Why we need to stop saying, “It’s for the kids”

It’s not about the kids. 

I posted this exact same thing last year. On almost the exact same date.

So why am I re-posting it again?

Because last night I was able to participate in a time of Family Faith Formation at my church with my kids (I wasn’t teaching, so I got to do all the activities with them) and at one point my little boy said to me, “Mommy, God is mighty! He’s bigger than anything!  He’s bigger than Daddy!  He’s bigger than when we are sad!”

And I needed to hear that.

The activity we were doing may have been geared to kids (we were looking up attributes of God in Scripture) but I needed it, probably more than him in that moment. I needed to hear his little voice proclaiming to me the greatness of our God. And I needed to hear it from a child with that childlike faith in every word.

So many times at church and in ministry circles, we talk about how important it is for children that faith is talked about in the home and that families have time to worship together. And it is (very important).

But have you ever considered how important it is for us adults?

Consider these 5 reasons why WE need to engage our faith with our kids

  1. We NEED to experience the narratives of Scripture again for the very first time.

Sure we’ve heard the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den, David and Goliath, and Joshua and Jericho a  hundred times. But you know who hasn’t? Our kids! And we have the privilege of sharing it with them maybe for the first time. Which means, we can show them in each story, how God is working and showing His love, and maybe that’s exactly what you need to hear too.

For a great resource to do this, consider The Jesus Storybook Bible,which has ministered to me at least as much as it has to the kids I’ve read it to.

  1. We NEED to hear how your child hears God speak to them.

I absolutely love asking kids questions about God and hearing their beautiful answers.

So many stories come to mind, but one of the most precious to me was when my own daughter at the ripe old age of 7 asked me if God ever spoke to me. After awkwardly trying to explain the difference between God’s audible voice and His impressions in my heart and how God speaks through the Bible, I finally just shut my mouth and said, “Why, has God spoken to you?” She nodded “Yes” almost nonchalantly so I was forced to ask, “Really, what did He say?” She replied, “Well, when I was painting the other day, He said, ‘I made you to do this.’ I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to use my art for God.

What a precious moment to me to know God was speaking to my little girl’s heart.  It is so refreshing to hear the pure life that comes out of children when they talk about God.  And in a world that often saps our souls, spiritual refreshment is much needed.

  1. We NEED to remember just how very much God LOVES you

If you are like me, when you talk to your kids about Jesus, you invariably let them know just how much God loves them, how He made them special and given them personalities and giftings that are unique to them, that He has a purpose for their life and a reason for their being, and that He would go to any length to let them know just how much He cares for their soul.

Hey, guess what? That’s true for us too and sometimes we big kids need to remember that is how WE are loved, forever and always.

  1. We NEED to remind ourselves that faith isn’t a Sunday thing

In this world of “Go, Go, Go!” it is far to easy to compartmentalize our faith as just one more thing we “do” on Sunday mornings and maybe Wednesday nights.

Church becomes a place not the body of Christ.

Fellowship becomes Sunday hugs during the greeting time at service not the community of faith.

The Bible becomes the appropriate accessory when you walk through the building doors and a decoration to adorn your bookshelf the rest of the week.

Talking with our kids every day about our faith is a poignant reminder that what we are as Christians reaches far beyond the four walls of church and into every crevice of our lives. It is alive, active, and living as long as we are. Sharing that with our kids will give all of us meaning and purpose.

  1. We NEED to reflect on God with the faith of a child

Calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said that. His words, his heart. I truly believe the innocent faith of a child has insights into God’s heart that just can’t see.  Even my little story above is an example of that little voice of big faith. So, yes, while it is true that it is important for kids to experience faith at home, it is also vitally important for you.

When we make discipleship at home or intergenerational worship just about the kids, we lose a significant part of what this whole thing is about, what Church is about.

The Bible says we are all members of one body and that we each have a part to play. Even though the legs and heart do the most work when we run, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the body doesn’t benefit. Of course it does!  So when faith is engaged by all ages together, it’s not just the kids that benefit, we big kids do too.

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Eph. 4:15. 


 

For more information about

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

About the author

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

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Book Review: Little Love Letters from God

“Mommy!! Can I read my book?”

Whenever I hear my little guy yell this, I know exactly what book he is talking about.  There are a lot of things he likes about this book. He likes the pictures. He likes the stories. He likes that there is a flap to lift up on each page (because, come on, you guys, who doesn’t like that?). But what he really likes is that his name is in every. single. story. And it’s not just his name, but it is his name spoken by God – a letter writtenlittleloveletters just to him from God.

