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Interview - David Yates, Compass Australia Coordinator

Christian Today Australia recently caught up with David Yates, the Compass Australia Coordinator, to talk about a new leadership program, known as Compass Australia, aimed at placing young Christians in strategic positions within their chosen professions to maximise their impact for Christ.

By: Christian Today Australia
Monday, 3 December 2007, 7:41 (EST)
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Christian Today Australia recently caught up with David Yates, the Compass Australia Coordinator, to talk about a new leadership program, known as Compass Australia, aimed at placing young Christians in strategic positions within their chosen professions to maximise their impact for Christ.

C.T. AUS: Where did you get the idea of Compass Australia from?

D.Y: It was a few years ago, when Jim Wallace, the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), and I sat down to strategise about the future of Christianity in Australia and what role ACL could play in maintaining that influence.

We came up with two initiatives to fulfil this goal. The first was to publish a public policy magazine, which was released in last week called ‘Debate’, and the other part was focused on this 15-to-20-year vision of trying to assist top students in attaining strategic and influential positions in their profession. The Compass leadership program was formed with the goal of getting students into these positions.

So, it’s really a joint-initiative between the ACL and the Compass foundation, which is based in New Zealand. When ACL was looking around for ministries which have had success in doing something with a similar vision, we found Compass in New Zealand. This ministry is doing a reasonable job and its program has been running for four to five years. In a sense, we are seeing whether we can bring that concept to Australia. That is how it started.

C.T. AUS: On the Compass website, it mentions selecting people in ‘strategic influence’ to maximise their effectiveness for Christ. Can you elaborate more on this?

D.Y: One of the key things that ACL likes to focus on is areas where it can have a disproportionate impact for the Gospel. So, the area of politics and government, where ACL works in, is one particular field. If you can get through government and policy makers then it can influence laws and it can have a disproportionate effect within the culture.

That is why we were thinking about the Compass program, or, alternatively, thinking about 15 to 20 years down the track, who will be in the media, education, politics, law, and history?

These fields, to us, are the strategic areas. So, it is a selective program where it does not simply involve coursework but also includes mentoring and coaching. This is why we think, from our perspective, we can add value to those students participating in this program and it is targeted at students who are going to high school, university, or recently graduated. The selected students will have demonstrated a real commitment and desire to serve Christ in their profession.

C.T. AUS: A candidate should possess a strong Christian ‘outlook.’ What does Compass intend to teach these candidates given that they already have strong roots in the Christian worldview?

D.Y: That is right, one of the lovely things which we want to do is to build up a relationship with people in strategic places or who have contacts that will choose these nominees.

We look at the performance and the record of the nominees. We talk to teachers and principals. We are not necessarily interested in top students since they might not be as committed to the Christian faith compared to others. Actually, the person with the greatest potential may not be at the top in their school.

The focus is on those with a strong Christian faith because we are not interested in setting a foundation which has been established by the church or what they have already learnt through their Christian university group.

The focus is to take these nominees and stay with them for 15 years so they can establish their career in a strategic way. That is why we have a mentoring component where we are linking them with a person who is credible, respected and a Christian already at the top of their field. So, then we can keep them networked and give them a greater chance to want to strive harder so they can have a maximum impact for Christ in their profession.

C.T AUS: Why did you choose students to participate in this leadership program?

D. Y: When we were thinking about all this stuff and who we should select and to what age-group to choose from, we went out to talk to teachers and, obviously, Year 12 students. There was this recognition that among the students, regardless of whether they were in high school or university, they did not know what they were going to do in the future but they were certain they wanted to make some impact.

A couple of years out from graduating, if someone wants to make a big impact for Christ and show leadership potential but is stuck in a job where they are not being challenged or want to leave then this becomes a critical age. So that is why we said we are looking for people who are in the age bracket of 18 to 26 years. This is the target group.

Now, why don’t we select people who are older than this age bracket? We want to establish this with the right foundation and build it into the future. There are many Christians that we know of who are in great positions of influence. There is no big database of Christians, for example, who are in academia so you have to find them yourself. We feel that starting now at the younger age, over the years, they will be able to enter the workforce, so we hope to keep a close connection with them as well as network them with other Christians in their career.

C.T. AUS: What is the future for Compass?

D.Y: We are committed to the outcome and the vision of this program. The vision is three-fold. One, we wanted to see leaders who can strategically influence the nation. Secondly, we want to equip students not just to survive the university challenge so they can keep their faith in tack but also to maximise their effectiveness once they graduated and in their future positions.

Compass is a program that involves attaching appropriate mentors to these students and we will treat them as if they are high-performing athletics with a coaching component. We will do everything we can to assist them to achieve their goal. This program will be around for many years and we are planning for the future of it as well. We are not just talking about one, two or three years but rather we are going to stay with these students for 15 years.

Looking at the big picture, Australia has 20 million people and about 10 percent of them are regular churchgoers, though 64 percent of Australians claimed they are sympathetic to the Christian faith in the 2006 Census. We think that, over 20 years, if there are 5,000 people who go through the Compass program, then that will make a big impact.

Editor’s Note: At the time of going to print, 30 to 40 candidates were still in the process of being selected for the Compass leadership program. The final candidates for the leadership program will be announced on January 7.

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