Why should YWAM have a University

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Why should YWAM have a University - Letter from the International Provost Tom Bloomer.

September 2003

Dear friends

Wherever I travel I am asked to explain the University of the Nations. You don't have to know much about the UofN to see that it is unique. Its uniqueness comes from a blend of many different flavours: it is global, cross-cultural and adaptable. It is a combination of many elements and the mixture of these ingredients gives the UofN its appeal and impact.

One of the hardest ingredients to comprehend is this: in its style of education, the UofN is both formal and nonformal. Why bring formal education into YWAM training? If we look for this model in the New Testament, we see that Jesus and the Apostle Paul did not choose to teach formally. There are three basic types of education:

Informal education is outside the classroom and unintentional. For example, most people learn their native language informally, in the family.
Formal education is schooling in a classroom; it is the informing of the mind. It is like a series of steps: completing one level qualifies you to go to the next level. Often it is exclusive and intended to fail as many people as possible, excluding up to 95 percent of the population by design. Being future-oriented it takes a long time to get a degree.
Nonformal education is intentional, can be in a classroom or not, but it is not hierarchical. Swimming lessons and all church activities are nonformal education. It is inclusive and designed to quickly add skills and useful knowledge. Innovation and creativity breed in the atmosphere of nonformal education. The early Celtic monks trained nonformally. They memorized all 150 Psalms for worship and then meditated on them in the garden, kitchen or library throughout the day, as David did. These apostolic monks evangelised the pagan, violent Europeans.

In the DTS we have an excellent nonformal education program promoting rapid spiritual growth in Biblical and powerful ways. So why bother with the grades, degrees and requirements of formal education? Perhaps the most basic answer is that the Lord told us to start a university. It was obedience to His command heard by Howard Malmstadt and Loren Cunningham, amongst others.

Adding Layers

We also had several problems with our nonformal YWAM schools in the early 1980's. One problem was uneven training quality. There was no international accountability or agreed-upon standards for the different YWAM schools. Quality and focus were eroding in some places and our unity was in danger.

You may wonder why it took a university to fix these problems. We could have improved our nonformal system, but to do so we would have had to set up the same kinds of systems as a university has. The term "university" gave us a target, a vision and a goal. We get our legitimacy as a university because universities first began as ministries of the Church, training leaders for the Church and for society.

It also succeeded in improving accountability. When a school leader registers a school in the UofN, they join a faculty or a centre, which provide worldwide networks of people committed to their area of interest. Most school leaders appreciate this support, fellowship and input. In the registration process we can also see what is being done and taught in any given school or seminar.

Keeping missionaries in the field

Another issue we faced in the 80's was that people were leaving YWAM to obtain diplomas that would open doors in restricted-access nations. This was not necessarily a problem: I myself sought education outside YWAM twice; once for a Masters degree after having been in YWAM for fourteen years, and then for a Doctorate six years after that.

Having a university in YWAM really helps this process: many universities, especially Christian universities, recognize UofN training and willingly take YWAMers as transfer students. The UofN helps YWAMers make their training understandable and recognizable to their parents, pastors, other universities, visa authorities, insurance companies, etc.

A big problem though with missionaries taking time out for training is that they usually have to leave their ministries for years, and often never return to the field. The UofN encourages people to stay in their ministry and study courses as needed to help them become more effective missionaries.

Raising Standards

A third problem was that our training was wide but not deep. Having a university raised the level of our education. The accountability process has prompted many hundreds of our school leaders and staff to think more deeply about what they are doing in training.

When we first ran schools, we had no small groups, only intercession groups, nor did we think much about the place of the school in the base community. There was no grading and very little processing of the teaching. Now we teach training staff about how to run effective schools, and we talk about these issues. Having to work through why and how students are graded, for instance, brings up many Biblical and cross-cultural issues, not just educational ones.

The UofN aims to have the best teachers possible, and for us that means those who are doing the ministry, not just studying it. Our system of having school staff who are close to the students in age and experience, plus qualified visiting speakers coming in for a week at a time, is one of the most dynamic in the world. Having attended four well-known American universities, two Christian and two non-Christian, I can affirm that UofN training, when we do it right, equals and even surpasses some graduate-level university courses.

Our best UofN courses are based on revelation. In other words, our training can be better, not because we are more intelligent, but because we listen to God. Combining the study of different theories with a revelational ministry basis is dynamite!

Maintaining focus

Both the formal elements of schools (studies, grades, and lectures) and the nonformal elements (prayer, worship, work duties and outreach) are necessary. Combining formal elements of education with nonformal gives incredible potential, because both types of education have their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Together they give us the best possible way to train nation-changing missionaries.

Our first priority is and will continue to be the training of effective missionaries, and the furthering of missions at many levels. In the current catalogue we have 800 different schools, outreaches and seminars registered: every one of them has a missions orientation. We are preparing approximately 15,000 missionaries a year at 400 training centres in 110 countries. We are, and will continue to be, a missions university.

God instructed us to combine nonformal and formal, spirit and truth. The experts say that it is impossible. History shows that it is very difficult to do. But that is our call, our challenge. And it is our job description in the UofN.

Yours in Christ

Tom Bloomer

International Provost - University of the Nations

Member - TriCampus Council, Switzerland