Give Them Hope – Discipleship through Storytelling

One Christmas my parents didn’t have a lot of money. I remember them sitting us down and telling us that we probably wouldn’t be getting a lot of presents that year from them. That Christmas morning when I woke up I crept down the steps, knowing that the tree would be empty of gifts. Much to my surprise, instead of finding an empty tree, I found one overflowing with gifts; a true Christmas miracle. With tears, my parents sat us down and explained that some friends had found out about our situation and had surprised my family with presents and Christmas dinner the night before. To this day, I don’t know who those people were, but I remember the gifts I received, and I will never forget that Christmas morning.

It is a story I have told and will tell my children.

I tell them about how God did a miracle for us that night.

I tell them how God used other people to bless our family that Christmas.

I tell them about faithfulness and love.

I tell them that God cares about the little things like Christmas presents for little kids and turkey for Christmas dinner.

And I hope that one day, they will tell the story to their children and their grandchildren. 

In Deuteronomy 4:9, Moses tells the people of  Israel, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”

My guess is that we all have stories. Times where we were taken care of miraculously. Times where God made provision for us in ways we couldn’t imagine. We have moments where God spoke to us in the quiet of the night, comforted us in the darkness of grief, gave us just what we needed at just the right time.

It’s so important that we do not forget the things we have seen or let them fade from our hearts as long as we live.

We need to tell them to our children so they can tell them to their children. 

Why is this so important?

Because our children hear a lot of stories.

They hear stories of death and despair.

They hear stories of sadness and hopelessness.

These stories play over and over again on the news, in the headlines, on the radio, and in everyday conversations.

Because they hear a lot of stories that aren’t true.

Fictional stories, fun stories storytellingwith good lessons and all the feelings, but not true stories that really happened to people they know and love. Stories they can trust because they aren’t just stories…they actually happened to people they know and love.

But when they hear our stories; stories about how we have experienced the love and faithfulness of God, they hear HOPE.

Our hope is found in those moments that go beyond this earth and reach into eternity.

That hope is what we need to share with our children. They need to hear those stories and they need to hear them from us, more that once.

What’s your story?  How has God shown up in your life?  Find a child and share it with them. They hear plenty of other stories. Let’s give them stories of hope; stories of God’s faithfulness to us and to them.


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

Can They Hear You? Practical Communication for Multiple Generations

One of the challenges of leading children’s, family, or intergenerational ministry is the need to communicate with a large audience of varying needs and perspectives.  The target audience ranges from infant to 99+. The intended receivers communicate in vastly different ways. The focus group is never in focus but rather all-encompassing and ever-changing.

Recently, I read a book that really helped me consider this challenge in a new light. In her book, Faith Formation 4.0, Dr. Julie Anne Lytle points out that, “the twenty-first century is unique because it includes cohorts that were significantly shaped by the four eras of human communication.”

So, what might these four eras be?

Oral Tradition

This era of communication was humanity’s first way to communicate through the passing down of wisdom through storytelling. There was a strong sense of community, since this kind of communication relied on face-to-face interaction, and the wisdom shared was passed from one generation to another within a communal context.

Written Text

With the introduction of symbols to represent words, wisdom was able to be passed further than one’s immediate community. You didn’t need to see or even know the person passing on the knowledge; you could read about it! But that was nothing compared to what happened next.

Mass Media

When written text met printing press, the ability to share knowledge became a global phenomenon. Written information could be shared with anyone and passed anywhere. Knowledge no longer required community, just a way to be passed. But it was still one-sided; you could read but you couldn’t respond. Until…

Interactive Communication

Beginning with the telephone and up to the social media connected world of today, not only could you read and pass on information, you could react to it and interact with it without global limitation. A new type of community has risen; a global community of shared and accessible knowledge.

And guess what?

In your church (and in mine) there are generations that give and receive information best in each of these ways. 

Some want the face-to-face interaction. They want to hear from you what the vision, mission and needs of the church are. They don’t necessarily want to interact with that information, but they do want to know it. These are the ones who want to “hear it from the pulpit.”

