YWAM 60th 2020, A Time to Die

“We are praying for more fruit, that is our deep desire. But there are conditions for bearing more fruit, and one of them is dying.

Another is pruning, to change the image – any experienced gardener will confirm that correct pruning is the key to bearing much fruit – and pruning is also the only regular maintenance needed for mature plants.

YWAM is mature, at 60, and we have also been in a season of rapid growth – actually, wild and unchecked growth. The factor that concerns me is the number of small ministries and tiny bases that are not bearing much fruit.  They should be pruned.

We are called to work in teams

For example, I know personally one committed, lovable couple who have been trying to pioneer a base in a European country for several years now, with no staff. They have teenage children, work outside jobs due to inadequate support, and have tried to run DTS’s with 2-3-4 students. They have 2 apartments for the ministry, which has worked until now because they house DTS outreach teams targeting their big city and that’s how they have paid the rent.

But that phase is over . . . and not just for a few weeks. The world has turned . . . and will never again be the way that it was. We have not been this way before.

The other worrying trend is small teams, sometimes only a couple, going out to pioneer YWAM in some place. Sometimes they have children, and/or one of them has to work at least half-time. They proclaim that they are pioneering YWAM, but in too many cases it’s not working. There is no fruit.

Both trends are failing because they are trying to operate outside of our anointing: YWAM is teams. Not a couple. A couple all alone in a city cannot be YWAM, by definition. Apparently, each of these couples has been “released” by a YWAM leader somewhere; but letting people do what they want to is not leadership. It is irresponsible.

All of these so-called ministries should be pruned. The people should be recalled to join growing ministries and bases, or released to begin the long and difficult preparation to be influential in the spheres.

Are you called, knowledgeable and equipped to impact other spheres?

Most YWAMers are not qualified to have an influence in a sphere: they have nothing to say. A symptom of this lack of preparation is the unprofessional manner that many betray when they try to sign up on LinkedIn. It would be funny, if it weren’t so pitiful.

In September 2019 I gave a word at our big (for Switzerland) charismatic conference, to the effect that a wave of judgment would soon sweep the world; and that this time, Switzerland would not be spared (as it was in 1914-18 and 1939-45). This word was well received, and I was able to lead in a time of prayer for 90 minutes afterward, consisting entirely of confessing the sins of the nation. I shared this word with the leaders of YWAM in francophone Switzerland a few weeks later, and it was well received by that group also.

What I did not see, nor never imagined, was that the coming economic judgment would be precipitated by a worldwide pandemic.

Sometimes smaller means more fruit

So, YWAM is now being pruned: conferences, schools, outreaches, everything. It is not a selective pruning of our choice, it is massive, universal, blunt-force pruning.

My conclusion, and hope, is that we would not resist the pruning. We need to be ready to let ministries and bases die, and not try to keep them on life support.

The severe pruning has already begun; but if we collaborate with the Master Gardener we will enter into a season where we are smaller and more nimble, but able to bear much more fruit.

One hundred-fold.

Since the whole Church, and our nations, are also being severely pruned, wide doors of ministry will open up rapidly. The potential in this new season is mind-blowing.

We need to be praying, and acting, to see that our Redeemer will do what He does best. We know that our Redeemer lives.

What is meant by pruning?

Which branches should be pruned, both in our lives and in our ministries?

First, the dead and dying: what is not bearing fruit? Are all of your activities actually reaching and ministering to people? Even if there is growth, activity and noise, they do not necessarily mean fruit, they may even mask the lack of it. We love vision and challenges and mobilization in YWAM, but is this exciting thing we are hearing about actually bearing fruit?

Resolving intractable conflict (like Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15)

Second, branches rubbing against each other: they will eventually scape the protective bark off and open the plant up to disease. Do you see two people continually in conflict? Healthy disagreement if fine (iron sharpens iron), but constant conflict hurts morale and eventually destroys hope. How to tell when one of them has to go? When their conflicts start to negatively affect those around them, one of them has to go. In Genesis 13.5-11, we see that Abram and Lot had to separate because of constant conflict between their followers. Separation is not a sin; it can often prevent a situation from degenerating to the point of bitter infighting and jealousy.

Some of our oldest activities should be closed down

Third, pruning often consists of not just shortening a bush, giving it a haircut; but for many bushes, especially mature ones, we remove one third of the oldest growth every year, cutting from the bottom. So, the bush is opened up to air circulation, reducing the risk of airborne diseases. Check out your oldest ministry activities: are they still bearing fruit?

A caution: avoid the temptation of immaturity, to simply sweep away everything that went before, to be able to start over with a clean slate: the old wine is best!

More light!

Fourth, the opening up of a plant lets the light in; and new growth occurs where light can strike the branches. In recent years, a new pruning technique is being recommended, called ‘well of light’. For fruit trees and for most free-standing roses, it involves cutting out the centre branches completely, leaving a basket-shaped plant whose walls are the exterior branches. To get an idea, hold out your hand palm up, and spread your fingers: you see how the light can now easily reach the centre of the plant, and bring forth new life on the branches.

In our early days, we used to talk a lot about ‘walking in the light’, in other words keeping short accounts with our sins. In many of our staff and community gatherings, we would wait before the Lord and ask the Spirit to show us if we were holding anything against a brother or a sister; and we would not go on with the meeting until everyone had the opportunity to go and quietly ask forgiveness. When was the last time you did this in your community? Are you walking in the light? Or in old hurts and misunderstandings and suspicions? 

Jesus said the Sabbath was mandated for our sake

There is an enormous amount of travel, meetings, conferences, constant scurrying about in the Church; when I teach young leaders, they are always amazed to hear me emphasize the Sabbath. Many of them have never heard any teaching about it. I was struck by the Facebook post from Al Akimoff: “We neglected the Sabbath for so many years; and now the Sabbath has come to us.”

Yes, we are all in an enforced season of rest, of pruning. I saw it coming last December but saw it an only an economic judgement; never imagining that the worldwide recession (or depression) would be kicked off by a pandemic. I also thought that It would be somewhat voluntary, and that we would have time to put it into place.

Instead, it is involuntary, brutal, and massive.

It may seem brutal, but…

Beginning gardeners underestimate just how severe a good pruning job must be. We have a saying: “Let your neighbour prune your rosebushes.” This is because we are all tempted to be sentimental, and to not prune nearly enough.

The Master Gardener is not sentimental, He lives in a ‘well of light’. In His love, He will prune and even judge severely: see Isaiah 5.1-7. Sometimes this is the only thing that can bring us back to total dependence on Him.

Already, our conferences, schools, seminars, outreaches, and community life meetings are being severely pruned. But we must be ready to accept the pruning away of many of our ministries, and even bases.

Let us embrace what the Lord is doing: the final result can be that we will be able to bear more fruit than ever, much more.


Burtigny, 27 March 2020”

Copyright 2020 Thomas A. Bloomer

How Did YWAM Love Feasts Begin?

In 1971 at YWAM Lausanne, there were a couple of serious accidents on Sunday afternoons. When Loren and Darlene Cunningham sought the Lord as to the reason, they understood Him to be saying He would restore His protection when there was a new commitment to His holiness, especially concerning Sabbath observance.

There were a few other key influences during the same period.

One was a visit from two sisters of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Darmstadt, who were surprised at the unruliness of mealtimes. They suggested that meals should be times of peace, quietness, and relationship.

Another teaching from the sisters that deeply marked us was their emphasis on never letting the sun go down on one’s anger. Before going to bed, each one of them would check with the Holy Spirit to see if forgiveness should be asked of anyone else in their community. And they would write notes making things right, and slip them under the person’s bedroom door.

This teaching fit perfectly with a teaching of Joy Dawson’s message on “The Sin of Achan” (Joshua 7), that the sin of one person can prevent the Lord’s blessing on the community. We were so hungry to meet with the Lord at each Love Feast, that everyone would take time to seek Him on Friday afternoon to ask if there was any unconfessed sin in their lives, especially anything hindering relationships. And on a nice day, you would see people sitting two-by-two on the front lawn, asking forgiveness of one another and praying together.

And the Lord honoured these small steps of obedience, and met with us powerfully as we made time and space for the Holy Spirit at the Love Feast.

Reona Peterson-Joly had been teaching Orthodox Jewish children. She shared how these families observed the Sabbath: the house was cleaned from top to bottom to purge it of leaven; there was no work on the Sabbath day; the Sabbath began the night before with the best meal of the week, and most of all, there was a total focus on the Lord.

Another key influence at that time was Joe and Judi Portale’s return to the base from Czechoslovakia. There they participated in a 250 – year old Moravian tradition: the ‘love feast’, which consisted of passing around bread and telling each person what they meant to them, and how they loved them.

The Cunninghams proceeded to restore the Sabbath by adapting the Jewish traditions to YWAM Lausanne:

No work on Sunday — so the noon meal was usually cold, to reduce the kitchen work.
No sports or hard play — this wasn’t a legalistic rule, but an outworking of the commitment to ‘turn your foot from your own pleasure on the Sabbath’.
The Sabbath was a day of quiet, rest, walks in the forest, and concentration on the Lord.
To prepare for the Sabbath, we had a love feast on Saturday evenings.
The tables were beautifully decorated with candles, centerpieces, and flowers. The best meal of the week was prepared, everybody dressed up, and we set place cards so people wouldn’t always sit next to their same friends all the time.

