4:12). So a leader has to be one who is capable of encouraging others to do great things for God and of fostering unity in the body.


Some leaders specialise in getting programmes going and consider those they lead primarily as persons who are going to help fulfil those programmes. Their interest is not so much on the personal development of the people they lead. In biblical community life God’s best for the programme dovetails with God’s best for the individual. So when leaders desire the best for someone they are also, at the same time, desiring the best for the programme. Such leaders have a dual ambition—(1) to enable their people to become great and (2) to have great programmes for the honour of Christ.


  • The perspective of some people is so negative that they discourage people who aspire to do great things for God. Biblical leaders desire greatness for their people.
  • There are some unhappy Christians who are known as people who sow seeds of discord in the body. They always speak ill of others. They go to a person in the group and say something like, “Do you know what he told about you?” Such people must not be appointed to leadership.
  • Some take sides when there is disunity and even pit one side against another. Some side with those who are known to like them. Christian leaders find such behaviour below their dignity. They never encourage disharmony. They work to bring different factions to a place of unity, and in doing so they give equal regard and respect to those who like them and those who dislike them. Of course, sometimes leaders have to take sides in a conflict. But this is not a political taking of sides. They side with the right solution to the problem.


Visionary. The best way to encourage people to do great things through our groups is to constantly place before them the great vision that drives the movement. Jesus did this with the Great Commission. We have seven statements of the Great Commission in the New Testament. Matthew Mark and Luke (;;) have it once. John and Acts have it twice. There is great variety in the way he gives it, with each version focussing on different aspects of it. There is some repetition, but each time new features are added to the Great Commission.

  • Matthew’s version focuses on the authority to go, on the nature of discipling that has to be done and on the presence of Christ with those who go (Matt. 28:18-20).
  • Mark has a very general statement to preach to all creation. But it also includes a statement on the consequences of accepting or rejecting the message and a statement on the signs that accompany the ministry of the gospel (Mark 16:15-18).
  • Luke describes the message they are to preach, it’s scriptural base and the need for the Holy Spirit to do this work (Luke24:45-49).
  • Both of John’s statements present Jesus as the model for our work (John 17:14-18; 20:21).
  • Acts 1:8 talks about the role of the Holy Spirit and the geographical extent of our task.
  • Acts 10:42 talks about the message of judgement.


Like Jesus leaders must be passionate about the call God has given to the group. If they lack that passion they should either plead with God to give it to them or they should leave the leadership responsibility. A good leader keeps reminding the team about the great task before the people and lets them see everything they do as part of this grand vision.


The vision of a group may not originate from within the leader. Sometimes those we lead are more creative and forward-looking than us. This will be particularly true in a youth organisation like YFC. The vision may come from another, but we leaders must make it our own and those we lead must sense our passion for it. Passion comes from the Latin word passio meaning to suffer. Our people must know that we are willing to die for the vision that God has given us as a movement.


Teaching. The best way to impart a vision to Christians is to give it from the Scriptures. Then they will commit themselves to it not just because it is the way the organisation has decided to go but because they are convinced that it is a reflection of the mind of God. Luke’s version of the Great Commission is prefaced with the words: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). An understanding of the Scriptures was a key aspect of the way Christ motivated his disciples to service. Motivating younger people to serve is a key aspect of YFC’s organisational culture. If biblical motivation is a powerful means of doing so YFC leaders must become skilled teachers of the Word.


Teaching the Bible then is a key to leadership. In Ephesians 4:13 the unity that is forged through the ministry of enabling is “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” For such unity teaching the Word is a key. This is unity in truth and unity of the Spirit as Ephesians 4:1-16 demonstrate. In groups like YFC there is a tendency to forge unity based primarily on the programme. Volunteers and staff experience unity through commitment to the job they have been called to do. But such unity is too shallow to stand the test of time and problems. We must forge unity through the Spirit and truth. Worship, teaching, prayer and sharing are vital for forging such unity.


There is only one ability-related qualification in the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. That is the ability to teach (3:2). A leader’s job is to help people to go along the path of God. That way is described to us is in the Word. Therefore a leader must be a person of the Word. Even though a person may be a capable organiser and motivator, if that person is not known to be a person of the Word we must not put that person into a significant position of leading others in the body.


