Dear YWAM Brothers and Sisters,
I’m writing to you all (here in Tennessee, we say, “y’alI”) partly to tell you that I thank God for your bold and winsome witness to the good news of Christ all over the world; but also for another reason: I want to encourage you, both now as you serve in YWAM and in the future (when the “Youth” part of “Youth With A Mission” lies in your past), to plug into a local church. I have been a pastor for 46 years, and a seminary professor educating pastors for 37 of those years. So obviously I have a heart for Christ’s church.
In fact, when I retired last year and my wife and I moved from California to Tennessee, one of our top priorities was to find a faithful, Bible-teaching, Christ-exalting, grace-living church; and then to sink our “roots” deeply into the life of this community of Jesus-followers.
Why have we done this? Why was it so vital to us to connect with a congregation and come under the shepherding of its pastor and elders?
And why should you—even now, as you serve with YWAM, and especially when your YWAM ministry draws to a close—sink your roots down deep into a faithful church?
- The Church Needs You.
Every local church has weaknesses. Some members are more passionate to spread the gospel than others, some more mature, some more compassionate and patient. It’s tempting to dismiss flawed congregations because other members are weak where we are strong.
We can assume that their sluggish immaturity will hinder our spiritual growth, or that their stubborn selfishness will thwart the church’s mission and ministry.
But this thinking is backwards. God’s Word compares the church to a human body composed of various members, each with a different function. In fact, the variety in our gifts and abilities, our strengths and weaknesses, is what the Holy Spirit uses to bind us together and teach us all to depend on each other, as we all depend on our risen Lord. “God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:24-26).
Are you bold in sharing the good news of Jesus, while others are timid? Praise God, that you can gently show and encourage them to evangelize more openly! When you see a church’s defects, that is not a reason to pull away. It’s a reason to pray and to pitch in!
- You Need the Church.
You may be strong in evangelism and bursting with energy as sold-out disciples of the Lord Jesus, but the fact is that other Christians have spiritual gifts , solid wisdom, and mature trust in the Lord that you need. God’s Word makes this point: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet , ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary , the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” (1 Corinthians 12:21-22).
Becoming like Christ is not something that each of us can do on our own. We need each other. We grow together, as the Word says, “Christ he gave the apostles , the prophets, the evangelists , the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood , to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4: 11-13) And you need, as I do, shepherds to protect you spiritually and to steer you straight when you are prone to wander:
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account . Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13 : 17).We are all sheep caught in the badlands, unskilled in self-defense. We need the protection of shepherds who answer to our Good Shepherd , and the safety to be
found by sticking with the flock.
- Jesus Wants You To.
We’ve already heard his heart for you in the words above from 1 Corinthians, Ephesians , and Hebrews. Here is one more strong appeal from the Savior who loves us and gave himself for us, who knows our need of his mercy-received through each other-in order to stay safe and to thrive in the strong grip of his grace: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works , not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
Jesus himself wants us to hold fast by sticking together.
As your brother in Christ, as one called by Christ to shepherd his sheep, I encourage you to commit to a local congregation , and to bring into that family of God—with lots of humility and love—all that God’s Spirit has made you by his grace through your service with YWAM worldwide.
In Christ’s love,
Rev. Dennis E. Johnson, Ph. D.
Professor Emeritus of Practical Theology, Westminster Seminary California Assistant Pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Dayton, Tennessee