There was a sense of expectancy and holiness that whole day. Students and staff both prayed for hours during the afternoon for the love feast. People would go and knock on each other’s doors, to confess things to one another and ask forgiveness. Nobody wanted to be an obstacle to the Lord’s meeting with us that evening.

The children also had their own special meal with decorations, but it was earlier so they could be put to bed and the parents could be free to fully participate in the love feast.

Each week a different group would take responsibility for serving everyone else. Sometimes there were special songs and music but it was oriented toward worship, not entertainment. At the end of the meal, the love feast leader gave a meditation on one aspect of the character of God. Then we went straight into a time of worship, still seated around the tables.

The worship was not directed from up front, anybody could lead out in prayer, read a passage of Scripture, start a song, etc. The worship would last at least an hour, or even two. Nobody wanted to leave. We waited upon God together, in His Presence. In other words, it was a vertically, and horizontally, oriented meal.

YWAM Lausanne learned to worship God during the love feasts (because as late as 1974, we didn’t know how to worship yet, we had ‘singing’).

From Lausanne the love feast spread to other YWAM bases, then in 1974 the Cunninghams took it to Hawaii, and it went around the YWAM world. Later, as Jannie Rogers has said, “The god of the weekend stole it away.” He’s pretty powerful …. and it’s true, it was a tremendous amount of work. The hospitality crew would spend most of Friday to prepare the tables, and they prayed about the seating, even which singles to seat together (really!). Just folding the napkins took ten people a full hour. As base leader, I took the whole of Friday afternoon to prepare the meditation for the love feast.

In more recent times in YWAM, ‘love feast’ has come to mean any meal that’s a bit different from the normal ones. Such as the ‘love feast’ we attended at one base which consisted of a buffet, then everyone sharing their most embarrassing experience. No worship, no mention of the Lord; and the Holy Spirit didn’t even visit that one.

Fun nights are great. Most bases could use more of these kinds of evenings, they’re tremendously important in community-building. But let’s not call them ‘love feasts’, OK? Throughout the history of the Church, that term has meant a community meal which is lived in true fellowship and in the presence of the holiness of God.

Loren and Darlene did a great job of adapting the Biblical and Jewish Traditions to the YWAM culture of the early 1970’s. Now we need someone to re-adapt them for postmodern youth. What could a love feast look like for Millennials? It should be different from what we had going for those years in Lausanne, but it would of course include the emphasis on beauty, fellowship, solemn joy, and the holy Presence of God.

When you receive the vision from Higher Up, please invite me once. I’d like to see what it looks like.

Love Feast Beginnings: Thomas A. Bloomer, 1998;
Printed February 23, 2005
2019 UofN Reference Guide. Copyright © 2005 by YWAM/UofN;
Revised 2015, 2017 - Page 128

Excellence Crucified

Back a few years ago, there was a television commercial by a well-known stockbrokerage firm whose catchphrase was, ”When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen.” I could say that about quite a few people I know, but there’s one person in particular, a wise and somewhat hidden prophet, who when he talks, my ears perk up; and I listen. Carefully.

His name is Tom Bloomer, and he is International Provost of YWAM’s University of the Nations (UofN)—in fact God told him the new name for what had been called Pacific & Asia Christian University (PACU). I was there when he first shared it in 1988 at a YWAM Gathering in Manila, Philippines. This regional university was about to go worldwide.

Two of Tom’s gifts are wisdom and the ability to ‘see ahead and understand the implications of decisions we make’ (sort of like the men of Issachar, ‘who understood the times in which they lived, and knew what they should do.’ [1 Chron 12:32] Tom, when he speaks, shares carefully and only at the right time and the right place, always accompanied by a beautifully dry sense of humor.

Teaching the Word is the primary thrust of Tom’s ministry; the challenge before him is to discover what it means to love God not just with our heart, soul and strength, but with our minds as well. Tom’s hobbies include aerobic history, extreme gardening, and prophetic fifth-dimensional composting. That’s a bit of Tom for you. Here he is, speaking for himself . . .

“I want to share a principle that marks our university. I don’t think it is written down anywhere or recorded—it came from a revelation that I received when I went to get my Masters degree back in the 80s at a Christian university in America. In all their printed promotional materials (this was before we had websites), they spoke a lot about excellence and it was the same in other university catalogs. This was at the time when we were forming the UofN, so I was looking around to see what other Christian universities were doing—and not doing.

“In trying to figure out what they were saying about education, it seemed to me to be all about Excellence! Excellence! Excellence! ‘We train our students to be excellent; we want to be an excellent institution.’ This started to really irritate me and I couldn’t figure out why, because of course excellence is a wonderful value.

“And then I looked a little bit deeper. We want to be excellent because Jesus is excellent—everything he did on earth was excellent; everything he does now is excellent. And that is why we want to be excellent. I couldn’t argue with that. But it still irritated me. And I have to check these irritations because sometimes they are pretty fleshy. Other times they are like the holy irritation that the Apostle Paul felt when he saw Athens so full of idols.

“I was feeling that excellence was becoming an idol. I couldn’t figure it out. I was getting my Masters at an excellent school. And I wanted to perfect my own training as well. So I asked the Lord, ‘What is it about excellence that is irritating me?’

“And the Lord showed me this; ‘Yes, he was excellent, but he took his excellence to the cross and allowed it to be crucified, broken for the world.’ And that is the difference between wanting to be excellent and being excellent like Jesus, because Jesus took his excellence to the place of death; and allowed it to be broken and multiplied like bread to feed to the nations.

“I realized this is really what the life of Howard Malmstadt—my father-in-law—signified. He was emeritus professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois, and left it, at the very top—age 55—to start the UofN along with Loren Cunningham. He could have gone to any university in the world and asked for any salary, any budget. But he went to found a new university.

“Howard took his worldwide reputation (he was considered to be the father of modern electronic and computerized instrumentation in chemistry), and let it be broken and buried. The word got out in the scientific community that he had joined a bunch of hippies in Hawaii. But he wanted to use his excellence for the nations.

“And today I think that is what the Lord has done with our UofN; it is a structure where you can become excellent in different fields; but then we can also show you ways to crucify that excellence.

“There was a movement in missions, which I think started in the 80’s (when a lot of other bad things started like disco music), and it kind of went like this: ‘Missions is your career and you should build your résumé.’ Today websites like LinkedIn try to do this for us. Well, I never tried to build my career—I guess I’m not very good at planning. But I ended up with the best job in the world, in the most interesting university in the world.

“I would encourage you that if you find yourself in some forgotten place; if you find yourself in a place that is overlooked by everyone and seems like nobody sees what you are doing, you’re probably right in the middle of the will of the Lord. Burtigny, a tiny village in Switzerland where I live, is to me the center of the world—not a forgotten place. The apostle Paul said it this way: That he was pouring out his life on the altar of sacrifice. It is the same principle.

“When Jesus took human form and came to earth, he did amazing things, yet only a small percentage of them are written down. But he did not stop there . . . “the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” [1 Cor 11:23] Maybe what we are supposed to remember is not just the bread but the fact that his body was broken. And if we follow him on that narrow path we will do the same. And the nations will be blessed.

“I think we have some of the most wonderful and capable people in the world in the UofN. Those who could be building their résumés and be making a lot of money. But that gets to be boring after a while (not that I know for sure, but I can imagine!) I want to encourage you on the path that you have already taken, to continue to follow Jesus in whatever and wherever he leads you. And I hope that he leads you to excellence. And I pray that he leads you to ways and strategies to crucify that excellence and bless the nations!”
Copyright Thomas A. Bloomer, 1990

As Tom said, ” . . . Jesus took his excellence to the cross and he allowed it to be crucified, broken for the world.”

Let’s think about that. Crucify that which my whole purpose in life is heading towards? We’re taught at an early age to aim for excellence, to do the very best that we can (given the ‘tools’ we have).

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame . . . “[Hebrews 12: 1b-2a]

From YWAM E-Touch March, 2016 Edition

The early history of the Hotel du Golf

This is a memo written in October 7th, 1980. Tom Bloomer sent it to the base leadership team in Lausanne, Switzerland, after a conversation with the former owner of the Hotel, Mme André.

I thought you might like to know that in a conversation we had with Mme André a couple of days following M. Blanc’s death, she shared with us quite a bit about the early history of the hotel.

Some of these stories should perhaps be discounted a bit as particularly the personality details may not be 100% true. Also, Mme André’s memory for details is not what it used to be.

In any case, the hotel was built in 19O3 by a sausage butcher who had an inheritance from his mother. Apparently he was a man who was rather rude to his guests and it did not work out very well. After about 30 years the bank, Credit Foncier Vaudois, took over the hotel because he could not make the payments on the mortgage. This was in 1933-34 and the value of the hotel at that time was estimated at SFr. 80,000.

At this time they also completely redid the hotel. It was then that the running water was installed and Mme André said that everything was very well done. It ceased being a rustic type place and became more of an upscale type establishment.

Madame André arrived in 1934 to be the manager of the hotel. At that time she was Mme Cottier and she and her husband took over the place. In 1935 they built the garage. In this pre war period there were quite a number of distinguished visitors, some of whom still return here to visit the place and to see Mme André.

Back then the French franc was strong against the Swiss one, so there were Parisians, Americans and all kinds of guests. Many apparently came because the golf course nearby was one of the first ones in this part of Europe where you could play without having to be a member.

