As we look toward the third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization to be held in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2010, we need to wrestle with both the theological and the strategic issues facing the Church at this time in its history. During a recent meeting of the Lausanne Strategy Working Group, an in-depth proposal was put forward outlining the critical needs today in world evangelization. Here is a summary of some of those thoughts.
1. The State of World Evangelization
On one hand, we are living in one of the greatest times of harvest in the history of the Church. More people are coming to Christ than ever before. People groups never before touched by the gospel are responding to God’s message. Churches are being planted in some of the most resistant cultures in the world.
On the other hand, there is some weariness with the “triumphalism” that seemingly does not recognize the woeful state of the Church in many parts of the world. Surveys show little difference between the lifestyles of believers and non-believers. There is sin in the world—and sometimes there is sin in the Church. But there is hope!
2. The Need of Leaders—A Clear Direction
For pastors and Christian organizational leaders, for lay leaders and kingdom investors, for anyone who cares passionately about the fulfillment of the Great Commission, there is a need for a directional focus. We need some ideas based on scripture that take us back to the simplicity of Christ’s commands and puts them into a twenty-first century framework where we can each find our own contribution to the plan that God is working on this earth.
It would, of course, be arrogant for anyone to think that he or she had the whole mind of God in any directional challenge. However, our heavenly Father has not left us adrift. He has left us examples of evangelization in the scripture and expects us to use our God-given gifts to help us all serve the Body of Christ. How can we do that? Where should the Church be going? What should our priorities be?
3. The Biblical Foundation
Scripture says that God has given us “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3-4). Therefore, as we seek God’s will for influencing the direction of the Church in the coming decade, we believe that the mega-themes of the Bible must be our guide. What has become clear in many strategic discussions is that world evangelization is not so much about materials, tools and techniques. It is about love, compassion, prayer, holiness and obedience.
World evangelization begins with God and his love for us. We care about world evangelization because God—the one we love—cares about it. He longs for all persons to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). He does not want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He wants every family in every nation to be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3) until all the earth is filled with the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).
It is his love for the lost—which we once were—that is the foundational motivation for our commitment to the task of world evangelization. Scripture has a great deal to say about what kind of people we should be and how we should reach out. Here are just a few examples:
- The Great Commandment. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40). Living as Jesus told us to live is our number one priority.
- Love God.
- Be holy, for I am holy (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 11:44).
- Be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
- Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
- Love Your Neighbor.
- Love your brother. This means that (1) we need to love one another (John 13:34) and that (2) God never forgets the good works we do for our brothers (Hebrews 6:10).
- Love strangers. This means that we should (1) give a cup of water in his name (Matthew 10:42) and (2) provide food and clothing, care for the sick, hospitality for strangers and visit those in prison (Matthew 25:35-36).
- Love your enemies (Luke 6:27). This means that we should (1) pray for and do good to those who persecute us (Luke 6:27), (2) love our enemies and do good to them (Luke 6:35) and (3) lend to our enemies without expecting return (Luke 6:35).
- The Great Commission. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me; therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; and, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you, and surely I am with you always to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Scripture goes further to clarify our purpose and objective.
- Preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).
- Our promise is that forgiveness of sins will be preached to all nations (Luke 24:46-47).
- As the Father sent Jesus, so he sends us into the world to seek and save the lost (John 20:21).
- We will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
- He has given us the ministry of reconciling people back to God (2 Corinthians 5:19).
- He has made us his ambassadors (2Corinthians 5:20).
4. A Framework for Change
As we look at a framework for discussing world evangelization in the future, we realize that we must be about reaching all nations and every people. Very simply, our Northstar must be to find out where the Church is NOT, and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, do something about it. Our basic direction must involve the following:
As followers of Christ, united in love and purpose, we are called to:
1. Reach every person with the whole gospel
2. in a language he or she understands
3. with access to a nearby local church or fellowship
4. led by a trained pastor or elder.
In order to see the evangelization of the world, there are four things we need to ask God for:
A. New Hearts. To love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. At the heart of the gospel is the heart of the Lord Jesus who (1) cared for every person (i.e., the “one lost sheep,” “one lost coin” and “one lost son”) and (2) had compassion for the sick and those who were hurting. We must have that same heart, concern and compassion. There are three ways this will come to pass:
- We need more personal demonstration. As individuals, we need to demonstrate more love to those around us.
- We need to know more non-believers. Not enough non-believers in the world know someone who truly follows Christ.
- Churches throughout the world need to teach people how to be a friend while they are teaching them how to evangelize.
B. New Hands. To work together. There are two aspects to this.
- Working together. One of the most amazing things in the history of the Church is happening now: Christians are working together. God is raising up partnerships, coalitions, networks and movements. It is not happening everywhere and not nearly enough. But there is a beginning. In John 17:20-23, Jesus said that the unity of believers would demonstrate two things to non-believers: (1) that Jesus really did come from God and (2) that God loves them as much as he loves Jesus. For believers, unity would say two things: (1) that they are true followers of Jesus (John 13:25) and (2) that they would receive a blessing (Psalm 133:1-3). The unity of believers is not an option in evangelism. It is a sign God left to validate and show the deity of Jesus. It is the present day evidence of God’s love for humanity.
- Unity of purpose. We need to be one in spirit and purpose. It is about unity; it is not about uniformity. It will result in every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:1-11). The thirty-nine thousand denominations must cooperate together for a common purpose of helping the world to know Jesus.
