Re-Focus on the Family: Influencing the Influencers

Kids walking away from the faith. Lagging attendance at church.

Lack of relationship in the faith community.

Disengaged youth. Absentee parents. 

These are the topics I get emails about on a weekly basis. These are the things that are keeping ministers up at night praying and parents up at night worrying. And these are very real concerns that are multifaceted and complex to explore. But lately, I’ve become more and more convinced that there is one main area that needs to be addressed in our churches if we are going to find lasting answers. And that area is the family or the home, specifically as it relates to parents and caregivers.

A recent study released by Search Institute, a research group dedicated to “discovering what kids need to succeed.” suggests that there is indeed a secret weapon..only, it’s not that secret. 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.

family-1599826_1920They 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?

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 (Bengstan, et al, p. 15).”

What does that mean to us in the Church?churchpeople

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.

And it is time we give the power back to the place it belongs. It means we “shift the how of engaging families: from emphasizing the tactical ways families reinforce what happens in schools or programs (or church!) to supporting families in building developmental relationships.

For the last few years, many ministers in the Church have been sharing the theological reasons for a shift towards family ministry or ministry that focuses on equipping the home as the primary place for faith formation.  And in some cases, they have been met with resistance by those, who like the study points out, see the changing face of the family and the imperfections therein and say, “We just can’t turn this important job of teaching kids about God over to parents…what could happen?”

But now, 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, Church.  

We need to 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.


About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

Advertisements

Is Christ Welcome in Church?

Welcome

What does that word mean to you?  When you think about being welcomed somewhere, what does it look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like?

I grew up Italian, and even if my grandma married in, she was Italian through and through. I’ll never forget showing up at Grandma’s house and hearing, “Come in, how are you? How was the ride? Are you hungry?” while being wrapped up in hugs and ushered into her home. To this day if I smell something that reminds me of her home like a roast cooking on the stove, I feel welcome – I literally feel it.

Welcome was more than just opening the door and allowing me to come inside.

It was enveloping me in love. It was making sure my needs were met. It was serving me with grace and engaging me with intention.

I felt wanted. I felt cared for. I felt like I belonged. 

welcomeI can think of no better way to describe this feeling than through this video. I’d love it if you’d click this link and watch it, but if you don’t here’s a snapshot: Two Congo boys who have been adopted by an American couple come off the plane and literally run into their new parents arms. The tears, the absolute JOY, the intensity of the welcome… it brings tears to my eyes each time.

Watching it between those tears, I could not help but think of the story of the prodigal son and the welcome he received from his father when he returned home. The tears, the absolute JOY, the intensity of the welcome. 

And I could not help but think of this Scripture

He took a little child whom he placed 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 does not welcome me but the one who sent me.

“Welcomes one of these little children.”

And so, I think as the church we should ask, do we welcome the little children?

Are they enveloped in love? Are we serving them with grace and engaging with intention?

Are they welcome everywhere or only in certain spaces?  Are they welcomed by the congregation, known by name, and identified as part of the community?

Do they know that they are wanted, cared for…that they belong?

These are good questions for us to ask, even if the our answer is yes, because Jesus says, if we welcome them, we welcome Him and if we welcome Him, we welcome the one who sent Him.

And no, of course there won’t be a flood of tears each time they walk through the church doors and our finest robes and food for feasting brought out each time they enter, but there should definitely be a sense of “I’m wanted here” and “I’m known here” and “I belong here” each time they come to worship, to fellowship, to learn, to be a part of the church.

Regardless of how each church decides to approach ministry to children and families, welcome should be an overall characteristic of the culture and the heart of our approach to children’s ministry, because by welcoming them, we welcome Christ and not only Christ, but the One who sent him… we welcome the fullness of God into our midst.

