A few years ago I spoke with a very experienced Christian consultant. When I explained the changes we were beginning to implement, she said it was probably to revolutionary and we were not likely to survive the chaos. We have survived and thrived because it was God’s idea and God’s time. But we are still explaining the implications of moving away from organizational thinking. So, here is another important subject:
Has YWAM done away with Hierarchy?
Is there any real leadership beyond local level in YWAM? I have spoken to quite a few people who have the impression that we have done away with all leadership and accountability beyond the local. What they often say is that “there is no hierarchy in YWAM”, but is it true?
What we have done away with is positions and titles that tend to make hierarchy organisational and often rather ridged. But that does not mean we have done away with hierarchy. In fact, human beings cannot do away with hierarchy. Jesus certainly did not dispense with the idea. You will recall that when a couple of his disciples were arguing who is the greatest, he didn’t say none of you will be greater than the other, he said if you wish to be greatest you must be servant of all. So what does that mean?
It’s about influence
When we think about it, some people have a lot more influence than others. That is hierarchy; we might call it “social capital”. Since there is hierarchy, based upon influence, or social capital, we must ask how the power of that influence can be used so it is not damaging. Again, Jesus made that clear—when it is exercised from a servant-heart, we all welcome it.
The attempts to deny the existence of hierarchy or efforts to do away with it usually come from people who have been hurt by other people with more influence or power than they have, or perhaps they are just envious. But to try to do away with it is to do away with human nature and that can only be done with imposing more power and that is tyranny.
Influence is given, not demanded
Hierarchy exists because we respect and listen to some people more than others. But why is that?
Again, if we stop to think about it, some people have more influence than others, especially in our circles within the body of Christ, because they exhibit Christ-like character; because they are humble and trustworthy; because they demonstrate wisdom and because they have God-given gifts which equip them to lead.
Hierarchy cannot be eradicated
To be very practical, I would guess that everybody in YWAM would tend to pay more attention to Loren Cunningham than anyone else. That is only right. We pay close attention to what he says because of the fruit of his life and because he has consistently been prophetic in his major public statements.
Since hierarchy exists, we have to ask how we can recognize it without it becoming ridged and potentially damaging. The damage often occurs when a title or position extends more power to an individual than they actually have or deserve in the eyes of others. That is exactly what we are trying to avoid.
Keeping it friendly and appropriate
We have done this partly by moving away from organisational titles and positions to eldership (beyond the local level). “Elder” should not designate a position or title; rather it is recognition of social capital as described above. The extent of that social capital will vary from one elder to another. A person who is, in effect, an elder in a team is a person who is more mature than the others and people listen to her or him more readily. But the person who is an Elder in that team is often not an elder in a wider context. So eldership is situational and we should recognize that.
Everybody should acknowledge those people in their lives whom they trust, who have wisdom and authority and to whom they look for counsel. Each of us should also relate to those who can correct us and call us to account if and when needed.
Who are your elders?
So, to summarize: YWAM has not done away with leadership, authority and accountability. Rather, we have turned away from the common tendency to add organizational power via titles and positions. Elders/leaders still exist by virtue of the “social capital” that arises from who they are. We will continue to urge all who lead in YWAM to do so from a servant heart.
We will also urge every YWAMer to submit to God-ordained authority in their lives. We can only live healthy, Christ-centered lives when we have heart connections with many others in the Body of Christ and that includes elders. Each and every person and leadership team should be able to identify their elders.
I hope we agree that servant-hearted hierarchy is a very good thing!