The Gift of a Child

I’ve always been drawn to the story of the Little Drummer Boy. Here’s a little boy, who has nothing but a drum. All around the adults, who have money and vocations and big important jobs, are bringing their finest gifts to the newborn King. Their gifts were shiny and pretty and new and all the little boy had was his drum, something a little baby boy could never use. So what was he to do?

He gave what he could. He gave Him a song.

And then Jesus smiled.

This morning in church surrounded by adults that knew all the right words and ways to act and songs to sing, a little boy scribbled on a piece of paper.  And with no pomp or circumstance, that little boy walked right up to our altar, right in the middle of the worship service, and laid his scribble right next to the Advent wreath and communion elements. His mom started forward to remove it until the pastor (my husband) signaled her to leave it there.

He gave what he could. He gave Him a scribble.

And then, I really do think, Jesus smiled.

In that same service, my son made me a ring out of pipe cleaners. Someone saw it later and said it looked like I was wearing a muppet on my hand. But that ring, that meant the world to Caleb in that moment because he had made it and he had given it to me.

child-577010_1920The gift of a child is given with all sincerity.  See, for a child, when they create something, a song, a scribble, a ring, they genuinely give a part of themselves to it.

That’s why we hang these things on refrigerator doors and send through the mail and keep folders of treasures we just can’t bear to throw out.

So often, as adults, we come to church thinking about what we can receive. A word from the Lord. A moment of peace or inspiration. A break. A renewal. And it can be easy to look at our children and think that is true of them too.  But I wonder what would happen if we came asking what we could give. Even more than that, what if we asked our kids what they wanted to give at church on Sunday.

A song? A ring? A scribble?  What if we opened our altars to whatever a child brings to give?  Or our offering plates to things other than the shiny?  And our stages to songs that may not be the most beautiful but probably the most heartfelt?

Every time I hear the Little Drummer Boy song, I hear the accompaniment of some really amazing drum lines or drum riffs.  But it was a poor little boy. I have a little boy. When he plays the drum, it does not sound like the drums on that song.

And then Jesus smiled.

As those who bring our children to the Savior, the adults with the big important jobs, how can we begin to make room for the gifts of children?  How can we be like Mary in the song and “nod” to the kids? I truly believe it will make Jesus smile.


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 at the bottom of this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

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Why I Don’t Like Church Christmas Programs

Is there anything cuter than kids in a Christmas play?  I mean seriously, don’t we just love seeing the kids sharing their songs, saying their lines, quoting their Bible verses and wearing all the Christmassy things?  And, of course, there’s always that “one” kid who unwittingly steals the show with their over-enthusiastic lines or their under-enthusiastic singing.  Or the one who is just a little bit off on the motions or the one who is pretending to conduct in the back row.  I mean, who doesn’t like seeing kids perform in church?

Me.

What?!?  I’m a children’s pastor. Isn’t that against the rules?

You guys, bear with me but, yeah, I usually don’t like them very much at all. I love that the kids talk about Jesus. I do think that they are beyond adorable and I want to hug every single one. But what I don’t like are the many implications that often come with it; things that go unsaid, but speak volumes to children and adults about the place of children in “big church.”