Looking for some ideas on how to welcome children to corporate worship? Check out this article on Practical Ways to Welcome Children to Church

Some children don’t have a family to come to church with. Here are some thoughts on welcoming those who come alone

Another way to help create a sense of welcome is to find spaces where we can incorporate the whole family in worship together; check out some ideas for that 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 family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. 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

 

Practical Discipleship When We Lie Down: Valentine’s Day Edition

At our church, at the end of each of our gatherings, you’re likely to hear someone say, “At Plowshares we don’t dismiss from worship because we believe that all of life is worship.” In other words, we don’t think worship is restricted to a specific time or place; rather, worship is a part of our everyday lives as believers because Jesus says wherever two or three are gathered in His name, He is present. And that includes our homes.

This Thursday is Valentine’s Day, the perfect opportunity to celebrate the greatest Love of all, the gift of Jesus, in your home with your family at home. As we’ve looked at the four moments of Deuteronomy 6:7 the past few weeks (when we sit at home, walk along the road, when we rise and when we lie down), we’ve explored how to bring Christ into our everyday settings.

family-457235_1280This post offers a simple communion liturgy for families to engage the act of communion in their home together, a perfect activity for the family to engage in after supper before “we lie down”.  It invites the family to join together for a time of focus on Christ and the love He has shown us in his life, death, and resurrection through the meal He gave us to do so.  

All that is needed is some bread and some juice and some time together as a family. Simply follow the outline provided which includes conversation starters, Scripture readings and prayers and together remember what Love looks like as show to us by Jesus.

If celebrating communion isn’t something your family is familiar with or you prefer another way of experiencing this greatest love together, consider using the conversations starters and replacing the communion time with a time of blessings. There are some simple blessings at the end of the attached liturgy that could be a special time of blessing one another as you consider Christ’s deep love for us.

It is my sincere hope that this week your family is able to spend some time in worship together and that God will continue to invite you into a celebration of His Love together.

greatestlove


Family Communion: A Celebration of God’s Great Love

Prepare:  Communion is a celebration!  While it is a sacred experience and should be always treated as holy, it is intended for us to remember and celebrate God’s goodness to us. Set the tone with your family by discussing some ways God has shown His love to your family.

Have a conversation beforehand explaining what communion means. Remind your family that Jesus showed the Greatest Love of all when He died on the cross for us and rose from the dead and that this meal helps us to remember that great love. As with any time of worship, Christ is with us in communion. This is a special way to that we can invite Christ into our home.

Confession:  Before we take the Lord’s Supper, we examine our hearts and silently confess anything we need to before God. It might help if you offer your children some guiding questions like, “What do you want to tell Jesus ‘thank you’ for?” and “Is there anything you want to tell Jesus you are sorry for?”

Choose one of these Scriptures to read as a family: Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14: 12-16, Luke 22:7-38, I Corinthians 11:23-26

Partake: During communion, show your kids what to do. Even if it is very obvious to you, it may not be to them. Take some time to pray as a family some prayers of thankfulness.

If you would like, you can follow this suggest format for communion time:  Take the bread, thank the Lord for it and for his gift of love and offer it to one another saying, “This is the body of Christ, broken for us.”  Then hold the juice, offer another prayer of thanks, and then give it to each other saying, “This is the blood of Christ, poured out of us.”

Process: Take some time afterward to discussion  what it means to them to remember Jesus in this way. Ask question ensure understanding and to offer clarity, like, “What do we take communion?” and “What are we celebrating?” and “What are we remembering?”  Then move on to more personal questions like, “How did you feel when you remembered Jesus’ sacrifice?”

Conclusion: Finish your time together by reciting the Lord’s prayer (Mt. 6:9-13). Let your children know that this is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray when they asked him how to pray.

