Evaluation of the Global Christian Forum 1998 – 2007
by the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, United Kingdom
Excerpt of the Report, pages 3 to 9, Executive Summary
1. In January 2008 OCMS was invited by Global Christian Forum (GCF) to tender for an evaluation of GCF, to be done by October 2008. This report is the result of that evaluation.
2. A case study evaluation method was used, with a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. It has sought to answer questions such as; What is the GCF? Who is the GCF? How has it been managed? What has it done? Why has it done it? What has worked well and what has been less satisfactory? What has been achieved? and What are the possible, and the preferable, ways forward?
3. Data has been collected from a number of sources.
Copies of the GCF papers have been provided by the Secretariat, including minutes of all the Continuation Committee meetings and their membership, reports of the different Consultations, lists of the participants at the Nairobi Forum, various Action Plans, a report of the Story of GCF written by Hubert van Beek, various background papers from early stages of the GCF process, along with a full set of management papers and financial statements for GCF. Hubert van Beek, at the Secretariat, has always provided these background papers, and answers to any specific requests, with enormous efficiency.
Information has also been derived from the book Global Christian Forum, Transforming Ecumenism ed. Richard Howell, the GCF publicity brochure One faith, many voices, and the GCF website. Other information has been found from reports and comments on GCF on different pages on the web. The story of GCF and its management structure have been reported in Chapters 2, 3 and 6, and Appendix Ab.
The Continuation Committee has been at the heart of GCF through out its life, and its members are a prime source of personal data about GCF. A qualitative questionnaire was designed and sent to each member of the Continuation Committee to establish their perception of and aspirations for GCF. Their responses have been analysed and reported in Chapter 4.
The largest GCF gathering, and the culmination of its nine years of existence, was held at Limuru, in Nairobi, at the end of 2007. A second questionnaire was designed, influenced by the responses to the first questionnaire and the information gathered to date, and sent to the 236 attendees at this Forum (excluding those from Central and Southern America who had a separate evaluation).
Their responses have been analysed and reported in Chapter 5.
A series of questions was specifically addressed to the secretariat concerning the Management Structure of GCF; questions relating to the personnel, the structures and office arrangements, and the financial arrangements. These answers have provided the basis for an analysis and evaluation of the management arrangement supporting GCF’s programme in Chapter 6.
3. A series of questions was specifically addressed to the secretariat concerning the Management Structure of GCF; questions relating to the personnel, the structures and office arrangements, and the financial arrangements. These answers have provided the basis for an analysis and evaluation of the management arrangement supporting GCF’s programme in Chapter 6.
4. OCMS has enjoyed working with GCF in this evaluation and would welcome the opportunity of working further with GCF on the important underlying issues of ecumenism which are currently arising.
These conclusions have been based on an analysis of the data received in the evaluation.
The Global Christian Forum (GCF) has been a very remarkable and worthwhile initiative which has sought to introduce a new sort of ecumenism. It has sought to bring together leaders of all the main Christian traditions, from the South and the North, so that they might meet together, have fellowship together, learn more about each other, and thus build up trust and relationships in a non-threatening environment. In this aim GCF has succeeded. This in itself is a remarkable achievement and well worth pursuing further.
GCF has brought together leaders from the traditional Protestant churches and the Orthodox Churches (who had traditionally been involved with ecumenical activities) with leaders from the Pentecostal, the Roman Catholic, the Evangelical and the newer African churches (who had been cautious about ecumenical endeavours in the past). It has been successful in getting Pentecostals, especially, and Evangelicals involved. It has been less successful getting, keeping, the Orthodox church leaders and the Roman Catholics as fully involved.
GCF deliberately aimed to build up relationships and trust, and was not concerned with any form of structural unity or discussion of doctrine. It saw itself as a process, even a methodology, and not as an organisation. It aimed to ‘journey together’ rather than to achieve an end-point. This approach, in line with the current post-modernism in society, has been effective in keeping Christians from quite different traditions, and beliefs, in harmony. This has been effective in avoiding dissention through into the Nairobi Forum. Whilst some believed that GCF should ‘have gone deeper’ in theological discussion this would have put such harmony under strain.
This ‘process’ approach meant that an evaluation of what was actually achieved was not possible. Meeting together at the GCF meetings to develop relationships became an end in itself where the question of ‘what are we meeting for?’ was not asked. There were some, both within the committee and at the Forum, who would have liked GCF to have addressed issues relating to strengthening mission and being of more effective service to the world.
