‘Ship to Tarshish’
“Just because you have an opportunity to do something good, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you to do. God called Jonah to preach the gospel to the nations – but that didn’t mean Jonah was supposed to get on the ship to Tarshish!”
That morning there had been an urgent team meeting called for the whole of the YWAM Liverpool community to discuss my unexpected proposal to start a DTS – in spite of having previously absolutely declined the request to be involved with such a thing. But that was before the Holy Spirit gently whispered to me one morning: ‘What if you were to lead a simplified DTS specifically for the people who want to be involved with ABLAZE..?’ And when I hesitantly asked those people, there was an immediate openness to the idea.
I wrestled with my own reservations, and came out with a newfound appreciation for the YWAM method of inviting potential missionaries into three months of discipleship community before then releasing them to take the gospel message to the nations. Afresh I was struck by the parallel with Jesus’ apostolic training strategy, “who appointed twelve… to be with him and to be sent out” (Mark 3:14). And it seemed like a kairos moment – that precious opportunity when the eternal timeframe of heaven comes within touching distance of the sequential chronology of earth. “TODAY – if you hear His voice – do not harden your heart”.
So I picked up my bow and prepared to ready, aim, fire the arrows that God was putting in my hand – which of course involved telling the rest of the YWAM Liverpool team. But how to share my change in heart? A few days later I bumped into Shephen–“Shephen, I need to talk to you! I know when you asked me about leading a YWAM Liverpool DTS I said ‘No’, but now things have started happening with ABLAZE and I feel like God is speaking to me about a separate ABLAZE DTS, and I know that this is coming out of the blue and there’s not much time to talk but—-well, what do you think?” Shephen seemed to take this in his stride: “Great! I love it when people have vision – and I always remember what Jesus said when the disciples tried to stop someone doing ministry because he was not one of them: ‘Whoever is not against you is for you’. Let’s meet sometime next week and talk about it…”.
That was encouraging. But when that next week I met with Shephen and Jude, things began to get more complicated. In particular, the primary priority for YWAM Liverpool was the September DTS which the Chestermans were coming from the USA to lead. From that perspective another separate DTS seemed worse than unnecessary, it seemed unhelpful. “How about we meet again next week…” Except then sickness struck – nothing serious, but enough to delay that next meeting until the next week and then the next. And time was running out, because Shephen was about to fly to Africa for several weeks–so an urgent meeting was called.
Thus it was, that for the first time since our family moved to Liverpool last June, every single member of the YWAM Liverpool community came together simultaneously in the same room. (Who would have thought it would be so difficult to get seven people together? But with Shephen’s frequent international speaking engagements, and Jude juggling life as a new mother, and Joel squeezing his part-time YWAM accounting around other part-time jobs as youth worker and as accountant—you get the picture!) So we gathered to seek the Lord together, and had the chance to each share what they felt the Spirit saying.
In particular, Shephen said to me, “I do believe God is going to do something glorious, I really do. But I have been praying, and I also have some serious concerns—which I need to share with you privately”. So we ended the meeting with me agreeing to put on pause any plans toward an ABLAZE DTS, deciding that we would again in a month’s time to see what further clarity had developed, and that evening Shephen came over. I had wondered whether the serious concerns would be to do with moral challenge (as in Matthew 18), but it was a prophetic word: “You need to take this and weigh this personally, but I really feel this is what God is saying—this is a ship to Tarshish…”
How was Jonah relevant?
We respectfully listened to all Shephen had to say, and wrote down the word for further reflection. But it didn’t make sense. How was Jonah an analogy to our situation? The prophet Jonah is called by God to go and preach to Nineveh. But Jonah would rather God judge the Ninevites without first giving warning—and implicit opportunity for repentance. So instead he gets on a ship to Tarshish to try and escape the call of God. There’s no escaping God however: “the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea… so that the ship threatened to break up”. Only when Jonah is thrown overboard is the storm calmed. Then a great fish swallows Jonah and spits him back on shore. This time Jonah obeys God’s call to preach to Nineveh. And the city turns to God in repentance and is saved.
