Advent Isn’t About Lighting Candles on Sunday

We have reached the blessed season of anticipation as we together await the birth of Christ. And just like 2020 has brought us new experiences in so many ways, this year we will be celebrating Advent in different capacities.

It can be exhausting and even discouraging to think about yet another change coming our way this year. But, friends, fellow parents, co-ministers in the Kingdom….Be encouraged!

Advent isn’t about lighting candles on Sunday morning. 

You see, lighting the candle doesn’t mean a whole lot to me or you (or to our kids) if we don’t talk about Hope, contemplate Joy, celebrate Peace, and commemorate Love for the rest of the week.

Reading beautiful Scriptures of God’s promises and love for us doesn’t mean a whole lot if it stays inside the church walls and never makes it to our dinner table, our car ride, our community, and our job.

Singing a few hymns about Christmas won’t impact our lives until we consider the words and use them to praise God on our recliner at home as much as we do our pew at church.

The reality is, if we are “doing” something at church and not “doing” that same thing the rest of the week, we are compartmentalizing our faith to a place or a gathering or a building instead of incorporating our faith into transformed lives.

We don’t have to literally light an Advent candle every night but if we want our children to know about the Hope of Christ, we need to talk about it every day.

And it’s fine and even fun to sing Christmas carols in the car but we also need to model a life of worship everywhere we go.

We don’t necessarily have to read Scripture aloud in front of our family but Scripture needs to be a part of our everyday conversations with our kids.

If we have learned anything this year, we’ve learned that we can’t live lives that say “Church is a building we go to on Sunday because God is there.” We’ve learned that church has to be much, much more.

We have had to tell our kids, “Church is the family of God and He is always with us so we are always in church.” Now is the time for us to not just say this with words but with our lives.

Spontaneous worship.  Times of prayer.  Lighting of candles. Corporate worship.  Waiting expectantly in hope for the arrival of Christ. 

These things don’t need to be limited to a place, a time, a special moment.  These things can be lived all year long and our lives can be a living testimony to a vibrant, growing faith.

This year offers us the opportunity to do Advent in our homes and in our faith community in a way that really grapples with Hope, pursues Peace, seeks out Joy, and embraces Love in tangible, life-giving, heart-changing ways.

Light a candle, sing a song, serve a neighbor, and give your family the biggest hug. Hope is here, Joy is present, Peace is proclaimed, and LOVE…Love is eternal. Happy Advent, friends!


Looking for a way to help parents capture those discipleship moments at home?

ReFocus Ministry is excited to offer “Everyday Discipleship: A Workshop for Parents/Caregivers.” 

This one-hour workshop covers an unlimited number of parents from your church to join us for a seminar including an Everyday Discipleship worksheet and follow-up resources for parents/caregivers focused on helping support and equip parents for faith formation in their homes.

This workshop has been widely attended by both ministers and parents alike with positive feedback on how it changed their perspective on discipleship in the home and got them excited about sharing their faith with their kids.

This webinar uses a Zoom format and is set up with an individualized code for your church only. All resources will be emailed prior to the webinar so you can distribute to parents with your regular communication.

Interested in learning more?

Fill out the form below with the Message: Everyday Discipleship and we will be in touch!


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

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. She also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.

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 recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed.

Christmas for the Whole Church: Socially Distanced and Virtual Options

I get a lot of requests for Christmas programs that are intergenerational and focused on bringing the whole church together, while still being appropriate for kids to lead and participate in. One year, after searching for a while, I decided to write my own, and just see what happened.   We ended up having a very moving and memorable all-church experience around the story of God’s Love played out at Christmas.

This year, I’ve had a lot of the same requests with the caveat of “Oh, and it needs to be Covid-friendly.” To meet this need, I’ve taken my “Christmas for the Whole Church” program and added the elements necessary to experience it in a socially-distanced or virtual way. I hope that this is helpful for your churches as you navigate celebrating Christmas in a new way this year!

Because the original program included videos and music our church paid for, I am unable to share the full scripting here, although I can provide links to the music and videos for your own purchasing if desired. IF YOU USE THIS SCRIPT, PLEASE PURCHASE WHATEVER VIDEOS OR MUSIC YOU MIGHT DECIDE TO USE. The rest of the script, which I have written, is free for your use but please honor those who have copyrighted their materials for purchase.

The inspiration for this program came out of the experience of “Cardboard Testimonies” where people share their testimony in short phrases on a piece of cardboard. For instance, the one side might read “Lost in Sin” and the other could read “Found in Love.”  As you read through the script, you’ll see how this is utilized to share the story of Christmas and, even more, the metanarrative of God’s ongoing story of Love and rescue for all of us!

A Christmas Celebration for The Whole Church

  • Narrator 1, 2
  • Joseph – Doubter/Believer
  • Mary – Too Young/Chosen by God
  • Shepherds – Nobodies/God’s Somebodies (2)
  • Wise Men – Wise/Humble (3)
  • Scripture Reader
  • Children to sing

MATERIALS NEEDED – Cardboard signs, both prepared as described and empty, and extra sharpies. Costumes can be used for children if the church desires but each child should bring their own from home (no sharing).

SOCIALLY DISTANCED

If you plan to do this in church but socially-distanced, make sure that you have enough room or stage or around the church to allow people to speak. I would recommend putting tape on the floor where each person can stand.

For Cardboard Testimonies: Have multiple stations, spaced out, for people to write on their cardboard. Have hand sanitizer at each table and wipe down markers after use.

