Frustrated About Kids in Church? Something’s Gotta Change

A wise person once shared with my husband that “Frustration is the difference between expectation and reality.”  He went on to say, “If you are frustrated, you will need to either change your expectation or you will need to change your reality.”

As we continue to have conversations about including all generations in corporate worship, I think it might be wise for us to do consider this idea  In the past, the church has chosen to “change the reality.”  When children and youth were seen as distracting or having specialized needs that couldn’t be met in a corporate worship setting, the church changed the reality. We removed them from the space, put them in their own spaces, and separated the generations from one another as much as possible.

However, time has revealed to us some unintended consequences of this age segregation model adopted in the mid-20th century. And it’s not just in the church; our whole culture bought into the idea that separating generations is a good idea…but we were wrong.

Researchers have found that among the unforeseen results of age segregation are things like “negative stereotypes and people feeling isolated from each other” and “features of antisocial behavior and to socialization for competitiveness and aggressiveness.” (source).

In the church, Dr. Kara Powell shares that “A lot of kids aren’t going to both youth group and church on Sundays; they’re just going to youth group. As a result, graduates are telling us that they don’t know how to find a church. After years at the kids’ table, they know what youth group is, but they don’t know what church is.” (source).

Changing our reality doesn’t seem to have worked. In fact, it seems to have really hurt us in the long run. We are losing generations.

So what if instead of that, we changed our expectations?

child-1439468_1920Because we’ve grown up in an era where generations were segregated and separated from one another, we’ve grown to expect church to be a place that is tailored to meet our needs. We expect that we would have a certain experience at church and we expect others to have a similar one. We go to church for certain expected reasons (to worship, to hear a sermon, to grow in our faith, to get re-charged, to be with our friends). And those expectations often fail to be met when we put the generations in one room together.

If we were to change our expectations, what would that look like?  What expectations could we have instead?

Expect the church to be more than Sunday morning

When we look at the church of the New Testament, we find a group of people who are doing life together. They aren’t meeting once a week to have their needs met; they are invested in one another all week long, meeting one another’s needs throughout that time so that there’s not a one shot fix on Sunday morning.

What if our expectation was that there are times for both worship together, all generations, and discipleship apart, meeting the specific developmental needs of each generation?  What if our expectation was both/and not either/or?

Expect children to be children

There is no way a five-year-old is going to come to church to “get something” out of the sermon.  And because of that, it’s easy to say that kids don’t get anything out of church. But we are putting adult expectations on non-adults.

What if we adjusted those expectations so that children could be children?  They will “get something” out of church, but it likely won’t be the same things adults will (For more on that, click here). 

Expect the church to be family

Sociologists have said “in contemporary Western societies, which are marked by widespread institutional, spatial, and cultural age segregation, only the family surviv(es) as an age-integrated institution.” (source)  But the church, as seen in Scripture, is to be like a family; one body with many parts, but one body nonetheless.

If we expect our church to be like family then we would expect to hear the littles crying, the bigs talking, the older sharing and the younger learning. We would expect to be together. 

I can’t help but wonder if we shifted our expectations to ones like these, would our Sunday mornings (and Wednesday nights and Friday afternoons) begin to look and feel different to us?  Would we begin to see church as something more than a once-a-week re-charge and more of a communal way of living where we do life together?  And would our children and  youth and our seniors and elderly all know that they have a place at our family table? And, perhaps, would we be a little less frustrated when we hear a child cry in service, laugh during a sermon, wiggle and squirm at the doxology, run up to the altar for communion or dance during the worship service?

Perhaps.  Perhaps it is time to change our expectations.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

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The Distraction During Worship

Why do we go to church?

Seems like a simple question.   One that kids like to ask a lot. I’ve heard parents and Sunday school teachers and pastors give all kinds of answers. “We are here to worship God.” “We are here to learn about God.” “We are here to learn how to be better Christians.”

In my last church, during our kids church time, we have a short liturgy we go through with the kids each week. Our worship leader would ask, “Who are you?” and the kids reply, “I am a child of God.” Then he’d say, “Who are we?” and they’d reply, “We are the body of Christ.” And to end, he’d ask, “Why are we here?”

So, why are we here?

If individually we are children of God and collectively we are the body of Christ, why do we gather on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, or any other time in the week for “church”? What is the purpose of our gathering?

If we go to Acts 2:42, we get a really cool picture of what the “first church” looked like through these four activities.

  1. Devoted to the Apostle’s Teachings – Keep in mind, there really wasn’t a “Bible” yet so when the early church gathered, what they heard shared was the teachings from the disciples; stories from when they walked with Christ and words of encouragement and teaching from the apostles themselves.
  1. To fellowship – Yes, they used that word back then too!! In this case, it is more literally referring to “community” or “joint participation” not so much coffee hour, donuts and time with friends.
  1. To the breaking of bread – It is generally believed that the breaking of bread here refers to communion, which interestingly is the same word as the one used for fellowship above. It’s the idea of the body of Christ being one, participating in one holy communion and united by one Holy Spirit.
  1. To prayer – The people of the early church gathered to talk to God and listen to God together. That was part of what “church” looked like for them as they came together as the body of Christ.
Lots of similarities to today.
But then, a lot of differences too.