Therefore study time should be included in the weekly schedule of a YFC ministry staff worker. Study is something that YFC workers do as part of their job. They must give high quality teaching to those whom they lead, as teaching is part of our strategy of building leaders. For that you have to study. Often YFC volunteers and younger staff get tired of dynamic leaders who have great ministry plans but nothing fresh to say. In a ministry where enabling younger volunteers and staff is so important, poor quality teaching is a huge shortcoming. This is one reason why many YFC leaders feel unwelcome in YFC by the younger staff when they are about 45 years old. This is the time when the function of enabling youth workers should become more prominent in their ministry. But they have nothing fresh to say.


In a ministry like YFC one can survive on sheer hard work and a busy schedule for a long time. But a sad feature of the history of YFC worldwide is the number of key workers who suffered burnout when they reached middle age. Not only do others get tired of us, we ourselves get tired of the work. Constant refreshment through study of the Word is one the best preventatives to burn out. And leaders who give time to teaching will be forced to study the Word.


Discipling. The particular way we foster leaders in YFC is called discipling. While not all organisations and churches use this term, all biblical Christians should be committed to nurturing people as described below. This means that a leader takes the responsibility to nurture and minister those they lead. They will do all they can to help the person to become great.


As discipling is a key aspect of our ethos, all leaders in YFC whether they be administrative of grassroots ministry staff need to demonstrate the ability to care for a few people in a relationship of spiritual parenthood.


Sometimes these people will end up becoming more prominent than the leaders who nurtured them. Then we have achieved success as leaders even though we may lose some of our prominence because they have overtaken us. This happened with Barnabas whose disciple Paul became more prominent than him (see Acts 13-14). But that is not a problem because we have helped the kingdom of God to grow and the movement to advance. Our commitment as leaders is not to our status but to seeing the glory of God exhibited through the group we serve.


Sometimes in YFC the personal discipling of an individual is done by someone other than the leader. For example, it would be best for men to disciple men and women to disciple women. If a person’s supervisor is not of the same sex, then ministry things would be dealt with by the supervisor and intimate personal things by the discipler who is of the same sex. This is not easy to carry out, and there should be some good understanding between the discipler and the supervisor about the procedures involved. This is why it is so important to have mature women on YFC staff. This is an area where we are weak.


Ideally a full-time worker cannot usually disciple more than ten to twelve people at a time. But we cannot make a hard and fast rule about this. Therefore some in the group will be discipled by others—ideally by people who are within the group. Though there is no personal discipling of everyone, the leader’s ambition is for the welfare of the people he or she leads.


The heart of a discipler is described in Paul’s statement: “…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Gal. 4:19). We are passionate about our vision and about our programme. But we are also passionate about the people who carry out that vision and programme.


Ideally supervisors must disciple those they lead in some way. Every division must have some pastoral care for all the people in the division. Sometimes, the primary discipling of the person may be by someone outside the division. But there should be some forum for their to share their personal needs with their close colleagues. Ideally, each division should meet regularly with their leader for sharing, testifying and praying.


As discipling is one of the hallmarks of YFC, those who do not disciple people personally should not be in leadership positions in YFC. The way some leaders disciple may be different to the typical way we disciple youth. But they need to be people who take the personal responsibility to care for the welfare of other Christians. As our leadership team is a spiritual eldership, those who become part of it should be people who disciple others.


We must ensure that all our full-time staff are discipled. However, the way senior leaders are discipled may be different to the way others are. In their lives discipling may take place through involvement in an accountability group where the members disciple each other.



Prayer. Along with the ministry of the Word, Acts 6:1- 4 presents prayer as the other primary work of a leader. Leaders pray for the people they lead and for the progress of the group they lead. Paul mentions praying for his recipients in ten of his thirteen letters. He says he prays “constantly… night and day” for his spiritual child Timothy (2 Tim. 1:3). Samuel told the people of Israel: “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way” (1 Sam. 12:23). For Samuel as the leader of the Israelites prayer and teaching were primary roles.


One who is not a man or woman of prayer cannot be a leader in YFC. This would mean that those who do not have a consistent devotional life disqualify themselves from leadership. My suggestion to such is that they take a leave of absence from leadership until they can get their devotional life straightened out.


Prayer is an absolute essential for the life of every Christian. Therefore it should be something that could be restored in every Christian’s life. This is why I recommend that leaders without a consistent devotional life take leave without resigning from leadership. They can come back to leadership after their devotional life is restored. If there is no improvement here, then the person should give up leadership as it is indicative of a serious spiritual problem which disqualifies the person from leadership.


