When I am Afraid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so have our kids.

Their fear is real.

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

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Church or Parents: Whose Job Is Discipleship Anyway?

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

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

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

Let me explain.

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

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

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

people-3120717_1920The charge to talk about these commandments, to impress them on the children, to disciple the next generation in faith what given to the entire gathered assembly and never once were parents singled out and told that discipleship was their sole responsibility. On the contrary, the command was clearly given in the presence of everyone (Hear, O Israel) and deemed by God through Moses as applicable to the whole assembly. So much so, it is repeated, nearly word for word in Deuteronomy 11:18-20 again in an address to the whole congregation.

So what does this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

We can’t say, “I gave my time serving with in Sunday School and youth group when my kids were young. It’s their turn now.”

We can’t say, “Well, they aren’t my kids. It’s not up to me to talk to them about God.”

We can’t say, “It’s not my responsibility.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

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

What does it mean to “welcome” a child?

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

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

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

What is welcome?

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

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

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

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

It’s not about just making space.

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

No, Christ’s welcome went beyond that.

It wrapped that child in His very arms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

The Kid Who Comes Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Stop Saying God isn’t in School

Note from the author: I shared these thoughts a few years ago and with the return of students to the classroom, I felt the urge to share this again. Please consider the message we send to our children when we tell them that God isn’t in the public schools. Don’t limit who He is in their lives, in the lives of teachers and administrators who follow Him, and His Spirit that is everywhere, calling all of us to Love. Instead of sharing a meme that say “God’s not there”, share this post instead and remember, “Our God is with us!”

——————————–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every year, as Christians, we celebrate Christmas.  In this season, we spend days focusing on one thing – the birth of Christ. And throughout the season we remind each other that we have a God that is not far off in some distant place waiting for us to come to Him. No! We serve a God who came to us, wrapped in our frail flesh, and walked among us, promising to be our Emmanuel – God WITH us – forever and ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is here to stay. He is Immanuel. He is God WITH us! 

And that is what we need to tell our children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Is Church “Developmentally Appropriate” for Kids?

Whenever we talk about including all ages in corporate worship, one of the concerns that gets raised is whether or not developmental needs of all ages are being met in that context.  Often this is specifically used to reference the inclusion of children in the larger worship context.

But sometimes this view is  based on a narrowly defined area of developmental research and theories and a wider look at developmental psychology can give us a broader view of what it means for something to be “developmentally appropriate.”

Like most research, developmental theories are just that – theories. Lots of research continues to be done in early childhood development. Most people only think about cognitive development as the ability to understand certain things like words in a sermon or abstract concepts like worship. However, if we are looking at basics of development, it’s helpful to think bigger than that.

Development not just about what children can understand in terms of words and concepts; it’s about what they can learn socially, emotionally and in our case, spiritually.

Here are a few research-based reasons that support the inclusion of all ages, including younger children, in times of corporate worship and intergenerational learning.

  1. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development– This developmental theory explains that young children need to be in close proximity to older people who have “mastered” the tasks that they are learning. For instance, a four-year old is going to learn how to stack blocks better when playing with a 6 year old who has mastered the trick.

Fally-family-Fun

When we are talking about church, these young children learn what church is, how to act, what is expected by being in close proximity to adults who are practicing especially their parents who hold the most influence on their children’s spiritual lives. Here’s a great article about the power of the Zone of Proximal Development.

  1. Observational learning is another powerful developmental tool for young children. Watching others model what they should do is an important part of social development and one that has been lacking to in the larger church. This is often why when youth “graduate” from youth group, they don’t know how to interact socially with the larger church body and often end up leaving the church and saying they don’t feel like they belong.

Creating opportunities for observational learning can be tricky if a church is structured in a way characterized by all ages being separated from one another. The key is to create spaces where generational interaction can take place. For some practical tips and ideas for creating spaces where generations can connect together in worship and discipleship, check out this article.

  1. Fowler’s theory of Faith Development – Probably the best known developmental work in the area of faith comes from James Fowler and is based heavily on the work of Piaget, Erikson and Kohlberg (Check out the book The Church of All Ages by Howard Vanderwell, Chapter 3 for much more on this). 

In Fowler’s first stage (preschool aged children up to age 6) called the Intuitive-Projective faith stage, children basically reflect the spirituality of their parents.  Children will build their first ideas about their faith from the impressions of what they see and hear in church.  

The second stage (age 6-11) is called the Mythic-Literal stage where kids begin to learn the stories of the faith and articulate their own beliefs. That belief is largely mitigated by information they get from others and parents begin to share their influence with the rest of the church family. Framing sermons with a biblical story is a perfect way to invite this age into the sermon.

