My kid doesn’t “get” anything out of Church

Note from Author:  Of all Refocus Ministry’s posts over the last five years, this one has by far been the most talked about. I get asked about it on a regular basis. I use it in nearly all of my conversations with people regarding kids and church. But based on some of those more recent conversations, I felt it needed to be shared again; for some of us, as a reminder of the richness of “church” and for others, as a first-time consideration of exactly what our kids “get” out of church.

One common concern I often hear from parents and other adult church members about including children in the corporate worship setting is that kids won’t “get” anything out of the worship or the sermon.  From an adult perspective, there are certain things we want to walk away from church with such as a sense of having been in God’s presence or having learned something that will help us grow in our faith.  We presumably come to church for a reason and it is easy for us to assume those same reasons apply to our kids.

But they probably don’t.

You see your kids are young in their faith.  They don’t understand the desire for fellowship or the beauty of corporate worship or the need for continued learning and growth in their walk with Christ.  They go to church because they follow you to church; they are your disciples and they are learning what being a Christian looks like by watching and emulating you (if I were a psalmist, I’d write a “Selah” after that and encourage to to “stop and think about” that for a moment).

So, parents often express this concern:  kid-church

My kids are only going to church because I make them.  It’s bad enough when they are going to Sunday School where they get to have fun but when they are just sitting in “big church” and they don’t get anything out of it, it seems rather pointless.

I get it, I do!  I have kids and I know that often the worship service is geared towards adults only and not applicable or appropriate for them (more about that here).  I too have struggled with the fact that they don’t seem to “get” anything out of those corporate times of gathering.  But I have also seen and read many studies that show definitively that these times of worship and learning in the midst of the larger congregation are one of the leading reasons for increased “stickiness” of faith in young adults.  Thus, there must be something to it, even if what they get out of church is not the same as what we adults “get” out of attending church service.

So, what is it?  What do little kids “get” out of going to “big church”?

1.  They get SEEN

I have been at churches where I have seen kids dropped off by parents in the Children’s Area as soon as they walk in the door and picked up as it is time to leave.  More than once I’ve heard it said in the hallway, “You have kids?  I had no idea!”  That makes my heart hurt.

It has been shown that one of the most important and meaningful thing for kids is that someone knows their name.  When kids are secluded from the congregation, not only are their names unknown, their faces aren’t even recognized.  They are for the most part a dismissible part of the church and wouldn’t be missed except by a few volunteers and staff members if they never came back… which is often exactly what happens when they are old enough to do so.

2. They get to SEE

One of the main ways that kids learn is through emulation by watching activities and actions and imitating them.  Every church I’ve been to has had its own form of liturgy or way to worship.  Some churches have prayers that are prayed each service. Some celebrate communion.  Some engage in corporate prayer, take up offerings, recite a creed, or have a time for sharing testimonies.  Some use hymnals, some projectors with contemporary praise and worship.  During the service, Scripture is read, Bibles are opened, and the Word comes to life.

All of these things are imperative for kids to be discipled in.  It may seem like they are not “getting” anything out of it, but they are learning and growing in those moments.  They are watching Mom and Dad and other adults they respect and trust show them how to worship. And if they don’t learn from the church, they will learn somewhere else.  The world has plenty of things to worship and are more than willing to teach kids how to do so.

3. They get EXPERIENCE

For a moment, I want you to think back on your own walk of faith.  Do you remember the first time you took communion?  Got baptized? Found a Scripture verse in the Bible by yourself? Put money in the offering plate?  Prayed at the altar?  Maybe even shared in front of church?

For many of us, those things happened in the context of congregational worship.  Now, I bet you did some of those things in Sunday School or Kids Church before you did them with the larger congregation, but I also bet there was something meaningful and affirming about doing it with the whole church. 

When my girls got baptized, they shared their testimony in front of the church and after the baptism, the congregation cheered and hugged them and loved on them in a way that left deep impressions on their hearts of their place in God’s church.  We don’t attend that church anymore since we moved, but the experience of being accepted in the body of Christ has stayed with them.  Having the experience of an entire congregation embracing them gave them a sense of belonging that is not easily forgotten.

It would be naive to think that this is a simple or easy task. 

Kids are… kids.  Churches would be wise to find ways to make it easier to invite kids into worship (click here for more on this ).  Parents should be prepared for the inevitable eye rolls of boredom or occasional acting out and having to do follow-up after the service to reinforce what was taught.

But I firmly believe these frustrations of the moment are far less painful than the alternative – a generation who is unknown, disengaged, and separated from the larger body of Christ.

By giving our children a place to be seen, to see, and to experience their faith with others, we give them so much more – we give them a foundation for their faith that will leave lasting impressions on their heart.