In 1948 the annex was rebuilt; it had been a chicken house and a laundry, but at this time the apartment and rooms were put in.

In 1957 Mme André bought the hotel with a mortgage from the Credit Foncier Vaudois, however she sold it just three years later in 1960 to Gaston & Trudy Hubert for 400,000 Swiss Francs. The Hubert’s redid it at this time, installing the indoor toilets. The rooms which are now toilets on the first and second floors used to be housing rooms. We rented the hotel from Mme Hubert in 1969, on condition that we take in the hotel guests who had already booked. Then we bought it from her a couple years later.

Mme André was in charge of the hotel for 36 years and lived in Room 1, which is at present the bathroom on the first floor to the left. She said, “A general always needs to be with his troops!” and I imagine she ran a pretty tight organization. Here is the list she gave me of the hotel staff as it existed in the 1930’s: 1 farmer, 1 secretary, I barman, 2 waiters, 1 chef, I assistant chef, and chamber maids hired from the area. She paid the princely wage of 5O centimes per hour to the maids (mostly farmer’s wives) and had the reputation of being able to get her money’s worth (however, we must remember of course the Swiss Franc was worth a lot more then than now, so it is difficult to compare these figures with those we know today).

Where we used to have the printing machine, and what is now our pantry now, used to be the ice storage place of the hotel. They would keep the ice down there during the summer because it was the coolest place, being under the stairs on the north side. Also, Mme André has complimented us on how the place has looked and said that many of her former clients when returning to see her have mentioned that the building looks really nice.

One American was there when both of his dogs died, and she gave him permission to bury them between the two linden trees in front of the main building. When he heard that we had bought the property, he immediately called her to make sure that their burial place wasn’t going to be disturbed.

When the plumbing system was upgraded a few years ago, trenches were dug through the front lawn and a thick layer of charcoal was plainly visible. So there used to be a large wooden building on the present site, which makes sense because it is on the corner of two very old roads. There is no record in the cantonal archives of what this building was.

Whatever was there before, I believe it was a place of unanswered prayers . . . because that would be the reason that the Lord sent Loren and Darlene to that spot to start out first YWAM training center.

The Haywagon Story

I realize it’s a bit long, but if you’ve never heard this it’s worth the read. The beam I’m holding, below,is the last remaining piece of the haywagon.

Since it’s a perfect example of the death-of-the-vision principle, it’s a resurrection tale as well.

In early 1974 Loren was in prayer at the Lausanne base, and received what seemed like an unusual word from God: to pray for a farm. Unusual, because farms in Switzerland were virtually impossible to come by; they are almost always family-owned, passed down through the generations and very rarely ever sold. Without any possibilities in sight, Loren nevertheless held fast to what he believed God had told him.

Then he heard that all the equipment of the farm across the road from the YWAM base was going to be auctioned off. The Lord spoke again: “Go to the auction, and buy some farm equipment; because I’m going to give you a farm.” In obedience, Loren took a step of faith and bought a milk can, a roll of barbed wire, and an old, run-down hay wagon. The last item would prove to be more than simply symbolic.

One of the young Swiss staff members at the Lausanne base saw the hay wagon being pulled into the base parking lot. She was shocked to learn that Loren had paid 1,000 Swiss francs for it (as were several other staff). The next weekend she told her parents about Loren’s word about the hay wagon, the ridiculous price paid for it, and the word about receiving a farm in Switzerland. Her father listened with great interest, because he was on the board of a certain orphanage in a village called Burtigny! It was none other than La Maison. He approached the other board members, informing them that YWAM was praying for a farm and asked if they would consider the organisation as a possible candidate. This began a lengthy five-year process, during which the orphanage director repeatedly rejected the pastor’s proposal.

Loren left Switzerland in late 1974 to begin the Kona base in Hawaii, then Joe P. left Lausanne for Kona in 1976. But the francophone staff at the Lausanne base were convinced that the property and its farm was God’s provision and continued to press forward in prayer over the next years.

To make a long story short, the property was turned completely over to YWAM in 1979. It was debt-free, the freezers were full of food, and there was money in the bank. The property included a large central building, a fully-functioning small farm, a large professionally-equipped garden, a carpentry shop, a garage, a stone bread oven, several apartments, four barns, 18 Swiss cows, and their cowbells.

Four young Swiss couples left the Lausanne base and moved to Burtigny in November 1979. They held their first DTS there in 1980 and from the outset had a clear vision to see the training up of francophone youth into missions. YWAM Burtigny has strong links to French-speaking Africa. In keeping with the strong social legacy of the orphanage, the base also took to heart its call to Mercy Ministries on the local front. They took care of the aging staff who had faithfully worked in the orphanage, set up a counseling centre, worked in programs for the restoration of drug users and held regular Summers of Service and ministries with local churches.

The buildings were run down (the school wing was actually condemned), and we have been doing non-stop renovations ever since 1980, some quite extensive. YWAM has used the now modernized former orphanage as a training centre for short- and long-term missionaries, and by the time of the centennial of the buildings in 1999 we had trained as many young people as the number of orphans who had been sheltered here during the 80-year life of the orphanage.

Here’s the point: that small, seemingly insignificant step of faith (in reality a step of obedience) of Loren’s buying the hay wagon was the thing the Lord used to put us in touch with the board member who became our link to the orphanage director. And that first investment of 1,000 Swiss francs has been multiplied many thousands of times over. God is good!

500 years of Reformation, and now?

Message given on April, 5th, 2017
Copyright 2017 by Thomas A. Bloomer

We are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran reformation, and although many people around the world are praying for a new reformation, many of them don’t really know what they are praying for. What does something that happened 500 years ago have to do with us today?

We as missionaries should study what happened during the reformation, especially in Geneva, as it was the deepest and most rapid case of nation transformation in the history of missions. It is not an easy thing to transform a nation, but that team of Frenchmen did it. They weren’t perfect. They got a lot of things wrong, but they did far more than any other group of people has done since them in 500 years!

Reformation or Revival?

So what is reformation? In simple terms, “It is when a nation is transformed in one generation, with new institutions, new laws, and a new worldview.” A reformation is very different from a revival. In a revival, there should also be the beginning of a nation’s transformation. But most of the time, as seen in history, the revival has affected the Church deeply but not the entire nation.

One of our first speakers in our early schools was Duncan Campbell. He had been in the Hebrides revival in Scotland, where they would go to a certain valley there and hear choirs of angels singing. And the church was open every night. Both the non-Christians and the Christians walking to the church would fall on the side of the road under the power of the presence of the Holy Spirit and under conviction of sin.

Many of you have heard about the revival in Wales around 100 years ago. In that revival they taught restitution; in other words, if you had stolen anything you had to pay back that person. There were a powerful series of revivals with Charles Finney in America in the 19th century, one of the most powerful being in Rochester, NY. They say that after that revival, the prisons just emptied over a period of years because there was no new crime. The bars shut down, because no one went drinking anymore. Until very recently Rochester has been known as the most generous city in America, the highest ratio of giving to the population.

So a revival can go very deep. One definition of a revival is that Christians “get on fire with God” and the unbelievers come around to watch them burn. But in a revival there is usually deep conviction of sin and confession. Some revivals have given birth to charitable institutions like hospitals and orphanages. But the laws and political institutions remain relatively untouched, and the revival usually lasts only one generation.

A Snapshot in Scripture

In the 18th year of King Josiah’s reign (2 Kings chap. 22 to 23), he was about 26 years old. He guessed somehow that the money that was supposed to be going to repair the temple was not going there. So he took charge and ordered the financing and general repair of all the temple buildings. In cleaning up the temple they found the book of the law in the House of God. Most people believe that this was the first five books of Moses and of the Bible (the Pentateuch) that they had found. When the king ordered that the scroll be read to him, he went into mourning and tore his clothes, because he realized that they weren’t living according to the law of God. The Lord pronounced judgment on the nation but promised to spare Josiah because of his righteousness. At that point Josiah started tearing down the idols all over the place, bringing a purification of idolatry in the nation. Josiah also reinstituted the Passover.

Josiah’s work was largely limited to what we would call it today the sphere of religion. There was no reformation of the business sector, of buying and selling. There was no mention of help for the poor or the orphans. It was a powerful moment in the history of Israel, but like many of these moments, they lasted for the lifetime of that one king. Better examples of what we are talking about are found in the stories of Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra rebuilt the temple. It was smaller than the first one, not nearly as glorious, but he rebuilt it. Nehemiah came along a bit later and he rebuilt the city. Many people see this as two stages of what the Lord does in a nation. First he has to rebuild and purify the Church, reestablishing worship at its center and cleaning out corruption. But the second phase, the one we haven’t seen enough, is when the nation itself is rebuilt.

The Moravians and Calvin

In the past there has been a noble attempt in Geneva to bring every single area of life under the Lordship of Christ; to take only the Word of God as the authority, not just for the Church, but for the nation. Today the Lord is leading many churches out into their communities. It is not just worship and intercession that will bring reformation. These can bring revival — in the revival that happened in Geneva in the early 19th century, there were generations of prayer before that revival broke out. There was one English lady who came to Lausanne and prayed for Geneva for decades. The Moravians sent teams to Geneva for three generations to pray for revival. But Calvin was not satisfied to work just with the Church; he wanted to start with the Church. In starting with the Church he started with seeking a personal encounter with God for every individual in the city. And there was a total reformation of the Church.

Calvin and his team believed that they had discovered the exact New Testament pattern for the Church. Most of us don’t think that means black robes and funny caps, but that’s what they came up with in Geneva. Calvin had lived under a very unjust king and judicial system, and nobody, especially the Church, was interested if, for example, the poor even had enough to eat. The Church worked with the king and other nobles to institutionalize injustice, and thousands of Calvin’s friends had been put to death.

This seems to happen most severely in systems of centralized power, where more and more power goes to one person or one family. This creates a spiritual structure where evil powers can take over. During his student years in Paris, Calvin would have thought about this. How should people live? If we could start over with just the Word, and rebuild everything on the principles of the Word, what could that look like? What if we could take care of the refuges and the poor? The unemployed? What if we could educate every child? Even the women? What if we got the Bible into the language of the people and taught everyone from the Bible how to live? How should families function, what are the responsibilities of the fathers and mothers? What if we could get jobs for everyone and/or start businesses in their homes if they didn’t have a profession? What would a just government look like?

Calvin had to run for his life. But because the French king and his forces were trying to kill him and all the Frenchmen who joined him in Geneva, Calvin had the advantage of not just studying theology and being educated in law. He also experienced living under an unjust government, so he knew what didn’t work.

So then in Geneva the Lord led Calvin into a vacuum. The political leadership had crumbled, most of the Church and economic leadership were gone, and the city had no defense against the Duke of Savoy. People were desperate for change, and that’s when revival happened. (Just about every revival we know of in history has come into a nation where there is a huge felt need for change.)

Calvin came up with the system of diffused power. The power was not going to be concentrated in one family or in a few families. In most of the nations of the world today power is concentrated in a few hundred families. They call this the elite. They work very hard to keep the privileges and wealth for themselves and to not allow the rest of the people to share it. This is what we have in America. We have a small elite taking literally 100 of billions of dollars for themselves, with no concern that people do not have enough money to buy food for their families.

The point is that Calvin and his team had studied not just theology but each of the areas of society very deeply. Calvin had studied law. Viret, the only Swiss man in the team, was a pastor in Lausanne and had also studied education. He wrote massive books of biblical theology of education which are being reprinted now after several centuries of being unavailable. Viret was also a man of prayer. They had done their homework — years of intense study — to prepare them to bring a message to the nations on how to live. For example, they told the bankers that they cannot charge so much interest because that will keep a country poor. And they said that what they need to value are the family, education and hard work.

These principles which Calvin and Viret taught the bankers to do during the Geneva reformation are the same principles that the World Bank is teaching to the world today. But Calvin was the first one to come up with the system and to write it down. Calvin developed a lot of his thinking through the theology of the importance of each individual. Until the 16th century Europe was a group oriented society. Every important decision was taken by the group. The individual had no authority, and very little value, especially women. But the feminists of Europe look to Calvin as the one who first started recognising that women were no less important than men.

Calvin’s theology of the importance of each individual being created in the very image and likeness of God was at the basis of his educational system. Everyone needs to know how to read the Bible for themselves. It was the basis of his theology of the Church; there are no priests because every believer is a priest. It was at the root of his thinking about democracy. He gave us democracy out of the French reformation — that every well-educated citizen, including the women, should be able to share in decisions concerning the nation.

The Next Step

We have now gone too far in the direction of individualism. Our next step is to rediscover what true community means. One of the main social problems we have is isolation. Loneliness. Many people consider that Paris is the city of love, but it has the highest percentage of people living alone than any other city. We need to rediscover in our Christian groups what community can be. I think this is why the Lord has given us teams and bases in YWAM. To figure out how communities work. To figure out what can destroy them, to figure out how we can do things better. We have learnt some things, but on the whole, we are still at DTS level in terms of developing our communities. There is a lot that the Lord wants to teach us about community. I just read a book recently called, “Community of Forgiveness”. It is a powerful book. The author realized that many of us have a shallow understanding of forgiveness. As a result, we don’t dwell in the forgiveness of God and we don’t live in forgiveness with our brothers and sisters either. In many, many churches their biggest problem is gossip and division, both in Switzerland and in America, and I’ve heard about it in many other countries.

We need to figure out more ways to open up our communities to people who are seeking God. How can we do that better and do it wisely? Some of our YWAM works are doing these kinds of things in their towns. They are working with the young people, the children, the municipality, to make the town a better place to live, and there is tremendous openness to their message.

I think the Lord wants to do that a lot more, but this all has a price. You don’t transform a nation without laying your life down. If you are serious about doing that, you will be facing some evil powers head-on. Some of them have been in charge for a long time and they are not going to give up any territory without a struggle. They will counter attack. They will find any weakness, any opening in our lives, any cracks in our foundation, to blow us away.

I believe we are coming to a time when more of us are going to have to lay down our lives literally, like the Coptic Church in Egypt. The Easter bombing in two churches and the beheading of 21 of them in the Sinai was a wake-up call for them. Many Coptic Christians who hadn’t been going to church have started to go to church, and the churches are overfull. They’re declaring their forgiveness of the violent Muslims. And they’re declaring that they are ready to lay down their lives.

I visited the Museum of the Desert in Southern France. This church of committed believers that lived through the second wave of persecution in France at the end of the 17th century, went through unbelievable persecution by the other king of France. They sang all the Psalms, and one of the Psalms they sang was, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” For us this is a cheerful song, but at that time, if someone was caught pastoring that church in France, he was either immediately executed, or sent to row the king’s galleys, longships with huge oars used in the Mediterranean. The rowing is so difficult they died after a year or so. If the pastors were to be executed on the spot, they would go up the steps to be hanged singing, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The Protestants all around would start singing with them. Rejoicing! Even as they watched their pastor being hung. It was such a powerful testimony that the army wouldn’t let them sing it anymore. It shook up the soldiers that people could go to their death like this.

When we talk about a new reformation, we are not just talking about hard work, some serious study or some bible verses to learn about the area you want to work in. We are talking about mastering that professional area as well, so that you have something to say when the door opens. The Lord has said that if you are faithful in a little he will give you authority over ten cities. (And in one gospel he says, “I will give you authority over much.”) I know very few Christians who are preparing seriously to take authority over ten cities. Yet if we really believe what Jesus said, we would be studying things like water systems, waste treatment systems, urban composting, education and government. We would be studying how to do all that stuff, and we would be leading voices in each one of those fields. There are, of course, some who have that authority, but there needs to be more of us that take it seriously and know what it means to be a good neighbour.

We want to take seriously what Jesus said when he told us to pray that the will of God shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. We have prayed that all our lives, hundreds or thousands of times, but what are we praying for? What does it look like when things on earth start becoming more like they are in heaven, concretely? Does that mean we sing better? With instruments that are more cool? Well, maybe we do, but I think it means a lot more than that.

We honor the memory of the hundreds of thousands of committed believers who left their homes, left their houses and their lands, so they could have the freedom to worship the Lord, because He meant more to them than anything else. We know they are part of that great cloud of witnesses, who are looking down at us over the balcony of heaven and hoping that we will go further than they did. As the Lord leads us more and more into prayer for a new reformation, let us trust him to teach us what that means, what that costs. May we see some of the incredible blessings he wants to bring to our cities.

By Tom Bloomer
University of the Nation’s Emeritus Provost

French Version

John Calvin in Geneva: Nation-Building Missionary

Copyright 2001 by Thomas A. Bloomer

Geneva, nestled at the foot of the Alps at the crossroads of several major traveling routes, has been a center of influence since before the Roman Empire, trading both goods and ideas throughout Europe. Today, this small city is actually the diplomatic capital of the world, as 70 per cent of the work of the United Nations is done there, and powerful organizations such as the World Trade Organization have their headquarters there. Its story is a rich tapestry of all the elements of a blockbuster movie: violence, corruption, intrigue and courage in the face of great risk and injustice. In Geneva we can learn important lessons on the process of discipling a nation, as well as vital warnings of what happens the church fails in its mandate.

During the Middle Ages, Geneva was a wild town. The streets teemed with crowds, as people from the all over Europe passed through on their way to France, Italy, Germany, or Austria. With more inns per capita than any other city of its time, the city was full of partying traders, petty criminals, political refugees, spies, and sailors from Lake Geneva. Drunkenness
was common, and the houses of prostitution did a good business. The city trade fairs were particularly famous; during those events the town was wide open and filled with people.

However, as the 16th century began, competition from France markedly reduced attendance at the fairs, and the walls of the city fell into disrepair. People were poor, families were falling apart, and the future looked grim. Geneva was called the smelliest city of Europe.

Much of the responsibility lay with the Church. All over Europe people were turning away, disgusted by the corruption and hypocrisy. The Church was literally selling salvation, as people had to pay large amounts of cash to be sure of escaping Hell. In Geneva, the priests were not only immoral themselves, but were also running houses of prostitution. In losing its purity, the Church lost its power, and so squandered its authority and its leadership. The people actually ran the Bishop of Geneva out of town in 1530, and most of the city’s nobles left with him. The spiritual and moral vacuum soon had major political and economic consequences. Geneva was in crisis.