Other noted developmental ideas come from the work of Jean Piaget whose first two stages of development put a high premium on the importance of language combined with sensorimotor exploration.  This is why sensory bags or activity bags during services can be such a powerful tool for helping children engage during worship time.

Activity bags get a bad rap, mostly because people don’t understand the developmental science behind them. It’s important to understand 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.

The truth is if we look at the broad spectrum of developmental theories including these and others not mentioned here like Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development or Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, we can find space in all of them for including all ages in contexts of intergenerational worship and ministry.  Because ultimately, as social creatures, humans learn best from one another regardless of age. That means developmental appropriateness is something we can incorporate into any setting where we connect with other, especially others at different stages of development than we are.

Does that mean we shouldn’t have age-sensitive spaces?

No, not at all. There are lots of other developmental reasons to have spaces that meet our unique developmental needs. For instance, the ability to think abstractly is a characteristic of higher levels of development; until then, concrete thought is our primary means of processing. So we should have places where concrete access to learning is granted.

But to say that excluding children from corporate worship is necessary due to the fact that they are not developmentally able to be there is a fallacy and it limits the definition of what it means for something to be “developmentally appropriate” to a very narrow scope.

The truth is that worship services where all generations interact and connect can be developmentally appropriate if we are willing to broaden our understanding and find ways to build on the developmental stages we all find ourselves in.  That would also mean we would craft environments that aren’t targeted to a couple of generations but we would take the time to ensure each member in attendance would be able to participate in developmentally appropriate ways.

Instead of using developmental research to keep us apart, we can use it to create ways of connecting,  learning and growing together.  And in that way, we can even more fully explore what it means to be the body of Christ.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

“Hospitality is the Most Subversive Weapon We Have”

When my kids were younger, I worked in direct sales with a company that sold packaged foods (dips, desserts, dinners, etc) to busy cooks. On days where I had a party that night, I would often bake delicious treats, whip up yummy snacks, and prepare different foods for taste-testing. Inevitably one of my children would smell that baking cakes or simmering sauces and ask, “Is that for us?!”  And I would say, “No, this is for my party tonight. You guys are having hot dogs and mac-and-cheese.”

One day, my more outspoken daughter looked up and responded, “How come you always cook the yummy food for other people and we just get hot dogs?”  Oh, ouch…I hadn’t looked at it that way. I had looked at it as, “This is my job and I have to do this and I need something quick to prepare for dinner.” But the message my children were receiving was that I cared more about the strangers than I did about them. 

fancyfridayOut of that moment was born “Fancy Dinner Fridays” where each Friday night I would cook a meal fit for a king (or at least as close as I could get to that). The table would be set with nice dishes, decorated with a theme, and the food..well, the food would be the very best I could make with my meager skills (and budget). They loved it.

But what they really loved…was being loved. 

This story came to mind once as I heard my friend, Dr. Marilyn Elliot, share with a group about hospitality. She made the comment that “Hospitality is the most subversive weapon we have against the enemy.”  Think about that.

While the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, hospitality is where things are offered freely, life is celebrated, and character is built.

Now, put that in the context of children.

I often hear fellow parents and ministers talking about how we need to “fight for the souls of our children.”  Could part of the answer be as simple as being hospitable to them?  And by that I mean, welcoming them and embracing them in special ways that tell them that they are wanted, desired, and expected in our lives?

Consider this; Marilyn asked us to reflect on how it makes us feel when we arrive somewhere and two cups are set out, a candle is lit, the door is answered with a hug and smile. Welcomed, right?  We feel as though we are supposed to be there. We are wanted and desired. The atmosphere says, “Come in! I was expecting you!”

Now, contrast that with being met upon arrival with a cluttered space, a person with a towel on their head saying, “Oh my goodness, I totally forgot you were coming.” Even though we might stay, we feel awkward, forgotten, unwelcome in the space.

Intentional hospitality combats the sense of ‘not belonging’ that so many people face, so many children, face every day. Intentional hospitality says, “I am so glad you are here. I’ve gone out of my way to express to you how special you are to me.”  It brings with it a level of purpose and love that burgeons the receiver’s very soul. There is even an old Jewish proverb that says, “Hospitality is one form of worship.”  It is a weapon to combat that which the enemy seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.

“If you give a moment of rest, a moment of peace, to the person next to you – you are practicing hospitality – you are defeating the enemy in their life” – Dr. Marilyn Elliot

Are we being hospitable to our children, in our homes and in our churches?

