Join the Conversation!

Hello Friends,

What a blessing you have all been to me that past few months!  Do you know that this blog has already had over 100,000 views and 80,000 unique visitors and almost 50,000 shares?  That means something about this idea of refocusing on the home, transitioning to a more family-focused ministry, and creating intentional intergenerational relationships within the church is striking a chord with a lot of people.

hands-598145_1280I think it’s time we start a conversation and I invite you to join in!

There’s a new group on Facebook called “ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry” created just for that purpose.  This group is open to all parents and ministers interested in having an ongoing conversation about the church and home working together in reaching the youngest generation. Topics such as transitioning to family ministry, equipping the home for discipleship, and creating intergenerational relationships at church are up for grabs. Appropriate blog posts are welcome to be posted as well, as long as it generates conversation towards these topics.

I hope that you will consider joining the group and adding your voice and questions to the discussion.  I truly believe with all my heart that we are touching a deep part of the Father’s heart as we welcome children into worship and disciple them in the home and the community of faith.  And I know that it is a calling that cannot be done alone; we need each other for support, prayer, encouragement and a “stirring up by way for reminder.”

So, click on the link above, join the group, introduce yourself and let’s get talking!!

Thank you again for your incredible support and feedback for the past six months.  Let’s see what a year brings!!

Blessings,

Christina


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

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 Dilemma: Church or Family?

Last day of school!!!

Ours is today; I bet yours is soon or you’ve already had it.  The official start to summer is here.  Summer vacation means sleeping in, sunny days, water sports, sandy beaches, campfires, parades, and plenty of time with family and friends.

It also means that church attendance in the United States plummets.

Like seriously takes a nosedive.  Attendance becomes sporadic and spotty.  When school lets out for the summer, it seems like church does too.  The response of the church has been to cut programming (no Wednesday nights for the summer anyone?) and plan “fun events” like picnics and Vacation Bible School.

As a parent, I get it.  All year long our calendar is held captive by the school calendar that informs when we can go away and for how long.  Seeing extended family is difficult when you have two days to travel.  And spending quality time together can suffer.  So planning vacations and day trips during the summer months makes sense.

As a minister, I dread it.  It’s hard.  You develop relationships with kids and you have really cool things going like small groups and prayer teams and discipleship, and then, you don’t see them but off and on for weeks.  And then there is Vacation Bible School; don’t even get me started on that.  The sheer amount of time and effort that is put into pulling off a “successful” VBS event takes all the energy you have, so the regular programming starts to suffer.

I’ve seen so many posts recently from children’s pastors around the country utterly discouraged by this attendance reality and frustrated and what seems like a lack of commitment and concern.  On the other hand, I’ve seen equally as many posts from parents excited about the cool things they have planned this summer to do as a family and the memories they are looking forward to making.

So who’s right?  What’s more important?  Family or church?

And therein, I believe, lies the problem.  Because of the “way” we do church (Sunday morning, Wednesday night and/or separate ministries for the family members), if someone misses one of these times, it leaves a gap; a sizable gap.  But families who want to spend these summer months together don’t want to come to a place where once again they are separated and unable to be with each other. So it becomes a choice – do I want to be with my family OR do I want to go to church?

Ugh.  Those choices kinda stink.

What ends up happening then is that when the opportunity arises by default of the summer school schedule to spend that quantity of quality time together, the choice becomes clear –family.  And when the default schedule makes finding that quantity of quality time together more difficult – church.

(Hemera Technologies/Getty Images)

(Hemera Technologies/Getty Images)

But I don’t think either of those reflect God’s heart for family or for church.  In fact, I think that it creates a tension where the two are opposed to each other rather than being in partnership with one another.  Where there should be mutual edification, there is instead unhealthy competition.  And let me be clear, this also takes place with sports, especially travel ball, and academics, especially academic teams, and friends, especially non-churchgoing friends.

And I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this.

Church isn’t supposed to be a building or a program or a set time in the week.  And family isn’t supposed to be vacations and softball games and straight As on report cards. 

Those things might be a part of what church and family are, but they are not supposed to define them.

The Bible is clear that what brings us together isn’t things and it isn’t programs and it isn’t activities.  What unites us is the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:17) and what holds us together is love (John 14:34-35). We are not supposed to make a habit of skipping out on our times of meeting with other believers, but we are supposed to be encouraging on another all the more (Heb. 10:25).  We (ministers explicitly) are also encouraged to ensure our homes are in order before taking care of the church and to love, honor, respect, and obey within our families (I Tim. 3:5).

