Marking the “Christian” box and Making Disciples are Not the Same Thing

Recently, Pew Research released their latest findings regarding the religious landscape in America. The numbers weren’t shocking, if you keep up on those types of things.

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Roughly 70% of Americans affiliate with the Christian faith, 23% claim no religion, and the final 7% affiliate with other world religions. Ho-hum, let’s move on…we’re still a Christian nation.

But here’s the rub. These statistics are just that. They are surface numbers. The label “Christian” is a box to check off on a list of religious choices.

Here’s what the summary doesn’t tell us.

  • Only 17% of people ages 18-29 identify as Christian compared to 35% of the same age group who identify as Unaffiliated.
  • 30% of Christians are parents of children under 18 which is nearly equal to Unaffiliated parents who come in at 26%.
  • 27% of Unaffiliated persons express an “absolutely certain” belief in God, 22% are fairly certain there is a God and 13% say their religion is very important in their lives.
  • More members of the Unaffiliated group feel a sense of wonder and awe about the universe weekly than do Christians (47% compared to 45%)
  • 47% of Christians say they seldom or never participate in prayer, scripture study or religious education groups among Christians
  • 43% of Christians say their religion guides their understanding of right and wrong. 41% say their own common sense does this (compare this to 57% of Unaffiliated – not that different).
  • 59% of Christians say that what is right and wrong depends on the situation; there are no absolutes. 78% of Unaffiliated identifiers agree.
  • 33% of Christians seldom or never read the Bible and 18% don’t believe it is the Word of God.

This is the environment that our children are growing up in

When we do the deeper digging, we find out that in terms of spiritual discipleship and maturity, there’s really not a huge difference between those who are Unaffiliated with a religion and those who identify as Christian. Our differences come into play in other areas like political affiliation, views on social issues and the government’s role, and belief in an afterlife. But when it comes to things like believing in a God, participating in a faith community, making moral decisions, and even reading the Bible… we’re not all that different.

And if we look at who is raising the next generation…we are equally sharing that load; Christian and Unaffiliated.

There is our “why.”

Why do we keep emphasizing the importance of discipleship in the home?

Why do we keep talking about the need for generational discipleship in the church?

Why do we continue to encourage parents to engage with the kids around the ideas of faith and community and the Church to get outside of times and location and be that faith community for them?

Why do we send home devotionals from Sunday School, provide Scriptures for discussion, encourage participation in worship and learning for all ages, equip parents for the work of discipleship at home, and invest hours of prayer into the generations to come?

Because we should be different.

Our active involvement in our faith should look different than those who say they don’t identify with a religion. Our numbers shouldn’t even be close.

And if they are, we shouldn’t be surprised when in the next few years, perhaps just one generation, we see those numbers flip.

This is not ho-hum. It is past time for us to wake up.

Church, it is time to stop investing in building the next building and time to start investing in building the next generation and nurturing, supporting and equipping their parents for the work of discipleship.

Parents, it is past time for us to own our own spiritual walk and discipleship so that we can help our children grown and be discipled; to commit to growing our own faith through being actively engaged in our faith community, involved in spiritual disciplines like the reading of Scripture and serving the community, and dedicated to being Christ-followers.

This isn’t intended to be a fear tactic or a doomsday post. It’s certainly not intended to be a “run away, secluded yourself, hide the kids” post. I’m not into that kind of stuff. My heart truly was for this simply to be a reality check; an understanding that passing on our faith is more than our kids just claiming the label of “Christian.”

It’s a life modeled after Christ, engaged with His body, and doing His work in the world today. And that is what makes us different. Let’s do that.


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

“You can say anything, but kids will copy what you do”

The other day I watched a young mother talking with some friends and behind her, unbekownst to her, her young daughter was watching her and imitating her hand gestures. I don’t think anyone but me saw it and I almost laughed out loud but I realized that this little one wasn’t trying to be rude or making fun of her mom; she was learning. My bet is that in a few years, this little girl will be having conversations of her own and her little hands will be flying around as she talks just like her mom.

Recently the New York Times posted an article that was about how to raise young men who respect women and the pull quote they used for the article was from a sociologist who said, “You can say anything but kids will copy what you do” (Dan Clawson, University of Massachusetts).

