It Breaks My Heart

“Who are you? What breaks your heart?”

Today was not the first time I have heard Andy Stanley ask this question.  And today was not the first time tears have streamed down my face as I think about what what breaks my heart. But this is the first time I will share it with you.

My heart breaks that after students graduate high school, 65% will walk away from church, many never to return.  And my heart breaks that many won’t even know they left because they had never met them, worshiped with them, or even knew their name.

My heart breaks that even though the vast majority of a child’s life will be spent in or around their home, their interaction with parents will be limited by the ever-present screen and the faith formation that IS happening is often unintentional and consequential.

My heart breaks that for many years children have been marginalized in churches as too young to participate in worship and too immature to understand theology and too distracting to be with adults so we segregate them away and forgot Jesus’ command to welcome and not hinder them.

And my heart breaks that I am only a small voice with little influence and little to no impact on the Church.

But in the midst of my heartbreak, my tears, my burden, I am reminded today that ” God uses broken-hearted leaders who don’t talk themselves out of action because they are only cupbearers, mere servants” ( Andy Stanley).

Refocus Ministry was born out of a broken heart.  Every time I see a young adult walk away I think, “Where did we   miss it? Who knows his name? Who will miss her heart? Did their parents feel equipped and supported? Did they know that they are a needed and important part of the body? Or did they just see themselves as a distraction, a ministry, a project or a program? Will they ever return?” And my heart breaks.

Last night was the first main session at Orange Conference 2015 and we were introduced to the theme – It’s Just a Phase, so don’t miss it! The idea behind this is that we have a chance to impact the next generation at each stage of their growth by Embracing (preschool), Engaging (elementary), Affirming (middle school), and Mobilizing (high school).  Tearjerking videos of kids growing up and scary statistics of all the things they would face in that process where shared and my mommy heart cringed and my ministry heart broke.

Then Jim Burns from HomeWord ministries stood up and said these words, “Love every child like they are wired for love.  They are looking for love somewhere.  Let them find it in you.”  And a little later Jon Acuff shared, “It’s not a question about if kids are going to talk about their identity. The question is who are they talking to.  Be that someone.”

My last few blogs I have encouraged you to BE ALL THERE when you are talking to your kids.  I cannot drive this heart home enough.  I’m a parent and I know; it is easy in the rush of life to brush aside the 437 question your 4 year old asks on average each day or disregard the tantrum of tween angst your 11 year old is throwing because you suggested that deoderant should be a daily ritual not a optional luxury.  As a minister, I know that it is hard to deal with the child who constantly seems bent on making sure you don’t get through the lesson or the preschooler who feels like church is the best place to trying their new climbing/jumping skills.

But, all of those things, as frustrating as they are, boil down to one thing- your kids are looking for love and identity and they will find it somewhere; that place should be US.  They should know that they are needed members of Christ’s body because we are welcoming them into that role.  They need to know that unconditional love is found in Christ, in His body the church, and in you.

Because I’m not okay with losing another generation. I’m not okay with 65% walking away.  I’m not okay with marginalization. I’m not okay with not knowing their names. I’m not okay with parents who feel underequipped, under-resourced and under-supported. I’m not okay with kids finding “love” in all the wrong places.

It breaks my heart.

And I might only be one small voice but I serve one big God and I believe His heart is breaking too.

Lets change this! Seriously, let’s commit to fighting for the next generations.  Let’s answer the hard questions, take the time to build relationships and equip our homes. I think it’s worth it, don’t you? Let it break your heart and let that broken heart stir you to intentional action, in your home and In your church.  Because they need us to rise up and fight for their souls before they concede defeat.

Break our heart Lord, for what breaks yours.

“When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10:14


  • What is Orange?

For those of you not familiar with Orange, here’s a quick history.  In 2009, Reggie Joiner released a book called “Think Orange” where he detailed the need to support the home as the place of primary faith formation and the parents as lead disciplers in their kids’ lives and for the church to partner with them by equipping, resourcing, and praying for them.  In his analogy, the church stood for yellow, the bright light of Christ and the home represented red, the warm heart of Christ.  Together, they make Orange, a complete picture of Christ and His love.  Orange Conference grew out of that movement.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

When Fears and Tears Come

It appears as though this is a week for tears as we’ve watched our world torn apart by disasters and disease and our own country caught in the throes of violence and despair.  Earlier this year I wrote a blog about how to help your children or those you minister to process the devastation in Nepal, only to find my heart breaking the next day for my birthplace, Baltimore, MD. And now I weep for Oregon.

