A UM Missional Future: Path 5

Part 15 of 21...

Reaching and transforming the lives of the new generation of children

In a number of regards, this vision pathway is an extension of the Bishops' Initiative on Children and Poverty. There appear to me to be at least two important differences between the existing Initiative and what this Pathway envisions.

 

1) The focus of the Initiative was particularly on children living in poverty in every place where the United Methodist Church is in ministry.

The focus of this Vision Pathway is less specific-- focusing on children more broadly rather than on children in poverty.

2) The hope of the Initiative was to reshape the nature of the United Methodist Church so that it would become a clearer sign and manifestation of the "Beloved Community" with children in poverty at the center.

The transformation that appears to be intended in Path 5 is more about congregations reaching out to include children and to change the lives of children.

What might some of the implications of this Vision Pathway and perhaps the fading of the Initiative be for a UM Missional Future?

Let me suggest a few. I hope you may critique these and add others.

1) Focusing on children in general COULD help us do either of two things:

a) Reach more children "like us"-- If we're focusing on "new generations," the default tendency will be to focus on folks like us. These are the people we know and the people we have most of our mutual relationships with.  We may be tempted to try to evaluate our efforts to achieve this vision pathway by how many children we can claim to have added to the rolls or ministry programs of our congregations, and call that progress. What we know about the demographics of the UMC in the US is that the majority of our constituencies (those who attend out churches) are not among the poor.

Reaching more children "like us," if we're genuinely reaching them, is not an entirely bad thing. It is substantially less, however, than Jesus calls us to do.

 

b) Maybe move into more of a partnership relationship with children and communities rather than a "meeting needs" or "expert-client" kind of relationship. We may be more ready to acknowledge and embrace the giftedness of those like us than of those with whom we do not yet have real relationships. Perhaps, over time, this may help us see the value of relationships with all children, including children living in poverty, and to approach them as gifted people in their own right, and not merely as those "at risk" or with "special needs."

 

2) Defocus on trying to fix the denomination first, while focusing instead on two other things:

a) Sending people out from congregations and communities to be in ministry with children-- and then aligning institutional structures to support what emerges from these efforts (This appears to be what the Initiative had hoped might happen)

b) Engaging children in ministry-- becoming aware of the gifts and passion of children, not as simply the objects of ministry by adults, but as missionaries in their own right in the contexts where they can be in mission

3) Recognize that children are ALWAYS with us, that the generations in our missional contexts are always multiple wherever we are. This is at least an angle I would hope we would find a way to get into the conversation.

Simply "reaching and transforming the lives of a new generation of children" can sound more like a focus on institutional preservation (we need more youth and kids around here if we're not going to die out in 30 years) than an awareness of our missional reality (that children are all around us). Putting this in terms of "a new generation" can sound a lot like "generational theory" assumptions-- which are terribly problematic as a basis for generalizing to children generally, much less to children in a given place, culture, and social location in that place. I would trust that we're not trying to reach children just to preserve "ourselves" (which already would assume that "we" do not include "them"). And I'd like to presume that we're not making the sort of specious claims to know what children of any given "generational cohort" across the US or across the world are like to come up with the tool and strategies to "target" them.

These are just three possibilities I see. What are you seeing?

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards