Practical Discipleship: Four Questions That Transform Dinner into Discipleship

“When you sit at home…” Dt. 4:7

This verse is found in the oft-quoted passage regarding discipleship in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 where Moses addresses the congregation of Israel and explains how they are to pass their faith on to the next generation. He mentions four specific moments to talk about faith: When we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we rise.

I love these four moments because they are universal – every single person ever had done these things. They’ve sat at a place they call home, they’ve left and gone out on the road, they’ve slept and they’ve woken up. These simple, everyday moments are when God shows up, if we are looking for Him.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to look at these four moments and find some creative ways to use the time we’ve been given. Today, we’re going to look at the moments where we sit at home and how we can redeem that time to share our faith with our kids.

“Highs and Lows!!”

If you’ve ever eaten dinner with the Embree family, no doubt that right after we prayed, dinner-2330482_1920one of us said this phrase.  It has become part of our dinnertime DNA and something that has led to incredible faith conversations over spaghetti and salad.  Some of our most defining moments as a family in terms of discipleship and growth, especially as a young family, took place because of these four questions.

I can’t take credit for them.  That goes to Dr. Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute.  I had the opportunity a few years ago to attend a seminar led by her about Sticky Faith and how to help our kids develop a faith that sticks beyond high school.  She shared this dinner time routine at that conference and I immediately thought, “This is easy!  This is something we can do!” and so… we did.

Here are four simple but ever so critical questions we ask each other nearly every day.

1. What was your HIGH today?

Simply put, you are just asking what went well that day. Why? Well, I’m sure you’ve all experienced the oh-so-enlightening after-school conversation that goes something like this:

Parent – So, how was school today?  Child – Fine.  

Parent – Well, what’d you do? Child – Nothing.  

Parent – You had to do something. What did you learn? Child – I dunno.  

Parent – Oh come on, give me something! Child – *blank stare* 

Asking a question like “What was your high?” begs the answer in story form.  Sure every now and then, we get a shrug, but most of the time, we get to hear about something that happened that day that otherwise we would not have been privy too.  Plus the whole family gets to celebrate the moment together.

2. What was your LOW today?

It is important to recognize that not everything that happens in a day is fun and happy.  Sometimes things happen that make us angry or sad.  Having a safe place to mention low times and process with family can lead to some of the most meaningful moments in your family’s life.  We’ve cried together, talked through some difficult situation, prayed for people who hurt us or were hurting, and addressed some of the harder things kids face in life.  We don’t want our kids to live a “facebook” existence where only the good moments get highlighted; rather, we want to teach them that God and home are safe places even in the hardest times.

3. What MISTAKE did you make today?

We all cringe a little bit at this one.  It means we have to step back and acknowledge that we may have messed up. It takes humility to admit that, not only to ourselves, but also to our family.  And no one is exempt; even Mom and Dad have to answer the question.

Do you know what message this sends our kids?  That we mess up, but God’s love is available anyway.  Forgiveness and grace are always available.  Sometimes, we can genuinely say, “I had a good day and I can’t think of any mistakes” but those times are outweighed by the moments we recognize that we trip up and fall into the grace of God.  We want our kids to know that no matter how big the “mistake”, God’s grace, love and forgiveness are always available, and so is ours.

4. Where did you see JESUS today?

This is by far my favorite question.  it’s different from the High of the day.  It’s where we have experienced God in our everyday life.  I love the answers my kids give to this question, things like, “I saw Jesus when my friend gave me a hug” and “I saw Jesus when my teacher forgave some kids who had three strikes and let them have ice cream anyway.”  Seeing the attributes of God in the world around them keeps them looking for Jesus everywhere they go.  Once, one of my girls wrote a note to a friend in which she said, “When you [did that thing] I saw Jesus in you.”  That’s exactly the kind of note we need to be giving one another!

Four simple questions.  Four amazing life lessons.

Four easy ways to connect.  Four intentional moments for discipleship.

And while the dinner table works for us, maybe it would work better for you on car rides? Or before bedtime?  Or maybe even over text if your kids are older?

The idea isn’t to create another “thing “we feel pressured to do.  Rather, it is to layer some intentionality over what we are already doing to create the opportunity to model faith, experience grace, and increase love together.

