The Most Diverse Gathering Ever
The Lausanne movement's third global gathering will feature a younger, more ethnically diverse, and more geographically varied consortium of evangelical leaders than ever before.
The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, known as Cape Town 2010, will take place next month, October 16β5, with 4,000 leaders from 200 countries. Planners have made sure that 55 percent of participants are under age 50.
Billy Graham convened the first International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, in July 1974, drawing 2,700 evangelicals from 150 nations. The parley comprised mostly white Western leaders at a time when the massive growth of Christianity in the developing world had just begun. British pastor-theologian John Stott served as chief architect of the Lausanne Covenant, which resulted in multiple alliances and spawned many other conferences. The second gathering, held in Manila in 1989, drew an influx of attendees from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and also incorporated Pentecostals and charismatics.
This time around, Americans aren't dominating the behind-the-scenes preparation or the on-stage program. Only 5 of the 25 members of the congress's Advisory Council, which has developed a theological foundation and strategic vision for the event, are from the U.S.
Two-Thirds World Showcased
Program Committee Chair Ramez Atallah, general secretary of the Bible Society of Egypt, pushed for a discussion format of seating six attendees per table, discussing speeches that will be shorter than those from years past.
"We don't want people to come because of big names," Atallah says. "We're not choosing the stars of the evangelical world to speak. People coming to be entertained by great speakers and great music will be disappointed. They could get that sitting at home, watching television."
Executive Chair Doug Birdsall, an Asian Access missionary based at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, doesn't have the name recognition of his Lausanne predecessors. But he has painstakingly guided the event planning to include a cross-section of pastors, scholars, academics, missionaries, educators, and business leaders. Two-thirds of the speakers and presenters are from Africa, Latin America, and Asia, where two-thirds of today's evangelicals live.
"If it's the whole church, it needs to be people from north, south, east, and west," Birdsall says. "These leaders, carefully chosen from thousands of applicants, will represent the demographic, theological, and cultural realities of the global church."
Leighton Ford, program chairman for Lausanne 1974 and chair of ongoing committees 15 years later, says Americans will leave Cape Town understanding the importance of listening to and being helped by leaders from other parts of the world.
"Back then we thought we had quite a bit to give—and we did," says Ford, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and adviser for this year's Lausanne. "Now we have a great deal to receive. It's an attitude change that will result."
Atallah says Western evangelical leaders tend to be goal- and result-oriented, adopting a view of Christian work and life that mimics a business model. He hopes Americans focus on ministry relationships rather than donor responses.
"When Americans evaluate things, they do so from a grid that is counterintuitive to the New Testament," Atallah says. The grid "goes counter to the relational model that Africans and many other cultures espouse."
Birdsall says evangelism and social justice must go hand in hand. In light of pluralistic societies and the New Atheism, he says, Christians are more likely to embrace justice and mercy matters at the expense of the foundational truths that Jesus is the only way to God and that Scripture is the ultimate authority. It's never hard to find enough American churchgoers to build a house, but drawing interest in a Bible study is another matter, says Birdsall.
"There is a concern that our message is offensive, so there is a tendency to downplay it because respectability and likeability are important to us," Birdsall says. "If we do everything but proclaim the message, that's just a partial gospel."
Korean American Michael Oh, president of Christ Bible Seminary in Nagoya, Japan, embodies the way the global church has changed since Lausanne I. The 39-year-old is responsible for shepherding the younger leaders at Lausanne III.
"We hope to witness in Cape Town a strengthening of healthy generational cooperation and, Lord willing, the beginning of a more deliberate generational transition globally in terms of leadership," Oh says. "It will be an incredible opportunity for younger leaders to pray, worship, repent, and strategize alongside more experienced leaders."
Birdsall is optimistic that Cape Town 2010 will feature a proper blend of wisdom from veteran leaders who make well-informed decisions, and energy from younger Christians to carry them out.
This is the first time such a global gathering will be truly global via technology. Not only can individuals watch proceedings on the Internet, there will also be 400 anchor sites providing global links in 60 nations. Participants at theological institutions, mission sites, and churches worldwide will be able to interact with those at the congress.
Islam and other Strategic Challenges
Questions facing the church from within and without are enormous. Cape Town 2010 will tackle key issues that confront the church's effectiveness in world evangelization, ranging from consumerism to child sex trafficking. Birdsall says the congress will deal with three themes: the impact of secularism; the challenge of other faiths; and the nature of the church, specifically the problems of fragmentation and superficiality among evangelicals.
Islam is at the fore of challenges from other faiths. "Islam is a globally coordinated and unbelievably well-funded aggressive movement," Oh says. "The church needs to ask whether it will be reactionary or proactive in engagement."
"It's a great temptation to look upon Muslims as enemies rather than as people God loves," Ford says.
Rick Warren, whose Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, has trained 400,000 pastors from 64 countries, advocated for Cape Town as the host site. He is on the Lausanne III Advisory Council.
"The church is truly the only global organization on the planet," Warren said in June at one of twelve pre-congress gatherings at U.S. churches. "My prayer for Lausanne is that we show why we do what we do."
Cape Town 2010 is designed to be a catalyst for church leaders to form partnerships to spread the Good News and to make disciples. Still, unity within a less homogeneous contingent than the first Lausanne might be easier to declare than to implement.
"The issue of cooperation and partnership is just as vital as it was back then—and sometimes just as hard to achieve," Ford says. "The church is growing rapidly among the poor, and we have a great deal to learn from them."
At this point, Birdsall believes he and other planners have done everything humanly possible to make sure Cape Town 2010 goes as planned.
"We want to make sure we don't plan so carefully that we leave God out of it," Birdsall says. Now he's focusing on asking for prayer from the faithful.
John W. Kennedy is a contributing editor for Christianity Today. To join the conversations at this year's congress, visit Lausanne.org/globalinkreg.
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