The Sin of Neglect: Discipleship and the Next Generation

Sometimes, as I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed, a post will jump out at me and I will go back for a second look. That happened yesterday.

Yesterday, a senior pastor I know posted the following in Facebook discussion.

John Wesley on the pastor’s responsibility to minister to children, “Talk with them… pray in earnest for them, diligently instruct and vehemently exhort all parents…. Some will say, ‘I have no gift for this.’ Gift or no gift, you are to do this, or else you are not to be called a Methodist preacher” (On Instructing Children, Minutes of Several Conversations)

Hold up!  I gotta see more. Let’s read through the conversation that follows.

Response: And I remember reading somewhere that the average church spends 2% of its budget on reaching kids.

Reply: This neglect is a systematic sin in the general church.

 Response: I would add that church needs to be done in a way that lets children know they belong there. I never mind the noise as it means life and growth and sometimes the only response to my questions.

I must remind you, this discussion was not a discussion between children’s pastors or youth ministers. The very real impact of not effectively ministering to the next generation in ways that tell them they belong, that they are a part of the community of faith, of segmenting our churches into aged blocks that don’t interact and where the lead pastor delegates all the work with children and youth to others who are “gifted” was being felt at a different level.

This is a big deal to me. Why? Not because senior pastors or lead pastors are somehow more gifted or more called or more important than other members of the church. That would be a terrible overstatement and frankly, one that many churches and pastors do struggle with.  But let’s engage in some honest reflection for a moment (and please indulge some generalities and stereotyping: don’t immediately rush to defend your church or critique these statement; hear the sentiment behind the words).

Who has the most influence on a church/congregation? Hint: It’s not the children’s minister. It’s not the youth pastor.

Who (typically) gets paid the most for their work in the church? Again, same hint applies.

Whose voice carries the most weight, is often required to sit on the most committees and is needed to make most of the vision and mission decisions of a congregation? You guessed it.

The senior pastor.

Now we could sit here and debate the rightness or wrongness of these statements. Personally, I find those things to be most troubling and hope that churches are getting to a place where instead of being a pastor-driven church, they become mission-driven and each member of the body serves according to his/her gifts. But that’s a topic for another space and probably a different blog.

pedro-lima-IkqhfoJjwSI-unsplash

Photo by Pedro Lima on Unsplash

The reason I have chosen to bring attention to this Facebook post on this blog is because… the poster was right.  His description that “this neglect is a systemic sin in the general church” is spot on. We, the body of Christ, are called to make disciples.

In our churches, we are gifted with multiple generations, all at different paths on the journey, all in different life circumstances, all with so much to give to one another, all called to disciple…and, in many cases, they don’t even know each other’s names let alone speak to one another outside the church walls.

How can we answer the call to go and make disciples if we can’t even stay and make disciples?

I was so glad to see this Facebook discussion because I am convinced that it is time.

It is time for churches in America to recognize that doing the same thing we’ve been doing for the next 20 years will simply yield the same results of neglect and loss.

It is time to recognize the structural and personal constructs that keep us from engaging with one another, across generations, in meaningful ways that lead to relationships and discipleship.

If your church building has entirely separate wings for separate ages, it is time to figure out how to literally break down the walls.

If your curriculum is targeted at only one age group so that your Sunday school classes or Wednesday night groups are limited in who can attend, it’s time to get creative and figure out how to include more generations in these conversations.

If your church board or leadership team or welcome committee or worship team or outreach group doesn’t have a chair for a member or two of the next generation (yes, youth group kids) to have a voice and be a part of the mission, it is time to recognize the mission and vision will end with the generations that do.

Open the doors. Have the conversations. Listen to one another.

Hear the babies cry and the toddlers play and the children laugh and the teens whisper and the young adults converse and the new mamas sigh and the old mamas advise and the new husbands wonder and old husbands share and the elders remember. Listen to the life of the church.

Don’t be afraid of each other and of change. Let’s be the generation that says “No!” to the systemic sin of neglect and “Yes!” to the call to make disciples right in our own pews.

And senior pastors, do not neglect the children and the youth. They need you too. As Wesley said, “Gift or no gift, you are to do this!”  If our churches are going to change direction, they are going to need you to embrace this reality.

If I am passionate, it is only because I truly believe it is time. We cannot keep wasting our time arguing about whether we want to do this or debating that we like things this way or that. It is time to get serious about being the body of Christ, to one another and to the world, without limits places on age or generation.


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

IMG-0573Refocus 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 holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

Who Should Disciple Children?

Among Children, Family and NextGen pastors and directors, this question often gets tossed around; Who should disciple children?

The question stems from books written over the past two decades which point out that in Scripture, parents are called to disciple their children, to raise them up in the faith and teach them about Christ. This is often shared in contrast to the idea of taking children to church for Sunday school and Wednesday nights and letting the volunteers and ministers there do the work of discipleship, rather like sending our children to school to let the experts and professionals teach them.