Spiritual Accountability. It is very easy for leaders to drift into spiritual lethargy and, for example, have no consistent prayer life. One of the best ways for the movement to know about such matters in the lives of its leaders and also to prevent such lethargy is spiritual accountability—leaders being accountable to other leaders within the movement.


It takes time to develop relationships of trust which makes accountability possible. This is something that cannot be engineered. It is achieved through unhurried informal times spent developing the friendship between members of the group. We have found in YFC that even though the junior people have accountability partners from among themselves, the senior leader is not accountable to anyone. This is not healthy. We must ensure that each leader is accountable to somebody.


In 1 John 1:7 a key to having fellowship with one another is walking in the light. The context shows that walking in the light here means being truthful about our failures. Applied to leaders that would mean a leader should know about the failures of those that he or she leads. The problem with this is that by being truthful to our leaders about our weaknesses we may lose our chances of being promoted within the movement! The leaders know that we have certain weaknesses because we have shared that with them! So by sharing our weaknesses we deprive ourselves of a promotion.


Because of the above scenario some Christian workers do not share their weaknesses with their leaders. If at all, they may share it with those who are not directly linked to them in a supervisory role. Then we have a situation where people who were appointed to leadership would not have been appointed if the key leadership responsible for the appointment had known the real condition of their souls. By permitting this to happen the new leader is becoming liable to the severe judgment that awaits leaders who do not practice what they preach (Jas. 3:1).


This practice of coming to leadership by hiding the truth about ourselves is a very dangerous thing. It shows that we are more interested in our glory than the glory of God. We must work with desperate urgency to restore spiritual accountability in the church so that this does not happen. That way we can save people from being liable to the severe judgment that awaits who do not live a life required of their position in the church. We can also save the church from a cancer which can ruin it—hypocritical leaders.


Spiritual accountability is not easy to forge in a “shame culture” like ours. Therefore sometimes people who are guilty serious sins at home may become leaders in YFC because they can fit in well with the YFC agenda. For example, people who lie habitually at home or who are very inconsistent in their devotional life may seem to be very godly people because of his or her behaviour within YFC. We need to be aware of this problem and be very careful to foster honest openness within our accountability relationships.


Faith. Christian leadership differs from all other forms of leadership in that it depends of God’s principles alone for all decision making. The world has recognised and adopted some of these principles. But there are many biblical principles which do not go with the accepted way of doing things in the world. For example, the Bible says that those who represent Christ in public must have personal lives that reflect Christ’s character. In the world we do not place that much emphasis on personal life unless that directly affects the way people do their work.

  • A brilliant motivator is a nationally esteemed teacher, has good knowledge of the Bible, and is able to perform the functions of a leader. The only problem is that he does not have a regular devotional time with God. That person cannot be made a leader in YFC. It takes faith to persevere in not selecting this person especially when there is a shortage of leaders.
  • A wonderful singer who has an outstanding knowledge of music and has all the external qualifications for being a worship leader is unkind to his wife. Then he cannot be used as a worship leader until that area of his life is straightened out. It takes faith to see quality of the worship service greatly lowered by giving a much less gifted person to lead worship.
  • A piece of equipment is stuck at the port and needs to be cleared immediately as it is essential for a massive programme to take place the next day. If a small bribe is given it could be cleared immediately. If not, it may be held back in the port for weeks. It takes faith to trust God to look after us even if the programme is going to be much poorer without that piece of equipment.
  • Withholding some essential information or a slight doctoring of the facts could result in us getting a large donation. But the failure to do that would be deceptive. It takes faith to decide to forego that money at a time of great financial strain because it goes against our principles.
  • It takes faith to decide to give what we promised to give for a mission project at a time of great financial strain within the movement.


All these cases are illustrations of the principle Jesus gave in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” We believe that, though we forego things because of righteousness, God will give all us that we need. Or as Hudson Taylor put it: “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.” We can meet our needs by compromising our principles. But then the work will be our work. The impressive results will not stand the test of time, and we will not have the joy of being carried along by the Spirit in our work.


  • Our team is debating the wisdom of a new project. There is much disagreement. It takes faith to persevere in prayer and discussion until there is agreement in the body.
  • Once the project is started it encounters many obstacles. But, because we started the project with the assurance that it is God’s will, we will persevere and not give up in the face of huge problems. It takes faith to persevere believing that the God who initiated this project will bring it to completion.


My point is that if organisations are to follow the path of radical obedience to God, their leaders must take God at his word and refuse to compromise or give up when the going gets tough. This is why faith is an essential key to Christian leadership.


The Body Decides. Appointing people to leadership is left to the body. Sometimes it comes as a direct word from God as in the calling of Moses, Jeremiah and Paul. Sometimes qualifications for leadership are mentioned and the other leaders decide who meets those qualifications. Then the leaders or the members select new leaders only out of those whom the leaders determine as meeting the criteria for leadership (Acts 1:15-26; 6:1-6; 1 Tim 3:1-13).


Those who disciple prospective leaders are the best ones to inform the body about whether a person is suited for leadership or not. They are the ones who know this person best. External appearances can be deceptive. Of course, we must be aware that subjective factors can colour the thinking of disciplers. Because of their ambition for the person they disciple they may be blind to their faults and recommend the person though he or she is unsuitable for leadership. Sometimes disciplers are threatened by capable young people who may be more capable than them in certain things. This threat could result in them stifling the younger persons in their growth in leadership.


It is not wrong for people to desire to be leaders. But that desire should not come only from an ambition to have a high position. It should come because of an ambition to do much good for the kingdom of God and because the position brings such opportunities for doing good. So Paul says, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1). The sequence in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 shows that while it is acceptable to desire ministry-related things, it is God who decides who gets what. Our primary task is to concentrate on following the “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31), which is the way of love. While we may have ministerial ambitions, we concentrate most on being godly people. We leave it to God to give us the responsibilities we desire.


Because of the above, I am very fearful of the damage that can be done by people who aggressively push for positions of leadership. That way of becoming a leader is totally out of step with biblical Christianity. Sadly this happens all the time in the church, and Christians tolerate it as an inevitable factor of church life. That must stop!



In the section on crucifying the flesh I have talked about what we should do when we think that we are most suited for a role but the body appoints someone else. We crucify the self and do not rest until we can come to a position of thanking God for the situation and participating wholeheartedly in the new structure which overlooked us for leadership.


If we persist in the disappointment and continue with an attitude of anger over it, we would be operating without the fullness of the Spirit. Even if we are doing the right thing we are seriously damaging the group. When we tolerate right things done without the fullness of the Spirit in a Christian group we are opening the door to building a fleshly foundation for the movement. That will ultimately kill the movement.


Sincere Christians will often desire to be given a certain responsibility. But that is because they want to do something good and feel that with God’s help they may be able to do it. It is not because they think they are qualified for the job. All ministry is because of the mercy of God (2 Cor. 4:1). Therefore we are not qualified for anything! Everything we get is a bonus. Our greatest joy is to know that God loves us and wishes to use us. Soon that joy should overcome the disappointment of not getting the responsibility we desired. Even if we think that the body was wrong in its decision, we conclude that, because God permitted it, even the error would result in good to us.


If we do not overcome the battle over anger about being overlooked, it would indicate that we are insecure people finding security from our ministries rather than from God. This, of course, is a very dangerous state to be in. It is dangerous for the person and for the group that the person belongs to. God sometimes allows these disappointments to come to us so that he can purify us of these insecurities and drive us to trust in him alone. The result is that we become more godly. And that is the greatest advancement which one can achieve in life.


I must add that people who are disappointed about not being appointed to positions of leadership and feel unjustly treated, they should ask why they were overlooked. If necessary they should debate with those who overlooked them with a view to coming to a resolution in their mind about it. This better than keeping bitterness in their heart about being overlooked. Such debate can be an expression of commitment to the body. The person says, “I don’t want to have bad feelings towards my leaders. Therefore I will talk this over with them.” Some people will persist with unresolved bad feelings towards their leaders. They are bitter people whose presence ruins the spiritual atmosphere of the group.


When talking like this there are some things we must avoid. If we communicate the idea that if we are not promoted we will leave, then we are proving that we are not suitable for promotion. We must constantly ask God to help us respect our leaders as the Bible asks us to.