Remember, discipleship at home is never about doing more things. Rather, think of it as an opportunity to invite Jesus into everything we are already doing. Many of use eat dinner at home and most of us strive to do that together, as a family. Inviting Jesus into that everyday practice takes it from ordinary to sacred, from dinner to discipleship, from temporal to eternal, and that is discipleship at home.

For more ideas on how to use the dinner table as discipleship, check out these posts:


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

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Practical Discipleship: 4 Easy Parenting Wins for Family Movie Night

“When you sit at home…” Dt. 4:7

This verse is found in the oft-quoted passage regarding discipleship in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 where Moses addresses the congregation of Israel and explains how they are to pass their faith on to the next generation. He mentions four specific moments to talk about faith: When we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we rise.

I love these four moments because they are universal – every single person ever had done these things. They’ve sat at a place they call home, they’ve left and gone out on the road, they’ve slept and they’ve woken up. These simple, everyday moments are when God shows up, if we are looking for Him.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to look at these four moments and find some creative ways to use the time we’ve been given. Today, we’re going to look at the moments where we sit at home and how we can redeem that time to share our faith with our kids.

Shot of a happy young family of three watching tv from the sofa at home

One time our whole family sits at home, which is increasingly a harder feat to accomplish, is when we watch a movie together. Movies are great because they tell a story, much like the metanarrative of Scripture and the parables that Jesus uses to each his disciples. Often in movies, we can find rich plots, interesting characters, and complex moral dilemmas and in those things, we can often find just the right opportunity to share with our kids how we can live out our faith or how God can meet our deepest needs.

Here’s four faith-forming movie moments we can capture for our Family Movie Night discipleship times

  1. The BIG Story

Every movie has an overall plot and many times the plot has something to do with good vs. evil.  Of course, we always want good to win and just when it looks like evil has taken the lead, good comes from behind for the BIG win.  Does this sound anything like another story you’ve heard in your life or read in the pages of the Bible?  The original good vs. evil story took place in the narrative of Scripture and is repeated in all of the small stories we read over and over again, not the least of which was the resurrection of Christ that we celebrate on Easter.  Some examples of questions you could ask your kids:

  • Where does the idea of good and evil come from?
  • Who was the good guy in the movie? Who is the ultimate good guy?
  • Can you give an example of the Bible where good beat evil, like in the movie?
  1. The BIG Lesson

Most movies have a “lesson” or moral they are trying to get across to their audience.  It may not be a deep lesson (Dumb and Dumber anyone?) and it may not be a healthy one (50 Shades of Let’s Not Go There) but there is some lesson behind the story.  Before you watch the movie with your kids, be aware of what the messages are and ask your kids if they can find it or figure it out.  I’ve been amazed by some of the insights my girls have come up with about the messages in movies.  Here are a few questions to help you get started.

  • What is the main message this movie is telling you about life? love? relationships? friendship?
  • Do you think the message is true or false?
  • Do you think that is a the same message Jesus would give you?
  1. The BIG Picture

Movies try to paint a certain reality, whether it is set in a high school or outer space, the movie tries to pull you into their alternate universe and have you believe it’s real.  Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on the movie, the fact is that reality is not real.  Sometimes kids especially have a hard time discerning that as their minds are still developing the skills necessary to tell  the difference between fantasy and reality.  Here are a few thoughts you might want to share with your kids before and after the movie.

  • Before the movie: Look for things in the movie that are different from your reality.
  • After the movie: What did you think was unrealistic?  Why?  How has that been different from your experience?  As a Christian, what would you have done in that situation?
  1. The BIG Hero

Oh, we love our heroes!  My girls recently discovered Indiana Jones and MacGyver (Thank you Daddy and Netflix) and they think these two men are simply amazing.  Every good movie has a great hero who always rescues the needy ones, loves the unloved ones, and saves the lost ones.  It’s as though they had a prototype to work off of (hmmmmm), an ultimate Hero that could change the whole world (AHA!).  We of course know His name, but let’s make sure our kids know Him too. Here’s some ways to start that conversation.

  • Who in the movie needed rescued and who was the hero?
  • How did we know that he/she was the hero?  What makes a hero heroic?
  • Who is the ultimate Hero of the world?  Who has He rescued?

These questions and conversations flow easily in our house now since we started them a long time ago, but at first it can be a little awkward.  Don’t let that awkwardness stop you.