At home, do we prepare space that is welcoming to our kids; space that is open for conversation and quality time; space that is prepared with expectation and intentional in experience?  This could play out in a number of ways:

  • Special dinner plans with the children in mind (Click here for conversation starters that lead to discipleship moments)fancy_it_up
  • Special family times like Movie Nights or an evening at the park
  • “Dates” with Mom or Dad
  • Welcoming them back home after school, day care, playing, etc with intention
  • Asking for their thoughts in decor decisions or family plans
  • Prayer times that are just for them
  • Books that are “theirs” that you read together

What about at church? When children enter the worship space, is there anything to let them know they are welcomed there?  Not just in the “children’s area” but in the wider community? Things like…

  • Activity bags or Worship bags or Sermon notes appropriate for them
  • Adult church members who know their names
  • Places for them to serve like ushering or taking up the offering
  • Songs that they might be familiar with during worship
  • A verbal welcome like, “We are so excited to see our children and youth worshiping with us today!” or “What a blessing to see our kids and parents and grandparents all gathered to worship today!”
  • For more practical ways to welcome kids to church, click here

If Christian hospitality truly is a subversive weapon against the enemy, then it behooves us to consider, how can we fight better?  Hebrews 13:2 encourages not to forget to show hospitality. Interesting that the word “forget” is used. Because that’s where I usually end up when it comes to hospitality to my own family. I forget that they need to hear the words, “I’m so glad you are here! I was expecting you!” as much as my friends and neighbors and guests do.

“The kingdom happens over hospitality. We might miss the most precious of moments if we forget to be intentional in this.” – Dr. Marilyn Elliot


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

What Does the Bible say about Intergenerational Ministry?

Does the Bible talk about intergenerational ministry?

How about generational discipleship?

Is there a biblical basis for this new craze sweeping the children’s ministry and family ministry worlds?

Well, technically, it’s not so much new as it is old…really, really old.

Until recently in church history, the generations did in fact worship together as an intergenerational faith community. In their book, Intergenerational Christian Formation, Holly Allen and Christine Ross (2012) point out that “first century churches were multigenerational entities, with children present for worship, healings, prayer meetings, even perhaps when persecutions were perpetuated.”

That really didn’t change until the 20th century when the work of development theorists such as Piaget, Kohlberg, and Fowler began to gain popularity, the church adapted their practices and it led the creation of specialized ministries to connect to specific age groups (Source). Eventually developmentalists’ concerns were applied to the worship hour and the Sunday morning church experience began to be viewed as a time for teaching adults (Source).

But, I digress. Since the late 1970s there have been movements popping up to help churches regain that more intergenerational feel and today…well, today, it’s a thing.  It seems like everywhere you look, this idea of intergenerational or multigenerational ministry and generational discipleship is being discussed, argued, and implemented.

Which leads some of us to ask..is this biblical?

Can we find this in Scripture and, if so, what do the Bible have to say?  

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 gets talked about a lot within the realm of family ministry as a verse that exemplifies the work of discipleship done by parents within the home.

BUT it’s important to note that these instructions to share about the commandments of the Lord weren’t given to solely to parents.  In fact, when Moses shared these commands, he did so with the whole assembly of Israel, not just to the parents/caregivers that were present.

Deuteronomy 4:9 reads, “Make them known to your children and your children’s children” indicating there were multiple generations present when these commands were given. Now, with that in mind, consider that in one commentary, it’s pointed out that according to the Jewish people, “Teach them to thy children” meant “not only those of thy own body but all those that are anyway under thy care and tuition.” That means the charge to “impress upon your children” the commandments of the Lord extended beyond the home and into the larger faith community.

We call that “generational discipleship”!

And it’s not limited to this moment. Intergenerational community can be found throughout Scripture.

Whenever the nation of Israel would gather for special occasions such as feasts or celebrations, the entire community, all generations, would be present. Like…

  • Deuteronomy 29:10-12 when Moses spoke to Israel for the final time
  • 2 Chronicles 20:13 when Jehosophat called for a fast of the entire nation
  • Nehemiah 8: 2-3 and 12:43 when Ezra read aloud the book of the law and the entire community celebrated together.

Again, Holly Allen and Christine Ross share, “In the religion of Israel, all ages were not just included, they were drawn in, assimilated absorbed into the community with a deep sense of belonging.”

In the book of Psalms, there are references to the passing of faith from one generation to bible-3736644_1920another. Like…

  • Psalm 145:4One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”
  • Psalm 78 – The psalmist explains the importance of testifying about God’s works to the next generation so they would remain in the faith and not turn away a.k.a. generational discipleship.

