Saturday, January 20, 2007

Kan van Wormen (Exiles 2)

The title is Dutch for "can of worms"; this should make Nico-Dirk Van Loo a happy Dutchman. For the record, I'm in favour of wrestling with the wrigglers.
The first Can O' Worms was based on the binary opposition of "being the church" and following "vision". The second kan van wormen, which will only partially answer Jamie's musings (this may become a Series of Worms), is the erasure of the artificial dichotomy of "church" and "para-church".

Church is often defined, in general, as having four main purposes: worship, teaching, fellowship, evangelism (some would call this more generally "outreach", which might include issues of justice and the poor). Most of us with any history in the church, will recognize that in reality, we proclaim four but practice three -- evangelism is left out, with the exception of the occasional conference or "field trip" into "the real world".

Missions groups such as YWAM, of which we are a part, do all four. In this (admittedly broad-brushed) observation, you could easily suggest that the para-church is actually more "the church" than the institutional churches who have all-too-often looked down their noses at para-church organizations. For example, the Vineyard movement, which Wendy & I were a part of for years, often finds itself partnering with YWAM due to mamy shared values and practices, yet John Wimber (founder of the Vineyard) was actually not really in favour of para-church ministries at all, feeling that they sucked away the best leaders from existing churches.

In Exiles, Frost had a couple of interesting observations about liminality and communitas:
"Those who have emerged from a liminal state are able to bring a challenge to normal society about the meandering ordinariness of life... As people undergo liminality and communitas in whatever forms, they should be able to return to normal, structured church society and engage in this important dialectic." (page 112)
As someone who has been involved in youth and young adult ministry since the days of the original Miami Vice, I have lost track of the number of times where returning YWAM'ers were frustrated beyond belief with the church's disinterest and dismissal of their liminal experiences.

This often resulted in these recent YWAM'ers turning around and heading back into YWAM again. And in turn, this has contributed to the continuing perception that para-church organizations are "stealing" people from churches.

The counter argument has usually been something to the effect of, "Well, if the church was doing what it was supposed to be doing, the para-church wouldn't be necessary". I'm not sure I agree with this statement, although in my early pastoral years, I know I said to more than a few people myself.

I think several things are going to have to change in the next few years:
  1. Churches will have to start listening more carefully and strategically to the liminal fringe. While there have been churches that have been affected by groups like YWAM to the extent that they now run their own short-term projects, they are still a minority at this time.

  2. The line between church and para-church needs to be erased. Para-church is not important only if the church is failing at its mission -- para-church (liminal ministries) are part of the church and must be embraced and allowed to impact the rest of the church.

  3. What if, instead of wracking their brains for more programs to "attract" people, churches invested themselves in liminal, short-term communitas, and let the people who are "attracted" be motivated by service, rather than by "felt needs"?
Don't step on the worms.


  1. I was in YWAM for nearly seven years in Asia. The base I was a part of was quite insulated and had created a Little America. Many people in support ministries on the base had little contact with locals and almost no one was a part of the local church scene. Why bother when we had such amazing teachers and spiritual leaders amongst ourselves. This bothered me a great deal and though I knew that not all YWAM bases were this insulated, it was where I lived. How jubilant I was when my husband I moved out to an outer territory and had our own apartment. That effectively dried up our YWAM relationships and transitioned us into friendships with locals and church attendance with locals. We even hosted a homegroup for a while with Westerners and Chinese attending.

    What is my point? Oh, I guess I don't have one. Except does it really matter if something is labeled church or parachurch or whatever? I remember thinking at the time that YWAM ought not to take the place of the local church, but now I wonder if that kind of mindset is territorial. If people are the church then what are the limitations on living out faith in whatever capacity? Isn't it about a kingdom? And this, I think, is what I'm hearing you say.

    Perhaps this is the age of Erasure, of vanishing lines that block our unity and common vision of Jesus and him glorified. The Bride is busting loose...

  2. "Church is often defined, in general, as having four main purposes: worship, teaching, fellowship, evangelism.."

    Funny, reading that list I find myself reacting.. I think ekklesia really has only a single purpose .. to incarnate Christ for the sake of the world. But I'm still wondering about "vision" and how useful the word is. Might be worth working at that a bit, my biggest question: what is the relationship of vision to mission?

