I never expected that at a global conference in Turkiye called the Future of the Gospel Forum, I would be captivated by a Malaysian who had gone to England early in his life to earn a PhD in micro-biochemistry and ended up running a global fund that seeks to fight poverty.
Amidst about 250 church leaders, mission organizational representatives and specialists in missiology from 61 countries, Kim Tan surprised us all by his clear resolve to motivate major global funds to invest in businesses that are socially transformative and sustainable. For example, he took 40,000 acres and transformed it into the Kuzuko Game Reserve in South Africa, with a vision to bring employment, societal renewal, profitable business, and human improvement to the area.
The Future of the Gospel Forum, an international meeting of Evangelicals on issues facing the church, was designed by Samuel Chiang, the WEA’s deputy secretary general for ministries. A Canadian from Hong Kong now living in Dallas, Chiang assembled speakers and participants with the goal of helping participants examine what new initiatives and creative approaches are developing in evangelism and discipleship, as well as on pressing issues such as our engagement with secular culture.
Each morning began with a message on a topic one would not readily associate with such a gathering: neuroscience and understanding the brain’s role in how we go about making disciples. Jim Wilder, who had been mentored by Dallas Willard, led these morning sessions in which he pointed to ways of seeing how brain science and Christian ministry are helpful in guiding people towards transformation in Christ.
The very timing of this event was momentous. It began the day after Hamas invaded southern Israel, murdering civilians, and pouring fuel on a long-simmering conflict in the Middle East. Even so, the topic of the forum was apt. In the last six decades, the evangelical movement has grown in unprecedented ways. But history doesn’t stand still.
Celebrating that growth does nothing for tomorrow. We are now caught up in wars that we could never have imagined two years ago. We’re in discussions about perceptions of sexual identity that boggle my mind as I attempt to decipher the new definitions and acronyms that splash their way across public media. Swirling issues of justice, poverty, new forms of artificial intelligence, capital markets, conflicts and wars, and sabre-rattling on many fronts, to name only a few contemporary trends, are defining this age. In many ways, it is a challenging time for our movement.
As I accessed the value of this event, I moved among friends, and felt the evident joy first in being together, and then in having this opportunity to engage on critical issues. So, with that, here is my take, seeing these days within a larger context.
The WEA’s role is to encourage unity in prayer and witness among evangelicals including global advocacy for the persecuted, connecting denominations, ministries, countries, and regions, and training national leaders. But with the unprecedented growth of evangelicals into diverse movements, often divided, the challenge to create and generate unity is great.
Let me connect that task to what has been developing within the WEA. In the past two and a half years, our new leadership team has been overseeing national alliances in over 140 countries. This happened smack in the middle of a pandemic that cut out face-to-face contact. Although Zoom meetings can facilitate information exchange, nothing replaces sitting with each other in dialogue, debate, and deep intercessory prayer. Yes, the Spirit is with us online, but there is a palpable dynamic at play when we meet together.
And that is why the Future of the Gospel Forum matters so much. As I moved from table to table, as I sat in on plenary sessions and workshop meetings, or at mealtimes, I felt a new momentum, a movement of the human spirit being overshadowed by God’s Spirit. I heard about new ideas. I saw people working with creative synergy on the issues we are facing. You never know what the Spirit will do when his people come together.
Which brings me back to Kim Tan. I didn’t expect to hear a Malaysian schooled in biochemistry who had altered his life course to embody the holistic mission of Christ. I heard from missiologists and church leaders whose insights were so critical. But Kim Tan’s practical example was a startling reminder of how the Spirit superintends Christ’s church in many ways and speaks to us through humble, unknown individuals who we might not have planned to travel halfway around the world to hear.
Brian C. Stiller
Global Ambassador, The World Evangelical Alliance
Author: Brian Stiller