Fifty years of Dutch YWAM: From stamps to discipleship


Christian Life

Evert van Vlastuin, CNE.news

Evert van de Poll in front of the organ at the Grand Temple de Nîmes, France, where he recorded a musical CD. Photo Photostudio Nîmes

Looking for stamps from all countries? Join Youth with a Mission (YWAM). There, people from all over the world will help you complete your collection. That joke went at least 50 years ago, says Prof Evert van de Poll.

In mid-March, Van de Poll will lead a symposium on half a century of YWAM in the Netherlands: Jeugd met een Opdracht (JmeO, 1973-2023).

The Netherlands is pretty much the landing place in Europe for American ideas, says the professor of missiology at the Evangelical Theological Faculty (ETF) in Leuven. "People here are receptive to evangelical initiatives from the English-speaking world. So too for the Youth With A Mission movement, which trained young believers in discipleship and missionary work."

What characterises YWAM?
"Firstly, it is the model of equipping young people for mission in a living and studying community. The second is the emphasis on discipleship: following Jesus in all areas of life. In addition, YWAM allowed young people to be introduced to new forms of evangelisation, including contemporary music styles. YWAM was also instrumental in the development of music-driven worship in the liturgy. At the moment, that is characteristic of the whole evangelical movement."

Van de Poll (1952) belongs to the same youth revival movement from which JmeO emerged but was never involved in the organisation. "Yet enough has happened through JmeO to dedicate a symposium to it. Jeff Fountain –together with his wife Romkje, one of the leading figures of JmeO in the Netherlands– immediately took up the idea. We also found partners: MissieNederland, 'my' Evangelical Theological Faculty, Ede Christian University, the theological journal Inspirare, and of course JmeO."

What themes will be covered at the symposium?
"First and foremost, missiology. YWAM was meant to promote evangelisation in the big city. Many city dwellers are cosmopolitan and are open to other cultures. Floyd McClung, the figurehead of YWAM in the Netherlands for many years, managed to work with churches in the city in the 1970s and 1980s.

The second angle is practical theology and church building. YWAM has also been influential within churches, for example, through prayer networks and pastors' meetings."

The third angle is youth ministry. Van de Poll finds it remarkable that YWAM still attracts new young people. "The founders were among the baby boomers. While other organisations sometimes struggled to respond to new youth cultures, JmeO managed to attract successive generations X, Y and Z (the millennials).

During the symposium, experts will reflect on these issues. I hope we can draw lessons that make sense for both the evangelical movement and the churches."

Was JmeO also a threat to the traditional churches?
"It was sometimes perceived that way. YWAM is deliberately not a church. The aim of JmeO was and is to be of service to churches. But the faith expression and musical styles did sometimes alienate."

From the more conservative and pietistic branch of the Reformed churches, contact with JmeO remained difficult because of contemporary music and the emphasis on free will. To what extent does this relationship come into play at the symposium?
"Not specifically. Arminianism doesn't touch JmeO so much as the evangelical movement in general. YWAM is a typical evangelical organisation with a charismatic spirituality. However, it is flexible regarding sensitivities in churches."

Where does YWAM stand now?
"Remarkably, the theology is still the same as in 1973. International leadership ensures that YWAM's core values, including the scriptural authority, remain central. The choice of marriage and family also remains unchanged; alternative relationship forms and gender theories are rejected. Compared to many churches, the ethos has remained conservative and traditionally evangelical."

The symposium will be at Ede Christian University CHE and will be in Dutch. For more info, look at MissieNederland.

This article was published before in Dutch in Reformatorisch Dagblad on December 15th, 2023.



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