These types of conversations carry more meaning than in just that moment; they begin to help your children build a framework through which they watch television and movies in the future.  They will approach these things with a mind that is looking for more, critically reviewing the messages they receive, and developing a worldview based on the reality of God’s word.

And to think it all started with some pizza, popcorn, and pop (soda, coke, whatever) in your living room on Family Movie Night.

If you are interested in seeing how this plays out with an actual movie, feel free to contact me and put the words “Family Movie Night” in the subject line and I’ll send you a parent discussion guide for a familiar movie!


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

Talk About It When You Sit at Home: Bringing Advent from Sunday into Monday

What is Advent?

If you’ve read my blog at all, you know that Advent is probably my favorite celebration of the year. Not Christmas necessarily, but Advent, the time leading up to Christmas. The anticipation of Christ’s arrival. The celebration of Hope, Peace, Joy and ultimate Love.

A few years ago, I asked a group of elementary-aged children this question.  Keep in mind that sunday-school-kidsthese children have been “raised” in church so the terminology of “advent” was not unfamiliar to them.  But the answers… oh, the answers… seriously, one of the reasons I love working with kids.

Advent is…

… when you can’t find the angel for the top of tree and you look all over the house for it

… a fun trip into the jungle (I think he though I meant “adventure”)

… when you light candles on the tree branches that fall off the tree (think Advent wreath)

… that thing you use to light Christmas lights

… the songs you sing at Christmas time

Admittedly there were some closer guesses, “countdown to Christmas” being the most popular one, but in reality, most of the kids had no idea about the heart and the wonder behind the season of Advent.

And that got me thinking?  Why?  I know for a fact that Advent has always been celebrated at this church.  Every year on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, candles had been lit and Hope, Peace, Joy and Love talked about.  Liturgical Scriptures were read and Advent vespers services were held.  But somehow, the whole meaning behind the celebration of Advent was missed by the children.

So the question is, how much of what we do on Sunday still has meaning for us on Monday?

You see, lighting the candle of Joy this Sunday doesn’t mean a whole lot to me or you (or to our kids) if we don’t talk about that joy, contemplate that joy, and celebrate that joy for the rest of the week.

Reading beautiful Scriptures of God’s promises and love for us doesn’t mean a whole lot if it stays inside the church walls and never makes it to our dinner table, our car ride, our community, and our job.

Singing a few hymns about Christmas won’t impact our lives until we consider the words and use them to praise God on our recliner at home as much as we do our pew at church.

The reality is, if we are “doing” something at church and not “doing” that same thing the rest of the week, we are compartmentalizing our faith to a building instead of incorporating our faith into transformed lives.

We don’t have to literally light an Advent candle every night but if we want our children to know about the Hope of Christ, we need to talk about it every day.

And it’s fine and even fun to sing Christmas carols in the car but we also need to model a life of worship everywhere we go.

We don’t necessarily have to read Scripture aloud in front of our family but Scripture needs to be a part of our everyday conversations with our kids.

christmas-554720_1920I once asked a similar group of kids what church was.  My answers ranged from “A building we go to on Sunday” to “Where God lives.”  I know these are kids and “kids say the darndest things” but let’s be real for a minute.

If we live lives that say “Church is a building we go to on Sunday because God is there” how else are our children to interpret our faith?   What if instead we told our kids, “Church is the family of God and He is always with us so we are always in church?”  Not with those words, but with our lives.

Spontaneous worship.  Times of prayer.  Lighting of candles. Corporate worship.  Waiting expectantly in hope for the arrival of Christ. 

These things don’t need to be limited to a place, a time, a special moment.  These things can be lived all year long and our lives can be a living testimony to a vibrant, growing faith.

Want some ideas on how to bring Advent home in simple, practical ways? Click here!

Worried you can’t do it all?  That’s okay!  Click here.


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

“That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown”

Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights, please.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: “for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

 

This scene is probably the most well-known in the classic Peanuts story, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  It airs every year on ABC as part of their Christmas programming and is something that most of us grew up watching and make our kids watch annually. And at one time, most of the country would have agreed with Linus regarding what Christmas is all about…but times have changed.

