Why YWAM needs to focus on Cities II

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See also Why YWAM needs to focus on Cities

(The following letter is condensed from the 3 emails Tim sent)

Dear GLT/Regional Leaders,

  Last year I sent out three emails to all of you on how we can become more City focused. Those emails generated some good feedback. Again I am going to write out three NEW emails this year. I hope they make you think and persuade you to be more proactively involved in moving our mission to City engagement.   In these emails I want to take the opportunity to share again on why we as YWAM need to focus on Cities, if we as a mission are going to get the Great Commission finished. I would like to spell out why we as a GLT should make cities a priority in our strategies. I will give you three reasons why YWAM needs a focus in cities through significant statements made by three different urban leaders.

In each YWAM region of the world I think it would be very helpful if there was a formal YWAM cities leadership group that was intentionally meeting together to see how YWAM can keep growing their vision and engagement in cities in their region.

If you are interested in starting such a movement in your region write to me and I can give you some ideas of what this group can do together. I would also encourage you to start thinking how you can help your regional leaders to strategize on YWAM becoming more city focused in your region.

Thanks for listening. Feel free to feedback your thoughts to me and I am glad to help in any way I can in your regions or ministries to be more City focused.

Tim Svoboda

Part 1

Dwight Moody

Dwight Moody once said, "If we reach the cities we will reach the nation. If we fail in the cities they will become a cesspool that infect the entire nation."

Hollywood influences the world through movies. New York influences the world through money. Paris influences the world through Art. Tokyo influences the world through electronics and the list can go of how cities influence the world. Cities also influence nations. San Francisco has influenced the US with its cultural revolutions. The British leaders of India knew that if they ruled from Delhi they would influence the whole nation.  The Apostle Paul stationed himself for three years in Ephesus and the whole province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. This did not happen because Paul was traveling. In fact he never visited Colossae and other nearby places. It was because Ephesus became as Ray Bakke says, "the woofer and tweeter" of the gospel as people traveled through the marketplace from other cities and the countryside to where Paul was preaching at the school of Tyrannus. If our cities started to have revivals it will affect our nations.  

Floyd Mcclung

Floyd McClung said, "There is  no escaping the influence and power of the city. It has become the dominant social force in the world. Cities are the mountain peaks of society; trends, ideologies and fashions are born in the fermenting cauldron of city life and then flow down and out to influence the populace."

Most of the significant social movements have been borne in cities. Though Gandhi galvanized many of the rural people in a mass movement he was an Urban person whose movement was borne amongst city people who began to dream about a free India. Cities are the staging ground for the seven spheres of society or the seven mind molders that we have been taught about in YWAM. Arts, Business, Media, Education, Government are primarily city based entities. As an organization we have to find ways to influence these 7 spheres of society. YWAM Korea has influenced the two key areas of Business and Education through their Business DTS and University DTS. Both of these DTS's have been located in the city and on the campus where they influenced key people in these domains. Monastic communities have both fled from society and merged into society in their pursuit to either Know God or to Make him Known. In YWAM, we are called to both. Today, many people are discovering the city as the place that helps to develop our spirituality as well as our mission.

Ray Bakke

Ray Bakke said, "Yesterday the cities were in the nations. Today the nations are in the cities."

No longer is mission just geographically distant. It used to be that mission was over the ocean, across the desert and through the jungle. Today mission is just across the street. I am writing this email to you as I teach in the Manhattan DTS in East Village which is a conglomeration of nations. Mission is now culturally distant and just across the street. In my tiny neighborhood in San Francisco, of just 22,000 people,  we are discovering groups of Nepali's, Vietnamese, Chinese and Gujarati's all within walking distance of our front door. Our new theme has become "through the neighborhoods to the nations" as a motto for YWAM San Francisco. And we are not a unique city. This is happening all over the world today. Walking through a city like Perth, Australia; Penang, Malaysia or Dearborn, Michigan  quickly shows you that the nations are in our neighborhoods. Every day 160,000 people migrate into cities. Though some cities like Tokyo or Chennai are primarily mono-ethnic cities there are nevertheless many strata's of society that require a diversity of approaches.

In conclusion of this Part 1 email of a series of three, let me end with another quote and a thought. Roger Greenway and Timothy Monsma, two great urban Missiologists, said the following in 1989 in their book Cities: Missions New Frontier, "Urbanization of Christian Missions is an urgent and serious need. Cities determine the destiny of nations and their influence on the every day affairs of individuals is incalculable. Beyond question the new chapter in world and mission history is entitled Cities and the church of tomorrow will be largely an Urban Church.

