While I don't commence employment until 1st April the powers-that-be encouraged me to attend the annual International Council meetings of Langham Partnership International in London this past week. There were many highlights...
I loved attending All Souls, Langham Place on the Sunday (my birthday!) before the meetings started. This is where John Stott has been a minister for decades and the organisation takes its name from this 'place'. A worship-filled service sparked by a masterly biblical/topical sermon from Mark Meynell on 'What gives you a monopoly on the truth?' (ANS: A. We don't ... but B. We know Someone who does) - to which you can listen here - will live on in my memory.
Located outside All Souls was a panel advertising some upcoming evangelistic activities. I was fascinated by a "warning" right at the bottom of the panel. It looked like this:
The warning states: "Guest events contain Christian content". Interesting?! I have had an enduring concern that our community-bridging activities here in NZ can be a bit shy about having a clear evangelistic purpose guiding them. My mind goes to the research done recently exploring the perceptions of the 'unchurched' attending a selection of one of our well-attended community-bridging franchises. As I remember it, 65% of these 'unchurched' people were open and keen to hear more about why host churches were doing what they were doing - thereby opening the door to gentle, but more intentional, evangelism. That is a very high percentage. Maybe we might not lose as many people as we think...and maybe there is too much emphasis on grace and salt and not enough on truth and light...
To hear again the Langham Logic, first espoused by John Stott, was as compelling as ever. The logic moves from the Problem and the three Convictions to the Question and the three Strategies.
The Problem facing the church in the Majority World is one of growth without depth.
The three Convictions which shape a response are 1. God wants the church to grow up in maturity; 2. God's church grows through God's Word; and 3. God's Word comes primarily (but not exclusively) through preaching.
This then provokes an obvious Question: what can we do to raise the standard of biblical preaching?
The answer is found in three Strategies: 1. Langham Scholars, providing scholarships for teachers and leaders to gain doctorates before returning home to key positions in places like theological colleges; 2. Langham Literature, providing books for pastors, students and libraries - but also empowering and multiplying indigenous literature, writers, and publishers; and 3. Langham Preaching, developing biblical preaching movements in the countries of the majority world.
Other highlights revolved around these Strategies...
At one point a newsletter circulated and as I turned the pages I came across a full A5 sized spread listing all the Langham Scholars (by country) that there have ever been - 282 of them! It was breath-taking... This has been going on quietly for 30 years and now the impact is being felt. Just imagine the ripples of influence that can flow from each one of these men and women. I hope it won't be long before NZ joins the party and has some Langham Scholars studying among us.
Once back home, these Scholars have the capacity to take publishing initiatives like the remarkable Africa Bible Commentary where Africans have provided the scholarship with commentary on the text as well as articles on the context.
This has sold so well that it has enabled Langham Literature to make a splash with Hippo Books as an indigenous African publisher whose books are distributed through Zondervan. And now South Asia and Latin America are lining up to do their regional commentaries as well. Just inspirational.
Increasingly the Scholars are initiating and the Literature is resourcing the work of Langham Preaching, now active in 50 countries. This is where I will be working as Associate Director alongside Jonathan Lamb. I will have some responsibility for Asia and the Pacific (with visits to Thailand, Solomon Islands, Hong Kong, Pakistan, India... already in the diary for 2009) as well as working with the trainers worldwide to develop a consistent curriculum that can guide us all. Pretty cool, eh?!
There are huge challenges facing Langham. Using the direct link to its Founder (John Stott) becomes less useful as a generation emerges who have not heard of him. And the current global financial crisis can feel ominous in an organisation which is so dependent on the generosity of Americans. With Langham commencing in NZ just this past March, I am praying that NZers will catch a vision for this remarkable work and begin to share in the financial responsibility to keep it growing.
The meetings were held at Farnham Castle built by William the Conqueror's grandson and the oldest building in Southeast England with continuous inhabitants - and only 15mins drive to Jane Austen's home to which I made a pilgrimage and spent too much money buying gifts for the women in the family.
I did manage to read The Shack while I was away - a topic to which I will return soon I suspect! I haven't read all the reviews and blogs (although I've heard people talk about them) but I reckon a lot of Christians need to chill out, get a life and enjoy the book for what it is and not for what it isn't. I applaud our theologian at Carey, Myk Habets, for deciding to make it a required text for one of his classes in 2009. They are going to have some great debates!
Oh dear, I couldn't quite make it to TEN.
Never mind. You've done well to get this far :)