The tram arrived at our stop in East Berlin. All seventy of us poured out (it was a long tram). We followed our young guide across the tracks and entered a forest of apartment blocks. And ‘blocks’ they were. Like up-ended egg-cartons. Stalinist baroque, that style was called, all across the old Communist world. This was, our guide told us, the most atheistic district in Europe. Many old members of the Stasi-the GDR secret police-still lived here.
Some of us had watched the award-winning film Das Lebens Des Anderen (The Lives of Others) just two days earlier, set in this same neighbourhood. A literal stone’s throw away was the old Stasi prison, scene of intimidation, torture and murder that featured in the film.
‘We’ were YWAM leaders from across Europe, east and west, gathered in Berlin for our biannual European Leadership Forum. We had come to Berlin for three reasons. Firstly, we needed to reflect on how serious we were about mission in an urbanised Europe. Secondly, we wanted to encourage the young pioneering team who had moved into Berlin, and be inspired by their example. And thirdly, this year is the twentieth anniversary of the dramatic events leading to the collapse of communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In January 1990, just weeks after the Wall fell, I took on the responsibility of directorship for YWAM Europe. After exactly twenty years, I pass on that role at the end of this year. Berlin provided a suitable backdrop to reflect on these twenty dramatic years, as we prepare to look towards the next two decades.
So we had convened on a houseboat-hostel moored on the River Spree in the heart of the city. Right alongside us was the last remaining section of the original Wall, colourfully decorated by artists at the height of the jubilation late in 1989.
Our guide led us into the former Stasi-neighbourhood towards a low squat building dwarfed by the apartment blocks on all sides. A fire on a barbeque grill glowed in the early evening darkness. That was our evening meal being prepared, we were told. The building, we also heard, had been a district community centre-cum-bar, with the exotic name of ‘Kiev’.
Now it was the home of a 24-7 church, offering community support round-the-clock and reaching out especially to the urban young, most of whom had never entered a traditional church building.
The pastor, Winfried Rüdlof, greeted me like a long-lost friend, reminding me that he had visited Heidebeek and my home immediately after the Iron Curtain opened. He and some friends had lost no time in visiting the West for the first time. Winfried had helped organise underground DTS’s before that time, smuggling in speakers like Loren Cunningham and others.
Over the past twenty years, Winfried had built up this fellowship with up to 500 now attending. He showed us the well-equipped auditorium with red-upholstered chairs, video-beamers and sophisticated sound system-this in the most atheistic neighbourhood of Europe!
The young international ywam team-members pastor the youth church of this fellowship, and befriend the local kids who mainly come from single-parent families, helping with homework and giving hip-hop dance lessons.
YWAM & church planting?
After feasting on barbequed sausages, we sat down to a serious discussion about YWAM and church planting. Does YWAM plant churches? If so, where and how many fellowships have we planted in the last ten years in Europe? Can a YWAM leader stay pastoring a congregation he/she has planted? We grouped into our four regions and estimated that, over the past ten years in Europe, we had been involved in planting some 90 fellowships.
My mind went back 19 years to a similar European leaders conference held at De Burght in Zeeland, Holland. There an earlier generation of leaders had wrestled with these same questions. Only two or three of us present in Berlin had been there.
Then we had affirmed that:
• we needed to promote the multiplication of witnessing fellowships in Europe;
• we did not plant YWAM churches, but fellowships planted would join existing denominations or associations, or choose to become independent; and,
• as the ‘plant’ grew, leadership would need to become non-YWAM, so the fellowship would not become de facto YWAM.
Suddenly I realised how much we had dropped the ball on strategic church-planting over the past decade, despite that encouraging figure of 90 new churches.
In the early ’90’s, we had worked closely with the church-planting movement DAWN. We had played a key role in promoting nation-wide church planting strategies across Europe. We had committed ourselves to promoting the multiplication of fellowships and communities, and to work with all the body of Christ. DAWN-thinking had influenced us to be strategic, to begin with the end in mind, to work backwards from the desired outcome: How many churches already existed in each land, and how many more were needed? And what sort was needed?
That evening in East Berlin I was re-awakened to the great need for church planting in secular Europe-with culturally relevant structures, such as Winfried and the young YWAM team are pioneering.
Till next week,