In this episode, we interview Michael Oh, global executive director / CEO of the Lausanne Movement to trace his personal connection to Lausanne, unpack the Movement’s impact on global mission, and vision for the future of global mission together. From stirring historical stories to key challenges ahead, Michael paints a vivid picture of the Movement’s purpose and vision of uniting the global church in addressing the challenges and opportunities in the Great Commission.
Meet Michael Oh
Dr Michael Young-Suk Oh is global executive director / CEO of the Lausanne Movement.
Michael is of Korean descent, born in America. Michael received his BA, MS, and PhD degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. He also completed an MDiv at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School as well as an MA in regional studies, East Asia, at Harvard University.
Michael, his wife Pearl, and their five children served as missionaries in Nagoya, Japan from 2004 to 2016. In January 2004, he founded a ministry called Christ Bible Institute (CBI), which includes Christ Bible Seminary, the Heart & Soul Cafe, and a church-planting ministry. He currently serves as chairman of the board of directors for CBI and chancellor of Christ Bible Seminary.
Michael’s first involvement with the Lausanne Movement was at the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization. Then in 2006 Michael served on the younger leaders planning team for the 2006 Lausanne Younger Leaders Gathering, where he also gave the keynote address. In 2007 he joined the Lausanne Board of Directors as its youngest member. He has served as global executive director / CEO since March 2013.
This transcript has been edited for readability.
- Personal Journey
- What is the Lausanne Movement?
- Stories of Impact
- State of Global Mission – Lausanne’s Role
- How can the global church join in?
- Upcoming Episode
Welcome to the Lausanne Movement Podcast, where we have a passion to accelerate global mission together. I am your host, Jason Watson, and in today’s episode we interviewed Dr Michael Oh, global executive director and CEO of the Lausanne Movement.
Michael has served as a missionary in Japan from 2004 to 2016 and he founded a ministry called Christ Bible Institute, which includes Christ Bible Seminary, the Heart and Soul Café, and a church planting ministry.
Michael paints a vivid picture of the Movement’s purpose and vision of uniting the global church and addressing challenges and opportunities in the Great Commission.
And now for today’s interview.
Michael, welcome to the podcast.
Hello, so great to be with you Jason. And hello to all who are listening in and watching in from all around the world.
It’s truly a pleasure to have you on today. In our time together, we’re going to be exploring various aspects of the Lausanne Movement, its vision, and its mission. But I’d like us to begin by taking a step back to where it all began for you. Could you share with our listeners a bit of your own personal journey of how you became involved with the Lausanne Movement and what it was about the Lausanne Movement that resonated with you on a personal level?
Yeah, great question. I think my first connection was actually like many other people. I read about Lausanne, especially as a part of global church and global mission history. So, I was a student at seminary. I had the opportunity to learn and study about the impact of the Lausanne Movement, and I was inspired.
In particular, I think it was that it’s really fascinating to see how God used Lausanne to help shape global mission as well as help shape global evangelicalism. And that shaping of global evangelicalism, in particular, learning about the Lausanne Covenant which really gave the global church, an inspiring lens and guide for our biblical faith and mission in the world and I think, secondly though, the shaping of global evangelicalism was through friendships.
So, soon after my appointment as CEO of Lausanne in 2013, I spent some time with Billy Graham and I asked him a number of questions, including my first one, which was, ‘What are you most looking forward to when you go to heaven?’
My second one was this: ‘Why did you start the Lausanne Movement?’ And he said to me, he said, ‘I travelled the whole world and met so many amazing people and leaders, but I found they didn’t know each other.’ We kind of take for granted that today, the influencers in the global church, so many really know each other, are connected to each other, and even like each other. So, Lausanne helped to shape a strategic global mission strategy for the global church but the essential fuel for getting it done is trust, and Lausanne helped to bring the leaders of the global church together for friendship and for missions. So, if you’re someone out there who believes that there are a thousand things that we can do together that we couldn’t possibly do apart and that we need to accelerate global mission together, then you’re someone who’s felt the spirit of the Lausanne Movement.
Wow. Thank you. It’s amazing to consider the breadth and the depth of the Lausanne Movement. And with that kind of foundation in mind, I would really like to hear how you go about describing what the Lausanne Movement is and why it exists to people. For instance, say you go to a party and someone stops you and asks you the question that they ask you at every party, ‘What do you do for a living?’
