Youth for Christ Sri Lanka Publications Division
LEADERSHIP IN YOUTH FOR CHRIST
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.
ESSENTIAL QUALITIES AND PRACTICES NEEDED FOR BIBLICAL LEADERSHIP
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.
FEATURES UNIQUE TO Youth for Christ
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.