  3. Some good points - I especially liked the third.

    I posted something about this on my own blog a while back, and yes - it opened up a whole can of worms in the comments.

  4. Sorry, I'll comment later, but right now I can't seem to escape this image of a bride busting loose...!!!


    Guess I'm due for some more Romans 12:2 renewing of the mind.

  5. Excellent post, bro!


  6. Good post Robbie...

    Some thoughts...

    When I was a youth pastor back in the day, most of the youth in our church would head off to YWAM after finishing high school. As a church we were very supportive of this...but the frustration grew when so many of them returned with an overwhelmingly negative attitude towards the church. Some even ended up dropping out of church completely. The attitude that YWAM did everything right and the church did everything wrong seemed to be the theme of our returning students. We sent out probably 20 students over 6 years, and I would say 2 returned and jumped into ministry in a healthy manner. was kind of annoying. =) This is not to say that I have any problems with YWAM in general...I now work in South America with street kids and we partner with the local YWAM street ministry all the time. It's a great group. But if we want to see the line between the church and parachurch groups erased, this attitude probably needs to be addressed. If our young people can't return to the local church and share and challenge those there...but only feel comfortable working within parachurch organizations...the gap is only going to widen.

    And by the way, our church was actually pretty open-minded. I think the people would have welcomed input and ideas. Unfortunately the majority of our young people, upon their return, spent the next 6 months holed up in their bedrooms lamenting the fact that they were no longer with YWAM.

    Anyhow...just some random thoughts. Hope you're enjoying the Canadian winter. =)

  7. Hey Rob,

    I don't know if this is the right place to talk about this, but the church - I think - struggles with how to teach compasionate and caring evangalism to the people like me. The ones that are not called to go to a "YWAM" or some foreign country to work in missions.

    I would say the majority of church goers fall into this category. Their mission field is the next door neighbour or the person they have met walking their dog, or the people they work with 5 days a week.

    I know I am struggling with how to bridge this gap. I have yet to find training for this at the churches I have been to.

    Can anyone else relate, or am I off in my own world?


  8. My wife is reading "Externally Focused Church" and she's really impressed. It addresses some of the issues of how a church can be more missional.
    Many churches, although they wouldn't say this, are internally focused on building up believers, but leaving the 'evangelism' to those with the "Office of Evangelist." This book addresses how to be missional in everyday life in very simple ways, and it explains to a 'modern non-missional' church how to do that.
    So I'm plugging a book I haven't read yet.
    I hope the link works.

    Anyhoo, I think if the institution of church was more missional, people coming back from YWAM and other organizations would have a better time adjusting. They have partaken in Communitas, and it's hard to just come back to introverted Community after that.

  9. Can institutions be missional, or is it individuals who are missional? Perhaps our institutions can be places of structure and support for missional people.

    I think it's up to each person to incarnate Christ and that some of our confusion has been in defaulting our personal responsibility of mission to an organization.

    My previous experience with YWAM was similar to what Ken described. Yet I don't think that the problem was with YWAM, but rather with the mentality that the only legitmate mission and service to God happens "somewhere else."

    I believe a greater understanding of missional living could help to erase the dichotomy between church and parachurch.

    However for established institutions, there is the question of whether they will release people from their programs and support missional living and ministries that are beyond the scope of their control.

  10. As a YWAM leader, I have found that understanding how the Catholic Church has wrestled this subject through to be very helpful. I actually think we in the more protestant/evangelical traditions are now beginning to learn how to navigate between what Frost calls "Structured Church Society" and what I call "Organic Church Society". As I have been studying this both in the biblical narrative and church history. I realize that the mutual respect and mutual service between both streams is actual vital for the growth of God's "body politic". From the Biblical Narrative we have the relationship of the Priestly order and the Prophetic order in the O.T. and then the Pauline Missional Community and James' Jerusalem Church. Reaching back to my original point, in Church History, the Catholics have had the Parish church streams and the Orders like "the Jesuits". YWAM can definitely be described as "an Order". Many would know that The Orders have their pope known as the black pope. And I recently heard that when the black pope and vatican pope are in synergy the Catholic Church grows, when they aren't it shrinks back. Anyways so much more could be said about this and I have enjoyed the comments so far.