Europeans were grappling with life and death questions: “How can we live? Is there a better way to take care of our families? Run the economy? Take care of the poor? What about school for the children? How should we defend ourselves? What responsibility does each citizen have?” As in many countries of the world today, solutions were needed for government,
the economy, defense, schools, family life, and morality. The people were asking and the Church had no answers.

As the Church became increasingly corrupt and burdensome on people’s lives, there were stirrings across Europe for a more biblical Christianity. The underlying beliefs of this Reformation movement were that the Bible must be the source of authority to shape every aspect of people’s lives, and the foundation of truth for entire communities and nations. One vital step towards this goal was for the people to have the Word of God in their language and their homes.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, resistance to this came from the Church itself, which in turn incited the government to persecute these believers. Forced to flee their homes, the Protestants spread the movement around Europe as they relocated.
William Farel, the redheaded, hot-tempered French evangelist, came into the vacuum that was Geneva in 1531. His strategy was simple but very effective : go into a city, do some outrageous things, get everybody all stirred up, and then get run out of town. His overall goal : make sure that everyone was angry enough to be talking about this new religion of the Prodestant Reformers.

Once, he stopped to go into a church service, and got so upset about what the priest was preaching that he went up to the front, pushed the priest out of the pulpit, and began preaching himself. Another time he saw priests leading a procession with relics down by the side of the river, and he ran over and pushed both priests and relics into the water. He was literally run out of Geneva by the monks of the Cathedral.

Farel always managed to get out just in time. A good sense of timing is crucial for that kind of ministry strategy !

After he was kicked out of Geneva, one of his co-workers, the Frenchman Froment, started a school to teach children to read by using the Bible. Many adults wanted to learn how to read as well, so they also came to his school. He got so excited one day in 1534 that he came to the market square and jumped up on one of the market tables and started preaching. Some of the
authorities came to listen, and at one point he got carried away and cried out, “We must reform the Church in order to reform the nation!” That offended the authorities so much they arrested him and then kicked him out of town.

When the Bishop had been run out of the city, so many of the church and political leaders left, that there was a leadership vacuum in the city. Businessmen whose salvation was rooted in the Reformation had migrated to the city; they began small groups to meet for study and prayer. The simplicity and disciplined lifestyles of the Prodestant reformers stood in stark contrast to the corruption of the Church and nobility. City leadership fell to these new leaders; finally, on the 26th of August in 1535, the electors of the city of Geneva voted unanimously to become a Reformed Protestant city. They also agreed to the condition that they teach every child in the city to read. One implication of their decision was that the city came under the protection of the Lords of Bern, strong Protestants who continued to mentor the city leaders.

Once the decision was made, the Reformers proceeded to destroy all the stained glass windows and statues of the Cathedral. They felt that the people had worshipped these images, and therefore they were considered idolatrous and needed to be destroyed. However, in contrast to the Lutheran Reformation, they did not believe that all the citizens automatically became Christians just because the electors had voted for the city to be Protestant. The French Reformers believed that every adult had to make a personal commitment to Christ to be saved. To ensure that every person had a chance to respond to Christ, there was a sustained, ongoing effort for many years to proclaim the Gospel, even in the streets and market places.

While the electors had been unanimous in their decision that Geneva become a Prodestant city, intense debate went on among the population. Many resisted Calvin, others resented the refugees he brought with him; some were still pro-Catholic. It’s hard to appreciate just how big a decision this was for the city. As Catholics, they were risking excommunication and eternal
damnation if this new religion was leading them away from God and His truth. When the Reformation was finally accepted, it was evident that a pastor-teacher was the crucial need for the city. Farel knew that he was an apostolic evangelist, but not the builder who was so necessary for the reconstruction of the nation. When he heard that John Calvin was in town, Farel immediately went to visit him.

Calvin and Farel had both been students in the theological faculty of the University of Paris when the Reformation started to break out there. They had both been Augustinian monks, and like many others who were reading the New Testament and deciding that the present Church was not at all biblical in its practices, they had to flee France for their lives.

After Calvin left, he was shocked to learn that the authorities were proclaiming that the Protestants not only did not have the truth, they were just rebels against the Church who had no coherent beliefs. Since no defense of the Protestant faith existed in writing in French Europe, this version of events was gaining acceptance. Calvin set out to clearly state what Protestants believed, and the result was the Institutes of Religion. He wrote it for the memory of his friends, as an apologetic in a time of intense conflict, and so that many others would turn to the Bible and to a living faith in Christ. To think of Calvin as an ivory-tower theologian is to seriously underestimate him.

In 1536, at age 27, he was traveling through Geneva, and Farel found him in an inn down by the lake. Farel spoke to him about the situation in the city, and called Calvin to join him in rebuilding the nation. Calvin had weak health and his only ambition at that time was to continue his studies. So he said to Farel, “No, I can’t do that. I need rest and I need to study.” Farel got very angry, pointed his long bony evangelist’s finger at Calvin and thundered, “May God curse you and your studies if you do not join me here in the work He has called you to!” This threatened curse made such an impression on Calvin that he remembered it until the end of his life. He consented to stay, and committed his life to the work of God in Geneva.

Calvin cannot be blamed for hesitating to accept Farel’s challenge. Geneva was a very difficult place to minister for many reasons. The city authorities, influenced by the Lutheran Protestants, believed that the Church should be ruled by the government, including defining who was a Christian, could take communion, or be a priest. In contrast, the leaders of the French Reformation believed that there are different spheres within society, each with its own domain of decision making. They taught that the government held the right to provide for the people’s defense and levy taxes for the common needs of society, and the church was subject to its authority only in clearly-defined areas.

For 20 years after voting to become a Prodestant city, the authorities wanted decisionmaking power over the Church. Calvin had to argue with them for all those years in order to establish the principle that the Church should run its own affairs. He also wanted to establish the principle that the Church had a primary teaching role in society, and was to hold individuals and institutions, including the government, accountable to Biblical morality. Calvin wasn’t always right in the way he saw things, but his noble attempt to rebuild the city on Biblical foundations was history-making, and the first outside of Israel.

These differences between the two strains of Reformation theology quickly came to direct conflict. Two years after he came to the city, the city authorities requested that Calvin give communion to the entire population. As French Reformation theologians, Calvin and Farel refused, reasoning that since some of the citizens were living in open sin, they were not about to give communion to people who didn’t even pretend to be Christians. The authorities insisted that they serve communion to everyone on Easter Sunday in 1538.

Calvin went to preach in the Cathedral that day, and Farel preached in the second parish of the city. They both taught on sin and judgement, and proceeded to publicly excommunicate the entire population of Geneva. Then they left town, knowing their ministry was over in the city. Farel went back home to Neuchatel, and Calvin went to Strasbourg to continue his studies.

The authorities at first said, “Good riddance,” but three years later, at a point of desperation, they came to visit Calvin and his new wife in Strasbourg. They explained to him that the city was threatened with invasion, which would mean a return to Catholicism, losing everything they’d worked for. They knew that Calvin had stronger, clearer vision for rebuilding the city than the rest of the city leaders, and he alone had the personal influence to rally the people to fight and withstand an invasion. They asked him to return and help save the city.

Calvin knew that the cost would be great, but he agreed and went back to Geneva. Changing a nation requires a lifetime commitment, and he gave the rest of his life so that Geneva would be as Biblically-based a city as possible.

As the word went out that John Calvin had been named the head pastor of Geneva, Protestants all over Europe were electrified. He was well known because of the Institutes, and people knew that his ministry in Geneva could be a historic opportunity. In many countries the Protestants had been put to death, or exiled and robbed of their lands and possessions. In others, such as England and some of the Swiss cantons, the Reformation seemed to be gaining a foothold. In Geneva, however, the deeply entrenched social order of Church and nobility had been torn down, so in that vacuum there was a unique opportunity for the Reformers to rebuild a city on Biblical foundations.

Geneva quickly became a city of refuge for the Protestants. Its streets were filled with Italians, Englishmen, and especially the French. The population of the city, which was only 5,000 before the Reformation, quickly doubled to 10,000. They called it the «Protestant Rome,» and «the city set on a hill.» All the Protestants of Europe looked toward Geneva to see what
would be built. This small city-state was the laboratory, the pilot project, for the vision of a nation built on Biblical principles and living in peace, prosperity, and righteousness.

Even though the city was small, its influence went far and wide. Two young men came to visit Geneva from Holland, were soundly converted, and went back to transmit this new message to William of Orange. Their visit is the reason that Holland became Protestant, as he converted to the new faith.

Another example is found in Scotland. When Mary Queen of Scots began her persecutions, the number of Protestant refugees coming from Scotland increased dramatically. In 1556 the former prayer chapel of the Bishop was re-consecrated as the church for the English speaking refugees. John Knox, who was also a refugee, was pastor of the congregation and
preached in that church for three years. He studied what Calvin was doing in the city and took it back to Scotland; the influence of Geneva then went to Puritan England and from there to North America.

The strategy of the Reformers was based on three principles:

  1. Preaching the Gospel to individuals, so that people would be saved and start to be transformed, and the Church would be restored to Biblical purity;
  2. Teaching the city, so that people would know how to live, the authorities would know how to govern, and all would know how to work in their different spheres, and
  3. Accountability for individuals and the leadership in spheres of society, so that the teaching would not just be theoretical but applied in all areas of life.