Most of the time, there are a few common answers that get shared.

  • First, that it is the parent’s responsibility and the church is there to support them.
  • Second, that it is a shared responsibility where both the church and the parents partner together.
  • Third, that is is the parent’s responsibility but so many parents don’t know how to disciple their kids that it becomes the church’s responsibility.
  • Fourth, that it is the church’s responsibility based on the Great Commission and parents, as part of the church, participate in the work of discipleship.

These are all valid points and I appreciate the hearty discussion that takes place around this topic; however, there are a few significant facts that tend to get left out of the discussion, facts that carry a lot of weight and are important for both the church and the home to consider as we continue the conversations.

Who are the Parents?

ST_2015-12-17_parenting-11

In 2015, Pew Research surveyed 1,807 US parents with children younger than 18, representing a wide swath of social, economic, racial, and religious demographics. Among other things, the study found that “today, fully 62% of children live with two married parents – an all-time low. Some 15% are living with parents in a remarriage and 7% are living with parents who are cohabiting. Conversely, the share of children living with one parent stands at 26%, up from 22% in 2000 and just 9% in 1960.”

ImplicationsMany children are not going home to the same set of biological parents each night and spending their time in the same home. Many bounce back and forth between two homes, with two different sets of parents and step-parents, siblings and step-siblings, and rules and expectations; others live with just one parent while others live with grandparents or other relatives or caregivers. When we say “the parents” should disciple their children, to whom are we actually referring?

In order to address this reality, many ministries now talk about the importance of discipleship in the “home” or discuss the influence that the “home” has on the faith formation of children. As we consider equipping the home as the place of discipleship, it becomes increasingly important for us to consider who is filling that parental role within the home.

For more on this topic, check out these articles and the full Pew Research report.

What do we mean by “Who Should”?

One key fact that gets left out of many of the “who should” conversations is that, whether they should or not, parents ARE the ones who “disciple” their kids. Studies show parents have the greatest impact on their children and their children’s faith, far above any church or ministerial context or person (Source). By default, parents are discipling their children.

My guess is what we are actually talking about in the “who should” conversations is intentional discipleship where parents are doing discipleship on purpose rather than incidentally. In other words, are parents engaged in the work of discipleship with intention or are they just accidentally influencing their kids’ faith in both positive and negative ways?

Implication:  This is an important consideration because it impacts how we address parents and caregivers in terms of equipping and supporting their work of faith formation in the home. Rather than telling them they “should” disciple their children or that it is their job to do so, we begin the conversation by letting them know that they are, in fact, discipling their children all the time and that we, as the church, want to come along side them and journey with them as they do so. This approach immediately changes the conversation from a directive to a cooperative action.

For more on this topic, check out these articles and another Pew Research report.

Who is “The Church”?

churchpeople

One of the major criticisms of the church in many of the books regarding family ministry is that a culture of “professional discipleship” has been created where caregivers think that they can leave the faith formation of their children to Sunday school teachers and children’s pastors rather than engaging with faith in the home.

But, what do we mean when we say “the church?”  If we are merely referring to the few volunteers and paid ministry staff that interact with children or the programs, curriculum or activities that our children participate in, we are missing out on a huge portion of the church…namely, the people. 

Often the verses found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 are quoted as a mandate for parental discipleship in the home. It’s important to note that the 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.

Implications: This is a command to disciple is given to all members of the community of faith, to all of our children, not just those who live in our homes.  When viewed in this light, some of common excuses for not serving and ministering to children in the church fall short. 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 we miss out on our call of discipleship within the community of faith.

For more on this topic, check out these articles.

So What is the Answer?

The answer to the “Who Should?” question posed above is not an Either/Or; it’s a Both/And.  The church as a body (think people, community, not institution or program) should provide networks of support and mentoring that disciple children and uphold parents and parents should be intentional about their influence at home and consider how their own actions as Christians are impacting their children. In doing so, we provide the next generation with best road towards lifelong faith and a personal relationship with Jesus, which is our ultimate goal as members of Christ’s body.


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

IMG-0573Refocus 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 holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina 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. 

Asking the Question “Do I Belong?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does this have to do with the church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can we do?

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Mind the Gap: Reuniting Generations in Our Churches

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

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

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

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

Is it possible to change our minds?

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

Start Slow

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

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

Create a Common Identity

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

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

Allow for Interactions

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

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

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

Show Up in Unconventional Ways

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

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

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

We will be the body of Christ.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Is Christ Welcome in Church?

Welcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I could not help but think of this Scripture

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them,“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.

“Welcomes one of these little children.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another way to help create a sense of welcome is to find spaces where we can incorporate the whole family in worship together; check out some ideas for that here


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

 

“Holistic Discipleship” is not a Curriculum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About the author

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

The Age Gap in Religion is Primarily a Christian Problem

Younger people are less religious than older people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PF.06.13.18_religiouscommitment-00-01-

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About the author

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