For instance, there is a strong emphasis on “together.” Community, communion, fellowship – no matter how you break down these words, it was about the whole body of Christ in “joint participation” together. It wasn’t about a person coming and being fed or another person coming and have a great experience in worship. There’s no emphasis on the individual at all. The emphasis is the body of Christ.

Sometimes though, when it comes to church that does not seem to be the emphasis. Often we hear a lot about individual preferences, personal needs, and unique desires expressed regarding reasons for attending church. We can often hear a lot of these sentiments expressed specifically when we talk about including children in times of corporate worship.   Because kids will distract from those things.

be-quiet-in-church

To be clear; children are not a distraction.

They might be distracting. No wait, they are distracting.

But they are not distraction.

They are members of the body of Christ. They are part of the community of faith.

And they are the only group of people Jesus specifically instructed us to welcome.

As I’ve watched kids in church, I’ve seen two things.

I have seen children lead the call to worship, lead the congregation in song, kneel and pray at the altar, and affirm their faith with the whole church.

I’ve also seen them drawing pictures on random bulletin inserts, turning around to see what others were doing, fidgeting and squirming, and, well, being distracting.

The tradeoff seems worth it to me.

They are members of Christ’s body. The body of Christ is built up by them. If church is about WE and not “me”, then most certainly, there must be times when WE are all together.

Kids don’t come expecting to get anything but they come ready to give. Every chance they have to actively participate, they will. Not reluctantly or under coercion; if they have are given a chance to be involved, they excitedly do just that.

What if we give them more chances?

If not for them, then most certainly for us. Because without them, our fellowship is incomplete. Our body is not whole. We may be distracted from what church is really all about – communion, joint participation, togetherness, being the body of Christ.

Does that mean we will need to seek other times to grow personally without that distraction? Yes, it does. It also means as a community we should seek to provide those times for one another. Because that is also what church is. It’s both/and, not either/or. It’s all of us together seeking for the good of the other. So..

Who am I? I am a child of God.

Who are we? We are the body of Christ

Why are we here? We are here to know more of God and His covenant of love to US.

All of 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 this Blog

family

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

What Intergenerational Worship IS

A few days I shared my thoughts on what intergenerational worship is NOT. So often we approach times of corporate worship where are all generations are present with pre-conceived notions of what we fear it could be. But often those things are not truly representative of the heart of intergenerational worship.

So what IS intergenerational worship?

Simply put, intergenerational worship is ministry that focuses on connecting multiple generations in faith-forming relationships cultivated through times of corporate worship, intentional discipleship, and ongoing mentorship.


It’s much more than a Sunday morning experience or simply worshiping in a specific location
. It has at its heart a focus on generational discipleship and a experiencing of our faith together as a community.

And, it can have its challenges, especially today where age segregation (keeping the generations apart both physically and culturally) is the norm. Let’s be honest, putting generations together in one space can be difficult.

It can feel more like a collision than a collusion. 

However, research has shown that it is not only a good and healthy thing for different generations to spend time in relationships one another, it is also one of the key factors in young people remaining in the faith after they’ve left their home of origin. So what can we do to help create environment that allow for this type of interaction in our faith community, without causing conflict and collision?

Community

It is important to keep in mind the community cannot be forced upon a group. It must
be nurtured and watered and given space to grow. One cannot simply tell older members of a congregation that they need to go mentor and worship with younger people and expect it to take place. Bonds of community take time to grow and develop and they require a certain level of shared vision and commitment on the part of the people involved.

In order to create nurturing environments for these types of intergenerational relationships to develop, we need to intentionally create situations where meaningful interactions can take place or, even more fundamentally, offer a way to simply get to know each other’s names.

team-spirit-2447163_1920

Service projects and shared meals are wonderful places for these types of interactions to begin to occur. There is something about serving with others that leads to a sense of unity and community and the act of sharing a meal together has long been seen as a way for people to connect and bond with each other. Shared communal activities like going to a baseball game together or working on mission together can go a long way in nurturing relationships across the generations.

I’m also a huge advocate for the Pray For Me campaign that connects young people in your church up with three prayer partners from three generations in ways that help them get to know each other and connect on a spiritual level (Read more on this experience HERE).

Communication

Without a “Why” it is really difficult to introduce change of any kind. People need to know that there is a reason behind doing something differently or moving in a new direction or they will resist it because it’s easier to keep doing something familiar.

