I was part of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) for years and before that, I was at the International House of Prayer. However, I have some very serious concerns about what is happening at YWAM around the world. It is the theology of many years that caused me to ask questions. Continue reading…
Tagged in: Loren Cunningham
I use to be part of YWAM for a few years but I have seen left them and took the vision I had while in YWAM and developed it into what is now Herrnhut. I loved being there and did not plan to ever leave the movement. However, for reason that I will lay out here, I felt required by God to do so.
For those who don’t know what YWAM or Youth With A Mission is, it was started by Loren Cunningham back in 1960 as a result of an open vision that he had while on a mission trip to the Bahamas. He saw waves of young people taking the gospel message to the ends of the earth. This became a major movement that today has about 15,000 missionaries to so across about every nation in the world (or we were told).
Out of that came their hallmark program, Discipleship Training School, and adding to that was their mercy ministries and evangelism. They have been quite effective at getting people to join the DTS as they call it. There is hundreds of thousands in the programs around the world at any given times.
However, there is some major issues with YWAM and that is what I plan to discuss. For the sake of clarity, I want to breaks this down into three areas: theology, spirituality, and philosophy.
The biggest concerns is theological. There is some bad doctrines being presented at YWAM bases around the world that people just do not want to talk about. It is not pretty and this is above all why I left Youth With A Mission. If you get what you believe about God, his story, and his character wrong; you will get everything wrong and that includes missiology.
YWAM believes in Moral government. This teaching goes by many names. Some call it Kingdom Now. Others call it Dominion theology. Many call it Moral Government. No matter what name you use for it, it is clearly wrong and goes against scripture.
The concept is that we have been given ” power of contrary choice” and it denies God’s knowledge, goodness and power. Many that do believe this hold that Jesus died for the sins of the world but not your sins. (Only collectively) They also believe that was no original sin in the garden of Eden. These are just a couple of the problems with the doctrine of Moral Government.
Some leaders in YWAM try to point to historical thinkers like Arminius and Wesley to justify their shaky doctrines. However, neither of these men would defend or teach anything remotely close to moral government of God. There would never deny God’s plan to redeem every person in this world.
YWAM believes in Open Theism. This is the idea that is shared by some thinkers like Calcidius, Socinus, Samuel Fancourt, Andrew Ramsay, Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, Dallas Willard, and Winkie Pratney. The connection and inroad into Youth With A Mission was mainly Winkie in the early days as a bible teacher for schools.
This belief suggest the affirmation of God that respect our total moral responsibility yet inviting us to saving faith in Christ. The God of creation knows the past to the numbers of hair on your head and He knows everything that is happening right now. However, He can only “guess” what will happen in the future based on the pattern of history.
As I am completely against Calvinism on all points, I do not support an extreme view of Arminism such as Open Thiesm that has some serious theological challenges, especially concerning biblical prophecy. (How could God foretell if He can only “guess?”)
YWAM believes in ecumenicism to a fault. As a movement, they believe in diversity. This is among the Catholics but they try and open the doors to everyone from the Pentecostals to the Baptists to the Amish! While this sounds great on paper, it presents a problem when you start to flesh this out.
The moment that a demon manifest, all the discussion of “Christian unity” goes out the window and people turn to what tradition they are part of. The Baptist girl thinks it is just mental illness; the Methodist thinks they just need confirmation and the Pentecostal are ready for a old fashion deliverance like they are the second coming of Smith Wigglesworth.
The reason this is a problem is the more radical people (Pentecostal and Charismatics) are often the ones that have to give in to those who are more evangelical. The biblical balance is radical obedience is all areas, not reduction of fervency in one reason to build another.
While this is not a completely exhaustive list of theological inquiry that ones needs to do within Youth With A Mission, it is the same challenges and you can deal the lesser issues after these.
Witchcraft in the Camp
The biggest problem with YWAM is not anything that many have not said but it needs to be address again. It is the spiritual control that some leaders operate under. It is demonic and it is witchcraft. The spirit of control is the spirit of multiplication and that is witchcraft. You can even make the case for leaders operating in the spirit of Jezebel.
Part of the problem is when they start their Discipleship Training School. It was within two years of the who Shepherding movement mess in American evangelicalism. There was a group of leaders headed by Bob Mumford and Derek Prince that took all the “each other” passages of the New Testament to the extreme. This became the norm of discipleship. It was not out of the ordinary for people to basically become servants of pastors. It was a sick time in the Charismatic movement that anyone that was involved in it needed some serious deliverance and emotional healing.
YWAM took much of the same attitude towards how they ran their school and it does not create freedom in the Spirit. Many become convinced that serving the mission base is their calling unto God. This is dangerous at best. It puts people under the yoke of bondage.
This mentality does some serious psychological damage. Some of what goes on in these discipleship schools borderlines on brainwashing depending what mission base we are discussing. Total submission changes how the person thinks and relates psychologically.
The control can get quite crazy. I know of one case where the leader was telling staff members where to go to church and what translation they should study from. In some ways, it was like the old legalism from the Pentecostal churches from the 1930’s revived.
In some cases, they use spiritualization and mental hypnosis to get complete control over the person. This has long been discussion concerning the movement and it is one reason the word cult get thrown around so often with YWAM!
Now, with all that said, I want to highlight a few philosophical differences that Youth With A Mission and Herrnhut has. You could say that is differences that I have with them. These are not really theological differences but they are more philosophical. Click here for the Genetic Code of Herrnhut.
The first would be private scholarship. While we do have fundamental truths that govern our beliefs, we celebrate people questioning instruction. If a teacher is teaching something that you feel is wrong, call them out on it. Question it and question it more. We want people to draw deep in intimacy with the Lord by questioning what they hear, read and see. This is not in operation at most YWAM bases.
The next thing is prophetic ministry. While they believe in on prayer and even believe in it if one of their favorite leaders is giving it, we celebrate people hearing from God for someone else. Even if they get it wrong; we still celebrate it. It does not matter if it is from a guy that just got saved to a pastor.
That leads to the next point of philosophical difference. We believe as John Wimber would put it, “Everyone gets to play.” It is not about this leader or that leader. It is about anyone who says “yes” to the great commission and wants to be a vessel of the Kingdom. Any and everyone can be the one God uses to move powerfully in our meetings.
One thing that we differ on is having renewal meetings. YWAM hold that they are strongly a para-church group and does not have church planting in their vision. We disagree. We hold church meetings every week and any future mission bases will hold renewal meetings every weekend. Church Planting is part of missions.
A final area that I find difference is how finances are handled. They tend to try and control how much each person has and doesn’t have. We want everyone to have as much as they can raise. We do not run our school for profit and much of the cost is underwritten by ministries in the United States that believe in reaching the South Pacific.
I am sure we have some other differences but these are the big ones!
Is YWAM a cult?
This is the question that always come up when discussing movements like this that do have some challenges theologically, spiritually, and philosophically. While they could do better in these areas (they must do better!), I am slow to throw around the word cult because they are truly trying to see the Holy Spirit in their lives and they do love Jesus.
The marks of a cult are not there besides the controlling issues and at some point, that is going to have to dealt with. However, I do not feel it has reached the level that warrants being labeled as a cult. I just do not. Sorry.
A cult has the following elements to it and each of these questions must be asked.
- Do they celebrate critical thinking?
- Do they place community over communion with the Spirit?
- Do they slander those who leave?
- Do they feel they speak for the Holy Spirit?
- Do they seek to control you?
- Do they overvalue themselves?
- Do they believe they are more anointed than everyone?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you need to consider if you are following a cult or not.
A message to the YWAMers
If you are in YWAM or going to a discipleship training school, I am not telling that you should not be there. I am telling you to do with eyes and ears wide open. Realize the issues facing the movement and do not get sucked into the challenges they have. If you know the strengths of the movement and focus of them, you can get a lot of being on a mission base. There is much good to be found.