A recent poll by Pew Research found…pew

“Today, 66% say they believe Jesus was born to a virgin, down from 73% in 2014. Likewise, 68% of U.S. adults now say they believe that the wise men were guided by a star and brought gifts for baby Jesus, down from 75%.

And there are similar declines in the shares of Americans who believe that Jesus’ birth was heralded by an angel of the Lord and that Jesus was laid in a manger as an infant.  Overall, 57% of Americans now believe in all four of these elements of the Christmas story, down from 65% in 2014” (Source).

Why is that?

Well, a big reason for the decline in these numbers is the increase in others, especially the rise of the religious “Nones” who consider themselves unaffiliated with any religion. The majority of those who would categorize themselves this way are in the younger generations, specifically Millennials.  In addition to leaving organized religion and subsequently churches, many are also leaving behind the beliefs of the faith they grew up with and that includes the Christmas story.

So very much has been written about Millennials and, while I too have my thoughts, this post really isn’t about this; rather, I am hoping that this encourages us to really consider the generation we are currently raising in the light of this information.

What if we were to ask ourselves some questions, like…

Are we presenting the story of Christmas as a fairy tale or a significant part of church history?

Our kids hear fairy tales all the time and in fairy tales (or superhero stories or fantasy stories) magical and impossible things happen; things like a virgin giving birth to a baby and angels appearing in the sky.

How we tell the story matters. If we want our kids to understand that these events have been passed down from people who lived through them and experienced them, from one generation of Christians to another, for over 2,000 years, we have to tell the story that way. We have to tell them that no one made this story up or dreamed it in a dream. Actual people lived the events, told other people about it, who recorded their stories and then shared those stories with us.  And that is way, way different than a fairy tale and makes our God way, way bigger than a story.

christmas-crib-figures-1060017_1920

An example of this is how we present the story as though it actually happened on December 25 in the snow with a glowing Christmas tree in the background of the cozy stable and wise men by Mary’s side. Okay, this is a bit of an exaggeration of course, but you get the idea.

God’s story of coming to earth as a poor baby to an unwed mother in a place where animals were kept and first visited by the outcasts of society is grand enough; let’s tell them what Mary told John and John recorded for us and what the disciples told Luke and he wrote it down for Theophilus and for all of us. Let’s give them the truth because the truth is incredibly beautiful, raw and real. 

Are we entering into the journey of Advent or just joining the celebration of Christmas? 

The older I’ve gotten, the more important I realize Advent is. Advent is the period of time leading up to Christmas and throughout church history, it’s been the time of waiting and anticipating that made Christmas Day so amazing. It’s a time of hearing the story, not once or twice, but over a period of days and weeks and contemplating it together as we wait for the culmination, the birth of Christ, on Christmas Day.

Advent slows us down and lets us truly consider the incredible events of that time, all wrapped up in the themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. This is a powerful opportunity for children to embrace and understand how the birth of Jesus fit into a larger story of who we are and who God is; a story that they get to be a part of as members of God’s family.

Are we keeping Christ as our focus or is He the afterthought? 

Yes, Church family, I’m looking at you. Because this is the crazy, busiest time of the year for church people, especially ministers. Not only are there all the things that happen outside of church, but all the things that happen inside too – cantatas and concerts, breakfasts and banquets, programs and performances, evening services and midnight services, and everything else that comes with all of those things.

And while they all may be “about” Jesus, those things are not Jesus.  And  while they all may feel important, we do need to be careful that these things enhance the story of Christ and don’t clutter the season with even more distraction.  Kids see and remember; let’s be sure that what they remember is Jesus.

There’s a great video about the church calendar that explains how the church has celebrated the life of Christ throughout history. In it, the narrator says, “”Ordinary season has passed; it’s time to inhabit His Story.”

That is the beauty of Advent and Christmas. It is our chance, as the church of God, to enter into the story of Jesus’ life and to celebrate once again the Greatest Gift, the Word who became flesh and took up residence among us.

Advent leads to Christmas, Christmas to Epiphany (God’s revelation to all mankind, symbolized by the Wise Men), Epiphany to Lent (a time of testing and trial, reminding us we have a Savior who knows what it is to be human), Lent to Easter, Easter to Ascension, and finally Ascension to Pentecost where God once again comes to earth in the form of the Holy Spirit and takes up residence in mankind.

This is the story of God and the story of us.

