Intergenerational Worship Isn’t For Kids

The other Sunday during the sermon, the pastor asked the congregation if they knew the fruits of the Spirit.  The whole congregation started out strong but by the end, there was one group was still heartily reciting the words. That group? The kids. I couldn’t help but smile. I’m not sure how many others noticed, but the kids sure did. I had more than one come up to me afterwards and say something to the effect of “Miss Christina, did you hear us?  We knew all the fruits!”

It was in that moment that I became aware of something I think is vitally important for us (and by us, I mean, adults in church) to grasp.

Kids in church doesn’t mean church for kids.  

So many times I’ve heard concerns expressed that if children are brought into the larger church service, that service has to become all about the kids. But that’s actually opposite of the intention of bringing kids into the larger congregational environment.  The heart behind including the children isn’t to make it all about them, but to invite them into the communal context, to let them experience corporate worship and participate in the liturgy as active members of the body.

Here’s what intergenerational worship is NOT.

Glorified Sunday School (with adults invited)

One common concern expressed from those who are uncertain as to how to include children in worship is that the church service will turn into a child-centric Sunday school hour with parents and grandparents observing. It’s an understandable reaction because in many churches the only time children are in the worship service is for a special program or performance that is geared towards them or is starring them. If that’s the only experience the adults in church have had with children in corporate worship, it would be reasonable to feel concern over what will happen if the kids are there more frequently. But that’s not what intergenerational worship is. 

“Big” Church

Another concern that is frequently shared is that kids are not mature enough to deal with certain themes that are found in Scripture. One video shared by a large, well-known church showed the pastor getting up to read the most provocative verses in Song of Solomon and a wide-eyed young man whose shocked mother puts her hands over his ears; the tag line reads, “Big Church is for Grown-ups.” Let’s be realistic – the vast majority of churches aren’t reading these few verses on a Sunday AND if they are, the pastor usually knows well in advance and can prepare parents for what will be shared.

Creating a worship service geared towards only one age group every Sunday limits the body of Christ and is never exampled for us in Scripture or in Jesus’ teachings.

To be clear, I am not opposed to age-appropriate ministry; there is a need for it and I am a strong advocate for children’s, youth, and various ages of adult ministry, but not to the exclusion of the including everyone in times of corporate worship.

Family Worship

Many churches host fabulous family worship events and experiences that encourage families to engage in discipleship, teaching, and worship experiences as a group. They are wonderful times for the family to grow together in Christ and with each other. However, most often these events are centered around the idea of family interacting and focusing on one another, worshipping as a unit and learning as a whole.

Intergenerational worship as a church body isn’t focused on the family but rather on the body of Christ as a whole. While families are together, they are not interacting with one another; rather they are joining their church family in worship and interacting with God and the body of Christ.

So if all of that it what intergenerational worship is not…then what is it?

boywithhymnalIn his book, The Church of All Ages: Generations Worshiping Together, Howard Vanderwell states that intergenerational worship is “worship in which people of every age are understood to be equally important.”  It’s where age fades into the distance and the focus becomes the body of Christ and all its parts. And it’s not easy. Fundamentally, all of these different age groups have different developmental needs. Each age understands differently, interacts differently, and learns differently. Each brings unique gifts, generational experiences, and certain expectations. 

So, how do you navigate these waters in a way that is fruitful for everyone?  Ultimately it doesn’t come down to programming or ministry practices; it comes down to hearts. When age becomes “invisible” and kids are no longer cute because they are performing and adults are no longer the real church because they are “big,” there is a place where intergenerational worship can happen.

There’s no perfect plan or way to do it “right.” It takes time and it takes work because in many ways it feels like a new thing (even though intergenerational worship is a very old thing). It isn’t going to look the same in every church. Some may have more hands-on interaction while others may engage in more traditional liturgical practices, some may be weekly services while others during specific days or service times.  But what will look the same is this – the whole church will be worshiping…together. 

“Congregations serious about intergenerational worship learn to value what every age offers. This includes being willing to learn together and including all ages in worship leading and worship content.” – Joan Huyser-Honig

What made that moment in church a few Sundays ago so special wasn’t that the kids knew the fruits of the Spirit. Sure, as the director of children and family ministry, that made me very happy. And yes, as a mom, it did my heart good to hear my girls recite Scripture.

