This post is the third in a series on the influential Christian missions organization Youth With a Mission (YWAM)….In the first post I outlined one significant part of YWAM’s theologically controversial history, its promotion of Moral Government Theology and Open Theism. The second post shows that YWAM has allied itself with leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation movement and has adopted many of their questionable teachings and practices.
One of the cornerstone teachings at YWAM is about the importance of learning to “hear God’s voice” – or, in other words, learning to receive personalized, daily, moment-by-moment direction from God –usually via dreams, visions, and prophetic impressions.
To be very clear: this YWAM practice does not generally refer to hearing God’s voice in Scripture – at least not by reading it in context. Listening to the timeless guidance and obeying the commands foundin His written Word – with regard to its literary, historical and grammatical contexts – is a sound and essential practice.
Rather, in YWAM, when Scripture is used to hear God’s voice, leaders often neglect sound interpretative practices. Instead, they frequently misuse Scripture by choosing verses willy-nilly and treating them like fortune cookies or a Magic 8-Ball. Dubious teachings about hearing God’s voice are taught at all YWAM Discipleship Training Schools during their lecture phase, as they are part of the core curriculum.
….For example, a team from YWAM Harbour City Hong Kong went on an outreach to the Philippines. While there, they sought to hear God’s voice before giving a public evangelistic presentation.
One of the team members suddenly had a mental image of Elmo, the Sesame Street character. They all thought the mental image seemed silly. But later, at the presentation, they saw a girl who was about 12 years old. She was wearing a T-shirt with Elmo on the front. They determined, from the mental image their teammate had seen earlier, that God wanted them to speak with the girl. They did and she immediately gave her life to Christ, according to one of the team members who later recounted the storyon YouTube.
What could possibly be wrong with learning to hear God’s voice – especially if it leads to a young girl giving her life to Christ? God is sovereign. This means He can speak to people anyway He desires and at anytime.
The problem with YWAM teaching is that many of the principles and techniques for hearing God’s voice cannot be supported in Scripture. Furthermore, students are taught that, by using these techniques,they can expect God to speak to them outside of Scripture on a regular basis.These teachings and practices can lead to making poor decisions with sometimes disastrous results. They also make YWAM students more likely to become victims of spiritual abuse.
How do YWAM teachings about hearing God’s voice open the door to spiritual abuse? Recall that YWAM students seek to make every decision only after hearing from God. In such contexts, leaders who claim to hear most clearly from Him may – intentionally or unintentionally – exert undue influence on the thoughts and decision-making of the young people under their authority.
Indeed, this is exactly what happened to a former YWAMer named Laurie Jacobson, according to an article she wrote for the Cultic Studies Journal. The article, titled “My Experience in YWAM,” is featured on the website of Spiritual Abuse Resources….Jacobson writes that, while in YWAM, she went along with the leaders’ decisions, even when they seemed wrong to her. She did so because she hadn’t heard anything from God about His will for certain matters in her life.But her leaders claimed that they had heard God’s will for her. She said her confidence in her ability to hear God “had been undermined by their [the leaders’] very confidence in being able to do so.”
She also said: “It may seem that Intercession [i.e.,hearing God’s voice] gives a student his own authority because he need only say to a leader, ‘God told me that it was the right thing to do and I “got scripture” in Intercession.’ But it didn’t work that way. Intercession is unique and generally new to the students, who are told that they will improve with practice. Therefore, each student was obliged to agree with the staff said, and if one tried saying, ‘God told me,’ the staff would contradict the student and, referring to the student’s inexperience, say, ‘Don’t worry,everyone is bound to make a mistake.’
Of course, the idea that everyone is bound to make a mistake when they listen to God begs the haunting question, “Can a DTS leader hear wrongly, too?” The notion that DTS leaders hear more accurately from God is a potential tool for spiritual manipulation and abuse.
To be fair, the idea that [YWAM] students cannot hear God’s voice as well as their leaders may not be stated explicitly at all bases. But it does seem to follow logically from YWAM’s teachings that students can learn to hear God voice by engaging in various exercises taught by their leaders, and that they can improve with practice.
In sum, seeking direction in the haphazard manner taught by YWAM is rife with many dangers, including opening the door to spiritual abuse.Accounts of such spiritual abuse are shared regularly by the members of a growing Facebook group named “Spiritual Abuse in YWAM.” Presently, the group has more than 500 members.