I know some will say a little poison will kill you and that people should not be part of anything that is not spiritually pure. The problem with this is they actually believe they are pure when they probably disagree with themselves just a few years before. I know some of my views have soften and others have become stronger than they was when I was in my twenties. We are all in process.
I know dozens of people who was really blessed by doing a DTS. I did not get a lot of it but I was coming out time at the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry and finishing bible college at Central Bible College (Assemblies of God). I was mainly there because I did not want the red tape of becoming an Assemblies of God missionary.
One thing I would suggest is make you are accountable with people who can make sure your spiritual life and your doctrine is in tact. If something does get odd, someone who can tell you “wait a minute.”
All in all, I love YWAM and I love the missionaries with Youth With A Mission.
I was part of YWAM or Youth With A Mission in Kansas City as well as Kona (where they are globally based) and I found the teaching on Friend Raising to have a hidden secret that no one tells people.
I am in no way mad or angry at YWAM, I am just saying wanting to tell people who might think about joining the mission group what they might be looking at. Friend Raising is a great concept on paper.
The ideal behind it is that missionaries are funded by friends not groups. It seeks to put a personal and human touch on missionary support. It is needed and critical for a young missionary to understand this. Raising support is next to impossible without having those personal connections with people back in your hometown and across America.
To be clear, I believe the book Friend Raising that YWAM Publishing put out is amazing and it is a textbook for anyone trying to become a missionary, especially without a missions group with deep pockets like the Assemblies of God or the Southern Baptist Convention.
If you do not have the book, I do recommend getting a copy of it.
My issue with Friend Raising
If you are Loren Cunningham, John Dawson, Floyd McClung or another global leader, you have a platform to raise support than many do not. It is a no brainer to say that Loren Cunningham is going to be able to raise money for his needs a lot easier than some guy in the Discipleship Training School at some base in Kenya.
This is what they do not tell you when they talk about friend raising in YWAM. A lot of people think they should have these amazing stories of provision as well. They feel like failures because they do not see the checks roll in like the speakers told them they did for him.
The reason for this is because of the platform. A major leader has the capacity to raise support that is not a reality for most YWAM missionaries. Your run of the mill staff member is not getting calls to speak at missions conferences around the world.
The reason that this must be addressed is that when people realize that capacity and platform are factors in your friend raising, the guilt and shame of not having great stories of provision is removed from your heart. Having this knowledge will set your heart free from the spirit of failure. God does not bless Loren Cunningham more than you. He just has the microphone and you do not. That’s all.
I raise this issue because I see so many people leave YWAM thinking they are failure but no one told them that they have an uphill battle to get the capacity to raise large amounts of support. A girl from a village in Africa is not going to have the family and friends to raise $2,000 a month. She just won’t so she never tries to be a missionary as a result.
I still believe in friend raising!
I believe that our old church driven model of support raising is dead. It is completely lacking any type of productivity for the long term missionary. Missionaries under the old system of support raising, missionary work, furlough, missionary work, support raising and repeat is harming the missions movement. Many of my friends spend more time speaking in churches about missions than they do actually being missionaries.
The best way to fund missionary work is friend raising but there needs to be some honesty about the how it works. It is not as cookie cutter as some people make it out to be.
The truth of the matter is most missionaries remain under funded for many years and it take a long time to build the friend raising support base to do what you feel called to do the night you answered the call to preach the gospel in some village in the jungle of Africa.
It works. There is no debating that we need to remove the guilt that comes with it so people can understand the grace of fund raising using human contacts, not mission committee that are all business. People helping people is this missionary model of Jesus (Luke 8:2).
Many missionaries will never have the funding they need right away. I know many that started on the mission field with $200 a month in support. It was not under many years later that they had the $2,000 that they really needed. It was a lot of ramen noodles for them in the early years.
Does Facebook change the process?
