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

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Intergenerational Worship is NOT…

A children’s pastor recently spoke to the larger church community about the important role they play in influencing young people to remain in the church as they grow.

She explained that research has shown that having the opportunity to worship with those of different generations than their own actually helps them to feel more a part of their faith community and build relationships outside of their own peer group. And she shared that at some point in the future the children and youth would be invited to be part of the larger corporate worship experience of the whole church rather than always being separated at that time.

She was met with mixed reactions.

But one person in particular was concerned enough about this turn of events that he/she wrote the children’s pastor a letter. In it he/she expressed that “90% of the church” was happy with the way things were now and if she wanted to have the children and youth worship in the sanctuary, maybe she could start a service on Friday or Saturday night for them to go to that was more the style that they would like. And maybe if she did that “some other adults” would go to and, ba-da-bing.. the problem would be solved.

Actually.. therein lies the problem.

What the children’s pastor said and what this member of the congregation heard were two very different things.

Lenses of tradition, personal preference, and familiarity often cloud the conversation when we talk about any kind of change at church, but especially when we talk about bringing together generations for times of worship in a corporate worship setting.   It may be helpful that begin by explaining what this time of worship is NOT so that it can set the stage for what it is intended to be.

Intergenerational Worship is NOT…

Putting kids in the sanctuary

If the goal was just to put children and youth in the sanctuary, then creating a new service geared to them and separate from the rest of the body would make sense. But that’s exactly the opposite of what intergenerational worship is. The whole point is to create space for all generations, old and young and in-between, to worship together. Creating a new service or maintaining an existing service that targets one specific generation can’t accomplish this goal.

Glorified Kid’s Church

boy-1929539_1920Some people express the concern that if children and youth are welcomed into the service, they’d have to start doing “kids stuff” like singing songs with motions and eating goldfish during the super-short, kid-appropriate sermon.

Intergenerational worship is not old people pretending to be kids or young people trying to act old.

If that happened, it would be a total disservice to the whole point of intergenerational worship which has at its heart a desire to help kids and youth and adults and elderly be a part of the church as it is, whatever that looks like, and to experience all the parts of church that make it unique to their church tradition (such as liturgy, songs, Scripture reading, celebratory practices like baptism and communion, and all the other rhythms that make each worship service unique).

A Disruption

Often a concern raised is that children especially don’t get anything out of church and everyone will be forced to spend their whole service shushing kids. I read an incredible article in The Federalist, of all places, about this, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with parents, caregivers and other congregation members about this concern.

I’m not about to argue that children will get the same thing out of church that adults do; that would be ridiculous. I do think it’s important to consider what kids do get out of church (for more on that, click here) but also just as important to realize that kids are kids. They will wiggle and squirm and giggle and turn, but is that really such a huge issue that we shouldn’t offer times for the whole congregation to worship together?

It didn’t seem to be for Jesus when He “called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.'”

A New Fad

Actually, it’s exactly the opposite.  The segregation of ages within the church is a fairly new practice in American church history. Most of the time it gets traced back to the start of ministries on college campuses on post WWII America where it became apparent that there was a need for age-specific ministry. Churches began to recognize the need to create space to address the developmental concerns of each age group. Through time that progressed into less of a “both/and” model and more of an “either/or” model. In other words, instead of times of both age-specific and intergenerational gatherings, it became one or the other with little to no opportunity or encouragement to do both.

For those who see intergenerational worship as the “newest” fad to come down the block, it is helpful to understand that for thousands of years, the church all worshiped together and only recently have we begun consistently separating the ages. Which makes it very hard to learn from one another as Christ indicated that we should.

So, what is Intergenerational Worship?

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

For clarification purposes, please know that I am not opposed to quality Christ-centered, community-focused Children’s Ministry and Youth Ministry, but I do have concerns when families and churches are consistently separated from each other and never having time to fellowship together. There is great benefit to all of us when we are given the chance to learn from, worship with, and grow together with one another.

So how can we do that?  The follow-up article is coming soon. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on the ideas expressed in this one. What are your concerns, ideas, frustrations, and encouragement?  And what ways have you found to connect generations creatively without neglecting the needs of anyone?


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

D6 Conference 2017: Recap and Resources

Friends, D6 2017 was amazing.

The presence of God was tangible. The fellowship of His people was encouraging. The information shared was enlightening. And the food…the food was amazing (Got to hand it to you, Texas…your food trucks and Tex-Mex were top of the line!)

21687845_1474699655918887_7092711647640165701_nI had the privilege of getting to share my heart for family ministry in several arenas and had such a great time getting to know ministers from around the world. Of all the things that happened at this conference, by far these moments were my favorite:

Hearing the stories of the work that God is doing on churches across the globe and praying with each other about everything from hurricanes to ministry transitions.

One of the major takeaways for me was this:  God is at work. He is moving in and through His people. His heart is being put into action and His Church is listening for Him to speak to and through them. It can get hard to see this when often what we hear about the Church often sounds divisive and disheartening.  But friends, that was not my experience this week. My experience was one of grace, excitement and anticipation of the work God is doing in the world.

As promised to many, here the links to the resources I mentioned in my sessions and/or conversations. Thank you for letting me part of your ministry journey!  I hope that the seeds that were planted bear much fruit for God’s kingdom and you are encouraged to know that you are not alone.

From Main Stage presentation:

I mentioned that the first time I heard about the ideas of family ministry came from Pastor Brian Haynes at a similar conference. His book Shift:What it Takes to Finally Reach Families was a huge part of that for me. His other books, The Legacy Path: Discover Intentional Spiritual Parenting and Relentless Parenting , which he wrote with his wife Angela, are great follow-ups that I also recommend.

For ideas on ways to invite Christ into the everyday, be sure to check out the Practical Discipleship at Home page on this site that includes creative suggestions ranging from how to make Family Movie Night a discipleship moment to ways to pray with our kids.

From “When Family Ministry Doesn’t Work” Breakout:

To access the slides from this session, go to https://prezi.com/x6nby-dvuhyt/family-ministry/ and for ideas to help you tap into your church’s vision, mission and values, be sure to check out the Church Health Assessment offered from Randall House in conjunction with Ron Hunter’s book, The DNA of D6.

Check out the Family Ministry page on this site for a variety of resources that can help you as you transition to family ministry and be sure to check out the following articles: Practical Ways to Embrace Kids who Come Alone, A Few Verses about Family Ministry (remember, that bibical basis is so important!) and Transformational Homes: A Four Part Series on the Importance of Faith at Home.

From “When Generations Collide” Breakout:

To access the slides from this session, go to https://prezi.com/rexxyfkp-fdv/when-generations-collide/  and for a synopsis of the conversation we had, check out “Why Intergenerational Worship? And Why Now?”

We talked a bit about the Pray for Me Campaign that hooks kids in your church up with three prayer partners of various generations. For more information on that program, check out www.prayformecampaign.com and Tony Souder’s book “Pray For Me.

For more ideas on how to bring generations together within your faith community, check out to following posts:

From the (AWESOME) Family Ministry Connect Group:

We talked a lot about the research presented by both Dr. Vern Bengtson and Dr. Richard Ross. Click on their names for links to both of their books and remember, I’d love to continue our conversations. Be sure to contact me if you want to keep talking. I so enjoyed our time of debriefing together. Also, for those of you that were there the second night, the cheese made it 🙂

Friends, I truly hope that the relationships that were started this weekend, the times of prayer and the fruitful conversations will continue. Thank you for letting me be a part of it!  God is doing something awesome – let’s not miss it!!


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

 

Something Great to Imitate

“Oh how cute!”

That was my first thought as I saw a young boy, probably three or four, walking behind an adult man, presumably his father, down the street the other day. They were dressed the same, in khaki shorts and a white shirt, and the little guy was imitating the adult’s every move.

And then I noticed the cigarette in the man’s hand and the pretend cigarette in the child’s hand as they both lifted to their mouth to take a puff as they walked.

My heart sank.

