I am waiting for my plane home and reflecting over my experiences in Cape Town. Things did not slow down during the final weekend of Lausanne but continued to be jam-packed and meaningful. Every session during the eight days was wonderful, but I think by the end just about everybody was on overload. I'm very ready to head home.
There are lots of things that I take home with me (including a couple vuvuzelas) but the most important things I take back are the faith experiences and insights. I'm sure those of you who see me regularly at home will soon grow tired of hearing me say, "Well, when I was in Cape Town..." I'll be ruminating on my experiences here for some time, but now that the last session is over, I have already begun to reflect on the significance of being here.
Here are the ten things that I think of as the immediate impacts of the Cape Town Conference for me.
1. It is an important and powerful experience to worship wtih believers from 200 nations.
Every plenary session began with worship. There is something revelatory about worshiping God with a crowd that in so many ways is a reflection of the worship of heaven. I don't believe I made it through a worship time without a few tears. On one of the first days we sang the chorus "He Reigns." Imagine standing in Africa and singing these words with 5,000 believers from around the world in one room...
It's the song of the redeemed rising from the African plain.
It's the song of the forgiven drowning out the Amazon rain.
The song of Asian believers, filled with God's holy fire.
It's every tribe, every tongue, every nation; a love song born of a faithful choir.
It's all God's children singing, "Glory, glory, hallelujah he reigns. He reigns!"
Imagine singing the next verse knowing that several believers were arrested at the airport on the way to Cape Town and continue to be detained because they were trying to be present at the conference...
Let it rise above the four winds, caught up in the heavenly sound.
Let praises echo from the towers of cathedrals to the faithful gathered underground...
And all the powers of darkness tremble at what they've just heard.
'Cause all the powers of darkness can't drown out a single word...
Tonight with a full choir and orchestra we sang these words:
Let every kingdom, every tribe on this terrestrial ball,
To Him all majesty ascribe and crown Him Lord of all.
To Him all majesty ascribe and crown Him Lord of all.
I didn't make it through it... Most of the people around me were having the same problem.
Most importantly, and most appropriately, the conference ended last night in Eucharist around the Lord's table. There was something about being around the table of communion with 200 nations that made it sacred beyond description. I couldn't help but think about how Christ meets the whole world in all of it's brokenness, redeems us through his grace, and makes us a new humanity (a holy nation) in his love.
2. The Lausanne Movement theme, "The whole Church, proclaiming the whole gospel, to the whole world" had a deep resonnance.
The Lausanne motto was spoken dozens of times over the course of the week. But there was a real sense that it was more than a beautiful sentiment but that in our time together it's hopeful vision was becoming a reality. In the globalized world there is an increasing sense of awareness and responsibility for one another around the world. When one part of the global Body of Christ hurts, we all hurt with it.
3. The significant role of entrepreneurial laity in the spread of the gospel.
I spent a good deal of time meeting with a "think tank" of government, business, and education leaders. As you can imagine the government and business leaders were very successful and very committed lay women and men who have a passion for using the platform, resources, and wisdom God has given them in the work of gospel's transforming work around the world. If the gospel is going to have a global impact it will not be primarily because preachers and church leaders get their act together. (Although that would be great). But I am more convinced than ever that it will be (and probably always has been) committed lay people using the gifts God has given them in service to God's kingdom that will make the most difference. One speaker shared about a local church sign that gave the name of the church and then read: ""Pastor: Rev. Thompson". And below that it said, "Ministers: Every One Else." I like that and am deeply awed by the ministers from government, business, and education I met here.
4. The culture of evangelical Christian has changed significantly in the last 20 years.
A couple of people who were at the Second Lausanne Conference in 1989 shared with me that when it was over they did not believe there would ever be another global meeting because of the great tensions present at the 89 meeting. The world was in the midst of political turmoil (when is it not?), but evangelicals were also experiencing a great deal of tension. There were apparently three major areas of tension. There was tension over the Pentecostals and Charismatics that were present at the conference. There was a great deal of anger on the part of some of the Latin American delegates that there were some evangelical Catholics present. And the conference was deeply divided between those who define evangelism narrowly as the salvation of the souls of people and those who were advocating a broadening of the understanding of evangelism to include concepts such as justice and compassion.
There are lots of changes that have taken place in two decades that we could point to, but whatever cultural and theological changes have taken place, there was very little tension and a great spirit of unity that was present in Cape Town. There were rumors about some folk who were upset that a woman was invited to give the message at one of the morning devotional sessions. But the leaders addressed the concern by saying essentially, "We in the Lausanne movement are committed to God's use of the whole Church - including women - to be instruments of his gospel." So women were equally involved in all of the areas of ministry during the week, and that seemed to settle the question.