Others prefer to read about it. They want to pick up a piece of literature and read about what is happening in your ministry, in the church, within the community, and around the world. Again, they may not want to interact with it, but they do want to read about it. These are the members of your congregation that “look for it in the bulletin” each week and subscribe to the church newsletter.

generationsStill others gravitate to mass-produced information that can be accessed and passed on easily, such as brochures about the church and its ministry, reproducible videos that can be used for Bible study or training, books that can be shared from the church library, and a easy-to-read and up-to-date church website.

Finally, there are those who feel most comfortable with information that allows them to interact with it such as posts on Facebook, small groups focused on discussion, text messages and Snapchat.  In fact, there are many in this group that only get their information from these avenues, rarely reading anything they are handed on paper or going to the church website for information.

So what does this mean for us?

  1. Communication must be multi-faceted – If you want your message to reach the entire congregation, it is necessary to use a variety of avenues to share your information.  For one event you may have to have it announced from the pulpit, written in the bulletin, printed in the newsletter, sent out by email and posted on social media.
  2.  Communication must be shared more than once – Let’s assume that Miss P. who only takes things to heart if the Pastor says it from the pulpit misses the one Sunday the announcement is made and Mr. C. who meticulously reads the bulletin each week gives his copy to a visitor… you’ve just missed your chance with them. It’s best to assume you need to share your information multiple times in multiple ways.
  3. Communication must be timely and interesting – We must face the fact that there are many voices with lots of information vying for people’s attention. Certain times are worse than others to try to get your message across. For instance, when school re-starts, parents are flooded with information from their kids new teachers and schools and information overload is bound to happen. Time your information sharing to reach them before or after the onslaught, again multiple times, in multiple ways.

While this means we have to spend a lot more time working on our communication materials (slides, articles, announcements, videos, social media posts, text reminders, etc) it also means that if we do so, we will have a much better chance of having our voice heard and gathering more generations into our ministry’s mission and vision.

Understanding how members of our congregation receive and interact with information can help us do a better job at ministering to each generation and creating ways for them to all grow 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

A Hope and A Future for the Next Generation

Jeremiah 29:11. If you’re like me, this verse immediately brings to mind graduation cards, Youth Sunday sermons, and notes passed when to someone when they move, get a new job, have a baby, get married, etc.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

It’s a good verse, seemingly well suited for those previously mentioned occasions, but…well, not exactly used in its context. And context matters. A lot.

When we look at Jeremiah 29, we see that it was written by the prophet Jeremiah to the  people of Israel who were exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem. He was writing to remind them that they were not forgotten and that when 70 years was completed, God would bring them back to Jerusalem.  Jeremiah needed them to understand God was not finished with Israel as a nation; that His plans for them were to give them hope and a future. 

So, yeah, a little different than graduating from high school or getting married.

But, as I read this chapter, I see striking similarities to our world today. In a sense, we, as believers in Christ and citizens of His kingdom, are in “exile” on earth. If our reality is God’s kingdom, than this current reality is passing and fleeting. We have a promise from God of hope and a future eternally with Him.

And like Israel, when we look around at this world, we can get discouraged and think perhaps we have been forgotten or think this is all there is, and we need reminded that there is hope and there is a future…if not for us, than most certainly for our children.

If that’s true, than what principles can we find in Jeremiah 29 that we could be reminded of today?

This is not our home, but we should live here

Jeremiah tells Israel to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.”  In other words, live in Babylon. Don’t just sit around waiting for the exile to be over. Engage with the world and community around them. Be a part of what is going on.  And at the same time, never forget who you are and where God is taking you one day.

We live in America. We live in towns and neighborhoods. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world. This is not our “home” or our “country” but it is where we live. In a very real sense, this is where we belong for this time and place. So we should engage with this place that for now we call home.