Four Reasons I Don’t Like Christmas Programs

  1. They define the role of Children in Worship – They are performers. They are cute. Everyone likes to “see” them. Everyone wants them on stage.  But children are much more than that. They are active, vital, necessary members of the body of Christ. If they are only invited into worship to “perform” guess what worship/church becomes for them?  A performance. And when they get tired of performing or they aren’t cute anymore, they move on to bigger and better things.
  2. They define the role of the Children’s Pastor – Many or most who work in Children’s ministry, rarely spend much time in “big church.”  The role is unseen; serving downstairs or upstairs making sure children are loved, rooms are covered, volunteers are appreciated, parents are affirmed, janitors are appeased, visitors are welcomed, and families are encouraged. But the only time a children’s minister is seen in church is when he/she bring the children up to put on a show. It creates a very limited view of who children’s ministers are.
  3. They define the role of the Congregation – When the children perform, all the feelings are there! The kids are sweet and cute and the church loves to see them in church. But it is a passive reception; the kids give, the church receives. There are no active, ongoing relationships. Many don’t even know the children’s names. They are the “girl in the red dress that sang so loud” and the “boy in the tie who sat on the steps.”  It creates an environment of “us” and “them” and when the performance is over, everyone returns to their posts.
  4. They define who is and who is not “the Church” – This is the same reason I despise the term “big church.”  There isn’t a big church and little church in God’s kingdom. There’s just church.  We, all of us, old, young and in-between, are all members of God’s body, part of the Church, His Bride. We affirm this at baptism or dedication. The whole congregations commits to being one body. And then, we go our separate ways, big and little, for the year, until it’s time to perform again.

I know that not every church is like this.

christmaschurchPlease know that I realize that for some churches the program is more than a performance. For those churches, the children are involved in church all year long as participants and not just performers and the Christmas program is an extension of a greater story. I am beyond blessed to serve in a church like this.

But many of the reports I hear from Christmas programs across the board can be summed up like this, “All year we are invisible, but today…Today we shine.”  And that makes me sad.

What can be done?

Well, for one, we can start making the children part of the larger corporate worship more frequently, giving them a name and voice and relationships rather than just being cute and adorable.

Create space for adults to interact with children on level ground rather than as active performer and passive recipient.

Define roles differently – children as saints of God and adults as children of God; the children’s director as pastor and shepherd of God’s flock not keeper of kids; the congregation as a family of all generations not a division of age groups and ministries.

Christmas programs are in and of themselves not the issue.

I mean, let’s face it, they are part of the regular church experience and, come on, the kids are really cute!

But if that’s all they are, if that is the only time they are seen and the only role they fill, then Christmas programs are the issue. If that’s the only time the children’s minister is a part of corporate worship, it’s an issue. If a culture of “us” and “them” is perpetuated or if children are guests in the service rather than family at the table, then it’s an issue.

Christmas is a time we celebrate Love coming to earth…as a child. Our programming, no matter how cute or adorable it is, should be a continuation of that story through the community and family that is the church.

This post was originally published in December 2015


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

What if all the “What If’s” Happened?

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?  
what-if

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?

Even 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 school, increased spiritual growth for the entire church, a mature faith in young adults, a 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

 

 

 

God, School, and The Truth We Need to Tell Our Kids

“If you think Jesus should be allowed back in schools, click “Like” and Share!”

“New Law  in Kentucky allows Bible to be taught in school. Do you Agree or Disagree?”

“God was kicked out of schools! It’s time we let Him back in!”

For some reason, memes and posts like this have started showing back up in my various social media streams. It seems like this particular melody gets sung every 6-12 months by some Christians and the chorus of “likes” and “shares” and “I agree” comments fill to social media outlets.

But I do not join the chorus. And I don’t think it is advantageous for any of us to do so.

“Why?  Don’t you think God should be allowed in public schools?  Don’t you believe in the Bible?  Don’t you think that prayer should be present in our educational system?”

Even typing those words made me cringe on the inside. Because laden within them and within the memes and posts above is this underlying assumption: God isn’t there. That somehow a law or a custom or a man-made institution is capable of retraining or inhibiting our God, our King of Kings, our Emmanuel.

We are getting ready to enter into one of the most joyous and anticipated seasons in the Christian calendar; the season of Advent, leading to Christmas.  In this season, we spend days focusing on one thing – the birth of Christ. And throughout the season we remind each other that we have a God that is not far off in some distant place waiting for us to come to Him. No! We serve a God who came to us, wrapped in our frail flesh, and walked among us, promising to be our Emmanuel – God WITH us – forever and ever.

During this season we marvel at the miracle of our Savior’s birth, foretold by prophets and angels, and witnessed by shepherds and kings.