I don’t think we can overemphasize this enough.


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To put it in perspective first consider this: The single most powerful influence in a child’s life is by far their parents/caregivers.  

Second, consider this: One of the greatest indicators of church retention of young people is the existence of caring intergenerational relationships between adults and youth.

Finally, we read this from Paul: Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus (I Cor. 4:15-17a)

Paul compares himself to a father, a parent, and tells the church in Corinth to imitate him as children do their parents and then, to seal the deal, sends his spiritual son Timothy, who has learned how to imitate his “way of life” to the people of Corinth so they can learn how to imitate as well.

Another word we use in Christian circles is discipleship. 

Now let’s bring this full circle.  Sociologists say that what we say doesn’t matter as much as what we do. As parents and Christian adults in the church we have powerful influence over our kids and youth just by being present in their life. And our church “father” Paul has exampled for us that we should be telling our children to imitate us.

So my question is… are we worthy of being imitated?

I wish you could see how long I had to pause and sit and reflect on this question. I wish you would stop for a second and do the same.

Are our actions and reactions, our way of communicating and listening, our relationship with Christ and the church, worthy of being imitated by our children?

I’ve had some adults tell me that they don’t want children with the adults on Sunday morning because kids don’t get anything out of the sermon. But the sermon is only one very small part of church!  There is so much to imitate at that time. They are watching us.

In fact my husband pointed out this morning that in the early church, imitation was intricately woven into the traditions even more so at the time than the Bible. What we call the Bible today were letters from church leaders to the growing church back then. But the actions, thing like communion, the laying on of hands, baptism…all of these things were taught to and imitated by the church as a means of active participation in the faith.

So the bigger question is, if the children aren’t engaged with the service, why?  

What are they watching?  Are we engaged?  Or are we texting, tweeting, or posting?  Are we listening to the sermon, worshiping with the enthusiasm, praying at the altar?  Are we giving them something worthwhile to imitate?

At home, do we read the Bible and talk about the Lord? Do we pray? Do we serve? Do we worship?  Do we give them something to imitate that will sustain them when they are in need?

When we “walk along the road”, are we engaging with our world and our community? Do we pray for those in need?  Do we reach out physically and financially and do we do it in a way that our children can see? What are our reactions to the our neighbors, to the news, to disasters and to blessings?  What do we get excited about?  What do we get angry about?

All of these things matter.

All of these things are discipleship. All of these things will be imitated. We can say anything but our kids will copy what we do.

For, as Paul says later on, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be savedAnd you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1)

The reality is this: We are being imitated.

That is simply how this works. One generation to another.

The challenge is this: To be something worth imitating.

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

Ducks!! Or, Why BIGGER isn’t always Better

We just got home from Disney World in Orlando, FL. We got to ride Soarin’, a ride that virtually lets you fly all over the world like a bird, three times!  We rode roller coasters, saw incredible shows, went on a safari and saw lions and giraffes and hippos and rhinos. We met princesses and hugged the Mouse himself. We ate amazing food and met amazing people from around the world.

But nothing, literally nothing, elicited more cries of delight from my youngest daughter and her brother than seeing… a duck. No, not Donald Duck. Just regular old, run-of-the-mill, ducks. The kind that hang out in the McDonalds parking lot and beg for your french fries.

duck-2090633_1920But, it wasn’t just my kids, not by a long shot. Every time we passed a family with children who happened to spot the same duck my kids had, I would hear, “Look Mom!! A duck!!!” or “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy… a duck!! Do you see it?”

The adult in me wanted to shake my head and say, “It’s a DUCK. Just a duck. Look around you. You’re at Disney!!  Who cares about a duck?

But, somewhere under that adult veneer, the child in me smiled and said, “Yeah, isn’t that cool? It’s a duck!

My point is…. often times in children’s ministry, we work really hard to deliver the over-the-top, biggest, brightest, most trendy experience because…well, that’s “Disney” right?

We buy super-expensive curriculum with all the latest gadgets and gizmos. We build huge sets that make kids go “Ooo” and “Ahh”. We play the best games and have the best activities and, at the end of the year when we have to report our numbers to the church, we want to say, “We had the biggest and the best!”