VIRTUAL

You will be using video cameras in order to tape each scene. This can be accomplished a few ways:

  1. Each actor can send in a video of themselves doing their part. This is the most convenient option but there is very little quality control
  2. Someone from your church can go videotape each person doing their part. Not as convenient, but a lot more quality control.
  3. You can set up a Zoom meeting where each person reads their part and the meeting is recorded.

For Cardboard Testimonies: Have people send in still shots (Pictures!) of them holding their signs, front-facing and back-facing. These will be added to the movie at the end. In sharing their testimonies, make sure you include an explanation of what is expected since they won’t be able to see the program beforehand. Examples of cardboard testimonies can be found here.

The Script

Narrator 1  – It’s that time of year again. Can you feel it? (wrap arms around self) Can you smell it? (take a deep breath and then look over a plate of cookies) Mmmmm, can you taste it? (takes a small bite) This is one of my very favorite times of year. I love the sights, the sounds, and the stories that make it so special. But my favorite story is the one we as Christians celebrate as we light our tree, share our gifts and sing our songs. Of course, I am talking about the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Narrator 2 – Like so many stories in the Bible, there is so much for us to learn from how God interacted with the people He used. Today, we want to look a little deeper at the story we all know and love and just see if we can catch of glimpse of Christmas here today.

Let’s start with Joseph, Jesus’ father here on earth

( Joseph enters hold up large sign “Doubter.”)

Joseph: I couldn’t believe it when I heard her say it. “I’m going to have a baby, God’s son, and he will save the world.” We weren’t married yet. I wasn’t ready to be a father. And she said she talked to angels. Doesn’t that sound crazy to you? But then, it happened. In a dream I talked to an angel too. I heard him say that everything Mary said was true. That I was going to be the father to God’s own Son. And in that moment my heart changed (flip the sign to other side “Believer”) and I became the first of many believers in my son, Jesus, the Messiah.

(Video – Joseph song: Music available to purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Josephs-Song/dp/B002CGLYD2 and video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BARVAg0gl6w&list=RDBARVAg0gl6w , Joseph leaves)

(Mary enters, holding up sign that reads “Too Young”)

Mary: Hi, my name is Mary. I’m still not used to getting up in front of people but I am learning. I’ll never forget the day the angel told me I was to be Jesus’ mother. Me? But, I was so young, really just a child. I was engaged to be married but not for a while and I couldn’t understand why God would choose me. But He did. Not because of my age or my abilities but because I was willing and I was available. (flip sign, other side reads “Chosen by God”). I was chosen and by His Love , I was blessed to be the mother of God’s only son.

(Song: Mary, Did You Know? Music available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IB4DTFU/ref=dm_ws_tlw_trk9. We had two of our youth play the piano and sing for this part.  If SOCIALLY DISANCED, keep 12 ft from the singer and others. Mary exits)

(Two shepherds enter, carrying 1 big sign that says Nobodies. The two should be struggling, arguing a bit on how best to carry the sign before they get situated. For COVID purposes, it would be best for these two individuals to be from the same household so they can interact freely)

Shepherd #1 – Ahem, hello, sorry ‘bout that. Um, ahem, yeah… we are shepherds. (said definitively and then stop expectantly)

Shepherd #2, shaking his head – And…? Never mind, I’ll tell them. We are shepherds and around these parts we don’t get much, yah know, R-E-S-P-E-C-T because well, see, we don’t have a lot of schooling and mostly we’re just out in the field all day watching sheep.

Shepherd #1 – But that’s important!! Because if someone didn’t watch the sheep, they’d run off or get eaten and things!!

Shepherd #2 – Yeah, I know that, but lots of other folks just think we’re stinky and silly. BUT not God, oh no, not Him. He done sent us a whole slew of angels, singing and telling us that the Messiah had been born.

Shepherd #1 – That’s right. At first we were scared but then we was just excited. We was the first to know!! (they flip the sign, easily and not clumsily this time) and we were the very first ones to tell others that Jesus has been born.

Shepherd #2 – We may not speak the best or read real well, but God trusted us to announce the arrival of His Son. I say that makes us Somebody in His book! (they high five)

(Video: Skit Guys, First Christmas Shepherd available for purchase at http://skitguys.com/videos/item/first-christmas-shepherd)

(Wise men enter, stoically, the middle one holding a sign reading “Wise”. If possible, it would be good for these three individuals to be from the same household so they can interact freely)

Wiseman #1 – Good evening. It is our privilege and joy to share with you this evening the events that occurred upon our visit to Bethlehem around the arrival of the baby named Jesus of Nazareth.

Wiseman #2 – Our charts and graphs as well as our astrological studies had led us to the exact location of the child’s birth. We had brought with us valuable gifts to present to Him as our studies had revealed that he would indeed be a king, a king of kings to be exact.

Wiseman #3 – Imagine our surprise when all of our wisdom and charts and graphs and maps led us to a tiny cave behind an inn in the town of Bethelehem. (all kneel as the middle one flips the sign to reveal the word HUMBLE) We bowed before the king of the world on a dirt floor and dirty hay and never have we been so fulfilled in all our lives.

Scripture Reading 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (Jn. 1:1-5)

(Song: “Here I am to Worship”, music available to purchase at http://www.musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtd.asp?ppn=MN0081209.)

There are no spoken kid parts at this time but they will have a small role to play this section

Narrator 1: You see, there’s so much more to the story than just a manger and a birth. Lives were changed. People were transformed. Let’s take a look one more time at how these people so long ago were changed.

All characters holding their broken signs facing out. If you are using a video, pictures would work for this rather than having each character present the whole time.

