Ten Years In Europe
'We give so much money every year -- as we should -- to mission in the underdeveloped world. Yet we give almost nothing to mission in the first world. We are making a value judgment based on material possession. Revelation 3:20 is very clear: it is possible to have everything materially, but be totally poor before God. That's where Europe is today. People are like sheep without a shepherd.'
In a recent special interview, Mal Fletcher was asked about the particular challenges of life and outreach in Europe, and about what the future holds for this powerful region. This revealing interview looks back on ten years of work across Europe. It throws light on the motivations behind this unique mission to one of the world’s forgotten mission fields. The interview was conducted by Simon Malcolm, of LIFE FM and Memoramedia in Australia.
SM: Good morning. My special guest today is Mal Fletcher. Mal is an internationally acclaimed speaker, author and broadcaster and the director of Next Wave International, a Christian outreach organisation working predominantly across Europe. Mal speaks to audiences all around the world. Welcome Mal, it's great to speak with you.
MF: Thanks Simon, it's great to talk with you again.
SM: When most people think of Europe, they think of a region that’s already Christian. What's your response to that?
MF: Historically, Europe has provided so much of what makes the Christian faith so strong around the world. In fact, for a long time, the terms "Europe" and "Christendom" were almost synonymous.
Friends in Australia and the USA will know that without the sacrifice of European Christians through the centuries, we would not have our rich Christian heritage. Whenever we speak of our great historical heroes of faith, more than 90% of them will be European.
But Europe was also the birthplace of theological liberalism, scientific naturalism and philosophical rationalism. Darwin, Nietzsche and Rousseau were all Europeans. During the so-called Enlightenment, much of European society turned its back on the faith which was at the core of its culture the centuries. It left itself wide open to the kind of emptiness, cultural uncertainty and materialistic greed which led to two world wars -- both started in Europe, by nations which once considered themselves Christian. The same abandonment of faith led to the cold atheism which lay at the heart of communism.
So, Europe has a strong Christian heritage but it is definitely not, in any sense, Christian today. It is secular and considers itself “post-Christian”. There are 250,000 cities, towns and villages in Europe which have no church at all -- of any description!
Europe is as much in need of Christian mission today as our Africa or Southeast Asia. In many ways, it is “pre-Christian” again!
SM: We've been reading and hearing a lot in the news over the past few months about the expansion of the EU and, at the same time, the fact that Europeans can't agree on a constitution for the EU. What's the problem there?
MF: I think a major factor is that Europe has lost its sense of spiritual identity.
The root of the word "culture" is "cult", which refers to the spiritual beliefs or religious practice of a group of people.
So, culture has a spiritual component. It’s that part of Europe’s identity which has been emasculated over the past century. European nations have many differences, but they once at least shared a common sense of being Christian in their core values.
SM: You recently marked your tenth year of operation in Europe. That’s an important milestone. How would you describe the work of Next Wave International, and why do you think it is important that you are there?
MF: Next Wave International is a mission to contemporary cultures, with a special focus on Europe. We believe that too many people in modern, westernised cultures have a very anachronistic view of God and the church. When you say "Christian", they immediately think of songs nobody wants to sing, sermons nobody wants to hear and buildings no one wants to visit -- except to take photographs as tourists.
Those people will never be reached unless we in the church are prepared to go to them and speak where they are listening. There are entire generations in Europe who have never really heard the Christian message. We are here to change that, to try to help reshape the future of Europe on a spiritual level through the power of faith.
SM: What is the biggest challenge Next Wave International faces in trying to present the Christian message to people in Europe?
MF: Many Europeans think they already know all there is to know about Christianity – and have rejected what they know. So, they erect a wall of stereotypes about the church which we must break through if they're ever to really hear the truth about Jesus.
One of the biggest challenges relates to raising up leadership for the church. European social democracies set up bureaucratic systems which control people's lives. Some Europeans actually find comfort in this and they expect their governments to look after them from cradle to grave. But this kind of thinking is anathema to pioneer faith. It kills reformers before they've had a chance to develop. That's a challenge when you're working to raise up Christian leaders who will take big risks to change cities.
SM: As you travel around other parts of the world, do you find the church is thinking of Europe as a place for outreach - and investment?
MF: To be totally honest, I would have to say that most of the church – at least in the developed world -- does not see Europe as a place in need of mission and outreach.
Some people seem to think that if Europeans are not Christian, they’ve already had enough chances to respond. But there are 450 million people in the EU alone and most of them know nothing about the real Jesus of history who is still changing lives.
There are days when I get more than a little annoyed -- or at least frustrated -- at the lack of understanding where Europe is concerned. We give so much money every year -- as we should -- to mission in the underdeveloped world. Yet we give almost nothing to mission in the first world.
We are making a value judgment based on material possession. Revelation 3:20 is very clear: it is possible to have everything materially, but be totally poor before God. That’s where Europe is today. People are like sheep without a shepherd.
We need more support. Time is short and God loves Europeans as much as any other people.
SM: I've known you since the days when you were leading Youth Alive Australia. I know that when you left Australia, with Davina and your family, 10 years ago, quite a few people thought you were a bit crazy -- leaving behind your success in Australia to go to Europe and, in a sense, start again. Looking back, do you ever think you were a bit crazy?
MF: Yes, there are days when I wake up and think: "what are we doing here?" There are seasons when those days are more frequent, too.
I remember when Davina and I got on the plane with our three children. I thought: “Either there is a God, or I’m crazy.” Setting up a new work from almost nothing seemed like madness – especially in a place where so few saw any need.
But, no, in the long-run we know God called us here. The way he set it up was quite miraculous.
Besides, most people of faith are considered at least a little crazy in their own time. No risk, no faith. No faith, no God!
SM: You've become increasingly involved in media over the past 10 years -- and most of what you produce, for TV, radio and the Internet, is not typical of what people think of as 'Christian'. Why did you decide to put so much emphasis on media -- and how does that fit into your overall goals for Europe?
MF: Media are just a means to an end -- they provide a means for us to speak where people listen. When Jesus said "go", he didn't mean "stay and wait". We've spent a lot of time and money producing quality TV programs, so that we can "go" more effectively.
Where Europe is concerned, we quickly realised that most people don't go to church at all.
Yet they all have at least one TV and most are hooked up to the Internet.
SM: Many people will know your EDGES TV programmes, which are very popular in many countries -- both on TV and on the Internet. Can you tell us a bit about what the future holds for EDGES -- and maybe some of the other projects you have lined up?
MF: We’ve made five series of EDGES over the past 9 years. They can be accessed in more than 200 countries. We also know that people in 100 nations have seen EDGES at some time on the Internet.
For some people, EDGES is a bit of shock at first. People are not used to seeing Christianity discussed in the marketplace of ideas, at least not in a positive way.
Not long ago, I took EDGES to the head of the BBC Religion and Ethics department. He told me that the programs were of excellent quality (especially, he said, for a Christian-based production). But, he said, they’re not "pure documentary, nor pure religion, but a mix of both". This would make it hard to place the series on most mainstream TV outlets, at least in the UK. So, EDGES is definitely breaking the mould in all kinds of ways!
EDGES will sometimes throw people off balance a little -- at least it makes them think again about Christian faith.
We also produce various things for radio and we’ll be doing even more on that front in the next 12 months. Our Internet sites are popular, especially because they offer so much free resource. And this year we’ve really stepped up the social commentary aspect of the media work. I’m often interviewed for radio, TV or magazines about current issues.
Right now, we’re working harder than ever to establish a presence in secular media in Europe.
We have a couple of TV projects in the pipeline, aside from EDGES, but we’ll release news on those later. We're also close to having a presence on BBC radio in the UK.
We will continue to have a presence in the world of Christian broadcasting, but we also want to be found in the mainstream marketplace. We want to do as Paul did in Acts 17 -- to explain Christianity to educated seekers with a western mindset.
SM: Another aspect of your work which I've heard a lot about is the MasterClass leadership events you host across Europe. Tell us about those...
MF: We know that there’s no point making the church look good through media and events if we don't have relevant, prophetic leaders in place to pastor people in the right way.