But, on a whim, I asked my kids, “What do you remember most about the different VBS’s you’ve gone to over the past few years?”  Guess what they answered. Didn’t hear a word about sets or themes or crafts or songs or even the incredibly cool curriculum. Nope, they told me about…the people. 

They remembered teachers and they remembered friends.

They remembered Mr. Adam and how welcoming he was when they came to a new church.

They remembered being with their friends and laughing together.

They remembered the older couple that greeted them outside one VBS every single morning.

They remembered being with us (Mom and Dad) at the Family VBS we attended.

They remembered all the people. 

So, maybe your kidmin or fammin budget doesn’t let you be BIG when it comes to your ministry experience. Maybe you can’t afford the newest and greatest thing or make the brightest and biggest sets.   Or maybe you can.  Regardless, here’s something I think we adults need to remember.

Don’t focus so much on the Disney that you forget about the ducks.

The kids see the ducks…and they love them.

The kids see the people…and they love them.

I’ve blogged so often about the importance of creating space for intergenerational relationships within the church community and finding ways to connect the generations in meaningful ways. This is why.

Because all the glitz and glamor in the world cannot replace the simple love of one person for another. The people are what really matter.

Creating space for children to experience the connection to a caring adults and to like-minded peers will have much longer lasting and farther reaching effects than any stage, set, story or song could ever have.

So whether your kidmin experience rivals Disney World or not, remember…the kids you are reaching, really, really, really like ducks. Create the experience but focus on the people.


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 GREATEST Blog Post of ALL TIME! Click here to Find out WHY!

Sensationalism.   You gotta love it right?  

Today I got to see “Six Life-Saving Coin Hacks!” which consisted of using a quarter as a screwdriver and as a means to secure one’s skirt while riding a bike. Thank goodness, my life is saved.  I also was informed that the recipe for cheese-stuffed something or other was, and I quote, “all that was right in the world.” Which was very helpful since I was wondering exactly what all was right in the world.

These ridiculous claims reminded me of a time when my oldest was much younger. Her dad had gone downstairs to use the treadmill and told her not to interrupt his run unless it was very, very important. About 10 minutes in, she came running down the steps, phone in hand, a look of urgency on her face, yelling up a storm. Quickly, he stopped the treadmill only to hear her say, “It’s really, really important Daddy! We may have won a CRUISE!”

Whenever I see these hyped up ads (or fake news stories, as the case may be), I can’t help but shake my head and think, “What are these people thinking?”

And then…then I see the number of likes, shares, clicks and reactions, often numbering in the thousands. Thousands of people read an article that claimed to contain “THE” newly-discovered and unbelievably easy path to permanent weight loss. Thousands reacted to and “clicked Next to find out” what caused that unbelievable sore on a person’s cheek.

So, what are these people thinking?  They are thinking that sensationalism works. That for some reason we are drawn to these ridiculous claims and unbelievable manipulation like a moth to a flame.  And they are right.  Even the New York Times had an article about it this morning (and I was writing mine before they wrote theirs 😉 ).

Now the bigger questions is “Why?”  Why does this work?

I truly think the answer is that it’s simply because we were created by God to believe. We were gifted by our Creator with an imagination, the desire to dream, the gift of faith and innately, deep inside all of us, is the compulsion to believe. The Catholic Church, in their catechism, puts it this way: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.

We were made to experience more…so we look for it!  

And children, bless their hearts, live for it!  

mermaids-1905598_1920Watch a child play. Listen to their stories. Tell them they may have won a cruise or mermaids live around the corner. They are full-fledged bought in to life! And their spirits soar when they learn a new thing or experience a new reality.

But we get older, and we “know better”, and our spirits soar less often. I saw an illusionist recently who put it this way: “I used to do shows and people would say ‘Wow!’; now people just grab their phones and say ‘How?'” Our imagination is jaded. Our belief is held at bay. But somewhere, deep inside of us, we still wonder…and that is why thousands click on sensational links…because they are still looking for more.

Is it any wonder than that Jesus, when asked about the kingdom of God, says this:

Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me. – Mt. 18:3-5

And here’s the thing – the kicker – WE HAVE THE TRUTH!

It’s not sensationalism. It is reality. We have the most incredible, most amazing, most outstanding truth, that is beyond our wildest imaginations and deepest dreams, that is without depth and without end….and we couch it in dry lessons and boring devotions and wonder why our children can’t / don’t engage (and why it’s a pretty common thing to see adults nodding off in church on Sunday morning).

Honestly, we need to just proclaim it. Talk about it. Magnify (make bigger) the Lord! Talk about it when we sit and home and when we walk along the road, when we lay down and when we rise. We need to sit under stars and dream about our great big God. We need to let the Scriptures well up inside of us and share them with each other is all forms of songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, making music in our hearts, worshiping our unfathomable Creator.

Like David, we need to say:

I’m ready, God, so ready; ready from head to toe, Ready to sing, ready to raise a tune:  “Wake up, soul! Wake up, harp! Wake up, lute! Wake up, you sleepyhead sun!” I’m thanking you, God, out loud in the streets,  singing your praises in town and country.  The deeper your love, the higher it goes; every cloud is a flag to your faithfulness. (Ps. 57:7-10, MSG)

Because, all sensationalism aside, we really do have the life-saving truth that truly is all that is right in the world.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

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

Summer’s Dilemma: Church or Family?

Last day of school!!!

Ours is Friday; I bet yours is soon or you’ve already had it.  The official start to summer is here.  Summer vacation means sleeping in, sunny days, water sports, sandy beaches, campfires, parades, and plenty of time with family and friends.

It also means that church attendance in the United States plummets.

Like seriously takes a nosedive.  Attendance becomes sporadic and spotty.  When school lets out for the summer, it seems like church does too.  The response of the church has been to cut programming (no Wednesday nights for the summer anyone?) and plan “fun events” like picnics and Vacation Bible School.

As a parent, I get it.  All year long our calendar is held captive by the school calendar that informs when we can go away and for how long.  Seeing extended family is difficult when you have two days to travel.  And spending quality time together can suffer.  So planning vacations and day trips during the summer months makes sense.

As a minister, I’ve dreaded it.  It’s hard.  You develop relationships with kids and you have really cool things going like small groups and prayer teams and discipleship, and then, you don’t see them but off and on for weeks.  And then there is Vacation Bible School; don’t even get me started on that.  The sheer amount of time and effort that is put into pulling off a “successful” VBS event takes all the energy you have, so the regular programming starts to suffer.

I’ve seen so many posts recently from children’s pastors around the country utterly discouraged by this attendance reality and frustrated and what seems like a lack of commitment and concern.  On the other hand, I’ve seen equally as many posts from parents excited about the cool things they have planned this summer to do as a family and the memories they are looking forward to making.

So who’s right?  What’s more important?  Family or church?

And therein, I believe, lies the problem.  Because of the “way” we do church (Sunday morning, Wednesday night and/or separate ministries for the family members), if someone misses one of these times, it leaves a gap; a sizable gap.  But families who want to spend these summer months together don’t want to come to a place where once again they are separated and unable to be with each other. So it becomes a choice – do I want to be with my family OR do I want to go to church?

Ugh.  Those choices kinda stink.

What ends up happening then is that when the opportunity arises by default of the summer school schedule to spend that quantity of quality time together, the choice becomes clear –family.  And when the default schedule makes finding that quantity of quality time together more difficult – church.

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(Hemera Technologies/Getty Images)

But I don’t think either of those reflect God’s heart for family or for church.

In fact, I think that it creates a tension where the two are opposed to each other rather than being in partnership with one another.  Where there should be mutual edification, there is instead unhealthy competition.

And let me be clear, this also takes place with sports, especially travel ball, and academics, especially academic teams, and friends, especially non-churchgoing friends.

And I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this.

Church isn’t supposed to be a building or a program or a set time in the week.  And family isn’t supposed to be vacations and softball games and straight As on report cards. 

Those things might be a part of what church and family are, but they are not supposed to define them.

The Bible is clear that what brings us together isn’t things and it isn’t programs and it isn’t activities.  What unites us is the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:17) and what holds us together is love (John 14:34-35). We are not supposed to make a habit of skipping out on our times of meeting with other believers, but we are supposed to be encouraging on another all the more (Heb. 10:25).  We (ministers explicitly) are also encouraged to ensure our homes are in order before taking care of the church and to love, honor, respect, and obey within our families (I Tim. 3:5).

It sounds to me like “church” looks less like meeting on Sunday and more like being in relationship with one another in and outside of a building and all week long, not just on Sunday.

It also looks like we are committed to one another in love and service so we strive to be together and not make a habit of letting things come between us, even good things and fun things and “family” things.

Ultimately I think it means we adopt of philosophy of “church” that is less about “ME” and more about “WE” – that we view the decisions we make not out of a cost-benefit analysis about what works best for us, but rather from a Kingdom mindset of what is best for Him.  Sometimes, this may mean you take your family on vacation.  Sometimes, it may mean you skip a game.  Sometimes it may mean that you meet outside of a building or on a different night.  Sometimes it may mean you cancel a program.

But IF it is about the kingdom of God and not about what works best with our schedules or our plans, it will bear fruitIt will grow God’s kingdom in our families, our churches and our communities.

It won’t send a message that “church” is a choice that we can take or leave but that “church” is a life we choose to live in relationship with others.  And it won’t send a message that family is somehow less spiritual or less important but that family is an extension of the church in the broader community and in the home.

It’s not supposed to be a competition.

And whether we’ve made it that or the pace of modern world has made it that, I think it’s up to us, each and every one, to step back and see if we’ve adopted that mindset in any way.  Families, are you being the church in loving relationships, committed to the “WE” of God’s kingdom in the choices you make?  Ministers, are you supporting the family in partnering relationship, committed to the “WE” of God’s kingdom in the ministry you serve?

It can’t be about one or the other.  It has to be about ONE and no other.

“Be very careful then how you live – not as unwise, but as wise…understand what the Lord’s will is.” Eph 5:15,17

This article was first published on ReFocus, May 28, 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

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

Discipleship When the World Revolves Around You

I got an email this morning from a missionary in India. He asked for prayer for some pastors going to share the gospel in some “radicalized” villages because the last time they went, 12 people were injured when they shared.

So, of course, they are going back.

self-confidence-2076792_1920I got this email as I was on my computer, looking at Amazon. Not just any Amazon, MY Amazon. My Amazon looks different from your Amazon. Mine is filled with things that I am interested in, things that I have considered buying or my kids have considered buying. I got to this webpage via MY Google homepage where I logged into MY Google account which was customized with MY calendar and MY web searches. And, of course, MY Netflix was on in the background with a show list customized just for…you guessed it…ME.

It’s a very comfortable space, this hyper-individualized world of mine.

And it seems like every time I turn around, someone else is willing to make my life even more comfortable, with more options to make everything just the way I want it.

It is into this American world of hyper-individualization that we are faced with the task of sharing the gospel, making disciples, and raising up the next generation.

So, we hyper-individualize our gospel. “What works for you?” we ask. “How can we make you comfortable?” we inquire.

And, to an extent, that is fine. That’s the vernacular of the day. That’s how we can be heard.

But sometimes I think this hyper-individualized approach is more about US than it is about spreading the gospel. It’s about making sure WE stay comfortable and our life doesn’t get rocked too much.

If we are honest, we like Amazon Church and Netflix sermons. We kinda enjoy when our seats are comfy and the surroundings are familiar.

And the world of creating community? Well, that’s not always so comfortable. The task of reaching multiple generations?  Not that simple. The intentionality of raising disciples? That takes work..and commitment…and a breakdown of individualism.

We have to walk into a space and not see US written all over the people who are there and in the songs that are sung and in the words that are spoken. In fact, we shouldn’t really see ourselves at all. We should see the Body of Christ. We should see Jesus.

And that is why those missionaries are going back. Back to a place that is more uncomfortable that most of us will ever realize. Back to rejection. Back to a situation that brings more risk than comfort, more pain than promise. Because they see the Body of Christ in those villages; people who have yet to know that they are loved by God and called to be part of His kingdom.

Let’s help our kids push the barriers a bit, friends. Their whole life will be built for comfort. Everything will literally revolve around them. It will be for us to push them outside the comfort zone and into the action. To challenge them to serve others. To seek to build God’s kingdom before their own. To break out of the hyper-individualized world they live in and lay down their life for others.

