October 26, 2010
Lessons from the Lausanne Gathering
The Cape Town congress reveals the blessings, and burdens, of the global body of Christ.
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.
Frustration with feeling marginalized on behalf of ourselves or someone else is only one of many issues that surfaced. The source of wealth and power and its isolating effects, the importance of leveraging technology to share the gospel, learning to listen more than speak, and developing an ear for those on the margins are only some of the challenges manifested at Lausanne that represent greater challenges in the global church.
The Lausanne Congress revealed that our perspective is not the only perspective. If at least one presentation at the congress didn’t ruffle your feathers, well, that’s because you didn’t have a pulse. Whether you’re from the Global South or North, you couldn’t help but realize just how different other people's viewpoints on issues are from one another. The lenses of culture, experience, theology, and many other factors create a potpourri of perspectives.
One Chinese pastor wondered why there was such an emphasis on gender issues. Why was the case so clearly being made for women in leadership in the church? After all, he explained, 75% of the pastors in his area of China are women.
A Nigerian woman felt unsettled when a very clear declaration was made against the prosperity gospel. While I applauded the presentation, she challenged me, “But Margaret, I grew up with a poverty in my country that you cannot know. Now that I pastor people who are poor, how do I not tell them that Jesus wants to prosper them. That is part of the Good News.” I explained that the presentation was very much against the manipulation that often accompanies prosperity teaching. She explained, “Yes, I understand, but how can you deny teaching people about the blessings of God?” I could have offered all my Americanized answers (and yes, I have a laundry list), but I realized looking into her eyes that she was asking questions from a very different perspective—one that I need to better understand in order to respond in grace, love, and compassion.
Time and time again I found myself challenged to expand my thinking, choose more gentle words, and seek to understand as we explored issues.
The Lausanne Congress gave us a glimpse of heaven. Before the opening ceremonies, Doug Birdsall, executive chairman of the Lausanne Movement, met with a group of key leaders. A friend of mine was among the gathering. Birdsall described the gathering of people from around the world as a glimpse into heaven. My friend grew increasingly excited for the first session—his expectations skyrocketed.
Instead, he found himself frustrated. As a programming director at a large church, he couldn’t help but notice the details most participants missed—the long pauses and awkward transitions—that left him thinking, “If this is heaven, I don’t want to go.” His perfectionist tendencies were getting the best of him.
My friend had to leave the event before the closing ceremonies. I wish he would have stuck around. Because that’s when I saw what was for me a true glimpse of heaven: Thousands of men and women who had gathered together, exhausted and spent, and left it all on the field coming together to worship God. For me, that was the glimpse of heaven.
I don’t know what all the other delegates from around the world are thinking at this point, but I know that I’m grateful to have been part of this congress and I’m looking forward to our regional gathering in Orlando, April 4-7, 2011. I hope to see you there.