Youth With A Mission is active in almost every nation. I am astonished at the growth we have seen in the last 50 years, and the pace of growth continues to increase because there are now around 800 training centres in YWAM and each of those is training more people to “go into all the world and preach the gospel”. Through the obedience of Loren and Darlene Cunningham, YWAM has been multiplying multipliers for five decades. That is a strategy planned by God!
In many of those nations, it is not possible to register YWAM legally because there is no provision for Christian ministries to exist. That creates several difficulties: Whose name goes on bank accounts or financial transactions? If property is rented who rents it? If a property is purchased, who owns it? What about other ministry assets such as cars or office equipment or sound equipment? How do you create a public identity? Finding good answers is not easy.
We tend to think it is much easier in the nations where Christian ministries can create non-profit, or charitable, legal entities for that ministry. But the dangers in these nations are also great.
In 1971, Loren asked Marti and me to pray about going to the United Kingdom to get YWAM established. Reona Peterson (now Joly) had been working part-time as a teacher, praying and getting to know people for the previous nine months, but YWAM was not yet a legal entity . With Loren’s advice and Reona’s help, we set up a Limited Company and then gained charitable status. Some of the people to whom Reona introduced us were willing to serve on our board and we got underway. All we had to do was submit verified accounts to Company House and the Charity Commissioners annually. Our board meetings were prayerful and mostly about supporting the work of the growing number of YWAMers in the UK.
How things have changed! And there are reasons for the changes. Some charities have been “shell organisations” set up for the purpose of obtaining visas for non-residents who would not otherwise qualify to immigrate. Some other charities were found to have employees or volunteers who abused children or vulnerable adults. Other companies or charities were facades of respectability but were really sending funds to terrorist groups. Still others engaged in party political activities and that’s not allowed. Some failed to keep their properties to good standards and put people at risk, or they engaged in high-risk adventures without taking essential safety precautions.
All these things resulted in legislation and regulations, which then changed the way our board operates and the way it relates to the YWAM volunteers. Now we must be sure we have a Risk Register”, we must be sure there is a team overseeing all our people who need, or have, visas. Government has put regulations in place to be sure that they “work” enough and get enough time off and holidays. Our accounts must be subject to a very expensive annual audit by authorised auditors. We must have legal advice on many of the matters that come to our attention. We must assure that all YWAM volunteers have attended an annual day of Safe-guarding Training and are complying with what they learned. A vast number of rules and regulations are embedded in the legislation on these subjects, so much so that I doubt that any charity is always fully compliant.
The board members of any charity or company are ultimately responsible for making sure that the workers are operating with full knowledge of the law and in compliance. That means that many people who would have been delighted to serve on our board now have second thoughts, and I don’t blame them. It also means that the nature of our board meetings has completely changed. We have so many statutory obligations that there is less time for prayer, less time to hear the good reports and less time to get to know the YWAMers.
We are being moulded into the shape of government—the image of Caesar. When Jesus was confronted by Pharisees trying to catch him in a mistake, they presented him with a coin of the type that was used for the temple tax. Then they asked him a question, “Should we pay the temple tax?” Most of the religious leaders resented the way the Roman Empire had meddled in their religious affairs and, even though they had a massive, impressive temple built by a Roman ruler, they chafed at the idea that they had to pay a tax to worship.
Jesus avoided their trap by asking whose image was on the coin, to which they replied, “Caesars.” Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God”.
Thankfully, the governments of developed Western nations are not demanding outright worship, but they are imposing their values on Christian ministries. We must put prayerful thought into how we respond to the growing bureaucracy.
People who serve in government are tasked with fixing problems, but the only tool available to them is law-making, and yet most of the problems come from wrong behaviour by individuals. Law can’t provide a remedy for sin.
The vision that God gave to Loren Cunningham resulted in the “de-regulation of missions.” Churches and denominations required so many qualifications for missionaries that it commonly took more than six years to get ready to go to another country or people group. Loren and Darlene took young people overseas after a week, or less, of orientation. There were other similar movements just getting underway at the same time and the results have been spectacular. Through YWAM alone, millions of people have had a short-term missionary experience.
Now many more traditional churches and organisations have created short-term opportunities. The world of missions has been thoroughly de-regulated! But now it is being tied up in red-tape again, but this time by government.
YWAM has always consisted of people doing ministry rather than having loads of office staff running a top-heavy organisation, and that is still largely the case. But thanks to the avalanche of regulations, we cannot function without people looking after our visa processes, our safe-guarding, our risk management etc. For now, those compliance demands can be met by people who are often in other ministry but work part-time in compliance. Thank God for them! But where is all this going?
Governments are inescapably bureaucratic, and we all know that governments just keep growing bigger, with more complexity and greater costs. Their regulations are forcing ministries to look more and more like government departments. The first step towards any solution is identifying the problem and that is the purpose of this article. There are no comprehensive solutions to this problem, but there are ways we can moderate the affect of government pressure. We must continually examine the growing demands, think through their purposes and aim to meet them, but without getting tied up by the letter of the law.
The most important response, though, is to recognise the problem, pray for wisdom and do everything we can to resist the pressure to conform to the image of Caesar.