To read the follow-up blog, Do Not Hinder: Welcoming Kids to Worship, click here.

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 this Blog

IMG-0573Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

The Sin of Neglect: Discipleship and the Next Generation

Sometimes, as I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed, a post will jump out at me and I will go back for a second look. That happened yesterday.

Yesterday, a senior pastor I know posted the following in Facebook discussion.

John Wesley on the pastor’s responsibility to minister to children, “Talk with them… pray in earnest for them, diligently instruct and vehemently exhort all parents…. Some will say, ‘I have no gift for this.’ Gift or no gift, you are to do this, or else you are not to be called a Methodist preacher” (On Instructing Children, Minutes of Several Conversations)

Hold up!  I gotta see more. Let’s read through the conversation that follows.

Response: And I remember reading somewhere that the average church spends 2% of its budget on reaching kids.

Reply: This neglect is a systematic sin in the general church.

 Response: I would add that church needs to be done in a way that lets children know they belong there. I never mind the noise as it means life and growth and sometimes the only response to my questions.

I must remind you, this discussion was not a discussion between children’s pastors or youth ministers. The very real impact of not effectively ministering to the next generation in ways that tell them they belong, that they are a part of the community of faith, of segmenting our churches into aged blocks that don’t interact and where the lead pastor delegates all the work with children and youth to others who are “gifted” was being felt at a different level.

This is a big deal to me. Why? Not because senior pastors or lead pastors are somehow more gifted or more called or more important than other members of the church. That would be a terrible overstatement and frankly, one that many churches and pastors do struggle with.  But let’s engage in some honest reflection for a moment (and please indulge some generalities and stereotyping: don’t immediately rush to defend your church or critique these statement; hear the sentiment behind the words).

Who has the most influence on a church/congregation? Hint: It’s not the children’s minister. It’s not the youth pastor.

Who (typically) gets paid the most for their work in the church? Again, same hint applies.

Whose voice carries the most weight, is often required to sit on the most committees and is needed to make most of the vision and mission decisions of a congregation? You guessed it.

The senior pastor.

Now we could sit here and debate the rightness or wrongness of these statements. Personally, I find those things to be most troubling and hope that churches are getting to a place where instead of being a pastor-driven church, they become mission-driven and each member of the body serves according to his/her gifts. But that’s a topic for another space and probably a different blog.

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Photo by Pedro Lima on Unsplash

The reason I have chosen to bring attention to this Facebook post on this blog is because… the poster was right.  His description that “this neglect is a systemic sin in the general church” is spot on. We, the body of Christ, are called to make disciples.

In our churches, we are gifted with multiple generations, all at different paths on the journey, all in different life circumstances, all with so much to give to one another, all called to disciple…and, in many cases, they don’t even know each other’s names let alone speak to one another outside the church walls.

How can we answer the call to go and make disciples if we can’t even stay and make disciples?

I was so glad to see this Facebook discussion because I am convinced that it is time.

It is time for churches in America to recognize that doing the same thing we’ve been doing for the next 20 years will simply yield the same results of neglect and loss.

It is time to recognize the structural and personal constructs that keep us from engaging with one another, across generations, in meaningful ways that lead to relationships and discipleship.

If your church building has entirely separate wings for separate ages, it is time to figure out how to literally break down the walls.

If your curriculum is targeted at only one age group so that your Sunday school classes or Wednesday night groups are limited in who can attend, it’s time to get creative and figure out how to include more generations in these conversations.

If your church board or leadership team or welcome committee or worship team or outreach group doesn’t have a chair for a member or two of the next generation (yes, youth group kids) to have a voice and be a part of the mission, it is time to recognize the mission and vision will end with the generations that do.

Open the doors. Have the conversations. Listen to one another.

Hear the babies cry and the toddlers play and the children laugh and the teens whisper and the young adults converse and the new mamas sigh and the old mamas advise and the new husbands wonder and old husbands share and the elders remember. Listen to the life of the church.

Don’t be afraid of each other and of change. Let’s be the generation that says “No!” to the systemic sin of neglect and “Yes!” to the call to make disciples right in our own pews.

And senior pastors, do not neglect the children and the youth. They need you too. As Wesley said, “Gift or no gift, you are to do this!”  If our churches are going to change direction, they are going to need you to embrace this reality.

If I am passionate, it is only because I truly believe it is time. We cannot keep wasting our time arguing about whether we want to do this or debating that we like things this way or that. It is time to get serious about being the body of Christ, to one another and to the world, without limits places on age or generation.


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 this Blog

IMG-0573Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

Kids & Church: The Total Package

ballet-2789416_1920When 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.

