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. 

“But, What if….?” The Fears that Keep Us from Worshiping Together

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to be a part of many conversations about intergenerational worship and generational discipleship.  Most conversations inevitably end up in a series of questions that usually start with “What if…”

For example, if we talk about including children in the corporate worship time the “What if’s” include…

  • What if the kids talk or “whisper loudly”?
  • What if they cry or whine or whimper or wail?
  • What if they are bored?
  • What if they wiggle, squirm, move around, have to pee, get up and walk around?
  • What if they are distracting to the adults, to their parents, to the older generation?

Or if we talk about holding an event that is open to all generations, the “What if’s” are more like this:

  • What if the generations don’t talk to each other or can’t relate to each other?
  • What if the time, place, topic, etc. doesn’t work for this group or that group?

And if we talk about including the children and youth in serving within the church community, the “What if’s” are more along the lines of…

  • What if they don’t show up or work hard?
  • What if they are irresponsible or do things incorrectly?
  • What if there are not enough adults to volunteer to supervise them so they just get in the way?
  • What if someone gets upset because they want it done a certain way or they think it’s their role in the church?

So, okay, let’s talk about it.

What if all the “What if’s” happened?  

Would it wreck the church? Would there be irreversible damage?  Would there be no recourse but to just say, “It’s over. Throw in the towel. Intergenerational ministry just doesn’t work?”

Are the risks really so great that if all of the greatest fears happened, if all of the “What if’s” came true, it’d be too much to even try?

IMG-2009Even if we know, because of research and studies, both secular and religious, that the results of intergenerational ministry and relationships include things like reduced “dropout” of young people once they graduate of high schoolincreased spiritual growth for the entire churcha mature faith in young adultsa sense of belonging and meaning for children, and a stronger community of faith across the board.

What if ALL the “What if’s” happened BUT so did all the other things?

Young people remained in the faith and in the church after they graduate high school as opposed to the current trend of rapid decline in both.

The entire church experienced overall spiritual growth and vibrancy in the congregational community was heightened (or as the researchers at Fuller Youth Institute put it, “Warm intergenerational relationships grow everyone young.”)

College students had a mature and well-developed faith that was able to carry them through their college years and into healthy marriages and parenting roles.

Children recognized themselves as part of the larger faith community, not separate or somehow lesser than, but genuinely a needed and necessary piece of the church as a whole.

The church grew stronger together, sharing not only a building during a certain period of time each week, but worship and relationship and creativity and fellowship that even carried over to life outside the walls.

Would it be worth it then… to hear some cries, to watch some wigglers, to have to hear music we didn’t necessarily like or see something done differently than it was before? Would it be worth some distraction, an interruption, some inconvenience or some sacrifice?

What if all the “What if’s” happened…and we decided beforehand that it was okay because it was, most certainly, worth it.

Because, my experience has been, and other attest, that all of these “What if’s” don’t usually happen and certainly don’t usually happen all at once. And there are ways to help make sure that if they do, there are tools and structures and support in place to ensure that they don’t cause irreparable damage.

And in the end, is really a risk… or just a stretch?  

Just a willingness to be a little uncomfortable in order to grow, to learn, to experience something that may seem new to us, but is actually the way things were for centuries; the way our faith was passed to us – from one generation to another (Ps. 145:4).

What if…


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. 

Intergenerational Worship is NOT…

It seems like whenever the topic of intergenerational or multigenerational worship gets brought up, a lot of concerns and assumptions start being expressed. Recently, someone directed some comments towards me that included many of those assumptions such as, “Intergenerational worship doesn’t meet the developmental needs of children and/or adults” and “Kids need to have their own space” and “We can’t dumb down the service just so kids can be there.”

Each of these concerns is fraught with a backdrop of suppositions and presumptions about what it could mean to have all ages gather for a time of corporate worship. And rather than address each of these individually, I thought I’d share some thoughts regarding what intergenerational worship is not and what intergenerational worship is.

Intergenerational Worship is NOT…

Putting kids in the sanctuary

If the goal was just to put children and youth in the sanctuary, then creating a new service geared to them and separate from the rest of the body would make sense. But that’s exactly the opposite of what intergenerational worship is. The whole point is to create space for all generations, old and young and in-between, to worship together.

