The Words Their Souls Long To Hear

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I got down on my knees in front of her, her eyes locked on mine in anticipation of what I was about to say.  She didn’t know what was coming – after all, it was children’s church and I had singled her out in front of everyone. There was a hint of trepidation in her anticipation as I leaned in and said, “Sarah*, God loves you so very much.  He created you for a purpose and He wants to be your friend.”

A smile crossed her face as I stood and encountered at a room full of faces, looking at me…who would be next?  What would I say?

I walked over to a young man, shyer than the rest, quietly watching my every move.  I got down on my knees, looked into his wondering eyes and said, “Cade*, you are growing into a strong man of God, filled with His purpose and design.  God loves you so very much and longs to be your friend forever.”  His eyes glistened with tears as he ducked his head and I stood.

The simple purpose of that moment was to demonstrate the Bible verse we’d been learning, that we were agents for Christ and that God was making His appeal through us.  And “What is an appeal?” I was asked so I demonstrated this simple appeal from God, “I love you.  I have a purpose for you. I want to be your friend.

It is rare that a room full of preschool-5th graders is silent.  It isn’t often that all of them have their eyes fixed on the speaker, let alone sitting still in their chairs paying attention. But in that moment, time stood still for those two in particular.  I was there, kneeling before them, looking intently in their eyes and speaking to their souls.  And what’s crazy is, every kid in that room wanted to be next.

Even though they knew what was going to be said.  Even though it was “just” a demonstration.  Every single one of them, including my own, wanted me to kneel in front of them an tell them this simple truth:

God loves you.  You have a purpose. God wants to be your friend.

I couldn’t shake the feeling of that moment.  It clung to me for the rest of the day.  The apprehension in their unsure eyes replaced by sheer joy and glistening tears.  The smiles. The freedom. It made me want to walk up to every single one and say…”God loves you!  Oh how He loves you!  And He has a purpose for you and He wants to be with you, to be your friend.”

Paul must have felt the exact same way.

He tells the Corinthians that because he and the apostles knew the Lord and “the love of Christ controls” them, they “regard no one according to the flesh” rather as people in the process of being reconciled to God.  And in that context Paul says, “Therefore we are ambassadors (we used the word agents) for Christ, God is making his appeal through us.”

When is that last time you carried that appeal to the world?  

When’s the last time you carried that appeal to your home?  

Not just in vague religious terms, but in pointed conversation. Getting on your knees, looking in their eyes, and speaking that truth to their souls.  Not regarding them according to the flesh, as merely physical beings in need of care or intellectual beings in need of training or emotional beings in need of love – but as spiritual beings in need of reconciliation with God.

To speak to the very core of who they are the words of life, indeed, abundant life. 

In that moment with the kids at church, something tangible happened.  I could literally feel the longing in the room of each child for me to come to them, to look them in the eye, and make this appeal to their soul.

This generation of children who have so many things to distract them, to keep their souls wandering and their spirits wasting, are thirsty for this truth to be poured into them; not once, not twice, but over and over again, in intentional ways, meaningful ways, and personal ways.

Try it.  Really I mean it.  Find a child.  Kneel before them.  And speak this truth to their souls.  And watch them respond in joy from that place of their soul’s deep longing.

Because we are agents for Christ.  God is making his appeal through us.


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 home-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, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

Guest Blogger: John Wesley (Yes, THAT John Wesley)

In his sermon “On Family Religion”, Wesley shares his heart on discipleship at home.  I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I’m just going to step aside and let him share. (read the full text here: Sermon 94, 1872 text)

You should particularly endeavor to instruct your children, early, plainly, frequently, and patiently. Instruct them early, from the first hour that you perceive reason begins to dawn. Truth may then begin to shine upon the mind far earlier than we are apt to suppose. And whoever watches the first openings of the understanding, may, by little and little, supply fit matter for it to work upon, and may turn the eye of the son, toward good things, as well as toward bad or trifling ones.

Whenever a child begins to speak, you may be assured reason begins to work. I know no cause why a parent should not just then begin to speak of the best things, the things of God. And from that time no opportunity should be lost, of instilling all truths as they are capable of receiving.

But the speaking to them early will not avail, unless you likewise speak to them plainly. Use such words as little children may understand, just such as they use themselves. Carefully observe the few ideas which they have already, and endeavour to graft what you say upon them.

To take a little example: Bid the child look up; and ask. “What do you see there?” “The sun.” “See, how bright it is! Feel how warm it shines upon you hand! Look, how it makes the grass green! But God, though you cannot see him, is above the sky, and is a deal brighter than the sun! It is he, it is God that makes the grass and the flowers grow; that makes the trees green, and the fruit to come upon them! Think what he can do! He can do whatever he pleases. He can strike me or you dead in a moment! But he loves you; he loves to do you good. He loves to make you happy. Should not you then love him? And he will teach you how to love him.”

While you are speaking in this, or some such manner, you should be continually lifting up your heart to God, beseeching him to open the eyes of their understanding, and to pour his light upon them. He alone can apply your words to their hearts; without which all your labour will be in vain. But whenever the Holy Ghost teaches, there is no delay in learning.

But if you would see the fruit of your labour, you must teach them not only early and plainly, but frequently too. It would be of little or no service to do it only once or twice a week. How often do you feed their bodies? Not less than three times a day. And is the soul of less value than the body? Will you not then feed this as often? If you find this a tiresome task, there is certainly something wrong in your own mind. You do not love them enough; or you do not love Him who is your Father and their Father. Humble yourself before him! Beg that he would give you more love; and love will make the labour light.family-457235_1280

But it will not avail to teach them both early, plainly, and frequently, unless you persevere therein. Never leave off, never intermit your labour of love, till you see the fruit of it. But in order to this, you will find the absolute need of being endued with power from on high; without which, I am persuaded, none ever had, or will have, patience sufficient for the work. Otherwise, the inconceivable dullness of some children, and the giddiness or perverseness of others, would induce them to give up the irksome task, and let them follow their own imagination.

And suppose, after you have done this, after you have taught your children from their early infancy, in the plainest manner you could, omitting no opportunity, and persevering therein, you did not presently see any fruit of your labour, you must not conclude that there will be none. Possibly the “bread” which you have “cast upon the waters” may be “found after many days.” The seed which has long remained in the ground may, at length, spring up into a plentiful harvest. Especially if you do not restrain prayer before God, if you continue instant herein with all supplication.

Meantime, whatever the effect of this be upon others, your reward is with the Most High.

It is undoubtedly true, that if you are steadily determined to walk in this path; to endeavour by every possible means, that you and your house may thus serve the Lord; that every member of your family may worship him, not only in form, but in spirit and in truth; you will have need to use all the grace, all the courage, all the wisdom which God has given you; for you will find such hinderances in the way, as only the mighty power of God can enable you to break through.

You will have all the saints of the world to grapple with, who will think you carry things too far. You will have all the powers of darkness against you, employing both force and fraud; and, above all, the deceitfulness of your own heart; which, if you will hearken to it, will supply you with many reasons why you should be a little more conformable to the world.

But as you have begun, go on in the name of the Lord, and in the power of his might!

Set the smiling and the frowning world, with the prince thereof, at defiance. Follow reason and the oracles of God; not the fashions and customs of men. “Keep thyself pure.” Whatever others do, let you and your house “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.” Let you, your yoke-fellow, your children, and your servants, be all on the Lord’s side; sweetly drawing together in one yoke, walking in all his commandments and ordinances, till every one of you “shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour!


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 home-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, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

A Person’s a Person: What We Forget When Life Isn’t Valued

This blog originally posted a week ago. Since then, two more videos have been released from Planned Parenthood. My heart continues to break. The casual way this has been addressed by the media, the lackadaisical attitude with which the general public has responded (some even defending such horrific acts as “legal” and therefore legitimate), and the willingness to turn a blind eye or distract to other causes (like a lion in Zimbabwe) shows a greater numbness and apathy towards the sacredness of human life than I originally imagined.  It is imperative that we speak life – to our children, to each other, to this world – and that we never allow ourselves to grow callous and numb. 

Our hearts should break.  Our sleep should be restless.  Our stomachs should turn and our eyes fill with tears.  We shouldn’t need to wait for “another boy” to lose their life and limbs and for another girl to walk away wondering if that was her “clump of cells” being dismembered and sold for parts. We should be the voice for the voiceless – we are called to no less.  We need to return the dignity and holiness to life that God breathed into it and said, “It is good.”  We cannot grow numb.  We just can’t.


A person’s a person, no matter how small.” – Dr. Suess, Horton Hears a Who

I came across this book while I was cleaning my son’s room yesterday and fell open to this page…and I started to cry.  Right before I had come up to clean, I had viewed just a small portion of the released Planned Parenthood video where one person was discussing with another person the sale of the body parts of another person as though they were talking about jewelry or shoes. This quote cut through the numbness and I cried.

I cried for the children.

I cried for the doctor.

I cried for the mothers.

I cried for a nation who has so devalued life that this conversation could even take place in a restaurant over wine and be defended by some as “perfectly legal.”

And I can’t help but wonder how we begin to address this with our children.  Oh, I don’t want you to sit down and talk about the Planned Parenthood video and the evil displayed there.  But I do think we need to begin to instill in our kids a high value on life, theirs and the lives of others.

This world seems hell-bent (literally) on destroying life.  From video games to television shows, we see life get snuffed out before our eyes daily.  Drugs, alcohol, and disease wreak havoc on lives, destroying marriages, wrecking childhoods, and crushing dreams all around us.  Terror and violence fill our headlines and our entertainment.

This has got to have a numbing effect.  Constantly brushing up against the same thing causes callouses on our physical body; I can only assume this constant brush with destruction of life does the same to our soul.

A study done at the University of Michigan on the effect of violence in video games and movies “suggest that violent media make people numb to the pain and suffering of others.”  The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry state that children “become “immune” or numb to the horror of violence, begin to accept violence as a way to solve problems, imitate the violence they observe on television; and identify with certain characters, victims and/or victimizers.”

Church. Parents. We must “get” this!  

If the average amount of time for a child to be engaged with media during a normal week is around 40 hours, then they are awash in this message of devaluing life.  Society has immersed us to the point of numbness and our daily headlines proclaim the result of this constant message.  

But we, we are the keepers of Life!  The thief comes to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. Jesus came that we may plant-786689_1280have life, and that we may have it more abundantly (John 10:10).  We are the life-keepers, the sustainers, the light-bringers, the embodiment of hope.  We, the Church, are the very essence of Life in this world.

We should “feel” different.  We should stand out.

When people are around us, the callous on their heart should soften.  Words of hate, of death, of violence and callousness have no place in our midst.  Our children NEED to be immersed in Life every day.  Our actions should proclaim to them that life is important and valued, that their life is important and valued, that they are wanted, needed, and called by God to a purpose.  That they have a value that deserves our protection and our celebration.

And we need to tell the that by not only saying it to them and welcoming them and affirming them, but by doing that to everyone around us.  We need to model a way of living that places high value on life.  Because our society simply does not send that message.  We need to grieve deeply when life is taken so that our children know a life lost is to be grieved.  We need to cheer loudly when life is saved so they know that life is to be celebrated.  We need to guard ourselves agains the numbness and callous that can cover our own heart.

That is not easy. And it hurts.  To feel. To know the heartache of grieving loss of life in a world that constantly barrages us with that message.  But our Father grieves.  I know He does.  And hopefully, that grief will motivate us to actively seek out life – to expose our children to the places where life is being celebrated and valued.

And Church, you have got to be one of those places.  Your petty squabbles about service styles and building designs can steal that Life – don’t let it happen!  Welcome the children to a place where LIFE is happening.  Where LIFE gets the attention.  Where faith, and hope, and love are celebrated and life is the focus.  Where joy is part of the DNA and where value is placed on lives, all lives, even those who are perpetuating death.

Jon Acuff once shared that “you can’t fight against changing trends, but you can fight for unchanging truth.”  Here’s the truth:  God so loved this world, He sent His Son to us so that all who believe may have LIFE.  Let’s embrace that life.  Let’s show our children that death does not prevail.  That light always beats darkness and life conquers death.  For He came to give us life, even life to the fullest!


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 home-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, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

Where Do You Even Begin? First of All…

“I want to start moving towards family ministry at my church, but I have no idea where to begin!”

“I’d love to do discipleship at home, but we’ve never really talked about those things – how do I even start?”

These are two of the move frequent messages I get from ministers and parents since I started this blog in November last year.  And that’s understandable.  Whenever you are embarking on something new, there’s always that initial, “But I don’t know how” feeling that pops up.  It’s such an uncomfortable place to be where you can envision where you want to be and you can imagine what things could look like, but you have no idea how to get started.

I imagine that Timothy (as in from the Bible) felt much the same way.  From all accounts, we can hands-407388_1280assume that Timothy was a bit younger than most of the other apostles and ministers.  When Paul writes to him, he does so in a tone that is almost fatherly in context referring to him as “my son” and asking him to run personal errands for him like bringing him his cloak.  There’s a familiarity in the letters that set them apart the rest of the epistles with an almost familial tone.

And while I think it is a great model to use for a glimpse at a powerful intergenerational relationship between a mentor and a mentee (just had to throw that in there) what stands out to me is where Paul tells Timothy to start.  You see, Paul is instructing Timothy on the basics of setting up church.  The whole first chapter, Paul is telling Timothy that he needs to be alert and aware of false teachings and God’s grace because “some have rejected these and so shipwrecked their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19b).

I imagine Timothy being much like us and saying, “Yes, Paul, I hear you!  I don’t want my faith to be shipwrecked.  I want to be faithful, to the fight the good fight like you have, to understand the truth.  But seriously, where do I even start?  I’m young. People aren’t going to listen to me.  What if I’m not good enough?  What if they walk away? What if I fail them completely?  How do I even begin to set up a church?

And Paul, being human and getting the fact that we all need somewhere to start says, “I urge, then, FIRST OF ALL, that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone…this is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:1, 3).

First of all…

Of all the things Paul was going to go on and tell him.  Of all the instructions Timothy was about to receive. Of all the places Paul could have told him to start…prayer, specifically, requests, petitions, intercessions, and thanksgiving.

“Oh yes, of course prayer. I mean, yeah, I pray.  We all pray. But, what’s really the first step? New curriculum?  Is the a family devotional I should buy? Should I go to seminary?”