And this is the story we need to share with our children, over and over, not as a dream of what could be but a beautiful picture of the reality of God’s presence and Love in our lives.

So, my friends, “”Ordinary season has passed; it’s time to inhabit His Story”. Blessed Advent and soon, Merry Christmas!


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

You’re Not A Horrible Parent: Christmas Edition

Last Thursday at the stroke of midnight and the launch of Black Friday sales…it happened. Somehow we magically moved into the mysterious time we call the “holiday season.”  In just a few days my Facebook feed has lit up with posts about Christmas and Christmas trees and Christmas food. Christmas music has started playing on the radio and Thanksgiving turkeys are all discounted in grocery stores.

The whirlwind begins.

Keep in mind, dear friends, that I LOVE the whirlwind. I embrace it like a moth to a flame. The busy isn’t busy to me – it’s rich and full and bursting with life. Time with friends and family becomes the essential instead of the extracurricular and food, fun, and fellowship the norm rather than the exception.

But the is also the time of year where I see Stress get a capital-S. Because while all those things above happen, so does all the other stuff that goes on year-round. It’s not like we hit the pause button on life so that we can celebrate; instead the celebration gets piled on already busy, stressed-out lives.

A recent study by Pew Research has found that in nearly half of two-parent homes, both parents work full-time.

pewresearch

How does that affect the family?

The same research found that:

  • Of full-time working parents, 39 percent of mothers and 50 percent of fathers say they feel as if they spend too little time with their children.
  • 59% percent of full-time working mothers say they don’t have enough leisure time, and more than half of working fathers say the same.
  • 56% percent of all working parents say the balancing act is difficult, and those who do are more likely to say that parenting is tiring and stressful, and less likely to find it always enjoyable and rewarding

One mother interviewed by the New York Times said this, “You basically just always feel like you’re doing a horrible job at everything. You’re not spending as much time with your baby as you want, you’re not doing the job you want to be doing at work, you’re not seeing your friends hardly ever.”

adorable-blur-child-1261408When we add in the holidays, and all the stuff I mentioned that I love, on top of this…for many it is overwhelming.

And then, if we add in on top of that the calling for parents to intentionally lead and disciple their kids at home, using this time of year to teach them about gratitude, serving others, compassion, self-sacrifice, and giving through things like serving at a mission or participating in a food drive or giving up presents…for many, it feels impossible.

Parents, may I offer some encouragement?  

For a brief moment, before we are rushed headlong into this season, can we breath in this small respite of grace?

We don’t have to do it all.

We don’t have to do it perfectly.

We don’t have to make all the best choices, provide the best experiences, or present the best opportunities.

(deep breath)

But, if we can step back and before it all starts simply say, “Jesus, this year, with our family and our children, show us how to invite you into our everyday holiday season. In what we are already doing, show us how to have You be a part of it.  Be present in our presence;” if we can do that, my bet is at least part of the weight will lift from our shoulders.

Some simple ideas, using those everyday moments from Deuteronomy 6:7 “when you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” could transform your holiday season without you feeling like you do a “horrible job” at everything.  Things like…

When you sit at home:  Watching a Christmas movie and looking for Jesus in it (see ideas for movie night discussion here), Wrapping gifts for family members and praying for each one while you do. 

When you walk along the road:  Listening to Christian Christmas Carols and asking what part of the Christmas story it was about, Looking at Christmas lights and talking about how Jesus is our Light (check out this Christmas lights scavenger hunt if you have a long drive), Handing out Blessings Bags to those in need. 

When you lie down:  Create a wall of blessing that you add to each night at bedtime (just tack up a piece of posterboard and let kids decorate with stickers, pictures, etc. and list the year’s blessings, one each night/week), Start reading the Christmas story on December 1 until Christmas Day, Add one ornament each Saturday night to the tree that has special meaning to your family.

When you rise: Use an Advent Calendar and open a door each morning before the day starts, Pray together for everyone you sent Christmas cards to (one person or family per morning/week), Put Christmas cards in your kids backpacks (you can get packs for $1 at Dollar Tree) with notes of blessing for them all season long. 

(Want more ideas: Click here)

The reality is that the holidays are coming, will come, and will pass.

Memories will be made. Life will happen. What January looks like for your family will in some way be dependent on what November and December looked like as they passed.