The Purpose Statement stated that GCF should ‘create an open space wherein representatives from a broad range of churches and inter-church organisations, which confess the triune God and Jesus Christ as perfect in His divinity and humanity, can gather together to foster mutual respect, to explore and address together common challenges.’ GCF has been successful for over 250 Christians from over 24 different churches and 18 different inter-church organisations in fulfilling the first part of this purpose, to gather together to foster mutual respect. It has not been successful in the final phrase, to explore and address together common challenges.
Though one of the aims of GCF was to be more global, universal in its geographical coverage, and more representative of the South where the Christian Church is most active and growing fastest, the leadership of GCF still appears to be rather Euro-centric, still very much lead by the ‘old world.’ This may be partly due to the secretariat being based in Geneva and the global leadership of many of the churches being based in the ‘West’. The growing, thriving churches in Asia, South America and Africa are under-represented on the Continuation Committee. SE Asia and China, especially, are under-represented.
The original aim of GCF was to hold a global Forum within two years: in reality it took nine years since the programme was conceived in Bossey, 1998. However the setting up in sequence of preparatory regional meetings for Asia, Africa, Europe and South America and the Caribbean, and then the main global Forum in Nairobi, took much longer than anticipated – partly because of the tiny size of the secretariat, one person working largely without secretarial assistance. In retrospect, the committee believe that the longer time span was beneficial in developing a ‘way of working’ and building up relationships. Nine years is a short time in church history. Never-the-less our judgement is that given more organisational resources, a shorter time span would have been preferable for building up and maintaining momentum.
There has been one consultation meeting in each of the four regions. It would be hoped that such consultation would lead to further self-motivated networking in each region, to carry forward the GCF vision without further input from the secretariat. It seems that this has happened to some extent in Asia and in South America. The development of such self-sustaining Forum in each region will be a test of the success of GCF.
The GCF has been taken forward by a tiny secretariat, one remarkable man working part-time out of his ‘office’ in Geneva, supported by a Consultative Committee. This committee has consisted of about ten men and women representing the different Church traditions, regions and gender. All are volunteers and are working full time in responsible and demanding jobs for their employing body. This volunteer nature of the committee has been helpful in that they have been fully in touch with other Christian leaders in their tradition and are thus influential there, but it has the problem that they do not have the time to help significantly with the running of GCF. Though the committee have very different perceptions in many ways, they all share the GCF vision both in their personal and professional lives. They form a network which has wide contacts in the ecumenical fields. The commitment and consistency of the core members of the committee over the nine years of GCF has been impressive. There is, however, a predominance of people from the ‘old world’ traditions in Christianity. There will be a need of replenishing the committee with more representation from the newer churches in the South if it is truly to engage with the churches in the developing world.
The organisation, maintenance and existence of GCF has depended almost exclusively on one man, Hubert van Beek. He has been the GCF. The dependence of GCF on this one, remarkable man can not be over-emphasised. His retirement from GCF in 2009 will indeed be a watershed. Both the role and the resourcing of the secretariat and leadership of GCF will determine how, and whether, GCF continues.
GCF is indeed at a watershed. Having become established and delivered its first main objective in the Nairobi Forum, and with the staffing of the founding secretariat about to change, the question of whether GCF wants to ‘continue as before’ or to consolidate into a more secure ‘structure’ will need to be faced. This is the challenge for the Continuation Committee.
The members of the Continuation Committee and those attending the Nairobi Forum are the people, the leaders of the Churches, who constitute and who are the targets of GCF. Their views as revealed by the research questionnaire are thus absolutely vital in considering the future for GCF, the way that GCF should develop. They strongly assert that GCF had been successful and should continue.
Of the 21 possible ways forward, six were rated as most, as very, important. Primarily, they wished to maintain the GCF process, a relational process of working, avoiding any large bureaucratic structures and they wished to continue the open-ended journey in the open space to see how God will bring His Church together – to continue working as before. They wished to support/promote regional organisations to prosper GCF type activities in their own regions – to develop regionally. They wished to promote, through publications and the media, the GCF vision and to continue to build relationships between Christians of different traditions at the organisational level –to promote, advocate GCF to church organisations. And they wished to organise a series of global and regional Forum, like the Nairobi one – to hold meetings.
The organisation and management of GCF has been deliberately ‘light’. Every one involved has resolved that it shall not become ‘an organisation.’ It has no legal structure, nor any board of governors to whom it is accountable. It is based on competence, good judgement and personal integrity of all those involved. It has been supported financially by donors from 28 churches and inter-church organisations, on a day-to day, ‘begging’ basis. All the donors are from the North, the vast majority from the ‘old world’ protestant, ecumenical organisations and churches. Whilst recognising the wisdom of not wanting to become too organisational, our judgement is that the current structure is too light and that if GCF is to survive, even to develop, then it needs greater staffing, more accountable management and sounder financing.
