Asking the Question “Do I Belong?”

I wrote a blog a while back that explored the Pew Research findings that showed that the fastest growing label in the “religion” category was “Unaffiliated” or not connected to any particular religion. This category was filled primarily with Millennials who had at one time associated themselves with organized religion. I was curious why this trend was happening so I read a number of blogs written by Millennial authors about why they had chosen to leave the church.

alone-1868905_1920By and large, the overall message was “We don’t feel like we belong.”

I could relate, but on a different level. If you’ve ever visited a foreign country, you probably can to.  A few years ago, Luke and I had the chance to go to Europe and I loved every minute of it BUT the whole time I was there, I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong. I may have been there, dressed in the right clothes, paying with the right money, and eating the right food, but I didn’t feel like I belonged. Even when things were done to make us feel more at home, it still couldn’t eradicate the feeling of not belonging. Why?

We didn’t know anyone – Everyone was new to us; a stranger. Even the friendliest people we met were still new. We had no relationships with them nor them with us, so our conversations were necessarily surface and without depth.

We weren’t familiar with the customs – It’s funny how the littlest thing can remind you that you are out of your element, things like asking for “just water” at a restaurant and having a chilled bottle of seltzer water delivered to your table or not walking on the right side of the road because that is the bike lane and they will run you over. These moments, seemingly small, were poignant reminders we were in unfamiliar territory.

We didn’t speak the language – Obviously one of the most visible ways we felt unaffiliated was in terms of just speaking to those around us. Trying to figure out if what we were paying for an ice cream cone was actually the right amount could lead to times of intense stress. Reading maps and taking the subway? Yeah, we lived Finding Dory.

So what does this have to do with the church?

If the bloggers I read are accurate in their assessment, they share much the same feelings when they are in church. It makes sense then that they would want to leave and find somewhere where they feel they belong.

And, if during their lives as children in church they spent most, if not all, of their time separated from the older generations and not in attendance for corporate worship or congregational gathering times, the feeling of not belonging would simply be a natural occurrence, an expected consequence.

They wouldn’t know anybody – Or perhaps, more accurately, they wouldn’t be known by anybody. If coming into “big church” is a new experience and the majority of people attending are new to them, it would not feel like a community they were a part of or were familiar with. It’d be like going to a new country in a way.

They wouldn’t know the customs – Every church has a liturgy; a way of worshiping together. Some follow traditional liturgical practices that have been passed down for centuries; some just have a habitual way of going about church service (song, welcome and greeting, song, song, prayer, offering, song, sermon, prayer, son…something like that). When to stand, when to sit, how to “pass the peace”, how to sing, when to clap, when to go up front, etc. – these customs help create the atmosphere that is unique to that church.

How foreign it can feel if it’s never been experienced before and how unusual that must feel when it is happening in a space where you’ve been attending for most of your childhood and youth.

They wouldn’t know the language – Almost every church I’ve attended has some time where the congregation participates in some way praying, reciting, or singing together. In some churches, especially more liturgical ones, there are certain things that are to be said at certain times. For the inexperienced, I imagine this could feel quite intimidating and at times isolating.

What can we do?

My encouragement would be this:  Find ways to connect the older and younger generations in meaningful relationships where they know each other names long before the young ones head off to college AND seek to create space where the whole congregation can engage in worship and fellowship together before the young people are launched into completely unknown territory.

Give them a chance to know and feel like they belong before they even arrive.

Part of the fun of visiting a new place is that you don’t know everything. The same holds true with church. There should always be more to know of Christ and of each other and there should always be a certain sense of stretching and discomfort as we truly engage in living life together as community.

However, recognizing that transition is difficult and we sometimes need a bridge to make the journey, there’s nothing wrong with creating space for relationships and times of corporate worship to reinforce the message for young people that they most certainly do belong.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

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“I’m Not Sure I’m Cut Out for This ‘Discipling’ Thing”

“We will not hide these truths from our children;

We will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord

About his power and his mighty wonders…

He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children

So the next generation might know them–even the children not yet born–

and they will in turn teach their own children

So each generation should set its hope anew on God”  Ps. 78:4, 5b-7a NLT

The other day, I had the opportunity to share with some children the miracle that is new life; something coming to life in unexpected ways, much like our Savior. We talked about how a seed falls into the ground, and dies, but then brings forth new life. Much to my surprise, my object lesson was sitting beside my kitchen sink; a popcorn kernel had fallen into a potted plant and had begun to grow and sprout a new seedling.

When I was talking to the kids, we talked about the fact that the seed was “hiding” in the soil but it wasn’t “hidden” from God. It was still doing all the things the seed was supposed to do; it was bringing about new life. 

Psalm 119:9-11 says, ” How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me stray from Your commandments. I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” In much the same way, God’s Word is “hidden” in the heart of a child (young man) but it is not dormant; rather, it is doing what the Word came to do – bring forth new life. 

affection-1866868_1920As a parent, I can at times become discouraged when I don’t see the fruit of discipleship evident in my children’s lives. Like most Christian parents, I wonder, “Have a done this thing right?  Have I shared the right things?  Have I been a good disciplemaker?  What about all the times I’ve messed up?  What about all of my mistakes?

It can be…exhausting and defeating. 

But as I read these Scriptures a few things come into focus for me; things that help me to remember whose they are and who I am actually called to be. I hope these reminders can be a wells of God’s grace and truth to any others who have said, “I’m not sure I’m cut out for this ‘discipling’ thing.”

Talk About God

Just do it. Talk about what He’s done for you, for us, for others, for the world. Talk about the miracles. Talk about the mundane. Talk about His love. Talk about His Grace. Talk about it when we sit at home and when we drive along the road; talk about Him when we lie down and when we get up (Dt. 6:7).

Don’t hide Jesus from them; hide Him inside of them. And trust that the Word (Jesus) will do the work of transformation that will bring about new life, in His time.

See a Bigger Picture

Moments pass; they do not last. Doubts are part of life and a healthy faith; they do not define one’s path.  Emotions and feelings are real but they are not reality.  Even if our words seem to have no impact or little impact or negative impact, the bigger picture is that we hold the greatest influence over our children’s faith and, according to the Psalm above, not only our children’s faith but the faith of those who are to come; our grandchildren who are not even born yet.

If we can look with eyes of faith beyond today, we will continue to speak with faith and hope about this Jesus who loves us and them so much, He reaches beyond today and into tomorrow with His grace.

Trust the Process

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell myself this about other stuff; work stuff and medical stuff and school stuff.  And it usually pans out; if we just trust the process, the work usually gets done.  But here’s the biggest difference with God:  There is no “usually.”  With God, His promises are “Yes” and “Amen.”  And while our children will always have their free will, we can rest in the fact that God will do all that He said He will do.

  • His Word will not return void (Is. 55:11).
  • He goes after his sheep (Luke 11, John 10).
  • He made sure our children are always being prayed for continually (Mt. 18:10).
  • He calls them to come (Luke 18:16).
  • He loves them; oh, how He loves them (Mt. 18:2-6).

The Word is at work in our children’s hearts. I believe that much as I believe a seed I bury in the ground doesn’t just die but it dies to new life. What we have hidden in their hearts, through our words, our prayers, our actions, and our lives, remains there. Jesus tells us that if He is lifted high, he will draw all to Himself (Jn. 12:32); our job is to lift Him high, He will do the drawing.

Right now, I am the mom of a high schooler, a middle schooler, and an elementary student.  Every day, new scenarios arise that make me question my adequacy as a parent, let alone a person called to form faith and raise disciples.  But every day, when I look to the Lord, I remember I’m called to one thing: Lift Jesus high – talk about Him, talk about His word, talk about His love, talk about His goodness and grace, talk about His approach-ability and His incarnate humanity, and talk about His eternal promises.

I am called to plant endless seeds. He alone can make them grow.



For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Mind the Gap: Reuniting Generations in Our Churches

Recently there’s been a return to cross-generational and intergenerational communities and contexts mostly because of the research being done on the importance of multigenerational community. (Source).

As crazy as it seems to us, it’s actually quite normal and quite healthy for generations to spend quality time together.

intergenerational-cool-stuffBut, let’s be honest.  the way society is currently structured, connecting with generations outside of our own can feel uncomfortable and decidedly not fun.   And because of that, we sometimes think that we don’t have anything in common with generations other than ours and even more sadly, that we can’t be friends.