The book Little Love Letters from God, written by Glenys Nellist, does something many children’s Bible stories fail to do – it puts children right in the middle of The Story. For those who have read my blog before, you know I really believe that the stories of the Bible find their greatest impact when they are told in the context of the larger story, the metanarrative of Scripture (read more about that here).

Why? Because understanding that these moments and events don’t stand alone but are part of a bigger picture gives them meaning and let’s us know that our story has a place in that bigger picture too.

Helping kids connect the God who created them, loves them, redeems them, and shares eternity with them to the oft-heard stories of the Bible like Creation, Noah and the Ark, David and Goliath and Baby Jesus teaches them that these stories are more than that; they are means of grace to reveal to us the greatness and goodness of our God.

In Little Love Letters from God, Glenys drives this home by not just sharing the story, but then including a “letter” from God after each one that is personalized to the child (you fill their name in the blank) and affirms who God is to them based on the story they just read.

Children get a chance to not just hear the story, but to hear from the God of the story.

For example, after Jonah’s story, we read this “letter” from God:

Dear ___________, Wherever you are, I will listen to you too! Love always, God.

And after reading about the feeding of the 5,000, we open this “letter”:

Dear _____________, Whenever you are kind like that little boy that makes Jesus smile. With Lots of Love, God

Photo on 2-21-16 at 5.21 PM

Caleb with “his” book

My son lights up every time he lifts the flap and I read his letter from God. Hearing the Bible stories in this way makes them become much more than just stories. It becomes a way for him to know this God who is talking right to him.   We can never read just one story. Every single time we have to read the whole book…every story, every letter. And he’s gotten to the point where each time I read him the letter, he cheerfully shouts out “God!” at the end.

When it comes to engaging toddlers with the Bible, letting them hear their name as if spoken by God, can be an amazing tool. I know a lot of parents who struggle finding books for this age group so I am glad to be able to share about this one. (The author has also written a book for younger elementary-aged kids called Love Letters from God as well; similar concept only written for older children.)

Book Giveaway!

If you’d like to own this book, the publisher is giving one away to one of my readers. If you are chosen, you will receive a copy of Little Love Letters from God sent to your home.

To be entered in our drawing, follow this link and scroll to the form at the bottom of the page. In the comment section please write “Little Love Letters” and make sure we have a way to contact you for mailing information.

Winner will be chosen on February 29, 2016.


For more information about

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

About the author

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

What THEY Figured out, and WE need to know!

“If you could eat dinner with anyone, who would you pick?”

Before you keep reading, take a moment and answer the question. Where did your mind go?  Someone famous? Someone from the Bible? A hero or a friend?

parentsurpriseI recently saw a commercial from Australia where this question was asked, first to a group of adults, and then to their kids. The adults picked well-known people from movie stars and famous activists. Then they watched as their children were brought out and choose their own heroes; Mom, Dad, and family. Consistently, the children picked their parents and their family.

It was a touching commercial about making dinnertime count, but surely, it was just a stunt right? The kids had a script. They were told to pick their parents, right? So, I asked my own kids and a few neighborhood kids the same question.

Much to my surprise, I got the same answer.  Hands down, every single child I asked said, “Mom and Dad” or “My family.”

Let that sink in. 

The next day I saw a commercial from Hersheys. In it a young girl wants to spend time with her dad, but he is busy videoconferencing for his job. She get the idea to get a life-size poster cut-out of her dad made, brings it home, and replaces her real dad with a cut-out for work and takes her real dad to the kitchen to make S’mores.

The overall message is the same.

Kids want to be with their parents.

We get a lot of conflicting messages in this world. Messages that say kids want their freedom, they want their friends, they want their space. But more and more, studies are showing the kids really don’t want all that stuff as much as they want quality time with their family. Parents and caregivers are by far the greatest influence on their children and by far the most desired by their children in terms of time and attention.

Disney gets this. A quick look at what makes their theme parks so successful reveals that at the heart, it is a place for families to be together. Every effort is taken to make sure that each experience, each magical moment, is shared as a family.

Our local zoo gets it. They offer overnight packages for parents and kids to sleep at the zoo and explore the zoo together at night.

Hersheys gets it. An Australian food company gets it.

And, in my opinion, it’s high time the Church gets it too.

God created family. Something special, something unique, takes place between parent/caregivers and their children. Something precious and valuable. Something desirable.

If creators of dinner food and makers of chocolate, if amusement parks and local zoos, can recognize the value of a shared experienced for families, then as the Church, it behooves us to recognize the same thing.

Giving families a place to worship together, to explore their faith together, to be in the faith community together and experience the love of God together – that is liturgy (the work of the people), that is the body of Christ, that is Church.  And while there are times where age-appropriate ministry is needed, it should never trump family.

