Because They Are Watching

I won’t be blogging about flags.  Or rainbows. Or SCOTUS decisions. Or even #lovewins.

I won’t write an open letter to the church, to the left, to the right or to the government.

I won’t use this platform to share my views as a Christian, a citizen, a parent or a minister.

Not because I don’t have views.  Not because I don’t have opinions. And not even because I worried about what others might think if I shared them.

I will however use this blog to pause briefly and remind all of us of this:  Your children are watching.aroni-738305_1280

They may not understand everything you say, but they understand the heart from which you say it.  Kids have the uncanny ability to sense the emotions and tensions that surround the words and actions of adults and the decided lack of ability to process it in a mature way.  Kids live in a place where fantasy and reality, abstract and concrete, intermingle to create a world into which they live. And we, as adults, give framework to that world.

So if we, as adults, react in fear, our children learn that these situations should be approached in fear.  If we respond in hate, guess how our children will respond when they are challenged.  If words of anger and confusion come from our mouths, then we shouldn’t be surprised when those who are learning from us do as they have been taught.

If on the other hand, our response is measured by grace, clothed in love, grounded in trust, and manifest in prayer and hope, our children will learn from that as well.  They will learn that our faith and our God aren’t swayed by circumstance or situation, good or bad, but is constant and steadfast in the midst of any and every scenario.

Before we say, post, do, or act… let’s stop first and consider, “What am I teaching my child through this?”  And then react in the way you hope that they will react when they are faced with challenging and confusing situations.  Because they really are watching you and learning what it means to be a Christian in the everyday.

Read the follow-up post here


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

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Parenting: A Long View

Last night was the first night of our Family VBS.  And by “Family VBS” I mean that families attended together, rather than just dropping of the kids or separating into different classes; instead, the whole family, however that was structured, participated in all the activities together.  There were games and crafts and stories in a Bat Cave. We ate dinner together, survived the Plagues of Egypt obstacle course, built towers to the sky, and threw rubber chickens at “bad guys.”

In the midst of the fun, I couldn’t help but notice a few parents, caregivers and grandparents experiencing some…shall we say, challenging moments with their kids.  Whether it was paint on a wall or food on the ground, spilled drinks or excited behavior, there were moments where Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa would probably not have described as “fun.”  Interestingly however, it was those same people who messaged me later and shared thing like, “My kids had a great time tonight.  I enjoyed getting to do things with them.  It was good being able to really be together. Looking forward to tomorrow.”

Maybe you’ve experienced this same thing. Right now a popular blog post making its rounds on Facebook describes a mom who had a particularly rough day but as she lays her kids down to sleep that night, her child tells her that it was the best day ever.  While she can only see the challenging moments, her child saw one thing – they had spent the whole day together.

Recent studies show that 8-18 year olds spend an average of 7 hrs and 11 minutes involved in some screen media every day. That is a lot of time in front of a screen.  Even if that screen time takes place at home, it’s time that families are not spending “together.”  Being in the same space as another person is not the same as being together with that person.

Being together leads to some challenging moments.  When we are truly with another person, especially a child, we get the whole package; the good, the bad, and the extremely frustrating.  We have to deal with sugar highs and bedtime blues.  We cringe when the paint flies and the tears fall and we bite our tongue when the milk spills and the cookie crumbles (all over your freshly cleaned carpet..every. single. time.).  Like iron sharpens iron, so one man (woman, child) sharpens another.

But file8081300163487being together also means we get to experience the joys of life together as well. We rejoice when our child tries and succeeds, no matter what that looks like.  We hear their laughter as they try new things.  We watch their faces light up when they jump into a game or get creative with their crafts.

And when the challenging moments fade, those things remain.

And they don’t just remain for you, the parent.  They remain for your child.  Those memories become foundational and formational for them in what it means to be a family.  Sharing those little victories and fun moments create a framework for relationship with you that will help bridge the gap in the future when they are older and the challenges are a little bigger than spilt milk and cookie crumbles.  Because if you aren’t willing to share life in the little things, they probably won’t want to share their life in the big things.

BUT, if you create space to share life together, without a screen to distract or an app for that, you’ll create more than that.  You’ll build a relationship for the future that tells your child, “I am interested in spending time with you and having fun with you.  I want to be with you and it is something I am willing to give up other things for.  You are more important to me than ___________.”  And while the moments can be challenging, the long view tells us that children who play with their parents and eat with their parents are more likely to talk to their parents and listen to their parents as they grow older.  Coloring pictures (outside the lines) today could lead to life-changing conversations in the future.  The investment of time creates dividends that last long into the future.

Because I am “on the  job” at our church’s VBS, I wasn’t able to spend that time with my own family. But in the morning, when Caleb got up (way too early) guess what I heard about first?  It wasn’t when he sat in time out for being too wild.  It wasn’t when he smeared paint all over the table or dropped his lemonade on the floor. He couldn’t wait to tell me about all the fun he had with Daddy.  They made a superhero cape (the paint), ate snacks (the lemonade) and played outside (being too wild). His night wasn’t about the challenging moments.  His night was about the formational moments.  His night was about spending time with his Dad.

As my mom often shared with me, “The days are long, but the years are short.”  Take the long view, spend that intentional time with your kids, and create that space for relationships to be built on a foundation of time, love, and lemonade spills.


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

Charleston’s Thousand Word Picture

charlestonThey say a picture is worth a thousand words. This Sunday, I became convinced when I saw this picture taken that morning at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.  As this picture came across my Facebook feed, I just stopped and stared at it for a while, trying to formulate the thoughts that immediately assaulted my heart. The only thing I could put in the comment section was, “There is so much in this picture.”  In the days since, I’ve seen the picture many times and each time, I have to stop and stare.  Because in that picture, I see something that my heart is passionate about.  I see something that speaks volumes to the church, if we will listen.  I see something that shares truth with the world, if they will hear it.  And I see a vivid picture of Jesus, if we will see it.

I see..

FAITH

I sit on a church staff.  I have been in meetings where we discuss whether to open the church doors on snowy, icy mornings.  I cannot imagine the staff meeting where they had to decide if they’d open their doors on that sunny Sunday morning.  Was it a long meeting?  Did they think “Not yet.  People need time to heal.  Time to “deal with” their grief.  Not yet.”

Or, as has seemed the practice of this church since they lost their dear friends, pastor, and family, was it simply a matter of faith?  That of course we will open our church doors, just as we’ve opened them forever.  Of course we will invite in the children, for Jesus has told us to welcome them just as he told us to forgive.  Just a few days earlier, America saw a very different picture of that door, with a shooter in front of it walking in unbeknownst to the believers inside. But this door didn’t stay closed in fear.  It was opened in faith.

Through HIm you believe in God who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God.  I Peter 1:21

HOPE

Not even a week after the shootings, not even a week after death and violence and hate made its way into the sanctuary of this church, not even a week after they said goodbye to their pastor and leaders and family and friends, and the church doors are open. Not just open, welcoming!  And not just welcoming, but welcoming to the youngest among them.

I have kids.  I can imagine the fear they had returning to that place on Sunday morning.  I can imagine the feelings of confusion and sadness they had experienced that week.  But when this little girl arrives to church, the door is opened for her. She is welcomed into the space.  Her little upturned face that seems to be asking a question is answered with a door wide open and presumably a congregation ready to embrace her. A closed door says, “There’s nothing here for you” but an open door says, “Come.  Live. Hope. You are welcome here.”

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:37

LOVE

Following the terrible shooting that took place, one of the victims son’s (Chris Singleton) made a statement that within seconds had become the rallying cry of Charleston.  In honoring his mother’s faith and love for Christ, Chris said, “Love is always stronger than hate.”  And, these weren’t just words for Chris. He went on to express tearful forgiveness for the shooter.  The next day, a video was released on the victim’s families, one by one, talking to the shooter and publicly forgiving him for what he had done.

The conscious choice to choose love over hate, forgiveness over bitterness, life over death, rocked the media and the country but for me… the picture showed an even more important audience… the children of this church.  They watched the adults who have talked to them about God and sat with them in church show them through word and deed that church wasn’t a place or a time or even a tradition – church for them is being Jesus in the most tragic of circumstances and the saddest of times.  Tell me that the reaction they watched happen in their church hasn’t left lasting impressions of God’s unconditional love on their hearts.

And now these three remain; faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. I Cor. 13:13

Oh church, that we would learn from the reaction of this church, what it is to be the body of Christ in some little way.  That our faith would not be bound by fear, that our hope would not be dimmed by death, that our love would not be succumbed by hate and that our children would be welcomed in faith, hope, and love into our churches every time our doors are open.


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

Five Reasons I love My Kid’s Small Group

Last night, our family was invited to a campfire for S’mores and a birthday celebration.  We arrived without our oldest daughter and several people asked where she was.  I couldn’t help but smile inside when I answered, “She had an activity with her small group tonight.”  The responses were fun to watch. Lots of double takes.  “Her small group?  She has a small group?”