Narrator 2: See, each person needed God in some way. They all felt confused, insecure, insignificant, unworthy and self-sufficient. But the love of God transformed them (Actors flip signs) He changed their lives, their minds, and their hearts. He made them into believers and helped them understand they were chosen children of God. He made each of them “somebody” and gave them hearts of humility.

Note: Picture taken during non-Covid experience

Actors exit with “new” signs above their head to be seen by the congregation. If you are using a video, pictures would work for this part.

Narrator 1: Yes, these people long ago were transformed and the impact of our Savior’s birth continues to this day. Jesus’ love still has the power to change us, each one of us. The story continues even with us…

At this time, a few adult members of the congregation will come out one by one and in the spotlight with their “cardboard” testimony. If anyone is willing, you could give them time to share their testimony. Even if this is being done in a socially distnaced, in-person way, videos of the cardboard testimonies might be a viable option.

If you are solely using virtual/video, skip the next section and move right into the section of the video that highlights pictures of members holding up their cardboard testimonies. Play the music in the background as the testimonies are shared.

Narrator 2: Perhaps some of the rest of you have experienced this kind of love in your life. Perhaps you too have a story to share. (Preplanned volunteers line up on left side of church) If so we will invite you now to make your way to one of the three stations where blank signs and markers are available for you to make your own sign.

Narrator 1: While the music continues to play, make your way to the far side aisle and we will help you come one by one to the front to share your sign. You don’t need to talk, just share your sign with us. This may very well be the best Christmas card you could send. You may now go to the 3 stations at the back.

Music to play. We used “Oh How He Loves Us” by David Crowder. Preplanned volunteers will begin filing onto stage, socially-distanced and masked, to show their sign. As congregants line up, prompter 2 will tell each one to go as the current testimonial is stepping down. There is no set time limit for this. It will depend on the size of your church and the move of the Holy Spirit. Our testimony time lasted about 10-15 minutes. The music played on a loop during that time. 

Pastor/Director (In-person or Virtual video): Maybe today, you didn’t have a sign to show or a card to write. That’s okay because the very best news of Christmas is that the story never ends. If today you felt a desire to allow God to re-write your story and you would like to pray with someone, we invite you to contact us and we would love to pray with you.

SOCIALLY DISTANCED

If you are able to take communion safely, consider ending this way. “Now, in the spirit of celebration, thanking God through Jesus Christ for His magnificent gift of love, let us come to the table set before us and share in communion with Christ and one another (Continue with communion liturgy).

VIRTUAL

End the video with a Christmas carol and information about how to contact the pastoral staff at the church. We used “O Come all ye Faithful” and “Joy to the World”

I hope that this script and opportunity to share the Christmas story in a new way is a help to you this year. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions and I will be happy to help you as I am able!


Looking for a way to help parents/caregivers engage with their kids in everyday discipleship at home?

ReFocus Ministry is excited to offer “Everyday Discipleship: A Workshop for Parents/Caregivers.” This one-hour workshop covers an unlimited number of parents from your church to join us for a seminar including an Everyday Discipleship worksheet and follow-up resources for parents/caregivers focused on helping support and equip parents for faith formation in their homes.

This workshop has been widely attended by both ministers and parents alike with positive feedback on how it changed their perspective on discipleship in the home and got them excited about sharing their faith with their kids.

This webinar uses a Zoom format and is set up with an individualized code for your church only. All resources will be emailed prior to the webinar so you can distribute to parents with your regular communication.

Interested in learning more?

Fill out the form below with the Message: Everyday Discipleship and we will be in touch!


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

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. She also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.

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 recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed.

The Healing Gift of Hospitality

When I was a young child, I remember hearing people talk about how we wanted to “offer hospitality” to others and I was so confused why we would offer to take people to the hospital. And what did that have to do with me cleaning the house and setting the table for dinner?

If your home is anything like mine, December becomes a perfect time to practice hospitality and believe it or not, my childish question wasn’t as far off base as you might think. I did a little digging and found the word “hospitality” comes from the Latin word hospes, meaning “host”, “guest”, or “stranger.”

And you guessed it, the Latin word ‘Hospital’ means a guest-chamber, guest’s lodging, an inn.  In other words, when we invite people to come and stay in our home, we are actually filling the role of hospital.

christmas-791142_1920Today, we understand a hospital to be a place where people go to stay for medical care, not for leisure. But in the past, offering someone hospitality was often a matter of survival and protection. It was much more than simply good etiquette and entertainment; it was often a place where people found safety and shelter with others.

It was a hospital where a different kind of healing took place.

In the story of the walk to Emmaus, we find this kind of hospitality. The two disciples were walking together and talking and they were joined by a stranger. Not only was he invited into their conversation, he was invited into their home. That’s the first kind of hospitality, one of shelter and safety.

But once in the home, the stranger became the host of a different kind of hospitality, that of spiritual healing and holy communion. The stranger was Jesus and as he “broke the bread” and they recognized him a few things happened.

First, they saw God, which in and of itself is pretty amazing.

Second, they believed God. They believed in the resurrection that the women from the tomb had proclaimed.

Third, their souls were revived. So much so that they ran all the way back to Jerusalem, leaping and overflowing with joy.

And finally, they told others. This is the kind of hospitality that knows others are welcome too, and so it is proclaimed to others as a place of spiritual safety and healing.

As we get ready to gather with friends and families and even neighbors and strangers this holiday season, let’s flip the script on hospitality as we’ve known it, the hospitality focused on etiquette and entertainment, and ask the Lord how we can offer a hospitality of safety and security and of spiritual healing and holy communion to those we get the chance to be with, dine with, and worship with over the next few weeks.

Here are some ideas on how we can do just that with our children and our faith community.

