Lessons Learned from the Global Workplace Forum
I recently returned from the Global Workplace Forum, a conference hosted in Manila by the Lausanne Movement. Started in 1974 by John Stott and Billy Graham, the Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization gathered people from around the world; last week, 850 leaders from 109 different countries met to discuss the next phase of the global missions movement: the activation of the workplace as the central arena of God’s mission in the world.
The highlight was meeting the people* sitting at my table, a small group that discussed the larger live sessions. My table was gloriously diverse:
- Jonathan is from India and works in a sports ministry. Because of increased persecution of Christians in India under a Hindu nationalist government, Jonathan shared about his worry for his family, but also said “We’re 100% committed to bringing the gospel to our country.” He plays cricket, hosts a youth group in his home, and humbly serves God in a 650 square-foot flat with his wife and three children, one of whom is an adopted 19-year-old.
- Solomon works in sports broadcasting in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is pursuing his MBA at the Rome Business School during the evenings. He is also a correspondent for BBC World Service and started a project called 70 Christian Heroes, a book that highlights South Africans courageously serving Christ in their daily lives.
- Dennis is an architect living outside Kampala, Uganda. He shared the story about a contractor offering a $30,000 bribe to recommend the contractor’s company for a large project. Dennis turned it down, saying “That would compromise my Christian witness. I already made the decision before I started in this field what I would and would not do.”
- Alex is the owner of a digital marketing company based in Hong Kong. He shared the story of Protestants in Hong Kong leading the way in the peaceful protests against a controversial extradition bill, singing “Hallelujah to the Lord” along with millions of protesters.
- Dyan is a Pilates instructor from Manila whose husband works at a church. She longs for the church to acknowledge the importance of her work as a genuine ministry outside either her home or her church.
At the Global Workplace Forum, I met a tech entrepreneur from Puerto Rico working on energy solutions for his country and a payment platform that can help fund missions work. I met the CTO of a technology firm based in Moscow who works in Norway and the U.S., adopted a child, and shared with me his perspective on the 2014 annexation of Crimea. I met a French national who told me “You won, but we played better” regarding the U.S. women’s soccer defeat of the French team, which took place during the conference. I met a Sri Lankan who was studying at Yale, the CEO of the world’s largest Bible translation organization, and a Peruvian economist and lawyer who’s considering whether to run for Congress in Peru or follow his wife to the U.S. as she pursues an advanced degree. I even heard a story of a Turkish national who became a Christian while studying to become a Muslim cleric.
The idea of “work” is dizzyingly complex and exhilarating at the same time. Truly, God’s people touch every single aspect of culture!
I spoke as part of a panel that explored solutions for how the global church can activate the faith of the 99% of Christians who don’t work occupational ministry jobs, like pastors or missionaries. The panel facilitator had a PhD in electrical engineering from Canada. The other panelists included a clinical psychologist who works outside Nairobi and counsels victims of genocide; a Filipino-American woman who works in international expansion of Apple stores around the world and is helping to start faith-based employee resource groups; and a man who works with nomadic tribes in Kyrgyzstan.
The experience in Manila was enlightening on many fronts. Here are a few things I took away from the event:
1) I share more in common with other believers from across the globe than I do with my own non-Christian next-door neighbors. It was a fascinating experience to hear the story of Dmitry, a Christian entrepreneur in Moscow. When he shared about his faith, his family, and his work, I immediately felt at home. He has the same challenges with his kids, the same concerns about his government, and the same struggles with what it meant to be a Christ-follower in his industry. It was almost odd how Christians from across the globe share a common language, common ethos, and common mission.
A.W. Tozer said that Christians are like pianos tuned to the same tuning fork. Not only are we tuned to the same tuning fork, but we’re also tuned to each other. This describes my exact experience at the Forum, and I felt swept into something much bigger than my nationality, my culture, or even my own work.
2) Globally, the workplace is becoming a commonly accepted paradigm for a new era of missions. In the past, missionaries would raise support for years, find a ministry job abroad, and work with locals to execute that plan. Today, more people are seeing this as a dying model; taking your job with you as a missionary makes far more sense. Instead of quitting your job to become a missionary, more people are keeping their job and become physicians, entrepreneurs, or teachers both at home and abroad while still being on mission.
The acceptance of this paradigm of work as a missionary endeavor is not simply an American phenomenon; it’s taking root in the global missions movement across countries.
3) The conversation is still too biased toward executives. The programming was utterly wonderful, yet several people approached me and said, “Why are we just speaking to business leaders here?” The question for the next season of this movement will be: how do we apply the gospel to the work of hourly wage earners – housekeepers, janitors, book printers, and millions of other working-class jobs?
4) Work is immensely broad. Before the Global Workplace Forum, I never considered work to include activities like the work of nomadic tribesmen in Kyrgyzstan! When we speak about shaping our workplaces as Christians, we are truly talking about global culture and every issue in the modern world, ranging from climate change to human trafficking to artificial intelligence. We covered each of these topics, and more, throughout the week.
5) English is the language of global commerce. Imagine my surprise when I went to a conference with attendees from 110 difference countries, and they all spoke my language! I expected wide linguistic gaps. Though there were interpreters at the conference, it made me appreciate that technology has connected the world; in many ways, we share one global culture. We have more opportunities than ever before to learn from others who are serving God from Italy to Uzbekistan. It led me to a greater sense of responsibility as we produce short courses and podcasts that are now being consumed around the world.
6) I need to build deeper relationships with friends from other cultures. I met one couple, Emanuel and Bianca, who are real estate developers in Romania. As they shared about creating community through new housing developments, I was struck that my wife and I could easily be friends with them if they lived in Colorado. After I came home, I committed to downloading WhatsApp, the global medium for texting and chatting across cultures, staying in touch with friends from abroad, and working to diversify our conversation about the gospel and our culture in Colorado.
Being abroad and meeting new friends made me realized that we have much to gain and learn from our brothers and sisters around the world. It’s time to embrace Lausanne’s motto: “the whole church bringing the whole gospel to the whole world.”
*Editor’s note—Some names have been changed.