The basis of rebuilding the nation was individual conversion so that the population would put its trust in God. The immediate second step was a systematic, daily, long-term strategy of teaching. The challenge was to build a nation on Biblical principles, so Calvin and his team searched the Scriptures and did their best to apply them to the crisis situations in the city. They taught in the churches, but they also pursued city leaders to bring Biblical truths into society.

Calvin had a legal background, so he approached the needs of the city as a lawyer and not just as a pastor. He had the gifts and training to see the issues holistically, and understand the Biblical principles needed to build society, such as defining the structure of the government, and the role of the church. He taught across the a wide range of issues; examining several areas in some detail illustrates the depth and breadth of his thinking, and the impact his teaching had on the nation.

One example of applying the principles of the Word was when the walls of the city were literally down, the Reformers called on all the populace to come and rebuild them. Calvin told the citizens that while they must trust in God, they were also responsible to do everything they could to protect themselves. They could no longer hide behind a nobleman or the Church to protect them; they needed to rebuild the walls, arm themselves and resist the oppressors who were threatening to invade from outside. The pastors were there too, joining in the stone-by-stone reconstruction of the walls. Calvin taught them to be responsible and work hard to defend themselves, but he also insisted that only God could protect Geneva, and exhorted the population to put their trust in the Lord for protection.

This teaching resonated well in the city; they knew Switzerland had begun by citizens uniting and arming themselves against imperial armies. Calvin taught that this was profoundly Biblical ; in fact until just recently every Swiss male was required to serve in their citizen army and kept his automatic rifle and ammunition at home. While the Swiss maintain political neutrality in the conflicts between other nations, they have always been ready to defend themselves as a nation. It’s interesting to note that Switzerland is the only nation where every man legally has a loaded weapon; no other nation in history has trusted its citizens like this.

Another of Calvin’s principal ministry concerns was the family. Many of the men of Geneva were irresponsible, drunkards and dishonest. The disorder in their lives was one of the causes of the poverty and immorality of the city. So the Reformers began teaching the people about individual responsibility, which meant first of all caring for one’s family. Each head of household must work hard, pay his bills, give his tithe, and save his money.

But this was not just a teaching about how to have prosperity. Calvin taught that your work was your worship. We tend to believe today that work is what you do until Sunday, when you go worship. But Calvin taught that every believer has a holy vocation, not just “full-time workers.” For example, if you are a shoemaker, that is your vocation. So you have to work as unto the Lord, since you are presenting that work to Him as worship. Clearly, if your work is your worship, then it has to be done with the utmost integrity and excellence. In fact, when Max Weber, the great German economist, was looking for the sources of the prosperity of the West 100 years ago, he pointed to Calvin’s Geneva.

Another of the sources of Geneva’s prosperity was Calvin’s teaching concerning financial principles. He told the bankers they couldn’t charge high interest rates, as that was the sin of usury in the Bible. He fixed the interest rates at 4%, so that the bankers could have a fair return on their money but people could still afford to borrow and invest. The 4% interest rate lasted for four centuries in Switzerland, and this practice was one of the long-term sources of Switzerland’s prosperity.

One of the most amazing things that happened in Geneva was in education. The citizens of Geneva had committed to educate their children as part of their decision to become a Protestant city. This commitment was the result of the theological conviction that each person was created in the image of God, each one could be in relationship with God directly, and they only needed to read the Bible to know how that was supposed to work. This was a real first in the history of the world, that all the children of a nation had been taught to read, even the girls. Sadly, the people who teach education today have forgotten that literacy for all is a Biblical idea.

Calvin also taught about caring for the poor. An organization was established which cared for newly-arrived Protestant refugees, widows, and orphans. Anyone who could work had to work; the poor were considered accountable too (a principle forgotten in too many countries today). It is said that all Protestant charities have their source in Calvin’s organizations in Geneva, since they were copied and adopted throughout the Protestant countries.

In an attempt to bring accountability to deal with the crisis in the family, the Reformers established a kind of citizen’s tribunal, organized by neighborhood. Any man who beat his wife,or any mother who neglected her children, would be brought before a jury of neighbors and called to account.

Today the excesses of these tribunals are better known than the good they did, and it is true that they provided an easy way for mean-spirited people to settle accounts with neighbors they disliked. But Geneva was in crisis, people did not know how to care for families, work, and live morally. Invasion threatened, and Calvin knew that if the city was to survive he had only a narrow window of opportunity to teach the populace to become a united, disciplined citizenry able to care for and defend itself.

Accountability was woven into the government structures, as well. The Reformers were convinced of the sinfulness of mankind, especially since they had had personal experience of the corrupting power of undifferentiated authority. In other words, the King of France, as an absolute monarch, could and did decide to put Protestants to death. They knew that any leader or structure that cannot be held accountable will slide inevitably into sin, so they invented a system
of government we now call federalism, where power is divided among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government. The judiciary is especially important, and must be free and independent.

A further division of powers takes place between the national, or federal government, and the cantons (or states) that make up the nation, and the towns. The Swiss system of federalism provided the model for the Americans who designed their government in the late 18th century, since they also mistrusted an all-powerful central government because of their experience with the King of England. Albert Gallatin, who actually wrote much of the American constitution while working for Thomas Jefferson, was originally from Geneva.

The Church also had a defined role in the nation, teaching principles of justice and morality, and calling the people and the government to account if the principles were violated. In later centuries the Church backed away from this role, and the accountability vacuum that was left has been filled in Western nations by the media.

Economists today know that any country that practices hard work, favors the family structure, has reasonable interest rates, and lives by systems of law and accountability will have prosperity. The economic level will start to rise within the first generation, as was the case in 16th-century Geneva. Now institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank teach these principles to the nations, but it was Calvin who first took these Biblical teachings and applied them in a more modern context.

What happened in 16th -century Geneva was really about teaching the nations how they should live, which is the difference between revival and reformation. In revival, lots of people get saved, new churches are started, and the Christians get committed. But revival often stops there.

In reformation, the same first steps of conversions, church-planting and commitment take place. But then someone realizes that people don’t know how to live their lives by Biblical truths, and they need to be taught. Then they examine every part of the life of the nation, looking at it to see what could be a Biblical alternative to the cultural way of doing things.

John Calvin was not just a theologian. He studied and taught theology in order to rebuild the nation, so he was essentially an apostolic nation-builder. He forged a Biblical worldview, not because he liked to discuss philosophical issues, but so that his adopted nation would survive. Calvin, like the Apostle Paul, was also a missionary. Missionaries who are interested in completely accomplishing the will of God will be committed not just to the saving of souls, crucial as that is as a first step, but to teaching the nation. People who are actually doing the work of God in the nations often write the best theology.

Calvin was a master communicator, and effectively used the technology of the day. He preached weekly in the Cathedral, and also taught daily about the Biblical instructions for every area of life in the former chapel next to it. All over Europe, people were grappling with the same questions they faced in Geneva, and were looking for ways to live out Biblical truths. There was such Continent-wide interest in what he taught that a scribe would sit in his class and take notes, and afterward would take them directly to Calvin’s printer. The notes would be typeset, printed, and on their way around Europe within the week. We can hardly publish this quickly today even with computers and the Internet ! Calvin and his team were completely committed to teaching the nations.

The towns and villages round about were also asking Calvin and Farel to send pastors and teachers so they could start to live the Reformation. But there was nobody to send. Calvin’s lieutenant, another Frenchman named Theodore de Beze (or “Beza” in some English histories) had started a training academy for pastors in Lausanne, but there was a split and part of that academy was moved to Geneva in 1559. Calvin taught young ministers in training from an alcove in the Chapel. The Chapel, renamed “Calvin’s Auditorium,” remained the place of the training of the future ministers of Geneva for two centuries. It was the birthplace of the University of Geneva.

When Calvin and the French apostolic team came to Geneva in the 16th century, a powerful teaching anointing was forged in the Spirit. But three generations after the death of the apostolic leadership, the Protestant church started to become more and more formalized, cold, and dead. Injustice was first tolerated then institutionalized as political power fell back into the hands of a few families. Education was available only for the children of the well-off, and the poor went hungry. Some of the same trends happened in the Protestant Church that had happened in the Catholic Church centuries earlier: it lost its purity and power.

The Enlightenment, a new movement that is still affecting us today, began at that time as history repeated itself. Faced with the corruption of the Church, people were again actively looking for a new way to live. When the Church abdicated its role of teaching the nations, others picked up that mantle. The Enlightenment was brought on by a set of specific teachings, as a few men and women decided that the nations needed new teaching, a new Light. The Enlightenment shaped the faith of the Church for generations to come. Not only were the nations taught from Geneva, but the Church in the nations was also taught from that city.

One of the principal fathers of the Enlightenment was the French philosopher Voltaire. He often came to Geneva, because it was the location of the workshop of his printer. After he was exiled from Paris, he bought a chateau just outside of Geneva. During the twenty years he lived there, his home was known as the intellectual capital of Europe.

Under his influence, the Church accepted the teachings of the Enlightenment, which included that the supernatural did not exist, miracles don’t happen, Jesus Christ was not really divine, and the Bible was not really inspired. Humans could and should discover truth without divine help, science was the new religion that would save humanity, and peace and prosperity depended on human efforts alone. God, then, was no longer really necessary, except as a distant, impersonal First Cause who got things going and then withdrew from the Earth. The idea that the Church should only worry about the souls of people instead of every aspect of their lives and society came from the influence of Enlightenment thought on the church.
(FOOTNOTE: This emphasis on the power of the human mind is often called Rationalism, and gave birth to the era called Modernity, the condition of the last two or three centuries. For an authoritative summary of how Modernity influenced the Church and missions, see the chapter on the Enlightenment in David Bosch’s book, Transforming Mission; Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 1991.)

