“Holistic Discipleship” is not a Curriculum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About the author

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

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The Age Gap in Religion is Primarily a Christian Problem

Younger people are less religious than older people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About the author

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

Why Do We Gather?

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42

That word, fellowship, is an interesting one.  The word in Greek is “koininia” which literally means “come together.”  In the Christian community, it means a little bit more than just to being together in one place. It means to come together as a unique community with one another with Christ at the center.

Why though?  Why do we gather together?

Perhaps the answer to that question goes back a lot further than just the book of Acts.  Perhaps it goes all the way back to our creation. In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us” (NLT).

The “our” in that statement refers back to the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   Think about that for a minute; this is how we were created – in the image of God. God put his hands on us. Everything else in the Genesis account was spoken into being but humanity was formed, touched by God, and then breathed into by Him.  All humankind that followed were knitted by  God in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139. )image_67164417

We all bear God’s fingerprints.

If we look up the words formed and knitted and translate them literally we find out that we were squeezed into shape, spread out and joined together, then breathed into by the Triune God. It’s as though humanity were a divine, hands on, interactive, group project to reflect God’s image in the world.

We were created in community for community.

Our souls look for it. Community has its root in the idea of common identity.  It’s not a “Christian” thing; it’s a humanity thing. We crave this idea of being together.  Just look the weekend – how many gathered this weekend for something we’ve created called “football?”  Sports, clubs, politics, interest groups, book clubs, and parties are all examples of ways we gather.

No one is forcing us together but something innate within us draws us to be with other human beings.  Psychology Today puts it this way: “Every single one of us craves the feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves. By nature, we are tribal”

Early Christians recognized the power of community and created opportunities for the faith community to experience God together.  Corporate spiritual disciplines such as common prayers, liturgies, and celebrations were incorporated into Christians living, not as prescriptions or required religious activities, but as ways to experience community. Much like a sports team will have a fight song and a cheer so that the crowd gathers in one voice or fans of a musical will learn the songs and sing them together, there’s a unique feeling of belonging found in joining together in these spiritual disciplines and practices.

What is really incredible about the Christian experience of community, or koininia, is that what we gather around isn’t specialized to any age group, life experience, or special interest. We gather around Christ.  Jesus says in Matthew 18:20 that where two or three are gathered as his followers, he is present with them (NLT).

There’s no limitation to that promise!

There’s no specified location or special practice that needs to take place. There is nothing needed than for two or three people who claim the name of Christ, who are Christ-followers or Christians, to be together.

No age limits.

No life experience limits.

No special interests.

Just Jesus.

Any limits placed on our Christian community come not from God but from us.

Think about that for a minute.  The opportunity to gather, to come together with God and with each other has no limit except for that which we impose. 

We were created with an innate desire to be in community. Our children need community. Our elderly need community. Our middle-aged empty nesters need community. Our young and tired parents need community.

As the church, let’s do our best to create space for this coming together without limitations to experience Christ in our midst. Maybe we employ some of those spiritual disciplines that the early church has given us. Maybe we gather together for times of worship and prayer. Maybe we join together to serve one another or our community.

But regardless of the method, we gather… and He will gather with us. 


For more information about

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

About the author

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

That Time Jesus was Angry

In a discussion I was once involved in regarding the inclusion of children in corporate worship, someone made this statement:

“I think whenever you start including children in worship, you should expect a certain amount of cynicism.”

As you can imagine, I didn’t agree. In fact, I don’t think we should ever expect cynicism in any context when it comes to welcoming people into our worship settings. Expecting the worst often brings about the worst. And I don’t want that. And, I believe, neither does the Church.  The church is the body of Christ. His Spirit indwells their midst. My expectation is that the Church will react to and welcome children just as Jesus did, just as He showed us and demonstrated while among us. 

But even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t “get it” at first. The disciples were the first to turn children away, with seeming good intention, but apparent lack of insight and understanding of Christ’s heart.  In the gospel of Mark, we read this account.

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. – Mark 10:13-15

So,  how did Jesus handle that moment?  Well, he was angry.

That word “angry” is sometimes translated “indignant” or “very displeased.”  It’s the jesus-christ-2516515_1920same word used to describe how the Pharisees felt when the children were calling out “Hosanna to the Son of David” during the Triumphal Entry and when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath. The disciples felt that way when Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and “wasted” it and when James and John’s mom asked if they could sit next to Jesus in heaven. It’s overall…not a good feeling. It indicates a general unhappiness with a person or situation.

But then, notice what Jesus does.

He doesn’t just get angry. He gets angry but then explains why.

He explains that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children.

He explains that the disciples needed to accept the kingdom like these children if they ever wanted to truly enter in.

Then He showed them what to do. He took the children IN HIS ARMS (oh my, what a beautiful picture) and placed his hand on their heads and blessed them.  In front of the disciples. Demonstrating before their eyes exactly how He wanted them to treat children.

I’m willing to bet that in the future, the disciples  made sure that the children were never turned away. They had seen Jesus and they understood.

I picture in my head a future time where not only was Jesus holding children and blessing them, but the disciples were too. I imagine that in their churches after Jesus had left, children were in their midst, blessing and being blessed. In fact, I can assume that children were there, considering that Paul writes specifically to them in letters that were read aloud to the congregation.

Perhaps, you’ve experienced something similar.

You’ve asked your pastor if children can come and worship with the congregation and been turned away.

You’ve brought your children with you to worship service and been invited to enjoy the remainder of the service in the lobby

You’ve presented ideas for a Family Worship Service or an intergenerational gathering and been dismissed.

You’ve shared your heart with parents and ministers about the importance of allowing children to see faith modeled, to participate in liturgy, to be active members of the congregation and have faced… cynicism.

And you may even be angry, indignant, or very displeased.

Please don’t stop there.

The children still need you. And the Church still needs you.

Take the children in your arms. Bless them. Every chance you have, demonstrate the heart of welcome and the love of Jesus to them.

Because your actions speak volumes. Your testimony shines brightly. The disciples turned the children away because they didn’t understand. They didn’t know. But Jesus showed them, just as He has shown us. Let’s expect the best just as He did.

I’m not a huge sports fan but I do like this quote by Michael Jordan: If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome.”  Let’s not accept that the expectation is cynicism; let’s expect to find Jesus. 


Wanna read about a “real-life” scenario regarding kids and worship and expectations?  Check out this article: What my Pastor did About the Rowdy Kids at our Church

For more information about

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

About the author

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

You Can’t Just Put Kids In Church

I mean, you just can’t. Developmentally, kids aren’t ready to be in a worship service. They aren’t going to get anything out of it and they will just be a distraction to the adults.  Besides, they have their own classes that are geared toward their age that are a lot more fun and they get to be with their peers.

Oh, wait….that’s actually not what I meant. But this is exactly what I have heard many people say. And frankly, they have a point. Not because these reasons are correct but because most worship services in America are geared towards one target audience, one that falls somewhere between 25 and 65 and the outliers, those older than 65 and those younger than 25 are left on the fringes.  In that sense, those who believe kids shouldn’t be in worship service for the reasons above have some ground to stand on.

But in reality, there’s a fundamental understanding of church, community and culture that is missed in this approach.

If “putting kids in” a worship service means simply placing their bodies in a pew and expecting them to sit for an hour and then being confused when they are bored, or want to talk, or wiggle too much, or (fill in the blank), then we’ve missed what it means to welcome children in worship.

Developmentally, children aren’t ready to sit for an hour without engagement. Children need a “re-set” about every 10-15 minutes to regain their attention.  Changing positions (like standing to sing or going to the altar), hearing their name called (like having the pastor say, “Kids, listen up, this is for you”), being given something tactile to work with (like sermon notes or coloring sheets or even busy bags with quiet activities), or just having the chance to change their focus for just a few minutes.

Actually studies show that “When any human sits for longer than about 20 minutes, the physiology of the brain and body changes, robbing the brain of needed oxygen and glucose, or brain fuel. The brain essentially just falls asleep when we sit for too long. Movement and activity stimulate the neurons that fire in the brain. When we sit, those neurons aren’t firing.” (Source).

Children are not adults, but for some reason, when it comes to church, we expect them to be. We expect that what they “get out” of the service should be the same as what we as adults get out of the service. So we figure, if they can’t understand the sermon and don’t know how to sing the songs and really don’t get what’s going on with communion or prayer, then they aren’t getting anything out of being in church.