My first thought was that if I were Jonah, then leading DTS seemed less like a ‘ship to Tarshish’, and more like the original ‘call to Nineveh’ that (one might say) we had run away from in moving up to Liverpool. It didn’t make sense. But Shephen is someone whom I know, and love, and trust. We had invited him every single year we led DTS in Cambridge to come and kickstart the school with his teaching on Mission. If he sincerely felt this was the ‘word of the Lord’ for us – I didn’t want to dismiss that lightly. But what did it mean? If indeed the idea of stepping back into leading DTS was indeed a ‘ship to Tarshish’, then what was the prior ‘call to Nineveh’ from which I was running away?
A couple of weeks later, I was reading a book about ‘Contagious Disciple-Making’. In it, they talk about the essential ingredients you need to see such a movement. “If something is truly strategic, then without it in place the plan will fail. If the plan can survive without an element, that element isn’t strategic.
“ Being a disciple who makes disciples,  prayer,  engagement [ie. meeting lost people),  [finding] Persons of Peace,  Discovery Groups [where Persons of Peace are introduced to Scripture],  establishing churches [ie. Long-term Disciple-Making Communities], and  leadership development are all strategic. “Each is part of the answer to the question, ‘What will it take to catalyze Disciple-Making Movements?’ (There are others, but [these are] the strategic elements you need to get a movement started.) If you remove any of these elements, you won’t have a movement, period. You may have some growth, but you won’t experience movement.”
Was my ‘call to Nineveh’ a call to catalyse Disciple-Making Movements? In Jonah’s case, the ‘call to Nineveh’ did indeed result in the movement of an entire city turning to God in repentance! Would leading a DTS be a hindrance rather than a help to that end? Me being me, I tried to translate those seven necessary ingredients of a movement into an acronym that spells ABLAZE: A for APPLICATION B for BURNING PRAYER L for LOOKING FOR & LOVING the LOST A for ANNOUNCING the Gospel to ASSESS whether someone is a Person of Peace Z for ZIMPLE ZCRIPTURE ZTUDY, in which rather than trying to swiftly take someone straight from A to Z, instead you let THE ZPIRIT gently take a Person of Peace from A to B to C… E for ESTABLISHING and EQUIPPING them in their context, and NOT EXTRACTING them And we have run out of letters, so we’ll stick with D for DEVELOPING LEADERS and let the past-tense of ‘ABLAZED’ indicate that the ‘D’ should generally be the final step, after the others are already beginning to happen, and it becomes clear who the leaders are that God is already beginning to raise up.
Now, whether or not that acronym might be helpful to you I don’t know, but what was interesting was that having written it out I decided to try and assess my own success at practising the various necessary ingredients. Application, yes – not that I’m in any way perfect, but I am whole-hearted. Burning Prayer, yes – and if anything too much, focussing less on Looking For & Loving the Lost to Announce the Gospel to them (though certainly we have done that), and more on trying to persuade Christians to join in with a vision for 24⁄7 worship and prayer. And then although we’ve done some Zimple Zcripture Ztudy, primarily our energies have been focussed on Developing as Leaders those young people that have been drawn to the vision for worship and prayer. So rather than a well-balanced set of ingredients for a movement completely ‘ABLAZE-D’, instead we have been in A BAD cycle that has jumped too quickly to developing leaders (extracted from elsewhere) before first seeing breakthrough in effectively reaching the lost where we are.
‘Massive whale underneath’
A few more weeks passed, and then Jude emailed to ask how my thinking had progressed regarding what had been talked about. I met with her and Shephen’s wife Caitlyn and explained my most recent revelation about how (perhaps) leading DTS might short-circuit a potential movement across the city. Which is to say that I was happy not to do it, and grateful that it seemed God had used the input of the team to keep me from prematurely locking myself into ‘A BAD’ cycle. They commended me for how I had handled the process, and then we had to go our separate ways. “But before you go,” Jude added, “I still don’t feel you’ve quite worked out where you fit in the team… Anyway, have a think, and we can talk about it some other time”.
