DULUTH, Ga. – Flannel shirts, jeans, and a free-spirited attitude dominated the Gwinnett Civic Center campus Thursday as 13,000 next generation Christian leaders gathered for the main opening day of the Catalyst conference.
The young leaders are in for a creative experience aimed at exposing them to cutting-edge ideas from top leaders in business, education, non-profit, and the church. The goal is to stretch their imagination and equip leaders under the age of 40 to exert influence for Christ on their generation, whether they work in ministry or in the secular sphere.
Catalyst is the largest gathering of young Christian leaders in the nation.
With this year's theme being tension, Andy Stanley – pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., and one of the founders of Catalyst – opened the day by talking about the internal tension in everyone called appetite.
Every single appetite – whether it is food, sleep, sex, etc. – causes tension, he stated. God created these appetites but sin distorted them and they become dangerous when people think the appetites can be satisfied. Appetites can never be fully satisfied, Stanley emphasized, and the internal tension from them will never go away.
"We live as if there is something that is out there somewhere that is going to absolutely, fully and finally fulfill that appetite," said Stanley. "So we spend our lives in some cases making really poor leadership decisions trying to find that golden ring where we can say, 'My church is big enough. My ministry is big enough. I wrote enough books. I have a cool enough car. My children are perfect enough.'"
"None of your appetites are ever fully and finally satisfied, which means leaders, there is always, always, always tension in this area in our lives," he stressed.
A Christian leader's ability to manage their appetites is key to the success of their ministry, said the influential megachurch pastor, who is the son of Dr. Charles F. Stanley, founder of InTouch Ministries. He said he has not known anyone who lost his or her ministry because of bad theology (although he is sure there are some cases), but he knows many leaders who fell because of their inability to manage their appetite.
Pointing to the tragic Bible story of Esau and Jacob, Stanley explained that Esau lost his birthright because he could not manage his appetite. Long ago, the birthright gave the firstborn son most of the family's fortune, the right to be the judge of the family, and, more importantly, the special blessing of God.
But because of a bowl of stew, Esau sold his birthright – his future and God's blessing. The Bible records in Genesis 25:34, "So Esau despised his birthright."
Because of a bowl of stew, God became the God of Jacob, not Esau. In Exodus 3:6, God replaces the name of Esau with Jacob; "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." And in Matthew 1, the genealogy of Jesus is recorded as, "Abraham the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob."
"I know you are hungry," Stanley said he wished he could tell Esau. "But do you want to trade all that for a bowl of stew?"
"[I]t would be better that you die than you give up your birthright."
Stanley said that for Christian leaders, that bowl of stew might be an improper relationship that would destroy their marriage and the legacy left to their descendants. Or, the bowl of stew might be a business deal that could destroy their reputation and ministry.
The respected pastor shared a piece of advice that has helped him control his appetite: to not do anything that he would not be comfortable going in front of his congregation to explain.
Since its founding in 1999, more than 90,000 leaders have attended the Catalyst conference. The three-day event, which began Wednesday with small, interactive labs, concludes Friday.