There is an African saying that goes like this: ‘If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go together.’ This was very much the heartbeat of the Lausanne Younger Leaders Gathering 2016 (YLG2016).
More than three years ago, the Father had a vision of bringing together the next generation of evangelical leaders so that they could journey together. He raised up a team who shared the conviction that the rich heritage of the Lausanne Movement needed to be passed on to the next generation.
So it was that more than 1,000 younger leaders and mentors from over 140 countries gathered in Jakarta in August 2016. We were praying and hoping for a special time, but we had no idea what the Father had in store for us. It usually takes decades to see the fruit that emerges from this kind of gathering. However, by the grace of God, he has already allowed us to see overwhelming fruit in the form of kingdom connections.
Here are six leadership development lessons God has taught us in this process:
1. Honor God with your whole heart and he will bless the work of your hands
YLG was organized by ‘jars of clay’. Humanly speaking, the odds were against us. The team was made up of younger leaders serving as volunteers with limited time to give and little experience of organizing a large gathering. We were supported by a very small staff and a modest budget as we faced the overwhelming challenges of putting together a global gathering.
However, we had one thing going for us. We knew deep down that this was God’s vision, God’s battle, and that he was with us. So we had no option but to put our full trust in him. We eagerly searched for him in each decision, had prayer at the forefront, pleaded for the Spirit’s guidance, fasted, kept short accounts with God about sin, and tried our very best to honor God in the battles that come with the territory.
God did not disappoint us. He heard our cry, placed his mighty hand over the gathering, fought the big battles for us, gave us favor with the authorities over visas, touched the hearts of donors, supernaturally called people to help in times of need, and released his Spirit powerfully to orchestrate divine connections. We believe that this was the ‘secret weapon’ of YLG: a loving Father, with an unstoppable mission, using a team who knew they could do nothing without him.
2. Choose the right people
The careful process of selecting the right people pays off. We received thousands of nominations for potential participants and conducted an extensive, prayerful, regionally based selection process. The selected participants also had to work on their personal fundraising and commit to a one-year preparation process. The result was not only a high caliber of participants, but also a group that was eager to come and contribute.
This was even more true for the organizing team. One of our most precious lessons was this: have the right people serving in the right place for the right reasons.
3. Leadership development is a communal process
The vision of YLG has always been something way beyond that of just a gathering; we foresaw a community which would journey together. Accordingly, the YLG2016 planning team was ambitious in its preparation. We imagined a year of monthly communications leading to the YLG, designed to facilitate ‘missional contacts’ becoming genuine friends. We progressed from Skype calls and face-to-face national/regional groups before YLG to forming tight-knit global connect groups overseen by well-trained mentors at the YLG.
Technology was leveraged to serve connection on every front. This comprised Skype calls, Facebook communities, a WhatsApp family, and—most crucially—a secure online platform and mobile app called the Connector which served as an intelligent directory for meaningful interaction. Before participants even arrived in Jakarta for the gathering, nine out of ten had already formed real connections and friendships with other participants. The result was a community that was traveling as one before we even met, with so much ownership and excitement over what God was going to do.
At the gathering itself, nearly 200,000 messages were exchanged between younger leaders using the Connector. Furthermore, each afternoon of the YLG programme was kept free so that deep and life-long relationships could be established through informal coffees, shared experiences, and strategic collaboration, such as the emerging China–Africa regional partnership.
This is just the start of the journey. We celebrated God’s goodness when we saw over 82% of YLG participants decided to continue on to what we have called the ‘Younger Leaders Generation’, a ten-year commitment by the Lausanne Movement to their development through mentoring, connections, and resources.1
4. One generation needs the other
It still amazes us to think that the Lausanne senior leadership team would entrust the planning of such a critical gathering to a group of younger leaders. They empowered and walked with us, modeling humility in a way that profoundly marked our team. We in turn made every effort to honor them, seek their wisdom, ask for guidance, and learn from their rich experience.
During the gathering, 170 carefully selected mentors led the small groups and were available to meet younger leaders one-on-one. To our delight, there were more than 1,400 of these one-on-one meetings during the week, and many participants have said that this was a highlight.
This model—of senior leaders trusting and empowering younger ones, and younger leaders honoring and learning from senior ones—could provide a precious lesson for the global church. It is an inter-generational dependence that we believe glorifies God and brings much fruit, since we are stronger together.
5. The best connection for global mission comes through sharing stories
YLG2016 was built on the conviction that our deepest identity is being ‘United in the Great Story’.2 The programme aimed to draw out our local tales of identity, purpose, tension, and resolution, and tie them into the master narrative of God redeeming the world through Christ.3
We immersed these young ‘actors’ in the story of God’s mission, to hear afresh his call to create, repent and bless, love, reconcile, and worship. We bent our ears to his voice, learning to improvise faithfully on our particular stage.4
These stages and stories were amazingly diverse. As our Egyptian sister Anne Zaki said so powerfully, ‘God’s beauty and God’s splendor cannot be contained in one language, or one people group, or one gender.’ This gathering reminded us that only together are we truly the global church.
