The Lausanne Movement has significantly impacted Christian mission for over 40 years. It exists to connect influencers and ideas for global mission—across issues, regions, and generations.
Connecting missional leaders across generations is both historically and strategically at the heart of the Lausanne Movement. This article provides a window into the unique story of Younger Leaders (YL) initiatives within the movement by listening to past and present leaders, and outlines key lessons for the global church.
It is highly appropriate to reflect on this fascinating story in view of the recent celebration of the first anniversary of the third YL gathering and the launch of the 10-year YL Generation initiative.
A growing emphasis on younger leaders
The intergenerational emphasis was included from the very beginning within the movement, with many YL present at Lausanne I in 1974. Ramez Atallah was appointed as the first ‘youth representative’ on the Continuation Committee, later joined on the permanent Lausanne Committee (LCWE) by Ajith Fernando and Brian Stiller. In practice, founder Billy Graham, first chair Jack Dain, first international director Gottfried Osei-Mensa, and leading theologian John Stott, were all modelling intentional mentorship in their many influential relationships with YL.
The clear vision for YL within the Lausanne Movement, Atallah explains, ‘developed after Leighton Ford’s Sandy died and he wanted to invest in younger leaders in memory of his son’. At an LCWE executive meeting early in 1983, Ford took Atallah, Fernando, and Stiller aside, sharing his emerging calling that he later formulated as ‘helping identify, develop, and network younger leaders of a new generation’. During this historic conversation, the idea of a global conference for YL came up. ‘I offered the observation’, Stiller recalls, ‘that we faced a rising church generation which seemed to lack younger leaders.’
As Lausanne chair and CEO (1976 – 1991), Ford commissioned Stiller to undertake a global review process to prepare for decisions in the LCWE. A key feasibility study in this review process included the following essential observations: ‘Continuing world evangelization requires present leadership to encourage younger leaders to take their place. . . . For the Lausanne Movement to continue to influence world evangelization, it is essential that the younger leadership catch its spirit.’
This growing vision of intergenerational partnership in global mission was shaped by the ‘spirit of Lausanne’, representing a shared communal attitude and practice of prayer, study, partnership, hope, and humility.
Singapore (YLG) 1987: ‘A Conference of Younger Leaders’
Inspired by the growing vision and informed by the review process, decisions were made in LCWE to arrange a global ‘Conference of Younger Leaders’ in Singapore in 1987. The key appointments included Brian Stiller as chair, Steve Hoke as director, and Ramez Atallah as programme coordinator, being part of a wider global planning team of ‘dynamic, opinionated, entrepreneur-type younger leaders’.
Singapore 1987 brought together nearly 300 YL from more than 60 nations to ‘provide networking, stimulate evangelism and raise awareness of resources and innovative ideas’. Doug Birdsall (Lausanne Chair and CEO 2004 – 2012) recalls that the gathering gave the participants a unique ‘window on the world’. Lifelong gospel partnerships and personal friendships were formed, across regions, cultures, and generations. The fact that John Stott was present only as a mentor and humble listener made a huge impact. Many of the participants became well-known Christian leaders worldwide.
When retelling the Singapore 1987 story, Atallah reflects on why this Lausanne conference became such a turning point in the lives and ministries of so many influential Christian leaders. He points out that the process was as important as the event: ‘I firmly believe that one of the main reasons the conference was a remarkable success was because of what God did in each one of us in the planning group. . . . To me it was proof that a well-chosen group of 300 younger leaders can impact the global church.’
‘Passing the torch’ of leadership to the next generation was a key concern at the first YLG in Singapore 1987, thus modelling the missional significance of intergenerational partnerships and friendships for the global church.
Malaysia (YLG) 2006: ‘Live and Lead like Jesus’
Following Lausanne II in Manila in 1989, the Lausanne Movement went through a challenging decade. It survived due to the faithful service of leaders such as John Reid, Fergus Macdonald, and Paul Cedar.
A key factor in the revitalization of the movement was the second YLG in Malaysia in 2006. It brought together 550 YL from over 100 countries. The theme was ‘Live and Lead Like Jesus’, thus helping YL ‘to lead more like Jesus, more to Jesus, and more for Jesus’.
Michael Oh (Lausanne CEO 2012 – present) describes the planning process for YLG 2006 as ‘the best, but not the easiest, team experience of my life’. Despite gaps in culture, calling, experience, gifting, and personality, a unique bonding emerged. He continues:
‘That experience taught me so much about the mission of the Lausanne Movement to connect. And it is not just a functional connection to do things together. As important as the doing of global mission is, it is the relational being together that really is a critical empowering dynamic to enable true, long-lasting doing.’
