This new week might well bring about one of the most important ministry opportunities I’ve every been asked to lead as the president of the ACT3 Network. I referred to a public part of this opportunity in a blog I posted a few weeks ago. Today I would like to tell you much more and ask, with great earnestness, for your prayers. On April 18 we convene the first-ever Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation, to be held here in the Chicago area. Today I share more of how this event came about and why I desperately need your prayer for me and all who attend.
In March of 2010 my book, Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church (Zondervan), was released. At the time it was published I understood that it would never be a big-seller. I also knew that it had incredible potential to touch lives and to bring about small changes that could have wide-scale consequence. I never imagined how my story would unfold through the book but felt that God would guide me in a new direction, one in which faith would be required in ways I had never previously known.
When the book was released ACT3 held a local book launch event at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. We had a response to the book from an Orthodox priest, a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister. I gave an overview and explained why I wrote the book and we took questions from the audience. My friend Chris Castaldo moderated the evening very well. We drew a wonderful crowd and it was a fun evening. Then there was a rash of blogs and reviews of the book over the next few months. Following these first months, after the March release, the book stopped selling in significant numbers and went “underground” in terms of popular response. (Thankfully, most of the blogs and reviews were very positive and kind.)
All of the above did not surprise me. I have written/edited twelve books. Only one or two have sold what might be considered “good” numbers. Most authors know this reality thus very few of us write “best-sellers” as much as we might hope for that to happen. Published authors write because they feel “called” to write (e.g., gifted, energized, empowered). They write because they have something to say! I am presently working on another book but can’t say much more about it other than that it will deal with love, both God’s love for us and our love for God and others. In many ways this next book should have been written before Your Church Is Too Small. You might say that it is a prequel to my book on unity in mission. I have a sequel in mind as well, a book on radical friendship. I believe all three connect deeply–love, unity and friendship.
The great surprises that came from Your Church Is Too Small really began in the fall of 2010. One development, which I have related here in the past, was an invitation to go to Rome for a ten-day visit in March of 2011. This visit came directly through the publication of the book. Another surprise came when Rev. Jeff Gokee, the executive director of our (now) partner mission PhoenixONE, read the book and reached out to form a deep friendship with me. This friendship led me to a deep friendship with Rev. David Hickman, executive director of CharlotteONE and the CityONE Network. These two dynamic leaders are impacting thousands of urban millennials, the unreached generation. My book became a theological story that empowered these leaders and many who serve around them. Several other leaders also read the book and this too led to some partnerships that you can read about at ACT3 Network.
In April of 2011 I was asked to attend the annual meeting of the Mission America Coalition, which that year met in Orlando. My partner, the Acton Institute, wanted me to network with the growing movement called Marketplace Theology. I went to this meeting to represent Acton, something I still do quite often. There in Orlando I met Dr. Doug Birdsall, the executive director of the Lausanne Movement. (Doug is now the CEO of the American Bible Society in New York.) I gave Doug my book and shared with him about my recent trip to the Vatican. I explained that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) was very warmly impressed with the work of Lausanne and that their representative, who had been present at Cape Town in October 2010 when Lausanne held its last global meeting, really wanted to see more dialogue between global evangelical Protestantism and the Vatican. Doug humbly listened to my words. Many months passed and then I was asked to serve on a small Lausanne Committee on Catholic and Evangelical Conversation. We met by conference call over several months. I was then asked to serve as the Liaison for Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation. We began to plan our first gathering. This Thursday–Saturday, April 18-20, a group of twenty-seven leaders convenes at the University of St. Mary of the Lake at Mundelein, Illinois. (This is the seminary of the archdiocese of Chicago.)
While all of the above was unfolding a friend gave Cardinal George a copy of my book. He not only read it but wrote to ask me to visit him at his residence in Chicago. That visit took place in August of 2011. This eventually led to our public conversation on unity in Christ’s mission held on March 26, 2012, on the campus of Wheaton College. This event is available on video at our website. Through these beneficent providence’s Cardinal George has become a trusted friend and ally. With his complete support the first-ever Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation will take place at Mundelein Seminary. We begin formally at 3:30 p.m. this Thursday. We end at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.
What is the purpose of this gathering?
- To share our stories and get to know one another as real friends. As odd as it might seem we do not plan to write documents but rather to share fellowship, prayer, stories and questions. Lausanne is a movement, not a church. It is a movement focused on global mission. We thus meet to prayerfully consider this as brothers and sisters in Christ.
- We hope to come out of this meeting with real relationships that will prompt further prayer and mission among us. Our group represents six countries and ranges across age and gender differences. We represent a number of different Protestant churches including Pentecostal, mainline and evangelical. We have a healthy representation of leaders who actually reach millennials. We are also a group that is about 35% non-clergy. We will have major theologians in the same circle with non-professional lay men and women. We represent mission organizations like the American Bible Society, Alpha, InterVarsity, Emmaus (a interdenominational mission to homosexual prostitutes founded by a Catholic deacon who is a Wheaton College graduate), The Evangelical Catholic (a mission of discipleship), etc. Some of us are trained missiologists and others are parish pastors and priests.
- Our dream is that a spark of love will grow into a whole web of new friendships that will in turn lead to other such meetings of small groups in various places around the world. The end goal is to work as friends in the harvesting of fruit for the kingdom of God in the making of new disciples. To this end we want to break down walls, build deep trust and learn how to listen to what God is saying at this time in church history.
When we began to plan this event months ago we did not know that Pope Francis would be the Bishop of Rome. The dynamic of this decision will necessarily have an impact on our gathering. Several who will attend, both Catholic and evangelical participants, know the new pope. Some attended his inauguration. We believe he welcomes such a conversation and thus we look forward to discovering what this will mean in the future.
Finally, the opening dialogue this week is on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. You are welcome to attend if you sign up at our web site. (There is no charge.) Fr. Edward Oakes and Dr. Hans Boersma will speak on “Christ Our Center.” Fr. Robert Barron and I will lead a Q & A dialogue. If you live near Chicago please come. If you do not then please pray for all who present and attend. Also, pray for the twenty-seven participants in our conversation. Pray for me as I attempt to faciliate this process and handle numerous administrative duties. Pray for ACT3 Network. Most of the participants in this dialogue are paying their own expenses entirely. There are a few people ACT3 is helping. I have invested a lot of time and work into this event as well. To be very honest about it we need your financial support more than ever. As God opens doors for the gospel through ACT3’s kingdom mission/vision we will need partners who believe in this work who will help us. You can give online and it will make a big difference.