But, that’s simply not true.  It’s what we’ve become accustomed to but it’s not truth. The truth is we actually live better, more fulfilling lives when we are around each other.

Is it possible to change our minds?

Some amazing places are showing it is possible, like this intergenerational care home in the UK and these intergenerational communities in the US. They are built on the idea that we have more that unites us than separates us, more in common than difference. And I believe that can be done in the church as well. In fact, I believe it is one of the most important things we can do in our churches today. But how?

Start Slow

Realistically most of the generations that attend a church don’t even know one another’s names. They often don’t attend the same service times, they are in age-specific Sunday school classes that don’t intermingle with other classes, and they very often are in different parts of the church building.

The very first thing we can do is provide a way for generations within the church to learn each other’s names. Check out this cool resource that is a perfect way to create connections across generations: Pray for Me.

Create a Common Identity

As members of one faith community, this idea of a common identity should be relatively easy to create. Basically, using your church’s vision and mission, craft language that can be used across generations to say “This is who WE are.”  Don’t just use the language in the adult classes or church service where children and youth aren’t present.

Make sure that everyone knows they are part of the church and identify with the mission. As silly as this may seem, tee shirts are a great way to make this happen. Magnify the similarities NOT the differences.

Allow for Interactions

If your church is set up in a way that doesn’t allow for generations to mix and mingle (separate services, classes, and spaces) then it will be necessary to intentionally create space for interactions to take place. Meals together, intergenerational worship, and cross generational events are some ways to allow for that.

It’s also vitally important facilitate and encourage interactions outside of the church buildings. Some ideas:

  • Have the kids who play sports or dance post their game or performance schedules and encourage older folks to attend.
  • Ask the older generations videotape themselves telling stories about their memories of being in church and share videos with the kids once a month.
  • Create a Homebound Ministry with the youth who go and visit people who aren’t physically able to come to the church.
  • Host classes where skills can be taught between generations, older to younger and younger to older.
  • Find places in the community where teams could volunteer and serve and send intergenerational groups out to serve with one another.

Show Up in Unconventional Ways

If there is always an adult leading the call to worship, let a child do it. If a child always takes up the offering, have a college student do it. Move chairs and tables around so that people end up sitting with other generations and making new friends.  Keep messaging that we have more in common than we think and help them discover common likes, dislikes, and activities. And when you find a commonality, celebrate it!

If there is an advertised “churchwide” event, then make sure the whole church is there, all ages, including children, youth, and senior adults. As Paul would say, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

Regardless of what our society has convinced us of, this is actually what we want. Our soul longs for community and our physical health and well-being benefit from it in ways we are just starting to understand. So, yes, while it will take some intentional work and some consistent messaging, ultimately the end goal is worth it.

We will be the body of Christ.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Tips for Intergenerational Worship Services

More and more, churches are recognizing the importance of creating space within their corporate worship for the full church body to gather and worship, including the youngest among us.   But that does create a challenge for many faith communities that have been used to not having children and youth in the sanctuary for part or all of the corporate service time.

kiddistractionOver the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with three different churches who approached intergenerational worship in different ways and I’ve gathered a few ideas from them about how other churches might be able to approach these types of services.

These ideas are by no means exclusive… look at them as a starting point and let the culture of your church help fill in the gaps as needed.

Here’s a few things that I’ve done or seen done at the churches I’ve been blessed to serve in:

1. Kid’s Worship Team – This team doesn’t necessary lead “singing” but they worship through hospitality (holding doors, handing out bulletins, etc), prayer (they go forward during prayer time and pray for themselves and others) and generosity (they take up the communion and pray over it).

For our team, the kids followed a weekly schedule, just like the adult worship team, and if they missed their Sunday, they had to get someone to take their spot. They also had to go through a training on worship with me before they could serve.

2. Sermon Notes – There are a lot of great templates out there for sermon notes and for older kids, it’s a great way to keep them involved with the service.  In one church, if a child completed their sermon notes, they could get something out of a treasure box and the completed form was given back to their parents so the parents could have a follow-up conversation with their kids at home.

3. Call Out the Kids – Kids love to get attention and they love when they get to be drawn into “adult” things like the sermon. We often asked whoever was speaking to at some point in the sermon just say something like, “Hey kids, have you ever seen this?” or something else that would be appropriate to the text to help draw the kids into the story. It’s amazing how just that little comment really drew them in and helped redirect their attention to the service.

4. Interactive Teaching and Learning – Anything interactive is great!  One of the ways our current church engages the kids is if there is a topic that involves a story from the Bible, the pastor will have the kids help act out the story. Everyone loves it – it’s spontaneous so things definitely go wrong, but the whole congregation gets involved and no one forgets the Scripture we studied that week.

5. Busy Bags  – Busy bags get a bad rap, mostly because people don’t understand the developmental science behind them. Have “busy bags” but explain to parents and other church members that these activities aren’t intended to distract the kids but rather to help the kids use all of their developing senses; studies show if their hands and eyes are busy, their ears will be listening. 

Quiet activities like lacing cards, stickers scenes, foam craft kits, beads and pipe cleaners, small puzzles and coloring are all great ways to engage your kinesthetic and visual learners.

6. Active Involvement – The difference between “having kids in Big Church” and welcoming kids into corporate worship lies basically in participation.  Are children being invited to actively participate or passively observe?  Inviting children and youth to be part of the order of worship has incredible sway in creating a sense of inclusion and welcome.

Children and youth can read Scripture, say the benediction, lead a song (doesn’t always have to have actions – it can just be a song that they like – my son loves, “No Longer Slaves” and can’t wait to lead it), and pray.   Being involved signals that we have a place in the congregation – we are a part of something bigger – and everyone needs to know that truth.

There are many, many more ideas on how to incorporate children and youth into the larger worship experience and I’d love to hear from you!  What have you seen done or are you currently doing in your church context? If you are a parent, how do you help your kids connect to the larger body in worship? And if the answer is, “Nothing yet!” hopefully these tips will get your creative juices flowing!


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 Blog

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

Easter for the First Time

Last week I had an experience that I will not soon forget. I had the chance to share the story of Easter with a group of kids, half of which had never heard the story before.  I’ve shared the Easter story in church on many occasions but usually the kids who come, even if they don’t regularly attend church or wouldn’t call themselves “Christians” still have a rudimentary understanding of the Easter story.   But this year, the group I got to share with had literally never, ever heard the story before.

Imagine with me if you can the looks on their faces as I began to tell of this man who had some friends and they followed him around. One day he told them to go get a donkey that was tied up and bring it to him.

So like, he told them to steal someone else’s donkey?  And they did it?  That’s not cool. That’s like peer pressure. I would have said no.

Imagine with me the incredulity in their eyes when I told them that one of Jesus’ friends decided to betray Jesus so he’d get arrested and got paid 30 pieces of silver to do it and that another one of his friends denied he even knew Jesus and all of his other friends deserted him.

Why do you keep calling them friends?  Those aren’t friends. Friends definitely do not do that to each other.  

Imagine with me the disgust on their faces when I told them that a group of soldiers made fun of Jesus and whipped him and put a crown of thorns on his head so that his back and head were bloodied and torn.

That is not okay!  That’s totally wrong. You can’t hit people. Even people in charge can’t do that stuff. Did it hurt him?  Was he crying?  Why didn’t he just run away?

Imagine with me the sadness and disbelief when I told them that after all of this was done to Jesus, he was convicted even though he’d done nothing wrong and his punicross-1375765_1920shment was the same as every other convicted criminal; death on a cross.

What?!? They killed him. Like for real? How is this about Easter?  Where are the bunnies and eggs?

Imagine the weight on their hearts when I confirm that indeed, he was killed, for real and to make sure, a soldier pierced his side and blood and water came out.

Silence. Sadness. 

But why?

“Because, sweet child, God so loved this world, you, that He sent his only Son, Jesus, to make a way for us to be with God for all eternity.  Because we’ve all done things that hurt others and hurt God and those things put a gap between us and God, but Jesus filled the gap – he had never hurt God or others and yet he allowed himself to be hurt so we could know true love.”

Silence. Sadness.

“But wait.”

Eyes lifted.

“The story doesn’t end there, because something else happened.”

Hope rising. Heads turned up. Eyes questioning.

“Jesus didn’t stay dead.”

Eyes widened. Mouths drop open.

“Jesus rose from the dead. Death was not strong enough to hold him. He was stronger than even death. When some of his friends who were women came to the tomb to honor him, the stone was rolled away and Jesus wasn’t there. He had risen.”

So, is he a zombie?

“Nope, He was really alive. Not living dead. Truly alive.”

Prove it!

“Oh, his friends asked the same thing. They thought he was a ghost. So you know what he did? He asked for food… a lot. He told them, “Would a ghost eat food?” And they said, “No” so he ate food. He ate bread and fish and cooked breakfast for them and ate dinner with them and hung out with over 500 different people, proving that he was really alive again. ”

So, did he die later?

“Oh no, He beat death!  He’s alive forever and he promised he would go prepare a place for us for after we die.

We will get to be with Him forever.

And that, my friends, is our promise at Easter.  Whether it’s the first time you’ve heard this story or the last, the first time you’ve shared this story or the last, may this promise be what brings us to the work of the ministry.

As we share with children, as we connect generations, as we grow disciples and form faith, may we never forget that the promise of Easter is life with our Savior forever, starting today.


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 Blog

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

Can I Do It?

“Can I do it?”

baking-1951256_1920If you are a parent with children at any age, you’ve heard this question asked. Whether it is in reference to breaking an egg for the batch of cookies you’re making, filling out a class schedule for the next year’s classes, or going to the mall for a night out with friends, this question surfaces.

The need for personal attainment, achievement and involvement is there almost from the start. We watch our babies start taking those steps to individual growth quite literally and then, over the years, take on more and more of the tasks that we were once needed for.

“Can I do it?” is a question that is innate in all of us.

Most of us don’t like to be sidelined. We want in on the action. We want to give it a go or at least try it once. Sometimes life forces us to take on things and we must ask ourselves the question, “Can I do it?” but nonetheless, it’s a question we have all asked.

I was recently reminded of this while listening to an interview of a church planter whose church was reaching out specifically to younger Millennials in an unchurched, dechurched part of the globe.  He said despite what we typically hear about Millennials, he has found them to be “highly interested” in religion and deeply desirous of being involved in church.  They are asking the question, “Can I do it?” not just in terms of belief but also in terms in action and involvement.

Can I be the one who carries the cross, both figuratively and literally?

Can I be the one who serves the poor, feeds the hungry, teaches the kids, takes care of the church, leads the prayer, reads the Scriptures, coordinates the service, leads the worship, takes up the offering, creates the bulletin, preaches the Word, and the list goes on and on?

Can I do it?

I was curious why he felt like this was the trend he was experiencing in those their church was onboarding. And he answered the question: “When they were growing up, they never got to do these things.”

Like most children and youth in traditional Western Protestant churches, their experience of “Big Church” was separate and other.  They didn’t see that corporate gathering or communal worship as something to be involved in but something attend. The answer to the question, “Can I do it?” was a resounding, “No!”

This church has chosen an apprenticeship model to begin helping change the answer to guitar-3957586_1920an even louder, “Yes!”   In other words, they are helping these young Millennials attached to an older church member to teach them their “craft”; to show them the ropes on how to be actively involved in a local church. To bring them from a place of mere attendance and consumerism to a place of real community and active participation.

But, that leads to a new question; why would we wait until these young people are adults? 

Why not begin these types of experiences now, while this generation of children and youth are still young?

Why not change the answer to “Yes!” now so that they don’t even have to ask the question in the future because they know beyond a doubt that they are wanted, needed, and welcomed as active, thriving and participating members of their local church?

This isn’t a program (although I’m sure those exist and the framework could be helpful). This is a change in how we approach discipleship within the walls of the church. It’s more than just helping our kids and youth know stories from the Bible and good morals and values. That’s important but if that is not combined with active and growing relationships with all generations in their faith community, these things will lack the depth needed for long-term faith.

Call it mentorship.

Call it apprenticeship.

Call it discipleship.

But whatever we call it, let us make sure that when we hear the question, “Can I do it?”, we are ready to help our youngest members experience a hands-on faith in a congregation that embraces them and cries out with great enthusiasm, “YES!”


