Nearly three hundred “younger’ evangelical leaders from sixty seven nations met at the National University of Singapore, June 1-10, to participate in the Singapore ’87 Younger Leaders’ Conference.
The planning committee had worked together for three years to plan this event. During that time, we learned how to better relate to one another in spite of our differing backgrounds, theological persuasions, and personal idiosyncrasies. Thus, we came to Singapore ’87 with a sense of anticipation as well as apprehensions. What was God going to do? Could a volunteer committee such as ours actually put together an international conference with very little paid staff help?!
We faced many logistical problems, some were expected and some were completely unexpected. It was difficult to put on a conference in a country where none of the committee members resided. By God’s grace, and the competent work of the office staff, most of these problems were eventually overcome.
We were encouraged when, on the last day, we collated the evaluation forms and realized that for many of the participants this conference had been a high-point in their Christian experience. Some said that this was the “best international conference” they had attended. Thus, in spite of our weaknesses and failings, God was present and people were blessed.
WHAT MADE SINGAPORE ’87 A SUCCESS?
1 – The Right Mix of People:
By far, the most impressive aspect of the conference was the mix of people who were there. We were able to bring together some of the key younger evangelical leaders from around the world. Though some country delegations were not totally representative, in general, the caliber of the participants was impressive. As they met together each day in small groups to discuss the morning expositions, to share together and pray, long-lasting bonds were cemented between people coming from various nations and backgrounds. It was this international mix of people, with similar evangelical convictions and at the same stage in life as one another, which made the conference so unique and was in many ways the most successful element.
2 – Content Geared to Needs:
In retrospect, everyone appreciated our decisions to focus, during the first four days, on the “inner life” of the leaders. Tired, exhausted and overworked participants felt that they were being ministered to by their peers before being challenged to action. Issues such as personal integrity, family commitments and spiritual warfare met genuine needs. The relatively uncluttered pace of the program also helped.
3 – Simplicity in Accommodation and Style:
In keeping with the more informal nature of “younger” leaders, the whole atmosphere of the conference was low key, and simple. The fact that we all resided together in the same accommodation n the campus of the National University of Singapore, was significant. This was one of the first international conferences I attended were subsidized and non-subsidized participants shared the same accommodation. This helped in making all feel on an equal footing and struggle together with the incredibly humid and hot Singapore weather. Titles or positions were not used in introducing people. Everyone was on a first name basis and there were no “big shots” sitting on the platform. The small size of the conference also facilitated this sense of informality and friendship.
4 – “Where two or three are gathered together…”:
Of course, the most significant aspect of the conference was God’s presence in power among us. This overshadowed some of the flaws in planning and execution of the program and made us all aware of the fact that when we gather together in the Lord’s name, He is present in power among us. As we shared and struggled together in strength and weakness, we felt and experienced together the presence of the Living God.
SOME ENCOURAGING TRENDS AMONG YOUNGER EVANGELICAL LEADERS
I noticed through the conference some encouraging trends which can be said to characterize those who participated in the conference and to, hopefully, reflect the evangelical world as a whole:
1 – Freedom in Worship and Expression of Our Differing Styles and Approaches:
There was, in my opinion, no real tension between the more charismatic and non-charismatic segments of the church. There seemed to be an understanding, appreciation and acceptance of one another which was unique and encouraging.
2 – Social Issues were Dealt with Positively and Without Too Much Controversy:
There seemed to be a conviction that evangelicals have to be involved sociopolitical concerns and there was a warm reception, for example, to Caesar Molebatsi’s heart-warming and moving presentation from a South African perspective. Both Ajith Fernando and Peter Kuzmic raised some of these issues in their Bible expositions. My feeling is that the implications of the Christian Gospel for social issues have become, for many, an accepted part of evangelical belief and practice.
3 – A feeling of International Unity:
There was a real sense of being one international family. This was greatly helped by the balance of people from different parts of the world – no one region dominated. This has not always been true in these kinds of gatherings. There was some resentment over Canadian dominance of the platform the first few nights, but this and some other small tensions which developed were quickly resolved.