First of all…PRAY.  Paul makes that pretty clear.  He has a lot to say about a lot of things but his urging is to first of all, before everything else, pray.

That’s where it starts.  That’s where it has to start.

Because prayer does this wonderful work in OUR hearts of letting us know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is ultimately not our words, our actions, or our wisdom that will accomplish anything…it is God who changes hearts, draws hurting souls, heals broken lives, and grows disciples.  We are merely vessels of His Spirit to do His work in the lives of the people He loves.  And we must always, always start there.

So, if you are looking for where to begin, may I urge you, first of all, to do these things:

1. Request – Tell God what is on your mind.  Tell Him the burden of your heart to see families, maybe even your family, growing in faith, at home, at church, and in the community.  To see homes strengthened, parents equipped, and children excited about Christ.

2. Petition – Tell God what you need. He wants to hear from you. And if God is the one putting the burden on your heart, He is very interested in meeting your needs

3. Intercession – Pray for your kids.  Pray for your family. Pray for your church. Pray for your community. Pray for your home. Pray for your country. Pray for your leaders. Repeat.

4. Thanksgiving – Give thanks for your kids. For your family. For your church. For your community. For your home. For your country. For your leaders. Repeat.

If you are feeling God calling you to transition your church or home towards a family ministry model, the best place I can tell you to start is here.  Sure, there are tips and strategies and books and trainings and a plethora of other things that are available and yes, I’d love to share those with you as well….but…I urge you, first of all, to pray.


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 home-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, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

Confessions of a Family Ministry Blogger (and Real Life Mom)

I just put my son in his room for a quiet time.  Not because he needed one…because I needed one.  Because this has been one of those weeks where trouble seemed to seek us out on every front, and nothing went according to plan, and bills were higher than expected, and bank accounts lower than hoped.  One of those weeks where screen time wasn’t strictly monitored, where frozen pizza and box mac and cheese were consumed, and where the very thought of being intentional in the discipleship of my kids was wearying at best.

Yup, there, I said it. I didn’t want to do a faith talk or point out a God moment or celebrate squat.  I was too tired at the end of the day to ask if they had any questions and too turned-around in the morning to eek out a blessing.  Dinner conversations were good but didn’t follow our usual highs-lows format and, since we were (are) a one car family this week, time in the car was more like, “Hurry up, drop you off, pick you up, you go there, run in quick, did you fill up?” than it was a time for discussion or singing.

In the light of the very many blog posts I’ve written on faith formation at home and intentional discipleship or your kids or inviting Jesus into your everyday, it would appear that this week was a colossal failure.

Good thing, God doesn’t, you know… grade us. Or judge us.  Or dock us spiritual points.  Or doom our kids to a lifetime of wandering far from HIm because we drop the ball.  Or ever look at us and say, “Failure.”

Good thing, God’s grace is greater than my weakness and not dependent on my parenting.  And it’s a really good thing that God loves my kids infinitely more than I ever could and doesn’t stop drawing their hearts just because their mom and dad have an off week.

So what did happen this week?

One night at dinner, one of our daughters led our family through “highs and lows” when I forgot to do it.

Another evening, both girls found a song about being in God’s army and spent the evening working on a dance to it which they showed me and talked about how the music reminded them of how Jesus is their leader and they follow Him.

On our car ride, our 4 year old son made up a song that went something like, “Oh God, you are the biggest and we love you the most. Oh God, you are the God.  Ooooohhhhh  God!!!!”

And one early morning, before the rest of the family woke up, I found a note from one of the girls written to me a while back that just basically thanked me for loving her and loving God.  My own morning blessing.

Even in the “off” times, God is there.  When you create space in your home to welcome Jesus into your everyday, He graceshows up.  Discussions about faith, worship of God, and prayer for one another happen. And while I am a huge advocate of those intentional moments and very much feel that as the spiritual leaders in our home we should strive to be consistent in making those happen…I’m also a tired mom who is grateful to rest in the knowledge that God’s grace extends far beyond the scope of my parenting wins and into the very fabric of our home.

So during my quiet time today, I just want to say…

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:2,3)

He’s got this!  We are never alone.  And when we are weak, He is strong.  He is always with us.  And as you cultivate that atmosphere of welcome in your home, everything we need for a godly life will be evident, even on the days where our spirits are weary.  If you are having an off week, month, day…don’t walk in guilt and shame.  Rest in Him and continue to prayerfully invite Him in.

Quiet time is ending.  The party awaits,  The son is growing anxious.  But God is here, an ever-present help in times of need. Rest in His grace.


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 home-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, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

Practical Middle School: Four Ideas For Intentional Conversation

Last week, I shared that I was away with my (almost) 12 yr. daughter for a pre-middle-school trip away, just the two of us; a trip dedicated to some serious conversations and some serious mother-daughter fun.  A number of you wrote to me curious about our trip and what those moments of discipleship looked like, so with my daughter’s permission, I’m happy to share with you a bit about our time away.