We all Fall Short. It must be conceded that every leader will not excel in all the qualities mentioned here. We all have our weaknesses. Good leaders recognise those weaknesses and admit to them in front of the team they lead. Then the team could ensure that the weaknesses are compensated for so that the damage done to the group because of them is minimised.


Usually in our “shame culture” juniors will not tell leaders their faults, even though they may talk about these things among themselves. Yet they appreciate it when the leaders themselves accept these weaknesses and work on ways to minimise the damage because of them.


On rare occasions if the juniors bring up the weaknesses and the leaders reject this, then the damage to the spiritual credibility of the leader is immense. What we are saying is that leaders who do not accept their weaknesses soon lose the respect of their team. Then they will have to use administrative power, rather than spiritual authority, to lead the group.





Please note that I am not saying that this is the only legitimate way to choose, assign tasks to and pay staff. But this is what I believe God has called YFC to do.


Ethos. All leaders in YFC need to agree to our Ethos as a movement whether they are involved in typical grassroots ministry or are in administrative jobs. Their hearts must beat with passion for the things that drive us. If not they will be unhappy in YFC and be the cause of others losing their motivation. So they must committed to

  • Our evangelical statement of faith;
  • Our mission to reach unreached youth with the gospel and disciple them into local churches;
  • Our habit of using whatever works and is biblically permissible, however crazy it may seem, to reach youth;
  • The idea of being a part of an interdenominational group which brings with it various restrictions such as the refusal to insist on doctrines and practices which sincere biblical Christians have not agreed on through the ages;
  • The key practices which form part of our community life such as witness, discipling, spiritual accountability and financial accountability.


Some History. I suppose our organisational culture has been influenced by the way I started off in Youth for Christ thirty years ago. It was my first full-time job. And I came in as National Director to lead a team of experienced staff. We had five on our leadership team—Brian Blacker, Suri Williams, Richard Brohier and Tony Senewiratne. They knew more about youth ministry than me. Three of them were older than me.


I realised that, after being abroad for four and a half years, my first task was to get reacquainted with them and what they are doing. So I did not make any major changes for some time. I just spent time with them getting a sense of their heartbeat and their vision. I soon realised that I was not going to dictate to them what they should do because they had more wisdom about youth ministry than me. I also realised that I was not chosen because I was godlier than them or smarter than them.


Then why did Sam Sherrard choose me? I never asked him. But I guess he sensed that I had the gifts for that particular role. Fortunately for me these four people never questioned by authority and they always treated me with respect. I cannot tell you what a joy it was for me to work with them for so many years. The memory of that still brings warm feelings of joy and gratitude to my heart.


I soon realised that we had to make some directional changes. I was especially concerned with our relationship with local churches. I decided that the way to do this was through teaching the YFC family biblically and convincing the leaders that we need to change some of our attitudes and practices. I think YFC’s attitude to the churches is very different today. But the change came very slowly. It takes time for directional changes to take place when strong leaders think differently. I decided to not to push too hard until they were convinced.


Decision Making. This was a feature of my leadership style that many have been very impatient with. It sometimes takes a long time to make a decision. Let me outline this process.

  • The first thing about our decision making strategy is that our ministry programme must spring from the Bible. We must follow the discipline of inquiring whether what we want to do springs from what is taught in the Word. So the Bible is uppermost. YFC is a theology driven movement.
  • Sometimes change takes place slowly as some people may take time to be convinced about a certain course of action.
  • We will pray a lot until we can be truly convinced that this is what God wants us to do.
  • Our goal is to achieve agreement of vision. The details of how this vision is implemented will vary according to the personality of the leaders implementing it. We major on the direction and let the individuals work out the way they put it into action.
  • Once we have forged a unifying passion about a course of action we can catch up for lost time because everyone is motivated to do their part.
  • Therefore teaching, discussion, prayer and fellowship are keys to the organisational decision making strategy.
  • If there is a person in the decision making team who is not walking in spiritual unity with the others in the group, the whole process breaks down. This is because the method of decision making is spiritual, and without spiritual unity we are spiritually crippled as a group. Then the leader may be forced to take some decisions over which there is no unanimity in the team. Usually after such a decision is taken, a lot of repair work needs to be done.


Differences in Style. We need to leave room for differences in styles of leadership and also to compensate for the weaknesses of leaders. Some leaders adopt a stronger approach to decision making than others. For example, they may give instructions to their people like giving a command. Others may ask something like, “What do you think about doing this task?” In both cases the job gets done. Some leaders develop the vision of the movement primarily by listening to others on the team. Others get bright ideas and call their team to join them in implementing these ideas.