What made it special was that in the middle of a normal Sunday sermon, a bunch of kids and a group of adults came together and shared a moment of mutual edification and communal growth.

They were together. 

Read more on this topic at Fuller Youth Institute


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, intergenerational 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.

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Please and Thank you

When kids are first learning their “please and thank you’s” it’s not unusual to here a parent prompt their child by reminding them, “What do you say?”

I kinda feel like Thanksgiving is our cultural equivalent.

It sometimes feel like we spend much our our lives running from here to there, doing this and that, getting knicks and knacks, and fall exhausted into bed each night so we can get up and do it all again the next day.

I don’t think many of us want life to be like that. I read enough blogs and see enough Facebook posts to know that most of us long for the quieter moments, for peace and rest, for intentional moments of living deeply.  But we face the harsh reality of bills to pay and schedules to keep and people to meet and it can feel like life becomes a checklist, a to-do list, or just a crazy, messy race.

And then this day comes once a year where all around us we hear a thanksgivingdifferent message. Whether contrived for commercial reasons or sincere heartfelt sentiments, we consistently hear things like, “Give Thanks” and “Count your blessings” and “Gather friends and family.”  It’s like a societal nudge..a reminder..a simple, “What do you say?” for all of us. 

The goal of the parental reminder is to help our kids form a habit where saying “Thank you” is a normal response from our children.

The goal of Thanksgiving was quite similar. These powerful words, proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as the Civil War waged on and Thanksgiving was made an official holiday, reflect that desire that gratitude would become our way of life in America.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God…

…No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

I’m not sure I could ever write a better “prompt” than this.

This day, the day we call Thanksgiving, isn’t just a day to say “thank you” but also a day to say “please.”

Please forgive us for taking You for granted.

Please heal our nation and your Church of the wounds that have torn us apart.

Please restore us in your grace to relationship with you.

Please keep in tender care those who mourn

Please, Lord, come and heal our land.

And if this day of feasting and family, of food and fellowship, also becomes to us a time of faithfulness and forgiveness, perhaps when the day is gone, the reminder of “What do you say?” will echo in our lives, our families, our homes, our churches every single day.

Happy Thanksgiving friends.

Embrace the “please and thank you’s”, hug the ones you love, count your blessings, and give thanks!


 

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, intergenerational 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.


 

 

Their God is Bigger than Our God

Wings.  A mermaid tail.  Cheetah legs.

If you’ve seen the video that went around Facebook a while back where people are asked a simple question, you know that these are some of the answers.  If you’ve not seen the video or you don’t plan to, here’s what happens.

A group of adults and kids are asked a simple question: What would you change about your body?  The adults gave the answers I expected.  They shared things they didn’t like about themselves. Stretch marks, big ears, foreheads and of course, I was naming my own things off in my head.

Then the kids had a turn.  Unlike the adults, they didn’t see anything wrong with the bodies they had, but they could think of some pretty cool add-ons like “cheetah legs so I can run really fast” and “wings so I can fly” and of course, “a mermaid tail.”

Of course, the moral of the video was that we adults need to stop judging our bodies so harshly and being so critical and see our potential for more.  But after I watched the video and scrolled away, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  All I kept thinking was, “When?”  When does it happen?  At what age to we stop believing that our bodies are amazing and capable of wonderful things and start seeing our flaws and critiquing our imperfections.


You see, I have two beautiful girls and one adorable son.  My girls are starting to cross that line and ask questions about their perceived flaws. They’ve begun playing the comparison game. They have begun to see the world’s definition of beauty and have started to measure themselves by that ruler. boysincapes

My son, on the other hand, told me today he can fly. 

Once when Jesus was speaking to his disciples, he told them that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these and pointed to a child.  He said that unless they had faith like a child, they wouldn’t enter the kingdom of God.

What is it about kids that would make Him say that?  

Maybe it is their uncanny ability to believe; to see beyond reality to possibility.

To look beyond flaws to miracles.

To focus past the limitations to the realm of expectations.

And it’s not fake.  It’s genuine.  It’s real.  It’s faith.  It’s the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

That video reminded me of the precious part of childhood. The flaws are still invisible, but they won’t be for long.  How can we preserve that in our faith?  How can that translate into our churches and our homes?