When I first arrived in Europe, I had many doors suddenly open to me. I found myself speaking at major leadership conferences in Europe, to large crowds of pastors who seemed hungry to learn about contemporary leadership. I discovered that in many cases I would be invited back within a year or two, only to find that nothing had changed.
I believe God gave me a choice: either I could continue to speak to people who would not apply what they heard, or I could gather those who were willing to try something new. That's where the concept of MasterClass was born.
Now, we run MasterClass events across Europe. This year, we are running MasterClass events in five European nations and they are proving very successful.
Each MasterClass deals with a particular focus in a very intensive way. We have MasterClass events dealing with Communications and Media, Generations and Post-Modern Leadership MasterClass. In 2005, we also took the Generations MasterClass on tour in Australia -- which went very well -- and next year we have a couple lined up in the USA.
The major emphasis, though, is on reinventing Christian leadership in Europe.
SM: From what I’m told, your audience on the Internet is growing all the time. I know you had a presence on the Internet before many Christian groups had even become fully aware of the medium. What are you trying to achieve on the net and why is it important to you?
MF: I remember when I took out my first e-mail account, I had almost nobody to write to -- so few of my friends were using e-mail then!
We've had an Internet presence from the very early days of our base in Europe, because it was clear even then that the Internet was becoming a huge, border-less human community which transcends culture and race. What better opportunity for us to represent a kingdom which is made up of people of every tribe, tongue and nation?
Today, we have five major web sites which are used for different purposes. And we're not finished yet.
From the feedback we get, the thing people appreciate most about our Internet work is that we provide access to quality materials and resources, most of which are free. People particularly love the Daily Recharge, the Social Comment and all the audio and video on our main site and the EDGES programs on our TV site.
Right now, we really need more sponsors to help us keep everything free on the net. EDGES alone is touching many thousands of people through the net; people who would never be reached any other way. So, it would be great to have more people helping us to fund this unique outreach.
SM: Looking back over the past 10 years, what are some of the highlights for you?
MF: It's hard to answer that one, because there are so many things going on all the time.
In the first few years, one of the big highlights was the outreach event model we launched in eight cities in Europe. These events were aimed predominantly at younger adults and youth but they really had an impact on the way the wider Church saw outreach to a city. And, during those years, we were able to see some really wonderful young leaders emerge. Many of them are now either leading great churches, or involved in some other very significant ministry.
Another highlight has been the development of our leadership networks. At first, we launched the EYE network for young leaders. The annual EYE meetings quickly became a major highlight of the year for many of Europe's key emerging leaders.
Then we added the Strategic Leadership Consultation for senior church leaders of major churches in Europe. Today, SLC has become a very sharp event, challenging leaders to think at a different level on issues such as the church in media, the church in politics and so on. It is not so much a network of pastors, as a network for church network leaders.
Every SLC event is different, though I suppose one of the highlights was having Reinhard Bonnke fly over from Florida to Spain, to speak for one evening to the 90 leaders in the network.
Next year, our theme is "Europe 2020: A Future and a Hope". We're asking the big questions: what will European societies look like in the year 2020; what is God's picture of Europe in 2020; and what can we do today to position the church for major influence by that time? It's going to be a great event. Our special guest contributors are Dr. Tom Sine and Dr. Patrick Dixon, two of the world's leading futurists and both committed Christians.
I'd also have to say that the growth of the media work has been a definite highlight. I've always had a passion to be more involved in media. In Australia, those doors were not open to us. But God has found a way.
We’ve also made some great friends here among the Christian leadership community. I'm grateful for all the opportunities God has opened up, even though every one has cost us something and nothing has come without a lot of hard work.
SM: You have three children -- Deanna, Grant and Jade. I think you left Australia when Deanna was 11. How have they responded to life in Europe?
MF: Well, they’re all old enough now to respond for themselves. Deanna is a radio producer, living in Sheffield and part of a leadership team in a great church there. Grant is 18 and doing his final year of high school before leaving for University. Jade is 16 and doing very well. God has been very good to us and all our kids love God.