Pray for Others – That sounds so cliché right? But praying for others has been shown to create a deeper empathy in us for the people around us and what better way to show hospitality than to be a safe place for people to come and know they are loved and prayed for.

And do it aloud with your children; model for them what it is to talk to God on behalf of others and to listen when He leads us to serve them in some way.

Attend Advent/Christmas Events – It’s hard to offer hospitality to others if we are never around others. Even if all you do is interact with one other person and pray for them as you do, you’ve engaged with a means of grace given to us by God and therefore placed yourself in His presence and He has promised to meet us there.

Plus, Jesus promised us that wherever two or three are gathered in His name is present with us; find some time to be with Christ present in His people these next few weeks.

Be a Safe Space – We all have hard days and for many, the holidays are some of the hardest. If someone you know has had one and they share with you, hold their confidence and join them in prayer. Be a safe place for others to find encouragement and grace just as Jesus was for those disciples on the road.

Be that place of healing and communion for your children, your family, your church, and those who don’t even know Jesus yet. Just as Christ always beckons us to come, be a place of welcome and rest for those you interact with.

Christmas is a time where we remember that we were shown the greatest hospitality of all. God Incarnate came to us. He made a way for us to spend eternity with Him. I like to think of it this way:  He put out the welcome mat, opened the door, and invited us in.  May you find time to walk in and enjoy his hospitality this season.

Merry Christmas, friends!

May your celebrations be rich with His Hope, Peace, Joy and Love and may you find moments of rest and renewal in His promise of being “God with us!”


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. 

Church, Children, and Interruptions

The other day, my husband and I had the opportunity to go to a beautiful Advent performance with a full choir, orchestra and children’s choir. It was a wonderful night, but I have to admit, there was one thing that started to irritate me during the evening.  In the row behind us were a couple of young children and, you guessed it, they had a difficult time during the performance.  More than once I was bumped in the head as there was a great deal of talking and shushing, movement in and out of the aisle and the like.

I found my reaction interesting, considering how much I advocate for children to be a part of corporate worship and attend “big church” with adults at some point in time. How could I blog about that and then get irritated when a child bothered me at a performance?

And then it hit me… no, not the child’s toy, though that did happen. What hit me was this thought; the reason I was agitated was because this was a performance meant to be listened to and involving me only in a few moments of singing and a candle-lighting portion at the end. It was a place of passive engagement where I was expected to sit, to listen, to observe and to soak up the entire experience.  I was there as a consumer and the product was a beautiful, inspiring musical performance. 

My agitation existed because a child was interrupting that performance.

Church, on the other hand, is not supposed to be a performance.

be-quiet-in-churchAfter all, who would we be performing for?  One another? The live stream video viewers? God? No, church is supposed to be a time where we gather to worship together, to speak life to each other, to pray for one another, and to come together in our shared faith and be the body of Christ together.

And yes, we may follow a liturgy or listen to a sermon or sing songs…but it’s not supposed to be a performance. It’s not supposed to be a place of passive engagement that only includes us for a few moments of singing and an occasional candle-lighting. Church isn’t something to be consumed; it is something to be!

The earliest churches met in homes and gathered at tables for communion and love feasts.  A crying babe?  A restless child? These weren’t interruptions; they were merely part of life.

So why does it bother us so much when our Sunday services get intruded on by the sounds of young children?

My guess is that even if we don’t intend for church to be a performance, it can so often become just that.

The bulletin becomes our script, the liturgy becomes our lines, and the stage becomes…well, our stage.

The pulpit becomes the spotlight and the clock becomes our timekeeper.

And somewhere in the midst of it all, we feel like we can’t interrupt the program or let it be interrupted because this is our chance, our one chance, during the week to get what we need for the upcoming days.

Is this an exaggeration? Maybe.  But maybe there is some truth in it. If our church services are so polished and our expectations of passively receiving are so high that the cry of a child or the rustling of a toddler are enough to steal our joy, maybe we are a little too oriented towards a performance mentality than a worship mentality.

Maybe the most worshipful thing we can do is embrace that child, ask their parents if they need anything, learn their name, say their name, and excitedly seek them out the next week so that they know they are welcome, giggles, wiggles and all.

I always feel like I have to caveat posts like this one with a simple statement that I am a fan of both/and; I believe there are important reasons to have both age-sensitive ministry and intergenerational ministry.  But I also think there are a lot of reasons why it is hard for us to include those younger generations in our corporate worship settings and one of those might just be our tendency to lean towards performance instead of worship.

In a previous post about talking in church (yes, I advocate for parents quietly explaining the church service to their kids in church), this statement appears:

“When we put such a high premium on non-disturbance in our modern-day church services, it comes with a cost…and in my opinion, that cost is relationship, discipleship, and compassion. I’d much rather see a brief conversation happen during the service that leads to engagement and discipleship than the rigid silence that leads to disengagement, boredom and resistance to God’s Word simply so one can escape the judgment and criticism of others.” 

Similarly, I would much rather see a child in church, playing with an activity bag, coloring on the bulletin, chomping Cheerios like there is no tomorrow, than to never see children and youth in the sanctuary walls.

Are there ways for us to make the space more welcoming to children and youth? Yes, of course (check out these ideas)…but if we always follow the same script, it will be hard to do those things. A shift in our mindset and our expectations is necessary for us to embrace what each generation has to bring us as we gather to worship 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 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. 

Right in the Middle of The Story: Why Christmas is Bigger than Christmas

Years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to share with a group of local single young mothers through a ministry called Step by Step. The topic was “What Christmas is All About For Your Kids” and the heart was to share with them that Christmas isn’t about gifts but about THE gift and how to make Christmas the most meaningful for your kids.