Lest we think our children are immune to these stories of ruin and despair, consider the following:

  • The #1 website used by children around the world is YouTube.  Out of curiosity, I went to YouTube’s home page today and the featured video was one of Nepal and the top trending videos were of the rioting in Baltimore.  Our children ARE seeing this.
  • Over the course of the last few days I’ve visited friends in their homes, gone shopping, driven in a car with the radio on, sat in a restaurant, and went for a walk.  In every one of these places, I heard television and radio reports focused on the devastation happening in our world.  Unless your child does not venture out of your home, it is highly likely they too have experienced this.  Our children ARE hearing this.
  • The other night my oldest daughter and I sat in the living room at 1:00 am, processing through the evil in this world.  She asked questions like, “How can people be so evil?’ and “What if that happens here?”  In the middle of the night, she needed reassurance that God was still on His throne and that Love will ultimately win the fight.  Our children ARE experiencing this.

I know I’ve already shared this in a previous blog, but it is of utmost importance that in these moments we are “all there” for the next generation.

We can’t let the sadness of the moments and our own confusion and doubt keep us from fully engaging with our kids.  To brush them off in this moment will leave them hurting and wondering, having to sort through on their own the fears and worries they can’t understand.  In these moments, we must take the time away from distraction to look them in the eyes, answer their hard questions as best we can, and gently lead them to the heart of Christ through prayer and love.

What can YOU do?

1. Process with them – There may be a lot of questions, there may be only one.  They may just want to talk.  Let them download on you rather than keep it inside.  In their innocence, it may appear as though these things aren’t affecting them deeply so you may want to brush over it and “not make a big deal about it.”  My heart in this is – it’s worth making a big deal about.  Give them the space to process with you and know that they are not alone.

2. Protect them – Kids are vulnerable to fears in ways adults aren’t because their minds don’t know how yet to separate reality from imagination.  When fear is made manifest, combat with with love.  The Bible says “Perfect love casts out fear.”  If need be, remind them of that favorite movie from last year where the heroine was defeated when fear ruled but victorious when love won (just don’t tell them to “Conceal don’t feel” – worst parenting advice ever)!  Be present with them and let them know they are safe with you and that no matter what, they are never alone.

3. Pray with them – Even if your conversation is only a few seconds long, don’t end it without saying, “Hey buddy, you know what, let’s pray for those people right now.”  Not only are you inviting God’s presence into the situation, you are teaching a valuable lesson about where to turn when life’s troubles come our way.  It will leave a lasting impression on their heart.

Friends, there are no easy answers.  When hearts are broken, we can only turn to one place for healing.  As we process the next few days and we consider our own hearts in these matters, let us model for our children what is is to be the Body of Christ.

*Original Featured image from http://images.politico.com/global/2015/04/27/150427_baltimore_protests_child_police_ap_1160_956x519.jpg


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Answering Their Questions: Nepal Earthquake

“Mom, did you hear about the earthquake?  The news said thousands of people died.”

If you have not heard a variation of this question today, you probably will soon.  As news of this devastating earthquake continues to flood all forms of media, it is likely that your children or those you serve will hear about it and turn to you for help, advice, and processing.  This can be a “deer-in-the-headlights” moment for us adults because, to be perfectly frank, we often feel just as lost and confused in these moments.

Here are some ideas on how you can enter into a conversation that both assuages fear and helps them turn to God in times of confusion, doubt and sadness.

1. Ask a few questions of your own

Sometimes in our own zeal to answer questions or in our fear of not answering well, we just childquestionstart talking in the hopes that we make some sense to them.  But sometimes it’s better to start slow and get more information about exactly where your kids are at before just barging ahead.  Some examples would be, “Yes, I’ve heard.  Where did you hear?” or “How are you feeling about that?” or “Do you have any questions for me about that?”  It is possible that you’ll find they just want a hug and reminder that you and God loves them.  But other times, they may have deeper questions.  Overloading them could be harder on them if they aren’t ready to handle it yet.

2. Be “All There” when you have the conversation

If your child is bringing up this topic with you, something about it caught their attention.  They might be afraid of the same thing happening here.  They might be questioning how God could let it happen.  They might just be curious to see how you react.  Regardless, they came to you.  It’s worth putting down your phone, turning off the radio or TV, delaying the chores and giving them your undivided attention.  It will mean more to them to have YOU than any answer you could give.

3.  If possible, let them act.

Kids are doers.  When they hear about something like this, they will naturally want to do something about it.  A few years ago when a tornado ripped through the town of Moore, OK, my girls heard the story on the radio, asked a lot of the questions we’ve discussed, and ended up deciding to spearhead a Toy Drive for the kids in OK.  With some help from mom and a great church body, they were able to send a ton of toys to a church in Oklahoma to hand out to kids who’d lost all of theirs.  Through that action, they were able to experience just a little bit of what it is to be the hands and feet of Christ on earth.  Over the next few weeks, a number of relief opportunities will likely be made available – consider giving your kids some options to “be the church” to Nepal.

4. Pray with them

Of utmost importance, before the conversation ends, help them remember that we serve a God who invites us to come before His throne with confidence to find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). Invite them to join you in that throne room and pray together for the people of Nepal and those who are going to help.  And never forget to thank God for the blessings you have, especially the one you are praying with in that moment.

As your kids grow, the questions will become tougher but the best thing you can do is establish the open door with them to come to you.  By taking time to engage them and pray with them you set a precedent, both at home and in ministry, that you are a safe place to go in times of fear and doubt.

Here are some ways you can help the efforts in Nepal as you join the church around the world in prayer for this country. (Source: Public Radio International at http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-04-25/how-help-nepal-7-vetted-charities-doing-relief-work-following-earthquake)

AmeriCares

AmeriCares is an emergency response and global health organization. They have sent an emergency response team from their offices in Mumbai to Nepal and are “preparing shipments of medical aid and relief supplies for survivors.”

CARE

CARE describes itself as a humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. It has a long-established presence in Nepal, and told USA Today that it was “coordinating with other agencies to assist up to 75,000 people.”

Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services is the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic Church in the United States. It maintains field offices in Nepal and has started its relief effort by “procuring emergency relief materials such as tarpaulins/shelter kits and water, sanitation and hygiene material.”

Direct Relief

Direct Relief is a nonprofit that specializes in providing international medical assistance. It is in the process of coordinating with local partners in Nepal and will focus its relief efforts on the “valley around Kathmandu, where medical facilities are overflowing with patients seeking care.”

GlobalGiving

GlobalGiving is a charity fundraising website that has set up a fund specifically for Nepal relief efforts. The money collected will go to “help first responders meet survivors’ immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products, and shelter. Once initial relief work is complete, this fund will transition to support longer-term recovery efforts” run by vetted local organizations, according to a post on the GlobalGiving site. 

Save the Children

Save the Children is an international NGO dedicated to promoting children’s rights and providing relief and support to children in developing countries. It has set up a Nepal fund to “protect vulnerable children and provide desperately needed relief to families.” Ten percent of the funds collected will go to prepare for the next disaster.

Seva Foundation

The Seva Foundation is a US-based nonprofit known for its work treating blindness. It has a long-running presence in Nepal and has set up an emergency relief fund.

Others worth mentioning:

UNICEF, the United Nation program dedicated to helping children in developing countries, is currently “mobilizing an urgent response to meet the needs of children” affected by the disaster, and is working to deliver water purification tablets, hygiene kits and nutrition supplies to those in need.

Oxfam, a confederation of NGOs, currently has “aid workers … on the ground, preparing to launch a rapid response to ensure food and water reaches” survivors, according to its site.


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

It’s NOT Easy, But It’s Worth It

It’s not easy. And anyone who says it is, is crazy. Because it is hard. It is wearying. It is sometimes mind-numbing. And lots of times it hurts, like crazy, because we love like crazy.

Because we are parents.

And we make sure that our kids have clean clothes to wear, healthy food to eat, a blanket to sleep under family-492891_1280and arms to snuggle in. We help with homework, we put magic bandaids on injuries, we listen to daily tattling reports and administrate appropriate justice. And as soon as we sit down to have a complete thought, the kid alarm goes off and suddenly you are needed immediately once again.

And we do it all, because we are parents.

But in those tired moments, in those exhausting times, the thought of adding to that the idea of faith formation and the responsibility of instilling a spiritual legacy in our children can feel overwhelming to the point of utter defeat.

I know this because you’ve written me to tell me so. You’ve shared with me how it takes all you have just to make sure your kids are alive and well, let alone growing in their faith and learning about Jesus. You feel under-equipped, woefully under-resourced, and downright tired and the thought of trying and failing is just too much. And just like you take them to ballet to learn to dance and to school to learn to read, you don’t understand why you can’t just take them to church and let them take care of the spiritual stuff because, frankly, you have enough on your plate.

And I get it. I promise I do. Because I am a parent. In fact, I am a parent that just bribed my 11-year-old to take my 4-year-old to the play ground so I could have just two seconds of peace only to have my living room taken over by my 9-year-old who decided that right now was the perfect time to do some workout videos that include strange, loud songs like, “Wobbly Man” and “Pop-see-ko.”

But I am also a student and a minister and I have had the unique opportunity to look behind the curtain and see the glaring truth; that no matter how hard it is and how tired we are, the reality is that the home IS where a child’s faith IS formed. It’s not where it should happen; it’s where it does happen. Unlike ballet and reading which can be taught in a few hours a week, faith is something that is caught in the ins-and-outs of every day.

It’s caught when your child wakes up too early in the morning and “catches” you reading God’s Word.

It’s caught when you lose your cool over something small and then get down and hug them and say, “I’m so sorry. That was wrong. Can you forgive me?”

It’s caught when you sit down on their bed at the end of the day and say, “Do you have any questions for me about…anything? And…can I pray for you?”

It’s caught in the car when you are singing with K-Love at the top of your lungs, when you stop to help a person in need, when you ask them what they learned about in Sunday school, and when you pray before dinner.

It’s caught in the everyday moments of your life in your home in your family. It’s not a big mystery. Who God is to you is who God is to them. If He is something or someone you deal with on Sunday, well, then that is what He is to them too. But if He shows up, all week long, intentionally or unintentionally, in the very fabric of your everyday, well, that is what He is to them too.

And I am not going to say it’s easy. Because just like every other part of parenting, it is not easy. It is challenging. It is sacrificial. It is hard work.

But like the other parts of parenting, the rewards are beyond worth it!! In fact, unlike the other parts of parenting, the rewards don’t end at clean rooms, healthy kids, dancers and readers; they extend deep into hearts and for all eternity.

And we do it. Because WE ARE PARENTS.

“Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night.” (Deut. 6:6-8)


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Summer’s Coming! Break Out Your Thongs!

What?  You knew I was talking about flip flops, right?

My Australian and/or United Kingdom readers were probably less intrigued by this title and more thongs-349609_1280confused by the opening line than my United States readers were.  I bet a few of my US readers wondered for a moment if perhaps this blog had been hijacked.  Because the words in the title have VERY different meanings depending on where you live.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to spend some time with David Wakerly of Hillsong Church in Australia at the CMConnect Conference in Louisville.  During his workshop, he brought up a very important point often overlooked in our homes and in our churches, simply this:

Language Matters.  A Lot.

The words you choose to use to describe your activities and programs set a tone before people have even had a chance to engage the experience.  For instance, this blog title?  Perhaps the shock of the the title or the curiosity you had initially has now worn off as you realize… she’s gonna make a point and it’s not going to be about thongs. (Don’t worry, I’ve started many a blog with similar expectations and been let down as well).

But yes, I am going to make a point.  You clicked on this blog with a certain expectation based on the title.  Most of you weren’t expecting a blog about flip flops; you had another meaning attached to the word and probably were curious about how that particular topic applied to family or children’s ministry.

When we consider how we are presenting things to our kids and families, we need to keep in mind, they too are coming with expectations.

For example, think through a typical Sunday morning as a kid with me.  You get to CHURCH and go to Sunday SCHOOL where your TEACHER goes over the LESSON and after CIRCLE TIME, CRAFT TIME and/or SNACK TIME, you are handed a WORKSHEET to complete and a Bible verse to WORK on at HOME (or otherwise known as homework).

Wait a minute, what?  Where do we go on Sunday morning?  I thought we said we were going to church? Hmmm….

Well, maybe your church experience is a little different.  Maybe your kids go to KIDS CHURCH where they get to JAM OUT with their worship BAND and have an FUN time engaging in a DANCE PARTY or HANGING with their friends.

Wait, are you saying there’s something wrong with that?

What I am saying is that language goes before you.  Each of those descriptions carry with it a very specific and very meaningful background to them that will reach your parents, kids, community, and church long before they’ve every had the chance to walk through your doors and engage them in any activities.

And it is important that we realize that.  Because we are creating environment by establishing those expectations.  At Hillsong, they no longer call their Sunday kids’ time “Kids Church” because they felt like it was creating two churches in one building and they consider the kids a part of the larger Hillsong community.  So you if you go to Hillsong to visit, you will find simply “Hillsong Kids.”

This same thing holds true in the home.  Gathering your kids together for “family devotions” will set a different tone than if you are gathering for a “faith talk.”  My point isn’t to say that one is is right and one way is wrong; my point is the language you choose to use goes before you and creates an atmosphere and expectation long before you even open your mouth.

So… choose wisely.

Consider what it is you are trying to share or say or communicate in the words you choose to use.

If you have a heart or a vision beyond a specific event, consider if the words you are using are words that will convey that heart and will create the atmosphere you are desiring.  This applies to everything from how you title your ministry, how you refer to volunteers, what you use to describe your family times or worship times, and the “vernacular” or common language of your ministry.

The thing about this language thing is that.. there really is not a right or a wrong.

You know your context.  You know your family.  In my family, if we say, “We’re going to have a family meeting,” the kids come to the living room with a certain expectation of what is going to happen there.  “Meeting” has a totally different feel than “talk” in our house.  However, I had another family say, “We can’t use the term Faith Talk in our house because “talk” in our house is a bad thing.”

You know your town, your region, your home, your family and you know what you communicate with certain words.  Sometimes, we just don’t think about the words we are using.  We use what we’ve been given or what we’ve generally heard.

But we don’t have to. And sometimes, we really shouldn’t.

Consider the message that goes before you at your ministry.  Are you conveying the true heart and vision that you want to?  If not, maybe it’s time for a change.

Speaking of… maybe I should change the title to Break Out Your Flip Flops… but then again…


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

CMConnect – Connect, Serve, Advance!

Hello from Louisville (which is pronounces “Lew-vull” apparently) and the first ever CMConnect Conference.  I am so excited to be partnering with an amazing group of Children’s Ministers and bloggers for the next few days as we connect around the incredible world of Children’s and Family ministries in the global church.  It’s been great to hear from and interact with people from all over the world and people close to home as we share together our hearts to see kids discipled, homes equipped and God glorified.

This morning I had the chance to meet with Michael Chanley, the head of CMConnect and organizer ofth the conference, and I asked him, “What is most important that we as bloggers can share with our readers about CMConnect?”  I was immediately taken with his answer: “Tell them our mission; that we are here to connect people in ministry to one another and God and we are passionate about equipping and supporting under-resourced churches.”

I have seen the truth of this statement evidenced in the atmosphere around me.  Breakout sessions are being led by those “in the trenches” sharing practical and meaningful tips that others can immediately put into practice in their home church.  I have seen ministers praying for one another in the hallway, new friends gathering to share vision over lunch (from the food trucks who brought it right to the door – with something called “Boss Hog Nachos” on the menu!!), and I’ve seen old friends encouraging one another and sharing the burden of ministry in a safe place where Jesus is lifted up.  And, in the middle of that, I have had person after person say to me, “I got a scholarship to come here.  We could never have afforded a conference at our church, but I was given the chance to be here for free.”  The vision of CMConnect is being fulfilled!

During the session last night, Andy Kirk, a fellow minister from Australia, reminded us that “The who you are brings the power to the what you do.”  In other words, when we find our identity not in what we are doing but in who we are in Christ, the work we are doing becomes kingdom work and the lives we are touching become “heaven on earth”, the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  What a great reminder that we are not our own, but His own, and when we are found in Him, we have no reason to fear.   Like Jim Wideman shared a few minutes later, “If God has called you, He thinks you can answer the call.”  Place your trust not in what you are able to do but in a God who is able to do anything!

CMConnect is about living that call.  A vision that seven years ago started with 12 people desiring to connect to each other and to God in order to serve children and families has grown into a global group of over 12,600 members and now a conference where they are doing that connecting face-to-face.  childrens-ministry-conference-logo

If this sounds like something you’d like to experience, as a minister or a parent who is doing that faith forming work at home, check out the 2016 CMConnect Conference website and start planning now to join this amazing group!

If you are interested in reading more about what is going on this week, check out G.J. Farmer’s blog at www.childrensministryblog.com where he is live blogging from several of the sessions.

Or head over to Twitter and search for the hashtag #CMConnect where you will find other bloggers, session notes, and updates on all the great things happening at the conference.


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Church, We Need The Kids

“I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Mk. 10:15

I’ve read this verse many times.  I’ve read it to kids and asked them what they thought Jesus meant.  I’ve read it to adults and posed the same question.  I’ve read it to myself and thought, “Hmm, He must not have been talking about my kids because after that bedtime fiasco, I’m fairly certain that is how NOT to receive the kingdom of God.”