Creating a new service or maintaining an existing service that targets one specific generation can’t accomplish this goal. It’s not just about putting seats in the seats; it’s about engaging the entire body of Christ in the work of the people (liturgy) or, in other words, the corporate community worshiping God together.

Glorified Kid’s Church

Some people express the concern that if children and youth are welcomed into the service, they’d have to start doing “kids stuff” like singing songs with motions and eating goldfish during the super-short, kid-appropriate sermon.

Intergenerational worship is not old people pretending to be kids or young people trying to act old.

If that happened, it would be a total disservice to the whole point of intergenerational worship which has at its heart a desire to help kids and youth and adults and elderly be a part of the church as it is, whatever that looks like, and to experience all the parts of church that make it unique to their church tradition (such as liturgy, songs, Scripture reading, celebratory practices like baptism and communion, and all the other rhythms that make each worship service unique).

Developmentally Inappropriate

I’ve actually written entire blog posts on this topic, so I won’t go in depth here but let me just share this:  Development not just about what children can understand in terms of words and concepts; it’s about what they can learn socially, emotionally and in our case, spiritually.

Many developmental theories and constructs encourage children and adults to learn, play, and yes, worship, together. For example, Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development explains that young children need to be in close proximity to older people who have “mastered” the tasks that they are learning.  Fowler’s theory of Faith Development tells us that children will build their first ideas about their faith from the impressions of what they see and hear in church.

The truth is if we look at the broad spectrum of developmental theories including these and others not mentioned here like Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development or Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, we can find space in all of them for including all ages in contexts of intergenerational worship and ministry.

A Disruption

Often a concern raised is that children especially don’t get anything out of church and everyone will be forced to spend their whole service shushing kids. I read an incredible article in The Federalist, of all places, about this, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with parents, caregivers and other congregation members about this concern.

boypeekingoutofpewI’m not about to say that children will get the same thing out of church that adults do; that would be ridiculous. I do think it’s important to consider what kids do get out of church (for more on that, click here) but also just as important to realize that kids are kids. They will wiggle and squirm and giggle and turn, but is that really such a huge issue that we shouldn’t offer times for the whole congregation to worship together?

It didn’t seem to be an issue for Jesus when He “called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’”

A New Fad

Actually, it’s exactly the opposite.  The segregation of ages within the church is a fairly new practice in American church history. Most of the time it gets traced back to the start of ministries on college campuses on post WWII America where it became apparent that there was a need for age-specific ministry. Churches began to recognize the need to create space to address the developmental concerns of each age group. Through time that progressed into less of a “both/and” model and more of an “either/or” model. In other words, instead of times of both age-specific and intergenerational gatherings, it became one or the other with little to no opportunity or encouragement to do both.

For those who see intergenerational worship as the “newest” fad to come down the block, it is helpful to understand that for thousands of years, the church all worshiped together and only recently have we begun consistently separating the ages, which makes it very hard to learn from one another as Christ indicated that we should.

So, what is Intergenerational Worship?

Simply put, it is ministry that focuses on connecting multiple generations in faith-forming relationships cultivated through times of corporate worship, intentional discipleship, and ongoing mentorship. 

It’s much more than a Sunday morning experience or simply worshiping in a specific location. It has at its heart a focus on generational discipleship and experiencing of our faith together as a community.   And, it can have its challenges, especially today where age segregation (keeping the generations apart both physically and culturally) is the norm. Let’s just be honest, age integration (putting generations together) can be difficult.

However, research has shown that it is not only a good and healthy thing for different generations to spend time in relationships one another, it is also one of the key factors in young people remaining in the faith after they’ve left their home of origin. And there are things we can do to help make our times of corporate worship beneficial to all.(For more on this, click here)

And, one more thing real quick..

For clarification purposes, please know that I am not opposed to quality Christ-centered, community-focused Children’s Ministry and Youth Ministry, but I do have concerns when families and churches are consistently separated from each other and never having time to fellowship together.

There is great benefit to all of us when we are given the chance to learn from, worship with, and grow together with one another.

It’s in our spiritual DNA; we were built for community by our very Creator God who exists in the perfect community of the Trinity and in whose image we are created.  When Christ called the Church, he didn’t differentiate by age. He simply called to all who believed in Him to follow Him together. We need each other, every age, every level of development, every part, in order for us to truly be “the body of Christ.”