Maybe just maybe, we have got to stop focusing on all our flaws.

Things like “not my gift”, “not my calling”, “not good enough”.  Or the flaws in our churches like not enough money, not enough space, not enough volunteers.  Or maybe in others like not holy enough, not mature enough, not loving enough.

Maybe having faith like a child is believing that sharing the truth of the gospel still changes lives.

That the Word of God is still living and active.

That the church is still the hands and feet of Christ.

Faith that sees past this natural world to a world that our minds can only begin to imagine.

My girls are getting older and limitations are starting to outweigh imagination. Flaws seem bigger than faith. Mistakes bigger than victories. As their mom, I want to scream to them, “Don’t listen to the lies!  You were made for more.  Your spirit can fly.  You are beautiful!”

And I realize… the loudest voice they can hear is the one I live in front of them.

I need to have faith like a child for them.  I need to live a life that doesn’t listen to the lies myself and believes that my spirit can soar on wings like eagles.

I need to be that place that they can look to and no matter what the world says, show them that their childlike faith was always right and she can dream big with God.

But it’s bigger than just me and her.  There’s an entire generation of kids that right now know that God can make a blind man see, let a crippled man walk, loves us more than life itself and will do anything to be our friend.

And it is up to us Church, to show to them loudly that is true!  

We have to stop telling them all our flaws and start showing them we believe and we live like we do.  We do things like pray with them, serve with them, worship with them, and love others recklessly with them.  Because if we don’t give them something to measure life by, the world most certainly will.  We can’t change the messages they will get from them but we can most certainly make sure ours comes through loud and clear.

Walk by faith.  Not by sight.  And fly.


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, intergenerational 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.

Church Kids Are Mean

Last week a study was released from Current Biology that brought some sobering news to the forefront. Basically, it said that kids raised in religious homes were less generous and kind than those raised in non-religious homes.  And by religious, they mean that the parents identified with a religion (mainly Christianity or Islam), they measured frequency of religious attendance, and rated the overall spiritual atmosphere of the home.

photographing-children-735226_1920Now, I’m not one to read an article and go with it. So I traced all the statistics and sweeping generalizations back to the source, hoping to find that what had been shared by the mass media and non-religious bloggers was…well, wrong. But, what I found was, in fact, that the study did seem to show that children raised in religious homes, and most specifically in Christian fundamentalist homes, tended to be more judgmental, less altruistic, and more punitive than kids raised without religion.

Seems kinda counterintuitive, doesn’t it?  I mean, shouldn’t it be the other way around, if everything we proclaim to be true about God and His Love is in fact true?  And if it is true, why?

Why are church kids meaner?

I say we start by looking at their role models – me, you, adults in the Church.  Are we modeling generosity, love, and kindness for them?

1. In terms of generosity, Barna Group’s latest study on American Donor Trends show that evangelical Christians do indeed donate more than other groups. However only 5% of American Christians tithe (give 10%) of their income and when they give or donate money, it usually goes to churches or religious charities. They give the least to non-profits, community organizations, or local non-religious charities. So, in short, we give…but we give to ourselves.

2. What about love? I realize that “love” is hardly quantifiable but there are some things we can look at. I’m sure that everyone remembers the “tipping” debacle of 2013 where a pastor in an Applebees refused to tip a waitress because he only gave God 10%, why should he give her more?  When the picture of his receipt when viral, the waitress got fired but interestingly, waiters and waitresses all over the country began writing to share this one story: Christians are the worst tippers and Sundays are the days serving staff work the hardest but earn the least.  That’s “our” reputation, which I know many have been working hard to improve since then, but that’s what “we” are known for.

3. Kindness then?  A study done by Berkley social scientists “the link between compassion and generosity was found to be stronger for those who identified as being non-religious or less religious.”  In other words, non-religious people tended to be moved more by compassion to help others than religious people were. So what were religious people motivated by? “Doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.” It was more of an “I have to…” than an “I want to…” attitude. 

Now, before you think I’m just being negative and pessimistic and picking on Christians, please know, that is not my heart. However, I think that we need to consider some of these things.  If secular studies show these trends, I think it would behoove us as the Church to pay attention.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves some questions like, “Why do we give?” and “Do we show kindness?” and “How am I modeling generosity for my children?