But the other day, I heard my four-year old son yelling for me. “Mom!!” he yelled, “Come see this.  It’s amazing.  It’s so pwetty.  Come see, come see!!”  I came running expecting a sparkling unicorn or a huge pile of diamonds.  Okay not really, but I thought it had to be something pretty spectacular.   So imagine my surprise when I came out of the house to see him peering intently over a cluster of common clover.   There weren’t even pretty purple buds.  Just clover leaves.file111313248468

“Very nice, Caleb,” I sighed as I started back inside when his little hand touched mine. “Come see Mom!” he pleaded with his adorable big brown eyes that melt my heart so… I came.  I knelt.  I looked at the clover, the boring, ordinary, not-even-four-leaf clover.  And as I did, he knelt next to me and said, “Do you see how pwetty?  See da hearts?  The flower is saying, ‘I love you!’  I love you Mom!”  And with that he gave me a kiss and a bouquet of dandelions and clover leaves.

Oh. My. Goodness.  Be still my mommy heart! And then it clicked…

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” Matt. 13:44

And kids can see treasure where we see ordinary.

They can see beauty where we see everyday.

They can see miracles where we see commonplace.

They see slowly, we hurry by.

They receive the kingdom of heaven with abandon and joy; we test it with reason and logic.  Is it any wonder then that Jesus tells us that “unless we change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven?”

My blog posts about inviting and welcoming children into intergenerational and corporate worship settings have caused quite a stir.  The biggest question?  Simply this – Why?  Why would you force kids to stay in a service that is oriented for adults when there are other options?  Why make them be a part of something they can’t even understand?

And my short answer has been this:  Because they are members of the body of Christ, important and necessary parts of the body that should be welcomed and engaged in our times of worship.

But my other answer is this: Because WE need their eyes.  We need their faith. We need the kingdom of heaven in our midst and they are the ones that Jesus told us know how to receive it.  We are supposed to learn from them.  We are the students when it comes to child-like faith.

It isn’t a one-way street.  It’s not just us adjusting our church ways so that they can come and learn from us.  It is about us giving them space to teach us.  And us being humble enough to learn. To put our hands in their hands and see flowers that say I love you and beauty in ordinary weeds.  To receive the kingdom of heaven.

“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” Mt. 13:31, 32.

A mustard seed.  The smallest of all.  But when it grows…when it grows it is a mighty tree.  The small become mighty.  The little mustard seeds we call children are going to grow.  If we let them grow in the soil of the church, surrounded by adults willing to humbly welcome them, learn with them, and receive with them, then what mighty men and women they will become.

Jesus practiced slow seeing a great deal, which often led to astonishing results.  For example, one famous Gospel narrative has a child with a small picnic lunch saving the day.  When the disciples saw the lad, they saw him as living proof of the scarcity of food amid the crowd that had gathered to hear Jesus.  They looked too quickly. Jesus, however, looked at the child longer. He saw his innocence; he saw his potential; he saw his anticipation, he saw the Holy. The result was a memorable miracle of abundance making.  If Jesus had merely glanced at the child, barely noticing him, then the miracle would not have happened.  The lavish miracle is due to the lavish looking, the extravagant seeing.

Addicted to Hurry, Kirk Byron Jones, p. 74

Slow down.  See, truly see. See the children who believe without doubt the Jesus loves them.  See how they pray with faith we can only imagine.  See how they expect God to meet with them, to be with them, to laugh with them.  And receive the kingdom of God, like a child.


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Church is Boring

Brutal honesty time.

Sometimes, my kids think church is “boring.”

Not that long ago, my middle child fell asleep on her dad’s lap right in the middle of the 9:30 service.  My oldest makes the most amazing doodles you’ve ever seen during service times and on the rare occasions I can get my youngest to make it through any portion of a service, he spends most of his time touching everything he can get his hands on like hymnals, bulletins, random stranger’s hair…boredkid

So, why in the world do I make such a big deal about having kids in worship?  Obviously they are bored.  Obviously I am forcing them to do something that they don’t like and probably scarring them for life when it comes to attending services.  Wouldn’t it be better for them to be somewhere else, like with other kids in a different room, where they can have fun and want to come to church?

There’s a lot to unpack in those questions, more than one blog post can cover.  A lot of underlying assumptions about why we go to church and what church is supposed to look like and how kids are wired and all that stuff, but I’m just going to tell you my simple reason for why I want my kids participating in worship.

Because they are members of the body of Christ.

It’s simple really.  They have each made declarations of faith, appropriate to their age and understanding, that they love God and want to follow Him.

They are part of the church.  The church needs them.  And they need church.

Okay, you thought I was brutally honest above… check this out.

Sometimes, I think church is boring.  Hey now, so do you!!  Be honest, sometimes we have a really hard time engaging, in some cases, staying awake.  We wish we could curl up on our daddy’s lap and grab a quick cat nap during the sermon.

But most adults I know, especially adults that are desiring to grow in their faith and active in their walk with Christ, would not use the fact that church is “boring” to dissuade them from attending.