For more information about

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

About 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. 

The B-I-B-L-E…Is that the book for me?

I recently had the opportunity to help a young man look up a Bible verse by its “address”. He was absolutely delighted by the experience. It captured his whole attention. I only had my phone with me when I saw him in the morning but that evening, I let him flip through my Bible. He rustled through the pages looking for Joshua 1:9 and when he found it, his little finger tracing the words, his whole face lit up.

I felt both thrilled and convicted; do I take time to realize the treasure under my fingers the way he did? And how often do I actually put the Bible into the hands of the kids I serve and let them read for themselves the inspired words on those pages?  It’s so much easier to just throw up the key verse, do some memorizing together, and not fuss with those super thin pages, tiny print, and even tinier numbers.

But, even so, is there value in physically putting the Bible into a child’s hands? I think there is, but it has to be more than just putting it there. We need to talk about what Scripture is to us. They need to see that we love it too!  

kid-2603857_1920Children are information gatherers so if they never gather from us that the Bible has value, if they never see us reading it or studying it, why would they?  A 2016 LifeWay Research study found 1 in 5 American Protestants said they had read all of the Bible at least once. However, more than half said they have read little or none of it.

Here are some common reasons that are given for not reading Scripture:

  1. It’s boring
  2. It’s out of touch with today’s culture/world
  3. We hear the important parts in church
  4. I don’t have time

All of those reasons are only valid if they actually relate to the reason we read Scripture in the first place.

Do we read the Bible for entertainment?  No, not really. It’s not a novel or a work of fiction and while there are some entertaining parts for sure, its purpose isn’t to entertain.

Do we read it to get a commentary on the world today?  No, that’s not really the intent. There are things that apply to our current culture and situation, but it wasn’t written to comment on today’s experiences.

Are there important parts and less important parts?  Maybe but there doesn’t seem to be any differentiation in what we are given so it’s not really up to us to make that call.

Is it intended to be read in one sitting?  No, certainly not. In fact, our modern translation conveniently breaks it up into chapters and verses that can take minutes or even seconds for us to read.

So, why do we read the Bible?

  1. Because God is revealed in Scripture (1 Tim. 3:16)
  2. Because God meets us in His Revelation (Acts 8:26-40)
  3. Because God invites us to come (Rom. 10:17)
  4. Because Scripture can be used by God to transform our hearts (Heb. 4:12)

Ultimately, we read to the Bible because God inspired the words, gifted them to us through his servants, and reveals Himself across time and space in the text. And in that place, we encounter His Grace.

What are some ways that we can give that gift to the next generation?

Let Them Flip The Pages

Yes, most of us use electronic Bibles these days but there is something uniquely special in turning the pages of a book. Giving kids the chance to get a feel for where books and chapters and verses are and letting them flip through the pages will feel special in a world where screens dominate.

Seek, Find, then Memorize

Most curriculums are set up so that the Key Verse for the month is handed out on slips of paper, shown on a screen with its own slide, accompanied with a song or motions and/or found on coloring sheets or activity papers. And that is all fine and good but the verse is then left to stand alone without context or placement.

Instead of starting with the memorization, consider beginning by having the kids find the verse, talk about what is going on (context), look at the verses before and after, and then begin memorization work.

Give Them a Bible

Many churches and parents gift Bibles to their kids as a rite of passage for certain ages or as a reward/award for accomplishing a task. That is fabulous! But often times that Bible gets left on a shelf and unused, like a trophy rather than a tool. So, encourage the kids to bring their Bible with them to church or to the living room with them, and if they don’t, have a few Bibles there that they can use, even if it’s just your own.

Make touching the Bible at least once each time you get to be with kids in discipleship or worship a goal during your time together.

Read Together

Whenever one of my kids wanders into the room while I’m reading Scripture, I start reading aloud. Usually they will move closer and look over at the page. It may not be the most life-changing thing ever, but I hope that these moments will find a space in their heart to remember that Mom read the Bible and got something out of it, so maybe they should too.

Sometimes the incidental discipleship is just as important as the intentional discipleship. We don’t always need to program reading the Bible into discipling our kids; we just need to engage in it ourselves and invite them to participate with us when they show up.

