December 8, 2014 / Praxis
Karen Swallow Prior meditates on the slow marriage of North and South.
November 8, 2006
Please excuse the schizophrenic nature of this article. The truth is, after the Lausanne Young Leader’s Gathering I could consider myself evangelical …or could I really…?
Lausanne’s Younger Leaders Gathering was certainly a charming event, a sensory feast. There were good looking, healthy, zealous young leaders from across the globe in beautiful cultural costumes to look at, rousing and inspirational songs to listen and sing to, challenging and motivating lectures/talks to absorb, not to mention the idyllic location of Port Dickson in Malaysia to take pleasure in. The sight of a conference hall packed with young leaders from across the world raising their hands in worship singing “It’s all about you” was certainly an emotional experience. There was a sense that the global push towards new liberalism, materialism, and consumerism could not deter these young leaders from the will of God which is the coming of the kingdom. “It’s all about you, Jesus” they sang with fervency and dedication. As I considered the beauty of this harmonious declaration, I allowed myself to interrogate the depth of this song and its implications. Do the young leaders of Lausanne really prescribe to the song that they so fervently sing? Are they willing to submit and surrender their human plans for God’s plans? The market economy and evangelicals are often seen as fellow travelers on the materialistic highway to prosperity. As the gap between the rich and the poor increases, certain segments within the evangelical movement must answer for preaching a theology that ignores overwhelming systems of sustained and unhindered injustice. Will the young leaders resist the tireless call toward the material, or, will they too succumb to dysfunctionalism, credit card debt, Prozac, and therapy for the sake of their will? What will generations to come say of this generation of evangelicals?
Evangelicalism as a global enterprise is amazing in its appeal especially to the two-thirds world. It’s phenomenal growth statistics continue to amaze church growth specialists, missiologists, and even social scientists. Yet this growth too must be interrogated by assessing what quality of believer the movement is producing. What disturbs me is the overemphasis on numbers in evangelical circles. Statistics on the growth of the church, and the unreached people groups, however necessary for the world mission movement, often relegates the Mission of God to a game of numbers and winning and losing. There is often an arrogant sense of triumphalism as these statistics are hyped across the world in Christian communities. I believe that the mission has always, and still calls for, humility and brokenness until the day the spiritual and physical degradation of the earth and its people is no more. Then, and only then, can we celebrate a job well done and say, “Mission accomplished.” Young leaders need to intently protect themselves from an addiction to intoxicating triumphalism by developing a strong discernment of our times and what God is saying to his church wherever they are. Once we have successfully begun to transform ourselves (and this I believe is never complete), can we tap ourselves on the back and say what good people we are. We must take the problems of our local and global communities as our Christian challenge to increase conditions and environments more reflective of the Kingdom of God.
If we could consider breaking through the veil, pushing past the evangelical curtain that we hide behind, only then can we see ourselves as the collective people of God and the body of Christ and not a special interest group with the monopoly on the true thoughts of God, correct interpretation of the Bible, and the mandate to subdue the earth with our own brand of Christianity. My greatest concern is that Evangelicalism does not provide a safe space for alternative thinking, behavior, and interpretation of life and the Bible. It is, in a sense, a narrow view of the above, propagated primarily by pietistic white Western men and their concerns (very few evangelicals outside the west are out of the overwhelming reach and influence of western evangelical print and electronic media).
The Lausanne Movement should be applauded for investing in Young Leaders from across the world. I got the definite sense that the initiators and leaders of the conference were certainly open to listening to young people. The mentorship arrangement was excellent and the small group settings were ideal to facilitate mutually beneficial moments of introspection and group discussion. I was personally stirred by the women in my group. Each one was unique and talented. It was a special gift to hear their inspirational life stories. If those moments embody what it means to be evangelical then I would gladly consider myself one. However, there is far more baggage.
Urgent Tasks for the Lausanne’s Younger Leaders Gathering organizers:
* Create additional space for young evangelicals to discuss and dialogue about contemporary issues facing us.
* Promote theological study outside of denominational institutions to acquire a wider view of doctrine, biblical study, and social analysis.
* Encourage and facilitate critical thinking through interdenominational dialogue and ecumenical partnerships.
* Produce and amplify knowledge from among the ranks of young people who are able to discern the signs of their own times.
* Encourage North-South dialogue where young leaders can spend time in the South learning from and listening to what is happening in the new centres of Christianity in the South.
* Harness and strengthen the zeal and skill women have to offer to the cause of world evangelism.
* Disseminate mission and evangelism information produced by young people in the two-thirds world in the “first world.”
* Call for a moratorium or reduction of western Christian literature in the south and east. This is necessary to allow young leaders to develop their own contextual theologies and strategies to deal with the situations in their own environment
The Lausanne gathering has without doubt been beneficial to me and many who attended. It does not, however, inspire me to commit to being an evangelical. This tag simply does not appeal to all my senses. I do not want to be an evangelical extraordinaire like John Stott or Billy Graham. I deeply respect and appreciate these fine examples of servants of Christ but I can only be what God wants me to be …Genevieve Lerina James, flawed follower, believer of and beneficiary to the kingdom of God through Christ. Forgive me for not wanting any other designation!
Genevieve L. James
Genevieve L. James lectures in Missiology at the University of South Africa. Her primary interest lies in the field of urban socio-theology. As a social critic she is constantly searching to discover new, relevant ways of being church and questioning the prevailing status quo.