"Shut up and pray" summed up the first day of this year's Catalyst conference. It was "eloquently" spoken by Eugene Cho, lead pastor at Quest Church in Seattle, who was leading a lab on "Start from Scratch: Creating Something from Nothing," one of many sessions that shook with the expectancy and excitement that has come to characterize Catalyst. Cho's comment also pointed to something deeper for us all to ponder.
His lab addressed a passion that drives a great many of the attenders, that entrepreneurial energy to start something new that will transform others. If it's not starting something new, certainly it is the passion to make a difference that nearly every one of the 13,000 attenders of Catalyst Atlanta 2013 share. This is a far cry from an academic conference. Weary from ministry demands, they sit on the edge of their seats, taking volumunious notes, scribbling down insights, turning an ear for any drop of inspiritation, soaking it all in.
The first day consisted of lab sessions and featured a plethora of people known for making a difference: Henry Cloud, Donald Miller, Rebekah Lyons, Leroy Barber, and CT's Andy Crouch. I attended labs by Jen Hatmaker, Ann Voskamp, Eugene Cho, and Mark Batterson.
I was impressed with each speaker's classic evangelical passion, a combination of deep love of Christ and a compelling passion to serve him in the church and world. I heard repeated calls to pursue justice, generous criticism of the institutional church, and an overall sense that there's a lot of work to do.
Two themes jumped out at me in the labs. First, nearly every talk was grounded in an Old Testament passage. Cho used Nehemiah's rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, for example, and Ann Voskamp dove into an obscure passage in 2 Chronicles 20. The passages became illustrations of wisdom—effective action driven by understanding. For example, Batterson exhorted us to step into the river (like Israel stepped into the River Jordan) if we want to see God part the waters. That is, leaders are not to wait around for God to act, but prompted by his Spirit, they should step out in faith and watch God show up.
We take this approach to Scripture for granted in our evangelical sub-culture. Put these passages in the hands of a Eastern Orthodox teacher, and Jesus Christ's redemptive work would be showing up everywhere. The Orthodox would take that passage about stepping into the River Jordan and wax eloquent about our need to step into the cleansing waters of baptism. Evangelicals are unique in mining the practical/wisdom aspects of such texts.
The other theme was lived spirituality, or intimacy with God. Hatmaker drove home the importance of personal discipleship; Voskamp talked about learning to be present in Christ's presence; Batterson spoke of the need to be consecrated. And then there was Cho's "Shut up and pray."
Tyler Wigg Stevenson, another lab leader and author of The World Is Not Ours to Save (InterVarsity Press), suggested to me afterwards that maybe this theme—along with the theme of the conference ("Known")—suggests that perhaps many activist evangelicals are on the verge of exhaustion. They are striving to do so much in their churches and worlds, but they are running out of fuel. Perhaps the conference organizers and lab leaders see this weariness and offer some rest: prayer and intimacy with the Father.