It sounds to me like “church” looks less like meeting on Sunday and more like being in relationship with one another in and outside of a building and all week long, not just on Sunday.  It also looks like we are committed to one another in love and service so we strive to be together and not make a habit of letting things come between us, even good things and fun things and “family” things.

Ultimately I think it means we adopt of philosophy of “church” that is less about “ME” and more about “WE” – that we view the decisions we make not out of a cost-benefit analysis about what works best for us, but rather from a Kingdom mindset of what is best for Him.  Sometimes, this may mean you take your family on vacation.  Sometimes, it may mean you skip a game.  Sometimes it may mean that you meet outside of a building or on a different night.  Sometimes it may mean you cancel a program.

But IF it is about the kingdom of God and not about what works best with our schedules or our plans, it will bear fruitIt will grow God’s kingdom in our families, our churches and our communities.

It won’t send a message that “church” is a choice that we can take or leave but that “church” is a life we choose to live in relationship with others.  And it won’t send a message that family is somehow less spiritual or less important but that family is an extension of the church in the broader community and in the home.

It’s not supposed to be a competition.  And whether we’ve made it that or the pace of modern world has made it that, I think it’s up to us, each and every one, to step back and see if we’ve adopted that mindset in any way.  Families, are you being the church in loving relationships, committed to the “WE” of God’s kingdom in the choices you make?  Ministers, are you supporting the family in partnering relationship, committed to the “WE” of God’s kingdom in the ministry you serve?

It can’t be about one or the other.  It has to be about ONE and no other.

“Be very careful then how you live – not as unwise, but as wise…understand what the Lord’s will is.” Eph 5:15,17


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.

Here’s What’s Wrong…

“Here’s what’s wrong.”

We start too many things with that sentiment.

Because let’s be honest – there’s a lot of things that are wrong.  There are a lot of things in this world that are wrong.  There are a lot of things that can get our blood boiling, our hearts pounding, our anger kindled and our hearts heavy.

And it’s not hard to find those things.  Every day I read blogs that enumerate and extricate the wrong in the world, everything from drinking from water bottles to terrible wars and gross abuse.   There is a lot to get frustrated about. And the church, well, we have a lot to say about a lot of things.  Maybe its because we are graced by God to have seen true good in Him, that the wrong in this world so alarmingly stands out to us.

I don’t know.  I’m not even here to say that we shouldn’t notice these things and say things about it.  You all know, I’ve written my fair share of blogs stating my own “Here’s what’s wrong…”

girl-535251_1280But I look at my children and I see the hope in their eyes as they look to the future and they think about this world and I can’t help but think that all of my “here’s what’s wrongs” aren’t doing them any favors.

Even if I’m right about what’s wrong and even if it’s something they need to know is wrong, I’m beginning to think the conversation needs to start further back, before the wrong, to what is right.

In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth…and it was good.  Later on, sin entered the world, and it was wrong.  But the wrong that came did not negate the good that was.  If anything, the wrong that came showed us just how good the good was and our souls began craving that Good once again.

But, if we taste that good, if we enter into that grace and once again experience all the good that God has to lavish on our souls, and then spend our days pointing out all the bad all around us…are we really living into the abundant life God has purchased for us?  Shouldn’t the good be our launching point, not the bad?

Hear me, I’m not saying we ignore what’s wrong.

I’m not saying we excuse it or dismiss it or pretend it’s not there.

But for me, I think I want to change the tone of the conversation.  Instead of starting with the “Here’s what’s wrong” routine, I think I want to start from the “Here’s what’s right” standpoint.  Instead of pointing fingers, I want to extend grace as it has been extended to me.  I want my kids to know what’s right in this world and that all hope is not lost because we serve a God of future and hope. 

When I see the sin in this world, I don’t want to simply “smh” and walk away.

I want to remember that before the sin, God was good.

I want to tell my kids, “God is good.  His love is perfect.  What you see there, that wrong you are experiencing, that’s not Him.  That’s not His ways.  That’s not His heart.  Here’s what’s right in this world – God loved us SO MUCH that He sent His Son into this world to rescue us from the wrong and wrap us up in the good and whoever believes in Him can experience that abundant life.”

What if we started more conversations with “Here’s what’s right…”

What if we celebrated more?  What if we affirmed each other more?

What if we took the time to point out the amazing things that are happening all around us every. single. day?

There’s HOPE to be had, there’s good to be noticed, and God is still at work in this world today.  

I want to give my kids something to fight FOR, not just things to fight against.

There are things that are wrong.  There are horrible bad things.

But there are things that are good.  Let’s make sure we tell the whole story and we never forget the goodness found in the undying love of God.


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.

 

Four Simple Questions Your Family Should Ask

“Highs and Lows!!”

