I first met Jim Orred in 2003 while I attended Slingshot, a leadership program for young adults in Kona, Hawaii. Jim’s wife Judy was leading the school which was a pretty wild adventure of growing in faith and knowledge for many who attended, myself included. Jim was kind enough to pull me aside, ask me some questions about myself and my values, and to encourage me as a young man in my faith and vocation.
As I’ve been reflecting in my weekly feature over the last number weeks on YWAM founder Loren Cunningham’s 5–point Jubilee Covenant I wanted to get perspective from a leader in the mission who’s been around the world and seen much of the organization’s growth over the years. Jim fits the bill and has keen insight into the realities of leadership and spiritual growth. I connected with him through email as he gallivanted across the USA, doing what he does so well, connecting and encouraging others.
Andrew Kooman: What was your first impression of YWAM?
Jim Orred: 1st impression of YWAM? Not well-organized, not easily pigeon-holed theologically, growing rapidly, giving young people assignments with almost no preparation. The overarching memory of my first summer of service in 1972 (Munich/East Africa) was lots of young people, especially kind of hippies from the Jesus’ movement, mainly American, with some amazing older people being there, whose presence gave huge value. 1,000 youth, and a Corrie Ten Boom, Brother Andrew, etc. The young and (a few) old together. My one line definition of YWAM.
AK: How do you think YWAM is perceived by people outside of it today?
JO: I think it is confusing, diverse, seen as a short-term deal for kids to get some experience, not local-church based, often in financial/leadership crisis, the seed-bed of leaders who now serve all over the body of Christ. I think people can’t get a handle on the leadership structure, or the lack of ‘headquarters’ concepts.
AK: Why did you join the organization?
JO: My parents told me that they wanted me to find a way to do something overseas during the summer-break between my 2nd and 3rd year of Bible School. I ran into a Swiss YWAMer, and signed up.
AK: Can you describe the when or how your life was resolved to the Great Commission; did you have an “Aha!” moment when who you are and what you do just made sense, or was it a slower unfolding?
JO: As a child reading missionary biographies, meeting missionaries in our home in Minnesota, and in our Baptist church, at youth camp, YFC rallies, I continually sensed God’s presence and a sense that I had to find a way to do ‘ministry’ seeing people come to Christ.
AK: How do you currently fit with YWAM and how do you describe your ministry?
JO: Someone now 58, who received amazing input for the first 8 years in YWAM, who then was able to build with others, then on our own some long-term ongoing ministries, and who is now released to be able to experience a feeling of convergence, in that we are giving back, pouring directly and indirectly into hundreds of young leaders globally. I suppose I feel most at home sitting with young leaders around food, listening, answering amazing questions they ask, learning (reverse mentoring), relationally walking with 20-some year olds, amazed how empowering some time and interest in their lives is to them.
The words came to me 10 years ago, “I have something new for you…be a father to a young generation, serve a new wave, more diverse and large than the first one. Be a son of encouragement, a Barnabas, leverage your relationships, life-experience now, to see others spotted, encouraged, promoted, taught, etc. So though we still serve as part of the executive leadership team at YWAM/UofNKona, we no longer have any title, but find that we have more influence globally through relationship than we ever had in direct line leadership. This surprised me to discover.
I plan to be a catalyst to see thousands of YWAMic small communities (doing the upwards, inwards, and outwards elements of ‘church’) created and served in locations outside of traditional YWAM bases, with people who came through YWAM like we do an airline hub, which is for most not their destination. We can validate them as YWAMers who carry the DNA, and who can then continue to be transformed (the DTS experience, up, in, out) and in community become amazing agents of transformation in thousands of low-maintenance locations.
AK: What do you hope your personal legacy will be?
JO: To see a new generation of leaders and communities infused with core values that I have come to see are huge and of ultimate importance. A domino effect of movements of peoples who come out of relationships with my friends, faithful men/women who step up and influence others, die to selfish ambition, grow in Kingdom authority, in the mountains/arenas of society, especially in the arts/entertainment arenas. A prophetic edge restored in teams, people who gather in small groups and value small reproduce-able units, whose lives are known as people who corporately receive value and love and identity not from ministry or success, but simply from knowing God as He is. A generation of people who take personal responsibility all their lives for their own growth and development, and who then serve a small group of friends God gives them, like Jesus had those whom He knew the Father had “given him” as in John 17. People who hunger for God’s presence to invade this planet, who live consecrated lives, whose ‘holiness’ is marked by growing wholesome-ness. Who live in weakness and grow in relational intelligence. Who pursue God with others all their days, not plateauing, growing cynical, resentful, but whose lives reflect beauty. People who seek to do, to love, to initiate in a generation that are passive. People who seek out those who are different, rather than stick with those who are ‘the same as them.’ People who die to their natural desires to know their personal fulfillment, because they are more concerned about the fulfilments of Jesus than their own. People who live with a daily sense of accountability to God, and connectedness to friends.
AK: Something I admire about you is how you jump right into the lives of people who are younger than you. What motivates you to be involved in the lives of young people?
JO: Young people are like clay that is still able to be molded, hungry to have someone from an older generation call out their destiny. They are able to learn at an earlier age what many of us only learned in later years. Their spirits are not cynical yet, they are teachable, they do things in community (like God does), they aren’t yet fixed with situations that keep them bound, they are idealistic, open with their issues, waiting to be affirmed by their elders, wanting protection that close relationship with mature people gives them.
AK: I’m interested in pattern recognition. Are there recurring areas you’ve noticed where teens and twenty-somethings need mentorship in their lives?
JO: Everyone is wanting to learn how to discover their purpose and destiny. A pattern I think is universal in youth globally. They all want to talk about their relationships, break-ups, family issues, and usually are disillusioned by the way ‘church’ is currently viewed in the western world. They actually yearn for someone to challenge them, to call them out lovingly in their passivity and lack of follow-through. They want to talk about finances, and they love story!
AK: What do you think is the most important quality of a follower?
JO: Humility expressed to others, because God gives grace to the humble, and without Divine enabling we are isolated and dead. But the willingness to step out of what is comfortable, and not see them selves as ‘consumers’ but as initiators and people who influence, and begin to give away what they have. Oh, and someone who is quick to call a mature friend, admit weakness or sin or failure, and walk in the light.
AK: In your view, what is the most important quality of a leader?
JO: Humility. Vulnerable enough to connect with, but strong enough to follow. Relational intelligence. Fear of God, someone who makes important to themselves what they see is important to God. But in one word, humility.
AK: Why are young people suited for mission work?
JO: Young people are suited for mission work, because they are idealistic, willing to try new things, full of energy, easy to catch vision, bored today so wanting to be given a challenge that is bigger than personal success.
AK: When I hear the stories of original YWAMers who pioneered work around the world it seems so simple, and I think it’s more than just nostalgia sugar-coating things. What those stories seem to tell is: The Great Commission means Go. And Loren, Darlene and others did. And wow. Are things as simple as they used to be?
JO: Yes! A few simple principles will still give amazing results today. People are more broken, so there is need for longer-term development, restoration, etc. But the keys to this are really simple. Not easy to do, but simple.
AK: In your experience with bases around the world, how “on message” do you think YWAM is with its mission statement to Know God and Make Him Known?
JO: This motto is still the main thing. I think bases can get distracted from this, and we need continual repentance, prophetic people calling us back to the basics. But at a grass roots level, I see it stronger than ever. And what we now have, is models of walking together, whereas years ago, we thought we all had to do it all on our own, with massive will-power, only alone with God. But today there is grace as people ‘pursue righteousness, faith, love…together with those who call on God with a pure heart.’ This is getting back to the lifestyle seen in the New Testament. It is more about a generation who will see revival/reformation, than isolated famous individual superstars.
AK: What will ensure YWAM remains relevant and effective for another 50 years with Youth in the Mission?
JO: I don’t know if that can be guaranteed. But I have hope that as we now have several generations in YWAM, if older ‘fathers and mothers’ don’t seek identity in titles and traditional structures, but rather in the relational way that the generations can serve one another, YWAM can remain relevant, if we keep being God-focused, and not try to be ‘relevant’ to people first of all. Plus, now we have leaders from the non-western nations throughout, connections with fresh movements of God in the global body, we now are beginning to understand being missional in the spheres/arenas of life, not just in ethno-linguistic groupings.
We are primed to continue to pioneer new things, to take the flack that requires, to not become focused on keeping our ‘constituents’ happy. If we stop pioneering, we will be a dead, if nice and respected, institution. We have to keep taking risks trusting young people, allowing mistakes to be made, keeping DNA pure, but allowing a new generation to give vocabulary to what is happening. We have to be willing to let ministries die when their shelf-life is over. We should be building relationships with leaders of all parts of the Body of Christ globally, and being more concerned about the Kingdom big picture, than our YWAM part of it.
It is totally possible to have another 50 years of movement. But nothing is guaranteed.