And guess how we help them?

We break out ourselves. We can’t change the fact that this American world will try to cater to our every whim and surround us with comfort. We can make the choice to do uncomfortable things; to talk to more people, to serve in our free time, to give up our creature comforts in order to reach the next generation for Christ. To be less about us, and more about Him.

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Phil 2:1-4, MSG)


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

Three Ways to Disciple through Endings

Endings are hard.

mural-1347673_1920Today, my sweet church family blessed me with cards, gifts, hugs (so many wonderful hugs) and prayer. Next Sunday, I will say good-bye to the kids and families of my current church as my family begins the new adventure of church planting. It will also be Mother’s Day, a day already burgeoning with emotion. So, I’ve found myself reflecting on the idea of endings and wondering how I could, as both minister and mom, invite Christ into this space and use it for intentional discipleship, not my for my own children, but for those I’ve come to love as “mine” in ministry.

I was drawn to some “endings” in the Bible that I think can be helpful for us as we face a life that is always full of endings and beginnings and as we help our children grow their faith through each fresh experience.

Give Them A Next Thing

Acts 1:9-11   After He had said this, they watched as He was taken up, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.

I love imagining this scene. It’s almost humorous if you think about it how it could have looked. A bunch of people staring up at the sky and then two guys show up and say, “Um, guys, what are you looking at?”  It seems like in good-byes, our tendency is to stare gazing, torn between remembering and uncertainty about what to do next.

For my kids, I’ve found a good way to help them through these moments is to, as Christ did, give them a next thing. He told them to go to Jerusalem to wait for the Holy Spirit. When we moved, I set my kids up with pen pals in the new neighborhood. Before we moved to Kentucky and left our last church in Pennsylvania, I gave each child 12 stamped envelopes with our new address on them that they handed out to friends so they could get letters for the next year.

Relationships are key to both maturity and discipleship, so finding ways to help children develop new ones and honor previous ones can be a healthy way to help them grow through endings.

Discipleship Moment: Help your children see “the next thing”  If the ending is a goodbye until eternity, read about heaven together. If you are moving to a new place, explore together, even virtually before you move, and get excited about some things you can do together. If changing job, talk about what the new job looks like and list some happy things that will happen because of it. Give them a tomorrow and let them know that you and God are in it. 

The End is Not the End

I Thessalonians 5:23-28   Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this. Brothers and sisters, pray for us too. Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. I call on you solemnly in the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

These were some of Paul’s last “words” to the church and what a beautiful way to say “goodbye.”  He invites ongoing growth and conversation. Rather than focusing on the goodbye, Paul focuses on the continuing work of Christ in the church.

As we face endings in life, it’s important to realize the things that are not ending. The relationships built in Christ, the lessons learned, the bonds created, don’t stop because other things end. It’s important for children to understand that God is always with them and never changing, even if things around them look different or people come and go.

Discipleship Moment:  Take some time and list with your kids all the times they (and you) knew that God was with them. Be specific and tell stories together. Give each child a copy of the list and remind them that God will always be with us, no matter what, and if they start to wonder or forget, they can pull out that list and remember the stories of His faithfulness. There are some wonderful Bible verses about His faithfulness that would be nice to add to the list. 

Okay to Move On, Good To Remember

Joshua 4:5-7  And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

I have always loved this because it tells us two things: It’s okay to move on and it’s good to remember. Joshua uses these stones to basically say, “We are crossing here and leaving one life behind, but that life is part of our story and we are going to not only remember it, but we are going to talk about it with our children.”  While there may be an “ending” it doesn’t mean that we leave behind all that time in our life meant to us.

Discipleship Moment:  Why not actually create memorial stones? Together as a family, grab some sharpies and some river rock (I buy mine at Dollar Tree) and write down the special things about the ending you are about to journey through. Find a decorative vase or bowl to place the stones in and as a family, pray together about the past you are saying good-bye to and the future you are about to embrace. And when people ask about your vase of stones, tell them that God brought you through a Jordan river and these are your memorial stones forever. 

Every ending and every beginning is unique, but God is with us in each one. No matter what endings you are facing, as a family or as a minister, seek to find the ways to show the next generation God’s faithfulness and grace in each one. Because our story is never ending.

“Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”― C.S. LewisThe Last Battle


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

Did We Create the Nones?

A few years ago (May 12, 2015) the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life released the findings from its latest study.  As expected, this release brought about a flurry of blog posts focused mainly on the decline of Millennials in the church. If you follow my blog you know my thoughts on that one, but if you are unfamiliar, feel free to read the article End the Millennial Postmortem here.

As my husband and I look towards church planting and we are praying about how to best reach the current generations, I felt compelled to re-read and re-share these thoughts (originally shared 2 years ago).

I purposely steered clear of reading the study until the buzz died down and I could read without other voices in my head telling me what to see.  I wanted to see for myself this abject decline of the church and the overwhelming gap left by Millennials who have chosen to walk away from organized religion in the form of “church.”  And, as everyone warned, I saw it.

I saw that for Evangelical Protestants and Mainline Protestants only 16/17% of their population was made up of 18-29 year olds.  I saw that these percentages matched those of the Catholic church and the Jehovah’s Witness.

But I saw something more disturbing than that.

I saw that those were the ONLY religions were showing the lowest percentages.  In contrast, 34% of Buddhist were in the 18-29 age group, 34% of Hindus, and a whopping 44% of Muslims (almost half, think about that!).  The only other category that could even come close to competing with those was the new religion of “Unaffiliated” which, for the first time in Pew history, hit a high of 35%.

What’s going on?!?

It’s not that suddenly 18-29 year olds don’t associate with religion.  44% of the Muslims surveyed were Millennials!

It’s not that 18-29 year olds don’t believe in God.  Of all the survey respondents who identified as Unaffiliated or “religious nones” only 3.1 % identified themselves as atheist.

I think it’s simply that they are… Unaffiliated.

The religion that has seen the biggest drop? Christianity.   And the area with fastest growth?  Unaffiliated.

That word just makes me sad.  If you look up the definition for “unaffiliated” you’ll read things like, “not associated with another or others” and “not connected” and ” not a part of.”  I think if we look at the multiple studies that have been done on why there’s been a decline in the attendance of 18-29 year olds in church, they put it this way; “We don’t belong.”  There’s a sense that there simply is not place for them any more.  

They had a place a kids in the children’s department and they had a place as youth in the youth department but as high-school graduates, they are met with a way of worship with which they are unfamiliar, a group of people they have little to no relationship with, and a myriad of other opportunities outside the church building walls that are screaming, “You BELONG Here!”

They are…Unaffiliated.

And in the words of one of the most noted Millennial bloggers, their generation is “struggling to find a faith community in which we feel we belong.”

I look at my teenager and I pray, “Lord, let her know her voice is important.  The church needs her smile, her songs, her prayers and her love.  Let her understand that she doesn’t need to search because she belongs.”

And I cannot help by look at my daughter, getting ready to enter middle school, and think, “What about you?  Do you feel like you belong in church? Do you feel like you are a needed part of the body of Christ? Do you know that you are necessary?”

And I look at my “baby” my son whose name means “wholly devoted” and I hold him and ask him, “Who loves you?” and he says, “Jesus loves me” and I say, “Always and forever…you belong.”

Because if you feel like you don’t belong, if you feel like you aren’t needed, it’s very easy to become…Unaffiliated.

And that’s on us, Church.

IMG_3631So find the kids in your pews.  Find the little ones in Sunday School.  Find the middle schoolers in your youth room and your high schoolers in the worship band.  Find them, welcome them, engage with them, invite them, listen to them, and make sure that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are members of Christ’s body and they most certainly belong.

And more than that, let’s make sure our actions matches our words.

Give them the chance to serve in ministry.  Let them share what God is speaking to them.  Let them lead you in worship and read to you the Scriptures. Incorporate them into the very fabric of your local body until not just they, but you, know that without them, you’d be incomplete.

Until each generation is convinced that they are exactly where they belong…in the body of Christ.  Connected to Jesus and one another in the bond of love and community; not alone, not disconnected, not removed…a part of a larger whole… Affiliated.

For the follow up to this post, click here: Millennials are NOT Leaving Their Faith


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

The Aftermath of Easter

Our front yard is littered with pieces of broken plastic eggs. Our trash can is full of shiny aluminum wrappers. There’s pieces of brightly colored “grass” in various places around the house. The fridge is full of leftover ham and mashed potatoes. And the Christ candle is not flickering with light. Let’s not even talk about what my office at church looks like.

The aftermath of Easter.

Just a reminder, He is still risen. He’s just as risen today as He was yesterday.

But our attention wanders. I mean, for the last forty days, we were in a season of Lent, looking towards one thing – Easter. The celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  And now, Easter is past. We have moved on.  But, He hasn’t.

You see, He is the same; yesterday, today, and forever.

He is risen indeed every single day. 

Yesterday, I heard children running around saying, “He is risen!” just because they knew an adult would answer “He is risen indeed!”  It was so fun for them. When my girls were little, we even had them yelling this during our Easter egg hunts. We told them just like the eggs were hidden, Christ was hidden in the tomb, but He didn’t stay there, so when they found an egg, they should yell, “He is risen!”  I could always find my girls during public Easter egg hunts as they shouted excitedly with each egg they found.

Easter flower crossAll that to say, I think it is vitally important that we keep the excitement of our risen Savior alive for our children. If we just continue on now, since Easter is past, without continuing to acknowledge the incredible miracle that is our salvation, we lose the chance to keep their excitement piqued and attitude expectant, not about eggs but about Jesus.

So what are some ways we can celebrate Christ’s resurrection in the every day?

Talk About It 

Don’t save the story of Christ’s resurrection for just one day. Celebrate it throughout the year. Talk about the HOPE we have because our Savior lives. Thank the Lord aloud that He is always with us and can never die. Bring it up whenever there is a God Moment with your child – consistently remind them that we serve a risen Lord. Bookend your Faith Talks with the resurrection truth.

Thank Him for this miracle at the dinner table, before bedtime, in the car, and when you get up in the morning. Make the resurrection part of the family vocabulary just like saying “Amen” and the end of a prayer or “Dear God” at the beginning.

Celebrate It

Who’s to say the only day we can celebrate the resurrection is Easter Sunday?  Do you know that in many Christian traditions, Sunday is a weekly day of this celebration?  What if we looked at Sunday as our mini Easter celebration every week?  What if we were intentional about reminding each other that on the first day of the week, Christ rose from the dead, so we gather to celebrate (not “go to church”)?

When our kids ask, “Why do we have to go church?’ instead of saying, “We get to go to church” and explaining our freedoms in this country (all good things) we said, “Because when they nailed Jesus to the cross, He didn’t stay there. He made a way for us to live with God forever in peace and love for all eternity. He rose from the dead!  And we gather to celebrate that amazing miracle every Sunday. We get to throw a Jesus party every week!  He’s alive and that is worth celebrating!!”

Live It

One of the greatest truths of our faith is that Christ’s resurrection means we have undying hope in the fact that we have all of eternity with God and with one another. Peter says it this way: In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1:3, 4).

There are times in this life that we can feel tempted to be hopeless. The stressors of life, things like bills and budgets, calendars and schedules, loss and grief, can cause us to lean towards hopelessness.  But because of Easter, we are never truly without hope. And if that’s all we can say in the difficult times, if all we can do is re-state what we shouted on Easter Sunday, that “He is risen!” then let us do that so our children see and hear that our hope is anchored deep, deeper than this world, deeper than these trials. Our hope is in the resurrection, anchored in eternity, deeply in the heart of God. 

What if the aftermath of Easter was just a continuation of a celebration, rather the culmination of one?  Even after the eggs are gone, the chocolate is consumed, the flowers fade…we still celebrate because He. IS. Risen!


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

What Does It Mean to “Welcome” a Child?

What does it mean to “welcome” a child?

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

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

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

What is welcome?

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

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

child-2054256_1920I see that in this “Jesus story” too. I see Him take a child, and have this child stand among the people gathered in the home, and then, very intentionally, take the child in his arms. And after that very intentional moment He says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name, welcomes Me…” (If I were a Psalmist, there would be a “Selah” after that).  

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

It’s not about just making space.

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

No, Christ’s welcome went beyond that.

It wrapped that child in His very arms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

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