to an audio recording of this message.
Good evening. Buenas noches. Boa noite. Wu an. Bon soir. Even though I happen to be fluent in all five of the official Gathering languages (fluent meaning being able to say “good evening”), I think I will leave the job of translation to our professional translators.
I do however want to greet you all in the name of Jesus Christ who is Lord of every language group and every generation on earth! Usually when I speak somewhere, almost everyone has the same question burning in their minds: “How old is that guy?” That is my curse and blessing as a young leader who looks like a very young leader. By the way, I’m thirty-five-years old, I have four children, and I have been married to my wonderful wife, Pearl, for twelve years.
I do believe that everyone here has the same question burning in their mind, but it has nothing to do with how many winters have passed in the life of Michael Oh. The burning question is this: “What in the world is Lausanne?”
Some of you may know that Lausanne is a city in Switzerland, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But that’s not why “Lausanne” is written on your YLG t-shirt. In 1974, an historic gathering took place in Lausanne, Switzerland. More than 2,300 Christian leaders from 150 nations came together under the leadership of a committee headed by Dr. Billy Graham. It was one of the most significant gatherings of global church leadership ever held.
The participants’ world was one of great uncertainty, both in socio-political-economic terms, as well as for the church of Jesus Christ around the world. They gathered in Lausanne to consider whether the preaching of the gospel was still needed in a time when moral relativism and the “death of God” were being proclaimed. They gathered to consider whether the Bible was truly of divine inspiration, infallible, authoritative, and worthy of being proclaimed to the nations. They gathered to consider the uniqueness of Christ and whether salvation was found in him alone.
The result was a glorious, global, God-honoring, resounding “Amen!” in the form of the Lausanne Covenant. The Covenant is a declaration and challenge for the commitment and intentionality of the church in world evangelization. Since 1974, the Covenant has become a standard statement on evangelism and evangelicalism for many churches and organizations around the world. In Article 6 it states,
We affirm that Christ sends his redeemed people into the world as the Father sent him, and that this calls for a similar deep and costly penetration of the world. We need to break out of our ecclesiastical ghettos and permeate non-Christian society. In the Church’s mission of sacrificial service, evangelism is primary. World evangelization requires the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.
Since 1974, through the leadership of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, thousands of Christian leaders have gathered in cities across the globe for humble prayer, stimulating discussion, proactive planning, and for drafting wonderful documents and papers that represent some of the best and most globally representative thought related to world evangelization. We are a part of that legacy today.
The two most significant Lausanne gatherings since 1974 were Manila 1989 and the 2004 Forum in Pattaya, Thailand, where the Lausanne Committee called for a Younger Leaders Gathering to be held in 2006.
I first heard about the YLG while attending the 2004 Forum. There I met Paul Stanley, our wonderful program chairman for this event. Paul invited a number of young leaders from around the world to join the YLG planning team. But he didn’t invite me. After hearing about the YLG while I was in Thailand, I was so excited that I begged Paul to let me be a part of it. And he did. So, although I’m probably the most theologically Reformed member of our planning team, I think I can also say that I’m probably the least chosen
I currently serve as president of Christ Bible Seminary in Nagoya, Japan. I’m not Japanese. In fact my family is from Korea, which historically has considered Japan its greatest enemy. But it is the glory of the gospel that God can send a Korean-American to the nation of Japan to proclaim a reconciliation that only the cross can bring—a reconciliation between historical enemies and with God himself
Every day I see hope for the gospel in Japan. I see that hope in the classroom on the faces of my seminary students. And now, as I see your faces here at YLG, I have hope for the church and the lost around the world. You give me great hope that God is working globally and that his work and his worship will move forward until every tribe, language, people, and nation come to know of his great love and salvation. God will continue to work, as he has in times past, to raise up a new generation of young leaders who will humble themselves before him, unite with those around them, and lay down their lives for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The mission of this gathering is “to develop, inspire, and connect younger leaders who will take the whole gospel to the whole world with the whole church.” From this mission we have four outcomes that we have been praying for since before you were chosen (at least humanly) to be a part of this gathering: inform, inspire, develop, connect. Let’s take a look at these four outcome goals and use them to highlight some of the main features of the YLG.
By the time you leave here on Sunday, we want you to know what God is doing, where he’s doing it, how he’s doing it, and why. Our dear brother Jason Mandryck will be leading a session called “State of the Gospel,” which will open up the global work of the gospel to us. He will help us to understand what progress has been made, the great work that remains, and what part we can and must play in the remaining task.
