These pandemic days are not lost days. Even with global lockdowns and slowdowns, the opportunity for the gospel has accelerated. Michael Oh, Global Executive Director / CEO of the Lausanne Movement, looks toward a post-COVID-19 era of mission, one in which creative, bold leaders envision new mission strategies and collaboratively build the community that we want for the future. Watch, listen, or read below.
The question that people most often ask the Lausanne Movement and our leaders is, ‘What do I need to know about what’s going on in the world, and how does that impact global mission?’
So I wanted to share three brief points that are both COVID-19 context specific and independent.
The Lausanne Movement, founded by Billy Graham in 1974, has the mission of connecting influencers and ideas for global mission. And our starting point as we connect some amazing influencers across every nation on earth, who are doing some amazing ministry, is this:
‘I can’t fulfill the Great Commission by myself.’
‘My organization can’t fulfill the Great Commission—Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations—by itself.’
‘My church, my business, my school, my ministry, my family, etc. can’t fulfill the Great Commission by itself.’
Disciples of all nations will be made when disciples of all nations are collaborating. Now of course no one actually believes that they can fulfill the Great Commission by themselves (hopefully not!), but we often act like we can; or we make it look like we can in our brochures, videos, grant applications, and our ministry activities, that are at best isolated and at worst competitive.
In the midst of all of the headaches and heartaches of the COVID-19 pandemic, one blessing is that the reality of our need for each other is becoming more real to us. The fact that we can’t fulfill the Great Commission by ourselves is more intensely felt now than ever, when we are in lock down, when we can’t leave our homes, when churches can’t meet, when outreach events can’t be held, when missionaries can’t be sent, when we can’t even have a cup of coffee with someone with whom we want to share the hope of Jesus!
So we have an incredible learning opportunity and reset opportunity. We desperately need each other in order for the hope of the nations to go to the nations. How does this happen in our new reality? That’s what we need to figure out together! In our season, and possibly not just a season but in this new post-COVID-19 mission era of decreased mobility and increased digital connectivity, how do we collaborate for the sake of the gospel?
There is no textbook here. Everybody knows that nobody knows what to do. We need new-wineskin thinking and strategizing and action. I don’t think we realize the extent to which our planning and organizations are based on old wineskin barriers and categories. For example, most church community groups are organized based on geography. The concept of community needs to be re-imagined—not defined by the limitations of physical location and space—but community as relationships without any more geographic borders or commute time. The same goes for community outreaches. For example, what if a Punjabi Sikh background Christian community in Edmonton, Canada, could do digital gospel outreach to a Sikh community in Punjab, India?
We need a re-imagining of place, of space, of presence; of love, of outreach, of community. This is some seriously new wineskin; which leads to my second point, which is on the necessity of leadership.
We need LEADERS, not just managers, in the post COVID-19 Mission Era.
Lausanne has had some incredible leaders who have spoken prophetically in times of unique challenge and opportunity. Ralph Winter in 1974 who put out a challenge for the global church to radically change our mission strategy to engage Unreached People Groups with the gospel; Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar calling Christians to embrace every possible expression of the love of God in misión integral or ‘integral mission’; and Luis Bush at Lausanne II recognizing a unique gospel opportunity in a geographic area with the greatest concentration of people without the gospel, the poor, and the persecuted and the lowest concentration of missionaries called the 10/40 window. These were game-changing strategies that impacted for generations.
Global mission in a post-COVID-19 era needs leaders, not just managers. There are a lot of ministries led by managers who know how to maintain and tweak and are desperate for things to return to the ‘old normal’. We need a new generation of innovative, bold, entrepreneurial, and creative mission leaders who will not be caught flat-footed in times of crisis or waste months of gospel opportunity.
Ed Bastian, the CEO of Delta Airlines said, ‘We’re going to spend the time in these next few months as we build the company we want for the future, not necessarily rebuild what we had.’ Let’s spend time in these next months as global influencers and decision makers to build together a global mission strategy and community that we want for the future, not try to rebuild what we had.
These are not lost days. Overall, we sense an acceleration of opportunity for the gospel and we’re eager to steward this faithfully. We need vision, innovation, inspiration from our leaders. And we need collaboration to make our common vision become a reality.
Where do we get such inspiration and boldness? Just this morning I read in Nehemiah chapter 2 about Nehemiah’s God-inspired plan and God-empowered boldness that was born in the crucible of heart-wrenching prayer of repentance and intercession. There is no greater expression of biblical leadership than prayer. And there is no greater source of leadership innovation than prayer.
And let me also plead with you who are ministers and missionaries, the 1% of those in professional ministry, to not neglect the incredible gifts and experience and wisdom of the 99! The 99% of those who are not in professional ministry, 100% of whom are called to exercise their own God-given, Holy Spirit empowered, world-blessing work of ministry! (Eph 4:12)
Workplace Christians look to pastors and theologians in their area of expertise. Why do the 1% not look to the 99% in theirs? If we want to get some of the best minds for innovation and boldness in our time of incredible need, we have to look to and work with our marketplace leaders. They are making kingdom impact in every sphere of society—in the arts, media, science, technology, architecture, medicine, you name it. We need them. We can’t fulfill the Great Commission without them.
And for my third and final point, I want to make a plea—a plea for you to not neglect the global body in this pandemic. This not just a national crisis or a regional crisis. This is global. And you are not just an individual Christian in a single location. Every Christian has a shared identity as a part of the global body of Christ. And every Christian has a shared calling—to be a part of the local and global mission of God.
No doubt you are paying attention to the flattening of the curve in your country or prefecture or community. And you are hoping for a slowdown in the rate of infections and the easing of restrictions in your community. But this is a global pandemic. And you are a part of the global body of Christ and called to the global mission of God! And even when the most difficult days in this pandemic in your area are over (at least temporarily), there are thousands of other communities around the world that will continue to suffer.
So when I look at the COVID-19 statistics each day (multiple times per day), my eyes and my heart often focus in on Russia, Brazil, India, Nigeria. I look at Africa and Latin America, a bit fearful for what might lie ahead for them, for our brothers and sisters there, and for the hundreds of millions who do not know Christ.
As one version of Hebrews 13:3 says, ‘Don’t forget those who are suffering. Remember them as though you were suffering with them.’ Remember them in your prayers. Remember them in your giving. Remember them in your strategies. Remember them in your partnership planning.
I was recently speaking with an amazing South East Asian leader who said to me, ‘We have been blindsided by this pandemic, and we are not ready.’ But we reminded each other that even as many things on earth are shaken, God’s kingdom cannot be shaken. Even when we are immobile, God is still on the move. Even when we are stuck in one place, God is still omnipresent. Even when we are weak, God is still omnipotent.
How can we be a part of God’s work in this post-COVID-19 mission era? We’re looking forward to figuring this out together with you.
Michael Oh serves as the Global Executive Director / CEO of the Lausanne Movement. Michael and his family served as missionaries in Nagoya, Japan, from 2004 to 2016. There he founded a ministry called Christ Bible Institute (CBI), which includes Christ Bible Seminary, the Heart & Soul Cafe, and a church-planting ministry.