We tell our children that because of this, they can rest assured that God is always with them, always present, always showing Himself strong on their behalf.

We even think ahead to the next big celebration of Easter and we explain that through Christ’s birth and death as fully man and fully God, we have been given a Way into eternity ourselves and we will never be separated from God, ever, for all time.

And then… we post memes that say we kicked Him out.  We bemoan the lack of His presence in our classrooms. We act as though our Immanuel is not “God with us” but “God with us when we say it’s okay.”

How sad for us and how confusing for our children. That in one moment we speak with such faith and confidence and in the next we mourn as though we have been left abandoned.

Oh friends, wouldn’t it be much better to acknowledge the truth?  That God CANNOT be “kicked out” of this world, no matter how hard humanity might try to do so?  That our God thrives in places where men and women have tried to push Him out and silence His church?  That our God isn’t just present in our schools, but in prisons, concentration camps, Roman amphitheaters and arenas, in the darkest persecutions and even in the greatest prosperity. God can’t be banned from earth. That battle was fought and won thousands of years ago. He is here to stay. He is Immanuel. He is God WITH us! 

And that is what we need to tell our children.

boy-2205733_1920We need to tell them the truth, that God IS in the public schools. That God IS in their classrooms and at their lunch tables and in their college dorm rooms and in their high school locker rooms.

God is there, fully present and fully able to sustain them as they live for Him.

The Bible isn’t banned; they carry the Word of God within them and they can speak words of truth and life anywhere they want to. Prayer isn’t prohibited; they can pray for themselves, for friends, for teachers, for anyone, anywhere at anytime and God will hear and will answer.

Friends, our children need to hear that God isn’t quivering in a corner, afraid or tied down. Our God, the God that took on flesh and came to us as a baby, is coming back as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He is not fearful; He is triumphant. 

If we continue to act as though this world somehow regulates that truth, we make our God too small and if anything, the next generation needs to know how big and how loving and how present our God is.  We can’t proclaim that in church on Sunday and then lament His weakness the rest of the week.

How much better to send them off to school or work or play with these words, God is with you, everywhere you go. He is before you and behind you. He is on every side. You are not alone. You are NEVER alone. Know that you are loved so that you can love God and love others. Be WHO you are, all the time, everywhere, because God is present.”

God is in the public schools. I’ve seen Him.

God never got kicked out. He never removed His presence or His grace. No rule, regulation, law, or anything is strong enough for that. So let’s stop living a life of fear and regret. Let’s show our children that as long as we are His, He is here, present and active and ready to be Emmanuel to everyone who desires Him.


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

 

Discipleship: When our Sunday Doing has Monday Meaning

What is Advent?

I know, Thanksgiving comes first. And I do love Thanksgiving. The food, the family, the opportunity to express gratitude for all those things and more. But 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 these 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 Hope on Sunday doesn’t mean a whole lot to me or you (or to our kids) if we don’t talk about that hope, contemplate that hope, and celebrate that hope 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 of Christmas joy 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.

christmas-1125147_1920We 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.

I 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 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 and  Seedbed

It’s Old News: The Not New Fun Way to Do Church

I can’t tell you how many times a week I see posts from fellow kidmin and fammin leaders that say something like, “Looking for some new, upbeat songs for our kids” or “Need some new fun and energetic songs for children’s church.”  I smile a little because my daughter (11) has been going to a local camp for the past year and always comes home singing the songs she’s learned there (and now loves) and they are the same exact songs I was singing when I went to camp at her age.  New, fun, energetic – nothing wrong with any of that – but sometimes I wonder if we are looking for the right answer in the wrong places.

Often the reason given for needing or wanting these new things is that the old things are no longer engaging the children. The kids aren’t excited to come to church, they don’t want to stand up to sing, they are bored with the format, they want something new.  There’s always a ton of really great suggestions and resources, again often ministries that I would recommend, but I’m always curious about what happens next.

