"Silence is the discipline that helps us go beyond the entertainment quality of our lives."
- Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing, 49
For some years I taught a course on prayer in the D. Min. program at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. One of my students was an African American leader and pastor in Chicago, named Joe. I remember the first day of that class, back in 1980-ish. When the students arrived we did a few introductions. Then I sent them out to pray for an hour, using Psalm 23 as their meditative focus.
When they returned from class I asked, "How was that for you?" Joe was crying. He said, "I haven't prayed for an hour in 20 years."
Jump ahead four years. I'm teaching the same class in the same place. When the D.Min. students arrived, there was Joe. I asked, "What are you doing here? You've already taken this class!"
Joe said, "I wanted to take it a second time. There is still so much for me to learn."
Joe is the only student who has taken my class twice. I asked him how he was doing, and how his church was going. Joe shared this.
"After that class four years ago I went back to my people and preached on a Sunday morning on Psalm 46:10 - 'Be still, and know that I am God.'"
"What happened?" I asked.
"I simply read the verse, then sat down. There was silence for 40 minutes. Finally, one person stood up and spoke a word from God. Then another did the same. We just stayed there, silently, in the thick presence of God. Gradually, one by one, people began to leave."
"How was it, Joe?"
"It was... electric!"
Wow, I thought. Joe has a hopping, dynamic church. What a radical idea God gave him! This story confirmed a number of things I believe about pastoral ministry and the nature of the church.
- This kingdom of God thing is about God's presence, in which God rules and reigns.
- Therefore desire God's presence, in the first place.
- We can reject the idea that we need to entertain our people, and that what our people need is more entertainment so they'll stay with us.
- What our people most need is God.
- Cultivate a Presence-Driven environment that moves and responds in God's presence.
- Usher people into God's presence. Here is where the "audience" dissolves and engagement with God begins.