I USED TO THINK I WAS A GOOD LEADER
We were pioneering a new YWAM base and it was growing fast. My wife, Marti, had served as Loren’s secretary and had managed the YWAM office in California for a couple of years. As I leaned into her administrative expertise, I thought we were a complete team.
After just two or three years, our staff numbers had grown to more than 50 and we were quickly outgrowing every property we could rent. Then Ken Wright, a prophetic teacher from New Zealand came along with a message that mystified me. He taught on the importance of team leadership. He pointed out that Jesus left a team in place, not just one person. When he ascended into heaven, there was no Director, no CEO, no Pope, no Archbishop. So what was there?
THE FIRST COUNCIL OF JERUSALEM
I looked at Acts 15, one of the passages he was teaching from, and saw how the apostles worked together. That chapter arrested me then and continues to amaze me. Here’s the story.
The fledgling Church was facing a crisis that threatened to tear it apart. There were very influential Jewish leaders who had become part of the early Church in Jerusalem. They insisted that Jesus had come to create converts to Judaism. But Paul and some others were deeply committed to oppose those leaders and their arguments. They believed that, in Jesus, the good news was for everyone and did not require obedience to the Jewish law. This was a very deep, difficult and emotional division. Could salvation be independent of Jewishness?
In the face of this crisis, they somehow knew that they had to get the whole team of leaders together and sort it out. Paul and Barnabas made the long journey from Antioch to Jerusalem so they could meet with the team that Jesus had put together along with others, like themselves, whom the Holy Spirit had added since Jesus had ascended into heaven.
How did they know who was on the team? It must have been by noting the fruit of their ministry, the extent of their influence, and the quality of their lives. So, though Jesus had not personally discipled Barnabas and Paul during his three years of ministry, they were given a place at the table when the team met together.
HOW TO RUN A LEADERSHIP MEETING?
As the debate and drama unfolded, James chaired the meeting, rather than Peter, even though he had a prominent role as the public voice of the apostles in Jerusalem. Peter’s opinion carried a lot of weight but he had gained wisdom when compared to his earlier years. He did not use his influence early in the meeting but stayed silent while both sides of the argument were thoroughly aired. He must have known that it was important that no one should go away thinking the issue was not fairly presented. When he did speak, he reminded them of the history of how God had used him to first bring the gospel to non-Jews. His clear opinion moved the group towards consensus, and then the stories from Paul and Barnabas underscored Peter’s opinion and brought the meeting to a decision.
Finally James summed up what they all felt the Holy Spirit was saying. They had made a very difficult and historic decision—the Good News about Jesus is for the redemption of all peoples and is not about initiating converts into Jewish customs and law. What an outstanding example of wise leadership! And, as you read on, you can see how well they communicated and implemented their decision.
CAN ONE LEADER GROW OTHERS?
This was team leadership working well. As I read it, those many years ago, I couldn’t miss the message. But, at the time, I couldn’t see any other leaders in our growing community. I began to pray that God would send me some leaders, rather than the “immature” people who were already with us.
Eventually, I realized that God was sending me leaders—but they had to grow and learn. I had to give them responsibilities, make room for them and support them. Some years later I understood that I had lost a lot of very good people because I had so little pastoral ability and failed to support people when they needed it. It was also because I was hesitant to give away any real authority.
As the work of YWAM in England grew, I became aware of my many other weaknesses. I was not very good at managing our base. I couldn’t run the training base and pioneer other teams at the same time. Others were better at evangelism than I was and I still was not very pastoral. It became very obvious that our leadership was much stronger when we added people with strengths and gifts that were different than mine.
TEAMS ARE BETTER
Now I know that God has given me the ability to lead a good team, as long as I do so in humility and lean into the strengths of others. I am still convinced that every team needs a person to “take point” in a given situation, but like in Acts 15, a really mature team might have different leaders for different situations.
The tenth value of YWAM says, “YWAM is called to function in teams in all aspects of ministry and leadership. We believe that a combination of complementary gifts, callings, perspectives, ministries and generations working together in unity at all levels of our mission provides wisdom and safety. Seeking God’s will and making decisions in a team context allows accountability and contributes to greater relationship, motivation, responsibility and ownership of the vision.” In the pioneering stages of a team or ministry, it might not be possible to have a leadership team, but any leader should pray and work to form a team as soon as possible.
So, I used to think I was a good leader. But no-one can lead well alone. God made us so that we need others, so that we are incomplete without others to work alongside us. We are a body.
Happy team building!