My heart was that if I were going to share the Christmas story most accurately, the women there needed to hear the bigger story, the metanarrative of Scripture, the whole all-encompassing story of love, hope, and grace that extends over time and that we are a part of today.

They needed to hear The Story.

For those who follow my blog, you’ll recognize this from a post I shared during Lent. This is the same story but modified for Christmas.   I shared it with the moms who gathered as if they were their kids and each mom left with a The Story booklet and the four props used during the story.  If you are looking for a new way to tell the whole story of Christmas to your kids or those you serve, perhaps this can be helpful for you as well!

“The Story”

Props: 2 red hearts, one black lightening bolt, one brown cross. (I cut mine out of construction paper)photo

Gather your family together and pick one parent to be the story teller. Everyone else will help with the props.

Okay you guys, I need your help today to tell a story. And this isn’t just any story; this is THE STORY. The story of all time! And you get to be a part of it!! So, who wants to be my first helper?

(Choose someone to hold Red Heart)

All great stories have a great first line. Usually we say “Once upon a time” but… How about we start it this way… In the beginning, God created… EVERYTHING! He created the earth and the sky, the bugs and the fish, the trees and the flowers, and then he created us. And when he did, he looked at us and said, “Man (because there was only a man at first) I love you!” And Man looked at God and said, “God, I love you too!” And everything was perfect.

(Choose child to hold Black Lightening Bolt)

Then one day, something terrible happened. Everything was perfect. God loved Man and Man loved God and all was well until… Well, as you know, every story has to have an evil villain so we are going to call our evil villain.. SIN. (refer to black lighting bolt).   Sin snuck right into that perfect world, being the sneaky villain that it is and it BAM! Came right between God and Man!! God still loved man very much but man choose Sin over God. Things were not perfect any more. It was a very sad time. Man was sad and started doing sad things, more and more sad things, and SIN kept pushing Man further and further away from God.

But God… he’s the good guy in our story… God still loved Man very much. He knew that Sin was out there trying to steal Man’s love and even before Man had chosen Sin, God had a plan in place to bring Man back to Him. God did something absolutely amazing, like a total SUPERHERO move!

(Choose child to hold Brown Cross)

God did an amazing thing. He decided to leave His place in heaven where he was safe and come to earth as a Man, a Man called Jesus, and fight the evil villain. In that day there was a woman named Mary and man named Joseph that God asked to be Jesus’ parents. They said “Yes!” and Mary gave birth to Jesus. This was the very first Christmas and God gave us the very best present that day. Every birthday needs a party, right? So God sent a whole bunch of angels down to earth to tell some shepherds that Jesus was born, and those shepherds went to see him and then ran out to tell everyone else. God also put a big beautiful star in the sky so that people from very far away would see it and come visit Jesus and bring him presents.

Sin wasn’t happy that Jesus came and tried to get Man to hurt him, but God protected Jesus so He could grow up and fight the evil villain. Jesus talked to a lot of people when he was growing up and told them that one day He would fight Sin once and for all. And then, that day came. It was an epic battle.   Jesus told the villain he couldn’t win, that he would defeat him, and Sin fought by telling Man to do evil things until one day, one very sad day, Man put Jesus on the cross because of Sin. Man killed Jesus. It seemed like all hope was lost.

Now, we’ve watched some great Superhero shows right?   Those shows, they are basically getting their story line from THE STORY, so you probably know what’s going to happen. Because in those movies, when the superhero looks totally defeated by the villain, what happens? (Kids might say things like the superhero comes back to life, or gets stronger, or beats the bad guy)

That’s right!! Sin isn’t strong enough to beat Jesus. Just when we think all hope is lost TA-DA, the grave opens and JESUS ISN’T THERE because He is Risen!! Sin is defeated!!!! God Wins!!! Oh, wait, but what about Man?

(Choose child to hold Red Heart)

Because Jesus beat Sin on the Cross, Man has an amazing opportunity. If we want to, we can have that perfect love relationship with God again. Sin cannot stop us from loving God and it could never stop God from loving us. We can go to God anytime we want because of Jesus’ victory on the cross and say, “God, I choose to love you and hate Sin. Jesus, you’re my superhero!”

(Have the kids lay all the signs out on the floor in a row)

Now, you may ask, why I told this story today. Because right now, as we get ready for Christmas, we are right in the middle of the story. We are right here.

(Point between lightening bolt and cross)

We are getting ready to welcome Jesus into the world on Christmas Day by celebrating when He was born. We are getting ready to open the best present of all, God’s love! We will celebrate the BIGGEST SUPERHERO VICTORY OF ALL TIME!! We will remember that SIN was defeated! That our HERO died BUT came back to life and SAVED the DAY! And that we can be in the perfect love relationship with God again.

So this month , as you wait for Christmas and you think about the Story, take time to remember. This story has the happiest ending of all! It ends with a LOVE SO BIG it wins every time! And you get to be a part of that story!!


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

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus 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 recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also 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. 

Best Bibles for Kids and Youth: Our Top Picks and Why

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that my husband and I are involved with a church plant in Lexington, KY. I’m thrilled to be over NextGen ministries for our church and in a few weeks, we are having a special celebration service. One of my favorite parts of working with kids is watching them engage with the Bible (For a great blog post and story about this very thing, click here).  Our church has decided to honor our children and youth who have shown a desire to know God through Scripture by presenting them with a Bible during our celebration service.