  11. I keep coming back to two areas of thought when reading this post:

    1.) Until the idea of church as a local distinct corporate entity is eradicated from people’s thinking there will always be this sense of competition with other local churches and by extension with ‘para-church’ (I hate that word) groups. Somehow churches don’t mind the myriad of churches in another city since they aren’t encroaching on their so-called turf, but the idea that you can work with the church down the street becomes a very trying exercise.

    The idea of church as a local distinct corporate entity leads to the beliefs (and doctrines) that Church X is the “one true church”, at least in ‘deed’ if not in ‘word’. Elitism, exclusivism, exclusionism, and a bunch of other crap come with that mindset. There is only one body of Christ, and anyone who is ‘in Christ’ is a part of it.

    I believe in the local gathering of like-minded believers and it’s great to be organized, but to teach the importance of the church local without proper emphasis of the church universal counters the Biblical narrative on this subject and in effect teaches people to build earthly kingdoms rather than God’s Kingdom.

    2.) It is critical that whenever collective groups of believers (churches) meet, it be deliberately stated that this “meeting” is not “church” (ie. “Are we going to church today?”), but that as individual believers we make up the Church and that this ‘meeting’ is just a local or regional gathering of the ‘Church’. Accompanying this must be the statement that ‘church’ is you & I, therefore you & I are responsible to “be Jesus” to those around us every day of the week.

    In living out these instructions, the role of the ‘gathering’ shifts from being church-centric to being Christ-centric (incarnational), which includes developing a robust theology, coming together to worship our Saviour, and joining with one another for intentional outreach. The purpose of the five-fold ministry becomes equipping the saints for how to live the Jesus life out in daily life (being a missional Christian).

    Oh yeah, Neil,
    You may or may not be in your own world (I don't know), but I definitely relate.
    Churches need to teach (or un-teach) Christians how to BE normal and what normal evangalism is and how to do it. And it's NOT a program. It's everyday life lived on purpose and can be as simple as saying, "Hi how are you?", and then actually listening.


  12. I have become quite antagonistic to the notion that the church or the para-church will ever satisfy us the way society should and the way it perhaps once did. From my view modern life is extremely fragmented…everything looks Picasso to me…for sake of convenience we have substituted communities with mere networks…I say this to you 1s and 0s out there as I suck on a BigMac after a long day of being employee #4865, having barely escaped from a labyrinth of cubicles just to do it all again tomorrow.

    I would love to see us as Christians live in real community – to eat and drink with one another, to grieve with one another, to live the glorious mundane with one another…but this will never happen as long as we parse up our reality into to a myriad of programs, networks, strip malls of entertainment and other ephemeral nothings…

    The genius of YWAM though is not that it fixes our fragmented reality but simply that it forces you to live in but one fragment to the exclusion of all others for a short time…it is a program that you live in…it is the same pseudo-community experience as dorm living…and when it’s done you forget all but a few faces and your left with the daunting task of re-engaging all the other fragments left behind…work, friends, housework, eating, soundbites on CNN, 2 minute pop singles on the radio while stuck in a traffic jam…and for your religious satisfaction pick the number 3 combo meal of a witty sermon with a side of contemporary songs down at your local community centre for an hour and half each Sunday…Mmmm…almost gives you enough to make it till next Sunday…

    If we want to see these lines disappear we have to start far deeper than the issue of the church…we need to start at home with ourselves with what we eat, drink, watch and listen to…and we need to start spending more time in other peoples faces, being family and being neighbors…if we can defrag life we will transform ‘church’…

    sorry for this - rough day :(

  13. Pam, I'm with you on not really caring whether something is called church or para-church or fried green tomatoes (GREAT flick, that one). I'm not advocating for dumping the terms, just that we remove any inherent stigma or superiority from these terms. I think most of 1st Corinthians was written to deal with just this kind of elitism.

    Len, I hear ya, but the mischevious side of me can't help but remind you that in certain church streams, your one-line phrase would be called a "vision statement" or possibly a "mission statement". :) I know the term "vision" has been clubbed like a baby seal in recent years, but I still like Proverbs 29:18 -- "Where there is no revelation (vision), the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law."