Yesterday, I posted a comment on another blogger’s post regarding the Syrian refugee crisis (and please don’t hang up and stop reading now because you think I’m about to express my opinion on it – if you want to know, my Facebook status regarding it is public). The fact that I just put that little disclaimer there may indicate what my day was like yesterday. Let’s just say, kindness wasn’t always shown in some responses I got from others. And more than one person said to me, “Christians can be so mean.”

And that breaks my heart. It really does. For so many reasons.  Not the least of which is that our children are learning from us.

They are watching and listening and learning.

They are growing up and learning how to be adults by watching us.

That’s a pretty huge responsibility, and if the study first cited in the article is correct, we are leaving a gap when it comes to simple kindness.

If anything, it should spur us on to consider how we can intentionally and purposefully be generous, not because we have to, but because God has so generously lavished His love on us. And to do so in a way that let’s our children see that being kind and generous is WHO we are, not WHAT we do and invites them to be a part of the giving.  As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, let’s put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Col. 3:12). And maybe we won’t make a dent in the statistics, but we can certainly make a difference in our home, our church, our community.

“In serving one another, we become free” – inscribed on the Round Table of Camelot, according to the Arthur legend.


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, intergenerational 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 Advent: Celebration in the Everyday

If you are in the process of getting ready for Advent at church or in your home, here are some thoughts on how to celebrate practically and intentionally. Includes a link to our family’s Christmas Song Scavenger Hunt!

r e F o c u s

Christmas; the time of year that encourages the greatest focus and reflection often becomes the time of year with the greatest chaos and confusion.  I’ve heard it said that church staff members list the Christmas season as the one they most dread at church.  Parents feel the stress of adding expenses and events to already constrained budgets and calendars.  While we are excited to celebrate the season, we dread the baggage that accompanies it.

Our family has tried through the years to put a new spin on the dichotomy of the season.  The month of December is just as crazy and busy for us as everyone else.  Our calendar is filled to the brim with celebrations, obligations and events.  It would be so easy to lose our focus on Christ and get enveloped in the stress so we have intentionally tried to find Christ in our everyday.

Instead of letting…

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Beauty in the Broken

Every have one of “those” days?  Of course you have.  We all have.  Well, last year on this day, I had one of those days.  One of the days where the morning starts out on the wrong foot and from that point, recovery seems impossible.  On that day, I wrote this:

My daughter made Honors Chorus (yay) and today is their big day.

THIS MORNING WAS A DISASTER!
She didn’t lay out any of the things I told her to the night before. When I saw her outfit…oh my… she was wearing a fancy red shirt that was way too small, black pants that were too small and blue tennis shoes.
I told her there was “no way” she was leaving the house like that and to “go change” into her nicer shoes and clothes that fit. That led to a bout of complaining about how she can’t find her shoes, she lost the belt to the other pants, and oh, she couldn’t have her lunch in a regular lunch box (it had to be a paper bag) and her water bottle had to be something she could throw away (not the water bottle I had ready for her) and we needed to be at the school at by 7:45 not 8 am like I’d been told and her coat was missing and… you get the picture.
With no time to spare, we threw on a another shirt (that at least matched the tennis shoes), dumped her lunch into Walmart bag, gave her one of my old coats (which was way too big but whatever), poured the water into used empty water bottles (don’t judge.. I am ashamed), ran to the car and drove at speeds above the limits as I lectured her on why it’s important to keep her room clean and obey me so mornings like this don’t happen, etc, etc, etc.
We got to the school, tore out of the car, raced inside to find her teacher and then… for the first time that morning I really looked at my daughter.
Lord, forgive me (yes, I was crying as I wrote this). I saw before me a scared, nervous, fearful baby girl fifth grader about to leave me for the first time on an all day trip hours from our house to sing with 100 strangers for thousands more strangers (and she’s trying out for a solo) and as she walked away with her teacher looking back at me, my heart broke.
Why, oh why, didn’t I pray with her on the ride to school? Why didn’t I tell her how proud I was and how much I loved her and that everything was going to be all right? Why didn’t I hug her close and bless her like I do EVERY OTHER morning? Why didn’t I really see her until it was too late?
I sat in my office at work, tears streaming down my face. My mommy heart was breaking. Oh, I knew she’d be fine. She’s amazing. She was gonna rock. And I knew I’d see her that night, and hold her and tell her how sorry I was and how much I love her and how I know I messed up. And I knew we would both learn from this experience. But for the moment, all I could see is her big brown eyes, filled with trepidation and fear, screaming, “Mommy, don’t leave me! I need you!” and I walked away. And my heart was screaming, “What did I do? What did I do?”
So, have you ever had one of those days?

IMG_9602I felt broken… like a total failure at mommyhood.  And a family minister at a church?  Forget about it.  I cried through the morning.  I prayed through the day.  I waited for 8:30 pm when the concert would be over and I could wrap my arms around my precious child and say, “I’m so sorry!”  Imagine my relief when the young woman that met me that night was anything but sad. In fact, she was downright giddy.

She’d had a great day.  She was nervous yes, but she faced it and had fun.  She hung out with old friends and made some new friends.  She sang with 200 other kids from all over Kentucky and she beamed from the top row in her too short pants and her blue tennis shoes wearing the hot pink tee-shirt she’d been given by the school (she hates pink).
When I finally got a word in edgewise to say, “Hey, I’m sorry about this morning.  I messed up.  I should have prayed with you,”  her response was, “No, you were right.  I should have obeyed you and cleaned my room.”  Um, what?  Parenting win?  Lord, I’m confused.
And He said, “Do you truly think that your failure would keep me from doing My work in your daughter’s life or that her lack of obedience to you would keep me from doing My work in yours?  You both have room to grow and I will use you both to do My work.  Trust me.  I’m bigger than your mistakes.
Let Me do My thing in the middle of your mess because my best work comes in the form of redemption.”

As you know, if you’ve read this blog for any time at all, I have a genuine heart and I believe, call from God to serve in encouraging family ministry and discipleship in the home.  Over the past few years, I’ve watched the area of family ministry grow in popularity as studies have bolstered the need for the home to be the primary place of discipleship.  I have also seen fellow ministers and churches attempt to start family ministry and have it seemingly “not work” in their environment.

Because I firmly believe that the ideas that fuel family ministry are ordained by God, I also believe that family ministry not only can but absolutely should “work” in any church.  It is my hope that this blog will provide a place of support, equipping, resources and encouragement for churches who are embarking on the transitional journey from traditional age-segregated ministry to intergenerational family ministry.  I go into this knowing I will make mistakes.  I will fail at times.  But I am also learning that my God is bigger than my failures.  And my prayer is that He will use this blog/ministry as a place for others to come, to rest, to find hope and to keep moving forward in their own faith journey with Jesus.

As for my daughter.. a year later, we don’t really have the whole cleaning of the bedroom figured out yet and we’ve got fun new areas that we are growing in together, but God is with us…even on the days we are broken.  Beauty isn’t always found when everything is put together and perfect; beauty is often found in the everyday moments of normal life, in our imperfection and in our brokenness.


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, intergenerational 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.

Book Review: Team Up! by Phil Bell

teamupI’ve been putting off writing this book review for a month. Not because I’ve been dreading it. Certainly not; to the contrary, this was perhaps one of the best books I’ve read for churches that are transitioning into family ministry. If anything, the reason I’ve hesitated is because I’m not sure I can do it justice. So, if what I say below doesn’t entice you to GO. GET THIS BOOK. READ IT. then feel free to ignore what I say and just do as I do (Go. Get the book. Read it!) .

Author Phil Bell starts out the book sharing a bit of his own testimony and experience in family ministry. As he shares, he answers some of the questions I know that many of us have when it comes to how family ministry looks and feels within a church setting. Questions like, “What is family ministry?” and “What if parents don’t want to partner with me?” and “But how can I give parents practical help?”  If you are in children’s or family ministry, you’ve probably asked at least one of these questions. This book can give you some amazing answers.

Phil begins with a look at where family ministry starts – at home. And not just any home – your home. Without this foundation in place, the ministry that happens lacks content. “The way you invest in your own family will significantly affect the fruit of your ministry” (p. 25). Throughout the book, Phil reminds us to keep an eye on our home and how our ministry activity is affecting our family.

From that point, each chapter of the book unfolds a cohesive and practical plan for implementing family ministry in your church. He covers everything from creating a team, casting vision, resourcing and equipping parents, implementing a strategy and identifying a network of partners. A few highlights that stood out to me…

Chapter 5 – Communicate strategically

Phil introduces us to his concept of “promotion dilution” which is basically the bombardment of parents by hundreds to thousands of messages every week from a variety of sources until it all becomes a diluted blur. In church it happens when we attempt to promote too many events and programs at a given time. He shares, “In our charge to promote everything we’re doing, nothing really gets highlighted.”

This really hit home for me both as a parent and a minister! So how do you get your message through the blur?  The book offers so many ideas on how to get heard but the one that stuck out to me? “Say multiple things in multiple ways.”  Don’t expect your singular email or your solitary text to reach parents. If you want to be heard, use multiple avenues to say what you want to say in different ways. After reading this, I actually decided to start doing short training videos week for my volunteers and found I reached a much larger audience and had a lot more interaction than all my emails, texts and Facebook messages.

Chapter 7- Equip Disengage Parents

This is a tough one. How are you supposed to help parents disciple their kids at home if the parents you serve are disengaged and completely unconnected to you? Instead of skirting the issue, Phil addresses this concern straight on.  He offers a lot of great hints and tips about how to help the conversation you start at church to continue at home, but the key is in his summary, “The biggest hurdle to equipping parents is getting them to show up, and to clear that hurdle we have to put their – not our – needs first.”

This is exceptional advice and something that as ministers its sometimes hard to remember when we are juggling meetings, volunteer schedules, and room decor. But taking the time to really find out where the parents of our kids are coming from can actually make the journey from church to home a reality rather than just a hope.

Chapter 11 – Building a Network of Partners

If the above seems a bit overwhelming, take heart, the final chapter of the book reminds us that we are not alone. With amazing preciseness, Phil helps us identify people in our community and our church that can help us create a web of support for the families and parents in our church.

I found this final chapter to be the perfect way to tie up this book. All of the advice and ideas make the most sense in practical ministry when they are done within community.  As a minister, it is sometimes easy to feel like I’m alone in sharing with and ministering to parents in discipleship and faith formation at home. But Phil points out, “Many of the parents you and I minister to are working as hard as they can to give their kids the best they can. But they’re also feeling as though they’re going it alone.”  Building community is the answer for both of us.

This is the first book I’ve read in a long time that felt like it was written to me. I feel like I was being poured into by a minister and friend and I know it will end up being a go-to resource for years to come. Get your highlighters ready, grab your copy, and join me in exploring this thing we call “family ministry.”


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, intergenerational 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.

Church, what are we afraid of?

When fear defines a culture, we spend more time hiding than we do shining, more time defending ourselves instead of defending the poor, more time taking a stand on things that don’t matter than standing on the One thing that does.

When fear defines a culture, outrage is easier than affirmation, reaction takes precedence over response, and annoyance is more prevalent than love.

When fear defines a culture, we spend more time telling the world what we are not instead of what we are.

panicbuttonWhen fear defines a culture, our children think these things are the important things; that these things deserve our energy, our attention, and our outspoken cries of “Not me!”

When fear defines a culture, we are more worried about what someone thinks about us because of what someone else said about us than we are confident in who are we are as a people because of what God says about us.

But when perfect love, that casts out fear, defines a culture…

The poor are championed.

The lost are found.

We are known by who we are instead of what we are not.

Our actions speak louder than our words or Facebook statuses and more time is spent responding in love to the world we touch not the one made public by a social media conglomerate.  We don’t need to write blogs about how silly or stupid or ridiculous or ignorant other people are; we write blogs about how incredible and perfect and wonderful the truth of God’s word and love of our Father is.

We don’t need to defend ourselves but like our Savior, we allow our defense to be our very lives. We don’t need to point out every wrong because we live a life that is a reflection of what is right.

And they will know we are the church…by our love.

I want my kids growing up with a faith that is built not on telling the world what we don’t believe, what we don’t do, and what we don’t think.

I want their questions about what I believe to be about Jesus and the Bible and grace and love not coffee and campaigns.

I want them to have a faith that is lived by showing what we believe, living what we do, and being what we think.

And I want to save my energy not for outrage but for encouragement, for ministry, and for life-giving gospel work.

Because fear…worry…frustration…none of those things bring life.

But hope….grace…love…all of these things do.

Oh, that we could be as excited about who and what we are as a church as we are about what we are not. Oh, that our souls would be stirred because of things that matter, not thing that don’t. Oh, that our energy and action would be spent on things that shine light, not reflect darkness.

We control the conversation. We have the ability to do just that. We have the Truth and Light and Love to share. It’s as easy as a click and share and as simple as a life lived being the church.

But it’s hard to do when outrage is vogue and frustration is fashionable. It’s hard to do when fear of being misunderstood, miscommunicated, or mistaken is trending.

It’s hard to do when fear controls the culture.


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)

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


Say “Goodbye” to the Kids!

A friend of mine has recently been thrust into a position in children’s ministry; not a position that she expected to end up serving in but where God is using her at this time. In a recent conversation with her, she shared that the number of kids who attend their church has increased. I was so happy to hear that but then she shared that she is getting increased pressure from many directions to pull kids out of the service and provide an alternate place for them to go during worship time because the kids are “distracting” the adults. Her question, and mine, is simply this, “Is that the best we can do for our kids?”

Four-Happy-ChildrenBefore you assume I am “against” children’s ministry, please know, I am not. I am a huge proponent of age-appropriate ministry, with the purpose of meeting kids’ faith needs where they are, partnering with parents as the primary spiritual caregivers and providing intergenerational opportunities for worship and relationships. However, what I am “against” and I will never be for is removing kids from a place of worship simply because they are distracting and unwanted in that space.

Why is our first line of “defense” to dismiss the children from our presence?

What would happen if instead of immediately displacing the kids, we have more conversations like this one:

Hmm, God has blessed our church with a lot of kids. That’s awesome!  But obviously the way we are approaching worship right now isn’t meeting their needs. What can we do to adjust our worship to include them?  How can we invite them into our service?  What avenues could we explore to make our songs, our prayers, our sermons, and our fellowship times more inclusive of them?

Instead, most often I hear, “These kids are just so distracting and loud. Can we find some space to put them for an hour or so? They’re just bored in here anyway.

It’s just that I can’t see this response lining up with what Jesus tells us to do or models for us in Scripture. This response has the potential to send lasting messages to children about where their proper place is in church (which is…not in church). It can tell parents that their own faith is more important than their kids and undermine the need for them to disciple and mentor their kids at home.  It can disintegrate the very community to which we as believers are called to partake in and be a part of.

I realize that not all churches do this.

Please understand that I realize that many churches are intentional and responsive in their ministry to kids.

But I also know that sometimes children are removed from worship simply because they are young and distracting and because that’s what we do.

These little ones, these young people – they are saints, members of Christ’s body, and often ones that the church has committed to walking with at dedication or baptism when they were infants.

So why is our first reaction to their immaturity to remove them from the congregation and relegate them to a far away place?

If Children’s “Ministry” looks like babysitting, if “Kid’s Church” is more like childcare, and “Sunday School” like regular school, then even if we are in a church building, we have effectively removed the kids from church. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things but if all of the above are just a coping mechanism to “deal with” kids, they can hardly be classified as ministry. That is exactly what Jesus told us not to do.

Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the children come, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 9:13,14)

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:2-6)

This message isn’t intended to be a condemnation but rather a contemplation.

Are we responding as Christ would have us or as society has taught us?  

Are we exploring all of the best ways to grow and disciple young believers or are we more concerned with feeding and placating the more mature?

If we can’t honestly say that our approach to children in church is one that primarily seeks to help them grow closer to Jesus and His body, then we may need to rethink our practice in the light of our calling to welcome children and thereby to welcome Christ. Our automatic response to remove them from the midst of the corporate worship may not always be the best response. Are we willing to consider other options?


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused, intergenerational 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.

You’re Not a Horrible Parent

And with the stroke of midnight and the turning back of the clocks…it happened. Somehow we magically moved into the mysterious time we call the “holiday season.”  In just three days my Facebook feed has lit up with posts about Christmas, posts against Christmas, and posts pitting Thanksgiving and Christmas against each other. Christmas music has started playing on the radio and Thanksgiving turkeys are starting to show up in grocery stores.  The whirlwind begins.