Even though I and probably most of you who read this blog get to interact with the kids and youth pretty frequently, their parents are the ones who really know best where their child is at in regards to this area of their spiritual journey. So we provided our parents with a list of Bibles that we recommend for us to present to them during our Celebration service.

These Bibles were chosen based on personal experience and a lot of time spent in children’s ministry. They are organized by age and links are provided so you can give them a closer look.  For youth ages 14 and older, our church felt like the best Bibles are the ones we tend to use as adults but I personally recommend the NIV, ESV, and NLT versions for youth  because of their readability.

IamI AM: 40 REASONS TO TRUST GOD (Bible Stories, 2-6)

While this book is primarily Bible stories, it is an amazing and beautifully illustrated walk through Scripture looking at the different names of God.  It may not be a “Bible” in the traditional sense, it is Scripture and does a beautiful job of introducing young children to a living and loving Savior. The artwork alone will capture their imagination.

JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE (Ages 3-8)JesusBible

If you have not yet read this beautiful, moving introduction to Scripture, you are in for a treat. Sally Lloyd-Jones invites children and adults alike to interact with the Bible in ways that capture both the mystery of God’s love and the richness of theology.  Best of all, she helps us to see Jesus in every story that is shared because “every story whispers His name”. Luke and I have often teared up while reading it because it is so moving.

NIRV ADVENTURE BIBLE FOR EARLY READERS  (FOR NIVBibleAGES 5-10) &  NIV ADVENTURE BIBLE (FOR AGES: 8-11).

NIrVBible

Why these?  The readability of both of these Bibles is the biggest selling point for these Bibles.  Both of these Bibles are word for word Scripture; in other words, these are not Bible stories or summaries.  And there are extras added to help kids with what the Bible is saying. The introductions to each book, special sections like call outs in the text, and fun colors and graphics can all be helpful in connecting kids to what they are reading.

ESV FOLLOWING JESUS BIBLE  (FOR AGES 10- 13)FollowingJBible

Do you have some pre-teens in the house?  The ESV Following Jesus Bible is a great transitional Bible from childhood into young adulthood. The way the content is designed is helpful with preteens in mind as they transition from a beginner’s Bible to adult versions. Call Out Boxes on most pages help answer the questions of who, what, where, when, or why for specific verses or pieces of text, giving readers a more holistic understanding of what they are reading. And much like the Jesus Storybook Bible, there are “Seeing Jesus” sections throughout the book that help us to find the metanarrative of Scripture and the saving grace of Christ throughout the entire Bible.

Bonus: For Young Kidsbibleappkids

The Bible App for Kids Storybook Bible

This recommendation comes from my friend Judy Chatterton. She offered these thoughts a few years ago and I wanted to share because we’ve enjoyed this fun storybook Bible: “We’ve had this Bible for a year now. If you have young kids in your house you NEED this Bible!! The illustrations are adorable. It’s colorful. It’s an easy read aloud because there aren’t a lot of words on each page. I think this should be every child’s first Bible!!! For goodness sake’s, you want a child’s first impression of God’s word to be a positive one and this storybook accomplishes that.” (This Bible and other age-appropriate gifts for Christmas found here)

Hopefully this has been helpful to you as you consider what Bibles you might recommend to parents or hand out at your own Celebration Services.  If you have a favorite not mentioned here, I’d love to know about it; feel free to drop a recommendation and a link in the comments below.


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

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus 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 recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also 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. 

Talk About It When You Sit at Home: Bringing Advent from Sunday into Monday

What is Advent?

If you’ve read my blog at all, you know that Advent is probably my favorite celebration of the year. Not Christmas necessarily, but Advent, the time leading up to Christmas. The anticipation of Christ’s arrival. The celebration of Hope, Peace, Joy and ultimate Love.

A few years ago, I asked a group of elementary-aged children this question.  Keep in mind that sunday-school-kidsthese children have been “raised” in church so the terminology of “advent” was not unfamiliar to them.  But the answers… oh, the answers… seriously, one of the reasons I love working with kids.

Advent is…

… when you can’t find the angel for the top of tree and you look all over the house for it

… a fun trip into the jungle (I think he though I meant “adventure”)

… when you light candles on the tree branches that fall off the tree (think Advent wreath)

… that thing you use to light Christmas lights

… the songs you sing at Christmas time

Admittedly there were some closer guesses, “countdown to Christmas” being the most popular one, but in reality, most of the kids had no idea about the heart and the wonder behind the season of Advent.

And that got me thinking?  Why?  I know for a fact that Advent has always been celebrated at this church.  Every year on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, candles had been lit and Hope, Peace, Joy and Love talked about.  Liturgical Scriptures were read and Advent vespers services were held.  But somehow, the whole meaning behind the celebration of Advent was missed by the children.

So the question is, how much of what we do on Sunday still has meaning for us on Monday?

You see, lighting the candle of Joy this Sunday doesn’t mean a whole lot to me or you (or to our kids) if we don’t talk about that joy, contemplate that joy, and celebrate that joy for the rest of the week.

Reading beautiful Scriptures of God’s promises and love for us doesn’t mean a whole lot if it stays inside the church walls and never makes it to our dinner table, our car ride, our community, and our job.

Singing a few hymns about Christmas won’t impact our lives until we consider the words and use them to praise God on our recliner at home as much as we do our pew at church.

The reality is, if we are “doing” something at church and not “doing” that same thing the rest of the week, we are compartmentalizing our faith to a building instead of incorporating our faith into transformed lives.

We don’t have to literally light an Advent candle every night but if we want our children to know about the Hope of Christ, we need to talk about it every day.

And it’s fine and even fun to sing Christmas carols in the car but we also need to model a life of worship everywhere we go.