A long time ago St. Augustine of Hippo said, “The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.” Isn’t that a great way to think about it? We are reading words from our homeland where our citizenship lies with Christ. And that is a treasure worth passing on to those who come behind 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

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. 

Let’s Give Them Hope

“Here’s what’s wrong.”

We start a lot of conversations with that sentiment.

Because let’s be honest – there’s a lot of things that are wrong.  There are a lot of things in this world that are wrong.  There are a lot of things that can get our blood boiling, our hearts pounding, our anger kindled and our hearts heavy. Today in particular, my heart is burdened for the Kurdish people, for the children who have already died or watched their parents die. I hate war and what it does to humanity.

And it’s not hard to find things like this and more.  Every day I read blogs that enumerate and extricate the wrong in the world, everything from drinking from water bottles to terrible wars and gross abuse.   There is a lot to get frustrated about. And the church, well, we have a lot to say about a lot of things.

I don’t know.  I’m not even here to say that we shouldn’t notice these things and speak up about them.  You all know, I’ve written my fair share of blogs stating my own “Here’s what’s wrong…”. And my version of pacifism isn’t passive at all but active in pursuing justice and hope in this world.

portrait-1880161_1920But I look at children and I see the hope in their eyes as they look to the future and they think about this world and I can’t help but think that all of my “here’s what’s wrongs” aren’t doing them any favors.

Even if I’m right about what’s wrong and even if it’s something they need to know is wrong, I’m beginning to think the conversation needs to start further back, before the wrong, to what is right.

In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth…and it was good.  Later on, sin entered the world, and it was wrong.  But the wrong that came did not negate the good that was.  If anything, the wrong that came showed us just how good the good was and our souls began craving that Good once again (Rom. 7).

But, if we taste that good, if we enter into that grace and once again experience all the good that God has to lavish on our souls, and then spend our days pointing out all the bad all around us…are we really living into the abundant life God has purchased for us?  Shouldn’t the good be our launching point, not the bad?

Hear me, I’m not saying we ignore what’s wrong.

I’m not saying we excuse it or dismiss it or pretend it’s not there.

In fact, I think we are actually called to speak out, to defend those who can’t speak for themselves, to be the voice to the voiceless and the friend to the marginalized.

But for me, I think I want to change the tone of the conversation.  Instead of starting with the “Here’s what’s wrong” routine, I think I want to start from the “Here’s what’s right” standpoint.  Instead of only pointing fingers, I want to extend grace as it has been extended to me. I want to start with Genesis 1 not Genesis 3.  I want my kids to know what’s right in this world and that all hope is not lost because we serve a God of future and hope. 

When I see the sin in this world, I don’t want to simply “smh” and walk away.

I want to remember that before the sin, God was good.

I want to tell my kids, “God is good.  His love is perfect.  What you see there, that wrong you are experiencing, that’s not Him.  That’s not His ways.  That’s not His heart.  Here’s what’s right in this world – God loved us SO MUCH that He sent His Son into this world to rescue us from the wrong and wrap us up in the good and whoever believes in Him can experience that abundant life.”

Because I believe that if we start celebrating what is right more, we may see actual changes to what is wrong. If we celebrate the good we see, it will contrast so much to the wrong, that it may help more people choose the good.  We can see that happen in simple things like Ellen’s statement this week to “be kind to everyone.”  That statement went viral seconds after it was posted because people are hungry for good. Ultimately, they are hungry for Christ, and as the Church, we are the ones who can point to that ultimate good.

What if we started more conversations with “Here’s what’s right…”

What if we celebrated more?  What if we affirmed each other more?

What if we took the time to point out the amazing things that are happening all around us every. single. day?

There’s HOPE to be had, there’s good to be noticed, and God is still at work in this world today.  

I want to give my kids something to fight FOR, not just things to fight against.

There are things that are wrong.  There are horrible terrible things.

But there are things that are good.  And I happen to think our children are one of those things and given the tools of love, grace, and hope, I believe they can be world-changers. I want to send the next generation out to wage peace in this world because they know there is good worth fighting for and they see it all around them.


For more information about

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

About 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. 

Kids in Church: What do You Expect is Going to Happen?