    Mark, thanks for the link. After I get some serious shut-eye, I'll have a read.

    Ken, I have also seen the same scenario. Sometimes, it's true that the church is pretty dead compared to the liminality and adrenaline of a DTS, but it's equally common for YWAM'ers to come back and have a totally critical and judgmental attitude, and this does little to mend any divide between the church and para-church.

    Wendy & I found the same thing with Bible college -- if it weren't for meeting George Mercado after my second year... Six years with a radical like him really changed my view of how church can be.

    Neil, you're definitely NOT in your own little world. You're putting into words what many are feeling and wrestling with.

    Grace, when you said, "However for established institutions, there is the question of whether they will release people from their programs and support missional living and ministries that are beyond the scope of their control...", you really hit the nail on the head, but from the other direction from Ken. It's going to take some "loosening of the grip" on BOTH sides for this to happen.

    Anderson, that's an interesting parallel. I hadn't heard that one before, but it makes a lot of sense. Thanks for jumping in with your thoughts!

    KSG, preach it brother! Can I get a witness? :)

    Ryan, no worries, mate. One question though: What makes something like YWAM a "pseudo-community"? I'm not offended by your comment; I'm just trying to understand.

    I love your line "If we can defrag life, we will transform 'church'..." Must be the computer geek in me!

  14. Hey Rob,
    great post but.... "Kan van Wormen" to a Dutchman sounds like
    "Possibilities/opportunities with worms" which actually is not a bad title for your post. A good emerging alternative in the Netherlands would be "Creatief met wormen" or "Creative with worms" which refers to a satiric TV show some years ago.

  15. It is true that many young YWAMer's return to the local church very critical towards it. There is not excuse for this kind of judgmental attitude. That being, the YWAM ministries I have been a part of for more than 12 years all make intentional efforts to stop this from happening in the re-entry process. Not all bases are as intentional, but I think that is changing.

    Further, the local church also needs to be willing to look past the attitude to the legitimate frustration that young people feel when they return. The church supports young people to be involved in YWAM where they experience a deeply praxis oriented, community based missional experience, only to return to have the vision and passion too often crushed, ignored or judged.

    I appreciate Anderson's parallel with the Catholic ideas of modality/sodality (which someone mentioned at your blogs months ago), as the idea of YWAM as an order is something we are slowly moving towards here in Winnipeg. I think that will be as hard for YWAM, though, as it will be for the local church to be more mutually embracive of the "para-church".


  16. Hey Everyone,

    On the way in to work this morning, I had another thought.

    Even though I rant and rave about the church's lack of ability to teach people, there is a teacher that I missed. That is God Himself. I don't want to sound all wishy-washy, but if my wife has taught me one thing, it is that God can teach anything HE needs us to do. We just need to take the time to sit and listen to Him.

    God has given us tremendous examples in the Bible through Peter, Paul, and the rest of the gang. We just need to take the time - at God's prompting - to pray, read and learn.

    Have a great day everyone!!


  17. Nico-Dirk,I guess Babelfish is not as effective a translater as I'd hoped! I thought it would work for short phrases, but...

    "Opportunities with worms", eh? Sounds like the classic underdog to me!

    Jamie, I agree that it's a both/and situation where grace, understanding, and a genuine effort to truly listen needs to happen.

    Neil, as always, we should listen to our wives -- Heather is a gem!

  18. all I want to say is that the picture you used is grossing me out. hehe.

    good stuff all around from everyone.

  19. Time out! You quoted Proverbs 29:18 -- "Where there is no revelation (vision), the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law."

    Notice the HEbrew parallelism.. that "revelation" (the Heb word here is related to nabi, meaning "sight" or the noun "one who sees") is parallel to law. The law came by revelation .. primarily instruction for right living. Now we go from there to a typical church "vision statement." Qu: how does an ekklesial vision statement measure up against God's idea of the church? And how does a typical church seek the Lord to find out His particular and unique incarnational-missional call?

  20. I have got to say that whoever says YWAM is pseudo-community, comparing it to dorm room relationships, has obviously not had much experience with YWAM. That comment really disappointed me. Alas...