Because that’s not why we go to church.

We don’t go to church for an adrenaline rush.  We don’t go to church to be entertained.  We don’t go to church for goosebumps and thrills and chills.  I’m not saying there aren’t times when we have amazing moments where those things might happen, but that is not WHY we go to church.

And that is not WHY my kids go to church.  Sure, I do my best to engage them with the service.  And our church is exploring more ways to welcome and invite kids into active participation in the service.

But even if we do it all perfectly, chances are, there are going to be days where church is boring.  And that’s okay.  Because there are days when school is boring, and home is boring, and life is boring.  If we are never bored, if we are constantly entertained and distracted, how are we ever going to find time to “be still and know that He is God?”

If you are concerned with bringing your child into worship because you are afraid that he/she will be bored, don’t be.  Being bored is not the worst thing in the world.  But here are some great suggestions for how you can engage with your child during the service so that being bored and being left out don’t have to be the same.  Kids don’t just have to sit and tolerate services.  They can be invited into the experience and my guess is, if we engage with them during service time, we may just find out that we too get more from the service. (BTW, these ideas were inspired from an insert from Christ Church Parish in Raleigh, NC and a pew card that we use at my church)

  • Sit towards the front where it is easier for your little ones to see and hear what is going on. They tire of looking at the backs of others’ heads.
  • Quietly explain parts of the service and actions of the ministers and whisper the sermon to them in words they can understand.
  • Sing the hymns/songs, pray and voice the responses because children learn the liturgy by watching you!
  • If you have to leave the service, feel free to do so but feel free to come back as well!
  • Let your kids doodle and color in church.  Often when their hands are busy, their minds are engaged with the service more than you realize.

So many times I have parents tell me, “I didn’t think my child was listening to the sermon at all but then later, he said something almost word-for-word that the pastor had shared!”

Kids are a lot more perceptive than we give them credit for.

They are learning all. the. time.  They are watching you, listening to you, and imitating you.

The next time your child says, “I don’t want to go to church.  It’s boring!!” and they will because they are kids, give them a hug and say, “I know it can be boring sometimes, but that’s not why we go to church.  We go to church because we are part of the body of Christ. And you are an important part of Christ’s body.  If you aren’t there, a piece is missing.  Who knows?  God might use you today to encourage someone who is sad, to teach someone who is needing to learn, to love someone who needs to be loved.  God might even speak to YOU if you listen closely.  You are special to God and to us, and we need you there!”

And, as needed, remind yourself of that truth as well.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook. 

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Defining “Success” in Ministry

Defining success in ministry is a tricky thing.  Shall we use numbers?  Jesus doesn’t care about numbers; He cares about changed lives.  Great, shall we look at how lives have changed?  Now wait a minute, Jesus doesn’t care about outward appearance; He looks on the heart!  Fabulous, let’s judge by our fruit, things like, are we making disciples?  Yes, that’s good… wait, are you counting again?

success-479568_1280I’ve been privy to a number of fantastic conversations lately among ministers about these very things.  Is growth quantitative or something we “just know” is happening?  Are there tangible markers of success in a church, home or discipleship setting when it comes to faith formation?  How about in family ministry or intergenerational ministry; how can we know when we are really reaching the home or connecting the church?

The reality is, only God can see the heart.  The truth of the matter is numbers and quantities can be deceiving.  The fact remains that the work of ministry is steeped in the boundaries of faith, and faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

I’m not saying there aren’t some tangible things we can look at and say, “I can see growth there” but in ministry and in the home, we can’t always be looking for the quantitative measures.  We need to be attuned to the less measurable moments and we must celebrate them with great fanfare and genuine excitement if we wish them to be replicated in the future.

Moments like this…

 This past Sunday we joined Big church (which we do from time to time) and during P&W we had a man in our church that is very sick go to the altar. None of the adults moved to pray with him except for me BUT in a minute I saw a little hand join mine on this brother’s back and soon another and another. They bowed their heads and were sincerely praying for Mr. Jim. My little kids left their pews when no one else moved to pray for this man. Days like this make it all worth while!!! I encourage everyone here, keep doing what you are doing even when it gets overwhelming! God Bless all of you! – Amy Bryant, TN

And this…

Thank you to all the amazing volunteers today. It was a glorious day. We had a youth group with 30 members from Indianapolis today. They were amazing. We served 278 meals of a wonderful meal of baked chicken, green beans and corn. We made some great friends today. They want to try to replicate the meal at their church. Amazing what God does. The most amazing thing today was when Patrick asked if anyone wanted to pray and an eleven year old young man from this group volunteered to pray. He prayed the most amazingly appropriate and heartfelt prayer that I think I have ever heard. God was definitely in the house today. What a blessing and glorious day it was! – Adele McKinney, KY

And this…

One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.”Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted. When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves. – John, Israel

You see, these moments, while we can’t put them on a spreadsheet or add them to our checklist, these moments are what form us and mold us and shape us into followers of Christ.  These are the things that show success in the kingdom of God; lives changed, hearts transformed, the body serving as one, the church loving the world, and homes filled with the Spirit.

