Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With a Mission (YWAM) has died, aged 88. Lynn Green pays tribute to the man who “deregulated mission”, founding a global movement that is active in over 200 countries worldwide

Loren Cunningham

Loren Cunningham, world-changer, has transferred his citizenship to “life in the age to come.”

Everything about Loren’s life bore witness to his unconditional surrender to the lordship of Jesus. Loren’s call to the Great Commission came while kneeling at the altar during a revival meeting in 1948 at the age of 13. God spoke to him through Mark 16:15: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” From his earliest days, he had an unwavering commitment to do everything the Holy Spirit called him to do - to spread the good news about Jesus, saviour of the world, to every person on earth.

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) Loren heard the Good Shepherd’s voice from a very young age and followed, whether the path led to costly sacrifice or great blessing.

A vision for all nations

Throughout his life, God gave him world-changing vision. First, in 1957, it was to mobilise waves of young people carrying the gospel of Jesus to every part of every continent on earth. Then, in 1969, the word of the Lord came to him to start a new kind of training school. Before long, the fruit of these short, intensive, residential training courses were seen for what they were - an unprecedented tool for multiplication.

God wanted to change the world and he was looking for someone to have the faith to speak it out

Today, YWAM is an ever-expanding global missions movement. Tens of thousands of full-time staff participate from more than 200 countries and various denominations and Christian traditions, serving at over 2,000 YWAM locations in nearly 200 nations. Millions have served in YWAM programs as students, short-term volunteers and full-time staff.

My wife, Marti, and I met at one of the earliest courses and Loren asked us to pray about going to England to plant another School of Evangelism. Now there are nearly 1,000 locations worldwide where YWAM courses are available.

Called to more

It seemed that Loren was always praying and listening to God about some vision that was being shaped in his gifted and dedicated imagination. In 2003, we were in Singapore for a leadership meeting and Loren was due to speak to a large group of Christian leaders at a dinner that evening. I asked him about the subject he would be addressing, and he said: “I plan to convey vision to get a Bible into every home in China.” My response? “Loren, you can’t do that!” As one of the leaders of YWAM, I felt an obligation to have a plan to accomplish anything we talked about. Loren spoke on the subject anyway!

It was a few years before I understood the spiritual, visionary dynamics of what happened that night. Loren didn’t have a plan, but he had a prophetic word. It was as if God wanted to change the world again and he was looking for someone to have the faith to speak out, in faith, what he wanted. Once again, Loren obeyed.

That was the beginning of his primary message for the last 20 years of his life. His research confirmed that there were no sustained revivals without the Bible being available first. So, wherever he went, his message from that time on was: “end Bible poverty now!” In the last few years, he focussed on oral Bible translation and then the essential importance of every person having access to the scriptures in their mother tongue.

Loren Cunningham’s legacy is wave after wave of people of all ages, but mostly young, taking the good news to the whole world!

Ending well

Following the diagnosis of small-cell lung cancer in January 2023, the Lord gave him many months more than the medical professionals expected. During this extended time, he was largely pain-free. He also had miraculous mental and spiritual capacity to focus on oral mother tongue Bible translation. On that subject, he could pray, think and talk to others by the hour. So he constantly refined the vision and his ability to explain it.

Many people have wondered: What will happen to YWAM when Loren is gone?

There is no doubt that no one can replace him. However, he led us all to focus on the biblical paradigm of the Body of Christ, as it applies to YWAM. He spoke a vital message on that subject in 2002 and it became known as ‘the tripod message’. If we continue to practice the knowledge of the priesthood of all believers; if we strengthen and guard our relationships; if we recognise the wisdom and spiritual gifts of elders among us, we will multiply more and more and be a blessing to the whole body of Christ.

From his earliest days, he had an unwavering commitment to do everything the Holy Spirit called him to do

Loren was never a CEO in YWAM. He always worked with teams of leaders and leaned into the different spiritual gifts and strength of others. There are teams of elders and leaders all over the world and the vision God has given YWAM is broad and clear. If we carefully nurture the health of our relationships, remaining rooted in our biblical beliefs and pursuing the vision of taking good news to everyone in every mother tongue, we will thrive.

Loren and Darlene have been trusted friends and inspirational leaders to Marti and me for more than five decades. They encouraged our relationship when we first met, they inspired us and challenged us. They modelled godly living, good family life, team and accountability to others and an unswerving commitment to Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Thank God that Dar, with her outstanding leadership abilities and anointing, is still with us. We honour her and will continue be supportive and to lean into her wisdom.

It can most certainly be said of Loren Cunningham: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).