  21. I obviously failed in my comments above to convey my lament for a more natural and all encompassing expression of “community”…my comment regarding YWAM being a ‘pseudo-community’ was offered only for making the observation that all of western life seems hopelessly fragmented (at least to me). If I believe that my experiences with YWAM liken to an experience of a pseudo-community it is only because everything else has proven to be far less!
    I guess my hope is that we’d try to find out how we allowed reality to become so fragmented instead of trying to make the pieces fit better together…
    I believe that YWAM was and is a very important force helping to fill the morbid vacuum left by the “great truth divorce”…I guess I find myself looking back before these things, before individualism and liberalism, before the universal church was smashed, and I find myself in awe and admiration of an expression of community that engages all aspects of life…does this sort of make sense???

    That being said, a couple of questions - is it not true that many people join YWAM for only a few months at a time, or do most remain for life? Why would anyone want to leave a good community if one was found? The reason would not be that YWAM isn’t good but rather that it is perhaps does not fit the bill of what I would call a community…YWAM is a function with a vision (all extremely good things!) …what happens after 3 months of outreach when you are just starting to break through and make deep connections with the people you are visiting/serving? – You leave…why? Because it is a program with a schedule...I could go on and on, but I think I’ve made my point…My most cherished memories are with YWAM but I would not say that it is a community, just like I would not call my local churches communities – even if some of them throw the word ‘community’ in their name…they still appear more like modern ‘networks’ travailing day and night to be something they can’t…All the same I will engage in all of them because it is all I have…
    In YWAM people learn and grow and most importantly they live with one another and connect as real people on a deep level – I have just as much admiration for the social aspect of YWAM as I do the missional aspects…but my view still stands regarding the nature of what a community could be (and what I believe it once was)…

    Perhaps I am romanticizing an ideal that does not (can not) exist…in that case I look forward to even a hint of a glimpse – and I’ll do anything and everything to see it grow and flourish…

    When I first read these posts my initial thought was ‘fragmentation’, I could not get it out of my head…I want to see that remedied and not simply to see the pieces fit better together!

    My sincere apologies if you are still disappointed…In that case I would LOVE to see the world the way you do!

  22. Everyone,

    FYI: Ryan has done a DTS with YWAM Los Angeles and it was a good experience for him, so while he's questioning some things here, please don't view his comments as anti-YWAM.


    Thanks for elaborating a bit on why you mention YWAM as a "pseudo-community". I'd like to attempt to address your question as to why people don't stay long-term in YWAM if it were a "real" community. I think there are MANY reasons:

    1. They didn't feel that long-term missions was where God was leading them.

    2. They just didn't have the support systems in place financially to be full-time missionaries at that time.

    3. They are often told by well-intentioned peers and leaders to "be responsible" and "get a real job", and the pressure was too great.

    4. God clearly told them that YWAM was only for a season, and they're simply obeying the Spirit's leading.

    5. As more and more churches are embracing and developing their own short-term mission strategies, some people are involved via their local church.

    6. Any of a dozen intertwining reasons that I can't think of just now.

    (7. Honest admission: some YWAM bases aren't healthy, and they were burnt by their experience and have no interest of returning.)

    And on the other hand, of course, there are currently an estimated 16,000 YWAM workers world-wide currently, so some people ARE making YWAM their long-term faith community.

    Also, it's been my experience that these kind of short-term, liminal, communitas kind of experiences are often use by God to whet our appetite for this level of community. If YWAM has that effect, causing people to yearn for deeper community in their own context after the end of a DTS, I would see that as a good thing.

  23. If we are going to look at what ekklesia means, then it means congregation. The New Testament doesn’t envisage a church that doesn’t congregate.
    Thus, when the New testament uses the word ‘ekklesia’ it means either the local congregation, or the universal church (that will one day congregate eternally). Thus we do not want to talk about YWAM, Campus Crusdae, the Southern Baptist Convention, or any other parachurch oragnisation as being a church.
    I’ve blogged about the relationship between Church & Parachurch (particularly on Campus) here:

  24. Mike,

    I've dropped by your blog and read the Parachurch: a Parasite? post, and will respond to you there.

    I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one, because there's nothing that groups like YWAM do that the church isn't doing, and vice versa.

    Let me read some more of your posts, and I'll respond at the Parasite post later.