When discussing strategies to increase the efficacy of world evangelization, we often focus on developing new and innovative plans, programs, and methodologies. We are constantly looking for the next revolutionary evangelistic paradigm to effectively engage diverse peoples in a rapidly changing world with the unchanging truth of the gospel. We may be so oriented toward the future that we fail to look and learn from our past to better inform our future steps and strategies. As we look more carefully at where evangelical Christians are in world evangelization, we will likely see how much more we must embody the truth of Christ and be the Church Christ has called us to be—to be one body and be one with Christ, just as Christ and the Father are one.
The Whole Church
For the last two years, the Lausanne Strategy Working Group (SWG) has started its gatherings from both personal and communal self-reflection as evangelicals, as well as toward the past with a greater focus on scripture to serve as the measure and guide of an evangelistic approach.
When the SWG gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2006, participants shared the factors that persuaded each of them to come to a living faith in Christ and into the work of world evangelization. Time and time again, participants shared that they came to faith through personal contact with a Christian who was tied to a body of believers and received teaching on the Word of God. When considering strategies solely provided in the Bible, the group found that powerful evangelism took place when witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit, were sent out, sought contact with non-believers in their respective contexts, and connected to a body of praying believers.
When the SWG convened again in Budapest, Hungary, in June 2007, participants took their observations to the next level from personal and biblical reflections to the assessment of the state of world evangelization in the twenty-first century and how far we have come since the first World Missionary Conference was held in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910. One of the major needs identified in 1910 was the challenge of reaching the Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu worlds.
A century later, we still see this as a top priority in world evangelization; the percentage of the world’s populations that adhere to these non-Christian religions has not changed dramatically. We asked ourselves: Why has the Church not been able to make much progress in one hundred years? What have we been focused on and what have we not been doing? What are the necessary preconditions to bring about periods of revival and dynamic world evangelization?
Overall, there was consensus that in order for us to be more effective in world evangelization today, the Church must be the whole Church. It must incorporate the voices of the Majority World where the Church is growing fastest and most dynamically. It must hear, defend, and serve the poor, the suffering, and the disempowered. It must not only proclaim the truth of the gospel, but hear it from unexpected places, and embody the truth of the gospel within our individual lives as Christians and in the corporate life of the Church.
The Whole Body
Four points need to be addressed concerning the “whole” Body of Christ.
- Children. This is why the commitment to actively work in unity with other members of the Body of Christ is essential. It means loving and empowering the youth and young adults in our church. According to the United Nations, youth (ages 15-24) constitute eighteen percent of the world’s population. Almost eighty-five percent of the world’s youth live in developing countries, with approximately sixty percent in Asia alone. A remaining twenty-three percent live in the developing regions of Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. If we want to reach the youth of the world, and if we believe youth respond to youth, it is critical we love and empower the youth in the Church.
- Women. Actively working in unity with other members of the whole Church also means supporting the role of women in ministry. As of January 2008, women constitute nearly fifty percent of foreign missionaries in 2008 and over forty percent of national Christian workers.1 Since the original Fall in the Garden of Eden, the ministry commissioned to both men and women became divided, and a divided house cannot stand. Should the ministry of women go unsupported, we are fighting a battle with one arm tied behind our back.
- Fragmentation. The Church is more diverse today and more fragmented then it has ever been in its history. As of January 2008, there are over thirty-nine thousand denominations in the world.2 Moreover, the number of denominations is growing at the rate of two new ones per day, while the number of believers and their respective contexts continues to increase in both number and complexity.
- Glocalization. The Church is simultaneously more globalized and more localized than ever before—the effects of what is called glocalization. Ethnic and economic diversity continues to increase in the Church from the effects of globalization. With the challenges of increasing population diversity and cultural collisions with the unfamiliar, Christians gravitate toward the familiar in specific neighborhoods. The challenge in the face of glocalization is how do we then embody “the whole Church” as ethnic churches often minister in separate localities under different roofs (or sometimes even separately under the same roof)? How do we work together to reach a wider population without losing effective ministry among ethnic groups? How do we work together with other ministries without duplicating efforts or competing over resources?
Prayer and Intercession
One of the top priorities of world evangelization identified by the SWG is on intercession and prayer. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus demonstrated that before engaging challenges of public ministry, facing hostile opposition, or clashing with spiritual powers, he dedicated his time to prayer. When reaching out to do the impossible, whether healing the hopelessly sick, interfacing with social outcasts, or raising the dead, Jesus always interceded and prayed. Prior to his greatest test on the cross, he prayed above all for the unity of believers.
It is no surprise then that from the very nascent stages of the Church and throughout its history, the Church has experienced the most dynamic growth during times of spiritual renewal and during times of religious persecution, both when believers were deep in prayer in their utter dependence on the Lord. From the persecution of the early believers in Jerusalem and the Roman Empire, to the European Reformation, the First and Second Great Awakenings in the United States, and to the Great Century in missions and prayer revivals in South Korea, the greatest expansion of the Christian faith took place during the times of great prayer movements marked by religious fervor, passion, and purification. It was in these times of revival that the Church in its myriad of expressions has come together in purpose, vision, and energy, calling those from beyond its boundaries into the community of faith.
Strategy and Theology
Commensurate to this focus on prayer and intercession is our commitment to biblical theology as the foundation of our missional activity. It is critical that every missional activity we embark on is inspired by and securely founded on biblical theology. Otherwise we are eager runners without a master plan of training, handicapping ourselves, or worse, running passionately in the wrong direction. Without our biblical theological moorings, our reflections and activities can become distorted, unfocused, misdirected, or unrecognizable. It is for this reason that in the Lausanne Movement, the SWG is working in concert with the Theology Working Group.
It is critical for different parts of the Lausanne body to be communicating and working in concert together as a model for the Church to work together and be the whole Church. As Jesus commanded, we must love one another, for it is by our love for each other that the world will know we are his true disciples (John 13:35). He said this in the context of having washed his disciples’ feet and having explained that it is not enough that we call him “Teacher” or “Lord,” but to do as he has done (John 13:13-15).
We must embody unity in our own service to one another. We must strive to work in unity in all—both those far and near, including the “stranger in our midst” (meaning, anyone within our sphere of influence, but outside of our normal patterns of engagement. This is where our engagement as a body with the world must increase, as we encourage each other to reach beyond ourselves, ask questions, be open, trust, and lean upon the Lord as we embark in untraversed terrain. It is to go in the confidence of leaning upon the Lord in prayer, the power of the Holy Spirit to answer prayer, the unchanging truth and relevance of the gospel, and the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ as experienced in each other. Where strategy meets with theology and is empowered by prayer, our common commitment to be the whole Body of Christ will bring us closer to world evangelization.
1. Barrett, David B., Todd M. Johnson, and Peter F. Crossing, 2008. “Missiometrics 2008 Reality Checks for Christian World Communions,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research. 32(1): 28-30.