The Radical Christianity of Youth With A Mission (YWAM)

I just came back from a small gathering of Christians who arranged a meeting with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) to find out more about their organization. Besides the great food, great fellowship and great discussions (including how we Christians in Singapore ought to be treating the migrant workers in our midst), I was so glad to hear a bit more about what YWAM is all about. I’ve encountered YWAM a lot of times in the past year or so (including in Perth last year), but never really had the desire to find out more about the group. I came away from the meeting last night really attracted to this group. I’m definitely going to find out more about them and maybe get more involved with them in future.

Here are some of their values which I love:

– One thing that straightaway attracted me is their focus on hearing God’s voice. This is something that I’ve been looking into and working on in the past half a year or so. To actually make “Hear God’s voice” one of their foundational values is impressive. In fact, it’s third after “Know God” and “Make God Known”. I think a large part of their success is due to them hearing from God and obeying Him. I received a free book written by their founder Loren Cunningham entitled “Is That Really You, God?”, subtitled, “Hearing The Voice Of God”. And I think it’s going to be an exciting and challenging read!

– Another thing that attracted me is its value of decentralization and interdenominationalism, both of which I value highly. I think these two values make sure that authoritarianism and narrow-mindedness are avoided. There have been a lot of criticisms about YWAM being authoritative and abusive and like any group I’m certain it’s not perfect – and there have been a lot of abuses. But the fact that they value decentralization means that at least in some ways they are not all about controlling everybody and making everyone believe and act as they do. There is also a great diversity of doctrines being taught in YWAM which I think is good. The fact that this is allowed (of course, I think within limits) means that they know it’s not all about one’s doctrines, but about one’s relationship with God. We can all have different ideas, different beliefs (within limits) and be from different denominations (they even work with Catholics) because in YWAM’s eyes these are not as important as many other groups and Christians make them out to be. What’s most important is one’s relationship with God and doing His work. It seems that YWAM knows what’s important and knows the importance of majoring on the majors and minoring on the minors.

– YWAM doesn’t pay any of their staff members. Each person has to raise money by himself. I think that’s good because in the first place these people there are not overpaid as most likely it means they’re not going to get a lot of money. But more importantly, it means each person has to be dependent upon God to provide. They need to go by faith. That’s radical. And there are many stories of God’s miraculous provision in response to His people’s radical faith and dependence.

– YWAM also emphasizes a lot on mercy ministry – i.e. helping the poor, needy and marginalized. It’s one of their three main ministries along with Evangelism and Discipleship. I think this is in line with a more balanced and holistic view of what God’s mission in this world is about.

– I’m glad to see “inner healing” as one area that’s touched upon in their foundational DTS (Discipleship Training School) that all YWAMers need to go through. This is one area that has also been on my mind that past year or so because of various people in my life. I think there is a big need for this ministry.

If there’s any concern I have with YWAM, it is that their radicalness can easily result in legalism and abuse. But this has always been the problem when the organizations’ beliefs (churches included) are radical and they seek to promote such radicalism in their members. Any intensive pursuit of God without a strong foundation in grace can turn out badly. Pursuing God wholeheartedly often entails a lot of introspection (i.e. looking inside and searching one’s heart) and too much of that can be legalistic. On the other hand, no introspection at all can lead to stagnation and complacency. And there’s a fine line between the two. But all this is not so much a specific criticism of YWAM as it is a recognition of the danger one needs to be aware of with all organizations.

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16 Comments

  1. I would encourage you to research, the good and the bad and the ugly, while checking out YWAM. Just type “spiritual abuse” into a search engine and see where that takes you with regard to the less ‘appealing’ aspects of ‘some’ YWAM bases.
    From personnal experience… be very careful.

  2. Hi Jeff,

    Thank you for your sharing. I read up a bit about YWAM before writing this post. I even linked to YWAM’s Wikipedia entry which contains a section on criticisms of YWAM. And in my post I talked about the tendency towards abuse in organizations like YWAM.

    I believe abuses are real in YWAM. But they are true also in many Christian organizations and church associations. No organization is perfect simply because humans are imperfect.

    Of course we need to pay extra attention to some organizations because abuses seem to be systematic in nature. From what I know of YWAM (admittedly not a lot), this is not the case. But I may be wrong.

    Anyway, the way I see it, things are probably too decentralized for any abuse to be systematic in nature. As you mentioned, it’s about ‘some’ YWAM bases, not all.

    I don’t doubt your own experience of abuse. And I don’t doubt many people have been hurt by YWAM. On the other hand, my experience of some of the leaders I’ve met from the YWAM base in Singapore has only been positive.