We don’t necessarily have to read Scripture aloud in front of our family but Scripture needs to be a part of our everyday conversations with our kids.

christmas-554720_1920I once asked a similar group of kids what church was.  My answers ranged from “A building we go to on Sunday” to “Where God lives.”  I know these are kids and “kids say the darndest things” but let’s be real for a minute.

If we live lives that say “Church is a building we go to on Sunday because God is there” how else are our children to interpret our faith?   What if instead we told our kids, “Church is the family of God and He is always with us so we are always in church?”  Not with those words, but with our lives.

Spontaneous worship.  Times of prayer.  Lighting of candles. Corporate worship.  Waiting expectantly in hope for the arrival of Christ. 

These things don’t need to be limited to a place, a time, a special moment.  These things can be lived all year long and our lives can be a living testimony to a vibrant, growing faith.

Want some ideas on how to bring Advent home in simple, practical ways? Click here!

Worried you can’t do it all?  That’s okay!  Click here.


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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 recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

“That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown”

Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights, please.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: “for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

 

This scene is probably the most well-known in the classic Peanuts story, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  It airs every year on ABC as part of their Christmas programming and is something that most of us grew up watching and make our kids watch annually. And at one time, most of the country would have agreed with Linus regarding what Christmas is all about…but times have changed.

A recent poll by Pew Research found…pew

“Today, 66% say they believe Jesus was born to a virgin, down from 73% in 2014. Likewise, 68% of U.S. adults now say they believe that the wise men were guided by a star and brought gifts for baby Jesus, down from 75%.

And there are similar declines in the shares of Americans who believe that Jesus’ birth was heralded by an angel of the Lord and that Jesus was laid in a manger as an infant.  Overall, 57% of Americans now believe in all four of these elements of the Christmas story, down from 65% in 2014” (Source).

Why is that?

Well, a big reason for the decline in these numbers is the increase in others, especially the rise of the religious “Nones” who consider themselves unaffiliated with any religion. The majority of those who would categorize themselves this way are in the younger generations, specifically Millennials.  In addition to leaving organized religion and subsequently churches, many are also leaving behind the beliefs of the faith they grew up with and that includes the Christmas story.

So very much has been written about Millennials and, while I too have my thoughts, this post really isn’t about this; rather, I am hoping that this encourages us to really consider the generation we are currently raising in the light of this information.

What if we were to ask ourselves some questions, like…

Are we presenting the story of Christmas as a fairy tale or a significant part of church history?

Our kids hear fairy tales all the time and in fairy tales (or superhero stories or fantasy stories) magical and impossible things happen; things like a virgin giving birth to a baby and angels appearing in the sky.

How we tell the story matters. If we want our kids to understand that these events have been passed down from people who lived through them and experienced them, from one generation of Christians to another, for over 2,000 years, we have to tell the story that way. We have to tell them that no one made this story up or dreamed it in a dream. Actual people lived the events, told other people about it, who recorded their stories and then shared those stories with us.  And that is way, way different than a fairy tale and makes our God way, way bigger than a story.

christmas-crib-figures-1060017_1920

An example of this is how we present the story as though it actually happened on December 25 in the snow with a glowing Christmas tree in the background of the cozy stable and wise men by Mary’s side. Okay, this is a bit of an exaggeration of course, but you get the idea.

God’s story of coming to earth as a poor baby to an unwed mother in a place where animals were kept and first visited by the outcasts of society is grand enough; let’s tell them what Mary told John and John recorded for us and what the disciples told Luke and he wrote it down for Theophilus and for all of us. Let’s give them the truth because the truth is incredibly beautiful, raw and real. 

Are we entering into the journey of Advent or just joining the celebration of Christmas? 

The older I’ve gotten, the more important I realize Advent is. Advent is the period of time leading up to Christmas and throughout church history, it’s been the time of waiting and anticipating that made Christmas Day so amazing. It’s a time of hearing the story, not once or twice, but over a period of days and weeks and contemplating it together as we wait for the culmination, the birth of Christ, on Christmas Day.

Advent slows us down and lets us truly consider the incredible events of that time, all wrapped up in the themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. This is a powerful opportunity for children to embrace and understand how the birth of Jesus fit into a larger story of who we are and who God is; a story that they get to be a part of as members of God’s family.

Are we keeping Christ as our focus or is He the afterthought? 

Yes, Church family, I’m looking at you. Because this is the crazy, busiest time of the year for church people, especially ministers. Not only are there all the things that happen outside of church, but all the things that happen inside too – cantatas and concerts, breakfasts and banquets, programs and performances, evening services and midnight services, and everything else that comes with all of those things.

And while they all may be “about” Jesus, those things are not Jesus.  And  while they all may feel important, we do need to be careful that these things enhance the story of Christ and don’t clutter the season with even more distraction.  Kids see and remember; let’s be sure that what they remember is Jesus.

There’s a great video about the church calendar that explains how the church has celebrated the life of Christ throughout history. In it, the narrator says, “”Ordinary season has passed; it’s time to inhabit His Story.”

That is the beauty of Advent and Christmas. It is our chance, as the church of God, to enter into the story of Jesus’ life and to celebrate once again the Greatest Gift, the Word who became flesh and took up residence among us.

Advent leads to Christmas, Christmas to Epiphany (God’s revelation to all mankind, symbolized by the Wise Men), Epiphany to Lent (a time of testing and trial, reminding us we have a Savior who knows what it is to be human), Lent to Easter, Easter to Ascension, and finally Ascension to Pentecost where God once again comes to earth in the form of the Holy Spirit and takes up residence in mankind.