But I would offer that since kids are not adults, they get other things out of being in a worship service.

For one, they get to see. They get to see that they are part of something much bigger than themselves and their peers.

Second, they get to be seen.  Adults who don’t volunteer in children’s ministry rarely if ever get to see and interact with children and youth who are consistently separated from the congregation.

Third, they get to experience church. Even if they don’t “understand” it all, they get to have the opportunity to experience worship and liturgy and sacraments and Scripture like the Church has for centuries (More on this here).

microphone-1209816_1920

Because children learn through play, through movement, and through repetition, it is highly likely that they will in fact play, move, and repeat things throughout the service and yes, that can be distracting.

But there is a huge difference between being distracting and being a distraction.

Likewise, age-specific and age-appropriate classes are so important for developmental growth and for cognitive understanding. But that is just one part of our learning and growing process as disciples.

Being a disciple of Jesus means being a part of a community, a family, and it is just as essential for children and youth to have opportunities to interact and worship with their family, both physical and spiritual, as it is for them to have peer relationships and age-specific lessons. It’s a both/and, not an either/or. 

The reality is welcome is much more than just saying, “Sit here and be quiet.”  We would never “welcome” a guest to our home that way. When we want to welcome someone, we find out their needs, we create a space that allows for those needs to be met, and we engage with them in meaningful ways.

We can’t just sit children in a worship service and say, “Well, we tried it and it just doesn’t work.”  It takes intentional time, creativity, and work to ensure that the experience is one that is beneficial for all and not just for some. 

But the benefits or worshiping together and being with one another are so worth this hard work. Honestly, it’s good for everyone, old and young. We need each other. We were made for community (For more on this, check out all the amazing reasons for intergenerational worship here).

If your church is looking for ways to begin to welcome children and youth into corporate worship settings, it is a cultural journey not a program change or a scheduling adjustment. It does take time and education and a lot of grace. But there will be fruit, fruit that we may not see for years as our children are growing, but fruit that will be demonstrated as disciples are made.

I’d love to walk with you if you are beginning this journey!  Feel free to contact me here and share what God is stirring in  your heart. And be blessed; God meets us in His people, from the oldest to the youngest, so He is in this and He is excited about His church.


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. 

Back-to-School Blessing for Volunteers, Parents, and Kids

In many places around the country, schools are gearing up to re-start sometime in the next month. For churches that often means a re-boot as well as they move from summer mode into fall programming and the start of a new academic year. With that can come a whole range of “new” things!  Kids promote to the next class, new volunteers come on to serve or they begin serving in a new capacity, and parents begin to navigate  new experiences with new teachers, new schools, and new grade levels for their kids.

education-908512_1920A few years ago, the church I worked at was able to hold a time of commissioning and blessing over these groups as the new school year kicked off and we began to embrace all of these “new” things.  The entire time of blessing takes about 5 minutes and can be a way for your whole church to come together and let the kids, parents, and volunteers know that they are being held up and prayer and sent out as God’s lights of love as the academic year begins.

Feel free to adapt this script to your own church’s service and needs, and blessings to all as we encounter all the “new” things!


An All-Church Blessing for Parents, Children and Volunteers

Purpose – To recognize kids who are promoting to new classes/small groups, to pray over kids, parents and volunteers at the start of a new academic year

Children’s Pastor/Family Minister – We are excited to be able to celebrate with you the growth of our kids and families this year and recognize them as they promote to new classes and small groups within this ministry and some to youth group. But before we bring up the kids, can I ask all of our ministry volunteers to please stand and make their way to the center aisle?

(as volunteers are moving)

It is a blessing to serve with this group of people. The love they show our kids and the grace with which they serve is a testimony of the love of Christ in their lives and to the children. So, I’d like to not only say thank you, but briefly pray for you as you serve this upcoming year! Church, will you join me?

(PRAYER – Lord be with and bless these who serve. In their service, give the strength and by your Spirit give them grace. May the love they give be retuned to them in greater numbers and may your joy fill their hearts)

Volunteers if you will please line each side of the center aisle and get your high five hands ready, we will bring in our kids!!

(If you have some fun music, you could use this here. This is based on our structure with small groups. It can be adapted to fit whatever age groups, classes, or sections a church has for their programs. It can also be done as one large group which will reduce the amount of time needed for this commissioning and blessing.)