Don’t allow stress and shame steal the joy and opportunity of the season.

Realistically, no family can do it all. But realistically, we can all do something.

If we are unable to do “the big things,” let’s invite Jesus into all the little things and embrace the celebration for His sake.  It will look different for each home, as it should. But in each home, Christ desires to be the respite, the rest, the peace no matter what season it is.

An earlier version of this post can be found here.


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

Thanksgiving: An Intergenerational Experiment in Community

This week, families and friends across the United States will gather to share a meal, to enjoy one another’s presence and to celebrate and give thanks for the blessings we corporately and individually share.

Community, the gathering together of people, will be at the center of our celebrations.

Community is broadly defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”. The design and make up of community is important to the functioning of society and the continuation of shared practices, traditions, and religion.  Information is passed from one generation to another, from the older to the younger and vice versa, through interactions, relationships and communication.

But in modern society we find a community that is becoming increasingly more age-segregated and our opportunities to engage in these interactions, relationships, and communication are being severely hindered. According to family sociologist, Dr. Karl Pillemer, this is the first time in history that young people have little to no contact with older generations other than grandparents leading him to claim, “this is the most age-segregated society that’s ever been” (Source).

Enter Thanksgiving.

This is one of the only times in our modern society that we put a bunch of people of all ages and generations into one space and anticipate conversation with one another. And, let’s all be honest, even with family, it isn’t always easy.

Why is that?

thanskgivingdinnerAccording to Pillemer, “People are more likely to have friends of another race than friends more or less than 10 years apart. That means that we are used to talking to be people to talk like us and do the same things as us and like the same TV shows as us and enjoy the same leisure activities as us. But believe it or not, that’s not really the best thing for us.

Studies show that when we spend time only with people our age, that leads to isolation and loneliness and greatly inhibits socialization in kids and teens and legacy-leaving in older people. The norms and practices of one generation fail to get passed to the next generation and each generation is forced to create or find their own identity, including language and customs and behaviors.

Our community is no longer communal.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t gather.

Regardless of our discomfort, most of us will make an effort this week to step outside of our comfort zones and talk with people from varying generations and life experiences. We will swap stories, laugh at how things were, laugh at how things are and, if we are intentional about, we’ll probably learn something new about us and something new about others.

The church in Western culture has not been immune to the impact of age-segregation. Age-specific ministries, curriculum, worship experiences, and facilities can create environments that make it difficult if not impossible to form intergenerational connections and nurture ongoing relationships across generations. As in the larger society, experiences of isolation, loneliness, delayed socialization, and lack of generativity occur within the church.

Our faith community is no longer communal.

But that shouldn’t mean we don’t gather.

Regardless of our discomfort, it is important for us, as a community of believers to ask some questions. Questions like “If spiritual formation is defined as “a process [and] journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God,” what is gained and lost in this process/journey by each generation when interaction and relationships with others is limited or not readily available in the church? Since Christianity is primarily perpetuated through discipleship and mentorship, how have these practices been impacted by the lack of generational integration?

What would happen if we did gather, together, and give thanks on a consistent basis? 

What stories could we stop, what laughter could we enjoy, and what can we learn about ourselves and others?

This Thanksgiving, as we grab that second helping of turkey, pause for a second and look at the people who surround us and give thanks for community and for the experience of being in it, even the uncomfortable bits.


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

Come, Let Us Advent Together!

I have always loved Christmas time and one reason I have is because growing up, Christmas wasn’t just one day. My parents used the time of Advent to build anticipation and tell the story of Christmas over and over again until the we couldn’t wait until Christmas morning when we could celebrate Jesus’ birthday, with a birthday cake and all!

child-1867394_1920I have carried this love of Advent and Christmas with me and into our home and family.  We have all kinds of special Embree family Advent traditions but what makes the time most meaningful in our intentional celebration of Christ’s coming.

A few years ago, in order to make this time more meaningful, I collected a number of prayers, Scriptures, and activities for the family to experience together throughout the month. These brief readings and prayers do not take a lot of time (can easily be done at the dinner table) but they help to frame Advent and the celebration of Christ’s birth in the larger story, the metanarrative, of Scripture.

I hope that your family or your church family will be able to use them too and celebrate together the coming of our Prince of Peace!