I would love to hear your elevator pitch. How do you describe that to someone? And I’d also love to hear how you would unpack it when you get a chance to sit down with a potential ministry partner or donor. So, could you do your best to help describe what is the Lausanne Movement and why it exists?
What is the Lausanne Movement?
Yeah. So that’s a great question. And, thinking about being in an elevator or at a party or something, I love that there’s curiosity and, don’t quote me on it, but here’s one way that I’ll say it: We’re kind of like the Nick Fury of global mission and the global church.
So, if you think about the Avengers, all these crazy, amazing, superheroes around, you have Thor, and Hulk, and Black Widow, and Spider Man who actually didn’t know each other. So, you have these neat little scenes in a lot of the Avenger movies where they’re like, ‘Oh hi, I’m Iron Man’, or ‘I’m Ant Man, nice to meet you’. So, they didn’t know each other, but they got connected, and after a lot of different kinds of conflict and challenges they began to like each other. And then, ultimately, what Nick Fury was trying to do was to get them to work together. There are huge challenges in the world, threats in the world, and we need to find a way to work together for the benefit of everyone. And you know, we have these amazing servants of God who are all around the world– many of you who are watching this podcast are making impact around the world for the gospel, and through your lives and ministries, and your impact in the marketplace and churches and schools and more, you are showing the beauty of Christ.
You are displaying the beauty of Christ. And, again, when I asked Billy, ‘Why did you start the Movement?’, he said, ‘We didn’t know each other.’ So, in many ways, again, there’s that: that need and the opportunity for us to be connected, because there’s something bigger than us; there’s something greater that we’re all longing to see, and God’s biblical strategy for this is not for everyone to kind of just try to do your own thing.
It’s not for us to do the Christian version of ‘do random acts of kindness’ or ‘do random acts of Christian ministry’. We were created as a body and four of the most dangerous words for us, as the family of God, are not, ‘I don’t like you.’ I think we, a lot of us, like each other, and we get along, but it’s the four-word phrase that kind of gives me goosebumps whenever I read it from 1 Corinthians 12, which is ‘I don’t need you’. And that’s where, I think, a lot of us can come under conviction because we’re doing our own thing and we’re well-resourced and we’re doing a good job, but we’re living out, practically, the 1 Corinthians 12 rebuke which is, ‘. . . the eye cannot say to the hand and the head cannot say to the feet, I don’t need you.’
So, there’s something bigger than us. There’s a mission that’s greater than us, and us finding a way to work together so that global mission can be accelerated, so that the gospel can go to the ends of the earth, and so that we can see the fulfilment of the Great Commission. This is so critical for us, and Lausanne has played a role to help accelerate global mission together. And I think that last point is so important.
So, Lausanne, in terms of just what we’re all about and how God has used us in the past. I mean, the three largest and most globally representative gatherings of church leaders and influencers in the 2000-year history of our faith have been the First Lausanne Congress, the Second Lausanne Congress, and the Third Lausanne Congress. Some of the best strategies for global mission today, business as mission, unreached people groups, diaspora, and more have been kind of platformed and highlighted, during the First Lausanne, Second Lausanne, and Third Lausanne congresses. And some of the most beautiful and effective collaborations around global mission–whether that’s with unreached people groups, scripture translation, reaching various different peoples for Christ–have also been part of the fruit that God has brought about through Lausanne. So, yeah, we’re thankful for this continued opportunity with the Fourth Congress and beyond to continue to help accelerate global mission together.
Thank you, Michael. Thank you for sharing that vision with us. And I particularly, as a millennial, I enjoyed the illustration of the Marvel Avengers and bringing those powerful figures together so they can do more together. I would love to hear, as you have continued with the Lausanne Movement, could you share some real-life examples or some stories of how the Lausanne Movement has, made positive impact on global mission, brought people together that you feel may inspire our listeners?
Stories of Impact
Yeah, so, as I said, we run into the danger again of being so self-sufficient, self-serving that we forget that we are a body. These attitudes can sometimes then lead to actions of isolation and competition and ultimately deceleration. So, for example, did you know that year after year, there are more people in the world who have never heard the gospel than the year before? There’s a collective fruit and assessing that we are responsible for and not just in our own ministries.