Yes, she has a small group.  Last January our church moved from a “Sunday School” model to a small group model for our elementary-aged kids.  It’s not an easy move to make.  We asked our volunteers to be willing to serve every single week for the entire school year and to commit to building relationships with their kids.  We asked for intentionality in their prayer times and willingness to go “off script” to minister to kids as needs arose.  We asked them to be willing to take church outside of the walls of a building and build relationships in the larger context of life.

group-of-kidsWe have a long way to go and we are learning our way around this new-to-us way of “doing kids ministry” but I can tell you as a parent, I am convinced that small groups hold a unique power to connect and engage our kids in a deeper walk with Christ and the local body of the church.  Here are five things that have helped me come to that conclusion and may help you if you are considering a small group model for your church.

1. Small Groups Encourage STRONG Intergenerational Relationships – One of the biggest reasons our church decided to move to a small group model was to creating a space where kids would be able to build significant and deep relationships with at least two adult members of the church.  That’s also why we asked our leaders to commit to serving for the full school year so our kids had the opportunity to build those trust relationships so necessary for their spiritual discipleship and growth.  According to Fuller Youth Institute’s study on faith that sticks in youth, “intergenerational relationships are one key to building lasting faith in students.”  Small groups facilitate those relationships in a powerful way.

2. Small Groups Encourage STRONG Interpersonal Relationships – Kids move in a variety of circles once they hit school age. They have their school friends, their neighborhood friends, their sports friends and their church friends.  But unlike the other friends, church friends may only see each other for an hour at most each week.  Creating relationships with one another is virtually impossible in large group or classroom environments with such a limited amount of time.  Small groups remove those barriers and turn that small quantity of time into meaningful quality time and allow deeper relationships to form with intention and Christ-centeredness.

3. Small Groups Encourage STRONG Church Attendance – One of the biggest struggles facing churches, and especially children’s ministries, today is the decline in regular attendance of families due to many conflicting pressures. Currently a “regular attender” could be described as a child who attends church 2 times a month meaning that child will only be in church roughly 24 hours a year.  In a recent seminar I attended with Gina McClain (KidMin at Faith Promise Church) she pointed out that as children develop relationships with one another and with a small group leader, suddenly missing church means missing them, and they are more likely to attend more regularly and to attend one service time more consistently.  And guess what that means?  The parents who are bringing them are attending more regularly too and the small group effect reaches beyond the children and into the family and home.

4. Small Groups Encourage STRONG Families – This one may seem counterintuitive as it would appear that small groups are encouraging relationships outside of the home, but we have found that our kids involvements in small groups have actually strengthened our relationships.  Not only do we know that there are adults in their lives that we can trust, our kids love to come and talk to us about what happened in small group and with their leader each time they meet.  Instead of the standard, “What did you learn about today?” followed by the typical, “Jesus” answer, our kids are excited to share the conversations and activities they experienced because they are built around relationships instead of lesson plans.

5. Small Groups Encourage STRONG Active Faith – One of the things I love best about small groups at our church is the focus on building relationships through praying for one another, sharing life together, and studying God’s Word together.  In small groups there is room for kids to ask questions, wrestle with struggles, dig deeper into Scripture, and walk through good and bad times with one another.  Faith becomes something that happens in relationship not in a building and affects all areas of their life, not just the ones that happen on Sunday.  The lesson become lived out in lives and faith is activated by the “spurring on of one another to good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).

If you are interested in looking more into small groups as a avenue for your kids or church, check out the Lead Small App available FREE for Apple devices. This app allows for leaders to create a Small Group list, track prayer requests, read blog posts, and, if your church uses Orange, the Orange curriculum can be viewed there as well.  To see all the great aspects of the app, check out this training video and be sure and check out the Lead Small blog online.


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

When Good Things Aren’t God Things Anymore

My daughter Hannah and I have been walking in the morning.  There’s a wooden bench we pass on our route that has captured our attention.  It’s a small bench, surrounded by a small garden and a little rock wall.  Obviously, this bench was a source of pride and joy to the people who placed it there.  Great care was given to make the surroundings beautiful and the atmosphere peaceful.

The only problem is, the bench is covered, completely covered, in a light green moss or fungus, and at this point actually has mushrooms growing on parts of it.  The garden is overtaken with weeds and the rock wall is hidden in their growth. It’s a curious sight.  There’s a part of me that wants to touch it just to see what it would feel like (old and spongy, rough and hard?!?). But there’s a bigger part of me that just says, as my daughter so candidly put it, “Eww, who would sit there?”