If you eat dinner with the Embree family, no doubt that right after we pray, you’ll hear one of our kids yell this out.  It has become part of our dinnertime DNA and something that has led to incredible faith conversations over spaghetti and salad.  Some of our most defining moments as a family in terms of discipleship and growth as a family have taken place because of these four questions.

I can’t take credit for them.  That goes to Dr. Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute.  I had the opportunity a few years ago to attend a seminar led by her about Sticky Faith and how to help our kids develop a faith that sticks beyond high school.  She shared this dinner time routine at that conference and I immediately thought, “This is easy!  This is something we can do!” and so… we did.

Here are four simple but ever so critical questions we ask each other nearly every day.fourquestions

1. What was your HIGH today?

Simply put, you are just asking what went well that day. Why? Well, I’m sure you’ve all experienced the oh-so-enlightening after-school conversation that goes something like this:

Parent – So, how was school today?  Child – Fine.  

Parent – Well, what’d you do? Child – Nothing.  

Parent – You had to do something. What did you learn? Child – I dunno.  

Parent – Oh come on, give me something! Child – *blank stare* 

Asking a question like “What was your high?” begs the answer in story form.  Sure every now and then, we get a shrug, but most of the time, we get to hear about something that happened that day that otherwise we would not have been privy too.  Plus the whole family gets to celebrate the moment together.

2. What was your LOW today?

It is important to recognize that not everything that happens in a day is fun and happy.  Sometimes things happen that make us angry or sad.  Having a safe place to mention low times and process with family can lead to some of the most meaningful moments in your family’s life.  We’ve cried together, talked through some difficult situation, prayed for people who hurt us or were hurting, and addressed some of the harder things kids face in life.  We don’t want our kids to live a “facebook” existence where only the good moments get highlighted; rather, we want to teach them that God and home are safe places even in the hardest times.

3. What MISTAKE did you make today?

We all cringe a little bit at this one.  It means we have to step back and acknowledge that we may have messed up. It takes humility to admit that, not only to ourselves, but also to our family.  And no one is exempt; even Mom and Dad have to answer the question.

Do you know what message this sends our kids?  That we mess up, but God’s love is available anyway.  Forgiveness and grace are always available.  Sometimes, we can genuinely say, “I had a good day and I can’t think of any mistakes” but those times are outweighed by the moments we recognize that we trip up and fall into the grace of God.  We want our kids to know that no matter how big the “mistake”, God’s grace, love and forgiveness are always available, and so is ours.

4. Where did you see JESUS today?

This is by far my favorite question.  it’s different from the High of the day.  It’s where we have experienced God in our everyday life.  I love the answers my kids give to this question, things like, “I saw Jesus when my friend gave me a hug” and “I saw Jesus when my teacher forgave some kids who had three strikes and let them have ice cream anyway.”  Seeing the attributes of God in the world around them keeps them looking for Jesus everywhere they go.  Once, one of my girls wrote a note to a friend in which she said, “When you [did that thing] I saw Jesus in you.”  That’s exactly the kind of note we need to be giving one another!

Four simple questions.  Four amazing life lessons.

Four easy ways to connect.  Four intentional moments for discipleship.

And while the dinner table works for us, maybe it would work better for you on car rides? Or before bedtime?  Or maybe even over text if your kids are older?  The idea isn’t to create another “thing “we feel pressured to do.  Rather, it is to layer some intentionality over what we are already doing to create the opportunity to model faith, experience grace, and increase love together.  And, if your family is anything like mine, it will become an anticipated moment of each day.

So, where did YOU see Jesus today?  Share with your kids and let them share with you!


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.

Are We Starving Our Kid’s Spirits?

“Mom, I’m STARVING!”

The battle cry of every tween and teen as they declare war on our cabinets can render our grocery budget decimated in a matter of seconds.  And to an extent, we’re okay with that because, we get it – they are growing and they are hungry. As a parent/caregiver we make sure that they have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a place to call home.  It’s what we do.

We also drive them to ball practices, get them up for school, help them with homework, watch their recitals, host their sleepovers and kiss their boo-boos.  We hug them when they are sad and hug them when they are happy.  We take care of all their needs because…it’s what we do.

We take care of their body.  We nurture their mind.  But…there’s one more important part we sometimes neglect.  Their spirit.

I once heard a youth pastor share this thought-provoking concept, “Kids are made up of three things; mind, body, spirit.  Equal parts of each form who they are.  But parents tend to spend an inordinate amount of time making sure their body is cared for with food, shelter, clothing and exercise and their mind is engaged with good schools, good curriculum and good grades but very little time researching and engaging with their spiritual side.”