  3. hey, thanks for looking into Youth With A Mission… yes, it is a radical movement. The criticisms leveled against us have been (and will continue to be) addressed in many different ways–as you’ve noted. We had some people with misguided interpretations of holiness when the “shepherding” movement was big in the 80’s. That’s the tricky part of working with such a diverse group from all different walks of Christendom, some people bring in bad ideas. But we pick ourselves up, and walk more carefully each time. I’ve been to 31 countries with YWAM–seen some serious mistakes, and made some of my own…but I’ve also seen countless selfless heroes who are laying their lives down to serve Jesus and the multitudes that He loves. It’s an incredible phenomenon to see tens of thousands of believers from all different ages, cultures and denominations spontaneously journeying across the planet and asking God how to help the people they meet. That’s my 2 cents anyway. Thanks for yours! -J

  4. YWAM got into the Shepherding-like submission and legalism in 1975 after focusing on Bill Gothard’s teachings. As far as I know they have not denounced it or acknowledged that they were wrong.

    1. Will the ripple effects of Bill Gothard and other shepherding ministries never end? Lord Jesus, come and save your people from bending to false leaders, and trying to find our identity in anything apart from Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness! And Let your healing come, Amen, Come Lord Jesus!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      A former taken-in wounded warrior determined to own Jesus in all things and not anyone else. And, healing has come only through renouncing the false leaders, teachers, teachings, and submission to authority that is not Jesus. MB

  5. As a parent who has had personal experience with YWAM I would NEVER recommend this organization to my children. If you have any kind of training that would be beneficial on the mission field find another missions organization. If you have no training and want to go short-term find a church group. YWAM outreaches are much more expensive than they need to be.

  6. YWAM is not a safe place. The leaders did not make me feel included in their “community” I felt like I was in Alice in Wonderland. I had to please the queen or leaders and follow their orders and rules. Luckily I didn’t conform to their obsessiveness. I was treated unfairly and called “spiritually rebellious.” This royal house keeps everyone under terror of being excuted at the slightest offense. I was cast out because I was not spiritual enough for them.

  7. My husband was in YWAM over 20 years ago and is still recovering from his experiences. I’m not going to go into detail but their treatment of him was appalling and ranks right up there with cultic behavior. In fact I’d go so far as to say they ARE a cult.

    I in good conscience could never recommend them as an organization through which someone should do mission or charity work. There are many others that do so and do not commit the atrocities and abuses YWAM does, especially at such a pervasive level. To declare that all Christian denominations/organizations are guilty of their own abuses as a reason why you will not condemn YWAM, while true, only serves to codone and excuse the un-condonable and inexcusable.

    This kind of maltreatment will only end when everyone is willing to say it’s unacceptable and act accordingly. In YWAM’s case, this would be refusing to contribute or volunteer with them, and letting the cash flow dry up to nothing so they can no longer exploit countless men, women and children who go in believing with all their hearts that they are doing something good for God. Instead they walk out disillusioned and broke while the “leaders” build more marble fountains for their mansions and have gourmet meals off the backs of those who work for them as they’re forced to dig in dumpsters for food and beg for the bare minimum after funds for them to go on mission trips and DTS get mysteriously yanked.

  8. I have just left ywam today actually, i am 20 years old and decided to do a dts. Many of the ywam teachings are not according to Gods word and many of the teachings are similar to new age.
    the leaders definately think they have some kind of authority over the kids and they first bomb you with overt attention and love, bringing up all kinds of emotional past hurts and accusing people of having an individualistic approach to life, to create a “family/safe environment”. Your guard is lowered and then the brainwashing becomes much easier, once that is sorted after about 3 months at ywam, you feel like youve lost some sense of sanity, and due to the low protein food they feed you and extremely busy schedules, you just find yourself exhausted and spiritually drained, then you suck in all the crap they teach you and start struggling to identify what is the truth.

    Due to the “touching” in ywam the boundaries in a sexual environment is overstepped, the married men hug and touch the younger girls and the girls alike touch each other as well as the boys, calling it a “love” language. but in reality it really just causes a lot of confusion and creates a free environment where sexual behavior can be enforced. through my own experiences i really honestly know that this is true. I have seen the kids talk openly about each other in a sexual matter and the guys touching and hanging onto the girls, because apparently touching creates love, bleh. I believe there are boundaries to touching and that married men should simply just not be allowed to touch the girls. the sexual spirit is too strong in ywam and the married men are all bordering on cheating and lusting.

    Also this inner healing crap they do in ywam, bringing out your hurts and secrets is not from God. a testimony is good, however when you dig into the past, you start to go backwards and not forward. because the past is over and God wants us to leave it behind. being broken has nothing to do with emotional hurt.

    Also the Holy spirit things. yes, God is amazing but when He enters us He does not throw us backwards and lets us fall over. NO. that is not from God. Its an angel of light, because he too can act like God. he too can enter you and make you feel euphoric. we must remember that satan is a deceiver and he lies about everything.