America isn’t God’s kingdom, but we should pray for its peace and prosperity

Yes, youcross-1492343_1920 read that right. Jeremiah tells Israel to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city [Babylon] to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” In other words, we don’t just live here; we actively seek for its good. We want America to be a peaceful and prosperous place and we pray for that very thing.

In our current politically charged context, this idea of praying for our country (not our candidate or political party) can be lost. A lot of the prayer I hear for this country comes from a place of fear and foreboding, feelings I’m sure Israel shared, but Jeremiah’s call to prayer isn’t founded in fear but rather in hope and belief of a future. Imagine if we prayed, together as a body of Christ not divided as political factions, for the good of our country as a whole with faith that God is ultimately in control of our eternal future. 

We might be the adults now, but we won’t be forever

70 years is an interesting amount of time for God to choose for Israel’s exile. Enough time for three generations to grow, and one generation to pass away before they ever saw a return to Jerusalem. So, if fear had ruled the roost, there would have been no generation left to experience God’s promises of hope and future. But Jeremiah specifically addresses this saying, “Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.

Frankly, this is the thing that worries me the most about the current Christian culture in America. We are breeding fear in the next generation (See what Andy Stanley says about this). We are not teaching them to live here, to engage with the community, to pray for the nation, to look forward towards God’s kingdom and our hope for an eternal future. We are teaching them that our exile is our true reality, that our political leaders control our future, and that fear should motivate our actions.

We are not increasing the numbers of those who are in God’s kingdom; we are decreasing. The generations who follow us are walking away.

This is not right. This is not good.

We need to change our speech. We need to change our actions. We need to remember that while this is not our home, we are called to live here, not in fear but in hope. We should be praying for America’s peace and prosperity, more than we are praying for or against a political candidate. We need to speak words of life and hope and future rather than perpetuating fear and despair and hopelessness.

Then the words of Jeremiah 29:11 will most definitely apply to our context in very real ways; ways that we can share with those who follow us. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”


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

Balancing the 24/7 News Cycle for the Sake of our Kids

I once worked with a personal trainer who started my 150 hours with her by doing an evaluation of my current fitness level. I admit; I went into the whole thing a little proud of myself. At the time, I was a pretty active person and I was able to do more physically than many in similar shape. At the end of the evaluation, she looked at me and said matter-of-factly, “We are going to spend the next few sessions on balance. You have the worst balance I’ve ever seen and without balance and core strength, the rest of what we are going to do won’t work. You need a good foundation.”

Balance? Really? I wanted to be fit and trim not learn how to stand up straight.  Our next session she began running me through a battery of balancing exercises. From a distance, these simple movements appeared simple and effortless. In actuality, they were the hardest things I’d ever done physically. My whole body hurt afterwards. She was right. I had terrible balance. She even targeted my weak side and made me work on it the most and by golly, I could hardly walk afterwards. My balance affected everything and it was absolutely holding me back from the other exercises I deemed most important.

So why do I share all this with you?

Because I am starting to think as a society, we lack balance, and without balance, we are building on a weak foundation. And the repercussions of that on the next generation from a distance may look like no big deal, but in actuality, could be creating major problems for our kids that we can’t even see.

Recently, the New York Times printed an article entitled What is a Constant Cycle of Violent News doing to Us?  It’s a question I have been asking myself, so I had to read it (as I encourage you to do as well).  Basically the answer is “Not good things.”

According to the article, “living in a digitally linked world where broadcasts of violence are instantaneous and almost commonplace means that many of us are becoming desensitized” and that “that exposure to violent imagery on social media can cause symptoms that are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, defined as a persistent emotional reaction to a traumatic event that severely impairs one’s life.

From watching and hearing the news?  Doesn’t that seem a bit dramatic?

I don’t think so. I think it is spot on.

I think the reality of this constant flow of news into our homes, cars, screens, and lives has to have an affect on us as a people. And while I would never advocate for ignorance or withdrawing from society and pretending these things don’t exist, I do think as parents and ministers it behooves us to demonstrate for our children and youth the necessary practice of balance and Sabbath rest.

