The Future of North American Missions?

It has been exactly two weeks since my return from the Lausanne Consultation for North American Younger Leaders in Madison, Wisconsin, and my reflections are long overdue. For those of you who don’t know, Lausanne is a movement that was birthed in its namesake city in Switzerland, out of Dr. Billy Graham’s passion to “unite all evangelicals in the common task of the total evangelization of the world.” Its vision is to “call the whole Church to take the whole Gospel to the whole World.”

The first Lausanne Congress was held in 1974 with some 2,700 participants from over 150 nations. TIME Magazine called it “a formidable forum, possibly the widest-ranging meeting of Christians ever held.” My involvement with Lausanne began in 2010 when I a volunteered at the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa. Here’s a documentary of the congress.

(picture with the alumni of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary who were attending the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town)

Since then, I have begun serving as Lausanne’s Regional Liaison for North America, in which capacity I assist Lausanne’s International Deputy Director for North America, Tom Lin, who is also InterVarsity’s Urbana Director and Vice President for Missions. Though I am not remunerated for my work (at least not on earth), I cherish this opportunity to be involved in the work of world evangelization, because no project excites me more than God’s mission (Mt. 28:18-20).

Part of this job has been working closely with the awesome steering committee to plan and run the Lausanne Consultation for North American Younger Leaders, which gathered 120 younger (i.e. <40) evangelical leaders from U.S. and Canada to collaborate on the 6 calls to action from the Cape Town Commitment (the document coming out of the Third Lausanne Congress):

  1. Bearing witness to the truth of Christ in a pluralistic, globalized world
  2. Building the peace of Christ in our divided and broken world
  3. Living the love of Christ among people of other faiths
  4. Discerning the will of Christ for world evangelization
  5. Calling the Church of Christ back to humility, integrity and simplicity
  6. Partnering in the body of Christ for unity in mission

(120 participants at the 2012 Lausanne Consultation for North American Younger Leaders)

Meeting these amazing young comrades-in-Christ was like seeing a glimpse of the future of North American missions. Among the 120 incredible people was Nick Hall, who reminded us of our call to bear witness. As Billy Graham stated in his address at the First Lausanne Congress in 1974:

“This is a Congress of World Evangelization. Now, we are enthusiastic about all the many things churches properly do, from worship to social concern. But our calling is to a specific sector of the Church’s responsibility–Evangelism. We believe our point of view has not been adequately represented at some of the other world Church gatherings. Therefore, we are met to pray, talk, plan and–please God–to advance the work of evangelism” (p. 8).

Of course, we are called not only to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, but also to embody the good news in the form of social justice (Lk. 4:18-19). So Chris Heuertz challenged us to embrace “the voluntary suffering of the non-poor,” because, apart from authentic relationships with those oppressed by poverty and other social ills, we will only aggravate the situation and further marginalize “the poor” and “the other” from our realities. In order to “bear witness to the hope that God is good in a world that has legitimate reasons to question God’s goodness,” we need “to rethink the margins and the centers in the context of humanizing relationships that affirm the divine imprint in all humanity.”

Then, Elizabeth Paul reminded us that we are called not merely to make converts, but to make disciples. Every church should be able to answer two questions: (1) What is our plan for making disciples? (2) Does our plan work? And every Christian should be able to answer two questions: (1) Who am I discipling? (2) Who is discipling me? Disciples are those who are committed to cultivating the character and competencies of Christ in him/herself and others. Learning the competencies of Christ means we must learn to make disciples who make disciples, and so on. Learning the character of Christ requires confronting the culture of consumerism, competition, and celebrity, or, in other words, overcoming the temptations of appetite, ambition, and affirmation (categories from Mike Breen), which, by the way, are the temptations that Jesus faced before beginning his public ministry (Mt. 4:1-11).

As Doug Birdsall, the executive chairman of the Lausanne Movement, said in his closing message, learning the character of Christ involves humility and servanthood. It means living to be forgotten. It means being interdependent rather than independent. It means being faithful in “small” things rather than being anxious to move on to “bigger” things, knowing that only those who are faithful with little can be faithful with much (Lk. 16:10; Mt. 25:23). It means choosing infinity over zero, everything over nothing, recognizing that apart from God we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5), but that with him we can do all things (Lk. 1:37).

Discipleship is a call to die to oneself and rise for the glory of God. And to make disciples is our divine commission. I hope this mission exhilarates and invigorates you as much as me, because the future of North American missions is as bright and sure as the promises of God.