Middle school – just hearing that can immediately strike a chord of terror in many hearts.  Whether it is because you are reflecting back on your own experience or dreading the fact that your child is now entering or in that phase, the middle school era carries with it some unique challenges.  It is for some kids their first brush with “the real world” outside the relative bubble of care that most elementary schools provide.  For others, it is the first time they are handed a bit more control and responsibility for their academics, extra-curriculars and, most importantly, their choice of friends within a wide range of peers. For all, it is that mysterious time where their body starts changing, their minds start maturing, and their hormones start raging, leading to all kinds of emotions and discoveries…the stage parents cringe at as they consider their child and remember their own journey through adolescence.

Long before we reached this exact moment, my husband and I decided that it would be prudent for us to make some plans to be pro-active in starting an intentional conversation with our kids prior to entering middle school to address the issues and changes they were about to experience.

Here are a few of the things we did to make that time memorable and meaningful for our daughter.

1. Build the Excitemmother-338289_1280ent – Long before the summer of middle school angst, we told our daughter that she would be going on a trip with Mom all by herself during that summer.  We told her she got to pick where we went (within a 4 hour radius) for our two-day overnight trip and that we would do whatever she wanted (within reason).  The build-up alone was enough to set the stage for a memorable trip; no matter what we ended up doing, she was thoroughly engaged with and owned that time and was ready to take it all in.

2. Give Over (some) Control – Since we were going to talk about some sensitive topics that could make her feel uncomfortable, I wanted to make sure I gave her some measure of control.  I wrote the topics on a number of 3×5 cards (one per card) and told her, “We will talk about each of these things on our trip, but you get to pick the order and the speed at which we go through them.”  As she initially looked through the cards, you can imagine the reactions I heard…but she was able to be in control of the conversation and that seemed to give her some peace.

3. Offer a Tangible Reminder – Ever since she was born, I have prayed the same prayer over my oldest girl – that she would grow to be a woman of excellence and noble character whose worth is far more than rubies (Pr. 31:10).  Last fall, I found a necklace that had a pendant with those words inscribed on it and I bought it with this trip in mind.  During our last meal together, I gave it to her and shared with her that whenever she wore it should could remember our time together and all that we talked and prayed about and know that she can always talk to me about anything at anytime.  She’s worn the necklace nearly every day since.

4. Have FUN – Our serious conversations took place basically on the ride down and the ride back (3.5 hours both ways was plenty of time). Remember those 3×5 cards?  I told her that if she had questions about a topic we discussed to write them on the back of the card and I’d answer them when we drove home; that I wanted our time away to be fun and full of comfortable time together so she didn’t need to feel nervous that I’d talk about those things all during the trip.  It worked out well – she wrote her questions and we were able to process together on the way home and she had space during our trip to think things through without pressure.  And while we were away, we concentrated on important things like…shopping, swimming, hiking and eating.

By no means do I think this is a “cookie cutter” way of doing things with each family and child, but these were some of the ideas that worked for us as we get ready to head into our middle school years.  By far, I think the most important part of this trip away was the message that was sent: You are important to us, so important that we are willing to drop everything to just be with you!  That message of grace, of love, and of honor can be carried out in many ways, but it is oh-so-important that the message is heard.  Intentional moments of discipleship in parenting necessarily require our time. But the rewards from that investment are lasting.

Have you had a meaningful pre-middle-school activity or conversation with your child?  There are many tools available to help with this conversation such as Passport to Purity from Family Life Today , but I’d love to hear what worked for you! Feel free to check out the links below to join our conversation on Facebook and to learn more about practical discipleship at home.


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 

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Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, 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

Watch and Learn: Church, What are We Teaching Our Kids?

I belong to a group that meets weekly and part of our time together is spent sharing “glory sightings” or times that we’ve seen God move throughout the week.  As a minister to kids and families, this is one of my favorite times.  I usually sit back and wait quietly for the inevitable moment when someone shares their “glory sighting” and it involves a child or family they saw sharing in worship together.

There is something so beautiful about seeing a child worship God.  The enthusiasm of their praise, the purity of their worship – it’s enough to make a grown man cry…literally.  Many times during the service, I’ve had someone interrupt my own worship to point out a child or family engaged in a precious moment with God.  Recently a friend of mine posted this testimony regarding her own Sunday morning experience:

Received a blessing this morning at worship that also served as a sobering reminder for me. I was singing, praying, and raising my hands in gratitude to the One Who has delivered me from death, and generally not paying much attention to what was going on around me, when the lady sitting behind me grasped my shoulder and told me to look across the aisle. One of our sweet children, no more than maybe 2 years old was on her mom’s hip, watching me and lifting her hands in praise like I was. It made me weep to see her learning worship from her church family. But it also reminded me to always be aware of how I conduct myself. You never know who is watching.