Perhaps it is the rise of secularism in the West and the decline of denominationalism around the world, but it was clear - at least to me - that the emphasis was on working together and that there was very little spirit of competition but a prevailing sense of unity among those present. Even on the issues of justice and compassion it was very clear that the question has at least been settled for now that the Body of Christ is to be continually involved in evangelism and compassion/justice and that the two are not, nor should they be, mutually exclusive.
5. There is a great deal of ambiguity in being a Westerner.
It's important to say that every culture brings a mixed bag of blessing and curses, and the cultures of "the West" are certainly no exception. It was obviously important to those that planned the conference that leaders from the West have a voice but not be thevoice in the meetings. It was so interesting hearing people from other nations and regions of the world reflect on their impressions of the West (America in particular) and celebrate some of the good things the West does but also speak prophetically - and from personal experience - about many of the ways the West misuses its power and wealth in the world. Sitting in on those conversations is an experience that every American ought to have. But only if we are willing to listen confessionally and not defensively.
6. The quote that still haunts me is: "There are no closed countries. There are only countries where Christians are not currently willing to pay the price to take the gospel there."
Which leads to the next one...
7. There are as many saints living and at work in the world today as there have ever been.
One of the last speakers made the comment, "I don't know if and when Lausanne Four will take place. But if we were to meet again in ten years, there is no doubt that many in this room will have been martyred for your faith."
It was a humbling experience to hear the stories told just around my table of people who live in a great deal of danger and at a great deal of personal risk for the sake of the gospel. There were several moments during the week that will not be broadcast on the internet, when pictures were forbidden, and when we were asked not to re-tell the stories or use individual's names later on. The lives of these modern day St. Patricks are largely invisible to the global Church, but they are known by God.
At the same time, I read an article this week that referenced a study in the US which essentially said that over the couple of decades Christians in America have stopped defining regular church attendance as weekly and now consider regular attendance to be monthly. Just saying...
8. It doesn't matter what you say, if you say it with a British accent, it just sounds smarter.
That rule also applies to the various British-shaped accents in Africa. Unfortunately, the inverse is largely true for Southern [USA] accents.
9. There will always be the need for strong leading personalities, but the Church of the next generation will most likely be led by significant organizations and partnerships rather than by individuals.
Obviously when you go to something like Lausanne there is some question about who will be the "next" Billy Graham? Who will be the leader who will rise up and in their essence embody the vision and purposes of the larger evangelical movement?
There were certainly some large and recognizable personalities present (and some unfortunately absent), but it was mentioned several times that the power of connection is quickly surpassing the power of influence. I am a little biased, but looking at the roster of speakers and leaders, it could be argued that the next Billy Graham are places like Fuller Seminary, Navigators, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, African Enterprise, etc.
It feels like this is the age of collaboration.
10. Christian unity can only happen when we keep the mission of the Church at the forefront.
I am amazed at the sense of unity across languages, cultures, denominations, theological traditions, economic status, etc. when people are united in mission. Lausanne distributed a statement of faith and will put out a statement of mission coming out of this conference. The statement of faith is really quite beautiful and contains ten basic points. We love God because he first loved us. We love the living God. We love God the Father. We love God the Son. We love God the Holy Spirit. We love God's Word. We love God's world. We love the gospel of God. We love the people of God. And we love the mission of God. The document describes each of those points, but when I read it I get the sense that although it is thoughtfully put together that it was not - and is not - continually word-smithed. The movement holds the statements of faith necessary to fulfill the mission.
But it is the mission that is the unifying factor.
One woman who lives in a Muslim nation shared this week about her church where the worship practices are nearly identical to those practiced in a Muslim temple. The worshipers sit on the floor with the Bible open in front of them in the same manner as they would in Islam. The pastor is called an Imam, etc. The people have adopted all of the cultural and religious practices of the Muslim faith that they can except that Christ is proclaimed as Lord. The people realized that the biggest barriers to Christian faith for the people were cultural and not ideological. And so where they can leave culture - even a culture of worship - in place, they do. The woman - who herself is a converted Muslim - said, "Some of you may be freaking out about this, but you need to know that Christ is redeeming Muslims without making them Western Christians."
I thought, "Amen, sister. But I know some idiot bloggers who would freak out over this stuff..."
There is an old statement that floats around the church that says, "When we don't evangelize, we cannibalize." I thought about some of the cranky people some of us have been dealing with the last couple of years around the church in America who have made it their life pursuit to discover what's wrong with everyone else's theology. I must say, it was nice to spend a week free of them. It was nice to be with people who are convinced that evil, injustice, and the devil are our foes and not our other brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is a gross over statement, but I generally find that those who are most adamantly (and sometimes violently) argumentative and uncivil with other Christians are trying to protect what has been rather than build what may - by God's grace - be.
Anyways, it was a great deal of fun to dwell among the missional for a week. I hope that with what remains of my life and ministry that God will count me among the saints from around the world I was blessed to be at the table with this week. May God continue to bless his Church in all of its languages, cultures, tribes, lands, and customs.