Let’s for a moment just assume we are equal parts mind, body and spirit.bodymindspirit

Would one meal a week be enough to sustain your body?  Would one hour of sleep or one hour of exercise be enough to keep it healthy?  Would one hour of schooling give you the knowledge you need to survive and navigate this world?  One book read? One lesson learned?

And yet, statistics show that on average children who attend church regularly only attend 1 or 2 times a month for a grand total of about 40 hours in a year. Contrast that to 1,080 in school, 2,920 hours of sleep, 1,095 meals consumed, and 2,786 hours spent engaged with some sort of media (8-18 year olds).

Clearly, if we are going to nurture the whole person of our children, we CANNOT rely on the church alone to be the sole means by which they connect with God.  It cannot be the only place that the Bible gets talked about if we believe that the Bible nurtures their spirit or as David says, “Your word is the source of my life” (Psalm 119:114). It cannot be the only time that faith formation happens, that discipling takes place, that mentoring relationships are developed and that worship takes place.

If it is, then our kids are starving…spiritually anemic.

Parents will go to great lengths to develop a skill or ability in a child.  Travel ball is a tremendous commit of time and financial resources for any family, but sacrifice is made if a child is deemed talented enough.  Scholastic achievement is hard work and takes time and intentionality but often the space, time, and encouragement is given to bring about that success.  Hobbies are nurtured.  Gifts are called out. Time is given.

And I’m not hear to condemn or to condone.  I’m simply asking this: In the midst of all of our care of the mind and the body, have we neglected the spirit?  Have we assumed that mere exposure at church a few times a month is enough to develop the spirit and sustain the life of Christ in a child’s heart as they grow into adulthood?

There are many reasons out there about why young adults are walking away from the church as they grow older.  I think this is one of them.  Their spirits were starving.  They found sustenance elsewhere.  As church attendance declines, social entrepreneurship has exploded – the spirit is being filled through the act of serving others.  The same young people who are leaving church are creating business that are “driven to produce measurable impact by opening up new pathways for the marginalized and disadvantaged.”

That’s what the church is supposed to be doing.

Speak out on behalf of the voiceless,
    and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.
Speak out in order to judge with righteousness
    and to defend the needy and the poor. (Pr. 31:8,9)

We are made in the image of God. Our spirit was breathed into us by God himself.  It does not surprise me then that if our spirit is starving it will seek out something that looks like God to fill it.  Social entrepreneurship provides a platform for spiritual needs to be satiated through the acts of Love that are in us because we are made by and for Love.  But social entrepreneurship cannot fulfill the deep spiritual needs.  It can only go so far.

But for many, it is enough to satiate a starving soul.

It’s enough for me as a parent to give pause.  Am I expecting too much of those moments in church?  Do I expect that my kids time in worship and with their small group to be enough to satisfy their soul?  Or am I creating an atmosphere of intentional faith formation and Christian service in my home so that those remaining 1,934 hours can be hours where their spirit is being fed and filled.

There’s no silver bullet to ensure your child’s faith is engaged.  As a mom myself, I so wish that there was.  But there are a few things recommended by Fuller Youth Institute specifically feed their spirit.  Things that will take time and intentionality and in some cases mean we need to sacrifice our money and our schedule to ensure they happen but things that will ensure your child is well-fed, body, mind, AND spirit!

1. Find ways for your kids to serve – There’s a reason why we are seeing the trends we are; service connects our spirit to our faith.  Look for ways to get your kids being the church not just going to church.

2. Let them ask questions – Look, everyone has questions and doubts and fears.  Deflecting doesn’t help them at all. Engaging can lead them to Christ.  If help is needed, that’s what your ministers are for – use them.

3. Don’t neglect the gospel – Ultimately, our spirit is only filled with we are in communion with Jesus. As Johnny Johnson of Fuller Youth Institute shares, “Children are concrete thinkers and teaching the do’s and don’ts is easier than trying to teach something as abstract as grace.  When we do teach the moral side of Christianity, we have to be careful to explain why we live that way: Because of Jesus. And out of gratitude for God’s grace. More importantly, our children need to see the gospel lived out in our lives.” Model discipleship and growing faith in your own life. Dr. Christian Smith of Notre Dame has studied teens and religion and concludes that “the most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parent.”

We love our kids.  That’s why we do all those things we do. In our heart to see them succeed and grow up healthy and happy, let’s make sure that we don’t neglect the eternal part – feed their souls, give them Jesus, every single day.


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.

THE Answer for the Church

In a recent blog post, Matt Walsh speaks to the church in America and says that maybe the reason Christianity is “dying” is answer
because it’s boring people to death.  He talks about how, in the attempt to be relevant, the church no longer looks different from the rest of the world so it’s ho-hum and that if we start bringing truth back to the forefront, church won’t be boring anymore because truth is alive and prods us out of our comfort zone.