- One Middle Eastern participant shared how, through divine connections at this gathering, she will partner with an American Bluegrass band to travel through India sharing the gospel!
- Ukrainians, Russians, and Europeans prayed with one heart for the flourishing of Eurasia.
- North Koreans, South Koreans, and Americans shared their pain and celebrated the promise of cross-border initiatives.
- Sri Lankans told of youth de-radicalization through the simple act of hospitality around a common meal.
These stories spanned the institutional church, academy, marketplace, and mission organizations. They reflected God’s image through the genuine partnership of men and women together proclaiming the gospel. They fused Spirit, Word, and World, uniting conservative Anglicans, reformed Presbyterians, sacramental traditionalists, Bible-based Baptists, and passionate Pentecostals as one evangelical family.
Through sharing stories, we can develop leaders who learn to love this diversity and celebrate the pluriform glory of God in the faces and practices of his global church. YLG2016 displayed the power of connecting through stories. This represents an indirect path to leadership development. However, it is also the most strategic way of forming wise guides for the task of ‘gospelling’: showing and telling the old story of God’s reign in fresh ways on unfamiliar soil for such a time as this.
6. Listen for the still, small voice
‘Telling stories’ requires a receptive audience eager to listen. Leadership development must cultivate attention to the still, small voice of God and our neighbour in the global village, growing ears to hear.
Throughout the planning process, God called us to wait, fast, pray, slow down. This worked its way into the gathering. Almost every session included minutes of total silence to listen to the God who speaks, and process all we heard in the presence of the Logos. The pivot for the whole gathering was a night of prayer, identifying with Israel on the edge of the promised land and longing for the Lord to guide us forward.
Global mission depends on discerning God’s leading; and the heart of God is best heard in the cries of the oppressed and those on history’s ‘under-side’.5 We need to train leaders to pay attention. Toward this end, YLG2016 was a potent experiment.
For example, we learned so much from:
- ex-jihadists in Niger who converted after dreams of a man in white;
- ordinary and yet incredibly courageous believers in Iran who faced solitary confinement for months and years after sharing openly about Jesus;
- Chinese house church leaders heading a network of millions and planning to send 20,000 missionaries out globally by the year 2030;6
- our many sisters in Christ, including a frail Brazilian politician standing up to corruption and environmental degradation, bringing her faith to bear in saving the Amazon; and
- countless everyday saints sharing their life-stories in small groups.
This is God’s work, taking whispers from the margins and translating them for many to hear, speaking truth to power. We rejoiced as younger leaders learned to bend their ear to those who humbly occupy the least seat at our communion table. How great it was to amplify this kingdom voice, rather than simply privilege well-known names on the evangelical speaking circuit.
God is faithful!
Through YLG2016 we have journeyed together—together with God, together with one another, together as a global church, and together as generations.
We put our full trust in God and served him with all our hearts; and we now can testify to his faithfulness, for he indeed has done immeasurably more than we all had asked or imagined. Thanks be to God!
1 Editor’s Note: See article entitled ‘Lausanne’s Renewed Engagement in Global Mission: The impact of Cape Town 2010’ by Michael Oh and Justin Schell in the November 2015 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis.
2 On the centrality of narrative for identity and action, see Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 15: ‘The way we understand human life depends on what conception we have of the human story. What [then] is the real story of which my life story is part?’ Similarly, Alasdair MacIntyre argues that humans are essentially ‘story-telling animals’: ‘I can only answer the question “What am I to do?” if I can answer the prior question “Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?”’ See his After Virtue, 2nd ed (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 216.
3 Informing YLG2016’s process of combining deep questions and rich stories to call out the ‘brilliance’ of each participant for global mission, see Mark Strom, Lead with Wisdom: How Wisdom Transforms Good Leaders into Great Leaders (Milton, Qld: Wiley, 2014).
4 On a dramatic/narrative hermeneutic of Scripture engagement that mobilizes the church for mission, see Christopher Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006); Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville, KT: Westminster John Knox, 2005); N T Wright, The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 121-127. The programme structure developed out of the theology of education in David Benson, Schools, Scripture and Secularisation: A Christian Theological Argument for the Incorporation of Sacred Texts within Australian Public Education, unpublished doctoral dissertation, the University of Queensland, ch 5, available at http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:384064.
5 Embodying this spirituality of humble listening, see the work of Graham Hill in the ‘Global Church’ project at https://theglobalchurchproject.com/. See also his book, Global Church Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016).