A wise person once shared with my husband that “Frustration is the difference between expectation and reality.”  He went on to say, “If you are frustrated, you will need to either change your expectation or you will need to change your reality.”  As we continue to have conversations about including all generations in corporate worship, I think it might be wise for us to do consider this idea

In the past, the church has chosen to “change the reality.”  When children and youth were seen as distracting or having specialized needs that couldn’t be met in a corporate worship setting, the church changed the reality.

We removed them from the space, put them in their own spaces, and separated the generations from one another as much as possible.

To be clear, there is a lot of good that comes out of age-sensitive ministry. In fact, an approach that completely overlooks the unique needs of each age would be a bad idea. However, time has revealed to us some unintended consequences of the age segregation model adopted in the mid-20th century. And it’s not just in the church; our whole culture bought into the idea that separating generations is a good idea…but we were wrong.

family-4295385_1920Researchers have found that among the unforeseen results of age segregation are things like “negative stereotypes and people feeling isolated from each other” and “features of antisocial behavior and to socialization for competitiveness and aggressiveness.” (source).

In the church, Dr. Kara Powell shares that “A lot of kids aren’t going to both youth group and church on Sundays; they’re just going to youth group. As a result, graduates are telling us that they don’t know how to find a church. After years at the kids’ table, they know what youth group is, but they don’t know what church is.” (source).

Changing our reality doesn’t seem to have worked. In fact, it seems to have really hurt us in the long run. We are losing generations.

So what if instead of that, we changed our expectations?

We’ve grown up in an era where generations were segregated and separated from one another and we expect church to be a place that is tailored to meet our needs. We expect that we would have a certain experience at church and we expect others to have a similar one. We go to church for certain expected reasons (to worship, to hear a sermon, to grow in our faith, to get re-charged, to be with our friends). And those expectations often fail to be met when we put the generations in one room together.

If we were to change our expectations, what would that look like?  What expectations could we have instead?

Expect the church to be more than Sunday morning

When we look at the church of the New Testament, we find a group of people who are doing life together. They aren’t meeting once a week to have their needs met; they are invested in one another all week long, meeting one another’s needs throughout that time so that there’s not a one shot fix on Sunday morning.

What if our expectation was that there are times for both worship together, all generations, and discipleship apart, meeting the specific developmental needs of each generation?  What if our expectation was both/and not either/or?

Expect children to be children

There is no way a five-year-old is going to come to church to “get something” out of the sermon.  And because of that, it’s easy to say that kids don’t get anything out of church. But we are putting adult expectations on non-adults.

What if we adjusted those expectations so that children could be children?  They will “get something” out of church, but it likely won’t be the same things adults will (For more on that, click here).

Expect the church to be family

Sociologists have said “in contemporary Western societies, which are marked by widespread institutional, spatial, and cultural age segregation, only the family surviv(es) as an age-integrated institution.” (source)  But the church, as seen in Scripture, is to be like a family; one body with many parts, but one body nonetheless.

If we expect our church to be like family then we would expect to hear the littles crying, the bigs talking, the older sharing and the younger learning. We would expect to be together.

I can’t help but wonder if we shifted our expectations to ones like these, would our Sunday mornings (and Wednesday nights and Friday afternoons) begin to look and feel different to us?

Would we begin to see church as something more than a once-a-week re-charge and more of a communal way of living where we do life together?

And would our children and  youth and our seniors and elderly all know that they have a place at our family table?

And, perhaps, would we be a little less frustrated when we hear a child cry in service, laugh during a sermon, wiggle and squirm at the doxology, run up to the altar for communion or dance during the worship service?

Perhaps.  Perhaps it is time to change our expectations.


A version of this article first appeared on this blog in October 2017.

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. 

When I am Afraid

There is a verse in Psalms that brings me comfort, but probably not for the reasons you think . In Psalm 56:3, the psalmist writes, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” The part that brings me comfort is the fact that there were times that this person was afraid. Fear is a real thing. Jesus offers us the antidote through His perfect love that casts out all fear, but fear can creep up in our hearts, especially in times where violence surrounds us.

The headlines today (and most days) are big, they are bold, and they are scary.  They often tell a story of a million words, reduced to four or five. They call to our emotions and tells us to read on…but many times we only skim; after all, the headline tells us most of what we need to know.

I don’t know if it is because I’m getting older or because my kids are getting older, but I am becoming increasingly more sensitive to these big, bold words around us.