Keep in mind, dear friends, that I LOVE the whirlwind. I embrace it like a moth to a flame. The busy isn’t busy to me – it’s rich and full and bursting with life. Time with friends and family becomes the essential instead of the extracurricular and food, fun, and fellowship the norm rather than the exception.

But the is also the time of year where I see Stress get a capital-S. Because while all those things above happen, so does all the other stuff that goes on year-round. It’s not like we hit the pause button on life so that we can celebrate; instead the celebration gets piled on already busy, stressed-out lives.

A recent study by Pew Research has found that in nearly half of two-parent homes, both parents work full-time.

pewresearchHow does that affect the family?  The same research found that:

  • Of full-time working parents, 39 percent of mothers and 50 percent of fathers say they feel as if they spend too little time with their children.
  • 59% percent of full-time working mothers say they don’t have enough leisure time, and more than half of working fathers say the same.
  • 56% percent of all working parents say the balancing act is difficult, and those who do are more likely to say that parenting is tiring and stressful, and less likely to find it always enjoyable and rewarding

One mother interviewed by the New York Times said this, “You basically just always feel like you’re doing a horrible job at everything. You’re not spending as much time with your baby as you want, you’re not doing the job you want to be doing at work, you’re not seeing your friends hardly ever.”

When we add in the holidays, and all the stuff I mentioned that I love, on top of this…for many it is overwhelming.

And then, if we add in on top of that the calling for parents to intentionally lead and disciple their kids at home, using this time of year to teach them about gratitude, serving others, compassion, self-sacrifice, and giving through things like serving at a mission or participating in a food drive or giving up presents…for many, it feels impossible.

stressholiday

Parents, may I encourage you?  

For a brief moment, before we are rushed headlong into this season, can I give you this small respite of grace?

You don’t have to do it all.

You don’t have to do it perfectly.

You don’t have to make all the best choices, provide the best experiences, or present the best opportunities.

(deep breath)

But, if you can step back and before it all starts simply say, “Jesus, this year, with our family and our children, show us how to invite you into our everyday holiday season. In what we are already doing, show us how to have You be a part of it.  Be present in our presence;” if you can do that, my bet is at least part of the weight will lift from your shoulders.

Some simple ideas, using those everyday moments from Deuteronomy 6:7 “when you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” could transform your holiday season without you feeling like you do a “horrible job” at everything.  Things like…

When you sit at home:  Doing a Thankful Pumpkin at dinner (see “how to” here), Watching a Christmas movie and looking for Jesus in it (see ideas for movie night discussion here), Wrapping gifts for family members and praying for each one while you do. 

When you walk along the road:  Listening to Christian Christmas Carols and asking what part of the Christmas story it was about, Looking at Christmas lights and talking about how Jesus is our Light (check out this Christmas lights scavenger hunt if you have a long drive), Handing out Blessings Bags to those in need. 

When you lie down:  Create a wall of blessing that you add to each night at bedtime (just tack up a piece of posterboard and let kids decorate with stickers, pictures, etc. and list the year’s blessings, one each night/week), Start reading the Christmas story on December 1 until Christmas Day, Add one ornament each Saturday night to the tree that has special meaning to your family.

When you rise: Use an Advent Calendar and open a door each morning before the day starts, Pray together for everyone you sent Christmas cards to (one person or family per morning/week), Put Christmas cards in your kids backpacks (you can get packs for $1 at Dollar Tree) with notes of blessing for them all season long. 

(Want more ideas: Click here)

The reality is that the holidays are coming, will come, and will pass. Memories will be made. Life will happen. What January looks like for your family will in some way be dependent on what November and December looked like as they passed.

Don’t allow stress and shame steal the joy and opportunity of the season.

Realistically, no family can do it all. But realistically, we can all do something.

If we are unable to do “the big things,” let’s invite Jesus into all the little things and embrace the celebration for His sake.  It will look different for each home, as it should. But in each home, Christ desires to be the respite, the rest, the peace no matter what season it is.


For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused, intergenerational 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.