This is a post that I co-wrote with Ed Stetzer regarding our “Listening Call” with Lausanne Movement leaders from across North America. As part of the process of preparing for the World Congress in 2024, the Lausanne Movement has been hosting listening calls for each region to discuss five questions. Lausanne North American held our listening call on March 3 with close to 200 evangelical leaders from across various sector and disciplines.
You can find the original post here.
Question 1: What are the most significant gaps and remaining opportunities in North America toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission?
In this question, Lausanne wants each region to assess the church’s ground-game in advancing the gospel in its context. In this post, we want to note the four most recurring gaps people shared with us on our listening call.
1. The Credibility Gap
The credibility of Christians has been on a downhill trajectory since the Jimmy Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart days. Now with news traveling at the speed of a tweet and a repost, the credibility gap continues to widen. And it widens from a plethora of issues—issues consisting of sexual misconduct, domineering behavior, political affiliation infatuation, touting conspiracy theories, misogyny, racial overtones, to lavish lifestyles and everything in between.
There is certainly a holiness problem within the church, which means there will be a credibility problem for us in the world. Holiness is our distinction from the world. The author of Hebrews notes that without holiness no one will see the Lord. While the author meant that statement to be applied to people’s relationship with God, we can also transpose that to our situation in North America. We are the body of Christ, the manifesting presence of God in the world. Yet, when we live soiled lives, we prevent the world from seeing the glory of God. The credibility gap is indeed one we must work to close.
2. The Unity Gap
John 17, Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, gets thrown around like a cute quote from fortune cookie. But what do you do after reading the little slip of paper pulled from the cookie? You throw it away and don’t really think about it anymore. That seems to be what the church is doing to John 17:21 when Jesus prays, “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” The further apart we are as the people of God, the harder it is for the world to see the transforming power of the Gospel.
Today the unity gap can be clearly seen in at least three ways.
First, it can be clearly seen by the enclaves we have created for our own tribal groups. And it seems that Evangelical tribes continue to grow at an alarming rate. We definitely struggle with the same thing the church at Corinth did as they had factions/tribes that followed Paul, Apollos, or Cephas—only today is I follow Andy, I follow Mark, I follow John, or I follow Tom.
Second, the unity gap can be seen in the manner of our disputes and hurled insults over secondary and tertiary theological, methodological, and practical issues. We don’t know how to disagree well. We don’t know how to converse over difficult issues. What happens is that in our disagreements we drop relational atom bombs—cutting off relationships. Our King died to save us from our sin and to one another, not so we can drop cute impersonal and passive aggressive tweets damaging our relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. We must work on this unity gap for the sake of God’s fame among the nations.
Third, the unity gap can still be clearly seen in the segregation of our churches. (More coming on this.)
3. The Generational Gap
A tagline of Lausanne, which was crafted by John Stott, is “evangelization requires the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.” Today’s evangelical church in North America struggles with the “whole church” part of this tagline. We’re struggling in at least two ways.
First, Boomers and GenXers are struggling to share leadership with Millennials. If the North American church doesn’t start sharing some of the more weightier leadership responsibilities—in our churches, organizations, institutions—with millennials, by the time they become “old” enough in our eyes to assume weightier leadership, it will be too late. We will have squandered our opportunity.
Second, and in connection with this, the church is losing GenZ. GenZ is positioned to be the least religious, least churched, and most biblically illiterate generation. Decades ago, churches were known for their incredible and thriving student ministries. Those days are long gone. Not that striving student ministries don’t exist—they’re just becoming more and more extinct like DVDs.
Unless the North American church changes some things, to share leadership with Millennials and to leverage GenZers to reach their generation, the church we will be on the brink of losing the coming generations. Rememeber, the “whole” church is needed to reach the “whole” world.
4. The Innovation Gap
When it comes to innovation, evangelicals particularly the more regulative principle guys get a little squirmy. Those who have a difficult time understanding the need and place for innovation either don’t understand the contextual facet of mission or the concept of innovation.
The whole notion of mission begins with the belief that the gospel is to be taken to the ends of the earth. Therefore, the gospel is meant to cross geography, national borders, cultures, etc. While the gospel never changes, depending on the context the delivery methods might. This is not only clear throughout the history of the church, but also in the book of Acts.
The church in North America finds herself in a rapidly changing and secularly progressing culture. The church models and strategies of previous eras are antiquated for our new reality, for our new context. This is where innovation comes in.
According to Ted Esler in his forthcoming book, innovation “is arranging existing components in a new way, combining things that already exist to create something that does not.” Take Uber and Airbnb for instance. Both companies leveraged something already in existence and turned it into a service-industry whereby people could turn their personal vehicle and dwelling place into a way to make a living or extra money.
The church of the 21st century must become innovative. We must find new, creative, and imaginative ways to take the never-changing gospel message (and its implications) and share and show it with a dark and dying world. We must also find new, creative, and imaginative ways to sustain and accelerate funding models of gospel churches, ministries, organizations, and institutions other than relying solely on a donor-based model.