The planning committee met immediately following the conference to evaluate it and to look to the future. As we reviewed the program, we found very little to change in our program design. There were only two points we would have done differently:
a) We should have made arrangements for participants to worship in local churches in Singapore on Sunday morning.
b) I, as program chairman, should have required all speakers to submit a written manuscript before the conference. This would have disciplined the speakers to be better prepared, translators and media people to have better access to the talks, and me to be able to coordinate better the total flow of the program and the various emphases.
However, when we evaluated program implementation we felt that there were many glaring weaknesses. What we had asked for, and planned for and hoped for, in many cases did not materialize. We had hoped for a more creative presentation of issues. Many sessions reverted to extended lectures which, though interesting and useful, made the day too “lecture oriented”. As one woman commented, “men like to preach!”!
Also, even though we told all speakers that they had to concentrate on (a) leadership, (b) cooperation, and (c) world evangelization, the emphasis was much more on leadership, a little on cooperation and very little on world evangelization as such. Maybe I could have controlled this better if I had the texts of the talks before-hand.
CONCERNS WHICH EMERGED BUT WERE NOT DEALT WITH
There were several matters we did not plan to deal with at the conference but which were obviously of importance to the participants, the key ones are, in my opinion:
1 – The Role of Women:
We had very few women participants, and anticipated this, and had not come up with a good way of solving the problem. It was obvious that the women who were at the conference felt that they were only token representatives of the neglected half of the world’s population! In spite of the fact that they were able to make a very creative presentation on one of the mornings, the issue of the role of women was not given its due, and this was to our loss.
2 – News of God’s Work Around the World:
We had hoped to have testimonies from people from various parts of the world to give us “windows” on the world. This did not materialize and therefore we lacked concrete and interesting information of what God was doing in various parts of the world. We, as a planning committee, did not put enough emphasis on that aspect of the conference and had not planned adequately to do this. We had, maybe naively, hoped that this would be covered through spontaneous testimonies and through the emphasis on prayer. We had also asked producers of sessions to involve people from various parts of the world in their presentations. But, this was not enough and we lacked a worldwide perspective of some of the things that God was doing around the world.
3 – Differing Expectations About the Role of the Lausanne Movement:
Reading between the lines at Singapore ’87, one could see that there are at least two mutually exclusive understandings of the significance of the Lausanne Movement. One group perceives Lausanne as the agency which God has raised to uniquely focus the world’s attention on the urgent task of reaching the lost. These people understand Lausanne ’74 as bringing back to the churches’ agenda the need for world evangelism which they understand as a synonym for world evangelization.
The other group would see the significance of the Lausanne ’74 Congress and the Lausanne movement as bringing back to the church a vision of “the total Biblical mission of the church in which evangelization with world mission and see that one of the tasks of the Lausanne movement is to rally the church for greater evangelism. They perceive the Lausanne movement as providing the only option of worldwide cooperation for evangelicals who have a broad vision of the church’s mission and who are caught between a narrow evangelicalism on the one hand and a liberal conciliar movement on the other.
The proponents of the first view would accuse the Lausanne movement of becoming too broad in its emphasis on things such as social concerns, simple lifestyle, and Gospel and culture, etc. and the proponents of the second point of view would accuse the Lausanne movement of becoming too narrow in its vision of the world and regressing from Lausanne ’74 and from the wholistic emphasis in the Lausanne covenant.
Though in many ways speakers at Singapore ’87 grappled with these issues, people expecting their own perception to be confirmed were disappointed!
In many ways, the conference was a success because the members of the planning committee lived out what they were preaching. We were not simply talking about cooperation in world evangelization, we were actually learning in many ways through tears and struggles to work together, sacrificing our own idiosyncrasies and emphases for the common good. There was no sense in which we were putting on a “show”. It was costly cooperation!
I firmly believe the Lord honoured the integrity of the planning committee by gracing the conference with His presence and power!