I went away perplexed. What did she mean I hadn’t found a fit in the team? On the one hand, we felt like we had thoroughly fit into life in Liverpool, and were hosting the YWAM team meeting round our dining table each week, and were getting connected with fruitful ministry across the city and beyond. On the other hand, I could see what she meant. Although in the previous few months we had been the only ones consistently present for the team meeting, the fact that the others (for various good reasons) had been elsewhere meant that we were still the new and somewhat-unknown members. And we were still working out whether Taryn’s YWAM commitment should be ‘part-time’ or whether it was better for us as a family if technically she wasn’t under any commitment at all to put in however many hours of work…
I wasn’t offended by the question. But the thing was that her question stirred up afresh that word about being on ‘the ship to Tarshish’. Just because we were committed to be part of the discipleship movement that Jesus has commissioned to “Go into all the nations!”, of waves of youth (–and compared to the Ancient of Days, we’re all young–) with a mission, committed to knowing God and making Him known, seeking to hear His voice and then walk in obedience to it, regardless of how crazy it might seem, unworried by the lack of any obvious financial reward for doing so–; just because we were committed to be part of this discipleship movement, were we actually supposed to be part of the team that is YWAM Liverpool? Put like that, it seemed that actually we needed to step out of the team.
In fact, to be precise, our application to transfer from YWAM Cambridge to YWAM Liverpool was actually still being processed – doubtless some document awaiting a key signature lay waiting on someone’s desk. So technically we wouldn’t be leaving the team, but rather just withdrawing our application. If indeed that was what God was calling us to do. But was that wise? What would the implications be? And how do you assess a decision with unknown implications? Intuitively, it felt like stepping out from YWAM Liverpool was the right thing to do. But logically, it was hard to say. I could see some ways in which there would be benefits. And I could see some potential challenges. That Monday I was at Manchester House of Prayer, and I asked them to pray for very specific guidance and confirmation as to what God would have us do.
The next morning I woke up to find that Shelly had emailed our YWAM Liverpool team with a half-dozen words of encouragement from another YWAM team on outreach for the week from London. There was one that mentioned ABLAZE, and it was a picture of a ‘little fishing ship’ on the surface of the ocean, with a ‘massive whale underneath’: “…The whale blew through its blowhole and lifted the ship up. Sudden and strong. He wants to lift up this ministry…” We had been wrestling with a word about being on ‘the ship to Tarshish’. I was asking that God would use me, like He used Jonah, to catalyse a movement across a city. And having asked for direction and being given a word that implied that the YWAM ministry was a ship with a whale underneath, it felt clear that we needed to ‘jump ship’. I emailed Jude that same day to let her know. God in His mercy helped the necessary conversations go surprisingly smoothly, and I think it is clear to all involved that there is no ill-will, bitterness, or frustration at play here—just a sincere desire to hear the voice of the Lord, and a willingness to step out of the boat and try and walk on water.
So what does that mean specifically? It means that we are no longer a part of the YWAM team – but we still love them, and were prayed out with their blessing as we step out into our next season. It means I’ve passed on the leadership of the ABLAZE events to Shelly – they will continue to be facilitated by YWAM Liverpool. It means that I’m even more involved with Gladstones Café the Tree of Life than before. I’m currently spending three mornings a week praying with Peter Gray into what it might look like to see it ‘firing on all cylinders’: trying to discern what adjustments need to be made to the café and bookshop, wondering what rhythms of prayer and discipleship could be put in place.
It means (as a consequence of the above involvement) I’m now connected with a collection of street evangelists proclaiming the gospel in the city centre on Tuesdays and Thursdays, some of whom meet at Gladstones to pray beforehand. It means I’ve been asked by Together For The Harvest if I would take on the role of coordinating prayer across the Liverpool City Region, and I’m trying to work out whether such a task would be the ideal complement to a ‘House of Prayer’ being pioneered in the Upper Room of a Christian Café–or another ‘ship to Tarshish’ best left as a separate task.
It means that as a family, we still feel called to be missionaries, committed to pursuing no employment but doing ‘only what we see the Father doing’, trusting God to provide for all of our needs according to His riches in glory, inviting people to consider whether perhaps they might be called to play a part in that provision, and attempting to give an account of our journey of obedience to His call. It means that we will be forever grateful for the training that we have received in the context of YWAM, but we now need to stop justifying any of our more peculiar habits with the excuse that ‘this is how it’s done in YWAM’, and work out more rigorously for ourselves what it means for us in our context to obey Christ and His commands.
It might also mean that you have some questions or concerns. If so, please get in touch! We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we’re happy to try and explain as best we can!
Still stumbling boldly on…
…towards the throne of grace, Peter & Taryn, with Isaac + Anu