I’m so excited about that session because God used information to give me my calling. There was nothing mystical or magical about it. It was just information—global information combined with biblical information leading to life transformation because of divine inspiration. This leads me to our second outcome goal.
Each of the four outcome goals is woven into every aspect of the Gathering, but certainly one particular time for inspiration will be the plenary talks. Every address will examine the Gathering’s theme: “Living and Leading like Jesus.” There is perhaps no issue more important than leadership for the cause of the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.
There are thousands of opinions and books on leadership both inside and outside the church. A quick Internet search reveals books such as Primal Leadership, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus, The Leadership Pill, and Ultrasonic Ultra-Silent Subliminal Leadership Programming. There’s even a book on leadership entitled, Why Aren’t You More Like Me?
I’ve read some very helpful books on leadership, but when it comes to inspiring and actually empowering world-changing leadership, there is no one like our Lord Jesus Christ. So it’s our hope that you will be inspired as the life and model of Jesus Christ is presented to you.
Our fantastic program planning team has put together a wonderful variety of workshops that aim to develop us. We acknowledge that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read, how good a model you’ve been shown, or how skilled you are. Your leadership will always be limited by the content of your character.
This is the beauty of the gospel: Jesus Christ not only turns our world upside down, but he also grows and develops us from the inside out. And as our lives are changed, we can become world changers in the hands of God
The workshops are organized around four major areas of “The Life of a Leader,” “The Role of a Leader,” “The Development of a Leader,” and “The World of a Leader.
So come to be developed, both in the workshops and throughout the entire gathering
I think I’m more excited about this aspect than any other. Do you know what the best part of this gathering is? You! I can’t even imagine a more exciting group of people to gather together in the entire world. The potential of what God can do through your lives is just mind-boggling.
We have come to connect vertically and horizontally. First and foremost we come to connect with the living God himself. I know that the Lord is rejoicing over us right now. We’re also here to connect with wonderful men and women who have gone before us and answered the call for their generation. We have among us what we call “mentors-at-large,” who include senior Lausanne leadership and other experienced leaders. They are here as roaming shepherds wanting to bless us. One of the most memorable and life-impacting experiences of my time in seminary was being discipled by Robert Coleman, a long-time participant in the Lausanne Movement. That life-on-life contact was a tremendous blessing. You have that same opportunity here and you don’t have to pay any tuition. Grab these mentors for a meal or coffee. If they grab you, grab them back. Corner them in the lobby. They are people who don’t mind being stalked
We also come to connect with leaders of our own generation in our small groups. These small groups are not an afterthought. We actually designed this entire gathering around the small groups, knowing that the most significant connection times will occur when we open our hearts, share our dreams, confess our failures, and pray for each other. Your small group is your family for the week. Your family is made up of people from around the world and led by a wonderful surrogate father or mother (your mentor) who is not here to lecture you but to facilitate what may be one of the most meaningful global fellowship times you will ever have, at least until heaven.
Doug Birdsall, the executive chair of the Lausanne Committee, was a participant at the first Lausanne younger leaders conference in 1987 in Singapore. Doug told me that the most significant aspect of the Singapore gathering was connecting with other younger leaders from around the world. Life-on-life contact changed their whole perspective on the global church, the global task, and our global God. Many of them are still friends and ministry partners to this day
So I encourage you to seize this opportunity to talk to, pray with, befriend, encourage, and dream with other younger leaders. You have the unique opportunity this week to take a 112-nation tour through the lives and testimonies of your brothers and sisters around you.
Give yourself to others. Include everyone. Be mindful that many people around you have never been outside of their country or region before. Be active. Eat with different people from different nations at every meal. Through your fellowship you could have a wonderful Italian breakfast, Ethiopian lunch, and Vietnamese dinner. You may make friendships this week that last for the rest of your life
We have designed this gathering to inform, inspire, develop, and connect younger Christian leaders so that the whole church might bring the whole gospel to the whole world. That’s all we are hoping God will do at the YLG!
Stand in the Gap
We have looked at why we are gathered here. Now let’s consider the challenge before us. In Ezekiel 22:23-29 we read,
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, say to her, You are a land that is not cleansed or rained upon in the day of indignation. The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord has not spoken. The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice.
Ezekiel’s time was one of tremendous spiritual rebellion against God, led by the leaders of Judah. In verse 30 the Lord proclaims, “I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.”