Blessings for the Family

Father, thank you for our family. Lord, you know our hearts. You know our strengths, our weaknesses and every tiny detail about us. May we seek You above all else. When we wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night, may you be on our minds and hearts so that in everything we do, we would see You.*

Father, we thank You for Your blessing over our family. May we be unified in Your Love. Help us to speak the same language and share the same vision that You have for us. Lord, guide us and keep us on the right path. May we stand in unity…preferring one another over ourselves and loving You above all else.*

Father, thank you for creating our family with a purpose. We know that you have plans for each of us individually and for our family as a whole. Lord, reveal this purpose to each one of us and help us to walk it out daily. Help us to have an appreciation for each other’s personalities, gifts and even our weaknesses. Lord, teach us and guide us in all that we do, that we may glorify You.*

*Consider replacing the pronouns with your family names and praying these prayers of blessing for one another

(Blessings were inspired by Flourishing Today)


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

Practical Discipleship: Bringing Sunday into Monday as We “Sit at Home”

Continuing our series on Practical Discipleship, it felt appropriate to take some time to consider ways we can bridge the gap between church, the place, and church, the body of Christ as we disciples our kids in our homes. A few years ago I had the chance to sit in on a class with my husband and some of his (and my) seminary friends. The class discussion revolved around how liturgical practices in the church could be utilized to address current themes such as nationalism, consumerism, the oversexualization of society, etc. It was a great discussion.

However, as the discussion continued, it became increasingly clear that the church has limited influence in speaking into these areas.  In fact, it became increasingly clear that if the message was going to be heard, it was going to need to come from parents/caregivers in the context of the home.

But how?  How can we take liturgical and sacramental practices like communion and baptism and put them in the context of the home while relating them to the themes and challenges of the culture today?

How can we as ministers give parents easy wins, simple ways to connect Sunday to Monday, so that the home continues the conversation of church? 

And how can we as parents, use these beautiful moments that connect us to the church across time and space in our homes to remind our family we are part of something bigger?

We need to think bigger.

We need to look at this whole idea of having ONE conversation in multiple locations so that when we are in church on Sunday, what we are talking about, and what we are doing, doesn’t seem new or different or foreign. Instead, when we walk into church, it seems familiar and natural, a continuation of the conversation.

Like with communion:

What if we gave parents activities to explain communion to their kids at home BEFORE their kids take communion at church?

What if, after Communion Sunday, we give them a few conversation starters to share with their kids about how communion speaks to consumerism and materialism (not with those words, but with that heart)?

What if we created round table discussions for parents to come to at church, not when their kids are 13 and in the middle of the pangs of puberty, but when they have infants and are preparing for this whole parenting thing and at those tables, we took communion and talked about how we can live out this practice in our homes through sacrificial living and experiencing God’s presence?

And how about baptism?

family-1784371_1920What if the words spoken, the commitment of the church to walk alongside the child and family at baptism or dedication (depending on your tradition) were given to parents to take home and review with their kids on a regular basis? Maybe even framed and signed by the pastor and members of the church?

What if we offered remember your baptism services and encouraged families to talk about their baptisms at home before they come to church so that baptism was more than a one-time event but a continual reminder of identity in Christ and as a member of the Church?

A lot of “What ifs” in all of that, but imagine if those “What ifs” became easy wins for parents/caregivers to have intentional faith conversations with their children and youth when they rise, when they lie down, when they sit at home and when they walk along the road.

Here are some Easy Wins to get us started

Easy Wins – Communion

At our church one Valentine’s Day, we created little “Take Home Communion Kits”for families that included a short liturgy, the elements of grape juice and bread which were blessed by our pastor, and a little lesson the Greatest Valentine Ever (Jesus). Families were able to celebrate together with a lesson that connected to the holiday of Valentine’s Day and reminded them of where True Love is really found. Need elements? Click here for what we used. 

How do you talk about communion with youth?  Here’s an article that makes talking about communion as easy as talking about eating dinner, something all kids and youth understand. This is a great way to talk about communion as community, literally “communing” with God and the whole family of God. And this conversation can be had over dinner a.k.a. “when we sit at home.”

Creative Communion, a book by Margaret Withers and Tim Sledge, actually has six session around different foods and snacks that actually helps open the discussion with kids about different aspects of communion such as gathering, confession, gospel reading, offering, communion, and dismissal. It’s a really neat approach using food kids love (like pizza) to have an ongoing conversation about the sacrament of Eucharist. For more ideas and more about the book, click here.

Easy Wins – Baptism

Remember your baptism – Many church traditions offer the opportunity to “remember your baptism” as part of their regular service. This can easily be done by the family in the home and parents can remember aloud with their children their own baptism and what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. Simply use water to pour over one’s hands or touch to one’s head and remember together.

 Check out this amazing booklet from one church that gives baptism anniversary activities for the parents and children to do at home and remember together their baptism. 

Regardless of your church’s baptismal tradition, one thing we all agree on is that baptism invites us into the community of faith, into the Church, the Body of Christ. In an age where belonging and identity are often questioned, baptism gives us both. For parents, this can be a good way to talk to their kids when they question who they are and where they belong. Baptism brings us back to that place. Here are some links on ways to spark or have that conversation at home:

Discipleship at home doesn’t have to be a scary thing; it is as simple as inviting Christ into the spaces we inhabit daily. As ministers, we can help families discover Christ in their home as they sit and walk and rise and lie down and as parents we can capture the moments to discover Jesus is with us everyday, in every way!


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

Practical Discipleship: Four Questions That Transform Dinner into Discipleship

“When you sit at home…” Dt. 4:7

This verse is found in the oft-quoted passage regarding discipleship in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 where Moses addresses the congregation of Israel and explains how they are to pass their faith on to the next generation. He mentions four specific moments to talk about faith: When we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we rise.

I love these four moments because they are universal – every single person ever had done these things. They’ve sat at a place they call home, they’ve left and gone out on the road, they’ve slept and they’ve woken up. These simple, everyday moments are when God shows up, if we are looking for Him.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to look at these four moments and find some creative ways to use the time we’ve been given. Today, we’re going to look at the moments where we sit at home and how we can redeem that time to share our faith with our kids.

“Highs and Lows!!”

If you’ve ever eaten dinner with the Embree family, no doubt that right after we prayed, dinner-2330482_1920one of us said this phrase.  It has become part of our dinnertime DNA and something that has led to incredible faith conversations over spaghetti and salad.  Some of our most defining moments as a family in terms of discipleship and growth, especially as a young family, took place because of these four questions.

I can’t take credit for them.  That goes to Dr. Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute.  I had the opportunity a few years ago to attend a seminar led by her about Sticky Faith and how to help our kids develop a faith that sticks beyond high school.  She shared this dinner time routine at that conference and I immediately thought, “This is easy!  This is something we can do!” and so… we did.

Here are four simple but ever so critical questions we ask each other nearly every day.

1. What was your HIGH today?

Simply put, you are just asking what went well that day. Why? Well, I’m sure you’ve all experienced the oh-so-enlightening after-school conversation that goes something like this:

Parent – So, how was school today?  Child – Fine.  

Parent – Well, what’d you do? Child – Nothing.  

Parent – You had to do something. What did you learn? Child – I dunno.  

Parent – Oh come on, give me something! Child – *blank stare* 

Asking a question like “What was your high?” begs the answer in story form.  Sure every now and then, we get a shrug, but most of the time, we get to hear about something that happened that day that otherwise we would not have been privy too.  Plus the whole family gets to celebrate the moment together.

2. What was your LOW today?

It is important to recognize that not everything that happens in a day is fun and happy.  Sometimes things happen that make us angry or sad.  Having a safe place to mention low times and process with family can lead to some of the most meaningful moments in your family’s life.  We’ve cried together, talked through some difficult situation, prayed for people who hurt us or were hurting, and addressed some of the harder things kids face in life.  We don’t want our kids to live a “facebook” existence where only the good moments get highlighted; rather, we want to teach them that God and home are safe places even in the hardest times.

3. What MISTAKE did you make today?

We all cringe a little bit at this one.  It means we have to step back and acknowledge that we may have messed up. It takes humility to admit that, not only to ourselves, but also to our family.  And no one is exempt; even Mom and Dad have to answer the question.

Do you know what message this sends our kids?  That we mess up, but God’s love is available anyway.  Forgiveness and grace are always available.  Sometimes, we can genuinely say, “I had a good day and I can’t think of any mistakes” but those times are outweighed by the moments we recognize that we trip up and fall into the grace of God.  We want our kids to know that no matter how big the “mistake”, God’s grace, love and forgiveness are always available, and so is ours.

4. Where did you see JESUS today?

This is by far my favorite question.  it’s different from the High of the day.  It’s where we have experienced God in our everyday life.  I love the answers my kids give to this question, things like, “I saw Jesus when my friend gave me a hug” and “I saw Jesus when my teacher forgave some kids who had three strikes and let them have ice cream anyway.”  Seeing the attributes of God in the world around them keeps them looking for Jesus everywhere they go.  Once, one of my girls wrote a note to a friend in which she said, “When you [did that thing] I saw Jesus in you.”  That’s exactly the kind of note we need to be giving one another!

Four simple questions.  Four amazing life lessons.

Four easy ways to connect.  Four intentional moments for discipleship.

And while the dinner table works for us, maybe it would work better for you on car rides? Or before bedtime?  Or maybe even over text if your kids are older?

The idea isn’t to create another “thing “we feel pressured to do.  Rather, it is to layer some intentionality over what we are already doing to create the opportunity to model faith, experience grace, and increase love together.

Remember, discipleship at home is never about doing more things. Rather, think of it as an opportunity to invite Jesus into everything we are already doing. Many of use eat dinner at home and most of us strive to do that together, as a family. Inviting Jesus into that everyday practice takes it from ordinary to sacred, from dinner to discipleship, from temporal to eternal, and that is discipleship at home.

For more ideas on how to use the dinner table as discipleship, check out these posts:


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

Practical Discipleship: 4 Easy Parenting Wins for Family Movie Night

“When you sit at home…” Dt. 4:7

This verse is found in the oft-quoted passage regarding discipleship in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 where Moses addresses the congregation of Israel and explains how they are to pass their faith on to the next generation. He mentions four specific moments to talk about faith: When we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we rise.

I love these four moments because they are universal – every single person ever had done these things. They’ve sat at a place they call home, they’ve left and gone out on the road, they’ve slept and they’ve woken up. These simple, everyday moments are when God shows up, if we are looking for Him.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to look at these four moments and find some creative ways to use the time we’ve been given. Today, we’re going to look at the moments where we sit at home and how we can redeem that time to share our faith with our kids.

Shot of a happy young family of three watching tv from the sofa at home

One time our whole family sits at home, which is increasingly a harder feat to accomplish, is when we watch a movie together. Movies are great because they tell a story, much like the metanarrative of Scripture and the parables that Jesus uses to each his disciples. Often in movies, we can find rich plots, interesting characters, and complex moral dilemmas and in those things, we can often find just the right opportunity to share with our kids how we can live out our faith or how God can meet our deepest needs.

Here’s four faith-forming movie moments we can capture for our Family Movie Night discipleship times

  1. The BIG Story

Every movie has an overall plot and many times the plot has something to do with good vs. evil.  Of course, we always want good to win and just when it looks like evil has taken the lead, good comes from behind for the BIG win.  Does this sound anything like another story you’ve heard in your life or read in the pages of the Bible?  The original good vs. evil story took place in the narrative of Scripture and is repeated in all of the small stories we read over and over again, not the least of which was the resurrection of Christ that we celebrate on Easter.  Some examples of questions you could ask your kids:

  • Where does the idea of good and evil come from?
  • Who was the good guy in the movie? Who is the ultimate good guy?
  • Can you give an example of the Bible where good beat evil, like in the movie?
  1. The BIG Lesson

Most movies have a “lesson” or moral they are trying to get across to their audience.  It may not be a deep lesson (Dumb and Dumber anyone?) and it may not be a healthy one (50 Shades of Let’s Not Go There) but there is some lesson behind the story.  Before you watch the movie with your kids, be aware of what the messages are and ask your kids if they can find it or figure it out.  I’ve been amazed by some of the insights my girls have come up with about the messages in movies.  Here are a few questions to help you get started.

