I have been a full time worker with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) for thirty two years. My involvement with this organization has given me both great respect and concerns for our role in the body of Christ in reaching the lost. My immediate concern that this dissertation addresses is the role we play in reaching the cities around the world.
One of YWAM’s dominant themes is community living. That may be expressed in joint living in large bases, community living in small teams, or living independently but working together as a team. The questions that I investigate in this paper have to do with whether living together as we do in YWAM actually enhances our ability or detracts from our ability to preach the gospel to those we have been called to. Monastic communities and missionary compounds faced the same dilemma in history as they sought to live together to be more effective. Some of those communities were able to make a powerful impact upon society and others became focused inwardly on their own self-improvement. Though YWAM is not a missionary compound or a monastic community, there are nevertheless parallels between them that can result in a
community that impacts society or a community that turns inward on itself.
In this dissertation I review literature that helps to give an overview of some of those monastic communities and missionary compounds that had either a positive or negative impact on society around them. The tension between equipping the saints for the work of the ministry and the perfection of the saints in their inner life is reviewed and how some of these structures accomplished or failed in that dual pursuit. Literature on YWAM is also looked at that discusses and brings to light the tension between these two pursuits and how we as a mission are trying to balance these two.
Biblical perspectives are looked at especially in what is referred to as theology of place and its ability to bring outward focus to churches and urban missional communities. I have chosen especially to highlight this biblical emphasis as YWAM has predominantly been a mobilizing mission with an overseas focus that in some cases detracts from a local emphasis. Some YWAM ministries, would argue, that this is their intended outcome as their focus is to send and not to retain. At the same time this paper will argue about the changing context of today’s cities where YWAM is primarily located and the need for a theology of place.
Surveys of 110 YWAM bases around the world and direct interviews with five YWAM bases were done to cull information on how these YWAM ministries see themselves in reaching their local communities within walking distance, driving distance and flying distance of their locations. The surveys were designed to help determine how much communal living YWAM is doing and whether community living in the opinion of the leaders of those ministries was helpful in reaching the lost.
Observations and conclusions are drawn at the end with some suggestions on how to move forward especially for those of us in YWAM with a focus on the city.