Maybe it’s because I spent a lot of time on Twitter the last two weeks watching people attempt to have discussions on amazingly complex topics in 288 words or less.

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen one too many headline that predicts the end of life as we know it from reasons spanning from the environment to the next U.S. president or even more sadly, the headlines that tell us of the increase of violence and loss of life in this world.

Maybe it’s because I am weary of the sensationalism and aggrandizement that seem to lace many articles I see posted, each sound byte I hear aired, and each newspaper I pass by.

little-boy-1635065_1920But mostly I think it’s because my children have looked at me and with all sincerity and with deep concern said, “Mom, I’m scared.”  

Of what, dear child?  Of bugs and bats and creepy crawly things?  Of the sounds you hear in the dark or of having a bad dream?  Of missing the bus or failing a spelling test?

Because these are the things I would expect kids to be afraid of.

“I’m afraid because I heard on the news that…”

I won’t fill in the blank. We know what is in the news. We’ve seen the headlines.

And so have our kids.

Their fear is real.

We can’t change the headlines or hide our children from the real world. We can’t shield them from every radio broadcast, political conversation, doomsday prediction or end-of-the-world scenario. What I can do, and what I think as parents and ministers and adult Christians who interact with the youngest generations should do, is to give them some frames, some truths, through with they are able to filter whatever they hear and hold onto the hope that is offered to us through Christ and His Word.

  1. God is still God – Acknowledge the world honestly, MAGNIFY the Lord intentionally. Yes, there are bad things that happen in the world. Hiding the truth from your kids will only make them more inquisitive. Talk to them when they ask about things that are scary BUT don’t focus on the scary thing; intentionally shift your focus to how GREAT God is!
  1. Seeing (or hearing) Is NOT Believing – Walk by FAITH and not by SIGHT – Kids watch what you model. If we react out of fear, that will be the model that they learn to make decisions from. If we model decision-making from a place of faith and seeking God, that’s what they will learn to do as well.
  1. We have a part to play – Be the HANDS and FEET of Christ – We are confronted with the reality of a fallen world on a daily basis. People who are lost, in need, alone. When we become Christ to those people by serving them and sharing hope and life with them, we show our kids that faith conquers fear every time and we model participation on the life of Christ as the way to approach a Christian life.

We have an important role to play here.  Our reactions and consequently, our actions are being watched and recorded. My prayer is that we offer more than trite answers that “Everything will be okay” but real world acknowledgment that life is hard, and sometimes scary, but God is faithful and we can trust Him.

And the best way we can do that is to live that way ourselves; to measure our words and our responses in ways that communicate hope instead of hopelessness, action instead of reaction, grace instead of judgment and careful response instead of emotional outburst. 

Like the Pslamist, let us be able to say to our children and to one another, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You” and show it by our words, our deeds and our love for one another and our world.


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. 

Church or Parents: Whose Job Is Discipleship Anyway?

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of posts directed at Christian parents that go something like this:

The Church gets 40 hours/year, the Schools get 2,000 hours/year, Parents get 3,000 hours/year – It’s YOUR job to disciple your children.

There is definitely truth in that statement. The hours listed aren’t far off from what research shows us. The influence that parents/caregivers have on their children cannot be understated and the home is primarily the place of faith formation for all of us. But I’m afraid when this is our approach to beginning the discussion with parents/caregivers about their responsibility of leading discipleship in the home, we do both the parents and kids, but more importantly, the body of Christ a huge disservice.

Let me explain.

There is one verse that we often use to demonstrate the mandate in Scripture for parents/caregivers to disciple their kids: Deuteronomy 6:7 – Impress these commandments on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  I love this verse because it shows the most everyday, most ordinary moments and tells us in those very ordinary times to talk about our extraordinary God.

But I fear that in shining the spotlight so often on this verse and directing our focus of discipleship exclusively to parents/caregivers, we miss something of great importance, something that changes everything about the command.

This command wasn’t given exclusively to parents.
It was given corporately to the community of faith.

people-3120717_1920The 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.

So what does this mean?

Parents, it is not “your” job to disciple your children in isolation.

Church, it IS corporately our job to disciple our children.

So, yes, if you are a parent and you are a believer, of course, it is your job to disciple your kids, especially since you have the most time with them and the most influence on them!