Featured Image -- 1092Even the article mentioned above shares, “If you have children, the American Psychological Association recommends asking them how they are feeling about the news. Keep in mind that it is possible for children to be influenced by news reports and the adult conversations around them.

Children are not immune to what is happening.

They “read” us even if they can’t read the news. For example the article shares, “Going out of your way to avoid interacting with strangers — by taking mass transit, for example — can stoke fear and anxiety in children.” Children read our emotions and our actions and use it as a framework to approach their world.

They “hear” us even if they can’t hear the radio. Our verbal reactions become their language for approaching their world. If fear and worry lace our words, if anger and frustration overlay our tone, and if despair and hopelessness fill our speech, they hear it, even if they don’t understand it.

They “feel” us even if they can’t feel for those in the news. Children don’t necessarily have the emotional tools to feel empathy of others, especially those they don’t know. But children have the uncanny ability to pick up on what adults in their lives are feeling and it concerns them. Have you ever had a child ask you why or if you were sad?  They can pick up on more than we realize because they are always with us and always watching us, learning from us how to approach life.

And thus, balance. Balance offers us and them a chance to see things from more than one perspective.

I’m not saying we should ignore all the heartache in this world and to deny the existence of these difficult things. I am saying we should make sure that we purposefully seek out the good as well.

The good won’t be dished out to us 24/7 by the media and piped into our home over the airways.

It will take work on our part to “see the helpers” as Mr. Rogers shared.

It will take action on our part to get up and be the good in the world so our children can see us participating instead of insulating.

It will take intentionality for us to withdraw from the news for a time, to turn off the TV, turn down the radio, shut the computer screen, and allow space for rest and peace and reminders of the good.

I am learning this myself. As an outgoing, extroverted, empathetic person, these news stories take a personal toll on my heart. I am sad, so very sad. I cry and I believe God cries with me. I am not unaware of the grief and heartache of this world. But, I am learning that in my sadness, I must remember joy is just as much a reality. And for the sake of my children, I need to approach each situation with balance and grace; resting from the constant stream of bad news and instead intentionally seeking out the good.

What about you?  What are some ways that you seek to create and find balance?  How do you help the next generation approach the world around them with a healthy focus?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and share with each other how we can be in the world but not of it in a way that isn’t isolating, but engaging; not wearying, but life-giving.


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

Do I Belong?

This past week, my husband and I had the opportunity to visit Europe and spend the week together celebrating our 15th anniversary. The whole trip was incredible; the places we visited, the people we saw, the tour guides and staff people who went out of their way to make sure our trip was memorable. But there was one thing that all of that amazing and wonderful stuff couldn’t do…it couldn’t make us “feel” at home.

Everywhere we went, a different language was spoken. Different foods were eaten. Even different water was sipped. The dress was different. The customs were different. The subway system was different. There were many times we stumbled over ourselves trying to figure the “right” way to do something, and while we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves the whole time, there was a little bit of a sense of relief when we re-entered the States and were once again able to ask questions and understand the answers.

I couldn’t help but reflect on our experience in the light of the church. I wrote a blog a while back that explored the Pew Research findings that showed that the fastest growing label in the “religion” category was “unaffiliated” or not connected to any particular religion. This category was filled primarily with Millennials who had at one time associated themselves with organized religion. I was curious why this trend was happening so I read a number of blogs written by Millennial authors about why they had chosen to leave the church.

By and large, the overall message was “We don’t feel like we belong.”

That’s exactly how I often felt in Europe. I may have been there, dressed in the right clothes, paying with the right money, and eating the right food, but I didn’t feel like I belonged. Even when things were done to make us feel more at home, it still couldn’t eradicate the feeling of not belonging. Why?

We didn’t know anyone – Everyone was new to us; a stranger. Even the friendliest people we met were still new. We had no relationships with them nor them with us, so our conversations were necessarily surface and without depth.