The programme focused on opportunities for—and barriers to—sharing the gospel, with plenaries, small group discussions with mentors, workshops, and regional meetings. As Doug Birdsall pointed out at the time, the whole gathering was forward-looking, seeking ‘to be faithful to a rich heritage of the past just as it [was] committed to responsible obedience with the challenges and opportunities of the future.’
Christ-like servant leadership across generations was a central theme at Malaysia 2006, thus modelling the missional significance of character and partnership to the global church.
Jakarta (YLG) 2016: ‘United in the Great Story’
After Lausanne III in Cape Town in 2010, the global need for a third YLG became apparent. A Younger Leaders Planning Team was appointed, with Sarah Breuel as Chair and Ole-Magnus Olafsrud as Senior Coordinator.
YLG 2016 took place in Jakarta in August 2016. More than 1,000 YL and mentors from over 140 countries participated to connect, pray, learn, partner, and be equipped for holistic mission. The theme was ‘United in the Great Story’, from Creation to New Creation via the Cross, a story in which every continent and people group across history take part. There was a blend of younger and older plenary speakers and essential contributions from all Lausanne issue networks through workshops.
The continuity with previous YLGs was emphasized by Breuel:
‘Singapore 1987 deeply inspired us because of the stories we had heard of many of today’s global leaders who were there and how critical this event had been in their lives. Malaysia 2006 was also important, because we had read the feedback of how much the time in small groups sharing their life stories was the highlight for many; so we wanted to take a similar direction in this area.’
‘Connections were our highest value,’ Olafsrud points out. This became especially evident through the Connector App set up before the event and through the deep personal sharing of life stories during the event. He continues, ‘This brought us deep with one another and with the Lord—and United in the Great Story.’
Learning from the biblical story and from one another’s stories were key themes at Jakarta 2016, thus modelling a forward-looking intergenerational missional learning community to the global church.
YLGen: A Global Intergenerational Commitment (2016 – 2026)
A new global initiative was launched in 2016 to steward faithfully the connections and fruits from YLG 2016 for greater missional impact. It is a ten-year commitment to walk alongside YL. The intention is to connect them more intentionally to Lausanne issue networks, regions, resources, and mentors, as well as to one another through various interest groups.
YLGen is not just a commitment to younger leaders, but to building connections across generations. This is highlighted by Oh: ‘Through YLGen, relationships and partnerships are being established across generations in our realms of regions and ideas.’
Olafsrud makes a similar observation: ‘Both YLG 2016 and YLGen show—even stronger than at YLG 2006—the hunger for and potential of mutually being equipped as leaders through relationships and partnerships across the generations.’
This recent major initiative is going far beyond previous Lausanne YL initiatives in its scope and depth. It represents a unique long-term strategic investment in the YLG 2016 community and beyond, in order to equip emerging generations of evangelical influencers to engage future missional contexts, tasks, and issues.
YLGen models intergenerational missional discipleship and partnership to the global church by focusing simultaneously on a character goal (‘grow to live and lead like Jesus’), a missional goal (‘so that the world may know Christ’), and a friendship goal (‘inspire connections marked by the spirit of Lausanne’).
Five key lessons for the global church
It has often been said that the fruit of the Lausanne Movement grows best on other peoples’ trees and that its most effective role is serving as a catalyst.
We sincerely hope that these five key lessons from the distinctive story of the Lausanne YL initiatives may inspire the global church:
A deep and prayerful implementation of these five lessons will equip the global body of Christ across generations of younger and experienced leaders ‘to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching—in every nation, in every sphere of society, and in the realm of ideas.’
Lars Dahle is Associate Professor in Systematic Theology (with specific emphasis on Christian Apologetics) at Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Apologetics, NLA University College (Kristiansand, Norway); CEO of Damaris Norge (an extended activity of Gimlekollen); and Founding Editor of the journal Theofilos. He is co-editor of and contributor to The Lausanne Movement: A Range of Perspectives (Oxford: Regnum 2014). He co-leads with Rudolf Kabutz as Lausanne Catalyst for Media Engagement.
Nana Yaw Offei Awuku has been on staff with Scripture Union Ghana for over 20 years and currently serves on the Senior Management Team as the Director for Field Ministries. Beginning in January, 2018, he will become the Lausanne Global Associate Director for Generations, directing the Younger Leaders Generation (YLGen) initiative. He was previously the Lausanne Regional Director for English, Portuguese, and Spanish-speaking Africa (EPSA).
Rudolf Kabutz serves with TWR in South Africa as a future media strategist and project coordinator, focusing on using new social media initiatives to supplement broadcasting media for equipping leaders in Africa. Holding master’s degrees in mathematics as well as strategic foresight, he co-leads with Lars Dahle as Lausanne Catalyst for Media Engagement.