The climax of the GCF process has been the Nairobi forum, which was reckoned to be a great success by those who attended it. In the two main objectives of the Forum, to develop relationships and to foster mutual respect, there was a very strong feeling among the attendees that it had succeeded. It attracted 226 leaders, from each of the main Christian traditions and, judging by the number of Archbishops, Bishops, and General Secretaries present, it achieved its aim of attracting influential leaders at the very highest level. It consciously aims at influencing the leaders of the churches and inter-church organisations, it is up to them to disseminate the GCF vision to its lay members. This group is the appropriate target, but it necessarily limits the public influence of GCF – it is a top-down strategy.
One of the great successes of each of the consultations and the Forum has been the time spent when each person shares the story of ‘their personal journey’ with God. These times, though time consuming, have been unanimously found to be humbling and inspirational, and of enormous value in helping to realise the important commonality and reality of each others Christian experience. This, above all, has been most important in developing mutual respect and trust, and to build up relationships.
Perhaps the greatest weakness in the GCF has been the limited communication of their vision to the wider Christian world. They have communicated through personal contact, through periodic newsletters and press releases, through the distribution of a pamphlet flier, through the distribution of a book about the Global Christian Forum, and through a web site. Though this evaluation did not seek to find how far the work of GCF has penetrated the Christian world, or has been an act of witness to the outside world, personal enquiries to a random sample of church leaders suggest that this communication has not been effective and that the GCF is unknown among the church as a whole. However, in so far as GCF is not aiming to communicate directly with the Christian world as a whole, but to the leadership of the different Christian traditions, this awareness of GCF by the church as a whole is not unsurprising, or inappropriate. If a greater direct influence was hoped for among the church as a whole, then a less top-down approach would be needed.
Early approaches to ecumenism have sought to bring Christians together in some form of doctrinal and ecclesiastical unity. The GCF have developed a different, a distinctive, approach where Christians from different traditions have been brought together in a non-threatening context, to develop personal relationships and trust through sharing their own personal spiritual journeys. This has been effective. But should it be an end in itself? There is another, a third, approach to ecumenism in which Christians from different traditions come together to work together on common tasks in service to the needs and the needy in Gods world. The GCF will need to consider whether they are satisfied with the second approach or whether they would want to move into the third, an organic, approach to ecumenism, where the churches are encouraged to work together in the Lord’s service.
The number of those directly interacting with the GCF process has inevitably been small, less than 500 people, and the task that it has set itself, bringing together the whole of Christendom across the whole world, enormous. The team so far working for this vision is tiny, as indeed is the resourcing. The differing historical traditions and mistrust between the different branches of Christendom remain enormous problems. The aim of GCF might be seen as quixotic! However, where there are such men and women as the GCF committee seeking to answer Jesus’ prayer that ‘they may be one as we are one’ then the work of GCF must be encouraged and supported.
On consideration of the data and the conclusions above the following recommendations are made to GCF and its Continuation Committee. The recommendations have deliberately been written in strong terms, so that they may sharpen the debate on the underlying issues that the Committee will need to confront. It is hoped that, in this way, they will provoke further constructive debate within GCF and be helpful to them in reaching the most appropriate action as GCF moves into the future.
The Secretariat and the members of the Continuation Committee should quietly and humbly congratulate themselves on what they have achieved through the GCF in the past decade, and give thanks to the Lord whom they have served and in whose strength they have achieved such positive achievements.
The committee should seek to review, to re-establish, to sharpen and re-focus, its aim and vision, and modify where appropriate. In particular, should it be aiming at the churches’ leadership only or to the Christian world as a whole? Should it be aiming to develop relationships and trust only or seek to take the church leaders onto more corporate acts of witness, of service, of mission and of tackling the world’s problems? Our recommendation, in view of the limited resources likely for the work of the GCF, is that GCF should focus exclusively on the leadership of the churches, and that its prime aim should be about building relationships and trust there. Any secondary aims, such as presenting a common Christian witness to the world or seeking to tackle the spiritual and physical needs of God’s world, good and important though they are, should be left to other agencies within the churches.
Underlying the aim of the GCF should be an organic view of ecumenism, in which the churches witness to, and work together in God’s service for the good of, His needy and suffering world. It should not concern itself with a structural form of doctrinal and ecclesiastical unity. It should accept and welcome differences among those who recognise and worship the triune God and Jesus as their Saviour and Lord, and should readily work and worship together.