Judah was in crisis and the Lord was seeking someone— anyone—who would lead the people in repentance and renewal and stand in the gap. He found none. What will be said of the leaders of our generation? What will be said of our response both to the needs of those around us and to the call of our Lord? Brothers and sisters, will you stand in the gap? Will you stand in the gap for the Lord on behalf of our generation
The challenges before us are tremendous: poverty, AIDS, Internet pornography, religious fundamentalism, Christian nominalism, global consumerism, two billion unreached people. These are challenges from without, and there are also numerous challenges from within. Our generation loves instant gratification, so we must learn patience. Ours is the Internet generation, of information-overload, and we must learn discernment. Ours is the consumer generation, of global brands, and we must learn biblical stewardship. Ours is the educated generation, exposed to the global marketplace of ideas, and we must learn the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and his relevance to every culture and every people. Ours is the forward-thinking generation, which sees a world of possibilities, and we must learn to learn from the previous generations. Younger leaders, will you stand in the gap for our generation? I believe that the Lord is calling us to a great anticipation of his work, an anticipation that reflects great faith in an even greater God.
Christ Bible Seminary opened in April of 2005 but was many years in the making. In the summer of 2001, I had an important meeting with an older pastor in Japan who I hoped would be one of the key leaders for our seminary. In very un-Japanese fashion, before our meeting I sent him an armful of information explaining all of our hopes and plans and dreams. While traveling down the Japanese coast together at 280 kilometers per hour—I wasn’t driving, we were on the bullet train—I turned to him and asked, “Pastor, honestly, what did you think?” He paused and responded with a question. “Michael, do you know what a furoshiki is?” I told him I was familiar with the traditional square cotton wrapping cloth used to carry things like books or food. Then he said to me, “We have a saying in Japan: ‘your furoshiki is too big.’” He was telling me that my vision for starting a seminary was too big.
I listened to his opinion about how difficult it is to get books and students and professors and funding and staff for a seminary in Japan, and I thanked him for his concerns. But then I turned to him and said, “Pastor, we have a saying in English: ‘your God is too small.’” I know today that it was only by the grace of God that he didn’t slap me! Instead he turned to me and said, “Michael, you know, you’re right. I’ve been ministering for over thirty years and all I know are these small Japanese churches. I can’t even imagine more than what we’ve had, let alone a seminary. But surely God is able to do this and much, much more.” This pastor has been sacrificing for our ministry ever since as a key part of our team.
Both an over-confidence in ourselves and an under-confidence in ourselves are deadly mistakes. Younger leaders tend to fall into one of these two camps. Some struggle with a youthful pride that believes we can take on the whole world even without God. Others struggle with a false humility that serves as an excuse to not do anything of risk or significance for God: “I’m so weak and untalented that even God can’t do anything through me.” That is not humility; it borders on heresy. Our confidence should be solely and wholly grounded in the fact that our God is a big God.
So I ask you, how big is your God? Is your God a life-changing, game-breaking, problem-solving, crisis-resolving, broken-heart-healing, heavenly-vision-revealing, miracle-per-forming, globe-transforming God? Do you wait and watch with eager anticipation for his powerful work? And finally, do you long and beg for the privilege of participating in that powerful work of such a big God
Isn’t it amazing that God chooses us to participate in his work? He allows us to be ambassadors for Christ. He gives us the privilege of standing in the gap for him, for his people, and for the lost. And that is why we are here. This gathering is a call for our full participation in ministering the whole gospel to the whole world
I hope that you have noticed something about the Younger Leaders Gathering. This is not a typical conference. This is not a place for professional conference-goers to collect yet another conference notebook that they will just stick into some conference box. A conference is too often about just a single moment in time that has no relevance or connection to the rest of your life. The Younger Leaders Gathering is not just a moment, but the launch of a movement
It is our great hope that the Lord would send us from this place to every region of the world, and that from the vision you receive from this gathering, countless passionate conversations would take place, partnerships would be started, ministries would be energized, and national and regional gatherings of younger leaders would be spawned.
Let us be a generation that serves Christ and makes him known. That is why we are here in Malaysia and that is why we are here on earth. We are here to invest the one life that God has given to us so that the redeemed from every tribe, language, people, and nation might bow before his throne
Until Christ returns let us, as the whole church, take the whole gospel to the whole world. Let us be a generation of younger leaders who lead like Jesus. Let us be a generation of younger leaders to whom it could never be said, “Your God is too small.” Let us be a generation of younger leaders who stand in the gap. My dear brothers and sisters, stand in the gap for the Lord. Stand in the gap for the church. Stand in the gap for the lost all around the world. Stand in the gap for our generation.
Michael Oh is president of Christ Bible Seminary in Nagoya, Japan.
Living & Leading Like Jesus, a
compilation of the plenary addresses from the 2006 Young Leaders Gathering, is available from the William Carey Library.