It reminds me of this amazing quote by Teddy Roosevelt about the “doers” in this world.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

We are called to be doers of the word, not merely hearers only.  That means at times, we will fail.  We will not succeed…at least on paper.  But friends, if we are sharing the light of Christ and the warmth of His love with our children, our community, our church, our neighbors then, no matter the measure, we can know we have succeeded. 

Celebrate the moments.  Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due time, you will reap a harvest.  Encourage one another all the more as you see the day of the Lord drawing near.  And rejoice, again I say it…rejoice!

I’d love to see this post filled up with comments full of your moments.  I don’t think  we do enough celebrating in the church today and we of all people have the most to celebrate!  So, if you have a moment to share, a time where you could sit back and say, “Wow, God, now that was ALL you!  Thank you for showing up!”, will you take the time to share it here?  Because I believe, the more we share, the more excited we will be, and the more “success” will happen all of the body of Christ!


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

#HeisRisen?

He is Risen!!  Chances are you heard that phrase exclaimed many times over the weekend.  It was even a trending hashtag on Facebook.  Easter celebrations commenced in churches all over the world as Christians and seekers gathered to commemorate an empty tomb, a Risen Savior, and a Victorious King.

How ironic that it was this same week, while listening to NPR (several of you just realized what a geek I actually am), I heard a self-described Christian politician utter these words, “If Jesus was alive today…”  Both my husband and I instantly scolded the radio with words like, “IF He is alive?” and “Um, isn’t the fact that He is alive the BEDROCK of our faith?”  After huffing and puffing a bit, we got over ourselves, but the words stuck in my head.

If Jesus was alive today…”

Yesterday, we shouted it from the rooftops.  We sang it loudly from our pews.  We even unashamedly posted it all over facebook as a quippy hashtag and pictures of empty tombs, broken chains, and glorious beams of light.  We joyfully proclaimed, “God’s NOT Dead, He’s surely alive!”

But, do weeasterlove really believe that?

Do we really believe that Jesus is as alive today as He was the day before He was nailed to a cross?  As alive this moment as He was when He was weeping in the garden of Gethsemane?  As alive today as He was when He broke the bread and blessed the cup?  As alive today as He was when He knelt before His disciples to wash their filthy feet and said “I love you” with humility and service?

And if we say, “Yes, of course we do!” then I have to ask, do we LIVE like we do?  Do our lives each and every day proclaim as loudly #HeisRisen in the daily routine as we do in the Easter celebration?  Do we “get a pass” on Easter Sunday to be a bold follower of Christ in our homes, among our friends, and in society because it’s an accepted recognized holiday?

Whether we live it or not, He is just as RISEN today as He was yesterday.  The celebration we experienced on Easter is available to us every. single. day!  We of all people should be the most celebratory, the most joyful, the most excited on earth.  Because HE IS RISEN!!

I was privileged to watch my children really connect this year with The Story of God’s love for us.  My three-year old walked around with his handmade cross on Good Friday telling everyone that “Jesus loves Caleb!”  My girls were moved to tears as they considered the sorrow of Jesus’ death at our Good Friday service and were so excited about the dawning of Easter Sunday, they willingly got out of bed at 5 am to get dressed and attend the sunrise service.  I don’t want to lose that connection.  I want them to go into each day knowing that deep love of God and the joy of His resurrection.

And, in many ways, that is up to us.

Because if I live that Jesus is alive, I have share my joy of serving a risen Savior, not once a year, but in the everyday, they will be able to put flesh-and-blood on that amazing story.  If I pray when troubles come, rejoice when grace is shown, serve with humility and love, praise with joyous abandon, and talk about the God I serve when we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we sleep and when we rise, then they will know that He is risen… indeed!

It is a challenge we must embrace.  To consider if we live our lives saying, “If Jesus was alive today…” or if we live our lives proclaiming, “He IS Risen!” As parents, as ministers, as Christians, we have the incredible opportunity to celebrate every day that our God’s not dead, even when it’s not trending on facebook.

Because…

He. Is. Risen.


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.