  • What is the main message this movie is telling you about life? love? relationships? friendship?
  • Do you think the message is true or false?
  • Do you think that is a the same message Jesus would give you?
  1. The BIG Picture

Movies try to paint a certain reality, whether it is set in a high school or outer space, the movie tries to pull you into their alternate universe and have you believe it’s real.  Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on the movie, the fact is that reality is not real.  Sometimes kids especially have a hard time discerning that as their minds are still developing the skills necessary to tell  the difference between fantasy and reality.  Here are a few thoughts you might want to share with your kids before and after the movie.

  • Before the movie: Look for things in the movie that are different from your reality.
  • After the movie: What did you think was unrealistic?  Why?  How has that been different from your experience?  As a Christian, what would you have done in that situation?
  1. The BIG Hero

Oh, we love our heroes!  My girls recently discovered Indiana Jones and MacGyver (Thank you Daddy and Netflix) and they think these two men are simply amazing.  Every good movie has a great hero who always rescues the needy ones, loves the unloved ones, and saves the lost ones.  It’s as though they had a prototype to work off of (hmmmmm), an ultimate Hero that could change the whole world (AHA!).  We of course know His name, but let’s make sure our kids know Him too. Here’s some ways to start that conversation.

  • Who in the movie needed rescued and who was the hero?
  • How did we know that he/she was the hero?  What makes a hero heroic?
  • Who is the ultimate Hero of the world?  Who has He rescued?

These questions and conversations flow easily in our house now since we started them a long time ago, but at first it can be a little awkward.  Don’t let that awkwardness stop you.

These types of conversations carry more meaning than in just that moment; they begin to help your children build a framework through which they watch television and movies in the future.  They will approach these things with a mind that is looking for more, critically reviewing the messages they receive, and developing a worldview based on the reality of God’s word.

And to think it all started with some pizza, popcorn, and pop (soda, coke, whatever) in your living room on Family Movie Night.

If you are interested in seeing how this plays out with an actual movie, feel free to contact me and put the words “Family Movie Night” in the subject line and I’ll send you a parent discussion guide for a familiar movie!


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

The Great Debate: Are We Real or Artificial?

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

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

“What?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

Thanksgiving: An Intergenerational Experiment in Community

This week, families and friends across the United States will gather to share a meal, to enjoy one another’s presence and to celebrate and give thanks for the blessings we corporately and individually share.

Community, the gathering together of people, will be at the center of our celebrations.

Community is broadly defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”. The design and make up of community is important to the functioning of society and the continuation of shared practices, traditions, and religion.  Information is passed from one generation to another, from the older to the younger and vice versa, through interactions, relationships and communication.

But in modern society we find a community that is becoming increasingly more age-segregated and our opportunities to engage in these interactions, relationships, and communication are being severely hindered. According to family sociologist, Dr. Karl Pillemer, this is the first time in history that young people have little to no contact with older generations other than grandparents leading him to claim, “this is the most age-segregated society that’s ever been” (Source).

Enter Thanksgiving.

This is one of the only times in our modern society that we put a bunch of people of all ages and generations into one space and anticipate conversation with one another. And, let’s all be honest, even with family, it isn’t always easy.

Why is that?

thanskgivingdinnerAccording to Pillemer, “People are more likely to have friends of another race than friends more or less than 10 years apart. That means that we are used to talking to be people to talk like us and do the same things as us and like the same TV shows as us and enjoy the same leisure activities as us. But believe it or not, that’s not really the best thing for us.

Studies show that when we spend time only with people our age, that leads to isolation and loneliness and greatly inhibits socialization in kids and teens and legacy-leaving in older people. The norms and practices of one generation fail to get passed to the next generation and each generation is forced to create or find their own identity, including language and customs and behaviors.

Our community is no longer communal.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t gather.

Regardless of our discomfort, most of us will make an effort this week to step outside of our comfort zones and talk with people from varying generations and life experiences. We will swap stories, laugh at how things were, laugh at how things are and, if we are intentional about, we’ll probably learn something new about us and something new about others.

