“No, YWAM is not a Cult”


Someone sent me an email yesterday:

Hello Peter,
I came across your blog online. You don’t know me, but I would really appreciate your help!

I am a [twenty-something] year old from […], and i have found God in the past year. I feel like I am being called to work in the ministry. As I have no experience in church-related work whatsoever, I thought I could do a DTS with YWAM. I was all set to go to [a YWAM training base], but yesterday I come across many negative blogs about YWAM. Many say it is like a ‘cult’ and friends and family who completed the course returned home ‘cold and removed’.

As you have done YWAM, what is your take on this? What was your experience with YWAM?

I would really appreciate your help!

Kind regards,
[Young Wannabe Aspiring Missionary]

I replied to say:


Thanks so much for your email!

We’re away this week, so I can only email from my smartphone.

But if it helps we could talk by phone? Or if you’re nearby, you could easily visit the Harpenden base where myself and my wife are based.

I suppose in brief I would say “No, YWAM is not a cult”–on two counts.
1. Doctrinally: Unlike the various cults (Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc) YWAM holds to orthodox Trinitarian biblical doctrine. Because YWAM is committed to being Interdenominational (Value 8), unity within YWAM is based more around alignment with the 18 Foundational Values than with an exhaustive doctrinal confession. But one of those Values is Having A Biblical Worldview–which keeps things grounded.

2. Control. Cults are notorious for being unhealthily controlling. YWAM is anything but. On the contrary YWAM is willing to release pretty much anyone to do pretty much anything—so long as we feel God has called them to it. The necessary implication of this is that the work YWAM does is quite varied. And I’m sure some DTSes are better than others. But my experience with YWAM has been great. I’ve blogged briefly about my DTS experience here.

Grace and peace,

A Cross-Cultural Cocktail Mocktail

On this September’s DTS we have 31 trainees from 9 different countries: the USA, Canada, Ecuador, Britain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa, Lithuania. And when you count the nationalities of the staff team then you get to add India, Ghana, Kenya, Ireland and Thailand to that exotic mocktail (our DTS is teetotal) of ethnicities and cultures. And no matter how much cross-cultural experience one might have had (growing up as a missionary kid, I’ve had the privilege of visiting more than twenty different nations) it has been fascinating to watch how the multicultural mosaic takes shape.

The Wisdom of Cross-Cultural Experience
Cathy Nobles, leader of the School of Reconciliation & Justice, injected some of her wisdom on such issues into the second day of orientation, her Texan drawl reminding us that “every single person that you meet is made in the image of God; whether they know it or not—made in the image of God; whether they like it or not—made in the image of God”. Nanzip Lannap, Nigerian ambassador of reconciliation, then joined her in a pair of sunglasses: “these [sunglasses] are my worldview”. And he began sharing his experience of culture shock upon arriving at the YWAM Harpenden Oval, and challenging us to be aware of our ‘normal’ cultural presuppositions.

The Comedy of Cross-Cultural Collision
Our first Friday fun-night kept the theme of cross-cultural awareness strongly accented (was this deliberate? I’m not sure) with My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The film is a romantic comedy in which the lead character Toula is faced with the expectations of her family that she will “marry a Greek boy, make Greek babies, and feed everyone until the day she dies”. But she when she falls in love with the more-typically-American and not-remotely-Greek Ian Miller (whose parents look suspiciously like the couple in the painting American Gothic—has anyone else noticed that? ), her family is forced to adjust somewhat–but probably not quite as much as he and his family!

The Trans-cultural Need of Forgiveness
The Oval’s very own Ina Steyn was the fount of wisdom for our first week of teaching, setting the work of Jesus on the cross in Trinitarian perspective and then forcing us to confront the implication that we must forgive those who have treated us injustly. One of the things that repeatedly strikes me about YWAM speakers is the personal experience they have to back up the claims that they are making, and with Ina it was no different. She shared the lesson she herself had learnt in her own first week of DTS, about the need to accept your ‘topsoil’ — that is, the family, culture and financial situation from whence you have grown. And after telling us her testimony of how her apologizing to family members had brought new life to her situation, she set us each the task of counting twenty blessings of our own backgrounds, and then naming and forgiving any injustices our upbringings had inflicted upon us. It’s not just the cultures of others that we need to learn to be reconciled to!

The Hard Work of Cross-Cultural Understanding
Thursday evening might be the one free evening on the DTS schedule, but that doesn’t mean that everything grinds to a standstill. While some made small-talk on the sofas and others played table-football against each other, an intense discussion of American political policy was breaking out in the corner of the #9 lounge. When you have a passionately pacifist Swiss guy and a patriotic American girl (who was given a shotgun for her eighteenth birthday!) discussing the question of military intervention, then you really get to see the different ways that different cultures view different issues. But part of the beauty of YWAM’s value of being International & Interdenominational is that you don’t have to hide these things under the carpet and pretend like we agree about them all. So we wrestled out the question for some time — before finally closing the discussion in prayer.

Because ultimately, whatever tribe or tongue we might be from, our loyalty is to Jesus. And this is what binds us together.


What stories do you have of cross-cultural interaction? I’d love to hear your anecdotes, whether humourous or painful.

St Albans Through A DTS Camera Lens

First weekend of the DTS and we all went to St Albans for the day to stretch our legs, admire the cathedral, and get to know each other a little bit better. As we stopped momentarily outside the train station to brief everyone on what the day would involve, inspiration struck, and I announced an impromptu photography competition. And here are the awards. Drum-roll, please!

Honorable Mention

Jan-Jaap Schuurman

Ah, the audacious Jan-Jaap standing arms upraised in the pulpit of St Alban’s Cathedral, while behind him the diverse colours of the stained-glass window shine prettily.

I like this more for the shamelessness for the pose than anything else. But I do like it 😉


Danielle Oostergo

This beautiful shot of an English oak gives the impression that we are still in the middle of summer. Apparently to the North Americans it conjured up images of the Lord of the Rings’ Hobbiton.

Adomas Petrauskas

Adam has been volunteering here at YWAM Harpenden over the summer, but only decided to do the DTS the evening before the school started. This cheeky snapshot exhibits that same skill of perfect timing.

And the winner is…

Tiffany Gibson

My predilection for photographs of accordion players might be a result of my having read The Ongoing Moment a few years ago, and been introduced to the accordion theme in classic photos such as that one with the African-American soldier.

Regardless, this caught my fancy and won my promised prize.

Congratulations to everybody who entered!


What’s the best photo you’ve taken recently?