The idea of adults modeling behavior for children isn’t a new one.  Developmental psychologists have long known that childrenwatching learn by imitating adults. It’s one of the ways that we not only transmit knowledge but also culture and yes, faith.  A study by an Australian team found that children will imitate adults even if the behavior doesn’t make sense such as opening a box with a stick instead of with their hands.  What the children saw modeled, they imitated in their own everyday life.

And it doesn’t stop with childhood. A study of teenagers and addiction found that “many parents turn to professionals thinking that when their teen hears about the dangers of drug use from someone else, they will be swayed, but the truth is that usually, it’s the parents’ behavior that have much more impact on a teen’s behavior.”  

What our children see modeled, they will by and large imitate, and what they imitate will create their framework for how life is “done.”

So, what behavior are we modeling when we consistently remove the children from the larger congregational worship experience?

1. Children don’t BELONG in “big” church – I can think of no stronger message that we send to children and youth when we consistently segregate them from corporate worship.  As I’ve stated many times before, I am not against times where youth and children are separate and spending time growing in ways that reach specifically to them, but I am opposed to ministry that exclusively keeps children and youth from interacting with the larger faith community in worship.

 I am convinced that there must be times of intergenerational worship where children can see adults, more specifically their parents, engaged in worship, growing, and fellowship with the whole congregation if we want them to learn (imitate) what it is to participate in the local body of Christ.

2. Children don’t have anything to GIVE to the larger church – When our attitude towards kids is to consistently segregate them away from the adults and keep them in their own space together (with a few volunteers), we are telling them that that are unnecessary to the functioning of the church.  That we adults don’t need them to grow in our faith.  That they are a distraction from what we are doing on Sunday morning.  But Christ sends a very different message – He tells us we MUST learn from them. He tells us that that the kingdom of God belongs to them (Mark 10:14), that by welcoming them we welcome Him and the Father (Luke 9:47, 48), that we should become like them (Matt. 18:3).

How in the world can we do that if we never get to see them in praise and worship, in prayer and fellowship? How can we imitate them?

3. Children aren’t old enough (smart enough, mature enough) to UNDERSTAND God and church – Sunday school.  Ever thought about those words? It implies a place where you go to “get taught” about something.  We even call our volunteers “teachers” many times. How about Children’s Church?  Even this sends a message that this is a place for kids, not adults, but kids to “do church.”  But frankly, I have learned more from the kids in Children’s Church than I think they’ve learned from me.  They’ve taught me how to praise with abandon, to pray with great faith, and to love each other.  So many times I’ve thought, “Oh, how I wish the whole church could see this right now!”

Because children DO understand God and His love, often in ways we adults cannot grasp.  We don’t have to “dumb down” theology for them; they get it!  Yes, we do need to communicate it to them in ways they understand but they are definitely “smart enough” to know God and to participate in church.

Our children are imitating our behavior; our worship and our community and our prayers and our fellowship. Let’s make sure we are modeling what we really want to be modeling.  Let’s make sure what we are teaching them is what we actually want to be teaching them. As my friend shared, let us always be aware of how we are conducting ourselves. Because they are watching and learning… all the time.


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

For more information about practical discipleship in the home, welcoming children into worship, 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, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

Who Needs God Anymore?

“People are learning to live comfortably without God.”

This statement from Carey Niewhof in one of his recently reposted blog posts stopped me dead in my tracks.

I am not comfortable with that.  I am not comfortable being in a world that is comfortable without God and I am not comfortable with my own life being lived without God.  But as the blog post continued to demonstrate, that is indeed the case for much of the population, those who Niewhof refers to as the “second or third generations of the unchurched.”  As discussions of faith and religion became compartmentalized to a time and a place (Sunday morning at church) and no longer part of the general cultural experience and home life, a generation who has never been “to church” have emerged with no framework upon which to imagine a life with God in the middle of it.

sunset-401541_1280Niewhof goes on to offer a few suggestions on how the Church can reach out to people who have found themselves in this spot, where God and faith are distant concepts with which they’ve had no experience and no affiliation.  Guess what?  It didn’t start with having the perfect worship service, the nicest building, the coolest graphics, the smallest close-knit family feel, the tightest small groups, the most eloquent pastor, or the softest pews.  Nope, didn’t have anything to do with that building we call “church” or that sacred day we call Sunday.  His number #1 piece of advice was this… build relationships.  He shares, “Jesus was deeply relational, and it seems he liked relationships with people outside the ‘church’ more than he liked hanging around people inside the ‘church’.”

And guess where relationships start; where we learn the nuances of dealing with other people, accepting their weaknesses, loving them in spite of them and maybe even because of them; the place where you learn to laugh, to love, to cry, and to be?  The place where you share meals, games, stories, pictures, heartaches and victories?  The very first place where you learn how to relate to people and circumstances outside of your control and within your influence?

We call it HOME.child-217230_1280

Home looks different for each of us.  But home is that place we go back to both physically and in our hearts; that place where our story started.  It is the formational place that creates a framework for us through which we view the world and teaches us how do develop relationships. The Family Pediatrics Report shares “Families are the most central and enduring influence in children’s lives regardless of their education, composition, income, or values.”  That’s pretty all-encompassing (with the HUGE exception of faith).