IMG_2839This whole bench thing has led to some really great conversations with her. We talked about how at one time that bench was new and shiny and obviously cared for.  Someone had put a lot of time into where the bench would go, what flowers would surround it, what direction it would face. It was important and new and wonderful in that moment.  But now, as we walk past, we think, “Who would want to sit there?”

It’s more sad than it is wonderful.  It’s a remnant of a different time; a good time, but a different time, and the only way that spot is going to see life again is if that bench is removed and something else is put in its place.  And if that doesn’t happen because the moss-covered bench that can no longer perform it purpose is too loved or too cherished to be removed, then that bench will rot into the ground and eventually that space will no longer have any life at all.

By now, you’ve figured out where our conversation ended up, I’m sure.

Because inevitably my thoughts went to the church.  So often I think we have mossy benches in our church.  It might be a program. It might be an event. It might just be “the way we do things around here.”  Whatever it is, there seems to be a plethora of them.  Things that at one time were new and beautiful and cherished, obviously put in place with purpose and care, but time and wear have begun to show their mark, and what once was useful and needed is now a moss-covered monument to its former glory.

That’s not to say all “old” things are not good things or unneeded things or not useful things.  In fact, I think we far too quickly get rid of things we should just use a little bit of elbow grease on and bring back the shine.  There are times like the story of the fig tree in Luke where what needs to happen is a bit of “digging around the roots” so life and nourishment can return to the system.  But there are other times where we need to be willing to recognize it is past fruit-bearing and needs to be cut down.

Because, as Hannah so aptly put it, who would want to sit there?  Who is going to hitch a wagon to something that is moss-covered, fruitless, and no longer useful for its purpose?  Maybe that’s why we see so many young people leaving the traditional church settings?  Maybe they can see something that we can’t see because we love our songs, our stage, our pews, our programs, our Sunday Schools, our “fill in the blank” so much that we can’t see that they’ve grown musty with tradition and covered in rote ritual and are no longer bearing fruit for the kingdom of God.

It’s a difficult thing to consider.  Because like that bench, there was love and passion and good, useful, fruit-bearing moments that accompanied these things at first.  But we have got toold-70942_1280 be willing to look, with open eyes and willing hearts, to the practices and programs of our churches and say, “Do we love this more than we love the kingdom of God?”  We must be willing to “pray continually” about the good things to make sure they are the God things.  We must use the Bible, not as a defense weapon to keep what WE want, but as a measuring stick to ensure we are in line with His will.

And, in my opinion, we must ask the children, the youth, the young people…”What do you think?” Because they might just have the exact right new bench ready to take its place and bring life to that spot once again.  Before they leave, we need to ask, “What is Jesus leading you to do?  Where is Jesus telling you to go?  What is God’s call on your life as a member of this body?”  And we need, we must, let them follow that call, even if it touches our beloved bench.

As I read this post to my husband, he said, “It’s good.  Nothing really outstanding or groundbreaking.”  Maybe not, but the truth is, I still see a lot of mossy, musty “benches” in churches.  I see ministers and pastors trying to make things work that are no longer workable.  I see frustrated parishioners trying to make things wonderful “like they’ve always been.”  I see weary leaders trying to keep the old afloat because “it is what it is.”  And it may not be new news that we don’t have to do that, but it sure seems like news we need to hear…again.

We don’t need to be afraid of the new thing.  God sure isn’t and He has only one thing in mind – to grow His kingdom and share His love. He says, “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Is. 43:19).  Life where there was no life.  Fruit where there was no fruit.  It’s time to ask the questions.



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

Practical Summer: Simple Ways to Invite Jesus into “Summer Vacation”

water-fight-442257_1280A few weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on the dilemma many families face in the summer when they feel like they need to choose between spending time together as a family and going to church.  (Wanna read? Click here).  Regardless of whether you “go-cation” or “stay-cation,” summer brings the luxury of longer days, relaxed schedules, fun activities, and lots of great things for the family to do together.

Here are some easy ways you can make sure that Jesus is a part of all of those great summer experiences.

1. Make a Mix “Tape”

Remember the good old days?  Just you, your dual cassette recorder, and your favorite songs?  Did I just date myself?  Anyway, there are a lot of fun ways to make a mix of all of your kids’ favorite church songs.  Ask your children’s pastor or worship leader what songs the kids have been singing over the past year and put together a mix.  You could burn a cd, add it to your Itunes or even make a play list on YouTube.  When you are in the car or sitting at home, pop it in and spend some time singing, dancing, and worshipping with your kids, with songs they know and love!