Now, I’m not here to make some theological statement about smoking, so please don’t tune out. My heart sank because this little child has already had modeled for him and imitated an unhealthy behavior and that has a profound effect and influence on him.

dad-909510_1920Multiple studies have shown that children learn by imitating adults. Psychologist Mark Nielsen, of the University of Queensland in Australia says that scientists “have been finding this odd effect where children will copy everything that they see an adult demonstrate to them, even if there are clear or obvious reasons why those actions would be irrelevant.

Children don’t know how to differentiate between what is healthy and unhealthy, necessary and unnecessary, and, from a moral and ethical standpoint, what is good and what is bad. They simply learn by imitating. 

Nielson also says, “We see these sorts of behaviors as being a core part of developing this human cultural mind, where we’re so motivated to do things like those around us and be like those around us.”  Think about that. The “human cultural mind.”  So if over the past few weeks, months, years, you’ve said something like, “What is going on in our culture today?” the answer is quite simple: Our children are imitating us, or at least imitating what they think is “us.”

We have a profound and unfathomable influence our our children.

I’m not sure this fact can be emphasized enough. Psychology Today states, “Parents vastly underestimate how closely they are observed and how constantly they are evaluated by their child.” We, as parents and involved adults, have far more influence than any other source -more than peers, more than media, more than celebrities, more than anything. We are literally forming the human cultural mind every. single. day. just by raising our children and ministering to families and kids.

So…let’s give them something worthwhile to imitate!  Or, as some anonymous person once said, “Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.”

Here are five imitable actions you can do in your home, on the road, when you get up and when you go to bed that can help your child develop their cultural mind.

  1. Practice Hospitality – Let our children see us interact with others, as many others as we are capable of, whether that is through inviting them into the home, interacting in public places, serving others in tangible ways, or just making space for others in our family life and prayer life such as sponsoring a child or praying together for others.
  2. Pray (when and where they can see us) – Yes, the Bible does tell us to pray in secret but it also tells us to impress upon our children the commandments of the Lord, one of which is to pray. So pray with them, pray around them, pray often and pray confidently. Model for them where it is we run in times of need and times of praise so they will do the same.
  3. Engage Scripture – It’s one thing to let our children see us reading the Bible, but it is another thing when they see us actual engage the Scripture in conversation and practice. Pray for your enemies. Love the stranger. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those imprisoned. We can DO all these things and let them know the reason we do is because Scripture tells us to.
  4. Love Each Other – Seriously, do it and do it in ways that are imitable. Show affection to your spouse. Hug your children. Make a habit of telling them that they are loved. Show them how to love.
  5. Face the Tough Questions – I think there’s probably nothing more frustrating to a child then seeing a parent or caregiver dodge issues or not answer questions. When things come up that are difficult, it might be easier to ignore it or try to shield our kids and ourselves from it. But what a great practice it would be to acknowledge the hard things in a way that brings them to God and invites His peace into each situation. And what a great thing for our kids to imitate; to see us proactively addressing life’s curveballs with God’s grace and pursuing peace. (Ps. 34:14)

What are some other ways that we can “give them something great to imitate?”  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Let’s do this -let’s change the cultural human mind by giving our kids things to imitate that welcome the kingdom of God into our world.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

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

The “Family” in Family Ministry

Who is your family? 

It’s amazing the answers you will get for this.  The definition of family has been changing rapidly in today’s society.  Sometimes family is defined by structure (blood relatives, parents and children). Sometimes family is defined by function like close friends who are like family, caregivers who act as parents, “aunts” and “uncles” who are family friends. My daughter once called the latter our “family of the heart.”

On the whole, family structures and functions vary widely, but usually these main characteristics remain:

  • there are caregivers and care receivers
  • there are resource providers and resource consumers 
  • there are mutual functions of attachment, bonding, and affection met within the family unit.

family-932245_1920

Traditionally, the primary caregivers, resource providers and emotional stabilizers are the parents and the receivers, users, and reciprocators are the children.

When we are looking at ministry to children, we tend to think of age-specific children or youth ministry where the focus tends to be primarily on the child. In family ministry there is a shift in the focus to the parents or caregivers, who, studies show, will have the greatest physical and spiritual impact upon their children in their growing years.