It is important to “create a need” by sharing with those who will listen your vision
and the “why” behind it. If there is no understanding of the basic reasons for connecting generations (history of children’s/youth ministry, the facts about young people leaving the church, the things that help young people to “stick”), there will be no “need” that has to be met.

So we have to share. We have to give a reason for wanting to bring the generations together. We have to communicate in ways that everyone can hear. For some, it’s going to need to be from the pulpit. For others, in the bulletin or church newsletter. For still others, social media or email or even text. But there must be a clear and consistent message if we are to engage others in the need. 

Consistencey

If I were to ask you today to tell me about your church, you would probably tell me something about your church’s vision and mission. You’d tell me about the things your church is passionate about or excited about. For instance, if your church focuses on community outreach, you’d tell me about that. If worship is your main focus, you’d tell me about your worship. If you are into community groups or life groups, I’d hear about that.

As we introduce new things, like intergenerational worship into our church context, it’s important that we recognize what our church is already passionate about and find ways to join the generations in that mission.

For instance, if our goal is to connect the generations in our church and our church is really into service projects, it might be reasonable to find ways to get the children and youth plugged in there before having them join the worship service. Or, if worship really is the big thing, to find ways to involve children and youth in active participation or slowly introduce times of corporate worship as we move towards more times spent together.  If we remain consistent with our church’s heart and vision, the transition to something new will be a much smoother experience. 

Always keep in mind that the ultimate goal is relationship, and while those are cultivated in times of corporate worship, intentional discipleship, and ongoing mentorship, the relationship is the key to the long-lasting effect on the faith of young people.

It is simply impossible to create relationships if generations remain segregated from each other all the time. Intergenerational worship creates space for relationship to happen. Ultimately, intergenerational worship IS the whole church, being the church, together. 


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

Those Who Stay: 3 Reasons for NOT Leaving the Church

Whenever I’m faced with a big project, I try to approach it in pieces. I break it down into do-able parts and work my way towards finishing the whole.

When I heard Dr. Richard Ross speak at D6 Conference, I couldn’t help but think that what he shared was basically the same approach, only in the realm of ministry.

youthminthatlastsDr. Ross served as youth minister for 30 years and now is a volunteer with teenagers and parents at Wedgwood Baptist in Fort Worth. He is also a professor to the next generation of youth ministers at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth and his new book, Youth Ministry that Lasts a Lifetime, was just released.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Ross at lunch and here are some of the things he shared with me then and from the main stage that really stuck with me.

What made you decide to look at the effectiveness of youth ministry?

Dr. Ross:  We hear a lot about young people who leave the church as they enter into adulthood. We tried replacing parents with the professionals for 60 years. So how’s that going? I decided I wanted to look at the characteristics of young people who stay committed to their faith after high school.

What did you find out?

Dr. Ross: There were three major factors to young people remaining in the church.

First, they had spiritually alive parents. Spiritually lethargic parents create spiritually lethargic children. Spiritually alive parents are not pew sitters. They are all in!

Second, the young people who remained had a relationship with the larger congregation outside of specialized ministry (such as children’s or youth ministry). Young adults who have little love for the bride will eventually walk away from the groom but teenagers who spend their time with all generations in the church tend to stay in church. Giving teenagers a love for the church comes in two pieces: relationships and ministry.

Which leads to the final factor;  there needs to be “Bible-drenched age-appropriate ministry” that helps youth live out their faith in the world today.

How do you suggest the church approach ministry to kids and youth with these factors in mind?

Dr. Ross: The ultimate goal is families that love God, love people, and make disciples of all people.  The way to do that is to get out of the “event business” and into effective ministry. I suggest a new model for approaching ministry – Ministry in Thirds. Would we be willing to give one third of our calendar, budget and energy to each of the three factors?

One third of these resources would be spent focusing on helping parents to be spiritually alive and active by resourcing them, supporting them, and equipping them for the work of discipleship.

One third of the resources would be focused on engaging our youth with the whole congregation and finding ways to build relationships in the larger faith community.

And one third would be spent on our age-specific ministry area such as youth groups and children’s ministry.

Where can we start if we want to move in this direction?

Dr. Ross: So much of what we do is focused on our events and programs and those take a lot of time and energy.  But when you get yourself out of the event business you discover you have hours every week you can give to the families.  Children are like wet cement. We can leave impressions on them when they are young. We need to let them be active in the church as soon as possible.

Don’t wait to allow kids and teenagers to serve until they are adults. They become dry cement.  Find ways to let them serve while they are young.

bonding-1985863_1920I’ve been blogging at ReFocus Ministry for almost three years now. During that time, my heart has been to offer a “Both/And” approach towards ministry to children and youth that included BOTH age-specific ministry AND intergenerational ministry in the larger church community and homes.  As I listened this week to Dr. Ross and Dr. Bengtson share about their research which consistently pointed to the need for these intergenerational relationships in the church and home, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I’m not crazy. This really does work!”