 

Our Christmas “Advent”ure

This Advent Season, gather your family each day for a moment to read a Scripture, say a prayer, or do an activity below and add to your “Reverse Advent” basket.

December 2018

Week 1

2 – Make a your First Advent Candle. Use a paper towel or toilet paper roll as the candle. Wrap it or color it in purple and write the word “HOPE” on it. Create a “flame” using orange construction paper or just color one on white paper. Cut out and attach to the top with tape. You’ve just lit your first Advent Candle. The theme for this week is HOPE.

3– Read Luke: 1:26-38

4 – Pray this prayer together:

God of hope, who brought love into this world,
be the love that dwells between us.
God of hope, who brought peace into this world,
be the peace that dwells between us.
God of hope, who brought joy into this world,
be the joy that dwells between us.
God of hope, the rock we stand upon,
be the center, the focus of our lives
always, and particularly this Advent time.

5– Isaiah 7:10-1

6 – Read Matthew 1:18-24

7 – The Advent Theme for this week is Hope. What are some things your family hopes for?

– Read Isaiah 11:1-10

Week 2

9 – Make a your Second Advent Candle. Use a paper towel or toilet paper roll as the candle. Wrap it or color it in purple and write the word “LOVE” on it. Create a “flame” using orange construction paper or just color one on white paper. Cut out and attach to the top with tape. You’ve just lit your second Advent Candle. The theme for this week is LOVE.

10. Read Micah 5:2

11. Read Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11

12. Read Isaiah 2:1-5

13. Pray this prayer together:

Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the paths of thine Only-begotten Son:
that we may worthily serve thee with hearts purified by His coming: Who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen

14. Read Matthew 3:1-6

15. God is Love. Our theme for this week reminds of His great love for us. How does our family show and experience God’s love?

Week 3

16. Make a your Third Advent Candle. Use a paper towel or toilet paper roll as the candle. Wrap it or color it in pink and write the word “JOY” on it. Create a “flame” using orange construction paper or just color one on white paper. Cut out and attach to the top with tape. You’ve just lit your third Advent Candle. The theme for this week is JOY.

17. Sing “Joy to the World” together as a family. Sing it as quiet as you can. Now, sing it as loud as you can! How does our family share JOY with others?

18. Read Isaiah 9:6-7

19. Read John 1:19-34

20. Pray this prayer together

We beseech thee to listen to our prayers, O Lord,
and by the grace of thy coming enlighten our darkened minds:
Thou who livest and reigns with God the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

21. Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

22. Read Philippians 2:1-11

Week 4

23. Make a your Fourth Advent Candle. Use a paper towel or toilet paper roll as the candle. Wrap it or color it in purple and write the word “PEACE” on it. Create a “flame” using orange construction paper or just color one on white paper. Cut out and attach to the top with tape. You’ve just lit your fourth and final Advent Candle. The theme for this week is PEACE.

24. It’s Christmas Eve! Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. What are some ways we see God’s peace in our lives?

Christmas Day

25 –  Jesus has come!! Read Luke 2 as a family as you finish this season of Advent. Consider these prayers that have been shared through church history as a way to culminate our Advent celebration

God of love, Father of all, the darkness that covered the earth
has given way to the bright dawn of your Word made flesh.
Make us a people of this light. Make us faithful to your Word
that we may bring your life to the waiting world. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(From The Roman Missal)

Let the just rejoice, for their justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice, For their saviour is born.
Let the captives rejoice, For their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice, for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice, For their Liberator is born.
Let All Christians rejoice, For Jesus Christ is born.
St. Augustine of Hippo


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

“Holistic Discipleship” is not a Curriculum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About the author

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

When Church is “Boring”

Brutal honesty time.

Sometimes, my kids think church is “boring.”

My middle child has definitely fallen asleep on her dad’s lap right in the middle of a 9:30 service.  My oldest has made the most amazing doodles you’ve ever seen during service times and, when he was little, if I could get my youngest to make it through any portion of a service, he spent most of his time touching everything he can get his hands on like hymnals, bulletins, random stranger’s hair…

So, why in the world do I make such a big deal about having kids in worship?

Obviously they are bored.  Obviously I am forcing them to do something that they don’t like and probably scarring them for life when it comes to attending services.

Wouldn’t it be better for them to be somewhere else, like with other kids in a different room, where they can have fun and want to come to church?

