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International Leadership Conference 1980

Summary: This conference marked a pivotal point in our history. Having recognized that global planning from the center was no longer appropriate, we moved to a much more democratic approach by calling together many of our leaders from around the world. It was a radical shift in concept but proved to be only partially successful. Nevertheless, the perspectives that surfaced and the relationships established at the conference served us well during the 1980


“To Unite Hearts and Minds for the 1980s”
Ministry Review of the 1970s
Lorne Sanny’s Strategic Imperatives
Sanny’s Presentation on Authority and Submission
Outcomes of the Conference

“To Unite Hearts and Minds for the 1980s”

Convened in February 1980 at Glen Eyrie, our international leadership conference was the largest and most diverse gathering yet held of our leaders from around the world. The aim was simple: “To further unite our hearts and minds for the 1980s.”

The ground had been well prepared by making 1979 a special year of prayer focused on raising up laborers and leaders. Lorne Sanny’s seven letters to our staff that year were packed with thanksgiving and petitions, and they all ended with a challenging quote from ardent prayer champions such as E. M. Bounds and J. O. Fraser. This emphasis reached a crescendo with a week of prayer in early October. “Never have I been more convinced that the battle is the Lord’s,” wrote Sanny, “or sensed greater dependence on Him for results. As we pray we must be assured of two things: that ‘without me ye can do nothing’ (John 15:5), and that ‘with God all things are possible’ (Mark 10:27).”

The scope of the ILC conference was expressed in a powerful theme taken from the prophet Isaiah. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 43:5-6).

As often happens, there were some who initially resisted the opportunity to participate but, as the scope and significance of the conference became clearer, the climate changed. Some intensive lobbying took place by those who were chagrined that they had not been invited.

LeRoy Eims directed the conference as deputy president. He was ably assisted by Jody Baker. Our principal guest speaker was J. Oswald Sanders, recently retired as the head of Overseas Missionary Fellowship.

Complexity of the Conference

The process and sequence of the conference helps us realize how complex a gathering it was. The 164 participants1 included twenty-one nationalities and notably included twenty-three women. Among the participants, 60 percent (98) were Americans, and 65 percent (106) came from outside the USA. Thirty-six countries were represented.

The structure2 from which the participants were drawn consisted of four divisions:

  • EMA (41) Jim Downing, in five regions
  • LAN (9) Jim Petersen
  • PAN (46) Doug Sparks, in three regions
  • USA (59) Jack Mayhall, in five regions

Canada (five), led by Alan Andrews, also reported directly to Lorne Sanny. We had at that time 1618 staff of twenty-six nationalities, resident in thirty-four countries. We were also active in six countries into which we sustained a traveling ministry.

The conference had an ambitious agenda. It lasted for nineteen days, by which time a measure of exhaustion had set in! Not only were we going to review the 1970s, but we intended to lay out and discuss an overall plan for the 1980s.

Lorne Sanny led sessions on ten mornings, usually followed by working groups charged with developing consensus recommendations. He covered:

  • Fundamentals of the Navigator Ministry (FOM): review
  • The 1970s: ministry review
  • The 1980s: prospects and possibilities
  • The promises of God
  • Strategic global imperatives

Building out from the FOM, he put forward a progression:

  • Focus of the Great Commission: Disciples
    Evangelizing and Establishing
  • Focus of our Aim: Laborers
  • Focus of our Strategy: Navigators

The FOM section on relating3 attracted the most comments. Many participants urged that this be given a higher priority, especially among our younger ministries. Impact, it was argued, depends upon relating. We should not only help our fruit find a church home, but also support them as ongoing laborers. To balance this, there was some concern that the section was slanted toward the need in countries with an evangelical Protestant heritage.

Ministry Review of the 1970s

Next, the ministry review of the 1970s assessed our progress on each of ten variables. The table below (see link) is a selection, showing data for the base year 1969 and the final year 1979, with the annual percent of change:

Table 1: Ministry Review of the 1970

Participants interacted with detailed trends suggested by Sanny’s team. What were the principal influences? The above increase of 247 Reps, for example, comprised 317 appointed and seventy resigned. A sample study of forty-six of the sixty American Reps who had resigned, mainly during the years 1976 to 1979, had diagnosed the reasons as:

  • Philosophy/Calling: 43 percent
  • Ineffective/Immature: 33 percent
  • Personal Reasons: 9 percent
  • Conflict: 6 percent
  • Other: 9 percent

It was evident that the FOM had sharpened the essence of what was expected of Navigators, so that some of our staff realized that their personal callings were not aligned with our collective Aim.4

The 20 percent per annum increase in gift income masks a very challenging environment, especially for American missionaries. President Nixon floated the US dollar in 1971. From then on, the dollar tended to decline in relative value and rates of inflation in almost all our receiving countries outstripped that in the USA, which averaged 7 percent per annum. As a result, our missionaries were frequently caught in a trap. Their dollars bought less of the local currency and, at the same time, the local currency became less valuable.