The world has and continues to urbanize. The question for us as YWAM is,  "are we as a Mission understanding this trend and making adjustments so that we are effective in a largely Urban world?" A few years ago I asked a leading Missionary statesman in India to name how many mission agencies out of the 180 mission agencies he was closely acquainted with were focused on City Mission. He could only name a handful. How many of our YWAM bases around the world are located in strategic parts of the city that gives us outreach opportunities within walking distance of our front doors? The world has been urbanizing. Are we thinking, planning and strategizing for this? As regional directors, transnational leaders and trainers, our mission must address this issue at each local level  in order to remain relevant.  


In section I want to look at three ways God is moving in cities today and how we as YWAM can join in.   There are three kinds of City Transformational movements that I have observed along with other urban thinkers around the world. They are:

Prayer and Revival Movements

These are the movements that are birthed out of united prayer across denominational, church and parachurch lines. Leaders of the city begin to cry out to God in unity, holiness, worship and faith for God to heal their land. It is the kind of prayer that is based on II Chronicles 7:14. Through his video series-Transformation, George Otis Jr. has done a phenomenal job of documenting how united prayer across denominational lines brings revival in cities around the world. We have seen God move in places like Fiji, Argentina and other places of the earth in supernatural ways in answer to united prayer. YWAM has played a key role in bringing together the body of Christ in places like Fortaleza, Brazil through Tony Lima or more recently in Stockholm, Sweden through Tjebbo van de Eijkhof with the Jesus Manifestation event that brought together some 15,000 people. YWAM in Cities can play a key role in United Prayer Movements.  

Mobilization Movements

Call2All, Transformation City Networks, Megacities Outreach from YWAM Perth, Impact World Tours,  City Wide Evangelistic etc, are movements from people and organizations outside of the city to reach the city. They provide catalytic events that unite the church together for a season to help bring some breakthroughs. YWAM Perth has done a marvelous job in their Mega City outreaches  and the World Impact Tours which have united churches in outreach. YWAM in Cities can play a key role in working with catalytic events that have a city wide effect. We can all learn from YWAM Perth how they have targeted their outreaches on  specific cities over an extended period of time to bring about a catalytic movement that is sustained by the local church.

Incarnational Movements

Church planting, Mercy Ministries, Community Development, Neighborhood ministries. These are the long term ministries that locate amongst the people, passion or place in the city and seek to bring transformation. We see this through some of our street children ministries in YWAM in places like Chennai, Calcutta or Belo Horizonte. We see this through our church planting teams in places like the Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh, India or  through our community development work in places like Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. We see this also through the local body of Christ in their long term presence as the church in a city or neighborhood. The Catholics especially have developed a "theology of place" that has led them to a parish type of church that ministers to a people within a geographical place and also engages the place for holistic transformation. YWAM in Cities can play a key role by establishing long term ministries that are focused on Peoples, Places and Passions of the city.  

Incarnational presence as we all know is the most effective long term strategy for reaching people as it works together with short term outreaches and other strategies like those mentioned above. Incarnational movements are built on a "theology of place." YWAM has primarily what I would call a "theology of going." Our "theology of going" has shaped YWAM into a worldwide mobilization organization that allows people a cross cultural missions experience. This should not change. However as the world continues to change with nations moving to cities we need to make some adjustments. I would submit to you that while we keep our emphasis on a "theology of going" that we also intentionally build a "theology of place." A theology of place begins to look at the location we are currently at. For years in Chennai, which is the largest churched city of India, I kept my focus on the unreached beyond. However, I soon discovered that I was missing the unreached at my doorstep. Even though Chennai is predominantly a monoethnic city it had large populations of unreached peoples that churches were not focusing on and did not want to focus on. Now being in San Francisco, I am discovering that the Bay area may have one of the  largest Afghan population outside of Afghanistan in the US. There are also many Marathis, Gujarathis and other unreached people groups. Look carefully at your locations through proper research. It will unveil key segments of society that the Lord would lead us to engage with.

A "theology of place" not only helps us to look at the location we are at but helps us to move into the location that is most strategic where we can reach out to people. In my dissertation titled, "Monastic Communities, Missionary Compounds and Parallels with YWAM bases: Restructuring for Urban Effectiveness," I asked 110 YWAM bases around the world a series of questions. One of those questions was. "Are you  actively engaged in the local community that is within walking distance of where you live?" About 30% of the bases indicated they had a strong local emphasis while the others ranged from very little to some having local involvement. I understand that most of those that had very little involvement were primarily training bases with an emphasis on sending students abroad. Some of those training bases are located in remote areas where doing outreach during the lecture phase requires some kind of transportation. What is needed are YWAM bases located in neighborhoods that give our students seamless interaction with lectures and interaction with non-Christians. I can only name a few YWAM training centers around the world that provide this kind of environment. Unfortunately,  many of our YWAM bases have become bubbles of YWAM activity and we are cloistered from the world around us.