 

This focus on parents is not a new concept.

In his sermon On Family Religion,” John Wesley (1872) puts the responsibility for spiritual discipleship squarely on the shoulders of the parents/caregivers in the home. Wesley recognized the need for parental instruction to prepare parents to carry out the command to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Pr. 22:6).

Over the years, parents and caregivers have shared that at times the church has been inadequate in training parents for this task of of discipleship at home. They don’t feel equipped to transmit their faith in words or model it in deeds. And frankly, without that equipping and support, the idea of discipleship at home can sound a little scary!

There is a great need to provide parents and caregivers with the support and opportunities to put their faith into action at home. 

Jim Merhaut of the Center for Ministry Development shares that “the most effective way to help a child is to help the parent of that child” and encourages the church to “become a trusted resource, a go-to person with good ideas”.

Regardless of “how” a family looks, an effective local church ministry must equip the parents/caregivers and provide space for families to practice their faith together.

The focus of family ministry shouldn’t be so narrow that it excludes families that are structured in a less-traditional format or function in less-traditional ways or so broad that it doesn’t effectively resource or support the leaders in the home.  To be most effective, a church must

  1. Know its families – How are they structured?  Who functions as caregiver?  Who is identified as “family”?
  2. Know their needs – What role does faith play?  Where are caregivers resourced?
  3. Know the community.  – What do families “look like” in the surrounding community? What needs are present?

There’s no “cookie cutter” answer for family ministry because the answers to these questions are different in each context. However, the one similarity that exists and the reason I am so passionate about the heart behind family ministry is this: Parents are the single greatest influence in the faith of their children…period. So if we can join arms with parents; support, equip and encourage parents; we will in fact be reaching the children in the best way possible.

For more information about the importance of equipping parents/caregivers, check out these articles and resources.


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

And This One Thing Makes ALL the Difference

This past year, I had the privilege of taking a Spiritual Formation class that absolutely challenged me, inspired me and wrecked me all at once. There is no way in one blog post I could possibly convey how meaningful that class was for me and how it changed me, but I can share this one lasting impression that will forever color how I look at this world and the people in it.  Especially the little people, the children.

In class we talked a great deal about how we  are being formed by the world around us; circumstances, situations, environments, people, media, clothing…all of it in some way affects and forms us.

But our initial formation, our original intent, only had one influence – our Creator. And our Creator formed us in His image, Imago Dei, in His likeness.

Even as we were uniquely put together to be who we are as an individual, we reflected the One who was putting us together. Each person was first and foremost created by God in His image. That was our initial formation.

Since that first moment though, all those other forming influences have layered on top of that initial formation.  Some influences help that Imago Dei shine though even more brightly. Some influences cover it up making it hard to find.

But that reflection of God, that image of God innately formed in each one of us, never disappears. It’s there, inside each human being. It’s present, within each and every person. It exists, no matter how many layers of formation have been piled on top of it, good and bad. It simply is. We are Imago Dei, the image of God. 

And therein lies the whole thing: How can we not love each and every human being, created in God’s image, reflecting His goodness?  No matter what covers up that initial formation, it is there.

But are we willing to look for it?

Are we willing to look past rough edges and things we just flat out don’t like? Are we willing to search for that imago dei and speak to that place and call it to the light?  Are we willing to see past all the stuff, all the ugly and the sad and the broken, and focus in on that thing that makes us unique in all Creation?

That child who just never, ever listens?portrait-2014329_1920

That girl who won’t talk to anyone?

That boy who is too violent?

That adult who doesn’t look the way you feel comfortable?  Who says the things you totally disagree with? Who blatantly walks in rebellion and rejects everything you believe?

Within all of these, there is Imago Dei.

Reggie Joiner, author of Think Orange and creator of the Orange curriculum, put it this way:

Every kid doesn’t think the same, but every kid has ability to reason.
Every kid doesn’t feel the same, but every kid wants to be loved.
Every kid doesn’t enjoy life the same, but every kid likes to have fun.