The church in Western culture has not been immune to the impact of age-segregation. Age-specific ministries, curriculum, worship experiences, and facilities can create environments that make it difficult if not impossible to form intergenerational connections and nurture ongoing relationships across generations. As in the larger society, experiences of isolation, loneliness, delayed socialization, and lack of generativity occur within the church.

Our faith community is no longer communal.

But that shouldn’t mean we don’t gather.

Regardless of our discomfort, it is important for us, as a community of believers to ask some questions. Questions like “If spiritual formation is defined as “a process [and] journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God,” what is gained and lost in this process/journey by each generation when interaction and relationships with others is limited or not readily available in the church? Since Christianity is primarily perpetuated through discipleship and mentorship, how have these practices been impacted by the lack of generational integration?

What would happen if we did gather, together, and give thanks on a consistent basis? 

What stories could we stop, what laughter could we enjoy, and what can we learn about ourselves and others?

This Thanksgiving, as we grab that second helping of turkey, pause for a second and look at the people who surround us and give thanks for community and for the experience of being in it, even the uncomfortable bits.


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

“Holistic Discipleship” is not a Curriculum

I recently had the chance to attend a Christian ministry conference and since I am me, I scoured the listing of workshops to see what I could find that was related to Next Gen. Bingo! “Holistic Discipleship for the Next Generation.” That sounded perfect and right up my alley so off I went.

cafe-845527_1920The session started with some brief introductions and testimonies from the leaders, one of which was a young man who had been influenced by the program they were going to talk about. In his introduction he mentioned a number of things that were most influential on him as he grew up and all of those were people. He talked about the adults and mentors that came alongside him and spoke into his life; how they showed up at his games and took him on family trips and spent time talking to him and engaging him in his growing faith.

In most Christian circles, we’d call that discipleship.

So, I got really excited because surely if one of the main presenters spent most of his introduction talking about the intergenerational relationships he had experienced and the deep impact they had on his faith and spiritual formation, then this workshop would most certainly include these things in their “holistic” approach.

For the rest of the workshop I waited to hear about how these relationships were formed and cultivated; about how we could put into practice activities or even programs that were geared toward growing those relationships and creating intentional space in our churches for them to mature and develop.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. In fact, for the remainder of the workshop, the words “discipleship”, “mentor”, or “intergenerational” were never mentioned. Not even once. We did talk a lot about programming, curriculum, activities, and fun and creative ways to teach kids about God. We practiced some fun imagining, talked about format and presentation, ran through some kidmin scenarios and were given insight to a lot of content.

But never once did the presenters talk about ways to encourage intergenerational connections with children and youth outside of the programmed times. There was no conversation about mentoring and the importance of giving kids access to those who are more mature in the faith to help them to grow.

Discipleship was programmatic, aimed primarily at increasing knowledge and, frankly, getting kids to say a prayer so that they’d be saved with little to no conversation about how to take that faith deeper.

Please don’t hear this as me knocking this group. They are doing great things in their city and God is using them.   But if we are talking about “holistic discipleship” and we are not talking about actual discipleship, mentoring or generational connectivity, we are missing the mark.

Our faith is primarily passed from one generation to another and it’s not passed in a class or an after-school program or a club that meets once a week.

All of those things are good and helpful and even needed, but those are not discipleship.

Discipleship is first of all relational; it requires time spent together in relationship, learning and growing and worshipping together. Mentorship is a deeper connection where one person who is more mature pours into and walks alongside another in spiritual apprenticeship.

Generational connections have to be more than just someone who volunteers to teach a class or host a club once a week but crosses over into a meaningful relationship where love is experience and pain is processed and life is shared.

And, the presenter at this workshop agrees. After the workshop, I spoke with the presenter who had shared his testimony at the beginning and I told him how much those stories had meant to me. And then I gently pushed back on the complete absence of discipleship and mentorship in the workshop and the focus on programs and curriculum and projects. First he looked stunned and then he shook his head and said, “You’re right. All those things were great but the people made the difference. The people who didn’t just show up for the class but connected with me outside of class and met with me and talked to me about being a Christian every day.”