It does not really change it but it does put it on steroids to a degree. I am able to communicate with people that I know at a rate that people a generation ago could only dream of. In that regard, it does change the way we do friend raising but it did not change the concept of doing it. Personal contact is critical. Facebook just makes it more often.
Here is a few tips I have learned along the way about Facebook and Friend Raising
- Update your status about missionary work daily. People are really “out of sight, out of mind.”
- Tell stories, stories and more stories. People move testimonies. They really do.
- Pictures, pictures, pictures. People connect with images more than text. Studies show this.
- Be careful doing teaching on Facebook. You don’t want to say something wrong to someone.
The best thing for a missionary to do is update his/her Facebook status about what is happening on the mission field at least a few times a day. People need to hear about the mission often or they forget you are living in Sri Lanka.
Tell stories and testimonies about how people have come to Christ or received a miracle in your daily life. This really remind people about the calling on your life as a missionary.
I found that the greatest impact on Facebook seems to be pictures. This is an easy one for me as I am a photographer but people react to pictures for some reason. Oddly, pictures are more effective than even videos. However, starting a daily vlog on Youtube could be very effective.
My last bit of advice is be careful posting deep theological stuff on Facebook that might get people calling you a heretic. I will admit that I do not follow this advice myself but I am kinda safe. I did spend seven years in theological training. Most young missionaries would be best to not try and be the next Stanley Horton.
I hope this helps people in their journey into friend raising!
I would hope that most people know who Loren Cunningham is but if you do not know, he is the founder and key leader of YWAM (Youth With A Mission). He is probably the strongest link to revival today and has the ability to take revival to the nations more than anyone.
YWAM has around 14,000 staff is about every nation. A move of the Spirit could spread to the ends of the earth in no time through their mission bases. A few staff could go to a meetings in Nashville with a revivalist and within days, it could spread to Hawaii, Hong Kong, and even North Korea. Continue reading…
I use to be part of YWAM and I still love them but if you are thinking of doing a mission trip with them, you might want to know some things. While they do some amazing things around the world, they have become very dailed down in some core expression of the Kingdom. Depending what tradition of the faith you come from, this could become an issue.
Loren Cunningham, the founder of Youth With A Mission, is the son of an Assemblies of God pastor. In fact, many believe that YWAM was designed to be part of the AG movement from the start but it couldn’t work for political reasons inside the movement. This is important to know because people use this to think that YWAM is Pentecostal friendly.
This is not the case anymore.
In a quest to open the doors to other traditions, Methodist, Baptists and even Catholics; the emphasis on the Holy Spirit has been dailed way down so people will not get scared from casting out devils or healing the sick. Really a sad reality but it is what I saw in many of the bases that I visited when I was part of YWAM.
Mission trips with YWAM are not miracle crusades
This is important because in the Pentecostal tradition, when we go to a nation; we plan to see the blind see and the deaf hear. Miracles, signs and wonders are what we are in faith for and it is the only thing that we will be happy seeing. We want to see people come out of wheelchairs and having someone popup out of the casket would be amazing.
The problem with that is most people in YWAM are not even sure if they believe that miracles happen today. Many tend to align themselves closer to the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church than they do the General Council of the Assemblies of God and the General Assembly of the Church of God.
In my experience, the number of Pentecostals and Spirit-Filled Charismatics in the ranks of the mission group is now a minority. If anything, we are struggling for a voice than being the main expression that started Youth With A Mission.
I remember being on a mission trip in Los Angeles and there was a man that was having alot of problems. The YWAM trip was praying for him to have “peace.” The problem is you can’t have peace when you are tormented with a devil. I pushed my way to the front and told him, “You have a devil on you. Do you want me to cast him off you or do you enjoy your devil?” Twenty minutes later, he was delivered and the whole YWAM group was offended. They didn’t really believe in casting out demons.
Am I telling you that you shouldn’t go on a mission trip with YWAM? Not at all. I am just telling you that if you come from a Pentecostal tradition, you might be surprised how little of Pentecost is left in the movement these days.