Joining us for the very first time as they are just starting school, we give you our preschoolers!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

Moving up into the elementary room, we are excited to recognize our new Kindergarten/First Grade small group!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

Not too far ahead of them, we want to recognize our “middle kids” our 2nd/3rd grade small group!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

And finally, our oldest group, and probably the most excited, our 4th/5th grade small group!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

Last, we’d like to recognize our 6th graders who will be moving up to join the youth group this year!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

AT THIS POINT, ALL THE KIDS WILL BE UP FRONT AND THE VOLUNTEERS WILL RETURN TO THEIR SEATS

Pastor or Worship Leader: Church, we are so blessed to have this group of children to welcome into worship and help their parents disciple in the faith. At baptism (or dedication, depending on the church), we commit to helping our kids grow in Christ and today we would like to re-affirm that commitment to them in their presence so that they can hear and know that we are here for them.

(At this time, we read our church’s Congregational Charge read at baptism. More than likely, each church has a similar reading for baptism or dedication. This is a great time to remind the congregation of the commitment they have made to walk with these families and children and a wonderful chance for the children to actually hear the words being said since they are too young to comprehend it the first time is said.)

Pastor – Lord, we thank you for the gift of these children and youth. May we be faithful to serve them and may they walk in your love. Be with this as they go into this new school year and give them the grace they need to learn and grow.

Children’s Pastor/Family Minister– If you are a parent/caregiver of one of the children here, will you please stand where you are? Kids, these people love you more than you could possibly know and they want you to grow in faith and in love. Will you help me to pray for them like we did for you?

DISMISS KIDS TO PARENTS

Children’s Pastor/Family Minister (as kids are going) – Parents we know that the work you do is difficult and while the days are long, the years are short. Please hear this blessing as a prayer for you as you serve God as the faith formers in your home.

“May you love the Lord with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength. May His commandments always be upon your hearts, so that you can impress them on your children. May God give you grace to talk about these things continually, when you’re at home, or on the road, when you lie down and when you get up. When your strength fails, may you walk in His. When you are weary, may His arms carry you. And when the day is done, may you hear His voice saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

This post was originally shared on ReFocus Ministry here.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

What Happened at Church Last Sunday?

Guest Blog by Luke Embree, Pastor at Plowshares Brethren in Christ, Lexington, KY.

I witnessed something audacious in church last Sunday.

It took some time for it to sink in but as the service progressed a realization began to dawn on me.

The pastor had forgotten to dismiss the children! 

At least that’s what I assumed had happened.  The senior pastor (who, in his defense, had been off work that week) introduced the morning’s speaker and completely forgot to dismiss the kids.  No one spoke up, no one caught it, and the service marched on.

And all the while an ebullient energy, barely containable, simmered below the surface.  And then the most incredible thing happened: Nothing.

Nothing went wrong, nothing exploded, no one walked out in offense, no one disrupted the sermon, nothing fell apart.  The parents cared for their children, their neighbors showed grace and patience, and the preacher shared his message unabated.

Rather than dismissing the kids, they had a prepared a place for the kids within the worship service. The children were engaged members of the congregation and the intentionality of the whole thing was refreshing.  Why did it work so well?

The church staff, the speaker, and the whole congregation had taken steps to ensure that the kids weren’t just distracted but engaged.

The morning’s worship list included some songs geared toward the very young and (let’s be honest) they were fun for the adults too.  They included ways for a person’s whole body to participate in worship, an easy and effective way to diffuse some of the wiggles in young and old alike.

The speaker’s message was on the missionary journeys of Paul and it opened with a retelling of these journeys in a big way.

Rather than simply reading a manuscript, a couple of young people dressed in cartoonish robes and long beards to act out the speaker’s retelling.  Their performance, which included some goofy gags and play-on words, provided an entertaining visual that aided his story and our comprehension of his material.

The speaker then went on to share reflections about Paul supported by several long readings from his epistles.  But rather than read these passages himself, the minister paused to allow another young person, dressed in the similar costume, to read the passages as he scribbled with a long quill from his writing desk, situated to the left of the platform throughout the sermon.  The break in the minister’s sermon, punctuated by this young man’s recitation, added diversity to the message and a convenient change of voice for our listening ears.