    The money!! why do we pay so damn much for crappy food, yet we pay for our own petrol and everything else. so much damn money. then you discover that you have to raise money for outreach, a crap load of money, from other peoples pockets and the leaders are like hawks, wanting to know every little detail of how much money you got. then you have to pay it to the base and they take care of the finances, while we watch them eat good food, live in luxury houses and dress too well for poor missionaries. yeah, right. Why should you pay to be a missionary?? i thought that missionary was free because you live like the apostles, did God charge everyone money to listen to Jesus teachings? NO, YWAM is a money making organization.

    the authority the leaders think they have over you is stinkin. they treat you like crap if they don’t like you and the married ones think they can get away with sexual gestures.

    Ywam is unfortunately a cult. think of it whatever way you want. ywam brainwashes. when i finally got home four days ago, i felt confused, starved out and my head was full of nonsense.

    1. Good post, right on the money about ywam, I can identify with everything you’ve said and explained.

      I’ve been trying to confirm what I suspected about ywam and this totally confirms it. you can’t trust a word that ywam says, they try to deny or justify everything.

      Totally not of God I 100% agree. all ywam do is attack you for revealing any truth about them, or they give you the silent treatment, and they’re full of false apologies.

      Cheers mate!!!

  9. Hi ‘YWAMCULT’. read your article with great interest. I am surprised regarding your view about YWAM’s sexuality. YWAM is in genral very strict about not having sex or coming anywhere near that outside marriage. However, I agree with all your other points. Two years ago, I left YWAM very heartbroken after me trying to reveal failures and abuses within my beloved organisation. I would like to invite you to join the Facebook-Group ‘Spiritual abuse in YWAM’

  10. I went through the YWAM DTS more than 10 years ago in North America as a university student and lived in one of their communes for another two years while finishing my studies. It’s funny. I have always thought YWAM was one of the best experiences in my Christian life. The friendship, the deepened experiences of God, the new perspectives I gained. It’s true that I had problem integrating back to the local church post-YWAM and to be fair, my DTS leader cautioned us about the probable reverse culture shock and encouraged us to submit to local church. I continued to serve faithfully in my church despite not being able to fully integrate back.

    Fast-forward 15 years, I have been through a series of spiritually abusive episodes with the church at large. I am tired of Christian fundamentalism and pentecostal excesses. I still identify as a Christian and pray to God sometimes but I can’t bring myself to commit to another church/Christian organisation. My friends in YWAM have stopped talking to me (even on Facebook) the moment my financial support stopped. And as I read many websites on spiritual abuses that happened in YWAM, I have to say that I still want to be objective. YWAM is such a decentralized organisation that there is no way it can control or manipulate anybody. I have met wonderful leaders (especially the first generation founding leaders) and have suffered under weirdo social misfits who wouldn’t survive a single day outside the YWAM environment. I have friends who are YWAM kids who have grown up to turn into atheists. Two of my DTS friends filed for divorce (nothing to do with YWAM, though).

    I think the organization started with a wonderful mission to release young people into missions. Half a century later, what I am seeing is young people getting arrested in their development when high school kids think that they are ready to change the world without ever going through formal university education and getting a proper job in the world they are trying to change. The so called missions activities mostly amounted to putting up some silly song and dance number at a street corner in some third world countries. My YWAMer friend who had never held a job in the private sector wanted to start a school to teach others how to “disciple the marketplace”. Some who joined YWAM with the intention of going to the field ended up staffing the home base leading the song-and-dance teams, perpetually sending out fundraising letters to pay for the trips and that long overdue dental repair.

    I began with YWAM as a confident teenager, and left as a young adult who could not speak assertively in any context (I am “broken”, in YWAMese). In 15 years of my professional life post-YWAM, bosses in every single job told me it was curious that someone of my calibre (oops, sorry about the pride) could not be more assertive and confident in professional dealings and communications. In YWAM, you’re not suppose to be presumptuous and make confident assertion about anything. You need to first go through the 11 steps of intercession to hear from God, then seek confirmation from your leaders. Forget having your own mind and standing by your own opinion.

    I never thought I would have anything bad to say about the organization/experience. And I surprised myself as these words come out of my mouth. I am trying not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. God has done wonderful things in my life through this organization. But like any movement, there are bound to be excesses. I guess something as fluid, decentralised as YWAM is especially vulnerable to that. So yeah, by all means, stoke the flames of youth and inspire them to dream for God, but please be real, you don’t train world changers by putting a bunch of high school leavers together for a 6-month bootcamp and then sending them out to remote corners as God’s gift to humanity.

  11. YWAM is an abusive, manipulative, cruel cult. If you get roped in and then you leave, they will try to hurt you. Their goal is to break you down so you always depend on them and, therefore, serve them.

    Keep away at all costs from this dangerous and cruel organization.

  12. WYAM is total bullshit.I only went for 6 months.but it really screwed me up.I was on medication and suicidal for a year.I heve never totally recovered.They are an evil cult.Theie only purpose is to rip you off.A brain-washing group.

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