“Hi, I’m Michael Oh, and I’m a failure.”
Not exactly the kind of introduction you’d expect at a gathering of 4000 global leaders at Cape Town 2010. But what if? And what if not?
The truth of the matter is that we’re all failures. We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). None of our “accomplishments” or “good deeds” merit any favor from God or boasting in our selves (Isaiah 64:6).
And yet we boast. Not the brash and obvious boasting, but more subtle, more “Christian” boasting.
What’s the first thing that Christian leaders ask of one another when they first meet?
“What do you do?”
“I pastor a church in (x) city.”
The second question?
“How big is it?”
“Oh, we have (x-number) members.”
Then comes the rebuttal in response to “and what do you do?”
“Oh I pastor a church of about (x-number plus y-factor). I also teach a few classes at (insert famous name) seminary. I have a Doctor of Ministry degree.”
We operate like leaders of this world sizing each other up, identifying ourselves and others by what we DO rather than who we ARE, and then evaluating ourselves and others by how big or famous or “successful” our ministries are. It’s like the card game I used to play when I was young. WAR. One round a ten looks pretty good when lined up against a seven. Then the next round it goes down in defeat to a queen. Reminds me of typical first meetings between Japanese business people. You exchange business cards, figure out who’s better than whom, and then bow appropriately.
When the YLT (Younger Leaders Team) met the weekend after the Biennial Lausanne Leadership Meeting in Seoul, there was a moment that defined our time together. It was the moment that we realized that FAILURE needed to be a crucial part of our time together in Cape Town.
When we gather next October leaders will exchange business cards and size each other up in some way. An African towards an Asian; a European towards a South American; an older leader towards a younger leader; a woman towards a man; a PhD towards a high school drop-out; a small town pastor towards a famous theologian. How will we see each other?
In Romans 12:9 Paul tell us that love must be sincere. A Roman citizen of his times might have thought immediately of the masks worn in Greek and Roman theater that both hid the actor himself and displayed an entirely different character or persona to the crowd. Love must be without masks. And yet we wear our masks choosing the appropriate one for each occasion.
Cape Town could be one of the most amazing gatherings in the history of the church of Jesus Christ if the leaders there will go not in a spirit of triumphalism either personally (ignoring the past and present work of and the future need for the grace of God in our lives that are FILLED with failure) or corporately (as if we personally have all the answers to the great challenges, problems, and opportunities facing the global church and the world today) but instead will go in a spirit of the humility that comes from acknowledged personal and corporate failure before God and towards man.
If Cape Town 2010 becomes a gathering of thousands who proudly can wear the badge, “I’m a failure loved by God and used by God for the glory of God,” what a gathering it could be and what a witness it will be to the world.