Four years ago when a fourth major Lausanne meeting was proposed, I was probably the most skeptical of the idea. I had been heavily involved in Lausanne II in 1989, raising the $12 million needed for that Congress and the preliminary meetings, and had seen the tremendous amount of effort necessary to pull together such a gathering.
But as Paul Cedar, then Executive Chair of LCWE, directed Lausanne leaders to consider and probe the idea of another major meeting, and most importantly wait on the Lord for His clear direction, the concept of a very different type of meeting began to emerge.
The 2004 Forum was differently at a host of levels:
a. It was lead nearly entirely by volunteers and without the sacrifice of Robyn and David Claydon, and a small group of others, the Forum would have been impossible.
b. This was a low budget effort, which encouraged participants from more wealthy countries to make a gift for others to attend. Thus, additional fundraising necessary for the meeting was only about a half-million dollars. A key component in keeping the costs low was the generosity of Campus Crusade for Christ donating their conference operations team along and 75 of their Thai staff.
c. The travel scholarships were minimal compared to the size of the group, but nearly all invited participants were able to raise additional support in order to attend.
d. The patience and clear Godly leadership of Paul Cedar assured that there was a groundswell of support for the Forum from all aspects of the evangelical Church including the unprecedented teaming of Lausanne with the Global Commission Roundtable and the World Evangelical Fellowship.
e. At the end of the meeting all the bills were paid, and funds are available so that the outcomes the Forum can be distributed around the world.
I am thankful for God’s provision for the operations, security, visas, finances, and travel related to the Forum. But of course we were there with a demanding agenda, and looking back from my perspective as Chair of the Forum, I observed several unique factors that eventually made the 2004 Forum a great success that far exceeded our expectations.
- The Forum brought together many who would normally never attend a world gathering. The meeting was focused around 31 specific issues, and the leaders of each of those Issue Groups had great latitude to invite to the meeting those who could most effectively contribute to discussion. We gave each group a demographic outline and thus we were able to have 70% of the participants aged 49 and under, over 25% women, and the majority of them from the developing world. Further, the guidelines asked each group to not just bring together a group of experts but assure that each Issue Group also included theologians, pastors, educators, practitioners, and Bible ministries.What this structure did is bring to the Forum people who would normally not be invited to such a meeting because they were more “front line” leaders in these issues. Further, each group not only considered those who applied for each group, but they also recruited into their groups people who have never before participated in the Lausanne movement. Through this unique structure, we could have had twice as many people as attended, but we desired to keep the Issue Groups to a size where they were most effective and thus the Forum was limited to our targeted attendance of 1,500 people from about 130 countries.
- The answers are of significance and action focused. The charge given to each of the 31 Issue Groups was to come out of the Forum with specific answers that would lead the Church to action. Like a powerful magnet, we believe that if the results of the Issue Group discussions are insightful and compelling, they will draw the Church to work in cooperation for world evangelization. Further, we pray that the outcomes of each group will be such that they can be used globally, nationally, locally, and by individual Christians – no matter who you are or what your calling to evangelism may be, we pray that the outcomes of these Issue Groups will be practically applicable for you.In the months ahead as the outcomes are distributed to the world, And, as you read these reports you will also see that the recommendations are addressing complex and significant solutions. In the Church we have tended to offer simple answer to the world around us, but instead the answers must be complex and multifaceted, just as are the problems. And while simple answers may smooth the path for gathering support for ministries, they have often not had the depth needed to bring about transforming and lasting change. The Issue Groups of the 2004 Forum did not take the easy way out, but rather drilled deep into the issues and the complex answers which will be in their reports can help us bring the love and care of Jesus to a hurting and complex world.
- A spirit of harmony permeated the Forum. Maybe this is a different day because of the changing world threats; or, maybe because these were front line leaders they were focused on their task; or, maybe it was we were so busy working during the Forum week – but the Forum seemed to have a spirit of harmony that is unique in global Church gatherings. The distinctives within the evangelical Church that have often pulled us apart were minimized as we worked together on answers to the most pressing issues of the Church. All participants in the Forum subscribed to the Lausanne Covenant so there was a core agreement of theology and commitment to evangelism. But while each of the Issue Groups reported spirited discussions and disagreements, there was a blanket of respect for the uniqueness of gifts among all in the body of Christ that covered the meeting. That spirit assured that the challenge of a task that could have pulled us apart, instead bound us together.
- Launching of new initiatives and aggressive follow-on activities. Even before we left Thailand I heard of new organizations being formed, continuing committees being structured, and specific focus conferences being planned. God blessed the activities of these Issue Groups to enable them to use the synergy of the Forum to dramatically accelerate the specific focus of their issue. The first Lausanne meeting in 1974 was planned as a one-time event that would conclude at the end of the week – instead, God used it as a launching pad for the long-term call of the Lausanne movement bring the Church to work in cooperation for world evangelization. And it already appears that the 2004 Forum will also have a reach far beyond what was ever expected. Like the similar Lausanne meeting of 1980 (in the same location) it is already clear that the 2004 Forum is likely to set agendas for much of the Church for years to come. I’m thrilled for the gifts and leadership of Doug Birdsall, Ted Yamamori, and the eleven International Deputy Directors around the world who have already taken the hand-off baton of the Forum and are running at full speed to build on the outcomes and strengths of this event. This effective team is ready to help us all capture the momentum of the Forum and carry these ideas to the whole Church.
I was personally privileged to preach on the opening night of the Forum. In that message I suggested that in Christian leadership we have become fairly good at building impressive powerboats that go about doing God’s work as we direct them. But what we need to do, is rather, return to building sailboat that catch which wind of God in our sails and go where He leads us. It is the wind of God that is the lasting source of power for ministry, not the engines of organizations we construct. And I concluded that evening with the following charge:
The same winds that blew at Pentecost and filled sails of boats carrying Peter and John, Paul and Timothy, and Christians for 2000 years, are the same winds that blew at Lausanne in 1974 — and they are the same winds which blow across this Gulf of Thailand tonight. The wind of God is always present – most often it is a guiding gentle breeze. But there will be times when we don’t feel that wind at all, and in rare times it blows so hard we feel helpless. But there is always purpose, order, and intentionality to the wind of God.
We may feel proud when powerboats of ministry are big, well built, and polished so that they appear to be strong, effective, and controlled. But even a small, poorly crafted, and worn sailboat will outdistance a powerboat every time – because only the sailboat is able to catch the wind of God.
May we live, work, and relate to each other in such a way that we too would understand that the most impressive ministry motor we might develop, fades in comparison to the boat whose sails are filled with God’s wind.
I pray this will also be the desire of those who take forward the outcomes of the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization.