Almost thirty years after I was excommunicated from Dilaram by YWAM, I took the opportunity to visit the International YWAMer office in Colorado, U.S. My friend Paul Filidis, the director of YWAM International Communications, and Bryan Bishop, the editor of the International YWAMer, kindly invited me to reflect on what I had learned from my painful experiences with YWAM about leadership, particularly about “hearing” and “speaking” the “word of the Lord.” They generously published the interview for YWAMers around the world to read. The following paragraphs are excerpted (and slightly edited) from that interview, entitled “Leaving Room for Doubt.” In this interview you can see the evolution of my seminal thinking, and I thought it might be of interest to some of you. Dave Andrews

Bryan: It seems to me that one of the difficulties with leadership is when there’s disagreement. If as a leader you feel that you have heard from God and then others don’t agree with you, how do you deal with that?

Dave: I believe too that we can “hear from God,” but I believe none of us can be sure that we hear correctly. I love the example of the gathering in Acts, where after days of meeting in Jerusalem, the apostles say, “It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit not to burden you” (Acts 15:28). It “seemed good to us.” Now, that humility to me makes all the difference. This is what we think God is saying, but we’re not sure. If we have the humility to say, “I think I’m right, but I’m not quite sure,” then there’s still a place for listening to the voice of God, but there’s also a discussion about whether this is what God is really saying. And you involve the very people that you are in partnership with in that process.

Paul: It needs that preamble, “it seems to me, I think that. . .”

Dave: I can remember when those guys [some members of the International Council of YWAM] flew into Amsterdam to prophesy against me. They were all so sure. I tried to say, “I don’t think that’s so.” They said, “You’re arrogant. You keep on using the word ‘I,’ when we’ve got ‘the word of the Lord.’” I was trying to fight for a space for dialogue, for some discussion. After all, Frederick Buechner says, “Where there is no room for doubt, there is no room for me.”

Paul: But we believe in the culture that YWAM is in, if God is personal, if God is close, if I can know God, it almost demands that kind of certainty.

Dave: Just because God is absolute doesn’t mean we know the absolute absolutely. We can only know the absolute relatively. We come to God from our limited backgrounds, experiences, prejudices, and therefore even when we do “hear the voice of God,” chances are we warp it, we twist it to our own interests. And that’s in fact why I believe it’s not enough to have hierarchical accountability. We need mutual accountability. The problem with top-down unilateral accountability is everybody is accountable, except for the person at the top. Whereas side-by-side reciprocal accountability means everybody is accountable to each other. We need to bring the question about what we say when we say, “it seems to us thus,” into a space for dialogue, so the very person who is saying, “it seems to us thus,” is actually accountable to others.

Bryan: Do you think leaders have spiritual authority over the people that follow them?

Dave: I believe that at any one time, a person can be open to the Spirit, taking an initiative that should inspire people to respond to what God is saying, but in order to be healthy, that initiative-taking needs to happen with different people at different times. I think it is unhealthy for any person to get stuck in the “leadership role,” and it’s unhealthy for people to get stuck in their relating to a person in terms of that “leadership role.” Because then the leader can develop the illusion that he or she is the (only) one through whom the voice of God speaks when, in fact, God can speak to all of us.

Bryan: So a person could have a certain function of management, but not see himself or herself as always the leader.

Dave: That’s right. And you always need to be open to “the least” being the ones through whom God speaks. That’s a biblical principle.

Paul: Why do people submit themselves to abusive leadership? Why do people almost seek it out, or don’t confront it when they are under it?

Dave: Well, I think generally, we want to love and be loved. I think we want to get along with people and we want them to think well of us. And I think that’s true of leaders as well as anybody else. We want [their] acceptance, we want [their] respect—and in a society where people treat each other justly, that would not be damaging or destructive, but the reality is we live in a world where people often misuse their power, and our desire to please [leaders] is now turned against us and can destroy us.

Paul: And conversely, why are there bad leaders who end up manipulating their followers?

Dave: Why am I tempted to manipulate people and exploit people? Because of my ambition. I want recognition. And in my culture, recognition comes from success. If I can manipulate people or exploit people in order to achieve and accomplish goals that reflect well on me, I’m tempted to go down that route. The only way that I’m free to give up those ambitions is to find a sense of my value apart from my accomplishments. It’s only in experiencing existentially the love of Christ for me regardless of my performance that I can then be free not to manipulate and exploit people to perform for my benefit.

Paul: Now, the influential leader, the charismatic leader, the leader who has the gift of persuasion, how can he or she safeguard that from going wrong?

Dave: I believe we need to create structures in which we need to make decisions by consensus or consent. The difference between consensus and consent: consensus is where we all come to agreement, whereas consent is where people express disagreement but give us permission to move ahead. There may be a timeframe that needs to be met. Rather than just ride roughshod over people, we say, “Look, I know you don’t agree with this. Most of us do agree. Would you give us permission to go ahead under these circumstances?” Now, what that does, it locates any decision about any activity that may be promoted by a charismatic figure, it locates that within dialogue and discussion, where the leader needs to seek the permission of other people. Even then, the problem is that the leader may be more persuasive than others and might silence others, so I believe that charismatic leaders should speak less than the average person in their communities, not more, so that they redress the imbalance of power that they know they create.

Bryan: Is there anything you’d like to say in general to YWAM?

Dave: All I can say is, I know from my own personal struggles that I think all of us need to be more humble and more modest and more gentle with ourselves and with others, and all of us need to be aware that when we most think we are right that we could be wrong. And all of us need to cherish not only those who agree with us, but also cherish those who disagree with us. We should realize that we will never know the fullness of who God is, and what God wants us to do, without working things out together, particularly with the people who oppose us. I think we’re not only called to love our enemies for their benefit. We’re called to love them for our own.

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