So, in terms of effective, successful collaborations, I actually think that the two best examples came out from the First Lausanne Congress and the Second Lausanne Congress. At the first Lausanne Congress, literally global mission strategy and understanding was completely changed. It was a game-changing event because Ralph Winter went up there, and the context was that in the late 60s, early 70s, we hit an incredible milestone, which is that for the very first time in all of history, there was now a Christian in every single nation in the world. So, you had people who were saying, ‘We’re done. We’re done. We can pat ourselves on the back. How do we want to reallocate our mission budget for our church? We can go buy that organ, or buy an extra building, or something.’ But, at the first Congress, there was the challenge that went out that the biblical ethne of make disciples of all nations was not a geopolitical nation state.
These are distinct ethno-linguistic people groups that need to be engaged and there were 17,000 of them that were unreached. So global mission’s whole strategy changed. It shifted. And it was really exciting to see how the global church really came together through various initiatives in various regions. And you have like, Comibam, and you had Mani Movement, and you have, Table 71 and other groups that were really figuring out how to take collective responsibility. So, the reaching of unreached people groups, I think, is one of the best examples. A great example. And we’re just actually now at the point where every single unengaged, unreached people group has finally been engaged.
And that’s just a start. That doesn’t mean that we’re done. It’s a start. Even when an unreached people group kind of gets gospel access and some gospel growth, it’s just a start for us to make disciples. So anyway, that’s super exciting. And from the Second Lausanne Congress as well you had a situation where, I think in some sense, various people who were leading significant ministries for the translation of the Bible into various languages–every language–came under conviction. The Holy Spirit was working at the Second Congress, in some sense to rebuke, again, this, ‘We’re kind of doing our own thing’. And, as Roy Peterson said, ‘We, Scripture translation organizations were, essentially, competing against each other. We weren’t communicating,’ he said, ‘and we weren’t collaborating.’ And he said, ‘It took Lausanne to bring us together and it was just beautiful coming together of hearts and minds and setting aside of egos and logos and saying we’re going to work together. We repent of our competitiveness, especially because competitiveness is so often driven by funding.’
Because they’re competing for the same donor dollars and trying to not only say, ‘Fund what we’re doing because it’s so good, but it’s actually better than this other group, or don’t fund them for these reasons.’ It’s just so fleshly. And it’s something that we should be confessing and repenting about in all of our ministry spheres. But, within months after the Second Lausanne Congress, FOBAI was started – the Forum of Bible Agencies International. So, for the first time then there was global coordination that was started, and you see that really continuing with E 10, and Illuminations, and more.
We’re making some tangible progress and we’re going to be seeing, in addition to on the unreached people group side, 9,000 unreached people groups that were reached from 1974 to today. We’re seeing that we’re probably within 10 years now of every language–over X number of thousands of users–that will have at least a portion of the Holy Scriptures. So these are two exciting examples for us.
Indeed, those are two very exciting and inspiring stories of how, when people come together, they can do so much more – as you were saying. Given these achievements and the current global scenario, we are now long past even the Third Congress in 2010. I would be really keen to understand what are some of the greatest challenges of the global church that it faces regarding global mission, and what are our greatest opportunities? And, in light of those challenges and opportunities, how do you envision Lausanne playing a role in global mission today?
State of Global Mission – Lausanne’s Role
Lausanne’s passion is to accelerate global mission together. So, we passionately believe that together is better.
So, we really started with a question of how we can help the global church do the Great Commission together, and really three things are critical toward that end.
What we need to do, how we need to do it, and the way to get it done.
So, first in terms of what we need to do:
So, I have five children and maybe you’re like us and you have a wall in your house where there are a bunch of lines and dates next to them. Now, all of those lines, with all of those dates, have to be together in one place or else you’re not going to know how much your child has actually grown since when.
So basically, a baseline is needed. Now, I’ve asked dozens of global mission CEOs about the Great Commission. Like, how are we doing? How far have we come? How much is left? I mean, what percent until we’re done, etc. And not one of them had an answer. They knew about their own contribution, their own growth chart in some way. I can tell you how we’re doing as a ministry. I can tell you of some of the progress we’re making. And, oftentimes, they’re doing that homework and they have that data really, for the sake of their donors. Again, it’s about funding. So, they are doing kind of their own ministry, but are not aware of how we’re doing in terms of Christ’s call for us to make disciples of all nations.
So, what we need is a growth chart for the Great Commission for the global church. We need a baseline of what it looks like to make progress toward the fulfilment of the Great Commission and that’s why, as a really critical part of this global journey of Lausanne 4 we will be producing the first ever report on the state of the Great Commission.
You may or may not remember the world of overhead projectors and transparencies, but basically there are these transparencies that are scattered on floors all around the world, with some really important information, some important data about the Great Commission. Some of that data is about the sharing of the gospel in certain places, some of the data is about gaps and opportunities in particular spheres of society, some of the data is about what we don’t know, but what we need to know. So, we need to gather all of the best transparencies and lay them all on top of each other and get our best picture, an overlay over the world and of the engagement and the gaps in the world today. And then, in addition to the quantitative data, there are stories. There are stories all around the world of people whose testimonies need to be known, whose insight needs to be learned from. So, basically we’re pulling together all of these pieces of data, the best of quantitative and qualitative data, to produce a report on the state of the Great Commission and, when one of our board members, Tom Lin, president of InterVarsity, heard about this, he said, “Hallelujah, finally”.
So, in addition to knowing what we need to do, what we need to do is super, super important. Before anything else, we kind of did jump too quickly to the second point: How we need to do it. Okay, so what we need to do and how we need to do it. It was interesting, a college friend of mine who’s doing Bible translation in Congo heard about an organization that’s working to translate the Bible in a number of African languages, including in Congo itself. And when he saw the list related to Congo, he actually started to have a nagging feeling that one of the languages already had a Bible translation. So, what do you think he did? He looked for it on Amazon and he found it. He found it! We desperately need to come together, and we need to share information, and we need to figure out how to do global mission together. Together is better.
So, in September 2024, the global church will gather for the Fourth Lausanne Congress. 5,000 from every nation joining in Seoul, South Korea and 5,000 plus joining for Seoul virtual and we will come together to figure out how to do global mission better together.
And then thirdly, how do we get that done? How do we get this collaboration done? And this is basically kind of my exhortation, or part of my elevator conversation. We need a Netflix for global mission. So, global mission today is kind of like the equivalent of local video stores, like the old company Blockbuster, and you have tens of thousands of local video stores trying to build up their store and get people to come into their store to watch great videos that they have.But we cannot use 20th century models to engage with the 21st century world.
We need to find a way to bring the best of the global church to all of the global church. So, we need a global mission platform that is on behalf of the whole global church to accelerate global mission together. So, in Seoul 2024, we’re going to be launching digital platforms that help us to connect with each other, to learn from each other, to collaborate, and to respond strategically.
Lausanne will do one of the things that we do best, which is to curate people and platforms and theologies and strategies and resources and opportunities, and then make connections. Catalyze connections that can accelerate global mission together. We will be kind of working to develop a Netflix for global mission, but also the Fourth Congress itself will be in some sense, kind of Netflix-like in that rather than just being a single group that gathers in a single place at a single time for a one time showing of an amazing movie at a movie theater, Seoul 2024 will be thousands, tens of thousands participating, even hundreds of thousands who will get a chance to be a part in some way of Seoul Virtual and also our global satellite sites that will be all around the world as well as the live streaming of Seoul 2024. And then all of these connections, all of these resources will become a part of the launching and then the ongoing global mission platform for global mission action. So, together is better.
Wow, thank you for that. I think the natural question that I have that comes out of that is, there’ll be people listening to this podcast who are going to be attending our gathering in Seoul in 2024. And then there’ll be those who are not. And you’ve already mentioned a few other ways that people can be involved in that gathering, but could you help those who are listening? How can the global church participate and benefit from the gathering and the ongoing work of Lausanne?
How can the global church join in?
Yeah. Thank you. That’s a great question and, I think, one really critical, important distinction is that, Seoul 2024 and this whole multi-year, multi-event, multi-initiatives journey of Lausanne 4 is not about let’s have, again, a one-time showing of an amazing movie that you talk about maybe a little bit from time to time over the years, and less and less so.
It’s really about how can we, how do we steward what, Lord willing, will be the largest and most globally representative gathering of Christian influencers and thinkers and educators and engineers and technologists, etc. and more? How do we steward this? It’s amazing coming together toward action.
So again, our trajectory right now is not where we want it to be. Again, there are more people who’ve never heard the gospel than the year before, year after year. As the Pew Charitable Trust study came out they said in 2050 Islam will overtake Christianity both in numbers and also in influence, so that’s also a part of our trajectory.
A part of our trajectory is also the public witness of Christians in global society where you have, in some sense, similar to the feeling of the quote that is sometimes attributed to Gandhi, which is, ‘I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.’ So, how do we respond to these challenges, to these trajectories, to some of the sourness in our witness, at least as it’s received in some places in global society?
So, the call for Lausanne 4 and for the 4th Congress is to the whole church. It is to the whole church, and it’s not just about an event, it’s about who we are as a body of Jesus Christ, and how we are going to be moving forward.
In terms of actual participation, I would say everyone is invited. Everyone can be involved as a congress participant, a Seoul virtual participant, or as a host of and gatherer, assembler of, one of the global satellite sites and host sites. We hope that we’ll have tens of thousands, even a hundred thousand in schools, institutions, churches, businesses, and more.
I invite every single one of you to host a satellite site for the Fourth Congress. You’re going to have an opportunity to do some plug and play of some amazing resources, to interact with the report and the state of the Great Commission and more. And most importantly, again, it’s not an isolated event, but moving forward.
By being involved in these various ways, you then can be a part of the digital platform toward action. And that is the ultimate goal and ultimate key.
So, let me just close with these two things as an exhortation, again, in addition to these practical ways to be involved, two exhortations to us all as a global church.
Let’s be beautiful together. Let’s be beautiful together. You look at Revelation chapter 19 where it talks about the marriage supper of the lamb–an amazing feast–and it talks about the bride of Christ, which is, that’s us! It says that the bride has made herself ready and that she is wearing beautiful garb, fine linen, and what is the beautiful garb that we, the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, are wearing?
Of course, my guess would have been, ‘Oh, we’re wearing the righteousness of Christ’, but the beautiful garb that’s described is, it says the fine linen is the righteous deeds. It is the deeds, the beautiful deeds of the saints. So, that is our calling, our challenge: the righteous deeds of the saints.
Let’s be beautiful together to the world. Let the world see the beauty of the Bride of Christ and how we love each other, how we unite, and how we live Christ out to the world. And then, in addition to that, let’s be effective. Let’s be effective together, let’s live out the biblical strategy of God for the Great Commission, for the mission of God in the world over all of time by being the body of Jesus Christ.
Let’s not just do our own thing. Let’s not just do ‘random acts’ of Christian ministry. Let’s not be isolated or competitive in our ministries. Let’s not be ineffective and let’s not allow this trajectory to become a reality in the world in 2050. Let’s be effective together. Let’s be the expression and the fulfilment of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, and let’s be the beautiful expression of the vision and the strategy of 1 Corinthians 12. Let’s be beautiful together, and let’s be effective together.
Michael, I trust and pray that your hopes and your words of encouragement resonate deeply with those who are listening. It has been such an honor to have you with us this time, to hear your insights and your inspiring stories about impact across the world. Michael, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your heart and your vision.
Thank you everyone for joining. God bless you.
And that brings us to the end of an enlightening episode. A heartfelt thank you to Dr. Michael Oh for sharing his journey and offering profound insights into the work of the Lausanne Movement.
It’s conversations like these that remind us of the power and unity and vision of the global churches collective mission.
To our listeners, thank you for tuning in. May today’s discussion inspire you to play a part in advancing global missions and building a beautiful and effective church worldwide.
If you found value in today’s conversation, please take a moment to subscribe, share this episode with friends, and leave us a review.
Stay tuned for our next episode with Doug Birdsell and Remez Atallah who share inspirational stories from the global church and speak about the legacy and the impact of the Lausanne Movement.
Here’s a clip from our time together:
But to tell you a story, a very different story, the main thing I remember from Lausanne was on my way back in the airplane looking through the business cards of the people who were in, I had the people who I had met, but mainly those who were in my evening prayer group.
We had about 20 people, and we prayed together every night, and one man was a pastor from Kenya, and he was wearing one of his Kenyan robes, you know, a white robe. He looked like a village pastor. He said he began his life as a village pastor. He was very humble, and he was very wise, and we’d reflect on the day, and I was impressed by what he said.
And I told myself, ‘Isn’t it strange that such a simple village pastor is so wise?’ The other people were saying they were presidents of seminaries, directors of this, that and the other, and were pulling rank. Festo Olang’, that African pastor, never did that. We never knew exactly what church he was working with or anything.
So, as I was on the plane going back to Canada, I was looking through these cards and I looked at his card, and it has impacted my life since then.
It said: ‘Festo Olang’, Archbishop of Kenya’.
He was the highest-ranking guy by far of all of us, and we never knew it, and I said to myself, ‘I want to be, I want to be like this man when I go out.’