But, Church, please hear this, parents are not supposed to be doing this alone. This isn’t a command devoid of community. This isn’t a mandate that applies only to parents/caregivers and their children. This is a command given to all of us, every single member of the community of faith, to all of our children, not just those who live in our house. 

When viewed in this light, some of our common excuses fail.

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 if we do, we are willfully choosing to ignore the commands that God gave, not to parents alone, but to all of us to pour into, engage with, impress upon, and walk with the youngest generations.

It is time for us to release some of the burden we’ve put on the backs of parents by repeatedly telling them, “This is your job” by changing just one letter and a whole way of understanding and instead saying, “This is OUR job.”

No parent should ever feel alone in this calling. Not in the dynamic the God has given us.

They should feel the support, nurture and equipping of an entire faith community surrounding them and ministering to them and their children.

The children in our church should be known (by name) not just by their parents and a few close friends, but the congregation, the community of faith, who are committed to helping them grow in their faith.

The covenant of the congregation, spoken often at baptism or confirmation, in which the congregation pledges to walking with the child and helping them grow in their faith needs to become more than just “what we say” and turn into “what we do.”

The ministries to children and youth in any church should not be lacking in volunteers or servants on mission because the entire church is called and has verbally confirmed their commitment to disciple these young people in the faith.

To place the responsibility squarely on parents without recognizing the responsibility of the church to walk hand-in-hand with them skews the command of God to “impress these commandments on your children.”

Church, it is time we step up and relinquish our excuses. It is time we read the Scripture as it was given; to the whole assembly in community as a unit. It is time we seek to not only support and equip parents but to join them, hand-in-hand, and be part of the work of discipleship.

A version of this blog was first posted here in April 2016. 


For more information about

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

About 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. 

Welcome Them, Welcome Him: What does it mean to “welcome” a child?

What does it mean to “welcome” a child?

Then they came to Capernaum. While Jesus was in the house, He asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had been arguing with each other which of them was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all.” Then He had a little child stand among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes not only Me, but the One who sent Me.”       Mark 9:33-36

As someone who works with children, I cannot read this passage of Scripture without getting goosebumps.   Honestly, I feel as though I could write endlessly about this beautiful picture of Jesus’ ministry to all ages, but I want to focus on one word in particular: Welcome.

What is welcome?

There has been much written about this word, but I want to share an experience I once had. A friend texted me; she needed to talk. I opened my home and invited her to lunch. We had a wonderful time together, but at one point she made a comment that it “really felt like” I wanted her there. I asked what she meant and she shared, “You didn’t just open the door and let me in. You cleaned your house, turned on music, lit a candle, set the table, made and served me lunch and dessert, listened when I shared and truly welcomed me into your home.”

To her, there was a difference between me making space for her and me welcoming her.

I see that in this “Jesus story” too. I see Him take a child, and have this child stand among the people gathered in the home, and then, very intentionally, take the child in his arms. And after that very intentional moment He says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name, welcomes Me…” (If I were a Psalmist, there would be a “Selah” after that).  

Think about that! Jesus modeled for us something very important. When we talk about welcoming a child, it’s not about just making room for them to be present.

It’s not about just making space.

It’s not even about making sure that there are enough volunteers for the nursery, teachers for the Sunday school, crafts for each attendee, and activity packets for each worship service.

No, Christ’s welcome went beyond that.

It wrapped that child in His very arms.

It said, “You are not only allowed to be here, you are WANTED here!”

It said, “You are not merely present in this space, you are embraced in this space.”

welcomechildAs we consider children in the context of the church and the larger faith community, it would be wise for us to reflect on this moment. We can say, “Children are welcome here” with our words and we can have all the right things in place. We can open the door and say, “Come on in!” But if we don’t combine that with a culture that says “You belong here”, a message of grace and honor, our welcome may fall flat.

It has to be more than just making space for their presence. It needs to be a felt welcome, an embrace.

And what happens if we do that, and by we, I mean all of us – parents, leaders, lay people, seniors, teens, all of us? I mean, just listen to Jesus’ words!! “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes not only Me, but the One who sent Me.” We not only welcome that child, we welcome Christ himself and the Father who sent Him. We welcome God!

If your church is looking for some ways to help welcome children more fully into the midst of your congregation, here are some ideas of where to start.