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 Blog

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

“Holy Week Through Fresh Eyes”

Those of you who have followed by blog for the last few years have probably wondered, “Where is she?”  I have not posted in a while but it was on purpose. God did a cool thing and interrupted my life with His presence and rest.

Last week (April 1-5), I had the opportunity to spend a week at St. Meinrad’s Archabbey in southern Indiana. St. Meinrad’s houses a Benedictine monastery as well as a seminary and retreat center. Although I went with a cohort from my doctorate program, nearly 8 hours of our day, which started at 5 am as we joined the monks for prayer, was spent in silence, solitude and contemplation. On Monday, we turned over our phones and other communication devices and committed to a full week of retreat to focus on spiritual formation, prayer, and time with Jesus.

The week was more beneficial to me than I could have imagined. I was astounded with how retreat and rest could do so much not only for me spiritually but also physically and emotionally.

Part of the blessing was being able to share this remarkable time with my doctorate cohort representing 12 different denominations and 4 countries.  One of my cohort mates had a particularly special word to share about Holy Week and its implications to us as believers and especially the impact on children and youth in our congregations. While your faith community may not enter into all the practices she describes here, I know that each of us do celebrate the Resurrection and I pray her words will bless you as they have me.


Thoughts on Holy Week

by Sandra Malone

Some people look at Holy Week and think “too many services” or “the children will be bored”, but I’m urging us to pause and look at Holy Week through fresh eyes.

Why? The events of Holy Week are at the heart of what we believe as Christians as we recall Jesus’ suffering and his death and resurrection, and as we remember that it was for us.

Without those events, we wouldn’t have the opportunity for a restored relationship with God; without those events there would be no Easter/Resurrection Sunday to celebrate. There would, in fact, be no Christian religion.

And, if you’re worried about the children being bored, think of all the sensory “stuff” to catch their attention.

Palm crosses and palm branches being waved on Palm Sunday and a procession, no less.

Then there’s the anointing in Tuesday’s healing service and the drama of candles being extinguished one by one during Tenebrae on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the Eucharist is celebrated in the context of the Gospel reading, which is fleshed out as we imitate Jesus’ foot washing and share a simple agape meal, followed by the stripping of the altar – a ritual which never fails to tug at my heart.

If you still think that’s not enough to keep you and the children interested, on Friday cross-4062969_1920there’s the stark simplicity of the Good Friday Liturgy, conducted in a bare sanctuary where the Passion Gospel is acted out and we become the crowd calling for our Saviour’s crucifixion. And then comes the silence before the cross.

Saturday there’s the kindling of the new fire and the lighting of the Paschal Candle and its procession up the aisle with the reminder in the Exsultet that “to redeem a slave, God sent a Son”. During Saturday evening’s service, we also once more declare ourselves to be members of the redeemed family of God by renewing our Baptismal Vows and we’re reminded of our own baptisms as we are sprinkled with holy water.

If we come with open eyes and ears and hearts, there is nothing in any of that which could be considered even remotely boring!

While there are references in the events of Holy Week that are disturbing for us all – betrayal, violence, death – these are real things that we face in our lives, things that we can talk about with our children.

If they’re little, tell them about what they’re going to hear and place the emphasis on what Jesus was doing for us. And don’t be afraid to spoil the ending, let them know that Easter follows Good Friday.

Whatever their age, help them to engage – let them draw what they get from what’s going on, let them ask questions, let them tell you what they heard and how they felt, and … listen!

Holy Week is an essential part of who we are as Christians and it’s a great time for us to deepen our spiritual walk. So don’t use it as an excuse to stay home or to leave the children behind. Come to church this week as a family and let us join again as members of the Body of Christ as we share in the story of God’s saving grace.

Let’s teach our children that though egg hunts and chocolate bunnies are fun, the new life we celebrate at Easter is far more important and way more thrilling than any of that.

Let’s give ourselves, and our children, the gift of reflection and presence this Holy Week.


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 Blog

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

Giving our Kids a Great Big God

His eyes looked up at me with the most lively gaze I’ve ever seen. Dancing in those big brown pools was a story of heroes and adventure and mystery and excitement. His hands waved around emphatically as he jumped from foot to foot, bursting with energy, alive in his imagination.

Welcome to my son’s World of Wonder.