2. Play Secret Servant

This game is like Secret Santa only instead of giving material gifts, instead you are doing “random acts of kindness.”  Everyone in the family chooses a name and then their job is to secretly serve that person for whatever amount of time your family can handle the “not knowing.”  A month about tops it for our family and at the end, we do a “reveal” dinner and find out who was our secret friend for the month.

For younger kids, it’s good to have a list of ideas or pictures of things they can do for others like helping to clean, washing their bike, making a snack, etc. so that they can have plenty of ways to serve.

3. Find a Place to Serve Together

Sometimes the fun isn’t in doing something secretly but doing something together.  Lots of families will go on family missions trips but if that’s outside your budget or not the right age for your kids, there are a lot of other ways you can serve together as a family.  You could bake cookies for your neighbors, run a free car wash, serve at a local food pantry or free meal program, host a neighborhood potluck, visit the shut-ins or homebound members of your church, make up a picnic lunch and give it to another family, etc.  Making service a family activity is not only fun, but it is the #1 ways researchers have found that teens connect their faith in Jesus to their life.  Make Jesus come alive by being His hands and feet together!

4. Do a Summer Bible Reading Program

You know how the library has a cool reading program with lots of prizes for kids?  Why not do the same for your children?  Pick a book of the Bible (or do a Google Search for a Bible reading program for kids) and break it down into weeks for the summer.  Read with them or if their older have them read on their own.  Be sure to include a component, such as a question or a re-written verse, for each day that helps them connect more deeply to the word.  DO IT WITH THEM so that you can talk about it when you sit and when you rise, when you walk along the road and when you go to bed at night!  And get some cool prizes because that’s just super fun!

5. Complete a Prayer Project

Have your family brainstorm about some things that they really want to concentrate on praying for or about.  It could be anything from friends and family in need to global issues they’ve heard about on the news.  Make a poster with your topic on it and hang it somewhere in the house where family members can see it.  Throughout the summer, write prayer requests, add pictures, celebrate answers, and decorate the poster with your family’s prayers.  If you want some cool ideas to make prayer come alive for your family, check out these Four Fun and Simple Ways to Pray with Your Kids.

Summer vacation is the perfect time to be intentional about the time you get to spend together as a family!  Are there any fun traditions or activities you do in your home or ministry?  I’d love to hear from you!  And if you’d like to join the larger family ministry conversation, check out our group page on Facebook and join with ministers and parents in talking about how we can equip the home, engage the church, and disciple the youngest generations!


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.

The Tiniest Thing with the Greatest Impact

The other day, my kids broke a glass in the living room.  We immediately sprang into action, protecting bare feet, sweeping up broken pieces, vacuuming up the tiny shards, and mopping up the ones we couldn’t see.  To the best of our ability, we cleaned up the mess.

The next morning, I woke up early and did a workout.  It went fine, except the push-ups because, well, they never go fine.  But throughout the day, I kept feeling an irritation on my leg.  Couldn’t see anything but kept scratching it and wondering what bug had bitten me when.  By evening, the area was starting to swell and I was legitimately curious about what was going on.  I got it into some good light and then, I saw it…the tiniest little shard of glass had embedded itself in my leg.  Apparently we had missed one the night before and it found a new home when I was working out the next morning.

The tiniest little overlooked thing made an impact on my entire day.

Sometimes, our tiniest little overlooked words do the same thing.

hands-423794_1280Children are amazing sponges.  They soak up and take in the world around them until they are full.  And when Mom or Dad say something, it finds a home.  Our words hold incredible power in shaping their day.  Just like that tiny shard of glass stuck with me all day, irritating and aggravating, so can our careless words spoken in broken moments in their spirit.

But…imagine the power of your words of truth, words that lift up and encourage, words that draw them closer to God and call out His gifts and talents in their lives.  Those are the kinds of words that can shape our children from the inside out, drawing them into relationship not only with us but with Christ as they grow in maturity and faith.

But.. let’s take it even further.  Let’s take these powerful words into our faith community.  Imagine the power that is held when children go to church and have faithful men and women who know their name, speak words of life and truth into their lives.  Sadly, in many churches, this tiniest little thing is indeed overlooked. When children have limited or no contact with the larger congregation, these moments of “truth speaking” don’t even have a platform on which to happen.  When adults and children are separated from one another and segregated into separate areas of the building, seeing one another only briefly in the hallway, the spoken word has little room to heard but the unspoken message of unimportance, unwanted, and unnecessary can ring loud and clear.