Friends, we need one another. All ages, all generations, the whole body of Christ. As one D6 attendee shared with me, “All saints doing ministry, all the time, everywhere.”  There are no limits to God’s kingdom work. He can and will use all of us, youngest to oldest, to bring about “His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

 

 

An Army of Grandparents Unleashed

Since 1900, the average life span of an American has increased by 33 years.

33 years.

Why does this matter in ministry? More specifically how does this matter to family ministry?

I heard this interesting fact this week at D6 Conference in Dallas (where, consequentially, I also ate the best guacamole and queso I’ve ever had in my life). In the past, a fact such as this one would have passed me by, receiving only a cursory acknowledgement and a brief reflection on the advances in medicine we’ve experienced in that time. But this week when I heard that, I couldn’t get it off my mind.

It’s probably because I didn’t just hear that. I heard something other things that caused my “family ministry” ears to perk up.

I heard that in a 45 years longitudinal study of 360 families, grandparents were found to have a “higher than anticipated” influence on the faith of their grandchildren, second only to the parents of the child.

I heard that the degree of that influence a grandparent had in a person’s life did not decline with time but actually in some instances, it actually increased.

I heard that about 8% of children today are being raised by their grandparents and that there are more years of shared life with grandchildren than any time before.

I learned that if grandparents talked about their faith with their grandchildren face-to-face more than once a week OR went on family vacations with their grandchildren once a year that those grandchildren had a significantly higher chance of remaining in the faith than those who did not and led to an increase in grandchildren talking with others about faith struggles in their life.

I learned that “when grandparents consistently modeled their faith, their grandchildren tending to share that faith”

And I realized that there is a veritable ARMY of grandparents out there who are poised to help form the faith of the next generation of believers; to join parents in the beautiful privilege of discipling children an youth; to pass on the legacy of faith that has sustained them throughout their life onto their grandchildren who are just beginning theirs.

grandparents-1969824_1920And what’s even more amazing than that is that, according to developmental theorists, that’s exactly what God has instilled in them to do. According to Eric Erikson’s generativity theory, as people enter into the “post-kids, post-work” stage of life, they tend to start looking for ways to pass on to others what they have learned and experienced. If they can’t find that outlet, they will tend to enter a stage of “stagnation” where, for lack of a better word, they can get grumpy. In other words, people in this stage need to pass something on their legacy in some fashion to others.

This is where we find our implication for ministry, because friends, if there is anything that needs to be passed on, it is our faith!

Close your eyes with me and picture the grandparents in your life, in your church, in your community. Do you see them? Do you see the army of disciplers in front of you, just waiting to be unleashed? Do you number in their ranks?

If you, like me, have been taken by these facts and statistics, you might ask, as I did, “What next? How do I bring this army to life?”

Here are some practical ways forward that I gleaned from my experience at D6.

  1. Research – Take some time to look deeper into these facts stated above. The first few came from a study done by Dr. Vern Bengtson and can be found in his book Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down across Generations. The other information came from my friend and colleague, Matthew Deprez of the Fuller Youth Institute and the research he is currently doing on grandparents. You can find information about Erikson’s generativity theory here.
  2. Resource – I cannot say enough about the Legacy Coalition and the work they do resourcing grandparents for this important work of discipling their grandchildren. Take time to look over their website, read their blog, and hear the stories of how God is using grandparents in ministry to their families and community.
  3. Relay – I often tell family ministers that they need to be sure to continually let parents know just how influential they are to their children’s faith. I humbly submit that we need to do exactly the same for grandparents, building them up and encouraging them in the work of discipleship by reminding them often of just how important they are to the faith formation of their grandchildren.

I am excited. I am so excited. For years, we’ve known that grandparents had influence but now that we know just how much, we can truly understand just what this generation can do for our families. And that, my friends, is really good news.

We’ve been given 33 more years. Let’s use it to shape the faith of future generations. 

grandparents-1927320_1920


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

When Church is Optional

I recently heard a speaker refer to the “Nones” as the “new atheist.”  I quickly leaned over to my husband and said, “No, that’s wrong. They aren’t atheist. They just see belonging to a church or a denomination as optional to their faith in God.”

Now, in case you’re lost…. a “None” is someone who does not choose to affiliate with a religion. Over the last decade, there’s been a marked increase in the number of people who choose this designation on surveys, especially in the Millennial age group (18-30ish). Atheists claim there is no God, but the diverse group of Nones doesn’t say that. Rather, most say that they do believe in God, but they choose, for a myriad of reasons, not to associate with a specific religion or preference. Even those who say they believe in a Christian God and agree with the tenets of Christianity don’t want to claim a denominational affiliation.

And attendance at a church is…well, optional to their faith.

The latest Pew Research on Religion & Public Life has found that “nearly half (23% of all U.S. adults) say they have always attended religious services at least as regularly as they do now, but slightly more (27% of all U.S. adults) say they now attend religious services more often than they did at some other time in their adult lives.”

However…

Our definition of what a “regular attender” at church is probably varies quite a bit from the definition they used which was “at least once or twice a month.”  That’s right. Regular attendance at church is now defined as “once or twice a month.” To me, that is a startling definition. I can’t think of any other social institution that would count “once or twice a month” as regular attendance (unless they are only open once or twice a month). School, clubs, work, sports teams, etc. all require a much higher level of commitment to be considered members, let alone “regular attendees.”

And therein lies much of the struggle and much of the beauty of church.  

God does not “require” us to attend church to be members of his body than Jesus.  We repeatedly teach that our faith is “by grace through faith” not by works. And while we encourage the participation in the church and we teach on the importance of growing faith within community and we provide deeply needed place of connection so that we don’t walk away from God, church is a voluntary obligation and a place where we have the choice to join or not and still call ourselves a member in good standing.

Well, almost all of us. There is a group that doesn’t really have that choice.

boywithhymnalThe choice is made for them because they are young and their parents/caregivers are the ones that must bring them to church and involve them in the faith community.

The children are not given the options that we as adults are. They go where the
parents/caregivers say to go
.

So when the parents/caregivers make the church optional, the children do as well. And they can grow up and say things like, “I believe in God, but I don’t think I need to belong to a church to have my own faith.”

Regardless of feelings on this, and there are many, one of the reasons that family ministry has gained traction over the last few years is because this reality has been realized. Coupled with the fact that research both secular and religious consistently find that parents ARE the primary faith formers of their children, it has become evident that in order to reach the children, we must reach the parents.

Last year at the D6 Family Ministry Conference in Louisville, Pastor Robby Gallaty shared:”One of the biggest problems we face in the church is parents who are trying to make disciples with kids but are not being discipled themselves.

That’s what family ministry is all about.

It’s about reaching a generation of parents/caregivers, equipping, nurturing, and supporting them for the work of discipleship but not by saying, “You’re on your own. You don’t need the church.”

The purpose of family ministry is to put the church at such an integral place in the home and in the family that parents prioritize faith formation and involvement in a faith community in such a way that their children know just how much they need the body of Christ if they are to hold fast to their own faith as they grow.

Re-read that!  It is so important to understand this concept if we are going to have healthy conversations about families, and children, and church retention and attendance.

So what does family ministry really say about involvement in a faith community?

Dr. Colleen Derr, also shared at D6 Family Ministry Conference, this nugget I think we all need to grasp: “Family ministry is not ‘dump and run.’”  In other words, it’s not “Well, you are the primary faith formers so here you go, you’re on your own. Good luck with those kiddos!”

Sadly, this is a misconception that can sometimes be read into the goal of family ministry, which does put the primary discipleship responsibility in the parent/caregiver’s hands (because its already there by default), but misses the heart of family ministry, which is to work with the parents in a mutually edifying way that leads to disciple-making, not just of children, but of parents WITHIN the context of a local church body.

We are not separate from each other. We are made to be one body in Christ. As Dr. Derr shared, our job as ministers to the family is to find the “common practices, moments, and celebrations” to build upon in a way that doesn’t encourage less church attendance but rather more and more connection to the body of Christ.

 

We cannot force church attendance and/or more connection to the body of Christ. Christ won’t even force that.

What we can do is be such a pillar of support, nurture, encouragement, equipping, partnership and blessing that parents/caregivers long to bring their children to church to experience that love.

We can do that. So, let’s do that. 

Portions of this post appeared here originally last year in an article entitled, “Are We Going to 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

family

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

Gabbie’s Church: A Lesson in Inclusion

When my friend Mary asked me if I would consider sharing her article about her experience with inclusive worship, I didn’t think twice – absolutely I would! In this guest post, Mary shares tells us her story, inviting us to catch a glimpse into how life and ministry changes when you find your child in need of more inclusive environments.

As you read, take time to consider how perhaps your church and your home could be places where all children and all families find a place to belong. Thank you, Mary, for sharing your heart with all of us!

“So what does this mean?”

That’s the only question I could muster when a team of pediatric specialists told me that my 3 year old daughter had what they were sure was something called “Sensory Processing Disorder.” At the time, a myriad of thoughts flooded my brain. I recalled all the fears, tantrums, and meltdowns that had basically controlled the flow of our family for the last 18 months. There were so many “couldn’ts” on our list of activities.

We couldn’t go to the beach because the waves and sand terrified Gabbie. What is more, people often take their dogs to the beach and Gabbie panicked when a canine of any size came into her purview.

We had to avoid public restrooms with automatic flushers and those horrible hand dryers that blow your skin off because someone thought it was wise to power them with jet engines.

