One cannot help but applaud such a move. As a seasoned veteran of 1960s idealism, I've seen what evangelical passion—for evangelism, social justice, the environment, rebuilding the church (yes, these were concerns even back then)—can do to people. I've seen a fair amount of burn out and resulting cynicism in my years. If you ground yourself in a desire to make a difference in the world, you dry up pretty quickly. There's a reason one of the most effective and persevering activists of our era—Mother Teresa—spent hours each day in silence and prayer.
Of course, given the context, prayer was extolled largely for its usefulness. If we are people of prayer and intimate with God, if we receive a fresh sense of consecration from him, if we pause and listen to him reaffirm his love for us, we'll be more effective than ever. This conference attracts the very people who are anxious to make a difference, so this is an effective strategy to encourage prayer, and it's true as far as it goes.
I wonder, however, if many won't leave the conference motivated to pray primarily because it will make them more effective in their ministries. As a former minister who more times than not prayed because I thought it would lead to effectiveness, I know the temptation first hand. Sometimes the call to prayer feels like calls to run on the same old treadmill, so that prayer becomes one more thing on the to-do-list for successful ministry.
Those of us addicted to effectiveness need someone to tell us that maybe our ideas of successful ministry and our passion to make a difference need to be examined afresh. What is really driving that? Are we trying to justify our existence through effectiveness? Or do we minister because we are already justified—no ifs, ands, or buts?
Eugene Cho addressed this briefly in his lab, as does Stevenson in his own way in his eloquent book. I suspect that most of us spend much of our lives trying to grasp that the radical idea that prayer is valuable whether it makes a difference in ministry or not. It is, in the end, a gift of the Spirit, a means by which we cry "Abba!" to a loving heavenly Father, who accepts the ineffective and loves those who make no difference in the world, even those who have made the world a worst place.
This approach to prayer is certainly what Jesus models in the Garden of Gethsemane. Sometimes prayer does not lead to more ministry effectiveness but only a cross. And yet prayer helped him to move forward that night in courage ("Not my will, but yours be done"), when all he could look forward to was the desertion of his followers and an ignoble death. I suspect that this story, more than others in Scripture, gets at the heart of true spiritual "effectiveness" and "successful" Christian leadership.
In the meantime, we have ministries we are responsible for. We need to figure out how to lead an organization and disciple youth and share the gospel and pursue justice, and a plethora of other tasks that require wisdom. And one of the best places on the planet to get practical advice and inspiration is these Catalyst labs.
Mark Galli is editor of Christianity Today.