Some of the nation's most recognizable evangelical leaders are rolling out a three-pronged plan designed to call Christians, across denominational and racial lines, to a new age of spiritual awakening.
Nearly a dozen pastors and teachers stood shoulder to shoulder in Dallas Sept. 21 for The Gathering 2016 at GateWay Church, a nondenominational congregation, where several thousand gathered for "a national solemn assembly" -- the initial step in their plan.
Organized by Tony Evans, senior pastor of the 10,000-member Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church in Dallas, the group has been meeting since the beginning of the year in an effort to bring a spirit of prayer and repentance to the U.S. The group organized this special prayer meeting to pray for forgiveness, wisdom and provision for the country.
"It just seems to be that God is raising up a mighty commitment to pray," said Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas and immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
"People are concerned about our country, and they are concerned about the condition of the church, and concerned about the brokenness in the lives of people."
The concept of the solemn assembly is found in the Old Testament, according to event organizers, and is a special time of prayer and fasting. These meetings have been called by priests, prophets and kings who led people to repent of their sins and passionately pursue the return of God's presence in their midst.
Organizers noted The Gathering is "the Body of Christ coming together one day to unite across racial, denominational and generational lines; lifting up the name of Jesus, and taking responsibility for the condition of our nation."
A similar meeting for pastors and key leaders from around the country, a "gathering of the elders," was held earlier this year in preparation for the larger meeting in Dallas, which included several thousand attending in person, and several dozen churches participating online.
During his message, Floyd said many Christians are often more desperate for their football teams during the weekend than they are for the touch of God on Sunday.
"Many of us as believers are more committed to some kind of political awakening," Floyd said. "That's not the answer to this nation. The answer to the nation is the next great awakening with the Holy Spirit of God and He wakes up the church and He shakes the church."
International Bible teacher and leader of Precept Ministries Kay Arthur led the assembly in a prayer of repentance saying the United States is not united in God.
"We trust in man rather than in God. There is no knowledge of God in our land. There is no fear, or respect, or trust," she prayed. "We've played church instead of sitting at your feet, and knowing that every work is God-breathed, and you expect us to live by every word."
With incidents of racial violence fresh on the minds of those attending, John Jenkins, pastor of First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Maryland, spoke to the issue of racial reconciliation.
"These situations and circumstances are creating a mountain level of rage and discontent and worry," Jenkins said. "'The 11 o'clock hour of Sunday morning still remains the most segregated hour of the week. We are further apart from each other (than ever), and the church has stood silently with little or no action or comment.
"While the world accepts racial disharmony, the church must not accept racial disharmony," he said.
"We know how to interpret Greek and Hebrew, but we don't know how to communicate in English to someone who doesn't look just like us. What God ultimately wants us to achieve is that we give value to all cultures and embrace and learn from one another."
Evans described America as "desperate."
"But God will not fix the White House by skipping the church house," he said. "It will be this [the church] house that determines the well-being of that [the White] House. If He cannot get the attention of this house [the church], then that house [the government] will stay in trouble."
Evans noted that every year on Sept. 11, we remember the terrorist attack on our nation.
"Nineteen men from around the world, in the name of their faith, shut down the most powerful nation in the world. If 19 men from around the world, in the name of their faith, can shut down the most powerful nation in the world, what do you think we can do in the name of our faith to redeem the most powerful nation in the world?"
Evans told a group of Dallas pastors who earlier in the day gathered for pray that Phase Two of the plan would be a call to greater discipleship. While Phase Three would focus on coordinating a massive, cross-denominational, interracial, service project where Christians from around the nation work together in their communities to demonstrate the love of Christ.
Marc Ira Hooks is associate director of missions/director of communication for the Collin Baptist Association in McKinney, Texas.