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.
For the following reasons I question if YWAM has become a cult. At the very least, there are some major YWAM problems.
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.
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!
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.
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you need to consider if you are following a cult or not.
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.
Peter Vandever is a Pentecostal Evangelist to the nations and a prophetic voice to the American Pentecostal movement. He is currently based in Kansas City, Missouri.