Amusement parks were a nightmare because lines, heat, and crowds were so overwhelming.

But of all the “couldn’ts” the hardest one on the list was Sunday worship.

We couldn’t take Gabbie to worship with us because she had a hard time sitting still, never cared for small talk with strangers, and she desperately wanted to be on my hip as I ministered. Of course there were times when Gabbie had to stay with us during worship, and I am forever thankful for the parishioners who offered grace and understanding when this occurred. Nevertheless, I worried constantly.

Truth be told, stress had taken its toll on me, my husband, on Gabbie, and our other five children. It seemed we all had to take turns being the most adequate coper (a word I made up that essentially means: the person who can best deal), so that the rest of us could empty those feelings of frustration, sadness, anger, and fear. Sometimes it felt like the eight of us against the world as we protected Gabbie from critical words and negative body language from those who did not live within the confines of our four walls.

All of these experiences washed over me as the doctor responded, “You have an exceptional child. Gabbie is highly intelligent, perceptive, and her brain takes in an incredible amount of information at a very fast pace. She will likely need some occupational therapy to learn to cope and how to slow down her processing. This will be hard, but the result will be good and well worth the effort.”

Ever the researcher, I took the information, asked for all the handouts, and went immediately to Barnes and Noble to purchase all the books they had on Sensory Processing Disorder.

As I devoured one book after another, I read characteristics that described my child perfectly. I also read staggering statistics that showed how the rate of children with special needs has increased drastically in the last 20 years. According to one U.S. Census study, 54.5 million Americans (about 1 in 5), have some form of a disability or special need. Statistics also tell us that nearly 15% of children ages 3-17 have some sort of developmental disability.[1]

Those numbers were sobering and assuring all at once.

Gabbie wasn’t alone.

And we weren’t alone. It was nice to know that there were people out there on this journey with us—parents and families all just trying to do what was best. But then the Holy Spirit hit me in my gut and I thought, “Where are all of these children in the Church? 15% is a big number.” I thought about how many “special needs” kids I had seen in worship over my 30 years as a church goer and honestly, I counted them on one hand. So so a mom of a newly diagnosed, “special needs” child I felt a fair amount of indignation and shame upon this personal discovery. As a pastor, I was broken.

I was felt this jumbled mix of emotions because the two roles I live into as mom and minister often intersect. As I sat there with my stack of books, articles, and all the wisdom that Google offered, I wondered how I missed “it.” The “it” being the reality that my daughter has a need that cannot be reduced to a “phase” or an “idiosyncrasy” of which she would eventually outgrow.

Just as I began to sink into the perpetual pit of mother guilt, I became very aware of the presence of God and memories of things past came to mind. Specifically, I recalled a time when I was dropping Gabbie off at preschool at another United Methodist Church in our district. I was in a hurry that morning but Gabbie insisted we go through the sanctuary instead of cutting around the building. “Mommy, I have to see my church. I love my church. They love me here.” I couldn’t resist that plea but I was curious as to why Gabbie called the church that housed her preschool,  “her church.” When we entered the sanctuary I inquired and she responded enthusiastically.

“Look! There’s beautiful blue and white things! And the baby Jesus will be born and put right here!” (The sanctuary had been carefully adorned for the season of Advent). I watched my daughter show me “her church,” a place where she was free to look, touch, feel, and tell the story of Jesus without boundaries. A place where someone with an incredible gift with art and design took the time to beautify and bring the scriptures to life with color, fabric, and texture.

It didn’t make sense to me then, but when we got her diagnosis a few months later it hit me as I walked through that same sanctuary after dropping the kids off for school. I looked around and breathed in all that Eastertide had inspired the artist to create in vibrant colors, branches, and butterflies.

For the first time, I understood why this was Gabbie’s church.

This church was truly a sanctuary for her to be herself. Here, Gabbie was free to girl-354579_1920run to the feet of Jesus as described in the Gospels (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:16-17). Here, is where she could go to Jesus without being scolded for her loud and excited volume.

Here, is where she could witness, touch, and experience God’s creation without inhibition.

The mother in me felt a wave of mercy and grace wash over my worn and weary soul, and I sat in the front pew of that church and wept heavily for what felt like hours.

When I got up and left that day, I left with a new perspective. As a mother, I was free from the fake guilt and shame that the enemy tried to hurl on my life. As a minister however, I was forced to consider the 15% of children who need to have a church where they can really worship as part of the Body. Where they can be active participants no matter their age or ability. Where they can be included and understood rather than segregated and shushed. Where people with incredible and unique gifts can offer themselves to the worship service in such a way that their efforts are not belittled or deemed a frivolity.