YWAM is a tribe
What I mean by that is there will be major pressure put on you to do a Discipleship Training School if you have not done one yet. There will be pressure for some school as that is how Youth With A Mission pays the bills. Personally, I only did a DTS as I was taking classes at Oral Roberts online. I found that to be a much smarter choice for me at the time.
You will find the pressure to join YWAM as a missionary, do schools and if not, support the mission base financially to be pretty intense. I am not saying you shouldn’t do any of them; I am just saying the tension with be very much real.
Even though I was part of the YWAM movement, I can’t say I ever really believed in it wholeheartly. I was always a classic Pentecostal with some faith movement leaning and was in the middle of the prophetic movement. It was me and I know it. I was a square in a round hole when I was working with YWAM. I didn’t buy into the vision completely. I believe that was for good reason as I look back.
While they might not be a denomination in the purist sense but have many of the same thinking patterns as those who are in one. I find that YWAMers can easily get an elitist spirit and I do not think it is productive.
Do your mission trip with your eyes open
I am not telling you that you should not do a trip with them. Far from it. I am saying that you should do it with your eyes wide open and your ear open to only the Holy Spirit. Knowing the facts is more important than anything. If you know the political spirit and the controlling spirit is there beforehand, you are better prepared when you see it. That’s all I am saying.
I am very thankful for the time that I spend with YWAM and I still work with them. However, I know what is happening in the ranks and I am not smiling about it at all.
I hope I did not make you think they are bad people or a “cult.” I do not believe that. I just believe there is some serious problems inside the movement that need to be dealt with but won’t. These same issues were there back in the 1970’s and have always grew from then. I do not expect them to be fixed in my lifetime.
A question that I get alot is why I left YWAM (Youth With A Mission) and why I am not working with them currently. I still love Jesus. I still love missions. I still love evangelism. I do not tie my passion for the harvest to YWAM. That is part of the problem, actually.
Too many people get tied up in what “group” they are part of and have more loyalty to it than they do to Christ. When you find your identity in being a YWAMer, Assemblies of God, Church of God or Baptist; you have believed the lie and become part of the evil we know in the western church. It is lie that tells us to rally to men and not the Holy Spirit. The “being planted” deception is run deep in American Christianity.
YWAM is great and I love the heart of Loren Cunningham. However, I believe that Loren does not know, or does not really think it is that serious, how bad some things have become on mission bases in America and parts of Asia Pacific. I can not speak for bases that are in places that I have not visited.
The issues that I see is organizational, theological, and missiology.
YWAM has witchcraft at work
I know some will disagree with using the term but I believe anytime that you use faith as a form of control; that is spiritual witchcraft. Jesus came to set people free; not to bind them as slaves to groups and leaders in the name of “christian service.” Any time that a person feels a need to serve, they have lost their passion to live like the Freedom giver, Jesus Christ.
The pressures placed on young people to serve is unrealistic and it has a major problem: YWAM didn’t start that way. If there is one thing that Loren Cunningham is known for, it would be writing Is that really you, God? The core of YWAM is hearing from the Holy Spirit; not blind obedience to a leader. What ends up happening is YWAM mission bases become little more than mini-kingdoms build by smart men; not the hands of the Holy Spirit.
I was raised to put complete confidence in only hearing from the Holy Spirit for myself. If a leader asked me to do something because it would help grow the YWAM base; the answer is simply no. If I haven’t heard from the Holy Spirit, I do not care what some leader wants. I am not going to do under any condition. I am about being the Kingdom of God. I am interested in building YWAM. Sorry.
The constant pressure to put the organization over the leading of the Holy Spirit is the biggest reason that I left YWAM and will not be part of the movement until something radically changes. It is sad but I really do not think it will change in my lifetime, either.
The spiritual witchcraft is very deep and it runs across the network of mission bases in alot more ways that people realize.
What about Moral Government?
The term Moral Government of God is actually known as Open Theism. As much as I hate radical Calvinism; I also am sickened by radical Arminianism and that is what Open Thiesm is.
