The evangelical church – the centerpiece of the Lausanne meeting here in Cape Town – cannot keep itself from using in its (our) promotional materials the phrase “explosive growth.”
Here are some other areas that have experienced “explosive growth” in recent years:
- 2-3 million enslaved sex workers. At the height of what we call the “slave trade” 80,000 people were trafficked per year. Today, the US State Department estimates as many as 10 times that number annually trafficked into enslavement in the sex trade.
- Or how about the DRC? Some estimates range as high as 50% of the female population has been raped. Note that phrasing – “female population.” That’s deliberate so as to include girls as young as three. The UN claimed that 90% of females over the age of three were victims of rape during the civil war there. Even if that estimate is 200% overstated that is still savagery in its extreme, explosive growth in the use of rape as a tool and means of war.
- What has changed for the Dalit – the “untouchables” – of India?
By now, the point should be clear. Despite the “explosive growth” of the church around the world, there has been a corresponding and exponential response of outright evil. The point of this post isn’t to try to untangle the “why” of it; rather it is to suggest that the evangelical community simply dispense with the language of “explosive growth” for it just simply puts the focus in the wrong place.
A researcher I know sums it up by decrying the “outlier effect” in many ministries. Because the fundraising wheel depends on dramatic stories of life-change, program design starts to shift towards the edge of the bell-curve in order to produce more stories like the last one that just set a new high-water mark for net income. But what of the people under the vast middle space of the bell curve? Are we paying attention to their growth? Maturity? Their development?
That’s the problem with the “explosive growth” lingo. We become what we measure, despite all our protestation to the contrary.
The evangelical movement was alive and growing in 1780’s England. Much dissension existed between the establishment church and those motivated by their understanding of Scripture to undo establishment practices – especially the slave trade. This was an era of great leaders – most commonly known were the two Williams (Wilberforce and Pitt). But many others stepped into the fray, and as a result of their deep study of Scripture and application of it in the here and now, the church experienced growth. And the practice and trade of slavery ended throughout the British Empire. Peacefully.
For many – including myself – the hinge-point of Lausanne was the delivery of a single sentence that sums up this duality reality. “Christians,” John Piper offered, “care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.” If we object to a perceived emphasis on either of these two aspects, he went on, we have either a defective heart or a defective view of hell.
At great risk, I paraphrase the Archbishop: “Evil is too strong for a church divided between do and tell.” Evil is too strong for a defective heart, or a defective view of hell.
Note: many of the statistics are compiled from “Half the Sky” (Kristof and WuDunn)