Acton Commentary

Cape Town 2010: Stewardship, Work, and the Lausanne Movement


How do followers of Christ live the gospel in their daily work? The recent Lausanne conference in South Africa, showed that the question is on the minds of many of the world’s Christian leaders.

Roughly 4,500 delegates from 198 countries convened in Cape Town in late October for the historic Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. In the absence of a more hierarchical body to represent evangelicalism (defined in the broadest of terms), this impressive gathering served an important role to convene the minds around a core set of ideas and objectives that will advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the globe. 

Indeed, the theme of this gathering rallied the most influential leaders of varied Christian faith traditions and cultures around the battle cry of "The Whole Church taking the Whole Gospel to the Whole World." The Congress traces its official launch to a 1974 convocation in Lausanne, Switzerland, the product of the visionary collaboration of evangelist Billy Graham and Anglican theologian John Stott. The purpose was to unite the evangelical Christian world around a shared core set of Biblically sound principles and toward a common purpose––the Great Commission.

This initial gathering in Lausanne, among other things, resulted in the Lausanne Standards––a statement of belief to which most evangelical Christian organizations can subscribe––as well as a common goal and terminology to engage "unreached people groups" for the cause of Christ. Since that time, collaboration to reach the whole world has been predominant and paramount among church and para-church ministry worldwide.

The second worldwide gathering of the Lausanne Congress was held in Manila, Philippines in 1989. Again, among other aims, this gathering sought to make some mid-course changes in trajectory as it encouraged influential Christian leaders to understand the whole gospel as more than simply evangelism toward a more robust understanding of what it means to "make disciples." In other words, what does it mean to develop an approach to the Great Commission that goes beyond words and a verbal introduction to the person of Jesus Christ to encompass being the "hands and feet" of Christ to world in great need? The 1989 gathering also resulted in the Manila Declaration, which directed evangelical ministries to the common end of taking "the Whole Gospel to the Whole World."

Enter the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town. What mid-course corrections were evident in the dialogue and programming of this event? To this point, Lausanne had provided a rallying cry and common trajectory for ministries, NGOs, churches, and the leadership that serve those entities––full time "ministry leaders." But you don't have to be a great mathematician to realize that less than 2 percent of the population serve in those important capacities. So what is the role of the remaining 98 percent of the Christian world? Do we have any role in the taking the “Whole Gospel to the Whole World”? Is our role inferior to those who dedicate their days to evangelism and discipleship in formal ministry roles? Given the fact that the vast majority of us spend our days in the marketplace doing something other than church and para-church activities, these questions came to the fore at the Lausanne Congress.

Of course this intersection of faith and culture is precisely the "sweet spot" for the Acton Institute and the Stewardship Council. Together we were asked to provide editorial input, facilitate dialogue, and publish resources for various leaders at the Cape Town gathering. Most measurably, the reception of a special edition of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible among congress delegates suggested that a sound understanding of holistic Biblical stewardship and resource mobilization was a message with current relevance. More than 65 percent of congress delegates went out of their way to obtain a copy of this study Bible for use in their ministries throughout the world. All told, 5,000 copies of the special edition Bible were strategically distributed to some of the most influential figures in today’s evangelical world. 

Acton's and the Stewardship Council's presence did not stop with this Bible––which one publisher described as "the resource of the Cape Town gathering." Lester DeKoster's book Work: The Meaning of Your Life—A Christian Perspective provided a strong and engaging theological framework for the activity of work to key leaders representing movements such as Business as Mission, Business to Business Mentoring, Marketplace Ministry, Theology of Work, Microeconomic Development, and SME (Small to Medium Enterprise). This timely book, re-released by Christian's Library Press just last month, offered conference leaders and delegates practical, Biblically-rooted insights to help us better appreciate work as a worthy calling because it is activity ordained by God––not simply for the cash it generates to support "missions" efforts or the Bible studies and evangelism that can take place during spare minutes at work. This resource dovetailed nicely with a recurring theme at the conference: the great need for Christian's to reclaim the God-given territory (such as the realm of work that is currently viewed as "secular") that it has unwittingly ceded. In the words of Mark Greene of the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, the biggest challenge facing the church today is the "sacred-secular divide."

Acton's publishing arm, Christian's Library Press, and Stewardship Council were also asked by Lausanne's Resource Mobilization Working Group to edit and publish the advance papers of this Working Group. This book, titled Kingdom Stewardship, was also distributed to interested delegates––nearly 3,500 of them. The book is available through the Acton Bookshoppe.

There were, of course, many other themes addressed in Cape Town, such as church planting, effective engagement of the message of Gospel in hostile environments, and Bible translation and distribution in this digital age. The subjects of stewardship and work, however, were pervasive themes and must carry into the future in order for the Church to vividly and fully reflect the image of God to a world in need. We look forward to learning from, engaging in, and informing these crucial dialogues.