Okay, then.  There’s the answer…oh, wait, what’s that?

On the same day in an article entitled, “The Christian Sky is not Falling” Ed Stetzer says, “Christianity is not dying and no serious researcher thinks that.”  Stetzer claims that rather than “dying” the Christian church is “being clarified” moving from nominal Christianity (being Christian in name only) to convictional Christianity (believers serious about living out their faith) and he points to numbers that show an increase in evangelicalism 59.8 million in 2007 to 62.2 million in 2014.

Okay then, everything is fine…whew, dodged that bullet… What’s that? There’s more?

On the same day, another article about Millennials and why they aren’t in church was shared and, believe it or not, another reason was given for the church’s slow death was given by a millennial who knows because he is one.  Basically, in this case, what we need is liturgy not entertainment, to make sure we aren’t “targeting Millennials”, to welcome tough questions, “to be uncool, to be radical, to be different.”  Well, then…

Are you as confused as I am?

As I read all of these articles yesterday, I couldn’t help but shake my head. So many opinions.  So many numbers and so much research.  So many solutions and so many ideas on how to save a church that is dying but not dying but dying.

What’s a believer to believe?

May I offer this suggestion?  It’s not new but it is radical.  It’s not mind-blowing but is is truth. It’s not deep but it is convictional. And I can sum it up in one word – Jesus.

I mean, really, are we maybe making this church thing a little bit too much about ourselves and forgetting that “now we are the body of Christ, and each one is a part of it” (I Cor. 12:27).  The body of Christ – we say it so quickly, but stop and think about that.  The church is supposed to be the body of Christ.  He is the Head and WE are the body!  We are supposed to literally be Jesus to the world around us.

So, if this church needs anything, I’m guessing it needs to look in a mirror because, frankly, I don’t often see Jesus when I look at us.  If I were to take Jesus, the Son of God, and place the church, the body of Christ, beside each other, I’m pretty sure I won’t see twins.  In fact, I’m not sure they’d resemble each other much at all.  And this makes my heart sad.  No matter what all the articles in the world say is wrong with the church, I’m pretty sure that this is the one thing we keep dodging because, wow, what a calling and wow, what a standard to live up to, and wow…that’s exactly what we are supposed to be.

What does Jesus look like?

Jesus loved people, all people.  He loved them right into a relationship with him, if they so desired it.  He loved children andeasterlove
welcomed them into his arms.
 He loved “sinners” and ate with them, talked with them, and forgave them. He loved Pharisees and scribes, enough to answer their questions and rebuke their mis-teachings.  He loved fishermen and tax collectors and prostitutes and betrayers and deniers and lepers and, well, let me just break it down this way… he loved everyone.

Jesus, truth embodied in flesh, wasn’t afraid of offending those who needed offended but he also didn’t seek to offend.  He wasn’t so caught up in his theology that he couldn’t sit and chat with a prostitute.  He wasn’t so wrapped up in his liturgy, he couldn’t make room for a child’s interruption or a woman’s crying or a man’s questions.  His ministry was full of inconvenient interruptions that somehow became divine appointments and his worship services moved from the temple to the home to the hillside with no major issue because it wasn’t about venue or style or retention of members; it was about Love personified in the person of Christ and given freely to all who desired his gift of grace.

He built relationships.  He maintained integrity.  He snuck away to solitary places for times with his Father without worrying about how uncomfortable the silence would make the followers.  He worshipped publicly without worrying about how his actions would offend the hearers or frustrate the unbelievers.  He was who he was, every day, in every way, to everyone.

And when asked what the most important thing was, He didn’t say, “My theology, my liturgy, my building, my worship style, my preferences, my attitude”  He answered with this, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”  That’s it.  That’s who He was, that’s who He is.

I’m not saying those other things aren’t important.  Because they are.

But they aren’t the most important.

And they are certainly not what is going to save a church that is dying and not dying depending on who you ask.

But if believers individually start being Jesus and then two together start being Jesus and then a few more until we have what we commonly refer to as a church BEING JESUS, well, then, I daresay that church is not dying.  No, I’d say that church is living.  And how do we do that?  James tells us if we come near to God, he will come near to us; that if we repent of our sins, our hearts will be purified. And Paul says when that happens, “to live is Christ”- in other words, we are his body, Jesus in the world today. (James 4:8, Ph. 1:21)

So, be Jesus. Be Jesus to each other.  Be Jesus to the children.  Be Jesus to the Millennials.  Be Jesus to the bored people.  Be Jesus to the evangelicals.  Be Jesus to the orthodox.  Be Jesus to your neighbor.  Be Jesus to the bus driver, the store clerk, the bartender, the politician, the police officer, the drug addict, the people who surround you.

