Cape Town Commitment: Finding Our Place

What is one of the first things you do when you see a photograph of a group of people? You look for yourself or people you know. Admit it, you do.

For most, it’s a natural reaction, not born out of pride, but rather curiosity and a sense of finding one’s place in the crowd. For those of us who consider ourselves less than photogenic, it’s a reaction of self-preservation. Did they catch me scratching my nose, or looking bored, or even asleep? Did my hair/make-up/suit look okay that day? Or perchance did they get a photo of me that was so nice that I can repost it on my Facebook page or blog and send a 5X10 glossy to my mother?

Cape Town 2010 was likely one of the most photographed international gatherings of Christian leaders in history. Our official photography team, headed by Bill Bangham, did an amazing job in chronicling the gathering. His team took a staggering 30,000+ photos (see some of them here:

Add in the photographs taken by each participant and the volunteers/stewards and likely hundreds of thousands of photos were taken at/of the Congress. They included everything from the poignant or funny shots and obligatory leadership “grip and grins” to the “look mom, I’m in Cape Town” shots.

What does this have to do with the Cape Town Commitment?

Do a search on the Cape Town Commitment and you’ll find hundreds of references to it online. (Born out of the Cape Town 2010 Congress, it was released in its entirety at the end of January 2011.) The comments range from positive and affirming to those that criticize the intent of the Commitment and what was “left out of” or “put into” the statement. It’s been called everything from “stunning” (in a good way) and a “powerful resource for the global Church” to “deeply disappointing” (not so good) and “lacking the important issues.”

Finding Your Place in the Commitment
Regardless of the positive or negative comments, it seems many people are looking to “find their place” in the Commitment. Just as we look at photographs to find ourselves in the crowd, so too are people looking at the Commitment trying to find themselves. I see people who are serious about their faith, serious about their personal calling, who are getting serious about this thing we call evangelism and their part in it. I see people finding their place as a believer in Jesus Christ the Messiah—and all that means for how we serve our Lord and his world.

People are interested in what the document says about leadership, ministry to/with people with disabilities, business as mission, men and women working together in ministry, Bible engagement, partnership and collaboration, human trafficking . . . and the list goes on. What does the Commitment say about the things that I care about, about the things in which I am investing my life?

Leaders at many mission agencies and theological colleges are already looking carefully at the Commitment. Alongside that, Lausanne’s International Deputy Directors are planning consultations on the implications of the Cape Town 2010 themes for Christian witness in each region in the world. Issues include:

  • Media and the Gospel
  • Work and Witness (Business as Mission)
  • Mobilizing Resources
  • Ethnicity and Identity (Ethno-religious identity)
  • Environmental Crisis/Creation Care
  • Other Religions
  • Megacities
  • Ethics/Emerging Technologies
  • Poverty, Prosperity, and the Gospel
  • Truth in the Academic World (How do we get a moral framework in government and in universities based on truth?)
  • And many others

These consultations will be taking place later this year and next. For more information on what’s happening in your region, email [email protected].

Cape Town 2010 participants are also organizing national and regional post-Congress “debriefing events.” Several have already taken place in Italy, Eurasia, across the continent of Africa, and in the U.K. Groups are asking the questions, “Now what?” and “What does the Cape Town Commitment mean to our region, community, and church?”

Finding Our Place in the Commitment…as the Body of Christ
Perhaps we should look at the Cape Town Commitment as a mosaic or tapestry of what is before us as believers, rather than a one-size-fits-all document. Let’s find our place together in the outworking of the Commitment, looking for others in the mosaic with whom we can partner, but also seeking those who are not yet a part, but whose involvement is essential. In doing so, we express the beautiful unity of the Body of Christ, to the glory of God. It’s in this dialogue together—across regions, age groups, and cultures—that we can clearly hear the voice of God leading, prodding, and guiding us in the way we should go.

The Commitment is an admittedly heavy document, not just because of its 50+ pages, but also because of the distinct desire of its writers to address the issues from both a theological and a practical perspective. It’s not a “pick it up and read it in ten minutes” kind of a document. Nor is it intended to be.

How are we, in this age of 140-character Tweets, supposed to digest and apply the Commitment? As As a common saying goes, you eat an elephant “one bite at a time.” In this digital age, perhaps it’s “one byte at a time.” Look for “your” issue in the Commitment and see if the statement and challenge on that issue resonates with you. If it does, prayerfully, what will you do about it?

(By the way, in writing this article, the use of the phrase above concerning the elephant came into question. Would we hear from people who were offended at the implication of eating elephants? This led to an interesting discussion on Facebook, during which time we heard from a friend who is a church planter. He said, “I've used this saying in our Karen [Burma] church. The Karen used to actually eat elephants on occasion. The answer, ‘One bite at a time’ sounds to them a ridiculous way to eat an elephant. In their view, the correct answer is, ‘It takes the entire village.’” Wow. I couldn’t have said it better myself. An entire village—or in this case, the entire Body of Christ.)

Now What?
In this issue of Lausanne World Pulse, we’re unpacking the Commitment to help you understand the process behind its development and why it was written. We’re also sharing some perspective on the “Now what?” question of how it can be applied by the global Church.

Lausanne as a Movement is also asking the “Now what?” question. As we move forward from Cape Town 2010, we’re adjusting and streamlining structures as a Movement in order to serve the cause of global evangelization and the momentum of the Congress.

Our goal is to encourage the global Church “to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teachings in every area of the world, geographically as well as in every sphere of society and in the realm of ideas.” To this end, we’ll be focusing our efforts on investing in the lives of leaders around the world (including younger leaders and women leaders); convening gatherings to address important issues facing the Church; and communicating ideas, strategy, and action.

Undergirding all of this is a strong commitment to humility in service, faithful study of God’s word, and steadfastness in prayer. Lausanne will be fine-tuning and formalizing our shared vision at a leadership meeting in June. Please be praying for this meeting.

We hope you’ll join the conversation on The Cape Town Commitment and let us know your thoughts on the document and how it can be used in your church, community, and nation. And, stay tuned for additional resources and ideas from Lausanne on how to take the Commitment “one byte at a time.”

Naomi Frizzell is chief communications officer for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. She also serves as managing editor for Lausanne World Pulse.