We weren’t familiar with the customs – It’s funny how the littlest thing can remind you that you are out of your element, things like asking for “just water” at a restaurant and having a chilled bottle of seltzer water delivered to your table or not walking on the right side of the road because that is the bike lane and they will run you over. These moments, seemingly small, were poignant reminders we were in unfamiliar territory.

We didn’t speak the language – Obviously one of the most visible ways we felt unaffiliated was in terms of just speaking to those around us. Trying to figure out if what we were paying for an ice cream cone was actually the right amount could lead to times of intense stress. Reading maps and taking the subway? Yeah, we lived Finding Dory.

So what does this have to do with the church?

churchworshipIf the millennial bloggers I read are accurate in their assessment, they share much the same feelings when they are in church. It makes sense then that they would want to leave and find somewhere where they feel they belong. And, if during their lives as children in church they spent most, if not all, of their time separated from the older generations and not in attendance for corporate worship or congregational gathering times, the feeling of not belonging would simply be a natural occurrence, an expected consequence.

They wouldn’t know anybody – Or perhaps, more accurately, they wouldn’t be known by anybody. If coming into “big church” is a new experience and the majority of people attending are new to them, it would not feel like a community they were a part of or were familiar with. It’d be like going to a new country in a way.

They wouldn’t know the customs – Every church has a liturgy; a way of worshiping together. Some follow traditional liturgical practices that have been passed down for centuries; some just have a habitual way of going about church service (song, welcome and greeting, song, song, prayer, offering, song, sermon, prayer, son…something like that). When to stand, when to sit, how to “pass the peace”, how to sing, when to clap, when to go up front, etc. – these customs help create the atmosphere that is unique to that church. How foreign it can feel if it’s never been experienced before and how unusual that must feel when it is happening in a space where you’ve been attending for most of your childhood and youth.

They wouldn’t know the language – Almost every church I’ve attended has some time where the congregation participates in some way praying, reciting, or singing together. In some churches, especially more liturgical ones, there are certain things that are to be said at certain times. For the inexperienced, I imagine this could feel quite intimidating and at times isolating.

What can we do?

It is at this point I tend to lose some readers because it is assumed I am not a proponent of age-appropriate ministries and advocating only for intergenerational worship opportunities. But that’s not true. I tend to be a both/and kinda person.

My encouragement would be this: Find ways to connect the older and younger generations in meaningful relationships where they know each other names long before the young ones head off to college AND seek to find times where the whole congregation can engage in worship and fellowship together before the young people are launched into completely unknown territory.

Give them a chance to know and feel like they belong before they even arrive.

Part of the fun of visiting a new place is that you don’t know everything. The same holds true with church. There should always be more to know of Christ and of each other and there should always be a certain sense of stretching and discomfort as we truly engage in living life together as community. However, recognizing that transition is difficult and we sometimes need a bridge to make the journey, there’s nothing wrong with creating space for relationships and times of corporate worship to reinforce the message for young people that they most certainly do belong.


For more information about

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

About the author

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

The Words Their Souls Long To Hear

I’m out of the country for a week visiting Germany with my husband. I have been so taken by this country and especially the focus they have on children and family. For instance, everywhere we’ve gone in Germany, at the crosswalk there is a picture of a mother holding the hand of a child rather than just a non-descript person walking. Almost every restroom, male or female (yes, they still have gender-specific restrooms in forward-thinking Europe), there are changing tables and often smaller toilets for children. We saw so many children out walking around with families, parents and grandparents, and every tour guide we’ve had has shared the importance of investing in children, of teaching them values and reminding them to learn from the past.

It reminded me of this post from last year, where I was reminding myself the importance of looking children in the eyes, telling them who they are, and giving them vision and purpose for their future. “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.”

Let’s be intentional about doing that today, on Independence Day, reminding them of where they have come and the true life, liberty, and happiness, not found in this world, but in their identity in Christ. Let’s give them the truth of who they are and their unique purpose and identity in this world.

r e F o c u s

momtalkingdaughter

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…

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