Because Jesus is the Church and frankly, it can’t die, because He has defeated death.  The church will live. The question is, will we live with it?  Let’s press into Jesus, for the sake of our kids who need to see what’s right with the church, not what’s wrong with it.  Let them see Jesus in us, at home, in church, in our failures and in our victories – let them see Love.

As trite as it sounds…Jesus IS the answer. The only answer. Always and forever. Jesus.


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
Christina 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.

The Power of a “Like”

“Mom, look at me!  Look at me, Mom!  Hey, look!! Look what I can do!! Look at me!!”

We’ve all heard this, right?  I don’t care if you are Mom, Dad, Uncle, Aunt, Children’s pastor, random stranger…when a child completes a task as incredible as jumping on a trampoline or sliding down a slide for the first time, the first and loudest thing they want is to be seen!  The cry of “look at me!” rises unbidden and unhindered and unstoppable until you look AND you affirm.  It’s that final part that really makes it.  Just glancing their way does not stop the cries for attention but a simple, “Wow, buddy, that’s awesome!” will silence the cry and, more importantly, satisfy their little soul.

And let’s be honest folks, that whole “cry for attention” thing?  That doesn’t stop when we get older.  We might get a little less vocal about it and we may not draw overt attention to us, but there is something in us that longs for and desires affirmation from others that we have done well.  Don’t believe me?  How excited do you get when your Facebook status or Instagram picture starts piling up the “likes”?  There’s just a little bit of, “Hmm, cool. People liked that” in each of us…that’s why there’s a “like” button.

Affirmation needs to become part of our church’s and home’s DNA. We affirm and celebrate everything from first steps to keyboard-597107_1280tooth loss in our kids life, but how often do we take the time to affirm things like kindness, generosity, and obedience?  When our child shares something they learned in Sunday school or offers to pray at dinnertime, are we stopping to say, “Wow, buddy, that’s awesome”? I’m not saying you need to break out in song every time a child demonstrates growth in some spiritual area, but it would be wise to affirm it and celebrate it as often as possible so the “look at me” thing that is in all of us is finding rest in these places of growth.

Here are three ideas for creating space for affirmation in your home:

1. Celebration – Our family has a 30-second celebration, a 2-minute celebration and a BIG celebration that we use as appropriate to each situation.

  • If I see one of my kiddos walking in some area of personal growth, I’ll yell out, “30-second celebration!” and the whole family will stop and join in a mini-dance party (we call it our “Oh Yeah dance”) in honor of that person.
  • If the whole family has a good moment, such as working through a fight or cooperating to complete a task, it’s a 2-minute celebration which is an full-out dance party to something like “Happy” or just about anything by Toby Mac.
  • Our BIG celebrations are Star Dinners where the honored child picks where we eat dinner and we go around the table, each saying something affirming or encouraging to the Star of the night.

These celebrations attach joy and affirmation to nearly every situation we experience and give space to touch that “look at me” spot in our kids’ hearts.

2. Affirmation – To affirm something is to “declare it to be true.”  As Christians we have the chance to not only affirm what we know is true about a child (“You’re a great artist” or “You are really good with little kids”) but also what we know is true about them in Christ (“You have an amazing calling on your life” or “You are immeasurably, overwhelming, unconditionally loved”).  Affirming is NOT the same thing as spoiling or pandering.  You’re not just saying nice things so your child is proud or has high self-esteem.  Rather, you are recognizing and drawing attention to TRUTH in his/her life, know that Christ tells us that “truth will set us free” from fears of inadequacy and self-doubt.

For more on the importance of affirmation, check out this article by Cornerstone for Parents. 

3. Recognition – When God is doing a work in our life, sometimes it is hard for us to see it.  We need a trusted friend to come alongside us and say, “You know, I can really see that you’ve grown in such-and-such.”  I love the story of Peter and Jesus as the “first breakfast” where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him.  After three times, Peter is sad because he knows that he had denied the one he loved.  But Jesus affirms Peter; he calls out truth in Peter’s life and tells him that he will be a minister to God’s flock and eventually even die for Him.  In that moment, Jesus saw something in Peter than Peter just couldn’t see.  Peter saw failure; Jesus saw a faithful friend and fellow minister.