That’s because every kid has one thing in common. Every kid is made in the image of God. It should seem obvious. Humans are radically different from every other living, breathing creature. They have the stamp of God’s image. Stop for a moment and think about what that really means for your kid, and every other kid.

If they are created in the image of God, then they have a divine capacity . . .
to believe, imagine and love,
to care relate and trust,
to reason, improve, and lead.
That’s a lot of potential. (source)

With that in mind, how can we not extend grace? How can it not break our heart when we see people, regardless of the layers of formation that we might not like, treated as less than, maligned, alienated, alone? How can we not seek to see each and every person the way God does, as a reflection of Him?

Friends, it is so easy to look only surface level and see what we don’t like and walk away. I did it for years. It is easy. But if we dig, even just the tiniest little bit – if we truly look in a person’s eyes and remember WHO they really are – if we work to see that image of God within them – then those words we read in Scripture make a lot of sense and we will want to live it out.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him (Jn. 3:16, 17, NLT)

That doesn’t mean with have to agree with every formational influence and action that is in a life; it means we always talk to, look for, and extend grace to that reflection of God in them. And we call it out, as much as we can. We look for it with intention and celebrate when we experience it together. And we listen to God’s call back to our own initial formation as a reflection of God. Grace becomes a whole new experience in this light and we can pass that on to all we come in contact with.

And that… that is ministry. That is what it is all about. 


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

Star Wars, Light Sabers and Redemption: Four Practical Discipleship Ideas for Parents

We have recently moved into a new home, which is why you’ve heard a bit less from me than normal. That being said, each of our kids were given a small budget from which they could draw to “decorate” and refurnish their new bedrooms. Our youngest son went with a Star Wars theme because… he’s six and light sabers.  To complete the ensemble of the Star Wars sheets and Star Wars comforter and hanging light sabers, we also put a sticker above his bed that says “The Force is strong with this one.”

Our first night in our home, I hung the sticker above his bed, he shouted with glee and then.. redemption happened. Now, I’m not sure what the writers of the Star Wars series intended the “Force” to be (some analogous spiritual thing devoid of religious affiliation but representing good and evil that could be tapped into by humanity and alien species perhaps?) but in the Embree household, that’s not what the Force is.

Me – Did you see the sign over your bed? What do you think “the Force” is?

C – I dunno. Like the power to do stuff.

Me – Good and bad stuff?star-wars-1004714_1920

C – Good stuff.

Me – Hmm, who helps us do good stuff?

C – Oh.. God. God helps us to do good stuff.

Me – Does He have power?

C – Yes, even more power than anyone.

Me – So what do you think your sign means?

C – That God is with me!

Me – Even more than that, God is STRONG with you. He fights for you. He give you power to love others and to love Him. He is all the power you will ever need.

C – Whoa!

Me – Right?  And you know what, that sign is right. The Force is strong with you. God is always with you. All the time. Every day. And you have that power to do good.

C – Awesome!

Redemption.

To redeem. To “change for the better”. To “get or win back.”

Author N. T. Wright in his book Surprised by Hope says, “people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.

In other words, we are about the act of redemption. 

We are practicing resurrection every day in the world around us.

We are taking everyday things and making them holy by intentionally and consistently inviting Christ into that space.

And this is huge for children. They are surrounded by stories of good and evil and we, as believers, are engaged in the ultimate battle of good and evil.  Kids are constantly faced with intentional messages that seek to form and frame their worldview while we have the ultimate truth to offer them. So why not beat the world at its own game and redeem the space by practicing redemption?

Here are some ways we can redeem the time and space in our home.

  • Watch movies as a family and use them as a framework to discuss a range of spiritual concepts and theological perspectives (See more on how to have your own Family Movie Night discipleship times here).
  • Read stories and look for spiritual overtones or biblical heroes you can introduce while reading. Superhero books for kids have so many themes that mirror the Bible and, as your kids grow, dystopian novels and fantasy books allow for all kinds of exploratory and meaningful conversations. Let them explore all those questions with you!
  • Invite Christ into everyday moments, intentionally, not as an afterthought. Look for ways to incorporate Christ into your rhythms, your meal times, your car rides, your routines. Lots of ideas can be found here BUT the bigger thing is simply this: Be aware and intentional, looking for opportunities to redeem the time or situation.
  • Serve Christ and others together. Find ways to put into practice what you say you believe and how you say you should live. Don’t let Sunday be the only time they see and hear you talk about Jesus or read the Bible or pray. Redeem the time by making space for the living out of your faith and invite them into the journey.