C. New Eyes. To see the world through a similar lens. This will require three foci.
- A focus on people who have NOT heard the gospel. Where have we not gone? Which people on our street, in our community have not heard? Which language groups have not been reached? Which language groups have no scripture? Which unengaged, unreached groups have no access to the gospel? Who are the neglected of our community, tribe, clan, family, nation or race? And what commitment will we make to do something different in our ministries?
- A recognition of the major religious blocs. Since all evangelization is done in the context of cultural, linguistic, religious, political and geographic realities, it is essential that our plans address those who have NOT heard the gospel in each of these realities. The major religious blocs of the world include:
Religion Number of People Islam 1.3 billion Hinduism 1.0 billion Buddhist/Folk Chinese 700 million Christianity 2.2 billion
Others (including 250 million Evangelicals)
Non-religious 1.2 billion Tribals 200 million
- A commitment to go to the least reached peoples of our world. There are a number of ministries working toward helping us all to see the unreached world through a similar lens.
a. The 4K Omega Zone Strategy. Youth With a Mission has just unveiled a new computer program which tracks what is happening in each of the more than four thousand geographical areas of the world.
b. Call2All/Global Pastors Network. This is a vision of encouraging the Body of Christ to work toward winning one billion more people to Christ and planting five million new churches in the next fifteen years. It is also helping to recruit strategy coordinators for each Omega Zone and to garner commitments to go to the unengaged and unreached peoples of the world.
c. World Missions Atlas Project (WorldMAP). Their mission is to create maps which will help visualize the unfinished task.
d. Ethnê is a global forum of churches and networks focusing on unreached people groups. They include related networks such as COMIBAM, Central Asia Consultation, North Africa Partnership, South East Asia UPG network (SEALINK), Nigeria Evangelical Mission Association, India Mission Network and more.
D. New Minds. To have God’s wisdom in setting the priorities for world evangelization strategy. The following eight needs represent the primary challenges we face in global evangelization. Every Christian leader should ask for God’s leading as to which of these needs they could help to meet.
- To take the gospel to every people group. There are at least twelve thousand people groups in the world. Of these, about six thousand have been “reached” (i.e. there are at least two percent evangelical believers). Of the final six thousand groups, nearly half have no witness for the Lord. The staggering thing about these groups is that no one is trying to reach them.
- To provide scriptures for the three thousand language groups which do not have scriptures. There are approximately eight thousand different language groups in the world. Despite massive translation efforts, there are still only 416 language groups that have a complete Bible translated into their language. Another 1,600 languages have a complete New Testament.
- To reach the sixty percent of the world’s people who are “oral learners.” Most people throughout the world are oral learners. That is, they prefer to learn through proverbs, music, poetry and especially stories. It is the way we learned before we went to school. And, increasingly, those who are already literate are giving up reading. They want to receive their information by means of radio, television and film. Fifty-eight percent of the adults in the United States have not read a book since they graduated from high school; forty-two percent since they graduated from university. Mission leaders must rethink how they are delivering their evangelism, discipleship and church planting strategies.
- To encourage revolutionary approaches toward Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists—nearly half the world’s population. After hundreds of years of missions, we are still struggling to see widespread breakthroughs in church planting among the large religious blocs of the world. Our most common methodology of the past has been one of “extraction” (i.e. taking people out of their family and culture to worship in a setting that is foreign). We need more culturally authentic worship patterns and we need more direct demonstration of love to mullahs, priests and monks.
- To see renewal within the existing traditional Christian confessions. There is a great need for spiritual renewal among all Christian traditions. The Church must return to holiness of life and obedience to our Lord. We hear increasing reports of sexual immorality, financial scandals, involvement in internet pornography and preoccupation with materialism. We also need to see the evangelistic heart of the Church strengthened and a new commitment to reach out to the lost around us. Some research suggests that eighty-six percent of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists do not know a Christian.
- To integrate the global prayer movements with world evangelization. We celebrate the emerging global prayer movement and affirm the need for mutual interaction between this movement and world evangelization. We recognize that we cannot complete the Great Commission without a strong prayer foundation. Nor can the prayer movement be all that God intends it to be if not linked to world evangelization for “his house is to be a house of prayer for all nations.”
- To train and equip pastors and the laity from every language group and culture. There is a crying need for a greater mobilization of the laity. We will never have enough clergy for the millions of new churches that will be planted in the next decade. The Church must begin to expand the borders and opportunities for lay men and women to meet the needs for evangelization and discipleship through the Church. A second urgent need for both the laity and the clergy is to provide training, both oral and written, in hundreds of additional languages. Most reference books and training programs are only available in major languages.
- To make a new emphasis on ALL and EVERY. We need to be sure we are reaching the neglected of society. Scripture says that “he is not willing that ANY should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance.” During the 2004 Lausanne Forum in Thailand, we had more than thirty issue groups—most of them dealing with how to reach particular segments of a population. We need to continue to ensure that every part of society is being penetrated with the gospel. In addition, we need to use every media distribution system available to us.
The Church is still in great need of people of passion with a global vision for evangelization. There is a new generation of leaders in the Church that need to be challenged, connected and focused on the areas of greatest need. We need to challenge ourselves to greater global unity in Christ and set rallying points for completing the harvest. Finally, we will continue to ask where the Church is NOT and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, determine to do something about it. Until Jesus comes again.