GCF should seek to build constructive relationships between the leaders of the different church traditions in three ways; by holding global forum once a decade, by holding regional or national forum more regularly, and by personal networking at both the global and the regional levels.
The GCF vision should also be pursued among church leaders at the Regional level. The original GCF pattern of working, with a volunteer co-ordinator and supporting committee representing the main church traditions in the region, should be encouraged there. Its aim would be to develop good working relationships between the regional and local leaders and to hold periodic regional, high profile forum.
Whilst the Continuation Committee has been effective in the past it should be modified in three ways. 1. Its role should be explicitly as a Steering Committee, and should be renamed as such. 2. Its membership should be as representatives of the different Church traditions, who should be approached specifically to make appointments as their representatives, though ad hominem suggestions could be made from the secretariat. 3. Its membership should seek to be more geographically representative, especially from the South and from SE Asia. It would be the committee to which the GCF staff would be accountable.
The main, global direction should remain under the guidance of a steering / continuation committee. The actual physical location of the central committee is less important in these days of electronic communication, than the appointment of the ‘right person’, where-ever in the world they live and work. It should be located where the principle staff is living, with consideration given to where the key church leaders and ‘gatekeepers’ are to be found. It should communicate electronically and meet as a committee at the same time and place as one of the regional meetings. Any office should be a ‘virtual’, electronic office.
Whilst it is possible that the ‘genius’ of GCF could continue unstructured and uninhibited by formal organisational structures, and the GCF Continuation Committee should seriously consider that possibility, it is our judgement that it will be better served by moving into a consolidation phase with a more secure organisational structure, though keeping that as light, apolitical and sensitive as possible.
As the GCF is moving from its conception and implementation phase to its consolidation phase, the staffing, and the role of the staff, should be reconsidered appropriately. A minimum of two full time equivalent, paid staff are required. The role of the staffing should be a) as an ‘ambassador’ to further the GCF vision and b) as a supporting secretariat.
The CEO of the GCF should have the ambassadorial role, with the prime brief of promoting the GCF vision to Church leaders and ‘gatekeepers’ through networking and personal contact. This should be a full time, paid appointment, though it would be possible, perhaps even desirable, to have a job share with two GCF ambassadors working part-time, alongside another part-time job, in different regions of the world.
A paid secretariat alongside the CEO should be appointed, probably at the same location as the CEO. Again, this might be a spilt appointment if the ambassadorial post was split.
Regional committees should be set up in each of the regions to prosper the GCF vision and arrange regional forum. These should be voluntary, focussed on a volunteer co-ordinator, containing at least one person from each of the main church traditions who would represent and be supported by their employing church organisation. Other members might represent inter-church organisations.
A programme of Global and Regional Forum should be planned, possibly about once every five years.
The GCF should produce a regular Newsletter, both electronically and in hard copy, aimed at the leadership within the main church traditions and inter-church organisations. This would necessitate the appointment of a Director of Communication, probably available on a voluntary basis. Such a Director of Communication would be a member of the Continuation Committee and have responsibility for the GCF website. The existing book, Global Christian Forum; Transforming Ecumenism, and the brochure One Face, Many Voices, should remain as an excellent basis for informing folk about GCF, and should be promoted more.
Any organisational structures should be kept ‘light’, a Steering Committee (evolving from the old Continuation Committee) representing each of the main Church traditions and some inter-church and ecumenical organisations should suffice. Such a committee would not only guide and support the GCF in its policy but would ensure that their parent bodies took some responsibility for its affairs, both legally and financially. The accounts of the GCF should be audited regularly.
Though the finances of the GCF should remain modest, a budget should be set up for the next five years, to pay for the staffing (one fte Ambassador post, one fte Administrative support), and the expenses necessary to run the secretariat, the travel and accommodation. Separate budgets should be set up for the regional and global Forums. A Director of Finances should be appointed, and be a member of the Continuation Committee. This post should be honorary, with expenses paid.
When the budget has been developed, probably in the order of $250k per year, funding should be sought from the different Church traditions and denominations, and also from the inter-church organisations and Christian NGOs. Regional budgets should seek funding largely, but not exclusively, from their regional church organisations. Those supporting the Nairobi Forum should be the first to be approached. Donors should also be sought from Asia, especially, and the developing churches in the South, as financial commitment also produces support and involvement.
Whilst Hubert van Beek will, thankfully, remain in post until the end of 2009, his priorities should be in building up the Steering Committee representation from the different main Church traditions and Inter-church organisations, and their financial commitment, & encouraging regional committees around selected Regional Co-ordinators.