Ultimately the key is the integrity of the leader. If the people see that strong leaders who command their people are persons of integrity who long longing to do God’s will and who sincerely desire the best for the group and the individuals in that group, they will follow them.


Discipling. I also realised that discipling is the key to our movement, and that the result of discipling is that motivated and committed leaders will develop. I have already talked about the importance of discipling to leadership. We invest our lives in our people. Then they know that they belong to us and our commitment to them begets their commitment to YFC. We showed above that leaders must concentrate on ministering to their teams and on keeping them motivated by constantly presenting the grand vision to them. They must challenge them to attempt great things for God.


The task of the leaders of large divisions of our ministry becomes primarily one of caring for the leaders whom they supervise. In the early years I prayed to God to help me develop ambitions for the people I lead. My great ambition in life during those early days was to see Brian, Richard, Tony and Suri achieve their fullest under God. That is still the attitude I try to have to the leaders in YFC.


So pastoral care of leaders and chatting about the vision has become my main strategy of supervision. If we neglect these two things our whole system breaks down. I am not a good detailed supervisor and am not good at pushing people to do things that they are reluctant to do. Because of those weaknesses this strategy did not work too well with unmotivated or lethargic people and with people who do not freely open themselves up to share about their lives. YFC has been hurt by my failures here. We must find ways to get the job done by changing the attitudes of unmotivated people.


The notes from our history will show how the idea of the leader being an enabler became a central feature in YFC’s style of leadership.



Responsibilities according to Gifts and Call. The gifts of people differ, and that must influence the choice of people for leadership positions.


Some people are excellent grassroots workers. That is where their heart is, and to take them away from the grassroots would be a mistake. In YFC in Canada and the USA we have veteran YFC workers who have worked 20 or more years in one town. They refuse to take a supervisory role for a whole region because that would take them out of the grassroots. In secular terms, that means that they are being deprived of a promotion. But in terms of giftedness that means that they are able to concentrate on the work God called them to do.


To promote people who are excellent grassroots workers but not good managers into managerial roles would be a mistake. A person who is not a good fund-raiser should not be put into a position where fund-raising is a major responsibility. Indeed all YFC staff must learn to raise funds as we are a movement that depends on donations. But it is wise not to give poor fund-raisers a supervisory role that requires major fund-raising. For fund raising one has to write letters constantly. All YFC staff must write some letters. But it would be unwise to give people who hate writing letters a job which requires great volumes of letter-writing.


Some people are good at supervising younger volunteers and staff, but they are not good at supervising older senior staff. Some are good at working really hard at the job they are given, but they are not good at supervising anybody else. We often make the mistake of giving such people promotions and putting them in places of incompetence. Then they are not fulfilled; others in the team are frustrated by their performance; and the health of the movement is affected.


Let me just add a caution by saying that all of us have to do things that we are incompetent in. This is part of the frustration that is normal to life on earth (Rom. 8:20). No movement is so well supplied with staff that people work only in areas of competence. But if we are incompetent in our primary areas of responsibility, then we are probably in the wrong place.


The problem is that usually when one is given a job that involves supervising a wider area, that new job is considered to be a promotion. Then one who does not move in that direction would be deemed to have not been promoted. I think the titles given to people in YFC at present enhance this feeling by those who remain in the grassroots that they have not been promoted. For example, the leaders over a work of a smaller scope or lesser responsibility are called co-ordinators. When more responsibility is given they are called directors.


We should create an atmosphere in YFC where those doing the work in which they are gifted over a long period without moving to a wider sphere of influence continue to be happy and fulfilled in the work. That is not difficult to understand. Our great joy is to do the work we are called to do. If God calls us to be directly involved in bringing youth to Christ over a long period of time (rather than in supervising those who are bringing youth to Christ) we should be happy and fulfilled in doing what we are called to do.


I have a friend who was a pastor for thirty years of a small church in a small town in rural Ohio in USA. Because he was in a very small church he did not get a big salary. In fact, during his first few years he worked in a factory because the church could not give him a liveable wage. He had a wife and seven children, so his expenses were high. If he went to a larger church he would have got a higher salary. But he stayed where God had called him to stay, and had a marvellous ministry both in the church and in the small town where he served. In my mind he is a hero.