The point being… we don’t learn how to do relationship in church.  We bring to church all of our different ways of growing relationships and sharing life and frankly, it can get uncomfortable.  And often churches, in the effort to make all feel comfortable, resort to programs and platitudes that create a level playing field that lack relational depth and leave people feeling the effects of an institution but not the bounds of real relationship.

If the church wants to build relationships, if that is something that we recognize is a necessary part of sharing Christ with the post-Christian world of today, then it is imperative that we begin to reach into the home.  The influence of faith and the centrality of Christ can no longer be relegated to a special morning in a certain place.  It simply cannot be boxed into a place and time anymore.

Faith must permeate our homes, be lived out in the relationships of our families, and developed through our interactions with others.

Making disciples can’t simply be counting up our baptism numbers or listing off the people in our pews.  It’s going to have to become something much less quantifiable – it’s going to have to be love lived out in relationships and that starts at home.

We must equip the home. We must support our parents and caregivers to make faith a part of the everyday, not the special day. We must expand our vision of what it means to “be the church” to things like neighborhood cookouts, softball games, walks around the block, conversations on the porch, and the dining room table.  I’ve often heard it said, “Talk about anything but religion and politics.”  I say, we MUST talk about religion; more specifically, we must talk about Jesus in our everyday.

Because just like those second and third generation of unchurched have grown comfortable to a life without God, if we make Him an essential part of our everyday, our children and their children will feel uncomfortable when He is not there.

But if we don’t, if we keep it in the building on Sunday morning, why should we be surprised when the relationships our children form are devoid of Christ and comfortable without God?

It’s starts at home.  Build relationships, with your kids, with your friends, and with others you don’t even know (yet). And build them with Christ in the center, as part of your normal everyday experience, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you or others feel.  In time, His daily presence will be missed if you allow it to permeate your life, and we will be very uncomfortable without Him.


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

For more information about practical discipleship in the home, the need for reaching the unchurched, 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, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

Why “The Bible” Isn’t The Answer

My son loves to build things.  Give that kid a few blocks, a couple of boxes, and a some time to himself and a tower of epic proportions will be built.  He’s only 4 but he’s had a rather sharp learning curve when it comes to tower building.  boy-building-blocksYou see, he likes to build the towers high but he also likes to use the smallest pieces first.  As you can imagine, his frustration was evident when he first started building towers because he couldn’t get them very high before they fell over from being top heavy.  But now, this kid has it down pat.  He builds a strong foundation with his biggest blocks (and he will get all over your case if you put the smallest ones in the wrong place…ask me how I know).  His towers are taller than ever and they rarely fall over because… well as the song says, “It’s all about that base.”

Lately I’ve had a number of parents ask me how they can talk to their kids about some of the more sensitive topics that have come up in the news over recent months.  To be honest, I’ve struggled with how to respond to them.  Partly because I know that people come from a variety of faith traditions. Partly because I don’t think there are easy, simple explanations that I can just sum up in a 600 word blog posts.

But mostly because, I’m not sure we are at that point in the conversation yet.

Studies of Christian homes don’t paint a pretty picture when it comes to some of the basic building blocks of faith in the home.

  • For instance, Barna reports that while Bible ownership remains high in America (88% of homes), readership is low (only 37%) with 47% of respondents citing the fact that they were “too busy” to read the Bible.
  • A study released by Lifeway asks how often churchgoing Christians read the Bible with only 19% responding that they read Scripture daily and almost the same amount (18%) stating that they “rarely or never” read the Bible.
  • Fuller Youth Institute shares that 12% of kids will discuss faith issues with their mom, 5% with their dad and only 9% report regular Bible readings or devotional discussions at home.

So let me me run you through how a typical conversation in our house might run:

“Mom, they are talking a lot about ____________ on the news.  What do you think about that?”

“Well, honey, we believe ________________.”

“But Mom, how do you know that? Why do you believe that?”

“Well, as Christians we believe the Bible is God’s word to us, His truth, and it says in the Bible _______________”

Sounds familiar?  I mean it’s a pretty simple and logical progression.

Unless of course the only time we talk about the Bible is in this moment.  Because then it’s just confusing.

I mean, if the Bible is God’s Word to us and if it is what we use to make decisions about what we believe, shouldn’t we be bringing it up...all the time?  Shouldn’t we be reading it to our children and impressing it on their hearts when “we sit at home and when we walk along the road, when we go to sleep and when we rise?” (Duet. 6:7) Shouldn’t we be incorporating it into our conversations, reading it in our quiet moments, and studying it in our together moments?

Yes, the Bible does give us direction in regard to situations we encounter  Yes, it does contain God’s wisdom for us as we are forming our worldview.  Yes, the Bible does provide insight into God’s heart, will, and desire for crises we face the world today.