When the newer, funner, more energetic songs get introduced into the group, is there a change?  Do the kids begin to participate more?  Are they excited to come to church? Is boredom still an issue?  But even further down the road, does it help to create a generation of disciples that continue in their faith even into adulthood and parenthood and grandparenthood?

Wow, that escalated quickly!  I mean, that’s a whole lot to pin on some new music.

Indeed it is. It’s a lot to pin on a new curriculum too. Or a new building. Or a new children’s pastor. Or a new fill-in-the-blank.   It’s an awful lot to pin on any of those things.

But churches do that all the time. I’ve done it. I’ve fallen for the “if we just get this thing or do that thing, then we’ll have the results we want” routine. Too often that’s the very direction we turn to for solutions. As parents, it can become easy to look for the next book or strategy or food or gadget that will help our children be all that they can be. As ministers, it can be come just as easy to look for the next resource or conference or gimmick or strategy that can help our ministry become all it can be.

But all of those things, while fine and good, cannot on their own produce the legacy of faith that we call discipleship.

They cannot create disciples. 

Only disciples can create disciples.

We need each other.  We need relationships. We need community.

It’s not even that we need it; it’s that we were created for it. Innate in each of us is this reflection of the image of a Triune God who exists in perfect unity and community. We were made in His likeness and therefore we can only be complete in community as well.

together-2450090_1920

Now, some new music, coupled with mentors dedicated to walking alongside a young person in the faith as they grow..that… that has some real possibilities. 

A new building and some dedicated volunteers who spend time not only in the church but outside of it, building relationships with the youth at soccer games and ballet recitals.. that has some promise. 

A new curriculum plus parents who are sold out to the idea that they are the greatest influence on their kids so they start the conversation ahead of time and follow up at home… that holds some solid hope for the future. 

A new children’s pastor and a faith community that is committed to ensuring that every person, regardless of age, knows they are welcomed, needed, and an integral part of the church… I mean, that, that could change the world.

In fact, if we had all of the latter and none of the former, I just bet we’d see more kids excited about church…and more adults too.

You see, it really is old news. We were made for one another.

New things are nice, even good, but without each other, they just can’t bring about the change we desire.

What if before we looked for something new, we took the time to strengthen the things that already are?  What if we intentionally removed the barriers that keep us apart and begin to find ways to discover God together?  It’s definitely more work than just adding a new thing, but my guess is the results would be much longer-lasting and much more along the lines of what we really desire for the next generation that we are ministering to.


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 and  Seedbed

 

 

How We “Broke” The Family

Onec, while my husband was at a neighbor’s house, one of their electric outlets wasn’t working, a recurring problem with that outlet.  Luke knows a bit about electricity so he grabbed some tools from home and got to work.  Ultimately, he had to trace the problem back to a wire that had become loose and sometimes, but not always, disconnected.  After he re-connected and tightened the wire, ta-da, electricity again!

A recent study released by Search Institute, a research group dedicated to “discovering what kids need to succeed,” suggests that…we’ve got a loose wire in America. Not just a loose one, but in some cases, a completely disconnected one, and unfortunately, the one that has the most power.

The title of their research is “Don’t Forget the Families: The Missing Piece in America’s Effort to Help All Children Succeed” and what it shows is that we have made a big mistake in America – we nixed the family and tried to raise the kids without it.

They report, “too many institutions and professionals have given up on families, focusing exclusively on the struggles families face and the problems they create. We then put our energy and resources into setting up systems and supports that compensate for the failures we perceive in families.”

So what does that mean?family_cutouts

We tried to “fix” the shortcomings we’ve perceived in families by, well, replacing the family with things like school, and sports, and therapy, and youth programs and … church. Yes, church.

As a society we collectively decided that “many families are dysfunctional and even hopeless. Changes in family structure and family life have led some observers, advocates, and the public to characterize the state of families today as bad and getting worse.”  The solution? Remove the “power” from the family and replace it with other more stable things.