This is the story of God and the story of us.

And this is the story we need to share with our children, over and over, not as a dream of what could be but a beautiful picture of the reality of God’s presence and Love in our lives.

So, my friends, “”Ordinary season has passed; it’s time to inhabit His Story”. Blessed Advent and soon, Merry Christmas!


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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 recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

The Great Debate: Are We Real or Artificial?

The other day, my oldest and most practical child told me that when she is on her own, she’s going to get an artificial tree because, “It’s less work, it costs less because you only buy it once, and it looks just as pretty.”

I responded with, “For me, it’s not about that.”

“What?” she asked.

“It’s not about the cost or the work or the end result of looking pretty. For me, it’s the whole experience of finding, cutting, dragging, and decorating a live tree with my family.”

She kinda “humphed” and said, “What part?  The fighting over picking the tree, the dirtyness of cutting it down and dragging it, or the frustration when you can’t hang ornaments because the branches aren’t strong enough?”

“All of that…and more. The laughter when we find a tree that looks ridiculous, the shared joy when we do find ‘the one’, the memories we make with each tree like the one with ‘rat tail’ and the ‘Charlie Brown tree’ and the one that smelled like oranges, the fun of eating Chinese food together and watching a Christmas movie, the silliness of decorating, the nostalgia we feel as we look at special ornaments, the warmth the grows as we decorate our home… all of those things. The experience. That’s what makes it different. That’s what forms us. The experience is formational.”

“I get that….but I’m probably still going to get an artificial tree.”

decorating-christmas-tree-2999718_1920Haha, and that’s fine. She will come up with her own traditions and memories and meaning for her family and her life as she grows.

But the reality is, the things that form us the most aren’t simply things that we put together and plug in so that they “work.” 

The things that form us most are wrought with “experience”, with feelings both good and bad, with hard work, with relationship and sometimes with Chinese food.

And that’s important for us to realize when it comes to ministry within our faith communities.  You see, we could have the best programming, the best curriculum and the best practices in place, but if it if is all just “plug and play”, we are missing the most important part – the messy part, the fun part, the experience and the deeply formational place where we are formed into disciples of Jesus Christ.

It’s not enough to just put children in a room with multiple generations and call it intergenerational ministry; we’ve got to put some experience to it.

Words need to be spoken between generations, names need to be known, relationships need to be cultured, frustrations and joys shared, and lives woven together.

It’s not enough to throw a video up on the screen with a Bible story or song to sing; we got to connect to the story and recognize the song as a means of grace where God can reach our hearts.

We need to offer the opportunity to live into the story through service and prayer and to experience worship as a place to turn our attention to God.

Churches need to be more than a place we go on Sunday. I hear this all the time through phrases like, “We don’t go to church, we are the church” and “Don’t do church, be the church.”  But how do we live this out in formational ways?  Where’s the experiences with this that our children and youth can grab onto and recognize as “church” even when there is not singing or sermon or preaching or pews?

My passion for intergenerational ministry and generational discipleship isn’t about putting kids into corporate gatherings just to check a box and said, “We are now intergenerational.”  That’s plug-and-play.

Rather my passion stems from the idea what we can create spaces where old and young; children, youth and families of all ages, can gather and experience God together in formational ways.  That the whole church can have a sense of belonging and knowing and that no matter one’s age, each would know they are an integral part of the family.

Sometimes, the family won’t agree to pick their “tree” and feelings might get hurt. But it’s a “tree” and no one leaves a family over a Christmas tree.

Sometimes, the family will get dirty doing the work it takes to have that live “tree” which can be uncomfortable and frustrating, but ultimately yeilds the reward of having done something meaningful together.

Sometimes, the family will try to do things, beautiful things and good things, and hang ornaments on their “tree” that just won’t work or the “tree” can’t support and feelings will get hurt and disappointment will be expressed… but no one leaves the family over not getting their beautiful things.

Experiences force us to recognize that we are part of something bigger.

Experiences like worshipping together, which can lead to some discomfort and some beautiful things not being experienced every time we gather. Experiences like serving together, which can be dirty and disheartening at times. Experiences like sharing life together in true community, which can be inconvenient and uncomfortable.

But, oh the rewards! When we gather in worship together, God promises to be in our midst!  When we serve together, we experience God’s grace as a whole, poured out in our hearts beyond measure and binding us together in Him. And when we truly share life together in community, we find a place where we belong, a place we call home, a family.

And ultimately, that is what the church of God is called to be… his family… where every age is known and loved and belongs.


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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 recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

You’re Not A Horrible Parent: Christmas Edition

Last Thursday at the stroke of midnight and the launch of Black Friday sales…it happened. Somehow we magically moved into the mysterious time we call the “holiday season.”  In just a few days my Facebook feed has lit up with posts about Christmas and Christmas trees and Christmas food. Christmas music has started playing on the radio and Thanksgiving turkeys are all discounted in grocery stores.

The whirlwind begins.

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

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

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

pewresearch

How does that affect the family?

The same research found that:

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

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

adorable-blur-child-1261408When we add in the holidays, and all the stuff I mentioned that I love, on top of this…for many it is overwhelming.

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

Parents, may I offer some encouragement?  

For a brief moment, before we are rushed headlong into this season, can we breath in this small respite of grace?

We don’t have to do it all.

We don’t have to do it perfectly.

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

(deep breath)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Want more ideas: Click here)

The reality is that the holidays are coming, will come, and will pass.

Memories will be made. Life will happen. What January looks like for your family will in some way be dependent on what November and December looked like as they passed.

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

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

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

An earlier version of this post can be found here.


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About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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 recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com