The past week each time I’ve put my son to bed, do you know what he says?  “Mommy, God is strong with me.”  Oh yes, yes He is, my dear son!

And if from this point forward every time he watches a Star Wars movie or hears the words, “The Force is strong with this one”, he thinks that thought, even if only silently, deep in his heart, then redemption has been realized and resurrection has been practiced.


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

Let Them Hear The Stories: Drugs, Alcohol, and Grace

Today I got to hear the testimony of a young woman who is a recovering opioid addict and alcoholic.

She shared her whole story, starting with her adoption as a young child because her own mother was an addict to her high school career of good grades and popularity (think homecoming queen); her military career as an army nurse to her return home that eventually led to a life of addition and alcohol abuse.

She told of how she got involved in a relationship with a man who was in and out of worried-girl-413690_1920prison, had two children while she was in and out of jail herself, leading up to a point where she decided, after repeated attempts at rehab, it would be best to just give up custody of her children and go to prison.

Through a number of circumstances, she instead found herself placed into a Christian halfway house where she was required to attend Celebrate Recovery meetings each week and slowly her turnaround began. Today marked two years of sobriety and she and her family (yes, she still has her daughters and the same man in her life) now attend church together and are finding their way in a new life.

I’m not the only one who heard her testimony.  This particular Sunday in this church, the children attended the whole service with their family, all ages. So it wasn’t just adults in the audience hearing this testimony. It was toddlers and preschoolers; it was elementary kids and emerging middle schoolers; it was high schoolers and recent graduates…it was everyone.

I was interested in seeing how the children would respond. My kids (13, 11, and 6), my nieces (7 and 5) were in the pews, most listening intensely. And learning.

They learned about the devastation caused by drugs and alcohol.

They learned about the emptiness of a life of partying and loose living.

They learned that behind every desperate situation is a larger story, that the person they see sitting on a bench with a newborn and a one-year old, alone and destitute, has a story and needs.

They learned about redemption and grace, the power of community and the need for family (even if that family isn’t related by blood), that God uses His church to heal and to hold those who the world rejects, spits out and destroys.

And all I could think was,

“What if they hadn’t been here to hear this story?  What if I just tried to tell them all these things?  That drugs will leave them lonely and hurting. That alcohol abuse offers promises it can’t keep. That there is more to each person than we could ever understand in passing. And that God’s grace, the power of redemption and the role of the body of Christ are very real and very needed in this world and THEY get to be a part of it!”

Because I do tell them all of that. And I’m sure you do too

But nothing could take the place of having all those things confirmed through the power of a story of a life redeemed, the power of testimony.

As parents, I know we want to be cautious in what we expose our children to and at what age we do so, but friends, the world is not so cautious. The media that surrounds us doesn’t care so much about what our kids are exposed to. What better place for them to be exposed than in the church, where the truth of the lie of drugs, alcohol, sex, and popularity are made known alongside the forgiveness, redemption and grace of God.

I think we need more stories not fewer. We need to hear these things.

Parents, if you happen to have one of these stories, tell your kids. Tell them how empty your life was apart of from Christ. If you can, share it in your church. Look for others and let your kids be exposed, from a young age, to stories that demonstrate for them the truths we long for them to understand as they grow.  And churches, don’t be afraid to let those stories be heard, from the pulpit, in the full assembly, as often as God allows those redemption stories to be part of yours!

I know my kids are going to be exposed to these things as they grow. I know that at some point, drugs will be offered, alcohol will be available, popularity will be desired, and sex will be a temptation. I also know that this lady’s story today will be in their heads and hearts as well. And I hope that they will always remember the truths they heard today.


For more information about

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

About 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