We ended the decade with more than 68,000 donors.

From the overview of the 1970s, a consensus emerged that our major strengths had included:

  • Thirteen new sending countries
  • Development of the FOM
  • Launch of our community ministry
  • Learning to penetrate the hard places
  • 2:7 Series5
  • 317 new Representatives
  • Emergence of non-American leaders

The major difficulties included:

  • Seventy Representatives resigned
  • Eighty-two missionary Reps returned home
  • Too rapid expansion: seventeen new countries
  • Rising cross-cultural complexities
  • Inflation
  • Low morale, especially around 1976 to 1978

It was clear, Lorne Sanny commented, that we could plan better for five years than for ten.6 Also, we needed to stabilize our leadership and improve our selection of missionaries. Finally, we needed a greater emphasis on talking to rather than about one another.

Many such insights were gathered up and amplified in the priorities that then surfaced from the working groups at the conference:

  • Deepen our emphasis on prayer
  • Develop a comprehensive financial strategy
  • Improve our selection and orientation of missionaries
  • Stabilize our leadership and build relational trust
  • Clarify the roles and contributions of women
  • Develop career plans for our staff, assisting in transitions from collegiate to community
  • Develop a philosophy of cross-cultural missions
  • Keep our focus on laborers, our part in the Great Commission
  • Relate harmoniously to the rest of the Body of Christ

Sanny reminded the participants that we were thinly scattered around a world of more than four billion people. For an agency committed to “every nation,” there was much land to be taken (Joshua 13:1).

Lorne Sanny’s Strategic Imperatives

The conference moved on to respond to as many as sixteen strategic imperatives proposed by Sanny, keyed where relevant to the above priorities and to our conclusions from the experience of the 1970s. At this point, the concept of being a society emerged. Sanny’s seventh draft Imperative stated: “We must have godly, stable, trained, and personalized leadership of staff to be an enabling society (Psalm 78:72).” He defined a society as a voluntary association of individuals for common ends whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another.7

This was the point during the conference at which some ILC participants began to feel overwhelmed by the intricacies of the discussion, especially if English was not their first language. Sanny was asking the working groups to take each of these imperatives and to:

  • Formulate specific action steps to implement them
  • Prioritize the action steps under each imperative
  • Indicate who should be responsible

At the same time, the groups were deliberately shuffled to stimulate mutual challenge. In the synthesis of their responses, we find such comments as: “Our assignment was frustrating . . . overwhelming . . . hard even for country leaders. . . . Many of us cannot project outside our context. . . . We have no wide experience. . . . It is hard to think conceptually.”

Although his presentation on the imperatives was felt to be “the best yet” and there was an expressed desire to hear Sanny more and to interact with him, the cautions nevertheless multiplied. “We may well have reached the limit, as regards international planning in such a large group. It is preferable that we continue with dialogue in our countries. . . . Some of us are hesitant to recommend action steps, lest they be enforced around the world. . . . It is not wise to focus on universal activities. . . . We need to pray more together and to spend more time in the Word, during our final week.”

Nevertheless, there was a rich harvest of action steps flowing from the groups, upon which we could draw during the coming years.

After some rapid reflection and simplification by Sanny and his team, he came back in the final week of the conference with a reduced proposal for seven strategic imperatives.8 These were widely agreed to focus on the most essential requirements for obedience to our Calling. They were supported by five strategic needs which largely addressed recommended future studies such as fundamentals of leadership and a philosophy of missions. Actually, these needs were in part a tactic for compressing the imperatives!

Clearly, it was not practicable in 1980 to proceed with the design of global ministry objectives for the 1980s. The strategic imperatives, understood as global priorities unencumbered by numerical or geographical requirements, would have to suffice as guidelines9 for more detailed planning at every level of our ministry around the world.

These imperatives underwent minor tuning during the early 1980s. One glaring omission had been any reference to the financing of our mission, which soon was highlighted by Jack Mayhall as US director. This then emerged as imperative 8. After a brief and final attempt at some global objectives, we decided instead to add two more imperatives in early 1984: one that pointed more directly to the need for an enabling society and one which committed us to multiplying relevant and reproducible ministries.

Sanny’s Presentation on Authority and Submission

Sanny went on to present to the conference some extensive material which he had developed on the source and limits of Authority. There were, he demonstrated, seven biblical authority/submission relationships. In view of our previous tendency to use “no one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24) as a proof text, it was helpful for Sanny to argue that all persons have more than one authority/submission relationship. Thus, as he was wont to say, “Intelligence is the ability to discern relationships.” Sin produced conflict in our relationships and the Gospel offered the opportunity for reconciliation and surrender. Since self-centeredness is the great problem, self-surrender is the great solution (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 5:21). Therefore, submission to authority comes before the exercise of authority. Submission is disarming, powerful, and Christlike. After applying many scriptures, he ended with a quotation from The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Power is a poison well known for thousands of years. If only no one were ever to acquire material power over others! But to the human who has faith in some force that holds dominion over all of us, and who is therefore conscious of his own limitations, power is not necessarily fatal. For those, however, who are unaware of any higher sphere, it is a deadly poison. For them there is no antidote.