Holistic discipleship had to be more. It has to take the next step.

It can’t just be found in a Sunday School class or an after-school club. It is found when hearts connect in a relationship that leads to faith formation and spiritual growth both in the home and in the church.

It’s found when we get outside the program or curriculum or church walls and learn each other’s names and eat a meal together and go to a game to cheer each other on and show up for dance recitals and school plays or just go fishing together.

It’s found when we take time to develop our connections and move beyond the starting point that classes and clubs might be and into relationship.

That’s how Jesus did it with his disciples and that’s how they did it with their disciples and that’s how we must do it with the next generation.

Holistic discipleship is not a curriculum. It’s so much more.


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

The Age Gap in Religion is Primarily a Christian Problem

Younger people are less religious than older people.

Across the board, this proves to be true. Doesn’t really matter what country one observes or what metrics one uses; statistically, research finds that younger generations tend to be less religious than those who have come before.

However, it turns out, what does matter is which religion is being studied.

According to recent Pew Research, Christianity not only has the most predominant age gap, in that it affects nearly every country that identifies as Christian, it also has the largest one by percentage meaning there is a larger gap in between the ages than other religions.

“Age gaps are also more common within some religious groups than in others. For example, religion is less important to younger Christian adults in nearly half of all the countries around the world where sample sizes are large enough to allow age comparisons among Christians (37 out of 78).

For Muslims, this is the case in about one-quarter of countries surveyed (10 out of 42). Among Buddhists, younger adults are significantly less religious in just one country (the United States) out of five countries for which data are available.

There is no age gap by this measure among Jews in the U.S. or Israel, or among Hindus in the U.S. or India.1 (Source)

PF.06.13.18_religiouscommitment-00-01-

The highest retention rates for religions are found in the Hindu, Muslim and Jewish communities.  The lowest retention rates are found in Mainline Protestants, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and atheism (Source).

Why?

man-3552247_1920There are so many people asking and answering this question. There’s a lot of research being done not only on why younger generations are leaving their faith and/or their church and why some choose to stay.  And there is no silver bullet or perfect answer. But here are a least a few things that we need to consider.

  1. Some stay away from church because they don’t feel like they belong. A study shared by Christianity Today found that about “58 percent of young adults indicated they dropped out because of their church or pastor. When probed further, they said:
    • Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical (26 percent).
    • They didn’t feel connected to the people at their church (20 percent).
    • Church members were unfriendly and unwelcoming (15 percent)
    • Fifty-two percent indicated some sort of religious, ethical or political beliefs as the reason they dropped out.”
  2. Others leave because their faith or their church was never truly theirs, just something they had to do for their parents or because children’s ministry or youth group was a fun social hangout. “Consider this finding: when students involved in the College Transition Project were asked what it means to be a Christian, 35 percent “gave an answer that didn’t mention Jesus at all.” (Source)
  3. Still others leave because they have no relationships the church or a compelling reason to stay.  According to an interview with Dr. Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute, “The number one reason why young people are walking away from their faith—it’s a lack of intergenerational worship and relationship” (Source).

Of course, there are more reasons, but these are some of the big ones. And the thing is, these can be easily solved! 

Basically, each of these reasons boil down to this:  We need faith communities that are, as Dr. Powell stated another interview, “ruthless about focusing on Jesus [and] realize that Christianity can be awkward and sometimes confusing, but Jesus is always magnetic.”

We need communities that foster a sense of belonging to something bigger, create space for intergenerational connections that are meaningful and long-lasting, and invite a willingness to engage in conversations of doubt, faith, and culture. 

We can keep moving forward with age-segregated ministries, church services, and programs or we can step back, see the bigger picture, listen to what we are hearing from generations to come, and begin implementing the changes needed to address the concerns listed above.

It won’t always be comfortable for many of us to “change” and to embrace new ways of thinking and “doing” church, but it’s time to think bigger than today, bigger than “us” and consider our children, grandchildren and generations to come.

For more on these topics, check out the posts below and share your own thoughts in the comments


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com