IMG-5332During the sermon, three young people drew pictures inspired by his message.  These pictures were periodically projected onto a large screen behind the pastor, accenting his points with visual design.  The effect of combining visual aids with spoken word helped to keep our attention while the presence of young people sharing their gifts and helping to tell the stories of our faith inspired us all.

If it was the intention of the church’s staff to engage the whole congregation with a creative and informative exposition of Scripture, then the service was a tremendous success.

As I look back now I suppose it was actually a very small thing, not dismissing the children during the service.  But it communicated some very big ideas.  I’d like to share just three:

Children are valuable members of the community of faith

First, it stated that our kids make important contributions to our church’s life and community.  They are not distractions that need to be managed.  They are people who want to be with their parents and fellow members of our community.  Not only that, they have the capacity to listen, to learn, and to participate in worship if given the chance.  But it will take intentionality on our part to develop services that include them well.

Young people can lead

Second, over the course of 60 minutes, the young people within the congregation were affirmed and empowered as active members and ministers within the Body of Christ.  We learned that they, too, have gifts that creatively and effectively add value to our understanding of God and his Word.

Ministry is a team effort

Finally, it was refreshing to watch an entire community take on the mantle of teaching, encouraging, and ministering to one another.  Rather than elevating one person to the role of “Minister,” the community rose up to care for the people of God. Yes, this very gifted pastor deserves credit for organizing and preparing the service.  But his leadership also communicated a very important truth: the gifts and graces of Christianity are best experienced together

As I look ahead to this coming Sunday I’m curious how we might carry these insights into our own times of corporate worship.  How might these ideas be expressed in churches across our nation? There are no easy answers but they are answers that are worth seeking out because, together, we are 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. 

The Question of Relevance, Discipleship and Kids

One of my favorite television shows is Sherlock. I love his character, based on the book kid, but fleshed out in the show by actor Benedict Cumberbatch. One if the concepts that Sherlock employs as he is attempting to solve a case is his “mind palace”  the basic premise is this: We are barraged with an onslaught of information all day long, some seemingly relevant and most not so much. Sherlock says that he has trained his mind to put all the information into “rooms” in his mind that he can access in the future as needed.

The reality is, most of us just tend to forget information that our mind seems irrelevant and focus only on things that are messaged as important, necessary or relevant to our life, likes, and lifestyle. 

When it comes to discipleship, there is a lot of discussion about making the Bible “relevant” to children and youth.

Bible-and-PhoneThere are those who say that the Bible is inherently relevant so it doesn’t need our help; we just need to teach the Bible (or at least our denominational understanding of the Bible because, let’s face it, there are different interpretations even within that context).

There are others that say while yes, the truths of the Bible are timeless, the message needs to be framed in more culturally accessible forms, ranging from live-action videos and pop music styles to video games and social media messaging.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know I am not a fan of the either/or approach to just about anything. I think a both/and approach that takes into consideration social context, spiritual formation and physical development is the best way to be truly relevant, not just in the present, but well into the future.

So how can we, as parents and ministers, help our children and youth create a faith “mind palace” where the truths of the gospel and Christ’s love can take up residence and be recalled as they grow and as there is need?

 

Creative repetition

Have you ever noticed how your young children will watch the same movie or series over and over and over again?  Believe it or not, what we can find mind-numbingly repetitive, they actually like!

My favorite quote from G.K. Chesterton states, “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.”

That’s not to say we should make things boring, but we shouldn’t be afraid to share the same story with them in a bunch of different ways, especially in ways that reflect the world around them. My son and I have read through a total of three children’s Bibles and we are getting ready to start a third. It’s the same message every time, but each time, he gets something more from it, just like we do as we read God’s Word.

Active participation

Hearing about something and actually doing something are two very different things. Experience trumps description every time and participation in real life makes any abstract concept instantly relevant. So if we are talking about things like serving others and love being more than words, it is important for us to find ways for our children and youth to actually serve and love others. Let them practice what we preach!

There are so many ways that we can help kids and youth to get more involved in actively participating in worship, community and service!  Check out this page for some ideas on how to help kids be more actively plugged into their faith community and this one for ideas on practical ways to disciple kids at home.