The problem with that is, we forgot that we are hard-wired to be a part of a family, and no matter how many institutions we create to vie for power in our hearts, our family consistently remains the most influential. 

“In reality, there is little evidence that families have lost their power in the lives of children and youth—even though many families do face major challenges.[A] University of Virginia study found that most parents are quite happy with their own families (Bowman et al., 2012).

A 2010 survey of 2,691 U.S. adults by the Pew Research Center similarly found that 76% said their family is the most important element of their lives, and 75% said they are very satisfied with their family (Taylor, 2010).

Longitudinal evidence suggests that it is more accurate to describe families as changing, not declining… family influence remained strong… levels of maternal engagement remained strong.

Conclusion? Families still matter greatly, and families can and do tend to perform well those functions that are particularly relevant to the lives of children, even in different social and historical contexts, household arrangements, and living conditions (Bengsten, et al, p. 15).”

What does that mean to us in the Church?

Parents/caregivers are the single most important influence in a child’s life. Period.

No amount of programming, support, systems or institutions can change that.  We are hard-wired to exist within families by the very One who wired our system in the first place.  And thus the call to parents to disciple their kids in the faith all through Scripture. Because God knew what researchers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell us in a pages-long report on the success of children:

We propose focusing family engagement on reinforcing families’ central role in helping children and youth develop character strengths through which they discover who they are, their power to shape their own development, and why they matter in their families, communities, and world 

In the church, we call that…discipleship.

 This study, aimed at the larger society and having nothing to do with faith or religion or church, is saying we must “refocus family engagement for greater reach and impact based on the perspectives, priorities, and strengths of families.”

It is time.  

We need to rewire, reconnect, reengage and refocus on the home. Family, no matter what it looks like or how messy it feels to dive into, is where it is at. The power has always resided there.  The influence has always been strongest there.

The fact is, families were wired that way from the start by the One who said, “Impress these commandments upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road; when you lie down and when you rise.”

It’s time to fix the disconnect and turn our attention, our energy, our desire to see children follow Christ towards the home and equip the leaders there to do what they are wired to do…go and make disciples at home.

This article was originally posted in October 2015. You can read the original here


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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 and  Seedbed

Frustrated About Kids in Church? Something’s Gotta Change

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.

However, time has revealed to us some unintended consequences of this 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.

Researchers 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?

child-1439468_1920Because we’ve grown up in an era where generations were segregated and separated from one another, we’ve grown to 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.


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

family

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 and  Seedbed

The Distraction During Worship

Why do we go to church?

Seems like a simple question.   One that kids like to ask a lot. I’ve heard parents and Sunday school teachers and pastors give all kinds of answers. “We are here to worship God.” “We are here to learn about God.” “We are here to learn how to be better Christians.”

In my last church, during our kids church time, we have a short liturgy we go through with the kids each week. Our worship leader would ask, “Who are you?” and the kids reply, “I am a child of God.” Then he’d say, “Who are we?” and they’d reply, “We are the body of Christ.” And to end, he’d ask, “Why are we here?”

So, why are we here?

If individually we are children of God and collectively we are the body of Christ, why do we gather on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, or any other time in the week for “church”? What is the purpose of our gathering?

If we go to Acts 2:42, we get a really cool picture of what the “first church” looked like through these four activities.

  1. Devoted to the Apostle’s Teachings – Keep in mind, there really wasn’t a “Bible” yet so when the early church gathered, what they heard shared was the teachings from the disciples; stories from when they walked with Christ and words of encouragement and teaching from the apostles themselves.
  1. To fellowship – Yes, they used that word back then too!! In this case, it is more literally referring to “community” or “joint participation” not so much coffee hour, donuts and time with friends.
  1. To the breaking of bread – It is generally believed that the breaking of bread here refers to communion, which interestingly is the same word as the one used for fellowship above. It’s the idea of the body of Christ being one, participating in one holy communion and united by one Holy Spirit.
  1. To prayer – The people of the early church gathered to talk to God and listen to God together. That was part of what “church” looked like for them as they came together as the body of Christ.
Lots of similarities to today.
But then, a lot of differences too.