My son is older now. But his sweet imagination has not dimmed. I still come home to findkids-1338627_1920 him climbing trees to  fight dragons in trees or hiding in the “cave” under the trampoline.  Oh, there are so many times I wish I could join him there. I love the way he sees the world around him, full of potential, full of life. Behind every tree is a villain, between each home a person needing rescued, and around each corner another adventure in which he gets to plays a starring role.

The story is so big and so beautiful, grand in its design and boundless in its depth. 

I often look at children in church and wonder, “Are we giving them a big enough God?”  If their world of imagination is so big, are the stories we tell them, big enough to fill the space?

A lot of the Bible stories I hear in church are just that…stories. They have a limited scope, beginning and end. They have limited heroes and villains like David and Goliath and Daniel and the lions and Jonah and the Whale.  They have limited life lessons like “Be brave because God is with you” and “Be obedient when God tells you what to do.”

Recently, I heard Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales and more recently Buck Denver’s What’s in the Bible series, put it this way: “We tend to give kids superficial lessons in the Christian faith but we’ve found that superficial teaching leads to superficial Christians. The formula for teaching Scripture to kids has become a biblical value + a verse to back it up + a song to make it memorable”.

We have been given the greatest story of all time through the person of Jesus Christ and the revealed Word in Scripture. It is truly THE story of all stories. So much so that nearly every story we can think of follows the pattern of this one, even those stories in my son’s imagination. It goes something like this:

All is good. Evil comes on the scene. All is not good. A hero is needed. A hero comes and vanquishes evil. All is good again.

Kinda like…

When God created the world, He declared all was good. Evil entered the world through sin and what was once good began to experience the consequences of that sin. A hero was needed to redeem mankind. Jesus came to be that hero, to once again make all things new. He vanquished sin and death and made His goodness available to all once again. 

Catherine Stonehouse, author and researcher on the spiritual formation of children, shares, “Can children grasp the full meaning of Christ’s coming, death, and resurrection? Can we as adults? No, but awareness of the mystery draws us to explore, wonder, and discover more and more, year after year.

So often we stop short of giving children the deeper context to the stories because we are afraid the theology will be too deep for them to comprehend. When faced with this question, Phil Vischer responded by saying, “Kids can learn more than we think. Adults can learn less than we would hope. We consistently underestimate what kids are capable of learning and overestimate what adults will learn. Kids still ask questions; grown ups stop asking questions.

And therein lies the wonder… the beautiful mystery that is our faith.

Precisely because we do not have all the answers and we cannot explain all the mysteries can we rest in the assurance of something greater than us, our God.

So, how can we let them wonder about this Great Big God?
  1. Let them ask questions and don’t have all the answers – I know that is so hard to do, but sometimes the best way for kids to learn about God is to wonder aloud to Him (we call it prayer) and let Him answer them in His way and time.
  2. Ask “Wonder Questions” – There’s a great curriculum called Godly Play written by Jerome Barryman that incorporates asking “wonder questions” into the lesson. In other words, while the lesson is being shared, the teacher will say things like, “I wonder why the shepherd went to find the lost sheep? I wonder why the other sheep stayed in the pen? I wonder who is our Shepherd?”  I like to do this with my own kids, even my older ones, with normal everyday life situations. Things like, “I wonder why He made the grass green? I wonder why God made some things edible and some things not? I wonder if the birds are singing to Someone?  I wonder if God is speaking to his/her heart?”
  3. Listen to them tell the stories – Oh, I love, love, love this one!  If you know your child, especially your young child, has heard a Bible story, ask them to retell it to you. There are so many times I’ve done this and instead of telling me word-for-word the “right” version of the story, they tell it with a little twist, a subtle plot change or a humorous undertone. What’s so cool about this is you get to hear who their God is according to how they heard and understood the story. And you get to underscore God’s love and goodness if they’ve missed it or even if they hit the nail on the head. For more on this, check out the book Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey by Catherine Stonehouse and Scottie May (Phil Vischer’s mom). 

When I ask Caleb to imagine God, his faith in who and what God is supersedes anything I could teach him in my feeble understanding and far exceeds the stories I tell him from the Bible. His God is big, bigger than anything, bigger than my mind can fathom and bigger than this blog could possibly convey or contain. And I love that my faith grows by wondering with him about our big, big God!


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

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

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