I just watched the Pentecostal preacher Jim Cymbala give an altar call and about 400 Baptist pastors came forward for prayer. Here's what happened.
Cymbala told a moving story about his young grandson, an adopted child from Ethiopia named Levi. When Levi was two-years old, Cymbala loved holding him in his lap. They didn't have to do anything; they just sat together. Sometimes they rocked in a chair and watched SpongeBob Squarepants. But the point wasn't to do something with Levi; the point was to be with Levi.
Cymbala used this story (and his preaching text) to make a simple point: Jesus invites us to be with him–and sometimes that's the only "agenda" for our spiritual lives. Cymbala called it "sitting in his presence and listening to him." There's a big implications to this for pastoral leaders: we can't give to people what we haven't received from Jesus. So if we're not regularly listening to Jesus, just being with Jesus, receiving from Jesus, then we won't have much to give away to others.
Then Cymbala invited pastors and anyone else to come forward if we need to start spending more time being with and listening to Jesus. And that's when about half of the 800 people started streaming forward. Cymbala didn't have to cajole anyone; people came quickly and willingly. Based on this experience I'd conclude that evangelicals–especially leaders and pastors–are hungry to be with Jesus.
I wonder, though, if we can actually sustain this practice–this commitment to carve out time and space to be with Jesus on a regular basis—in the midst of our present evangelical milieu. I've been to two large, important evangelical conferences lately and they were very different but they had something in common: they were both stuffed with busyness, noise, and information–lots of information. Both conferences had so many incredible speakers on the schedule, so many new books to read, so many products to check out, and so much noise in the worship times that we just didn't have time to be with Jesus (although we did have time to talk about being with Jesus).
Don't get me wrong. I liked the content. I thought the messages were spectacular. But after awhile I felt like I need to detox from the noise and hype by checking into a Benedictine monastery for a few days? It's almost like we can't believe that God can actually do something unless we're talking about God doing something. Do we have such great faith in the power of words and information that we can't trust God to speak in our silence?