Eric Cheung offers us his first-timers’ impressions of a global evangelical gathering.
In late October 2010, I had the privilege of attending the Third Lausanne Congress for World Evangelisation. Set in picturesque Cape Town and held in an ultra-modern, state-of-the-art conference facility, there were high expectations that this congress would achieve something great in Christian history. However, to be completely honest, before being selected to participate, I did not know much about the Lausanne Movement. The inaugural Lausanne Congress was held before I was born and the last congress took place whilst I was in high school. Moreover, as a Sydney Anglican clergyman, I am naturally deeply suspicious of everything.
Despite all this, Lausanne possesses something strangely attractive. The Lausanne Movement, shaped by John Stott and Billy Graham, has become a global phenomenon that evangelical leaders all over the world embrace. Those committed to the Lausanne Covenant have dedicated themselves to collaborate in the work of world evangelisation. As the rallying point of this movement, the Lausanne congress has the ultimate aim of changing the world by providing a valuable forum for evangelicals to connect, share and learn from some of the most creative and influential leaders including John Piper, Tim Keller and Os Guiness.
The congress projected high expectations for what we would achieve. From the outset, Doug Birdsall (Lausanne III Chairman) described the congress as ‘the most representative and diverse gathering of Christian leaders in the nearly two thousand year history of the Christian movement’.(1) The opening ceremony saw some not-too-subtle historical references to the Council of Nicaea. There were over 4000 leaders from 198 countries, representing nearly every stream of global Christianity. Birdsall reiterated that the congress represented ‘the demographic, theological and cultural reality of the church of Jesus Christ’.(2)
At the very least, the congress confronted participants with the enormity and reality of the task of world evangelization and spurred us onto action. We were forced to work very hard as we thought through various issues and were given every opportunity to develop strong Christian fellowship. The first thing that struck me as I entered the main auditorium was the hundreds of tables filling the hall. The set-up was a stroke of genius. Rather than being lost in a sea of seats and remaining anonymous in a cavernous hall, each participant was placed on a table of people who shared similar passions and gifts. Together, we studied the Bible inductively, discussed issues raised by the speakers, and developed deep friendships and fellowship.
My table hosted a UK clergyman who was about to become a bishop, two denominational leaders from different parts of Africa, a Finnish lady who had a significant broadcasting ministry, and myself. Throughout these morning Bible studies and plenary sessions, we worked hard at engaging with one another in productive and occasionally heated discussions. This was brilliant!
In the afternoons, participants were given the opportunity to choose from a myriad of ‘multiplexes’ and ‘dialogue sessions’ to help us think through and enact the practical ideas flowing out of the morning teaching sessions. The busy schedule continued into the night. In the evening sessions, we were given reports of how God has been working in different areas of the world. On top of all these sessions, there were more networking opportunities over meal times. We spent much of the lunches, dinners and suppers developing friendships and discussing the ministries within our different networks and contexts—the congress was a haven for extroverts!
The Third Lausanne Congress for World Evangelisation was in many ways a success, but it was not flawless. Although we were united with the purpose of world evangelisation, there were palpable tensions between factions with differing passions, emphases and even theological nuances. I discovered this uncomfortable reality even from my first few discussions. I was surrounded with people who are completely foreign to me: people from entirely different cultural backgrounds, theological understandings and ministries. It was easy to offend and it made the task at hand much more difficult.
With a gathering of over 4000 leaders with a cacophony of ideas and egos, the congress was under the constant threat of being rendered ineffective and in danger of fracturing. One example of such tension which existed between leaders is the opposing views regarding the place of social justice in world evangelisation. Some believed that social justice is a necessary part of the gospel so that, practically speaking, alleviating poverty may be understood as an integral part of evangelism. Others, however, maintained that whilst social justice is important, it acts to demonstrate the message and the power of the gospel rather than being part of the gospel itself. It was in this context that John Piper issued a most profound challenge during one of his talks: ‘For Christ’s sake, we Christians care about all suffering; especially eternal suffering. Christ is calling us to pull these together.’(3)
Grappled with this central question was a highlight for me. It demanded clarity on what is the message that saves souls for eternity and served to refocus our thoughts on evangelism. There were other issues that plagued the congress, but significantly, they highlighted for me that Lausanne was and is a great example of working through differences for the sake of unity in the gospel and Christ. However, I must iterate that it was not so much ecumenism, rather it was evangelicals seeking to work together for the purpose of evangelism.
The congress has positively marked my thinking and will change my future ministry. Sometimes God takes us way out of our routines and comfort zones and opens our eyes to things we would never have normally considered. Lausanne III was that for me. Lausanne has challenged me to view global Christianity and global mission in a different light. I now have a newfound understanding that as Sydney Anglicans we truly are a small fish in need of participating in God’s global mission. I was reminded that whilst we are to continue to work hard in our local church evangelising our local community, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are part of the global church. As a result of my experience, I have a renewed commitment to participate, engage and minister in collaboration with the global evangelical church. The practical outworking of this commitment is still a work-in-progress. I was confronted by the enormity and reality of the task of world evangelization at the Third Lausanne Congress, but it has also filled me with thankfulness that God has blessed us with so many dear brothers and sisters all over the world with whom we have the privilege of bringing others into his kingdom.
Eric Cheung is the Associate Minister (for evangelism!) at St Paul’s Castle Hill, Sydney.
1. Doug Birdsall, ‘Opening Celebration, October 17’, Lausanne III
3. John Piper, ‘Bible Exposition: Ephesians 3. Part 2’, Lausanne III