Our kids have seen us go through this journey of faith and I think that, as a result, they are fairly confident in different situations. It's just a question of us obeying God and watching him honour that in the next generation.
I know our kids faced big challenges when we first moved to Copenhagen. They also faced challenges when we moved our base to London a year ago. They still face challenges today. But God is a generational God. He honours one generation for the faithfulness of its predecessor.
So, I know that each of our kids has a great future. Davina feels the same way. Besides, she really deserves most of the credit for how they’ve turned out!
SM: Your family has obviously paid a price for this work to grow the way it has. Could you tell us something about that?
MF: Well, I've pretty much answered that, I think. But I should add that I'm very grateful for Davina's constant support. God has asked us to do some pretty scary, on-the-edge things at times and being involved in pioneer ministry all the way through is very challenging for a family.
Not only do we live in a foreign part of the world, but I have been travelling extensively for the past 15 years since leaving local pastoral work. That alone presents challenges for a family. So, we're trusting God that he will continue to bless what we have sown -- not just now, but in generations to come. We still have so much left to do, so pray for us.
SM: There will be people listening to this who will want to show their appreciation or support for what you’re doing in Europe. They might be saying: “This is amazing; real pioneer work! I’d like to support it somehow.” Some will want to give a one-time donation - perhaps as a 10th birthday gift! Others might want to partner with you for the longer-term. How can people do that?
MF: I hope people will say that -- we need all the help we can get!
We've made it very easy for people to get involved – and it’s all on our web site.
Basically, we offer people three different levels of involvement. Every one of them is vital to us and keeps the Word going out across Europe.
People can give a one-time donation donation online, by credit card, direct transfer or cheque. Or, they can become an Alliance Partner, giving every month through our automated credit card system.
People can support as individuals or leaders they can bring their churches or businesses on board as missions partners with us.
Some organisations and churches decide to go a step further. They become what we call Core Partners. There's more information about all of that on the main website.
SM: I guess some people will say, "Costs are so high in Europe. My donation isn't going to help very much." How do you respond to that?
MF: Every donation helps us. Every donation. No matter what the amount. Jesus could cook up a feast with just a few pieces of bread and fish. He is a master at multiplying what little we have and making it go a long way.
Believe me, he has taught us well how to stretch things to the maximum. We make what we have go a very long way. People would be surprised, for example, to learn how economically we make our TV programs.
SM: Do you have a way of keeping in touch with your donors and partners, so they know what’s going on?
MF: Every one of our donors and partners is very important to us -- because we rely so heavily on their financial and prayer support.
Raising money for mission is always a challenge, anywhere in the world, but perhaps more so in Europe because costs are so high. We find that, in most cases, we need to raise three times what others would raise to achieve the same goals. Also, because we are working in pioneer areas such as media, we need to raise large sums for specific projects.
We keep in touch with our partners in several ways. First of all, our major websites are always up-to-date, providing news on everything we are doing across Europe and beyond. With just a simple keystroke, people can access our creative output in terms of media, social commentary and much more. So, they get more than just news – they can have a sense of real involvement, of being part of the team.
We also stay in touch each month through E-News, which has proven very popular over the years. We started doing well before most Christian ministries were aware of its potential. Now, many others are doing the same thing. It's just such a great way to bring the most up-to-date news into people's lives, in a very fast and cost-effective way.
SM: Mal, thanks so much for speaking with us: it’s been great to have some time together.
MF: Thanks, Simon; it's been good to look back over the past 10 years with you. Actually, I'm looking forward to the next 10 years even more.
SM:To our listeners (and readers): don’t forget you can read more about what Mal and Next Wave International are doing in Europe -- and beyond -- on the website: www.nextwaveonline.com. You can also pick up one of Mal’s great books and DVDs and watch some of the EDGES TV programs online. And don’t forget to leave a donation to help celebrate its 10th anniversary in Europe.
Footnote: For more on becoming a regular Alliance Partner, go to our partner area. To leave a one-time donation, click here.
Prominent Christians including Brian Houston, Bayless Conley, Darlene Zschech and Jerry Savelle have expressed their support of Mal Fletcher and the work in Europe. Check out what they have to say. Click here.