Kids need us to be that for them.  They need us to recognize Jesus in them and to call out those gifts and callings with faith and excitement.  In our homes and in our churches sit tomorrow’s pastors, teachers, missionaries, doctors, businessmen, artists but they are today’s church, needing discipled, mentored, and encouraged in their faith.  A simple note, a whispered prayer, a quiet compliment, a shared Bible verse could be all it takes for a child or youth to see who they are in Christ.  Engage them; recognize for them what they can’t see for themselves.  Let them know they are relevant today because in doing so, you help ensure their relevance for tomorrow.

Have you ever seen a kid’s eyes light up when you give them that little moment of notice and appreciation?  Just think about how their souls light up when we engage their very spirits!  It’s worth some time for us as adults to stop and really look.  It’s worth even more than a “like” on Facebook.


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.

What if They Ask… (and They Will): 4 Thoughts on Answering The Questions

“Mom, I have a question…?”

Is there a scarier statement in the whole wide world!?  Especially as they grow older and their questions get more, um, exciting?  I think every time by almost-12 year old starts a conversation like that, my heart has a mini-heart attack just waiting to see what the question will be.  95% of the time it’s something like, “Can Amber have a sleepover?” or “Can I watch a movie?” but sometimes… sometimes it’s the question my heart was dreading, questions I don’t want to have to answer or I don’t feel prepared to answer.

I heard someone once say that parenting is like the world’s scariest, fastest roller coaster. You the-roller-coaster-526534_1280get a slow climbing start (nine months sounds about right) and then, bam, fastest learning curve on the planet and you fly down the first hill of sleepless nights, first everythings, and a tiny person in your capable(?) care.  From that point, you might as well just settle in for the craziest up-and-down ride of your life that seems to increase in speed exponentially as said child grows.  You’ll take turns that twist your neck, throw out your back, and make your stomach do flip-flops.  You’ll experience amazing bursts of adrenaline, hilarious laughter, and you’ll “throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care.”  There will be moments where you’ll scream, “Stop the ride!  I can’t do this!” and then moments where you’ll shout, “Woohoo!  I just did that!” 

So if parenting is a roller coaster, then those questions are the drops, where your heart plunges and you think, “Nope, can’t handle this one.”  I’ve seen and experienced many different reactions that parents have to these question moments.  When the tough questions come, I’ve seen parents retreat and I’ve seen parents engage.  I’ve seen subjects get changed, answers get delayed, and interrogations take place.  And as a parent myself, I am definitely navigating the waters of the best parental response to these moments.

Can I offer these few thoughts?

1. Don’t react in Fear – Fear is an awful thing.  It convinces us of things like, “You’re not good enough.  You can’t do this right.  You are going to screw this up.”  It whispers in your ear, “Answer this question perfectly OR your kid is lost and it’s your fault.”  I’ve watched fear lead parents to completely close themselves off from their children because they are so afraid of messing up.  That in and of itself will harm.  Remember this in those moments, “God has not give us a spirit of fear, but of POWER, and of LOVE, and of a SOUND MIND.” (2 Tim. 1:7).  That fear you feel?  Not from God.  The power, love, and sound mind you experience? From God.  Lean into that and fight fear.  Even if you have to say, “That’s a great question and I want to answer it.  Let’s set a time to do that because I want to pray first and give you the best answer I can” will be better than just dodging the question in fear.

2. Expect the Questions – As much as we don’t want to think about our children experiencing that “dark side” of the world, they will.  Whether it be moral issues, faith istrustussues, personal issues, emotional issues… they will experience it all… JUST LIKE YOU DID!  Anticipate the questions, because they are coming.  There’s probably not too much that could take you off guard, if you allow yourself to sit down and actually think through the issues they will face.  If you struggle with that, I recommend the book Trust Us, They’ll Ask published by Group .  This book is a fantastic resources to get you thinking ahead to questions that you will face and you won’t be taken off guard.

3. Ask the Questions – I will never forget sitting in a seminar with Jim Burns where he spoke about when it was the right time to talk to your kids about sex.  He shared an example of a five year old coming home and asking what sex was.  The mom, not ready for this question, panicked and launched into a twenty-minute detailed explanation of sex and reproduction – the whole sha-bang.  After she was done, she asked, “Do you have any questions?” and the little boy responded, “Well, that still doesn’t help me fill out this paper for school.  My only choices for sex are M and F.”

Sometimes in our panic or our zeal we forge ahead into territory our kids aren’t ready for yet.  A few probing questions on your part before you answer, such as, “Hmm, why do you ask that?” or “That’s a good question.  Where did you hear about that?” could be just the barometer you need to know where to start and what to say.  Slow down the roller coaster in your own heart.

