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The Great Wave by Hokusai

We are dying. Every last one of us.

One inescapable fact of life is that everyone dies. “One out of one,” is the way it was put to me. But what happens when an entire generation begins to die? What happens when that generation is larger than normal?

What happens to the institutions made up of these people? The short answer is a little terrifying. And that’s where the United Methodist Church finds itself when the calendar pages are turned ahead to the year 2020. Talk about seeing with clarity…. Watch this. Listen carefully to the demographic data.

If you are United Methodist, mentally make the circuit around your own sanctuary. Think about the ages of your friends and church family.

He’s right, and we all know it. There will be a huge number of people lost in our congregations. We are predominated by members over the age of 55.

Some of us would probably rather ignore this fact or pretend he’s lost his mind. But the fact remains that Lovett Weems, Jr. has pounded the proverbial nail upon the head. There is a Death Tsunami that will take its toll on our nation in just a few short years, and the United Methodist Church will feel that pain acutely.

Keep in mind that the country will be just fine. Births balance out deaths quite nicely, and then some. But our denomination is not replacing lost members. In fact, we are behind the curve. When the Death Tsunami hits, we will be devastated unless there is a massive change in our current habits.

So what shall we do? Cry? I suppose we could get our affairs in order. We could begin to turn out the lights and pack up the keys to hand our buildings over to new owners. We could set about a task not unlike Noah’s Ark and preserve our Wesleyan Heritage in some sort of time capsule. No, wait; that’s what got us into this mess in the first place.

Instead, I propose a tsunami of our own. You see, a tsunami is just a wave, or a series of waves. And the best way to cancel out a wave is with a wave of equal size coming in the opposite direction. Watch this.

If you were paying attention, you noticed that the wave that bounced off the retaining wall cancelled out the next incoming wave. Watch it again. It happens twice!

Great. But what does this have to do with the United Methodist Church? I’m so glad you asked.

I’ll answer with a question: How do you cancel out a Death Tsunami? The answer is, “With a Life Tsunami.” As Christians we are in the life business: New Life; Abundant Life; Everlasting Life; Life after Death; Life in Christ.

Great imagery, but how do we do this? I am very aware of the work being done on Vital Congregations in the United Methodist Church, and I’ve read the material on the Call to Action until my eyes ached. Lots of intricate moving parts in these reports and in all the conversations going around them.

Mark Batterson recently posted a wonderful image in words on his blog. He talked about a Prayer Tsunami. Having just spent a few days renewing my pondering of the future of the United Methodist Church, you can imagine that the tsunami language caught my eye.

The post is short. Mark says,

I know that tsunami has a negative connotation because it brings destruction, but it’s the image that comes to mind when I think of a prayer movement. Every prayer starts a ripple. The ripple becomes a wave. The wave becomes an unstoppable force. Ultimately, our prayer waves catch up and overtake us with the power of a tsunami.

A tsunami consists of longer waves that form a wave train. The genesis is often a shifting of tectonic plates deep beneath the surface of the ocean. That subterranean shifting sendsshock waves to the surface. Pray long enough. Pray hard enough. The tectonic plates will shift. The tsunami will start.

If we wish to avoid the devastation of the impending Death Tsunami, we must cancel out the coming wave of deaths — and the fear that is riding ahead of it — with a tremendous resurgence of life. We must superimpose a peak over the trough. And no matter what plan our faithful and diligent leaders devise, it must be prayerfully considered, prayerfully constructed, prayerfully implemented, and, upon completion of each component, reflected upon in prayer.

Our people must pray for the future of our Church. Our people must pray not for survival, but revival; not to avoid death, but to bring life, that more abundantly.

And this prayer cannot be mere lip service.

  • The prayers of the people must be rehearsed, guided, uplifted, and reinforced by the leaders of our churches.
  • Pastors must bring the focus back to prayer for the successful mission and ministry of their congregation.
  • Pastors must help their churches remember in prayer the combined efforts of churches in their county.
  • Moreover, we must pray for the collective efforts of our districts, and for the Superintendents who lead them.
  • We must pray for our Conferences and Jurisdictions, and the men and women who serve in missional roles, as well as the Bishops and staff who lead the larger bodies.
  • We must pray for the realigned and renewed ministries of the General Agencies.

Where do we start? On our knees.

And then, we must get organized, like good Methodists. We should synchronize our prayers and our watches to pray the hours together. Our churches are strongest in unity. Can we not pray for revival, renewal, and new life for millions together?

Later, we can put hands and feet on these prayers. But, for now, our place is in at the chancel rail, in our prayer closets, out in the fields — wherever you go to converse with the Lord. Now is the time for fervent, effective prayer.

Let the prayers of the people roll out across the decade, like waves of mercy, waves of grace. May our efforts to survive be swallowed up in God’s movement to revive.

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Author: Joey Reed

Joey is married to his best friend. Together, they have two children and live in Jackson, Tennessee. Joey serves Grace United Methodist Church, the Jackson District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.