1. Welcome the kids, every week, by name – This may sound redundant, but there is much to be said for a personal greeting from a friendly face and welcome to the service

2. Engage the kids in worship– Kids love to be a part of something.  Give them the opportunity to help lead worship, hand out bulletins, take up the offering, participate in communion, help with the sound/lights, read Scripture, share a testimony – anything that let’s them know they are a vital part of the congregation.

3. Reaffirm your covenant– When children are baptized or dedicated in churches, often the church will recite or affirm a covenant with them to walk with them as a community of faith.  Every now and then, let the kids hear you re-affirm that out loud and with your actions.

4. Engage the congregation– If having kids in service is new to your church, give the congregation fair warning, provide a time for them to meet the kids (put faces with names and parents with kids) and encourage a time of fellowship for all before adding the kids to the service.  Some churches start with once and month and grow from there.

5. Give kids a voice– You’d be surprised how much we can learn from children but often we still follow the “Kids should be seen and not heard” rule. Give kids an avenue to share what God is speaking to them by affirming to them that they can and do hear from God and giving them a space to share that.  A bulletin board where they can hang a picture they drew in service or a note they wrote about what they learned can create a space where the whole church can hear and affirm their hearts for God.

(List adapted from Practical Ways to Welcome Kids to Church posted here. This article first appeared at d6family.com on 4.4.17)


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. 

The Kid Who Comes Alone

Fall programming is getting ready to kick off in churches all across America and I see one question get asked a lot, “How can I do family ministry with the kid who comes alone?”  That’s a valid question especially if a good portion of our programming, follow-ups and interactions are based around parental inclusion, equipping, and involvement.

When you serve in family ministry, your goal is to equip and resource the home in ways that promote faith formation and spiritual discipleship primarily by parents and caregivers.  But what happens when a child comes to your church and doesn’t have a home life that is conducive to that model?

In addition to doing our best to engage the family and minister to the parents as noted here, we also want to make sure our church is an environment that is prepared to be welcoming and inviting to everyone.

Here are some practical ways we minister to children who join us on their own.

Welcoming” Families– Before events that will likely bring more kids into your church, approach a few families and ask them if they’d be willing to “adopt” a child for the activities that day or week.

If your church has intergenerational services where kids attend, find families or even grandparents that will welcome the child to worship with them.

Talk about Home– Just because mom and dad aren’t there, doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the home with that child.  In fact, they may want and need support if they are trying to live out their faith at home without support.  Give them that space to share.

aloneatchurchInvite the family – If you are having a picnic, make sure to invite the whole family.  A word of caution – it can be hard on that child to have to constantly hand deliver invites or handouts that their parents might not want or show appreciation for.  If at all possible, make the contact yourself so that the child isn’t in an awkward position.

Give him/her a place– There’s nothing worse than feeling out of place and awkward.  But there’s nothing better than feeling like you are a necessary part of something.

There are many roles that need filled in preparing and completing a worship service.  Finding a place for that child to serve can give a strong sense of self-worth. (younger children can help hand out bulletins, help with greeting, be your “right hand man”; older children can read Scripture, help with sound/lights, participate on worship teams, help collect communion)

Know their name–  Being greeted each week by name says “You are welcome here. We want you here and we are excited that you are part of our church family!”

Appreciate WHO they are– Don’t let their identity be “The kid who comes without his/her parents.”  They are a beautiful and unique child of God.

A colleague of mine shared this with me about his own experience: “Once upon a time, when I was one of those kids (at church sans family), I appreciated being taken seriously on my own, not as a spare part (like so many singles do!)”

Host Cross-Generational Events– Instead of all events being focused on family groups, host events where all generations mingle and fellowship regardless of age or relationship.

One family minister I know has round tables and the simple rules are 1. You can’t sit with anyone you are related to and 2. You can’t sit with anyone your age.  Her church has grown to love these times of intentional intergenerational connection and no one feels singled out.

It is always a privilege to minister to and share the love of Jesus with the next generation but it is a uniquely special blessings to share with those who don’t experience these life-giving conversations in their home. Embrace the blessing and seek to find ways that say, “You belong here. You are family!”

Many thanks to the Family Pastors on Facebook who sent me these suggestions to share


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.