4. Rely on Christ – Look, the reality is, they will ask the questions and you will struggle to answer.  “How much should I say? How far should I go?  How deep should I venture?”  In those moments, rest in this promise, “the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Luke 12:12).  God won’t leave us hanging; He is more invested in your child’s future than you are and He wants them to grow and learn with you.  If He has called you to parent, and you are answering that call, then He will equip you and lead you in the doing.

If parenting is a roller coaster, then He is those really tight bars and straps that keep you from flying out.  You are exactly the right person they should be asking!  If you don’t have the conversation with them, then someone else will, and who knows what they will learn from them.

You are the single most important influence in your child’s life.

You have a great privilege, a beautiful calling, and a God who is with you every step of the way.


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.

End the Millennial Postmortem

Every few weeks I see a rash of “Millennials Leaving the Church” and “How to Get Millennials Back” articles make a run on Facebook.  They get lots of “likes” and lots of attention and foster lots of “Well, I think…” discussions.

And I am so tired of them.

I know that sounds terrible.  It sounds like I don’t care about the Church or about Millennials.  And those two things couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I care deeply about both.  But I am tired of all of the talking and analyzing and bemoaning and wooing and attention that is being placed on this one group.  It’s as though this topic has become the newest Christian distraction.  Wanna be relevant?  Millennials.  Want to be authentic? Millenials. Wanna be incarnational? Millenials.  Want to revitalize? Millenials!

Meanwhile, I go to church every Sunday and are met with a group of people that are actually IN my church.  A group of people who are NOT Millennials.  A group of people who are excited about Jesus and church and the Bible and the small groups and Sunday school.  I don’t think we have a catchy name for their generation yet; most of us just call them kids.

While we are busy trying to figure out how to get the Millennials back in our pews, we have the eyes of an entire generation looking to us to keep them in the pews.  They haven’t decided yet that church is too showy or too traditional.  They don’t know the difference between being seeker-friendly or missional.  They have no idea what liturgy, sacraments, theology and denominations are and they are not likely to critique whether or not the music is too loud, too upbeat, too slow, or too quiet.childchurchThey are looking to us for one thing – they want to be seen, they want to be loved, they want to belong.

Because children don’t need convinced that God is love and that He loves them.  You tell them, they believe it.  But they do need to see that love lived out in us. They need to see a group of adults who don’t just say, “Eh, they’re kids.  They don’t get it” but instead say, “Oh, they’re children!  They are the ones that get it!”  As Jesus said, “Let the children come to Me.  Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.” (Luke 18:16 NLT).  They need the Church to engage them today so they are not disengaged tomorrow and following the Millennials the next.

Recently, I was able to hear Reggie Joiner, author of Think Orange, share at a conference where he said, “No one should feel more welcome at a church than a kid.  It doesn’t matter if they are a screaming baby, a whiny kid, a stinky middle schooler, or a annoying teenager; if you welcome them, you welcome God.” Think about that for a minute.  Really give that some thought.  What if… what if we did that?!?

Would your church look different if that was how you headed into each and every service, prayer time, worship gathering? If you knew, Jesus himself was going to walk through your doors, how would you react?  Would anything change?  Because Jesus himself said, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.” (Mark 9:37 NLT).

Come on Church!  We need to STOP! 

We need to take a deep breath, shake our heads and open our eyes to the generation right in front of us.  The Millennial postmortem has to stop.  The generation that is in our hands right now are NOT them and even if we could definitely say, “Here it is – here’s the magic bullet, the place where we went wrong” and we fixed it, WE COULD STILL LOSE THE KIDS!  Because they aren’t themThey are who THEY are.

There a many lessons to learn from those who have chosen not to walk away.  We’ve learned that kids who interact with their parents around faith in their home are much less likely to leave the church.  We’ve learned that kids who are able to engage in service and actively participate in the ministry tend to stay involved as they grow older.  We’ve learned that young people who have meaningful relationships with engaged adults in the church create ties that lead to discipleship and faith that sticks. (For more on this, click here)

So, now it’s time to do those things.  We’ve got a live body; a growing, breathing, beautiful, alive generation walking into church, not as much as we’d like (average attendance for most “churched” kids is 1-2 times a month, and that’s linked directly to parental attendance) but they are there.  Let’s keep them there Church! 

Parents, talk about faith at home like their faith depends on it…because it does.

Church, allow your children and young people to be in ministry, to lead the church in worship, share Scripture, pray, serve, and grow with you.

Adults, know the names of the kids in your church; pray for them, go to their ball games, cheer them on with their studies, and worship with them every chance to get.

Walk away from the postmortem.  Embrace life – welcome the children; welcome God!


Looking for practical ways to engage and connect with that next generation?  Check out this post on  5 strategies for refocusing on them!

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.