Even if you haven't discussed disaffiliation with your youngest church members, they are probably still aware that some kind of change is in the wind.
Read here to discover positive ways to talk to children about your church's transfer of denomination.
If you are a parent or children's leader and your church is changing its connection, please read these important steps to a positive conversation about this topic.
Children have a remarkable ability to know when things are shifting around them. As your congregation has been going through the discernment and disaffiliation process, the adults have engaged in deep prayer, discussion, and debate. While the children have been mostly unaware of the details, as they should be, they know that something is happening. Trust me on this. They may not know the same things you know, but they know more than you realize. And what they don't know, they invent. Seriously. Trust me.
Let's be clear about a couple of things. Adult issues should be resolved by adults, and the issues surrounding the decision to disaffiliate are definitely adult issues. As good stewards of our children's hearts and minds we are called to protect their innocence for as long as we can. During this transitional time our main job with our children is to continue to point them to Christ every moment we are near them.
While adults are working in the background to protect the integrity of scriptural teaching from our pulpits, we absolutely must place forming our children's Christian faith in the foreground. Teaching our children to love and worship Jesus is our most important job. If we fail in this area, we have failed Christ and are not worthy to be called His followers.
As we move closer to a big change in our churches, we will need to begin to include the children in the communication process. Children are the most important members of every congregation and we are making decisions for them that they will spend their adult lives living with. We must be wise. Our children's faith is too important to be careless with it.
Follow the wisdom of Ephesians 4:15. "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." (NIV) In other words, tell the children the truth about our new denominational affiliation in love and in ways that continue to protect their innocence. Encourage them to stay connected to our brothers and sisters in Christ across all denominations while standing strong in their own faith practices. Keep Jesus in the forefront of all conversations, and let grace lead the way.
In order to accomplish this, I strongly recommend that parents and the adults who have direct contact with children in your congregation meet together with the pastor to discuss how and when to explain to your children about their new denominational identity. Be prepared to have a positive answer this burning question: "Why?" Be prepared to speak the truth in love. Make sure that your children don't get lost in the shuffle of change.
Here are some solid ways to discuss this (and other serious topics) with the children of your congregation.
State the reasons for disaffiliation positively. It would be very easy to speak about disaffiliation in general, negative terms that turn the issue into "us" and "them" statements. Rather than explain why we are leaving the UMC, explain why we are becoming part of the GMC. Focus forward. Be positive. Say something like, "We are forming a new denomination because we want to be more like Christ to the world. We want to live our lives so that God is honored. We want to learn how each of us can be more like Jesus" There is nothing to be gained by negatively smearing the UMC over its diminished respect for the authority of scripture or all the other untenable positions that have been taken by much the leadership in the UMC. Children need to hear that their church family is a safe and reliable harbor for them to learn of Christ and holiness. Don't slam the terrible "them" and praise the wonderful "us". It is counter productive and takes our eyes off of Christ. Let all you say be couched in what we will do, rather than what we won't do.
Answer any questions honestly, but give only the information asked for. I read a funny story about a little boy asking his mom where he had come from. Mom answered by giving a long discourse about the "birds and the bees". The child listened then said, "Oh. Tommy says he comes from Cleveland". Listen closely to the questions the children are asking. Answer that question only. Give them the information that they want while bearing in mind that children are not adults. Their minds can only process so much. They can relate to change as they have experienced it in their own lives: they change from one grade at school to the next. A lot of children have moved from one house to the other because more space was needed. Say something like, "Our church, and many others, is becoming a Global Methodist Church because we believe that we can share God's Word with children more easily this way." Find your honest, positive voice. Keep it simple.
Remember that the familiar good things will remain. Assure the children that they will not notice anything different in the way they are loved and taught by their pastor, Sunday school teachers, and children's ministers. God has not changed. The divinity of Christ is sure and sound. The Holy Scriptures are still the authoritative Word of God. The sign outside the building may change, but the love inside will never change. Children need security and safety in order to process the message of Christ. A child who finds that their church is a place of turmoil, anger, chaotic disagreements, and grumpy grownups can not hear the words of love we are supposed to be offering. When the cacophony of discord is louder than the laughter of Christ-like people, children will shut out the message we need to share. Keep the joy flowing.
Teresa Auten, author of "Harbor Home: Create A Home Where You And Your Children Can Thrive", is an Early Childhood Specialist with a deep passion for helping families create a joy filled home in a complicated world. She has a BS is Early Childhood Development, two decades of experience as a Christian Educator, and a wide scope of ministry experiences with families under stress. Teresa is an engaging presenter who takes tremendous joy in getting into the trenches with families that need encouragement. Teresa loves the Lord, her husband, children, and doing random science experiments with her grandchildren. Her book, published by Morgan-James Faith, is available wherever books are sold. visit her website and sign up for her newsletter at: www.joyfulharborhome.com