History of the BLS

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Basic Leadership School

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Basic Leadership School

This is from an email that Barry Austin sent me in 1999 answering the questions related to the beginnings of the Basic Leadership School (BLS) at Holmsted Manor. One thing he didn't mention was that he originally called it an Leadership Training School (LTS), but Loren Cunningham wanted that title for YWAM International's leadership training. Barry came up with the Basic Leadership School.

Barry Austin --- History

Subj: DTS History Date: 20/02/1999

Hi Steve,

Great to talk with you in France. Below is the blurb I wrote about the history of DTS in Britain which I sent to Darlene and Maureen last year.


YWAM Foundations A DTS Model in Britain By Barry Austin

The first two Discipleship Training Schools in YWAM were run in 1975. One was held in the USA, the other in New Zealand. I had the privilege of leading the one in NZ.

We had a great school; 30 students and good teachers --- including Floyd McClung on Unity, Reona (then) Peterson on Intercession, and Rudy Lack on World Missions. The students appreciated the good teaching, but afterwards, during evaluation time, they expressed the need for more opportunity to apply the teaching to their lives during the school. I spent considerable time thinking and praying about how we should do this.

Early in 1976 I moved with my family to England to work with Lynn Green. Lynn had led several SOE's in England and wanted me to launch the DTS. So we started the first DTS in Europe in September 1976 at Holmsted Manor.

As we prepared for this DTS, God strongly emphasised to me the truth of James 1:22 "be doers of the word, not hearers only". So I knew He was wanting me to set up the school with an emphasis on people applying the truth, not just listening to lectures.

The Jesus Model

During this time of thinking and praying, the model Jesus used came strongly to mind. He used teaching and a small group of twelve men as his basic model for training. As a result, I felt that we should structure the school around both lectures and small groups. The lectures would bring the truth of God's word and the small groups would bring the application. I felt that the small groups would bring a relational balance to the more academic methods of application.

I had very little experience with small groups up till this time, but I knew that they would only work if we had good leaders. So this became my big faith challenge, "Lord, send the people who could lead small groups well!"

God had answered our prayers for students... by four weeks prior to the DTS starting we had over fifty confirmed applicants. But we had only three group leaders. I had sought the Lord about the optimum number of people for an effective group in a DTS, and I felt that it should be 6-8 students. I also felt, because we were all inexperienced in leading small groups, that we should have two leaders per group. This meant that I was believing for eight groups with sixteen leaders!

Just prior to the start of our DTS, YWAM international had a staff conference scheduled to be held in Wisconsin,USA. I was reluctant to be away at such a crucial time for the launching of the DTS, but when Lynn and I prayed about it we felt I should go.

God Comes Through So I flew out of England for the USA two weeks before the school with only three group leaders out of the sixteen needed --- not knowing where they would come from. When I returned sixteen leaders were ready and waiting. They had come from various nations around the world. Praise God! All of them were SOE graduates. God was good! He had confirmed His leading.

The small groups proved to be a great success, especially after further DTS's and we improved in our skills of leading small groups. The students really appreciated opportunity to discuss the teaching given in the lectures. They also had great ministry times as they prayed for one another for God to work the truth of the teaching into their lives. The lectures brought the truth, the discussions brought understanding, and the prayer brought application.

The larger meetings provided the opportunity not only for teaching but also for celebration in worship --- which became a vital part of the DTS. However, we found the small groups created the best environment for the closer relationships necessary for effective discipleship. Through this we realised why the early church had both big and small meetings (Acts 2:46; 20:20).

Training the Leaders As we had further DTS's following this model it became obvious that an important part of my role in leading the DTS would be training the group leaders. At this time the Lord spoke into my mind the sentence... "The best time to disciple someone is while they are discipling someone else!" He also showed me that if I would give myself to the training of these leaders they would have a major effect on the spiritual growth of the students. So we met every afternoon during the students work duty time.

The model we tried to follow was Jesus with his twelve disciples: a small group with Jesus at the centre. My job, as leader, was to facilitate the headship of Jesus in the group. I tried to lead the leaders using this model; likewise the leaders with their students. It was a participatory style of leadership. If someone had a problem in their group, I didn't have to have all the answers. We discussed it and prayed together and God gave the answers through the group interaction. I also met with them (the BLS members) one-to-one once a week for more personal mentoring.

Ministering as the Body we allocated one afternoon meeting a week for leaders to share personal problems and receive prayer. (This was not the only opportunity when they could share but it helped to have time set aside for this.) When a leader shared a personal problem we gathered around and ministered as the Body of Christ to him/her; we believed for Jesus the head of the body to work through us. We not only saw God touch people in a powerful way by his Spirit, but the leaders also began to develop maturity in the exercise of spiritual gifts. It was an important time as it modelled to the leaders what they could do in their groups with their students.

After a year or two of leading this model of DTS, we felt God leading us to form the group leaders training into a specific training programme. We called it the Basic Leadership School (BLS). But it remained an integral part of the DTS. Both programmes benefited from operating together. The students benefited by being mentored by the group leaders and through the group process, and the leaders benefited from having a leadership training that was on-the-job and very practical.

We encouraged the leaders to operate this model both in the lecture phase as well as the outreach phase of the DTS. The outreaches became more fruitful as we applied the team dynamics learned during the lecture phase.

Discipleship Through Relationship

We had several leaders working in non-western countries visit us to observe this DTS model in action. They all said that it was a good model for the cultures they were working in as it emphasised discipleship through relationship, and that it would suit many of their people who found the Western academic models of discipleship training difficult.

The fruitfulness of the model in YWAM Britain became obvious. At the time of our first DTS we had a total of about thirty YWAM staff in the country. After three years the work had escalated to over three hundred staff scattered in outreach teams throughout the country. Eighty per cent of the leaders of these teams had been trained through the DTS/BLS programme. The BLS has continued to be an effective means of producing leaders.

Church Cells

In retrospect, we have realised that the way God led us to structure our DTS was prophetic. In recent times there has been a growing emphasis on the church needing to re-structure itself on the basis of cells. People are wanting to meet with God in close relationship with others. The impersonal nature of most Sunday church meetings has not been meeting the need to effectively disciple people. But God is moving where people are meeting together in a personal way in one another's homes. Many of our DTS graduates have found that they have been trained to operate effectively in this setting.

We have also realised that many of the great mission movements of the past, such as the Moravians and the Wesleyans, have been based on small groups. So we have been following good traditions.