While I could spend hours on why this conference has decreased in visible influence, i would instead like to interact with a critique C. Rene Padilla had of the conference in South Africa. It was helpfully translated at the Suburban Christian. Dr. Padilla's critiques as a whole are not new. In fact i've heard variations of this theme for some time. But it seems to be ignored by the West or simply not acted upon. Why? Don't get me started ;)
However he makes two critiques that are starting to become an issue. A. The West/North America are ignorant of unreached people groups in their midst. B. The wealth of the West and its dichotomy between evangelism and social justice.
Lets tackle A. This is a very salient critique. I was at Urbana last year and most all the booths concentrated either on missions overseas or on urban/poverty missions. Most everyone was portrayed as the other (read "not middle-class americans"). But here's what Padilla is picking up on, "Missions in American are not viewed as reaching out to unreached people groups, but instead are cast as social justice missions." The question for further pondering and research is "why".
I have a few good guesses. Guess #1 it is generally assumed that everyone who lives here has been exposed in some form or another to Christianity. Which of course raises the question of whether or not they have truly been 'reached'. Guess #2 'Urban Ministry' just sounds sexier than 'Mission to unreached people poor people in the urban ghetto'. Which brings me to Guess #3 White Guilt. Simply put, because white people feel guilty about their wealth and history they are working out that guilt by participating in Urban Ministry. Let me be clear i'm not knocking their work or ministry, because if God's in it, then its valuable. But I do think what Padilla's critique is pointing out, is that our lack of creativity and purposeful ignorance about the situation in our own backyard is hindering/impeding the spread of the gospel and partnership within the body of Christ.
Which brings me to B. Wealth and Dichotomy. Yes there's alot of wealth in the West, but that wealth is starting to fade or be transferred to places like China/India. The problem isn't the wealth but the dichotomy between evangelism and social justice. If we had a better theology of wealth and how to use it best serve God instead of how to preserve your piece of the pie then the current dichotomy would not exist. In order to understand where and why of the dichotomy between evangelism and social justice you have to have a working knowledge of the history of evangelicalism in America, about which most Christians today are completely ignorant. I dont have enough space or time for that, so i'll just recommend some George Marsden for those who really care ;)
However the upshot is that many Americans are unwilling to critically look at their culture and their evangelical theology and see how it continues to entrap people into cycles of poverty and alienate them from the church. In the 70's and 80's political conservatism and theological conservatism became deeply entwined, much to the deficit of both groups. This entanglement has further alienated unreached people groups and drove deeper the wedge between faith and justice.
A further issue is the change in the way missions were funded in the 20th century. With the rise of para-church institutions missionary work became an individual calling and endeavor. With the seal of Holy Spirit approval being ones ability to fundraise their own support. What this has done is left the work of evangelism to the well connected and wealthy. I come from a culture where fundraising is viewed as begging. If i were to visit churches and ask for money, my family would be deeply ashamed. So even though i have much to contribute, there is no opening for me to serve under this model of missions. Yet we cling to this paradigm, even in these hard times.
I didn't go to Lausanne, i'm only just beginning to sort through some of their documents. But until we have another movement that will change the paradigm for missions and theology like the ones the rocked the 20th century, conference like Lausanne will have little impact in the West and other parts of the world.