Yfc Distinctives and Change
Written at the Methodist Guest House in Batticaloa
22nd to 25th June, 2002
To the Board of YFC
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.
WHY BOARD MEMBERS SHOULD BE FROM THE YFC FAMILY
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.
BUDGETS AND INTUITION.
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.”