Related to this topic, Sanny concluded his series of conference presentations with teaching on decision-making within The Navigators, which was generally judged to be very helpful. He taught on how we should structure ourselves and how we should make policy and ministry decisions. His basic assumptions were that:

  • The ultimate human authority in The Navigators rests with our Representatives.
  • It is possible and desirable to seek to function as an international team in the 1980s.
  • Countries are our basic structural entity and thus the country leader and his team are our basic unit.
  • Our international coordination comes together in the person of a president.

Drawing from Deuteronomy 1, Acts 1, and Acts 6, he observed that “top-down” alone tends toward tyranny; “bottom up” alone tends toward anarchy; both together tend toward stability. This was rich material, accompanied by applications to decisions at various levels. In this context, also, we collected comments and concerns from the working groups.

Outcomes of the Conference

The conference was profoundly satisfying for Sanny. He described it to our staff as, “Truly a highlight of my life, a dream come true.” He added, “The outstanding time we had together exceeded my fondest hopes. The impact of that conference will be felt for years to come.”

He borrowed from the apostle Paul’s words concerning giving: “Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have” (2 Corinthians 8:11). With palpable excitement, he wrote: “We have a great start on the 1980s. We know God will do his part. If there continues to be a performance on our part, this is going to be an exciting and fulfilling decade of serving Him.”

To what extent did the participants share Sanny’s enthusiasm? To a large degree, they did.10 Of the 164 conference participants, 127 responded to a subsequent survey as follows:

About 5 percent felt that the conference had failed to accomplish its purpose. When asked whether a second international conference should be held, the principal recommendations were that it should be shorter (thirty-one), that there should be more time in small groups (twenty-four), and that it should be held outside the USA (fifteen).

Phrases from some of the participants mirrored Sanny’s positive assessment:11

“Excellent. I thought it was tremendous. Immeasurably refreshing, stimulating and inflaming my inward spirit.”

“It was more than a conference—it was a happening! God is doing a new work in my life and in the Navs—I have great expectations.”

“Organizationally, a brilliant job. Immense care and thoughtfulness communicated. Program content very good, especially Oswald Sanders’s messages.”

“Excellent and memorable conference. Beautiful balance of scheduling in terms of content and timing, including sensitivity to those operating in a second language. Courageous and patient plan on Lorne’s part to be willing to go through such a process with us.”

In the larger framework of our history, this conference can be seen as the transitional point between the centralized strategy of the early 1970s and the locally vibrant journeys that would emerge in our countries from the study process of the Scriptural Roots of our Ministry at the end of the 1980s.

The gathering revealed a relinquishing of numerical targets for the advancement of the Gospel into the nations, yet a residual desire on Sanny’s part to ensure that we stayed on track in terms of our Aim. Our leaders shared this desire, of course, but it was typical of Sanny’s thorough approach to push toward a shared clarity, concisely expressed.

Another feature of the conference was that it was for leaders, invited from around the world.

A gathering of leaders of comparable complexity was not attempted by us until the birth of The Core twenty years later. Even then, we decided that serious participation required two separate events, Cyprus 2001 and Niagara 2002. Out of this emerged our International Leadership Community.

See also articles on:

Global Planning: 1966-1975
Fundamentals of the Navigator Ministry
Our Enabling Global Society
Surge and Stress: Missions in the 1970s
Global Planning: 1976-
The Scriptural Roots of our Ministry
The Approach to The Core

By Donald McGilchrist
2971 words


  1. Average age forty-one years, and 33 percent were cross-cultural missionaries.
  2. EMA: Europe, Middle East and Africa; LAN: Latin America Navigators; PAN: Pacific Areas Navigators. The four divisional directors are shown.
  3. FOM 2, p. 42-46.
  4. The number of women Reps had risen dramatically, from a very low base of five in 1969 to as many as forty-five at the end of the decade.
  5. See article on “Navigators Among the People of God,” which describes the origin and history of the 2:7 Series.
  6. The 1972 “Strategy for the 70s” made detailed projections for ten years.
  7. We see an embryonic commitment to what would be adopted as our architecture of relationships some eight years later.
  8. The imperatives plus imperative 8 on finances were supported by some thirty action steps by the time that our International Leadership Team met in June 1980.
  9. “Dear Staff” letter, 1980-2.
  10. Though it was mentioned by only a few, we realized that we should not have included a fundraising gathering at which our local supporters in Colorado Springs were invited to give to international headquarters. Especially so, in that we asked Aldo Berndt and Gert Doornenbal to give their testimonies, by way of showcasing our ministries outside the US. This came across as rather manipulative; in one sense, it presented them to the local American audience almost as trophies of our “success.”
  11. These comments are broadly reflective of the sixty-three participants who provided written assessments. The few criticisms clustered around too lengthy and too heavy at times.
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