One Sunday, 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.kidsinchurch

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.

A version of this article first appeared on this blog here


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 this Blog

IMG-0573Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

No Time to Make Disciples

Last week, this blog focused on the importance of the faith community joining parents and caregivers in the work of intentional discipleship. That stirred up a pretty robust conversation with a few people and one thing that was brought up is something parents and caregivers ask me a lot: “How?” Usually, the question also includes an explanation something like this:

We are so busy (tired, full schedule) that we are barely home (awake, together) and when we are, we just want to rest (relax, watch TV) not try to have church (do a family devotion, have a faith talk).

The conclusion usually sounds something like, “I know that’s not right but I just don’t even know where to start.”

watch-1245791_1920I feel that, I truly do. Our family like many of yours also lives a busy life. Currently, all of us, from the youngest to the oldest are students, in five different schools, doing activities ranging from musical to yearbook and three of us are gainfully employed to boot. Our calendar is a veritable rainbow of appointments, events, and practices.

And the thought of having to add something else to it, especially something as intentional as a family devotional time or a faith talk, can feel absolutely overwhelming. 

It’s at this point though that it is tempting to say, “Forget it. The kids will just have to get the Jesus stuff at church.” And that kind of thinking leads to a relinquishing of our unique responsibility to raise our children in the faith as well as a willingness to overlook the very real fact that parents and caregivers, not ministers, have the greatest influence on their child’s faith whether they are intentional about it or not.

May I offer a different perspective; another way of thinking?

Could it be that when the charge to “impress these things upon your children” was given in Deuteronomy 4, it wasn’t a just call to family devotions?  That perhaps what God had in mind was a bit more involved than that?

What if instead of adding another thing to our calendar, we sought for ways to intentionally invite Christ into what we are already doing?

What if instead of saying, “There’s no time to do more” we started saying “We are going to let God do more with our time.”

In that famous Deuteronomy passage, there are four discipleship moments mentioned: Getting up in the morning, going to bed at night, sitting down at home, and leaving the home (along the road). Throughout the world, these things happen every. single. day. We all wake up, we all sleep, we all sit, we all go.

I find it so interesting that these are the times that God said, “Talk to your kids about Me.”

The most ordinary, normative moments of the day become extraordinary moments to disciple our kids in the faith.

So, back to that original question of “How?”

By simply inviting Christ into your calendar, into each moment, into each activity. It starts with just one comment, one reflection, one pause to turn our focus from the temporal to the eternal.

At a workshop I once did for family ministers, I had people write down some everyday activities they do during these four moments. For instance, what do they do each morning when they wake up? Then I asked them, “Now consider, how can you invite Jesus into those moments?”  A lady piped up, “I don’t think Jesus can join me while I brush my teeth?”  I challenged her to get creative and see if there was anything she could think of to invite Christ into that most ordinary moment.

A few months later, I bumped into her and she said, “Oh, I just have have to tell you. I took you up on your challenge. I had the idea to start writing Bible verses and encouraging notes to my family and using post-its to hang them on the mirror in the bathroom. Now every day when they brush their teeth, they are reading God’s word to them for the day. We all do it now. It’s become a ‘thing’ in our house. Thanks for pushing me to think about how to invite Christ in.”

Wow. Brushing teeth as discipleship. If there could be a more mundane, non-spiritual activity on the planet, I can’t think of what it would be. And yet, when Christ is invited into that space, it becomes extraordinary. 

What about us? Where in our daily lives can we invite Christ in?  Could we talk about a verse as we drive to soccer practice?  Could our dinner conversation open doors to discuss how God loves us and lives through us?  Could movie night be a chance to impress God’s commands upon their hearts?  Could God meet us as we tuck our kids into bed each night?

Discipleship at home isn’t about doing more; it’s about inviting Christ into what you are already doing.

It’s about impressing the heart of God into our children’s hearts in the everyday moments so that being a Christian isn’t about going to church or managing sin or even reading the Bible but rather about living each moment with hearts turned to God and lives reflecting His love. It’s about creating disciples.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time” Eph. 5:15, 16a (ESV)


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 this Blog

IMG-0573Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

*The advertisements on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Who Should Disciple Children?

Among Children, Family and NextGen pastors and directors, this question often gets tossed around; Who should disciple children?

The question stems from books written over the past two decades which point out that in Scripture, parents are called to disciple their children, to raise them up in the faith and teach them about Christ. This is often shared in contrast to the idea of taking children to church for Sunday school and Wednesday nights and letting the volunteers and ministers there do the work of discipleship, rather like sending our children to school to let the experts and professionals teach them.

Most of the time, there are a few common answers that get shared.

