EFAC Australia

David Williams wonders what God is doing amidst the changing nature of the worldwide Church.

Many commentators and bloggers have noted that the third Lausanne Congress reflected the changing centre of world Christianity. With representation from 198 countries, Lausanne was one of the most diverse gatherings of Christians in history. The organisers of the congress made a genuine attempt to ensure that the delegates represented the new centre of Christianity around the world. The centre of Christianity has moved from the West to the ‘Global South’—to Africa, Asia and Latin America. As an example of this, there were at least as many delegates from Uganda as from Australia.
However, Lausanne went a step further and worked hard to ensure that leadership at the conference also reflected the changing nature of the world church. It was a common experience to go to a plenary session or a major conference seminar and to find that all those presenting from the platform were African, Asia and Latin America. Anglo males were a reasonably rare sight.
However, it is too simplistic to say that the centre of the world church has moved from the West to the Global South. The reality is that world Christianity is polycentric—it has many centres.(1) Instead of saying that the centre of global Christianity has moved, we do better to think that the centres of world Christianity are moving. This reality was clearly evident at Lausanne. It was very clear that the demographic, cultural and spiritual centres of Christianity have moved from the West to the Global South. However, there was also plenty of evidence that the intellectual, organisational and financial centres remain in the West, predominantly in the United States. For example, while many countries made generous and sacrificial contributions towards Lausanne 2010, the conference could not have happened without American money. And although there was wide diversity of leadership on the conference platform, there remained a strong sense that those who put them there came from the West.
It was also evident that the dominant worldview controlling the conference agenda was Western. This was most obvious in a plenary session where delegates were exhorted to reach the remaining unreached people groups of our world. An extensive survey had been conducted in the lead up the conference identifying those people groups that are larger than 50,000 people who currently have no real gospel witness. These people groups were listed out in a glossy brochure and delegates were asked to commit their churches or organisations to reach these unreached groups.
The business of counting, categorising and systematising is a peculiarly Western enterprise, reflecting a predominantly rationalistic and scientific worldview. However, there was a sub-theme at Lausanne that told a story that is much harder to measure and impossible to categorise. Movements of migrant people, displaced by war or searching for better economic opportunities, are carrying the gospel to places that are otherwise impossible to reach.
Lausanne told two stories of world evangelisation. The official story mapped out a strategic plan that would mobilise the rich to take the gospel to the poor. The unofficial story narrated the movement of the poor, spread around the world by circumstances beyond their control, carrying the gospel with them. God is using both stories, because both stories belong to Him.

David Williams is Director of Training and Equipping, CMS Australia, and leads the team at the CMS Australia Federal Training College, St Andrew’s Hall, Melbourne.

1. See for example Jehu Hanciles, Beyond Christendom (Orbis, 2008).