YWAM ACTs (Area Circle Teams) – a new structure for new generations?

I recently read the metaphor which Jesus taught in Matthew 9:17 on ‘wine and wineskins.’

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine, and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.

Every new generation enjoys new wine or a fresh approach to leadership. They require a new wineskin or structure that they feel comfortable with to serve their new passion. The latest generation is aware of the pitfalls in the previous structure and wants to improve and develop it. Organisations that don’t allow for change may continue to hold the old wine, yet it won’t necessarily be relevant or connect to the upcoming generation. Thankfully, Loren and the founder’s circle heard from the Lord on a radical change to our structure some years ago, which I’ll come on to.

Adapting to new generations.

Many studies have been focused on the millennial and Gen Z generations, highlighting several important keys for this new wine. As a result, leadership styles have been slowly changing to incorporate new approaches and styles of leadership. Sadly, the church has been slow in making these changes, although business models seem to be moving ahead, even using scriptural terminology like ‘servant leadership.’

What does this new style involve?

Put simply, it focuses on team leadership, team goals and incorporating the ideas and gifts of all the staff, thus bringing greater ownership all round. New wine leaders are looking for a far greater skill set majoring in soft skills including:

  • emotional intelligence (to recognise and manage your own emotions and those of others),
  • being team players (not individual accomplishment but functioning in teams),
  • openness to feedback (all the team members living in a climate of evaluation and growth),
  • adaptability (no fixed way of doing things that become part of the furniture),
  • active listening (all the team members’ input is heard and considered),
  • and more ….

I joined YWAM in the late 70’s and the leadership style back then was something like this:

  • here is the direction we are going – join us and get on board,
  • you want me to listen to your thoughts, ideas and concerns – what a strange concept
  • dealing with disappointments and hurts – get over them
  • debriefing an outreach, school or season – where is the time to do that
  • OK, you are in charge now – I hope you swim and don’t sink

Fifty years later finds us in a vastly different generation, so our leadership styles have required an upgrade.

All change.

In 2014 YWAM had a conference in Singapore where a new structure was not just proposed but put in place overnight. Suddenly, national and regional leaders around the world were out of jobs. This came as a real shock to many and sent leadership teams into a tailspin. (To be honest, the actual outworking probably could have been processed a little more, but it did push us into change.)

The proposal was to move the structure from 26 regions to 74 areas around the world to encourage more apostolic vision into unreached places. The new areas would be led by Area Circle Teams (ACTs) that would be facilitated by one, or several, conveners. These ACTs would elder the area, convene conferences for leaders and staff, facilitate the vision, deal with conflicts, encourage leadership development and multiplication of ministry and guard the YWAM values. It also speaks into how our leadership should function and move away from a top-down structure to a team orientation that appeals to millennial and Gen Z generations.

Who could be involved in an ACT?

The ACT members are to be made up from key leaders in the area with involvement from multiple generations, men and women, a mix of nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, differing gifts and passions, a breadth of the ministries represented and all recognised and supported by leaders from the whole area. As the leaders meet, they take on an ‘elder role’ over all the ministries and leaders in their area.

How large a team are we talking about in an ACT?

Well, not too small! For a time after our Team3 International structure came into being, we had teams of three form all over the world. That was not the intention. Jesus had twelve apostles and the council in Acts 15 was probably much bigger than that. The larger the group becomes, an executive core team is required to help the ongoing facilitation of meetings and processing of decisions in between meetings. This core team or another task team wouldn’t make decisions themselves unless commissioned by the whole ACT.

What is required of the ACT?

For the team to function well, it requires the following traits:

  • Maturity – leaders need to step up to take initiative in their gifting. We don’t function from position and duty but in love and service to the area. So, when a problem, a conflict, or a need arises, we ask – who is the most appropriate person(s) to be involved in this situation?
  • Humility – we make room for others’ gifts, ideas and anointing. We don’t give way to the strength of personality of members or those who speak loudest but give room for clear processing and hearing from the Lord in all matters.
  • Healthy gift mix – in the team (ACT) we need apostolic, pastoral, prophetic and operational/organisational type leaders who can step into issues as they arise. Where there is a need of fresh stimulus in vision, the processing of sensitive staff issues, a sense of the word of the Lord, or administrative systems and processes, the right leader can step up and be involved to help.
  • Conveners who facilitate an effective functioning team and who have an ear for what is needed. Generally, we encourage more than one convener to incorporate different gifts in coordination. It could be a core team of two or three conveners.
  • Create dotted lines between ACTs that allow partnership and collaboration. We have been aware that solid lines in the past have kept the ACT thinking more personally as an ACT rather than working across borders.
  • It is useful to have areas that aren’t too large, so as not to hinder the level of relationship and connecting for an effective working together.

I am speaking more directly in this article to Area Circle Teams, but the same principles apply if you have a national circle or base circle team.

Millennials and Gen Z are looking for teams where they can have an influence on decision making, where they can see a career path with no glass ceiling and where their ideas can be tested with the opportunity of pioneering even in their immaturity (although they might not see it that way!) They are not interested in a wineskin where they need to jump through a lot of hoops or be told what to do from the top. They desire input to come through mentors who come alongside, yet don’t control them. They are looking for community and using technology to the max. They are innovative, unconventional and passionate. But they do still need some of us oldies around too.

Elders: We have been confused a little by the term ‘elder.’ We use it for those involved in an area or national team and sometimes in a base team. Members of circles are elders when they meet together but remember it’s not a title they leave the meeting with! We elder the ministry as we meet and seek the Lord over directions, decisions and problem solving, but only have that authority when we meet as a team.

Elder is also a term we often use for older YWAMers who perhaps have been base or national or regional leaders in the past but now are functioning in a ministry but not necessarily in a leadership circle.  These types of elders can have different capacity – for a local base, for the nation or for the area. Some of these elders will be a part of a circle, others won’t, but its good if we can recognise these elders and give them the honour due to their longevity in the mission and for the wisdom they bring.

SY’s: I would like to propose we call these older leaders, ‘senior YWAMers’ to stop the confusion. I have been interested to see how the Jesuits with some 25,000 members around the world, move their leaders sideways as they get older and become SJ’s or senior Jesuits. So why don’t we have SY’s or senior YWAMers?

One of the challenges that base, national and area leaders have struggled with over the years is not wanting to pass their leadership roles on, as there was no structure to move to and so it felt like you, ‘stepped off the planet.’  So, this proposal means that a leader who is stepping down from a positional role can become an honoured SY. And of course, all leadership circles are enhanced when they have some SY’s involved in the team. There will also be levels of SY’s, as some will have a capacity for a base, others for a nation and still others for an area.

So, circles are the new wineskin if we take on the new traits above and don’t load the circles up with oldies!

Happy circling!


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