Leadership and our Salary Structure. Our salary structure in YFC is based primarily on need rather than the position in the organisation. There are small increases according to the position one has. The idea is that we keep the basic fairly close to each other for all grades but give allowances according to the needs of the person. The marriage and children’s allowances are the same for all the staff whatever their position in the organisation.


The people who have responsibilities which require extra expenditure could be given allowances to cover those. National leaders can be given a special hospitality allowance because they have a lot of entertaining to do. In this system people in the so-called lower grades but with several children may get a relatively good salary, while those in the so-called higher grades would get a relatively low salary than we would expect for a person at such a level of leadership.


This kind of system involves a lot of extra work when it comes to calculating the salary. Our children’s allowances vary according to the age of the children as educational expenses in some grades are very high. During times of conflict we give those in war zones an extra allowance because food prices go up. The cost of living keeps rising, so adjustments need to be made for that. Once the special need is no longer there, the allowance can be withdrawn. So when children start earning, the children’s allowance can be taken off.


This calls for hard work by the accounts workers. Yet the fact that we are willing to do this extra work is an indication that an effort is being made to give a fair wage that tries to follow biblical principles of community life.


I know that OMF International, which may be the largest Asian missionary organisation (with over 1000 missionaries), follows an even more complicated system. The workers have to calculate their expenses and their salary is given according to that and is actually called an allowance. Yet this organisation takes pains to look after their people. They give a very high place to healthcare for their staff and such needs. I know that in Cambodia there is a Japanese teacher who is helping to give a Japanese education to (I think) less than five children of Japanese missionaries. That is how much they care for their people.


Staff workers need to be encouraged tell their leaders about their needs and problems. Sometimes those who talk about their needs are at an unfair disadvantage. Therefore leaders must take pains to know about the needs of those who don’t talk. Of course, in helping people we cannot break the administrative principles of the organisation. Therefore YFC cannot look after many needs of our staff workers. But the members of the body may look for other ways outside the official YFC structure to meet those needs.


Some will exploit such care unfairly and try to use the system to the maximum for personal gain. You will always find people like that. But in a movement that practices open Christian accountability you will find that the majority of staff workers are honest people. Generally the result of such care is affection towards to the organisation which is taking pains to ensure that its people are looked after.


One of the saddest things I know about the church in Sri Lanka, especially the Evangelical segment of the church, is that many hardworking pastors are living with severe anger over the fact that they are so poorly paid while other colleagues in ministry are paid comparatively very high salaries. Sometimes I think that it is the restraining hand of the Spirit that has prevented them from starting an ugly revolt against the richer pastors.


Take the situation of a senior person who has a lot of children and whose gift is to be a grassroots person. He has remained in the grassroots for many years in keeping with his call. Say the National Director of this organisation is much younger and is not married. According to the system outlined above the grassroots worker may receive a bigger salary than the National Director. Is that unfair? In the kingdom of heaven greatness is Christ-likeness and faithfulness to the call God has given. It could be that in heaven this grassroots worker will have a greater reward than the National Director. If Christian structures are supposed to mirror the kingdom of heaven on earth shouldn’t our salary payment show that recognition is given to true greatness?


YFC’s structure and practices do not fully represent all that I have outlined above. I hope we can make some changes so that this may happen.


Usually people are promoted to higher paying positions based on their performance. If we do not emphasise position too much in our salary structures, would this result in lazy people getting away with shoddy performance while enjoying all the financial benefits of our system? This has happened in some of the older churches which follow this egalitarian system of remuneration. One way to overcome this is by having regular performance appraisals which do not have too many financial implications but which are a very important part of the spiritual accountability that exists between the staff worker and his or her supervisor. YFC has taken a long time (too long) to introduce this, but we have finally got down to it.


Even if some people exploit the situation unfairly that would be a better situation than not rewarding properly faithful, conscientious and godly people who are not called to lead large groups. Only a serious lapse would cause YFC not to pay faithful people appropriately.


But in the meantime, I pray that all YFC workers would find their joy and fulfilment in knowing that God loves them and has called them for a great work; that they are growing in Christ-likeness; and that they are doing what God calls them to do. If they are satisfied in this they are millionaires even though their salaries may not reflect that status!



Revised December 2006 after input from the leaders at the November leadership team meeting.