In the New Testament, Jesus modeled this inclusion of all generations and specifically children throughout his ministry, going so far as to tell his followers that welcoming a child into their midst was akin to welcoming Him and the One who sent Him (Matthew 10:42, Matthew 11:25-26, Matthew 18:2-6, Matthew 18:10, Matthew 19:13-14, Matthew 21:16, Mark 10:13-16 & Luke 9:46-48).

In the epistles Paul writes to the churches and asks for the letters to be read aloud to the gathered community. In them, he specifically addresses a wide range of generations, including children (such as Eph 6:1-4, Col 3:20). It’s safe to assume he mentions all the generations because he expected them to be there to hear what he had to say.

So, yes, intergenerational ministry and generational discipleship are found in Scripture.

And the idea of having all generations interacting within a community of faith isn’t a new one. That doesn’t mean we throw out everything we’ve learned from developmentalists or that doesn’t mean that age-appropriate ministry isn’t of any value.

What it does mean is that the normative faith practice is one where generations have the opportunity to be together and pass the faith to one another, so it would be a good idea for us to create spaces where that can happen.

I’m a firm believer that we can do both age-appopriate ministry and intergenerational ministry well in our churches instead of either/or. Rather than pitting these two against each other, perhaps its time we consider how to embrace the new without rejecting the old.

And, I’d love to know… How is your church finding ways to engage every generation in faith conversations and relationships?

For more on this, check out this post on Biblical Support for Intergenerational Ministry

This article originally appeared on this blog in September 2016


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Watch and Learn: The Power of Observational Learning

There is something so beautiful about seeing a child worship God.  The enthusiasm of their praise, the purity of their worship – it’s enough to make a grown man cry…literally. Many times during the service, I’ve had someone interrupt my own worship to point out a child or family engaged in a precious moment with God.

A friend of mine posted this testimony regarding her own Sunday morning experience:

Received a blessing this morning at worship that also served as a sobering reminder for me. I was singing, praying, and raising my hands in gratitude to the One Who has delivered me from death, and generally not paying much attention to what was going on around me, when the lady sitting behind me grasped my shoulder and told me to look across the aisle.

One of our sweet children, no more than maybe 2 years old was on her mom’s hip, watching me and lifting her hands in praise like I was. It made me weep to see her learning worship from her church family. But it also reminded me to always be aware of how I conduct myself. You never know who is watching.

The idea of older people modeling behavior for younger ones isn’t a new one.  Also known as observational learning, this process helps us to see, internalize, and then act in the ways we have observed.

Developmental psychologists have long known that children learn by imitating adults and older children (Source). It’s one of the ways that we not only transmit knowledge but also culture and yes, faith.

study by an Australian team found that children will imitate adults even if the behavior doesn’t make sense such as opening a box with a stick instead of with their hands.  What the children saw modeled, they imitated in their own everyday life.

A study of teenagers and addiction found that “many parents turn to professionals thinking that when their teen hears about the dangers of drug use from someone else, they will be swayed, but the truth is that usually, it’s the parents’ behavior that have much more impact on a teen’s behavior.”  

watchingWhat our children see modeled, they will imitate, and what they imitate will create their framework for how life is “done.”

So, it begs the question, what behavior are we modeling when we consistently remove the children from the larger congregational worship experience?

Children don’t BELONG in “big” church

I can think of no stronger message that we send to children and youth when we consistently segregate them from corporate worship.  As I’ve stated many times before, I am not against times where youth and children are separate and spending time growing in ways that reach specifically to them, but I am opposed to ministry that exclusively keeps children and youth from interacting with the larger faith community in worship.

 I am convinced that there must be times of corporate worship where children can see adults, more specifically their parents, engaged in worship, growing, and fellowship with the whole congregation if we want them to learn (imitate) what it is to participate in the local body of Christ.

Children don’t have anything to GIVE to the larger church

When our attitude towards kids is to consistently segregate them away from the adults and keep them in their own space together (with a few volunteers), we are telling them that that are unnecessary to the functioning of the church.  That we adults don’t need them to grow in our faith.  That they are a distraction from what we are doing on Sunday morning.

But Christ sends a very different message – He tells us we MUST learn from them. He tells us that that the kingdom of God belongs to them (Mark 10:14), that by welcoming them we welcome Him and the Father (Luke 9:47, 48), that we should become like them (Matt. 18:3). How in the world can we do that if we never get to see them in praise and worship, in prayer and fellowship? How can we imitate them?

