All of you know that I did not grow up United Methodist (I think). Some of you know better than others the difficulties I currently face as a young adult within United Methodism. I am a committed Christian, however, and thus have hope for a tomorrow which looks much different than today, a hope rooted in the belief that Jesus is indeed the Messiah–born, lived, crucified, died, buried, and coming again. My hope is rooted in a story, and I’m no stranger to old narratives of a people in days of old who experienced frustration, wandering lostness, and distance from God, only to reawaken to a newfound love and depth of passion for a Sovereign who stayed true to the promise to be with us “always, even until the end of the age.”
I’ve been tracking a number of conversations currently taking place within Christianity (not just United Methodism), and truthfully, there is a lot of bad news. Christian people have had their confidence shaken. Despair is rampant. And our institutional memory has suffered. It isn’t just that United Methodist people have forgotten Wesley. It is that Christians have forgotten God, the story told in Scripture, and the reminders we find there to “fear not.”
As I’ve worked among friends I’ve had a common refrain, and that is that the hope of the denomination does not rest in our ability to formulate strategic plans or to rally our collective energies around common political initiatives. It rests in a return to God. I have noted that the most telling sign that renewal is near or soon to take place will be the moment when Jesus, rather than we human beings, becomes the center of our speech and our practice. I will know things have turned when our talk of Jesus seems to reflect that we believe in a living, dynamic, active, Lord who is our Master and Teacher, walking among us, instructing us, leading us, correcting us, and transforming us, rather than referring to a cosmic Christ who may be the object of our worship, but not one in whom we trust to accomplish all that much in our presence.
Some of the things I’ve read and heard in recent months have been encouraging. There are leaders in the denomination who are rallying around good things, there is effort being given to bring about a turn from what has been a long, slow, and steady decline, and there are people who genuinely care about The United Methodist Church–it’s history, doctrine, and witness in the world. Then, there are people like you–my friends both near and far. I wouldn’t be reaching out to you if I didn’t believe in your leadership and your passion to some degree–your commitment to the gospel, to your communities, and to the Church catholic. I have met people, whether it be through the amazing technological innovation that is the web, or through dinners, coffee, runs, and travel, who I believe God can use to accomplish immeasurable good for our Lord and his Kingdom.
This morning as I returned from a workout I had an idea. It is a simple idea. And it is an idea which is not new. I am not a great navigator or purveyor of “politics.” I am not the best at building and leveraging networks. That is not my strength. That is why I have friends. I also have friends to alert me when I have said something utterly ridiculous. Friends keep me in check. What follows is my idea, and it may be worthwhile; it may not. That is for you to decide. And I’m asking for your help, as what I propose initially may be strengthened and sharpened through collaboration, if you’re willing to invest your energy in this project.
There is currently a movement within the denomination among young clergy to come together around a common purpose, diagnose common frustrations, and chart a vision for tomorrow within the UMC. While I appreciate ideas that center around online “connection” or community and planning live events for equipping and training, I believe such efforts will not be all that they could be unless they are undergirded by prayer. While I believe that the prayers of a righteous person availeth much, I believe that the prayers of righteous people availeth more, therefore, I’m inviting you to help me flesh out a commitment to prayer among young clergy and other young leaders within United Methodism.
My idea basically outlines thus:
- Network together a list of 40 young people within United Methodism who are willing to commit to praying for the denomination and for other young clergy/church leaders over a designated 40 day period.
- Have each of these 40 persons commit to writing a prayer, to be published online, which will guide those praying alongside and within the young clergy community (in other words, publish one prayer per day from one member of the 40 person team to a blog or some such forum that can be subscribed to via RSS or a Reader)
- Have the forty day period be divided as nearly as possible into thirds, having the pattern of prayer follow the contemplative threefold path (purgation, illumination, and union). This will first include prayers of repentance, acknowledgement of sin and lostness, then moving forward to the petition that God would give us a common vision for the future, followed by a celebration of God’s gift as we live into a new tomorrow.
- Plan the execution of this forty day campaign to coincide with a time when we know annual conferences will be held (late spring, early summer).
- Be unabashed in praying that our collective witness would be strengthened so that new people would come into a relationship with the living God through faith in Jesus Christ.
- Have participants mention the need for prayer in their ministries and among their ministry peers, specifically asking older clergy mentors to pray for young clergy, as well as pray that God might call people to ministry among us.
Those are my initial thoughts. From here, feel free to chime in. If any of you would like to pass this idea along to others, please do so. I would be happy to set up a blog, collect prayers for forty participant leaders, and manage the postings. For those that write prayers, I would want to include a short, three sentence bio that includes the person’s name, their conference, their current appointment (or their role in church leadership), and maybe other interesting details. It would be up to people like you to invite others to read and participate. It might also be wise to set up an “About” page which describes the project, and lists those persons who wish to participate in this forty day prayer initiative.
This is conversation starter which I will also post to my blog. Feel free to help me expand, and feel free to help me build a movement.
Benjamin A. Simpson