To be clear, I am not against age-appropriate ministry but if that is all we as the Church offer to our families and there is never a place for families to be TOGETHER, we are missing a fundamental need, want, and desire of our children.

Surely we can recognize what Hershey’s, Disney, the local zoo, and some company in Australia have already figured out – doing life together is a fundamental need of families. 

I wonder if we asked kids, “If you could pick anyone to go to church with, who would you pick?”  I just bet I know the answer.

Want some ideas on how to offer places for families to connect in church? Check out this link and feel free to comment below on ways your church is bringing families together. 


For more information about

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

About the author

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

When Hearts Break

Friends, this has been a hard week for our family, our church family, and our community. We’ve had to face deep sadness. We’ve had to look death in the face. We’ve experienced gut-wrenching hurt and watch those we love experience the deepest pain.

In all of that, we’ve also seen God’s hand of grace through the body of Christ. I’ve watched as people have gathered around a hurting family with respect, honor, and love, being the hands and feet of Christ. Praying together for them, loving them in practical and meaningful ways.

These words I wrote last year have taken on new life and meaning for me. Perhaps if you find yourself in a place where you need to answer hard questions that children might ask, they can help you too.

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

What can we as adults do when the questions come?

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About the author

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

Bringing Ash Wednesday Home

The first day of Lent and Ash Wednesday is coming (Wednesday, Feb. 10), but in many areas, so is the snow! If your church service gets cancelled or if your church doesn’t currently have an Ash Wednesday or Lent celebration, but you want to engage your family in the season, here are a few tools to use today/this week in your home that may give you some ideas and some guidance.

r e F o c u s

The celebration of Ash Wednesday and the observance of Lent was not a part of my experience growing up, but over the past few years, I’ve grown appreciative of this time in the liturgical year to reflect, to repent, and to realign myself with God. And, I tell you, I’ve always loved Easter but it has so much more meaning and depth when connected to the preceding season of Lent.

Churches across America, even those that traditionally did not celebrate this season, are beginning to involve their congregations more and more in this time of reflection and repentance and it is a wonderful place for families to gather around the the story of God’s great Love and His unending faithfulness to us (For more on that from Family Life Today‘s Barbara Rainey, click here).

The first day of Lent and Ash Wednesday is coming (Wednesday, Feb. 10), but…

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How Can I Talk To My Kids About God?

“So, if someone came up to you and said that they had never done anything with discipleship in the home; never talked about God or had intentional faith-focused moments, where would you tell them to start?”

Such a good question. And one that I got asked today.

Where would you start?

There are a lot of great books out there for parents, amazing devotionals designed to bring families together, and outstanding resources to equip the home for faith formation. But if I had someone with no experience talking about God with their children…I probably wouldn’t recommend any of them.

Not because they aren’t amazing and not because they won’t find them useful in time, but if I were going to “get them started” I would point them to four moments; four unique moments outlined in Deuteronomy 6:7, everyday occurrences where God says, “In these moments, talk to your children about Me.”

What I love about these moments is that they aren’t mysterious and they aren’t unusual. They are things like waking up and going to bed. Sitting down at home and heading out on the road.

Simple moments that happen to everyone, all the time, everywhere in the world. 

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So, if I had the chance to speak to a parent who has never experienced faith formation in the home or been intentional about discipling their kids, then I would take them there.

I would ask them to make a list, to write down as many of those moments that they could think of.

For instance, when does your family sit at home?  Perhaps dinner time or movie night, playing video games or board games, playing with play dough or reading a book. The times where seats are in seats and your family is together.

What about when you are on the road?  Driving to soccer practice, headed to church, shopping at the grocery store, or eating at a restaurant.

Bedtime?  Do you read stories or brush teeth or have some snuggle time?

And in the morning? Do you eat breakfast, drink coffee, follow a routine?

All of these everyday moments…these are the times God said, “Talk about Me.”

Such simple times, such ordinary moments, but they become extraordinary when God enters the picture.

Once they’ve got their list, we talk. I’d ask, “How can you invite God into those moments?”

I’m a firm believer that discipleship at home doesn’t mean you have to add more to an already busy, already full life but it means you get to intentionally welcome God into what you are already doing.

That list that they’ve created represents moments that are already happening, things that are already part of the family life and routine. It is into those physical moments that we can inject the spiritual conversation and use them to create a framework for faith and discipleship on which to build.

Here are some ways that our family has invited God into those moments:

In the morning, we pray a blessing over our children before they go to school. It doesn’t take long, just a few seconds, but it sets a tone for them and let them know that God is with them, they are loved, and this day is in His hands.