In Geneva, we see an important warning to heed: the Church tries to speak to the culture, then in learning the language, accommodates the culture, then finally becomes captive to it. It’s a lesson we must pay careful attention to today; in our efforts to be “seeker friendly” we must not lose our mandate to shape the culture instead of be shaped by it.

Reaction to the ordered, disciplined rationalism of the Enlightenment came quickly in the form of Romanticism, or elevating experience over reason as our ultimate method of knowing reality. In the second wave of French Protestant refugees, a clock maker named Rousseau arrived in Geneva and had a son named Jean-Jacques. Jean-Jacques reacted strongly against the
Church of his time, and against any idea of law or sin. It was no coincidence that Rousseau was born and lived the early part of his life one street away from what had been Calvin’s house. He took up the mantle Calvin had created for teaching
the nations. Rousseau is still one who teaches the teachers of the world. In practically any nation, including the Asian nations, you cannot become a school teacher unless you read what Rousseau said about teaching children.

The Romantic movement, fathered by Rousseau and others, still strongly influences the Church today. The ideas that the Church is there for my self-fulfillment, that my experience of God is the most fundamental reality in life and that whatever is spontaneous is more spiritual than what is planned, come straight from Rousseau’s teaching. He also taught that we are not really sinners, but our problems come from our environment, specifically the structures and institutions of society. When we are surprised at sin among Christians, we demonstrate that we are more influenced by Rousseau than by Biblical truths.

This war of ideas in the 18th century highlights the fact that there are essentially two ways of knowing, whatever the world view, world religion, or culture: the rationalist and the romantic. Jesus warned against these two temptations, represented by the Sadducees and the Pharisees (see Mark 8 and Matthew 16, NASB). Sadly, these two views are still foundational to much of our Christian theology today, even though Jesus warned us about these faulty beliefs two thousand
years ago.

The romantic temptation (of the Pharisees) is to believe that God’s power is submitted to my desires for health, wealth and prosperity. The rationalist temptation (of the Sadduccees) is to believe that God and His ways are subject to my reason. As the 18th century progressed, these two ways of thinking were taught through art, music, architecture and philosophy, concentrated and diffused through the university systems, and powerfully discipled the nations and the Church. Geneva was one of the high places for the transmission of these teachings to the nations.

In the theological corruption of the 18th century, a student could study in Calvin’s academy to be a Protestant pastor for three years, and never read the Bible (except when Hebrew was studied, a few Psalms would be assigned). For three years they would study almost entirely Greek and Roman philosophy. The whole church was filled with the influence of rationalist, Enlightenment philosophy; in the early 19th century a Bible was published in Geneva which, like the Jehovah’s Witness bible today, changed the references that said that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.

The changes in thinking were reflected in the architecture itself. Under the influence of Greek philosophy, in the late 18th century a neoclassical portico with Greek columns was added to the Cathedral were Calvin had preached.

In 1815 a young Scotsman named Robert Haldane came to Geneva. After visiting for just a few days, he walked around the city with a theology student prior to departing. This young man was getting ready to become a Protestant pastor. As Haldane spent the day with him, he was appalled at his lack of knowledge of the Bible and absence of relationship with God. So Haldane decided to stay, rented an apartment in the Old Town, and started holding Bible studies.

He invited the theology students to come, and they were very interested because they had never been to a Bible study. He found out later that most of them had never even read the Epistle to the Romans! They started to get converted, and then some of their professors did as well. Revival started right in the city of Geneva. There were hundreds of people who were saved and then thousands more as revival went into the neighboring canton of Vaud.

Some of these new converts stayed in the Reformed Church and others started new churches. They are still called the Free Churches of Geneva. These churches had an incredible vision for missions. For example, they had a plan to reach every town, village and farmhouse in France from Geneva. They would recruit farmers from the Jura Mountains who couldn’t work in the winter, fill their backpacks with New Testaments, and send them door-to-door in France. They visited every house in France. They also sold a calendar that had agricultural advice and a Bible verse on it for every day. France in the 19th century knew the Bible better than France of the 20th century, because of the revival that started in Geneva and then went into France. Also, many of the missions to the French-speaking countries of Africa and the Pacific were begun out of Geneva.

One young man, Henri Dunant, from the principal church of the revival, seemed to be mostly interested in making money. He often organized investment schemes, going to North Africa to try to find mines that people could invest in. As he was coming back from one of these trips he visited a field covered with wounded and dead soldiers from a battle that had just taken place between the French and Austrian armies. He was told that if anyone went out to try to help or even bury them, they would be shot at by the other side. He decided to do something about it, so he gave his testimony about that visit in the revival church.

He also published a pamphlet, A Visit to Solferino, which pricked the conscience of Europe. Henri and some of his friends founded an organization which later became the International Red Cross. A few years afterward they called the nations to Geneva, where the 16 greatest powers at that time signed the treaty we know as the Geneva Convention.

This treaty is based on the Biblical principles in the first part of the book of Amos, which show that God is very concerned with the just conduct of war and especially the righteous treatment of prisoners. The reason we are prosecuting war criminals from Serbia today is because the nations were taught from Geneva in this area. Sadly, this was the only area in which the Revival of Geneva produced teaching for the nations.

In terms of influence on Swiss laws, the Reformation has a bigger impact even today than the revival ever did, though the Reformation happened almost 3 centuries before the revival. In giving us the Great Commission, Jesus said there must be individual conversions (Mark 16: 15) and this should lead to discipling the nations (Matt 28:20), so revival alone only accomplishes half of the task He entrusted to us. Apostolic leadership must take the zeal of new converts, and teach them the implications of their faith in every area of their personal life and the spheres of society in which they serve.

Revivals happen regularly in the history of the Church; true reformation is a costly and lengthy process, so perhaps this is why it is so rare. It may be that the enemy so feared another Reformation in Geneva in the 19th century, that he took very specific steps to bottle up the revival by bringing in the Enlightenment teachings. Under this influence, the revived church did not believe that it had much to say about government, poverty, or injustice. The Church retreated,
leaving a vacuum for the teaching of the nations. (See Vishal Mangalwadi’s book, Carey in India, for a fascinating study of the Reformation-oriented pioneer mission work of William Carey and the first wave of missionaries to India who were inspired by the teachings of the French Reformation out of Geneva. Mangalwadi contrasts this first wave of missions, which changed the history of India, with the more revival-oriented second wave, which in his opinion was not nearly as effective.)

Adding to this, a new teaching in the church said that there is going to be a rapture any minute, so be sure you are ready and try to save all the souls you can. These are good teachings, but if absolutized they can lead to Christians not being concerned about the affairs of the nation. The believers of that day withdrew from the universities, from political life, and especially from the media. Years later they were amazed that all these places were filled with pagans.

Geneva continued to hold the mantle of anointing to teach the nations. Early in the 20th century, a young revolutionary came to study in the city. He spent two years studying and writing in the University of Geneva library. Much of the organization and preparation for his revolution took place there. In the process he picked up the mantle of the teaching of the nations.

His name was Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Until 1989, 80% population of the world was being taught by his ideas, known as the Marxist-Leninist system. It was not a very intelligent system and it didn’t work very well. But it was a unified, coherent system and any country could adopt it. It told them what to do about their schools, economy, army, political system, about every area of life. Nations on every continent adopted this system because there wasn’t any better system as an alternative.

In one generation Geneva was totally transformed; what can we learn from its story on the vital subject of nation discipling?
The Church responded to the moral and spiritual vacuum of the day with preaching the gospel to bring individual conversion over an entire generation. This was coupled with intentional teaching on how to live the Christian faith in every area of personal life and society.

The Church prayed and searched the Scriptures for Biblical truths to shape every sphere of society, and was proactive in bringing this teaching and moral accountability to the leaders in every area. The Church did not hide in its buildings, but was a very robust presence throughout the city.
The Church leaders continued to seek God together with leaders from other nations on what God was doing around the world in this area of discipling every area of life in His ways.
The Church was deeply committed to the poor and needy, caring for immediate physical needs and training in skills to enable the poor to live godly, self-sufficient lives.
To reap all the benefit from a study of Geneva’s story, we must also take an honest look at the mistakes that were made so we can work to avoid them in the future. One category of error had to do with crossing the Biblical lines of authority, or domains. Every conflict in society can be traced back to the question of domains: who has the right to make the decisions in this area? In Geneva, several examples illustrate this important principle:

Neighborhood tribunals were intended to help disciple families, but instead, they demonstrated the negative effects of the church overstepping its bounds and exercising an inappropriate degree of authority in people’s personal lives.
One tribunal punished an individual because they wouldn’t convert, publicly disqualifying the person from a role of leadership in another sphere. These actions highlight two areas of error. The Church is to be an influence for salvation, not exert control over the personal right to choose. The Church has a teaching role, but is not to exercise direct control over the other spheres of society.
There was also a rigidity in applying scriptural principles, which led to legalism on external issues like dress or leisure time activities, for example.
Also, the Church focused almost exclusively on the application of Biblical truths to their city, demonstrating a poor understanding of missions and missing the opportunity to extend God’s kingdom even further during their day. As the years went on after John Calvin had passed away, there was an overintellectualism of the faith.
Although he preached about the priesthood of every believer, and detested the Catholic practice of looking to a priest for salvation, Calvin still left too much authority in the person of the Protestant pastor. For centuries afterward, pastors were still seen as the ones who could have a ministry, it was not an avenue for every believer.