Children aren’t old enough (smart enough, mature enough) to UNDERSTAND God and church

Sunday school.  Ever thought about those words? It implies a place where you go to “get taught” about something.  We even call our volunteers “teachers” many times. How about Children’s Church?  Even this sends a message that this is a place for kids, not adults, but kids to “do church.”  But frankly, I have learned more from the kids in Children’s Church than I think they’ve learned from me.  They’ve taught me how to praise with abandon, to pray with great faith, and to love each other.  So many times I’ve thought, “Oh, how I wish the whole church could see this right now!”

Because children DO understand God and His love, often in ways we adults cannot grasp.  We don’t have to “dumb down” theology for them; they get it!  Yes, we do need to communicate it to them in ways they understand but they are definitely “smart enough” to know God and to participate in church.

Our children are imitating our behavior; our worship and our community and our prayers and our fellowship.

Let’s make sure we are modeling what we really want to be modeling.

Let’s make sure what we are teaching them is what we actually want to be teaching them.

As my friend shared, let us always be aware of how we are conducting ourselves. Because they are watching and learning… all the time.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

The Church of More, Fast, Fun, Easy

Environments are not passive wrappings, but are rather, active processes which are invisible.” – Marshall McLuhan

Environments matter a lot. 

They don’t come right out and yell at us, “Feel this way!” but they are constantly informing us about how we should feel and ways we should act.

So, if we are desirous of calling forth certain actions from ourselves and from our children, it would be a good idea for us to thoughtfully consider the environment that we are immersed in and that we create in our communities of faith.

drop-of-water-1004250_1920My husband often tells me often we are “fish who don’t see the water” meaning we just go about our lives without really noticing the atmosphere we are submerged in, just breathing it in and out as if it were not there.

I remember an experience once where I was invited by Rick Lawrence of Simply Youth Ministries to “see the water”…and I’ll be honest, it wasn’t pretty clear blue waters of the Caribbean…it was muddied, and dirty, and polluted, and frankly, not a nice place to be.

He led us through a diagnosis of the environment our kids are growing up in.  Consider these things carefully, just as you did your surroundings a minute ago, and think about the feelings these elements conjure up in you.

We are living in a marginless world; 8 of 10 teens never turn their cell phone off and most send between 60-100 texts every day.

They are constantly connected and when they disconnect, there is anxiety, probably partially because this constant connection has changed their brain chemistry to be more reactive and less thoughtful.

Our culture is characterized by the ideals of “more, fast, easy, and fun” and parents self-describe themselves with words like worried, fearful, distracted, and overwhelmed.

So…how do we feel?

We feel…tired.

So we look to the Church.

Surely there where we serve a Savior that says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” we will find a place of refuge, shelter from the Go, Go, Go lifestyle and a place where relationships are fostered with trust and grace.

Surely here we will find a hope, a God who invites us into community and gives strength to the weary.

Surely here our kids can see consistency in a world of variability, welcome in a world that’s too busy for hospitality, margin and space to grow in a world that demands constant connection and endless going.

And what do we find?  And let’s be honest…for just a moment, let’s see the water.

The number one reason Millennials and Gen Z point to for why they leave the church is not hypocrisy (that was my generation) and not because of new experiences (that was my parents’ generation).

The number one reason they leave is because they feel like they do not belong.

Our environment has told them that.

Our way of doing church, of segregating the young and making church an “adult worship service” as I heard one prominent children’s minister describe it recently in a blog, of creating spaces that delight our senses and meet our personal preferences and “needs” tells a story to our upcoming generations that they do. not. belong.

They’ve decided to swim in different waters.  They are just as disconnected at church as they are in life. There’s no respite, no quiet calm, no gentle acceptance and gracious authority.  They just feel… alone.

And I can see why.  And I think if we are all honest, we see it too.  

We need to change our filter.  Our water needs to be cleaned.  We need to see it so we can change it. Not that everything we’ve done has been wrong, but something we’ve done has not worked.

More and more, the Church needs to become the place where all those things described above – marginless space, disconnectedness, constant separation and constant motion – no longer find a home. 

Imagine instead a place where we come, together, connected to one another as a body whose head is Christ; where we stop as a family, a community, and we breathe in rest and peace, where we replace the cry of “more, fast, fun and easy” with hearts of simple love, welcome, and grace.

A simple place of worship and community and rest all because of Jesus who is the only “more” we need.

If our waters don’t look different, if we are offering more of the “more” and we are not creating space for meaningful relationships that stay grounded in a fluid world, then why are we surprised when our children walk away?  We’ve got to see the water.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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