I did this summary to highlight some of the problems of our mission in 1998-99.
The good news is, we took the right fork in the road in 2002-2003, and
we’re headed in the right direction.
Link to full dissertation available here (PDF).
A CRISIS OF LEADERSHIP
This article is a summary of my Ph.D. dissertation:
“Formative Educational Experiences of Experientially-Qualified Leaders”,
copyright 1999 by Thomas A. Bloomer
A crisis of leadership exists in the world. Many agree on the need for
better leaders, and even on what their qualities should be. A recent
development seen in government, the Church, and especially in business,
is that leadership no longer rests on formal qualifications, such as
diplomas or academic degrees. The practitioners have come to agree with
the theorists, that leadership development is not helped by formal
academic study. What counts are results, the bottom line, and people
everywhere want leaders who can produce.
But the question then becomes, how are these leaders developed? If
formal education doesn’t really help, what does? Research has not shown
any direct links in leadership with heredity, social class, or specific
Since YWAM was one of the first missions which has no education
requirement for its leaders, YWAM’s leaders are a good group to study to
answer the question, How do people who are not educated for leadership
come to be leaders? YWAM has been incredibly innovative over its past 40
years, and another question was, do YWAM’s leadership development
practices favor innovation?
All 35 members of YWAM’s Global Leadership Team (GLT) were interviewed
in August-September 1998 using an ethnographic research strategy, and
the answers were systematically analyzed and summarized.
When asked how they themselves because leaders, almost all said that
they became leaders by being put into leadership. They also said that
they were trusted, believed in, encouraged, and released. Other
important factors mentioned were the calling and enabling of God, and
Then other factors were asked about. When prompted, many agreed that
suffering experiences, family, and YWAM community were important to
their leadership preparation. Surprisingly unimportant to most were
spouses, local church experiences, and mentors. Leadership theory was
confirmed here: formal education had almost nothing to do with YWAM
leaders becoming leaders.
When asked how they work now with younger leaders, a variety of
different strategies were noted, varying with the gifting and
personality of each one. Most of these strategies were nonformal, and
they could have much potential if followed up, written down, and
multiplied throughout the mission. But systematizing and intentionally
multiplying these experientially-based lessons does not seem to be one
of the strengths of this kind of leader.
The answers given lined up well with the factors that favor innovation
in organizations: relationships, trust, freedom of action, strong
leadership that is not authoritarian, and a high tolerance of risk. And
another question revealed that most of the GLT were visionary leaders
focussed on releasing young leaders.
However, less than half said that they consciously looked for ways to
give leadership to young leaders, even though that was how they were
prepared. Most did say that they consciously encouraged young leaders
whenever they could. But overall, YWAM leaders do not seem to have fully
grasped the value of the way they themselves were released.
Although the mission’s values seem to have been impacted by the
experiences of the leadership, and some of its policies as well (such as
the DTS requirement and structure), its practices have not always been
shaped as much by these formational experiences. When asked
specifically, most GLT members said that the kind of leadership
preparation experiences they had had were not always available to others
in the mission, and also that it was harder to become a leader in YWAM
now than it was when they first came in.
This statement by one senior GLT member was chilling: “If you go to some
YWAM bases, you will never become a leader.”
Although a minority of the GLT was positive about trends in YWAM that
still release young leaders, most recognized that every symptom of an
aging organization that stifles creativity can be found in YWAM:
departmentalization, hierarchical structures, unclear or slow decision
processes, turf-conscious leaders, increasing relationship problems
marked by backbiting and suspicion of others, refusal to accept
responsibility, greater divisions between leaders and staff and staff
and students, increasing distance between policies and values and actual
practice, conflict suppression, risk-taking either avoided or
exaggerated, excess personnel in some places and a cruel lack in others,
tolerance of incompetence, unclear goals, overcontrol,
overcentralization, resistance to accountability, low motivation,
personal stagnation, and obsolescence of products and processes.
Paul McKaughan, head of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association in
the USA, had this compliment, and question, for YWAM: “It is probably
the most significant seed bed for leadership in the Christian movement
today… So many people of vision now in pastorates and other leadership
positions have been impacted by and have come out of that ministry. It
is this that makes YWAM one of the most influential movements in our
Christian world today. The question is, can they sustain it in the 21st
And the answer to that sobering question, from the mouths of YWAM’s
Global Leadership Team, is “No.”
Unless changes are made, the processes already at work in our mission
will lead us irresistibly toward increasing fragmentation, stagnation,
If radical changes are made, we could still fulfill our potential of
becoming a truly transformational global mission.