Walking through “Gabbie’s church” with an open heart and mind allowed me to see that it is possible to be completely inclusive of individuals and families with special needs. It also convicted me on this: we in the Church MUST strive to do better for these precious souls. The truth is they are exceptional human beings who have a lot to teach us if we will listen.  While this will require time, education, and energy, I believe that by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit the Church will be greatly blessed by such effort.

Mary

Guest Blogger Bio:  My sweet friend, Mary Trent, is a minister in the United Methodist Church, mother to six beautiful girls including Gabbie, and a gifted writer. She  holds an MDiv from Asbury Theological Seminary where we met had the chance to live together for three years in seminary housing. So you can add to that list, a great friend and neighbor. 


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

What Happens When You Replace Pews with Coloring Tables?

I often have people ask me if I could give examples of how churches are finding creative ways to allow for intergenerational worship within their faith community. I’m always on the lookout for stories I can share that might strike a chord with someone and help them as they seek to find more ways to bring generations together within the church.

As soon as I read this account, I knew I had to share it because it is the perfect blend of simplicity, grace, and creativity that so many are searching for. Many thanks to Mike Woods of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church for his willingness to share his experience with all of us!


This summer we took out a couple of pews in the back of church, long wooden benches that are designed for fifty minute sitting sessions. Unfortunately worship usually lasts an hour. We replaced the pews with coloring tables. They were an immediate hit. No signs were needed as to why the tables were there.

Their presence just said WELCOME to a certain segment of the communion of saints.

One week later we heard Jesus’ story of this crazy farmer who threw seeds everywhere. A nine year old came to the communion table and with pride handed me her very accurate time lapse drawing of the life cycle of a seed that she wanted me to share with the congregation to make us all better people. I did.

The next week I was talking to a grown up about grown up things after church when I felt this tug my sleeve. The little one tugging was excited to show me something with such excitement that she forgot to wipe the ample supply of pumpkin bar off her hand so it now adorns my sleeve at the elbow.

She too needed to show what she had drawn during worship. We had heard Jesus’ story of the wheat and the weeds. I thought I was helpful when I said to consider that the kingdom of heaven like it is God’s holy ecosystem where weeds are necessary, like mosquitoes are necessary but in the end God knows what God is doing. Seemingly opposite things can co-exist in God’s church – sort of like Viking fans and Packer fans worshipping together.

Well she took all this in and produced a work of art that included a puppy, playing with a kitty, who was playing with a mouse who was playing with the puppy … a beloved community of play. She was probably five years old but a very good theologian. The stain would come out in the wash the next day but I am still thinking about that drawing.

GreenweedsThat same morning I came face to face with a three year old artist and his interpreter (mom). I saw a series of colorful slashings on his eight and a half by eleven canvas. I was told the larger blue scribbles are the wheat. The contrasting green slashes are the weeds. Both sets of plants seemed to be thriving. Yup, I thought, the wheat was good seed, unimpeded by weeds. God will use the wheat to make blue bread and the green weeds God can bundle up to build the fire to bake the bread.

When I asked about the bonus picture on the back of the paper of a rhinoceros and its horn and a wheel. The interpreter just shrugged her shoulders.

YouaremylightI like the piece on my door where a five year old wrote: “You are My light” from the bottom of her paper up, so that the word “light” was like a crescendo on top of the pile of letters. It does make sense if you think about it.

drawingpeopleSpeaking of light – another five year old showed me her drawing of red clouds, a yellow sun, green grass and two stick people with skinny arms touching one another and a beam of yellow glowing between those arms. What is this yellow here I asked. She looked at me with all the confidence in the world and said, “That’s friendship!” Is not friendship the stuff of light, and necessary for life as yellow sunlight?

Then there is the toddler who makes her own kind of music every time the congregation sings a hymn. She grabs a songbook like everyone else but she only knows one song so far in her short life. So with conviction and gusto she belts out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star every single time! Last Sunday for our last song the whole congregation, a couple hundred strong, sang in one voice, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star … because her daddy is serving in the military in Saudi Arabia and he wanted to let his daughter know it’s okay to sing her own song.

Because when churches use the word “we,” we always mean one more.

 

MikeWoodGuest Blogger: Mike Wood serves at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in La Crescent, MN. I first read his story on Facebook and it was also published in the Houston County News in his hometown.

What are some ways that your church has creatively made space for all ages to worship together? Send your stories, pictures, and short bio to christina.m.embree@gmail.com and perhaps we will be able to share your testimony on the ReFocus blog.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

Is Your Family Ministry a Success?

I was part of an interesting discussion the other day with some family pastors, one of which posed this question: “What does family ministry look like? How can you tell if you are doing a good job?”

It’s a good question and, as was oft-repeated at my church staff meetings, you “grow what you measure” so  how do you know if the family ministry at your church is successful? What measuring stick is there to check off and line up to so that you know can rest assured you are accomplishing the work of the ministry?

target-1955257_1920Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, a book with principles to help businesses succeed and thrive, recognized that many in non-profit, social services sector were trying to use his principles within the context and running into a problem. You see, in business, you measure success monetarily and through numbers. Profit and growth = success.