In the evening, we pray before they go to bed. I pray a prayer that reflects the meaning of their name and reminds them of their identity in Christ. My husband prays prayers of affirmation and blessing. The other day, I had gone to bed early with a headache and my husband was out of town, but I heard my 9-year-old ask my 12-year-old to pray for her before bed…because that’s what we do.

While we sit at home during movie nights, we eat way too much popcorn and pizza, but we also ask some questions like, “Did that character make the choice you think God would want us to make?” and “Does that story remind you of any stories from the Bible?” (PS. Almost every superhero movie mirrors the metanarrative of Scripture – good vs. evil – great stuff for discipleship at home)

In the car, we love to listen to the radio and sing along. When the kids were younger we listened to lots of Adventures in Odyssey stories (see Focus on the Family for these wonderful adventures in faith). But one intentional habit that has stuck with all of us is that we pray whenever we hear a siren; we pray for the victims, for the emergency personnel, and for any medical staff.

(For more practical ideas on inviting God into these moments, check out this link)

These are just a few ideas of how we have invited Jesus into our everyday.  And these ideas, these very personal, very real moments are just that – realistic and do-able for everyone.

If I were having that conversation with a parent who wanted to start bringing faith into their home, I would tell them my story and help them find theirs. In time, I would offer resources like books and devotionals. I would point them to blog posts and give them tools, but first, I would help them find their moments.

And I then would walk the path with them, supporting and encouraging, as their moments become their story and their story becomes their faith.  These moments, given by God, experienced by all, are where I would tell them to start.

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

What are some ways your family has found to invite Jesus into these everyday moments?


For more information about

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

About the author

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

Why My Kids Weren’t At Kids Church

ballet-71002_1280When our oldest daughter was preschool age, she was obsessed with The Nutcracker Suite. Well, let’s be honest, it was the Barbie version, but she loved it. She would dress up like a princess and dance around the house pretending that she was the star of the show. When the Nutcracker came to town for holidays, my husband asked her to go with him. They dressed in their finest; she even got put her hair in an up-do, and off they went.

It was a long show. There were many in attendance, almost all older than her. While she loved being with her dad and seeing the show, she was also a preschooler so she wiggled and squirmed and squealed and giggled. She had to go to the bathroom. She got hungry and wanted snacks.

But when she got home, she beamed.

I asked her to tell me about it and all she could remember was the scene with The Rat King (Oooo…scary!).

I asked Luke to tell me about it and much of what he could remember was her wiggliness. But then I asked if people seemed bothered by her and he said, “No. Actually I had a few people compliment me on bringing her to the ballet.”

I posted an adorable picture of their date on Facebook and many similar comments were posted, things like, “So good that you are giving her this experience at such a young age” and “This is exactly what kids should be experiencing.”

Surprisingly not one person commented, “Hmm, seems like a waste of money to me. I mean, did she even understand anything?” Nobody criticized us for forcing her to sit through a long performance filled with imagery and dialogue she couldn’t follow. No one complained about her fidgeting or her outbursts. And nobody questioned whether this was beneficial for her.

Because everyone recognized, it wasn’t about her understanding the “story” of The Nutcracker Suite or her watching the ballet with a critical eye or even her sitting still through the performance.

It was about giving her an experience, a total package, filled with sights and sounds and smells and stories that could be felt and experienced even if they couldn’t be understood or comprehended.

This morning, a mom shared with me that the reason her kids didn’t join us in Kids Church is because every now and then she wants to them to get to experience the traditional service at church, to hear the liturgy, to listen to the hymns, to be a part of a service that replicates the services that she grew up in and that have been part of their family’s tradition.

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You see, for this mom, it’s not about her children understanding each word of the sermon or comprehending the history of the liturgy or the meaning of the hymns. It about the total package; the experience of being in church, surrounded by the things that have been formational for generations and by the people who make up the body of Christ.  These children get to be seen, they get to see, and they get to experience church. 

The church experience is much bigger than a sermon.

Big or little, child or adult, the sermon is only part of the whole experience. Not understanding the sermon in no way negates the rest of the experience. Seeing the people. Singing the songs. Giving our tithes and God’s offerings. Praying, at your seat or at the altar or in small groups or corporately as a whole church. Reading Scripture. Reciting psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Smelling the incense. Tasting the communion elements. Serving. Celebrating. Fellowshipping. Communing with God and with each other.

It’s a total package.

And much of what is included in that package is not comprehended through the mind, but through the heart. It’s not things that require a certain level of development but things that are experienced through the senses and understood through emotions. A sense of belonging, a place in community, an important part of a body. All of that can be experienced, regardless of age.

As adults, we recognize that there is more to the church service than just the sermon. The same holds true for children too. Giving them the opportunity to experience the total package is a gift; whether they understand parts of it or not.


For more information about

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

About the author

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