Over the course of the last week, I've joined more than 4200 representatives from 198 nations to listen to dozens upon dozens upon many more dozens of speakers address many of the most challenging issues of our age. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.
The Third Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelism should have been called The Lausanne Global Gathering. Many delegates were led to believe that we would have the opportunity to speak into the issues the church is facing. Using the word "delegate" to describe our involvement as well as the word "congress" suggested each of us would be given an opportunity to address issues as diverse as Scripture, poverty, AIDS, human trafficking, the shift of power taking place around the globe, and many more.
But the statements and papers issued at the Congress were written beforehand by a group of academics from around the world (many of whom I respect and appreciate very much!). For the first few days, I kept wondering, "When do we get to watch and participate in the exchange of ideas in a meaningful way outside of our assigned table groups?" Then I finally figured out the only outlets were the multiplex afternoon workshops where some of the academics would sit in and listen to the presenters and the very limited question and answer time with participants.
Once I wrapped my head around this discovery and figured out that the real purpose of placing 5000 people in a convention center was really for a "Gathering" rather than a "Congress," I had a ball and made the most of my time in and around the event focusing all of our energy (and then some) on hanging out and relationship building. Truly, the brilliance and power of Lausanne is creating a forum for unlikely people and outreaches from around the globe to connect.
Lausanne offered a microcosm of the macro-challenges faced by the church around the world. Throughout the week, almost everyone I encountered felt marginalized in one way or another. I met a woman from a notable U.S. church who mentioned that her pastor couldn't attend because he was "a white man over 50" and the U.S. delegation already had too many representatives from that demographic. A man serving as a missionary in Israel was frustrated that key leaders from the Messianic Jewish community fighting for peace in the Middle East were not present (though other Messianic believers as well as Arab were represented). I listened to a passionate Native American (who loves lattes) express his concern over the low Native American representation, a Hispanic concerned with the disproportionally low Hispanic representation, women express disappointment with the low female attendance (and a speaker who went out of his way to correct the first female Bible expositor but affirm every male Bible expositor), and I could keep going on and on until everyone was represented.
But I don't have space.
And neither did the Lausanne committees. Though I shared some of the frustrations, I came to a place on day five, when I finally realized: We all feel marginalized in some way. That's the human condition. Extend grace. Move on.
At the end of the day, it's not about you or me. In the church and in ministry, we will all encounter moments when we feel marginalized and unintentionally marginalize others, but we must learning to work and serve together without resorting to the "It's not fair!" refrain that can divide and undermine our reputation to the world around us. We must learn to display what it means to madly love God and one another in spite of our sense of inequality.