There is no doubt about it, the Lausanne 3 meeting in Cape Town was a wonderful event, but it is also true that it could have been so much better if some things had been done otherwise.
The experience of meeting with 4,500 Christians from all over the world was inspirational. I’ve worked in many different cross-cultural situations, but this was something on a very different scale. The coffee break where someone I’ve met from Bhutan broke in on a conversation with a friend from Southampton captured the sheer breadth of the occassion. The word ‘awesome’ is overworked, but it was appropriate here. I did ask people to pray that I would be able to meet three people who would be significant in our work and I believe that this prayer was more than answered. I also enjoyed meeting the people in our table group.
Some of the talks were absolutely excellent, with Chris Wright’s session on Humilty, Integrity and Simplicity being the clear highlight. You can watch the talk here.
It is inevitable that at a conference as large as this one, there would also be some talks which were not of such a high standard. The low point of the conference was a longish session on unreached people groups. One mission leader described this session as geographically, theologically, anthropologically and methodologically indadequate – I think he may have been genorous.
However, the low points apart, this was an excellent conference with great opportunities to meet people and to listen to interesting talking about the implications of mission. It was a marvellous event, especially for those who don’t spend their lives thinking through these questions.
However, as I indicated in the first paragraph, I think that a few simple things could have improved the confernce immeasurably.
I have already highlighted the way in which all of the conference presentations had to be given in English. The conference chairman explained that this was done to facilitate the interpretation into other languages. While this was an issue, it was not an insurmountable one. Having everyone speak in English marginalised all other language communities and reduced them to a lower status, which was unfortunate. It was desperately sad to see people struggle to read statements in English and coming across as dull and boring, when they would undoubtedly have been exciting and interesting in their own language. On the last morning we were reminded that we have to listen to the voices from the margins of the Church – sadly, the message of the conference was that we would only listen to the margins if they speak English.
Another missed opportunity was the lack of time given for small group discussion. The conference organisers tried hard to include small group discussion time into the process, but all too often it was squeezed out. A number of speakers said some very controversial things which were rather lost because there was no follow up. In addition, there were times when one speaker contradicted (graciously) things which another speaker had previously said. It would have been good to discuss these things around the tables and to try and come to some sort of concensus on the issues. Because there was no discussion, many people did not even notice the contradictions that were presented to them.
We started each day by studying Ephesians. This was done through a mixture of table-group discussions and exposition from the platform. Strangely enough, I think that this was another area where there was a missed opportunity. There was a forty five minute coffee break folowing the Ephesians study and then we moved on to discuss some current mission issues after the break. Though the post-break content was often very biblically based; it did not really refer back to the Ephesians studies. There was an excellent opportunity here to model how the Bible can be applied to our practical situations, but I don’t think that we made the best of it.
There is a common denominator in these three areas: the programme was simply too heavily charged. If the number of talks had been reduced, it would have been possible to address one or more of the issues that I have raised here.
The other missed opportunity that I would highlight is the fact that there were a number of key issues which were not on the agenda. Ship of Fools has listed some of these and I would add that I thought that the whole issue of missio Dei (the mission of God) was more absent than it should have been from a gathering of this sort.
Of course, the important thing is the impact of the conference over the long term. Already, a number of people are making dramatic statements about how this conference will change the church. For my own part, I would rather be more circumspect. It will be months, if not years before we can make a serious assesment of the long term impact of this congress – but there is nothing wrong with that. Good things are worth waiting for.
Whatever the long-term impact, the congress, itself, was a remarkable acheivement.
You can see downloads of many of the talks and follow up on the Lausanne website.