  • First, that it is the parent’s responsibility and the church is there to support them.
  • Second, that it is a shared responsibility where both the church and the parents partner together.
  • Third, that is is the parent’s responsibility but so many parents don’t know how to disciple their kids that it becomes the church’s responsibility.
  • Fourth, that it is the church’s responsibility based on the Great Commission and parents, as part of the church, participate in the work of discipleship.

These are all valid points and I appreciate the hearty discussion that takes place around this topic; however, there are a few significant facts that tend to get left out of the discussion, facts that carry a lot of weight and are important for both the church and the home to consider as we continue the conversations.

Who are the Parents?

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In 2015, Pew Research surveyed 1,807 US parents with children younger than 18, representing a wide swath of social, economic, racial, and religious demographics. Among other things, the study found that “today, fully 62% of children live with two married parents – an all-time low. Some 15% are living with parents in a remarriage and 7% are living with parents who are cohabiting. Conversely, the share of children living with one parent stands at 26%, up from 22% in 2000 and just 9% in 1960.”

ImplicationsMany children are not going home to the same set of biological parents each night and spending their time in the same home. Many bounce back and forth between two homes, with two different sets of parents and step-parents, siblings and step-siblings, and rules and expectations; others live with just one parent while others live with grandparents or other relatives or caregivers. When we say “the parents” should disciple their children, to whom are we actually referring?

In order to address this reality, many ministries now talk about the importance of discipleship in the “home” or discuss the influence that the “home” has on the faith formation of children. As we consider equipping the home as the place of discipleship, it becomes increasingly important for us to consider who is filling that parental role within the home.

For more on this topic, check out these articles and the full Pew Research report.

What do we mean by “Who Should”?

One key fact that gets left out of many of the “who should” conversations is that, whether they should or not, parents ARE the ones who “disciple” their kids. Studies show parents have the greatest impact on their children and their children’s faith, far above any church or ministerial context or person (Source). By default, parents are discipling their children.

My guess is what we are actually talking about in the “who should” conversations is intentional discipleship where parents are doing discipleship on purpose rather than incidentally. In other words, are parents engaged in the work of discipleship with intention or are they just accidentally influencing their kids’ faith in both positive and negative ways?

Implication:  This is an important consideration because it impacts how we address parents and caregivers in terms of equipping and supporting their work of faith formation in the home. Rather than telling them they “should” disciple their children or that it is their job to do so, we begin the conversation by letting them know that they are, in fact, discipling their children all the time and that we, as the church, want to come along side them and journey with them as they do so. This approach immediately changes the conversation from a directive to a cooperative action.

For more on this topic, check out these articles and another Pew Research report.

Who is “The Church”?

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One of the major criticisms of the church in many of the books regarding family ministry is that a culture of “professional discipleship” has been created where caregivers think that they can leave the faith formation of their children to Sunday school teachers and children’s pastors rather than engaging with faith in the home.

But, what do we mean when we say “the church?”  If we are merely referring to the few volunteers and paid ministry staff that interact with children or the programs, curriculum or activities that our children participate in, we are missing out on a huge portion of the church…namely, the people. 

Often the verses found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 are quoted as a mandate for parental discipleship in the home. It’s important to note that the charge to talk about these commandments, to impress them on the children, to disciple the next generation in faith what given to the entire gathered assembly and never once were parents singled out and told that discipleship was their sole responsibility. On the contrary, the command was clearly given in the presence of everyone (Hear, O Israel) and deemed by God through Moses as applicable to the whole assembly. So much so, it is repeated, nearly word for word in Deuteronomy 11:18-20 again in an address to the whole congregation.

Implications: This is a command to disciple is given to all members of the community of faith, to all of our children, not just those who live in our homes.  When viewed in this light, some of common excuses for not serving and ministering to children in the church fall short. We can’t say, “I gave my time serving with in Sunday School and youth group when my kids were young. It’s their turn now.” We can’t say, “Well, they aren’t my kids. It’s not up to me to talk to them about God.” We can’t say, “It’s not my responsibility.” I mean, we can say those things, but we miss out on our call of discipleship within the community of faith.

For more on this topic, check out these articles.

So What is the Answer?

The answer to the “Who Should?” question posed above is not an Either/Or; it’s a Both/And.  The church as a body (think people, community, not institution or program) should provide networks of support and mentoring that disciple children and uphold parents and parents should be intentional about their influence at home and consider how their own actions as Christians are impacting their children. In doing so, we provide the next generation with best road towards lifelong faith and a personal relationship with Jesus, which is our ultimate goal as members of Christ’s body.


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 this Blog

IMG-0573Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

*The advertisements on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author.