But the Bible isn’t limited to these moments.  

The message of the Bible, the heart of God revealed in its pages, are far more than just why we believe what we do about (insert hot topic of the day).  The message of the Bible is greater than our political agenda or our cultural soapbox or even our spiritual calling.  The message is one of Love calling, of Hope embodied, of Grace realized.  It is an invitation to reconciliation, framed in the call to repentance and clothed in the mantle of love.   It’s greatest message is an appeal towards salvation and perfection; an invitation into life with Christ and a return to the original “it is good..”

Our answers to the tough questions need to start with the answers to the life questions; questions that our children may not even know how to ask but sound like, “Am I loved?  Do I have a purpose?  Is there a God?  Does He know my name? Can I know His?”

These answers are found in the Bible and as we read for ourselves and we read to our kids and as we share with them the truth revealed to us in God’s Word, the Bible becomes much more than a rule book we follow or a guide we consult.  It becomes for us a connection to Christ, a pathway to His presence for all eternity.  It can’t just be our easy answer to the tough questions.  

You see, if we start with a solid foundation, namely Jesus Christ, and build on it with the larger building blocks of the Bible, the Church, and the Family, the towers of faith we are building in our children’s hearts have a much better chance of standing, even when the world around them crumbles.  But trying to use the bottom pieces as top answers leads to a swaying tower with a weak foundation, easily bending to society’s winds.

The answer to their question starts long before they ask it – it starts with bedtime prayers and whispered blessings, with Scriptures read and verses sung, with spoken truths and impressed commandments.  It starts with our own time in the Word, in prayer, in relationship with others and with God.

And it starts and ends in the same place – the love of God in the person of Jesus by the power of the Spirit.


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

Because They Are Watching: Follow Up

Over the past few days, I have received a decent amount of feedback on my most recent post Because They Are Watching where I basically state that I will not use this blog to comment on the more controversial topics that are taking center stage in our country right now and that we all should consider the fact that our children are watching us when we act and react to the various challenges.

I’ve been applauded.  I’ve been reprimanded.  I’ve been told I am doing an injustice to my kids by not taking a stand.  I’ve been told that I don’t care about others.

Interestingly enough, no one actually asked me where I stand on the issues.  From the response I received, I equally offended people on all sides of the issue.  It also appears that I struck a chord with at least a few others as the blog was shared over 500 times in the first 24 hours.  But I never actually stated an opinion.  I just reminded us that when we act and react to situations, we are being watched and we need to measure our response accordingly.

I’ve been blogging at ReFocus Ministry for about nine months now. If you follow me, you know that my passion is seeing boy-695825_1280children engaged in the church, the home equipped as a place for faith formation and discipleship, parents and caregivers supported as the primary disciplers of their kids, and churches creating space for the whole body to worship, grow, and serve together.  This is what breaks my heart.  It is what keeps me up at night in prayer.  It is what brings me the greatest joy in my walk with Christ.  For whatever reason, God has placed this particular burden on my heart and given me the space to share it here.

That is not to say that I don’t have opinions, thoughts, beliefs or convictions about other things, because I do. However, I do not feel that this space is the place for me to expound on those things.  My heart in sharing what I did on that last post was not to enter a political debate, a moral judgement, or a theological discussion.  It was simply to remind all of us that our children are watching us, learning from each moment, and internalizing how they should react in the future.  

Sadly, I feel like that message may have been lost in the emotional tension that currently surrounds the issues at hand. But that shouldn’t surprise me too much I guess as that message seems to have been lost for a much longer time than just my short blog.

Because we as a society have allowed many things to come in contact with our children and to fill their minds with things far beyond their capability to comprehend long before these current issues emerged.  Our children see half-naked models on billboards and commercials, hear suggestive lyrics and foul language on the radio, watch news reports of violence and death on a regular basis, and see questionable magazine covers placed just at their eye level in the checkout aisle.

The reality is I think we forgot a long time ago that our children are watching.

The targeted commercialization to adult consumers with mature images and themes has gone on unchecked and while we as parents/caregivers do our best to monitor what our children see and hear, the reality is we can’t protect them from a larger society that doesn’t share our concern. But what we can do…what we must do…and what was the very impetus of my last post is monitor our own activity, words, expressions and reactions.  Because we are fooling ourselves if we think that our children don’t hear our hearts in everything we say and do.

It is essential for us to understand that the very heart of faith formation and discipleship in our home doesn’t start with a Scripture reading at night or a faith talk on Friday.  You know, those things are near and dear to me and I encourage them to happen and happen frequently!  But that’s not where it starts.

It starts in our own hearts.

“You don’t get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.” (Luke 6:43-45 MSG).

Parents, caregivers, ministers, adults – It’s who we are, not what we say and do, that counts.  That’s what comes out in our reactions.  That is what manifests in our actions. That is what our kids are watching.  And that is a message I feel is worth repeating, over and over again.


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