For instance, there is a strong emphasis on “together.” Community, communion, fellowship – no matter how you break down these words, it was about the whole body of Christ in “joint participation” together. It wasn’t about a person coming and being fed or another person coming and have a great experience in worship. There’s no emphasis on the individual at all. The emphasis is the body of Christ.

Sometimes though, when it comes to church that does not seem to be the emphasis. Often we hear a lot about individual preferences, personal needs, and unique desires expressed regarding reasons for attending church. We can often hear a lot of these sentiments expressed specifically when we talk about including children in times of corporate worship.   Because kids will distract from those things.

be-quiet-in-church

To be clear; children are not a distraction.

They might be distracting. No wait, they are distracting.

But they are not distraction.

They are members of the body of Christ. They are part of the community of faith.

And they are the only group of people Jesus specifically instructed us to welcome.

As I’ve watched kids in church, I’ve seen two things.

I have seen children lead the call to worship, lead the congregation in song, kneel and pray at the altar, and affirm their faith with the whole church.

I’ve also seen them drawing pictures on random bulletin inserts, turning around to see what others were doing, fidgeting and squirming, and, well, being distracting.

The tradeoff seems worth it to me.

They are members of Christ’s body. The body of Christ is built up by them. If church is about WE and not “me”, then most certainly, there must be times when WE are all together.

Kids don’t come expecting to get anything but they come ready to give. Every chance they have to actively participate, they will. Not reluctantly or under coercion; if they have are given a chance to be involved, they excitedly do just that.

What if we give them more chances?

If not for them, then most certainly for us. Because without them, our fellowship is incomplete. Our body is not whole. We may be distracted from what church is really all about – communion, joint participation, togetherness, being the body of Christ.

Does that mean we will need to seek other times to grow personally without that distraction? Yes, it does. It also means as a community we should seek to provide those times for one another. Because that is also what church is. It’s both/and, not either/or. It’s all of us together seeking for the good of the other. So..

Who am I? I am a child of God.

Who are we? We are the body of Christ

Why are we here? We are here to know more of God and His covenant of love to US.

All of 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

family

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 and  Seedbed

Intergenerational Worship is NOT…

A children’s pastor recently spoke to the larger church community about the important role they play in influencing young people to remain in the church as they grow.

She explained that research has shown that having the opportunity to worship with those of different generations than their own actually helps them to feel more a part of their faith community and build relationships outside of their own peer group. And she shared that at some point in the future the children and youth would be invited to be part of the larger corporate worship experience of the whole church rather than always being separated at that time.

She was met with mixed reactions.

But one person in particular was concerned enough about this turn of events that he/she wrote the children’s pastor a letter. In it he/she expressed that “90% of the church” was happy with the way things were now and if she wanted to have the children and youth worship in the sanctuary, maybe she could start a service on Friday or Saturday night for them to go to that was more the style that they would like. And maybe if she did that “some other adults” would go to and, ba-da-bing.. the problem would be solved.

Actually.. therein lies the problem.

What the children’s pastor said and what this member of the congregation heard were two very different things.

Lenses of tradition, personal preference, and familiarity often cloud the conversation when we talk about any kind of change at church, but especially when we talk about bringing together generations for times of worship in a corporate worship setting.   It may be helpful that begin by explaining what this time of worship is NOT so that it can set the stage for what it is intended to be.

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.

Glorified Kid’s Church

boy-1929539_1920Some 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).

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.

I’m not about to argue 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 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.

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.

So how can we do that?  The follow-up article is coming soon. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on the ideas expressed in this one. What are your concerns, ideas, frustrations, and encouragement?  And what ways have you found to connect generations creatively without neglecting the needs of anyone?


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

family

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 and  Seedbed