For those who do not know what Open Theism is and why it is so dangerous; it is basically a belief that God does not know the future but can only “guess” based on historical trend. Prophetic ministry is just divine guessing. I completely and wholeheartly reject it as outright heresy for many reasons.
To be fair, many within YWAM even strongly question this teaching as well as Kingdom Now theology. I know one leader who was ready to leave YWAM and take his base with him. It is mainly alive in the mission bases in North America from what I understand.
I am as strong of a Arminianist as you find but God is very much a prophetic God and He knows what the score is. Revelation is not a guess but it is a book about the prophetic vision of the people of God.
The reality is we are not God’s plan; we are part of God’s plan. The mission of God is use us but the emphasis must be on the central point of the gospel: the savior Jesus Christ. When we think we are the hero of the story; we have lost the whole point.
I am open to differences in thought about theological stuff. I am Pentecostal and I have Baptist friends.
DTS is bad missiology
If you are not part of YWAM or know much about them, they really believe in what is called Discipleship Training School. If you believe that Matthew 28:19 should take importance over the five other Great Commission passages; you still have a problem. Discipleship should be done in the context of the church. YWAM is a not a church but a missionary group.
The problem become when people replace the great commission with DTS. Many YWAM make doing a DTS, a money maker for YWAM, into the gospel. It is sad but when the emphasis is on a program and not the blood of Jesus; that is idolatry. It is simple as that.
I could never bring myself to promote the program when I was with YWAM. Most people do not need to do a DTS; it is not a replacement to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. What people need is a Acts 2 Pentecostal experience more than some programs full of men teaching people what they think God said about Himself. The Holy Spirit alone will form young believers into mighty men and women!
I still love YWAM!
I left on good terms (for the most part). I still have many friends in YWAM and have worked with them in crusades in Africa as well as spoke in their school of missions before. I am against them but these issues are too big for me to sign on the dotted line and say I am with committed to Youth With A Mission.
In the end, we make better friends than family.
What could Netflix tell us about the preaching of the gospel? Alot. We have lost the last three generations because we didn’t understand media. We can’t afford a fourth generation lost. t
Let’s face a fact: Netflix has the attention of your teenagers and the young adults; not the church. The Church, by and large, has made itself irrelevant to the culture we are called to engage. After all, our answer to Hollywood was Jan Crouch.
Jesus told us to be salt, light and the city on the hill but we are too concerned with developing our own competitive culture; we will never actually reach the mainstream culture. If you need an example, ponders the band Jars of Clay.
For far too long, we have walked into very well lit sanctuaries; turn on flashlights and yell “I am shining for Jesus.” A flashlight does no good in a lighted room; we only does good in the presence of darkness.
How we lost the Nexflix Generation
We lost before the internet or mobile phones. We lost them before Goonies, Indiana Jones, Ghost Busters or The Princess Bride. It came before we heard, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Heck, it even came before MASH was on the air.
I do not remember the name (and I can’t find) but Loren Cunningham from Youth With A Mission tells a story about how a film maker asked the bible school leader to send him talented actors. The reply that he would rather they go to hell than be in movies.
Pentecostals have a black eye in history: we did not engage the media and we wonder why it got so messed up. Where was the salt of the earth? What about the light of the world?
In the end, the blame is on the Church, not Hollywood. When we cared more about mocking “the one eyed devil,” we lost the ability to influence movie production.
Can we get the Nexflix generation back?
I believe that we slowly are. We can’t do with cheesy movies like the Omega Code, irrelevant televisions shows like Duck Dynasty, and music like Darlene Zschech. Christians like it but the lost find it annoying at best.
We have to create professional, high quality venues that are full of salt but also lack being chessy. This is one reason that I believe people like Tim Tebow, Bono, P.O.D. and Denzel Washington have been able to influence. They can do faith without being annoying about it.
The Netflix gospel is using media to minister the gospel of Christ to the lost and dying world. I am just not sure we are ready for it, quite yet.