Fuller Youth Institute spoke to young adults as they were graduating and heading to college about their church experience.  One thing they found was that the youth often felt unsupported by the adults in their church

As a research team, we weren’t all that surprised that, of five major sources of support (adults in the congregation, parents, youth workers, friends in youth group and friends outside youth group), high school seniors ranked adults in the congregation last.

What did surprise us was how far behind they were the other four groups. One graduate reported that his church “would talk about having students involved, but they never really did.” Another reflected that church members “wanted nothing to do with us… I think they see us as kind of scary in that we’re the people on the news, you know, who are dealing drugs and getting pregnant and all those sort of things…keeping us separate and treating us like we were a hazard.”

The tiniest little overlooked thing – the missing words of life and truth – can indeed impact a lifetime.

But.. what happens when these powerful words are not missing, not overlooked?

More than any single program or event, kids were far more likely to feel like a significant part of their local churches when adults made the effort to get to know them. One student beamed as he said, “We were welcomed not just in youth group; we were welcomed into other parts of the ministry of the church: the worship team on Sunday mornings, teaching Sunday school to kids and helping with cleaning and serving. All these other types of things really just brought the youth in and made them feel like they had a place and even feel like they were valued as individuals.” 

Such a small thing really – speaking words of truth and welcome.  Knowing names.  Seeing gifts.  Speaking life.  But these tiny things, often overlooked things, smallest seemingly insignificant moments can create a lifetime of “stickiness” to faith, to God, to church, to family.

It will take intentionality on our parts to make sure we don’t overlook the small things.  But when we are intentional.  When those small things find a place to implant and to grow, those small things become big things, and those seemingly insignificant moments become solid foundations for lives and faith to grow.

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” Zech. 4:10


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

Millennials Are Not Leaving Their Faith

Millennials are NOT leaving their faith.

Seriously, they aren’t.  In fact, 59% of the faith population are Millennials, which is crazy because only 40% of the general population are Millennials.  But it’s the truth.

It’s just that the faith isn’t Christianity.  It’s Islam.

If you read this blog at all, you know my passion for equipping the home as the primary place of faith formation.  While this concept is certainly not new to the Christian church, it is one that is experiencing a revival of sorts as the number of 18-29 year olds in church declines and recognition that “siloed” or age-segregated ministries have had the unintentional affect of segmenting families and replacing the parental discipleship role with a ministerial one.

But this concept of focusing on the home and parents/caregivers is not a uniquely Christian one.  While it is a “hot topic” right now in evangelical settings, it is not a new idea or a singularly biblical thought.

In fact, the Muslim religion is quite emphatic about the intentionality of discipling kids in the faith.  

In an article I recently read by a Muslim cleric on the topic of “pious parenting” he quotes the prophet Mohammad saying,

“The Prophet once looked towards some young children and said, “Woe be upon the children of the latter days from that which their fathers will do (to them).” It was said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! From their fathers who are polytheists? He replied, ‘No! From their fathers who are believers however they do not teach them anything from the (religious) obligations and whatever they teach their children from the (transient) world, they only teach them that amount which will allow them to “get by” with ease. Indeed, I am not from them, nor are they from me.”

He tells parents that…

“when you learn and review your faith and how you worship, especially its rituals and traditions, then review with your spouse what is of particular importance to you. Remember that your younger children will not understand many theological concepts of your faith, but they will develop their faith through words and actions and conversations with you and your spouse.”

child-573351_1280He quotes saying after saying from the Koran that encourages parents to play with their children, to show compassion to them and to live up to the promises they make to them, and to teach them the tenets of Islam before the disbelieving get to them. There is intentionality.  There is consistency.  There is a recognition that the home is the primary place of faith formation and that even in utero, the Koran is read to the unborn child.  The first words a child hears, whispered first into his right and then left ear is from the Koran.  As I heard one Muslim teacher once share, “The children are the greatest investment.”

I’m not an expert on Islam in any way nor would I claim to be and I know that just because I’ve read and heard these things, it doesn’t mean that’s how it plays out in every community. But I also know, it wasn’t hard to see this emphasis on the next generation as I’ve been studying my own heart for faith formation in the home.

And how has this emphasis affected Islam?

  • Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world (according to Pew Research).
  • The Muslim American population is much younger, on average, than the non-Muslim population. The survey finds that 59% of adult Muslims are between the ages of 18 and 39, compared with 40% of adults in the general public.
  • American Muslims have a 76% retention rate as compared to under 50% for most Protestant religions. (That means their kids stick with their faith as they become adults).