Today, the nations are looking for answers. Moreover, it is the commandment of Jesus Christ and the calling of the Church to teach the nations, and if we step back from it again, we will leave another vacuum. The University of the Nations is preparing to respond to both the need and the commandment; perhaps this is the primary purpose for its being called into

Whenever the Church leaves a vacuum, the enemy is very happy to fill it. He is probably working on another system for the nations even now. If it is like his other recent efforts, it will be a mixture of nationalism, racist scapegoating, economic hope, and fearmongering. But the next version might well include supernatural power, and it will be freed from the residual morality of Modernity. It will not be nice.

Will the Church, will the University of the Nations, be ready with an attractive, intelligent, Biblical alternative for the way nations can live? The lessons of Geneva will help those who rise up to take on this challenge.

PDF version:History of Geneva

A Crisis of Leadership

I did this summary to highlight some of the problems of our  mission in 1998-99.

The good news is, we took the right fork in the road in 2002-2003, and
we’re headed in the right direction.

Link to full dissertation available here (PDF).

This article is a summary of a Ph.D. dissertation: “Formative Educational Experiences of Experientially-Qualified Leaders”, copyright 1999 by Thomas A. Bloomer.

A crisis of leadership exists in the world. Many agree on the need for better leaders, and even on what their qualities should be. A recent development seen in government, the Church, and especially in business, is that leadership no longer rests on formal qualifications, such as diplomas or academic degrees. The practitioners have come to agree with
the theorists, that leadership development is not helped by formal academic study. What counts are results, the bottom line, and people everywhere wanleaders who can produce.

But the question then becomes, how are these leaders developed? If formal education doesn’t really help, what does? Research has not shown any direct links in leadership with heredity, social class, or specific personality traits.

Since YWAM was one of the first missions which has no education requirement for its leaders, YWAM’s leaders are a good group to study to answer the question, How do people who are not educated for leadership come to be leaders? YWAM has been incredibly innovative over its past 40 years, and another question was, do YWAM’s leadership development practices favor innovation?

All 35 members of YWAM’s Global Leadership Team (GLT) were interviewed in August-September 1998 using an ethnographic research strategy, and the answers were systematically analyzed and summarized.

When asked how they themselves because leaders, almost all said that they became leaders by being put into leadership. They also said that they were trusted, believed in, encouraged, and released. Other important factors mentioned were the calling and enabling of God, and role models.

Then other factors were asked about. When prompted, many agreed that suffering experiences, family, and YWAM community were important to their leadership preparation. Surprisingly unimportant to most were spouses, local church experiences, and mentors. Leadership theory was confirmed here: formal education had almost nothing to do with YWAM leaders becoming leaders.

When asked how they work now with younger leaders, a variety of different strategies were noted, varying with the gifting and personality of each one. Most of these strategies were nonformal, and they could have much potential if followed up, written down, and multiplied throughout the mission. But systematizing and intentionally multiplying these experientially-based lessons does not seem to be one of the strengths of this kind of leader.

The answers given lined up well with the factors that favor innovation in organizations: relationships, trust, freedom of action, strong leadership that is not authoritarian, and a high tolerance of risk. And another question revealed that most of the GLT were visionary leaders focussed on releasing young leaders.

However, less than half said that they consciously looked for ways to give leadership to young leaders, even though that was how they were prepared. Most did say that they consciously encouraged young leaders whenever they could. But overall, YWAM leaders do not seem to have fully grasped the value of the way they themselves were released.


Although the mission’s values seem to have been impacted by the experiences of the leadership, and some of its policies as well (such as the DTS requirement and structure), its practices have not always been shaped as much by these formational experiences. When asked specifically, most GLT members said that the kind of leadership preparation experiences they had had were not always available to others in the mission, and also that it was harder to become a leader in YWAM now than it was when they first came in.

This statement by one senior GLT member was chilling: “If you go to some YWAM bases, you will never become a leader.”

Although a minority of the GLT was positive about trends in YWAM that still release young leaders, most recognized that every symptom of an aging organization that stifles creativity can be found in YWAM: departmentalization, hierarchical structures, unclear or slow decision processes, turf-conscious leaders, increasing relationship problems marked by backbiting and suspicion of others, refusal to accept responsibility, greater divisions between leaders and staff and staff
and students, increasing distance between policies and values and actual practice, conflict suppression, risk-taking either avoided or exaggerated, excess personnel in some places and a cruel lack in others, tolerance of incompetence, unclear goals, overcontrol, overcentralization, resistance to accountability, low motivation, personal stagnation, and obsolescence of products and processes.

Paul McKaughan, head of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association in the USA, had this compliment, and question, for YWAM: “It is probably the most significant seed bed for leadership in the Christian movement today… So many people of vision now in pastorates and other leadership positions have been impacted by and have come out of that ministry. It
is this that makes YWAM one of the most influential movements in our Christian world today. The question is, can they sustain it in the 21st century?”

And the answer to that sobering question, from the mouths of YWAM’s Global Leadership Team, is “No.” Unless changes are made, the processes already at work in our mission will lead us irresistibly toward increasing fragmentation, stagnation, and ineffectiveness.

If radical changes are made, we could still fulfill our potential of becoming a truly transformational global mission.

Compelling God

A religious idea current in the church is that prayer works much like a pair of scales: each prayer request weighs a certain amount, so that the prayer needed must weigh enough to bring the prayer scale to the tipping point and thereby be answered.

So we work to multiply prayers, either by praying more ourselves or enlisting others to join with us. Or, we densify the prayer; we can either pray more intensely1 or we fast.

There is a certain amount of truth in this way of thinking: for big prayers needing big answers, the unified prayers of many are needed. And we have seen the effectiveness of prayer chains, at many levels.

However, there is an important limit to this idea. And that is, no how matter how much or how intense the prayer, we cannot compel the Lord to do what He has decided He will not do. Here is the fundamental theological truth: He is God, and we are not.

Another example of a desire to compel God is the slogan we hear nowadays, “We’re going to bring Jesus back!” This idea seems to stem from the Matthew 24.14 passage, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations (ta ethane), and then the end will come.” The assumption here is that immediately after the last people group has heard the gospel, Jesus will immediately return and rapture the Church away.

According to some projections, the gospel will be brought to the last people group around the year 2030, or possibly even earlier. So the strategy is, Let’s pray and work and take the gospel out there to those groups as quickly as possible, and then Jesus will be compelled to return. And we can get outta here, because the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, and we’d rather abandon ship than work on long-term strategies to address all the challenges.

But the text does not say that Jesus will return in the instant after the last group receives the gospel; it says only that at some time after that He will return. In other words, the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom to every people group is one necessary precondition to His return; but it may well not be the only one. And since every prediction of the timing of the immediate return of Jesus up to now has been wrong, without exception, we should assume that the Father has other conditions for the return that we do not yet understand.

In any case, we must realize that no action on our part obligates the Lord to do anything. He is God, and we are not.

Finally, another way we think that we can obligate God is to serve Him sincerely and sacrificially over a long time. We construct a contract with God; even though the process may not be articulated or even conscious, it is nevertheless very real.

The assumed contract goes something like this: I have served God well, I have sacrificed much, so nothing bad can ever happen to me, or to my loved ones. Or if it does, God will immediately fix it. One symptom that shows we have constructed such a contract is this all-too-common reaction to a personal disaster: “Why me?”

Mary and Martha assumed they had such a contract with Jesus; and that His love for them obligated Him to come immediately and heal their brother Lazarus (John 11). Jesus did indeed love them, and their prayer was not only reasonable but biblical. There was only one problem with their plan: it was not what Jesus had decided to do. He was in fact not obligated to do anything for them; He is God, and we are not.

There’s good news, and bad news. The bad news: if you think you have a contract with God, He didn’t sign it. He doesn’t do contracts; one reason for that is that a contract is an agreement between two more or less equal parties: you have something I want, and I have something you want. We are not anywhere at all equal with God, and are in NO position to sit down at a table with Him and negotiate terms. He is God, and we are not.

The good news: another reason He doesn’t do contracts is because the blessings He wants to give are bigger and better than anything we could have planned (Matthew 19.27-30). To sum up, we are far better off not trying to obligate God to do what we wish; because first, it doesn’t work, and second, His plans for us are so amazing that we cannot even imagine them (I Cor. 2.9). Glory to God in the highest!

1 Praying more intensely is not wrong – unless it involves us thinking we have to convince God to be loving. For example, we often hear prayers like “Save my family member/friend/government official”, or “Bless my nation”. These prayers betray a false understanding of the character of God: He is already loving our relatives, friends, and nations much more than we are, and is working in their lives to the extent that He can and still remain just.

In other words, in His justice He cannot bless selfishness and idolatry. Our prayers would be much more effective if they were directed to pulling down the idols that people are devoting their lives to. We don’t have to convince God to love the people we love; we need to rather be Elijahs whose intercession is preparing the way of the Lord’s actions.