God has led us to many properties outside the city that are large and accommodate our students. I have been praying, with a sense of leading from the Lord that we would obtain properties inside the city or near to strategic unreached people groups that would allow our U of N courses to have close interaction with the neighbors around them. I heard Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City say one time in a teaching tape,  "I am a better Christian because I live in the city." The city forces us as Christians to think contextually and engage practically. Another benefit of locating our training near to unreached people groups is that it helps students to return to potential ministry opportunities rather than coming back to staff a training school only. Most of our DTS students do not become long term cross cultural missionaries upon completion of their DTS. In fact some research shows that it takes 20 DTS's to produce one long term cross cultural missionary. That research may be controversial and perhaps not totally accurate. However we need to discover ways to give our students and staff access to local non believers around our bases so they start dreaming about a career in missionary service that goes beyond YWAM base life. 

Part 3

In the part section I talked about the three kinds of movements that are happening in cities across the world. They were the Prayer/Revival Movement, Mobilization Movement and the Incarnational Movement. Jim Stier in his May 2008 Prayer Day letter on the 4th Wave of World Missions begins to define what this wave might look like. He gives us 10 possible definitions that are not exhaustive. In point 5 he says the fourth wave will, "Break out of the sphere of the institutional church and find expression within the multiple spheres of society. Mission has traditionally been the business of the church. Now, however, there is a surge of vision and activity that strongly suggests that Christians in business and commerce, government, education, arts and media, journalism, family concerns, science and technology, and numerous other sub-categories will increasingly be the leaven that permeates society with the Kingdom of God."

The first wave went into Port cities around the world. The second wave went inland to remote areas. The third wave stressed unreached people groups. The 4th wave is the empowering of every believer within their sphere of society. In this  email I want to talk about a paradigm shift that we need on how we see cities being reached and what role we as YWAM can possibly play.

The 7 spheres of influence are a key to the transformation of cities which in the end will bring about the transformation of nations. Cities as I pointed out in my first email affect the destinies of nations. To influence these seven spheres, two things have to happen.

  1. Believers have to be empowered to be ministers in their sphere of society.. There needs to be a paradigm shift that the mission field is not just "way over there" but it is right here where we are working and spending most of our time. Groups like Harvest Evangelism led by Ed Silvoso and others like Repurposing Business (http://www.repurposing.biz)  are doing a superb job in strategically focusing on empowering believers to be marketplace ministers. This development is tearing down the old division of secular and sacred and the need for people to become "full time missionaries" by leaving their jobs.
  2. The second thing that has to happen is that Christians need to allow God to show them how they can transform society through the application of biblical values within their sphere of society. Christian education is not Christian just because Christians are teachers. YWAM can play a key role in the accomplishment of this. But before I get into that let me explain another paradigm shift that I believe has to take place if we are going to be effective in our ministry.

YWAM cities ii part 3-1.png
In the chart I have taken the 7 spheres of society plus a few more and put it in a diagram with the church in the center. The reason I put the church or YWAM in the center is because I used to think the church or YWAM was the key to transforming society. When we think the church or YWAM is the key to transforming society we will end up calling people from those spheres into our church services and programs. Pastors or YWAM leaders can see a good musician and call them to the church or base as they see leading worship as their calling of service. Or an educator can be called to church to fufill the role of teaching Sunday School classes. When the paradigm has the church or YWAM as the center we are basically consumed with the growth of our organization and the effectiveness of our programs.

However if you look at the diagram to the right you will see almost the same diagram but the church has been taken out of the center and instead I have put into the center "Christians in the city" which in reality is the church. It is only the building that I have taken out of the center in reality because the building/church/organization has to be taken out of the center of our thinking. YWAM can be as guilty as the local church for putting ourselves in the center. If we make this change in our thinking we open up possibilities for YWAM to be more involved with non YWAMers who are in the marketplace through our training programs. In a previous email I mentioned about YWAM Korea and their model of the Business DTS and University DTS. The challenge before us is how do we get YWAM out of YWAM? YWAM Korea has some models that are worth looking at for all of us. In the last GLT a small discussion was ventured into about Opus Dei as an organization that has two types of members being the numeraries and the supernumeraries. The numeraries are the full time priests who carry the lesser title. They make up about 30% of the organization. In our terms they would be considered the "YWAMers." The supernumeraries are the working people in the marketplace and they make up about 70% of the organization. In YWAM terms these would be our DTS students who have decided not to join YWAM but are in jobs in the marketplaces of life.

YWAM cities ii part 3-2.png

Opus Dei has a strategy for getting the church out of the church and into the marketplace. The challenge before us as YWAM as cities continue to emerge is how do we get YWAM out of YWAM and yet continue to be YWAM? YWAM Korea, Opus Dei, Harvest Evangelism and others have some key working models that we need to consider as we think about how we start reaching the millions of unreached at our doorsteps in the cities around the world.

Tim Svoboda