I realize of course that there are other factors involved but I do think that there is a correlation between the intentionality of religious instruction in Muslim homes and the fact that their children and young people do not tend to leave their faith as they grow.  And, as a family minister, I cannot help but contrast that with the decline of these same age groups in the evangelical church  and the growth of the “religious nones” or the Unaffiliated.  And guess which religion most of the Unaffiliated grew up with in their home?  Christianity. (Source: Pew Research).

Maybe it’s all a fluke.  Maybe the retention of Muslims has nothing to do with their emphasis on practicing their faith in the home with their children.  Maybe the growth of the Unaffiliated from Christian families isn’t because of the lack of emphasis on discipleship in the home and the segmented, age-segregated format of the church.  Maybe the correlations aren’t really correlations just things that happen to coincide.

But then again, maybe not.  

Maybe there is something to this refocusing on the family and reaffirming the home.  Maybe there is good to be found in the intentional creation of intergenerational relationships for the purpose of passing on the faith.  Maybe there is an integral piece missing when faith get compartmentalized to a building, a time, a Sunday school teacher or a pastor instead of incorporated into the very fabric of the home, the family, and the local body.

I happen to believe it’s more than a fluke and I’m willing to fight for this generation, these families, and Christ’s body today with these convictions in my heart.

Because children aren’t just our greatest investment.  They are a means of welcoming Christ, and not only Christ, but the One who sent Him, into our midst.  They are the ones to whom belong the kingdom of God.  They are the church.  Let’s give them every bit of the riches, grace, and mercy we’ve been given and pass our faith on, from the moment they are born.

Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Dt. 6:7


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

Unaffiliated

A few weeks ago (May 12, 2015) the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life released the findings from its latest study.  As expected, this release brought about a flurry of blog posts focused mainly on the decline of Millennials in the church.  If you follow my blog you know my thoughts on that one, but if you are unfamiliar, feel free to read the article End the Millennial Postmortem here.

I purposely steered clear of reading the study until the buzz died down and I could read without other voices in my head telling me what to see.  I wanted to see for myself this abject decline of the church and the overwhelming gap left by Millennials who have chosen to walk away from organized religion in the form of “church.”  And, as everyone warned, I saw it.  I saw that for Evangelical Protestants and Mainline Protestants on 16/17% of their population was made up of 18-29 year olds.  I saw that these percentages matched those of the Catholic church and the Jehovah’s Witness.

Age_Distribution_by_Religious_Group_(2014)

But I saw something more disturbing than that.  I saw that those were the ONLY religions were showing the lowest percentages.  In contrast, 34% of Buddhist were in the 18-29 age group, 34% of Hindus, and a whopping 44% of Muslims (almost half, think about that!).  The only other category that could even come close to competing with those was the new religion of “Unaffiliated” which, for the first time in Pew history, hit a high of 35%.

What’s going on?!?

It’s not that suddenly 18-29 year olds don’t associate with religion.  44% of the Muslims surveyed were Millennials!

It’s not that 18-29 year olds don’t believe in God.  Of all the survey respondents who identified as Unaffiliated or “religious nones” only 3.1 % identified themselves as atheist.

I think it’s simply that they are… Unaffiliated.

The religion that has seen the biggest drop? Christianity.   And the area with fastest growth?  Unaffiliated.

That word just makes me sad.  If you look up the definition for “unaffiliated” you’ll read things like, “not associated with another or others” and “not connected” and ” not a part of.”  I think if we look at the multiple studies that have been done on why there’s been a decline in the attendance of 18-29 year olds in church, they put it this way; “We don’t belong.”  There’s a sense that there simply is not place for them any more.  They had a place a kids in the children’s department and they had a place as youth in the youth department but as high-school graduates, they are met with a way of worship with which they are unfamiliar, a group of people they have little to no relationship with, and a myriad of other opportunities outside the church building walls that are screaming, “You BELONG Here!”

They are…Unaffiliated.

And in the words of one of the most noted Millennial bloggers (Rachel Held Evans), their generation is “struggling to find a faith community in which we feel we belong.”

And I cannot help by look at my daughter, getting ready to enter middle school, and think, “What about you?  Do you feel like you belong in church? Do you feel like you are a needed part of the body of Christ? Do you know that you are necessary?”

I look at my 9 yr old little girl and I pray, “Lord, let her know her voice is important.  The church needs her smile, her songs, her prayers and her love.  Let her understand that she doesn’t need to search because she belongs.”