But in non-profits and especially ministry settings, more money and more people doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve succeeded. Non-profits have different goals and ones that aren’t as easily measured. So, he decided to write a short monograph called Good to Great and the Social Sectors: When business thinking is not the answer.

I’m not going to go into all five of his indicators (although the monograph is definitely worth checking out) but I want to look at the first one:  Defining “Great”.

What is “Great”?

Great is better than good. It’s a step beyond just doing well and into success. And, unlike the business sector, it’s often not quantifiable (like numbers and income) but qualifiable, a quality or outcome.

And that’s important…because it breaks the cookie cutter mentality of ministry and acknowledges a very key component: Each church is different and therefore each definition of “great” or of success is going to be different.

In the discussion with the other family ministers this week, I wrote:

I’m not sure there is a one-size-fits-all answer for this. Every church has its own culture, its own unique community both within and without. “Success” in one place may look very different from another.

Are people growing closer to Jesus?

Are children being discipled in the faith?

Are parents and caregivers being nurtured, equipped and supported so they can disciple their kids at home?

Are generations connecting with each other?

How that looks and plays out may be different for each church but if these questions are being asked consistently, there’s a good chance that the job is being done well.

Jim Collins puts it this way:

What matters is not finding the perfect indicator, but settling upon a consistent and intelligent method of assessing your output results, and then tracking your trajectory with rigor. What do you mean by great performance? Have you established a baseline? Are you improving? If not, why not? How can you improve even faster towards your audacious goals? (p. 8)

I’m becoming convinced there simply is no across-the-board litmus test that can be used to test the success of a ministry. There are certainly tools that can help us grow, learn, and improve, but those tools can’t define success for us.

That will come in one way. Prayerfully and consistently coming before Christ, as a church or ministry team, and asking Him, “What is our mission from You for this community and this congregation?”

Let Him be your litmus test.

Don’t look to the church next door or down the street. Don’t let a matrix that worked for Church A determine the calling of Church B. Learn from others but don’t try to be just like the others. God has many, many people to reach in this world and He will use all of us if we let Him.

Numbers are fine. Higher attendance is great. Seeing kids learning about God in their home from parents/caregivers who feel supported, equipped and nurtured by their church is incredible. Helping generations connect with one another in intentional relationships designed to help disciple and mentor the youngest generations is invaluable.

But only God can show you and your team how that is “successful” in your context. If we are consistently allowing Him to guide us and lead us, then there’s a pretty good chance that we are succeeding in the things that matter most.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

Seven Family Ministry Ideas for Kids Who Come Alone

When we serve in family ministry, our goal is to equip and resource the home in ways that promote faith formation and spiritual discipleship primarily by parents and caregivers.

But what happens when a child comes to your church and doesn’t have a home life that is conducive to that model?

alone-1869914_1920

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

Here are some practical ways your family ministry can minister to family-less kids.

Welcoming” Families (or families that will welcome)

Before events that will likely bring more kids into your church, approach a few families and ask them if they’d be willing to “adopt” a child for the activities that day or week.  If your church has intergenerational services where kids attend, find families or even grandparents that will welcome the child to worship with them.

Talk about Home

Just because a child’s caregivers aren’t there at church, doesn’t mean you can’t talk about home with that child.  In fact, they may want and need support if they are trying to live out their faith at home without support.  Give them that space to share. As a fellow minister once challenged me, “Know the names of the names they know.” In other words, know the names of the people who are in their lives, not just their name.

Invite the family 

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

Give him/her a place

There’s nothing worse than feeling out of place and awkward.  But there’s nothing better than feeling like you are a necessary part of something.  There are lots of roles that need filled in preparing and completing a worship service.  Finding a place for that child to serve can give a strong sense of self-worth. (younger kids can help hand out bulletins, help with greeting, be your “right hand man”; older kids can read Scripture, help with sound/lights, participate on worship teams, help collect communion)

Know their name

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

Appreciate WHO they are

Don’t let their identity be “The kid who comes without his/her parents.”  They are a beautiful and unique child of God.  A colleague of mine shared this with me about his own experience: “Once upon a time, when I was one of those kids (at church sans family), I appreciated being taken seriously on my own, not as a spare part (like so many singles do!)” 

Host Cross-Generational Events

Instead of all events being focused on family groups, host events where all generations mingle and fellowship regardless of age or relationship.  One family minister I know has round tables and the simple rules are 1. You can’t sit with anyone you are related to and 2. You can’t sit with anyone your age.  Her church has grown to love these times of intentional intergenerational connection and no one feels singled out.

Many thanks to the Family Pastors on Facebook who sent me these suggestions to share. Original post June 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

family

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