Consistent modeling

This is on us. We are the adults, the ones who the children in our faith community and/or family are looking to for the context into which their beliefs are lived out.  Are we giving them a holistic picture of what it means to be a disciple?  Could they look at us and see us loving God and loving others, serving and mentoring, being available to them and to others in our faith community?  Does what we say and what we teach them line up with what they see and how we treat them?

Relevance isn’t just about fitting into today’s culture; it’s also about being connected or closely related to something. If our faith is connected to and/or closely related to our actions, we’ve just made discipleship, Scripture, and faith relevant.

There’s no silver bullet for discipleship.

There’s no super-secret easy way to make sure that faith sticks.

But there are ways to make the things we desire to pass on to them in terms of our faith relevant enough that they will remember them for a lifetime; that somewhere in their mind palace the truths they need to carry them forward will be stored and ready for them to pull out when needed, without all the detective work.

This article is the second in a series on social media, technology, and discipleship. To read the first and the third, click on the links!


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 Way We Do the Things We Do

In his book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, author Stephen Chbosky wrote, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”  I’ve seen this posted as inspirational memes and quotes on people’s walls for years but it wasn’t until I started really digging into generational discipleship that I saw how this concept plays out in ministry, especially in intergenerational relationships within the community of faith.

We all know that communication is more than just words.  Communication takes many forms, from verbal to nonverbal, intentional to non-intentional, systemic to institutional. The way we do the things we do speaks volumes. The words we use pale in comparison to the actions we take and the method by which we take them.

In my last few years of observing how we go about discipleship in church, hearing the verbal communication of welcome and community and observing the nonverbal communication like methods and actions, it’s becoming clearer to me that one reason the church is losing the rising generations is due in part to the fact that they only accept the love they’ve been told they deserve.

Stripped of our words, what do our churches often communicate to the generations who attend?

  1. My Space, Your Space – If we look at most church buildings, we will tend to find wings that are set apart by age, often down hallways or even separated by floors, much like school buildings or nursing homes in society. The common space, the sanctuary, can be a place where all ages gather but in many cases that doesn’t happen frequently.
  2. My Service, Your Service – A lot of churches have at least two if not more services and often those services look and sound different (contemporary, traditional, blended, etc.). Frequently these services become equally age segregated simply by the fact that they are intended to reach specific age groups or worship preferences.
  3. My Time, Your Time – When describing worship experiences, often people will say it is their time in the week to connect with God, to be renewed and refreshed, to have a personal experience. Distractions and discomfort is often minimized during the service time to allow for that so that even when we are together, we are essentially alone, but occupying the same space.
  4. My Church, Your Church – Having served on two church staffs and having consulted and coached with many more, this is something that repeatedly comes up, namely, the idea that within a church there may be two or more distinct faith communities based on age, likes/dislikes, and preferences and that people in these groups don’t even know the people in the other groups. One church I worked with once described their church as “Five Churches under one roof.”
So what does this have to do with accepting the love we think we deserve?

Well, if we say things like, “We welcome all ages into our community” but the proceed to navigate the children to one area, the youth to another, the adults to yet another, and the seniors to another, that verbal communication becomes muddied. It is difficult to enter a space that isn’t “ours” even if we hear that we are welcome.

be-quiet-in-churchIf we say, “All ages are members of our church community” but the youngest members never or rarely see or hear from the pastor or other adult leaders in the church or just other adults in the church except children’s ministry volunteers, do they feel truly part of the congregation?

Conversely, if the older members of the congregation never or rarely get to interact with or build relationships the younger generations, can either accept love, advice, encouragement or even just friendship from the other?

We use a lot of words to indicate unity and cohesion, but often our nonverbal communication speaks to separation and division, which, in turn, often falls along generational lines.  And that makes it very hard for each generation to accept love and friendship from the other because it doesn’t feel “right”.

I wonder what would happen if instead we embraced the uncomfortable.

If we sang some songs we don’t necessarily love.

If we allowed for some distraction and discomfort during our corporate worship time.

If we intermingled with generations who say and do things we don’t understand.

If we prioritized relationships with the whole body over the comfort of those we know best.

I mean, it would be uncomfortable to be sure. But, as a friend of mine who attends a church who is working to become intentionally unsegregated on Sunday mornings shared, maybe that is the point.