And I look at my “baby” my 4 yr. old son whose name means “wholly devoted” and I hold him and ask him, “Who loves you?” and he says, “Jesus loves me” and I say, “Always and forever…you belong.”

Because if you feel like you don’t belong, if you feel like you aren’t needed, it’s very easy to become…Unaffiliated.

And that’s on us, Church.

So find the kids in your pews.  Find the little ones in Sunday School.  Find the middle schoolers in your youth room and your high schoolers in the worship band.  Find them, welcome them, engage with them, invite them, listen to them, and make sure that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are members of Christ’s body and they most certainly belong.

And more than that, make sure your actions match your words.

Give them the chance to serve in ministry.  Let them share what God is speaking to them.  Let them lead you in worship and read to you the Scriptures. Incorporate them into the very fabric of your local body until not just they, but you, know that without them, you’d be incomplete.  Until each generation is convinced that they are exactly where they belong…in the body of Christ.  Connected to Jesus and one another in the bond of love and community; not alone, not disconnected, not removed…a part of a larger whole… Affiliated.


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

Operation Intentionality: Rhythms and Routines

I was so blessed a few months ago when one of the moms who attends our church wrote a blog about our Wednesday night Family Faith Formation groups. But this morning, when she shared the article with our entire congregation during our Celebration service, I was challenged to re-examine my own intentionality at home.  I hope you are just as blessed and challenged as I have been!

Operation: Intentionality: Rhythms & Routines

by Kate Muesing
At church Wednesday nights, our Family Ministries Director has been focusing on the “Rhythms & Routines” of our families. The focus has not been to add anything more to our family life, but instead to figure out how to invite Jesus into our already existing rhythms and routines.

This past week, she asked us to focus on what interrupts our rhythms & routines, and she focused on three main areas: fear, distraction, & busyness.  We were asked to choose the one that is the biggest problem for our particular family.  I, being the rebel that I am, decided that none of these interrupted our rhythms and routines quite as much as laziness.  Sure, at times we are distracted by the TV. And, yes, fear is occasionally the reason we don’t start new things.  Occasionally, we are even a little busy.  However, laziness is more often than not the culprit.  You see, we don’t have a great routine.  We have a rhythm, I guess.  But every day seems to be different than the last.  The reason for our lack of routine is absolutely my own fault.  I SUCK at routines and schedules.  I just don’t like them.

But, I digress.

You see, we choose -yes, we are intentional about this- to be not busy.  We choose to leave room for relationships and spontaneity.  We don’t have a ton of activities.  We aren’t on a bunch of boards, or councils.  We don’t schedule too much ahead of time.  That seems to stress us out.

But, when does all of this cross the line into laziness?
When I choose to turn the tv on instead of playing with the kids.
When I choose to plan so much time away from my house (playdates and such) that I ignore the housework that needs to get done.
When I neglect things that need to be done (homeschooling).

Worst of all, it’s laziness when I don’t make the effort to invite Jesus into our every day lives.
It’s laziness when I don’t even recognize that God is opening doors for our family.

Has my laziness deprived my family of some of God’s sweet blessings? Have I been too lazy to look to God first in every situation, and how has my family unknowingly suffered for that?

There’s something to be said for regular rhythms and routines in the life of our families.  They can provide stability and a help little ones cope better with transitions.  They give me an excuse to say, “O my gosh! We do this Every. Single. Day!” and really mean it!

But, rhythms and routines are nothing without Jesus at the center of them.  He is the reason we do everything.  EVERYTHING!  He’s the reason we get together with friends.  He’s the reason we brush our teeth.  He’s the reason we take care of our homes.  He’s the reason we learn and teach.  He has given us bodies and brains and friends and homes…we do everything in His Name in order to be good stewards of the things and relationships HE has given us.

But, inviting Jesus into our rhythms and routines is exactly that.  It’s an invitation.  An invitation is inherently intentional!  We make the choice to give up our lives, and hand them over to God.  We make the choice to give Him the space and freedom to move. To grow us. To stretch us. To enhance our lives. To bless us!  Gosh! I don’t want to miss that!  I don’t want to miss out on what God wants to do in my life -and in the life of my family- because I am too lazy to invite Him!

In conclusion (have you noticed that I also suck at ending my blog posts?!), I want to be intentional.  In my relationship with Jesus. In my family. In my home.

This is my prayer…

…because praying with intention that my heart will be clean and my spirit in the right place, will align me in His perfect peace, and will keep me walking with Him in every aspect of my life. 🙂


To read more from Kate, check out her blog Osito.

Join the family ministry 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.