Maybe it’s not supposed to be comfortable. Maybe it is supposed to take work, to challenge us to grow beyond what feels good, to be surrounded by a much bigger world that doesn’t look and act and sound like us. Maybe there is room for both times of corporate worship and times of age-appropriate teaching. Maybe an either/or way of doing church isn’t the only way of doing church.

And maybe, if we can find time and space for the both/and, the generations who are following ours may not agree with everything we say and do but they will accept the love of the Church and the Lord because they know they are truly a part of the church, the community, the body of Christ.

I think at the very least these are ideas worth exploring, even if the questions we ask and conclusions we land on make us a just little bit uncomfortable.


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. 

“Just Because We Don’t Like It Doesn’t Mean It’s Not True”

My family recently watched Avengers Infinity Wars (don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this post). At the end, some of us were unhappy with the way things had ended in the movie and have spent considerable time coming up with alternate endings or spinning theories about what “actually” happened. At one point as I was offering just such an explanation, and a really good one at that, my youngest piped up with this nugget, “Just because we don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

His words stuck with me for two reasons; one, because he probably heard that from me and two, because he’s absolutely right. Often times, when we are faced with a truth that we don’t like, we try to find alternative ways of facing the facts.

If the truth makes us uncomfortable, we try to find a comfortable option to face that truth with. If the truth doesn’t fit within our expectations, desires or opinion, we find ways to explain it away or simply say it doesn’t work for us. 

face-2031963_1920The nature of this blog is often to share uncomfortable truths and offer ways for us to embrace those truths even if it means we have to consider implementing change or doing things that we find less comfortable than others.

In the case of this particular blog, the facts we often look at and consider surround the idea that more and more of the members of the rising generations are walking away from the Protestant church and increasingly labeling themselves as “unaffiliated” with religion.  And we ask questions about why that is and what we can do about it.

And often the answers presented involved uncomfortable things; things that require us to change how we are currently operating and the approach we are currently taking.

Things like:

Inviting and welcoming children and youth into places of corporate worship as active participants not passive observers

Creating space for meaningful interactions between generations with the intentional focus of fostering relationships that lead to mentorship and discipleship.

Involving children and youth in the decisions, leadership and activities of the church in a way that affirms that they are full-fledged members of the body of Christ.

Redefining church, not as a place we go to on Sunday, but as a people and a way of life that is who are are every day of the week and therefore we join into each others lives on ball fields and ballet recitals and dinner tables and coffee dates and just being a people that fills that intrinsic, God-given need for community.

But these things require something of us. They require change and intentionality.

They require that we accept the truth that something has to change and we begin to try uncomfortable things.

It means that we may not always get the Sunday morning experience we are used to and/or we desire. It means we may need to get creative about when and where we have our intimate and undistracted times of worship. It may mean that throughout the week instead of just hunkering down and living our life, we open up our doors and our schedule to invite others in or to go to where they are.

It might mean sitting on hard bleachers in the cold just to cheer on that kid from church that sits in the pew in front of you and just can’t believe you came to her game.

It could mean not going out to our favorite after-church restaurant but instead inviting that new family over to our house for lunch.

It could mean that instead of passing the offering plate and dropping in a check and feeling as though we’ve given enough to the church, we also raise our hand and volunteer for that after-school program or that to be a prayer partner for that young person.

It might even mean that on Sunday morning our worship is accentuated with the cries of an infant, the squirms of a three-year-old, the laughter of a fifth grader, the fidgeting of a fifteen-year-old and the questioning look of a seventeen-year-old and instead of seeing those things as distractions, viewing them as opportunities to face the truth head on; that loneliness and being “unaffiliated” are real things for this generation and if being with a faith community on Sunday morning and hearing one’s name spoken each week with love and welcome can combat it, then it’s worth whatever discomfort one might face.

We can no longer offer alternative explanations to the very real truths about the rising generations. As much as we might like to just continue on as we always have, the reality is, if we do, these truths will become more and more the experience for our children and youth. But if we are willing to face these truths head on, in our church and in our lives, and do uncomfortable things in order to address them, then it is possible that those whose lives we intersect with might just experience a different truth.

As for the Avengers, well, I still have my theories about that one…


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.