There’s a lot to unpack in those questions, more than one blog post can cover.  A lot of underlying assumptions about why we go to church and what church is supposed to look like and how kids are wired and all that stuff, but I’m just going to tell you my simple reason for why I want my kids participating in worship.

Because they are members of the body of Christ.

It’s simple really.  They have each made declarations of faith, appropriate to their age and understanding, that they love God and want to follow Him.

They are part of the church.  The church needs them.  And they need church.

Okay, you thought I was brutally honest above… check this out.

Sometimes, I think church is boring.  Hey now, so do you!!  Be honest, sometimes we have a really hard time engaging, in some cases, staying awake.  We wish we could curl up on our daddy’s lap and grab a quick cat nap during the sermon.

But most adults I know, especially adults that are desiring to grow in their faith and active in their walk with Christ, would not use the fact that church is “boring” to dissuade them from attending.

Because that’s not why we go to church.

We don’t go to church for an adrenaline rush.  We don’t go to church to be entertained.  We don’t go to church for goosebumps and thrills and chills.  I’m not saying there aren’t times when we have amazing moments where those things might happen, but that is not WHY we go to church.

And that is not WHY my kids go to church.  Sure, I do my best to engage them with the service.  And we continue to explore more ways to welcome and invite kids and youth into active participation in the service.

But even if we do it all perfectly, chances are, there are going to be days where church is boring.  And that’s okay.  Because there are days when school is boring, and home is boring, and life is boring.

If we are never bored, if we are constantly entertained and distracted, how are we ever going to find time to “be still and know that He is God?”

boredkidIf you are concerned with bringing your child into worship because you are afraid that he/she will be bored, don’t be.  Being bored is not the worst thing in the world.  But here are some great suggestions for how you can engage with your child during the service so that being bored and being left out don’t have to be the same.

Kids don’t just have to sit and tolerate services.  They can be invited into the experience and my guess is, if we engage with them during service time, we may just find out that we too get more from the service. (BTW, these ideas were inspired from an insert from Christ Church Parish in Raleigh, NC and a pew card that we use at my church)

  • Sit towards the front where it is easier for your little ones to see and hear what is going on. They tire of looking at the backs of others’ heads.
  • Quietly explain parts of the service and actions of the ministers and whisper the sermon to them in words they can understand.
  • Sing the hymns/songs, pray and voice the responses because children learn the liturgy by watching you!
  • If you have to leave the service, feel free to do so but feel free to come back as well!
  • Let your kids doodle and color in church.  Often when their hands are busy, their minds are engaged with the service more than you realize.

So many times I have parents tell me, “I didn’t think my child was listening to the sermon at all but then later, he said something almost word-for-word that the pastor had shared!”

Kids are a lot more perceptive than we give them credit for.

They are learning all. the. time.  They are watching you, listening to you, and imitating you.

The next time your child says, “I don’t want to go to church.  It’s boring!!” and they will because they are kids, give them a hug and say, “I know it can be boring sometimes, but that’s not why we go to church.  We go to church because we are part of the body of Christ. And you are an important part of Christ’s body.  If you aren’t there, a piece is missing.  Who knows?  God might use you today to encourage someone who is sad, to teach someone who is needing to learn, to love someone who needs to be loved.  God might even speak to YOU if you listen closely.  You are special to God and to us, and we need you there!”

And, as needed, remind yourself of that truth as well.


A version of this post first appeared on this website here

For more information about

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

About the author

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

“Please Enjoy the Remainder of the Service in Our Lobby”

Last week, Christian comedian John Crist posted a picture on his Instagram account that he had been tagged in. It was a card that someone had been handed at a church they recently visited that said,

“Thank you for being committed to being in church with your child. In order to allow those seated near you to engage in the message, please enjoy the remainder of the service in our lobby…A Connection Team Member will assist you.” 

lobbyA full thread of comments ranging from the sad and angry to the agreeable and affirming filled in below the image.  If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know which response best fit me, suffice it to say, I was saddened that this particular church had decided to address the topic of having children in the service with a blanket “No.”

As an advocate for a both/and approach to youth and children’s ministry, one that acknowledges the need for age appropriate teachings and activities but also the need for corporate times of worship and relationships, I can see merits on both sides of this issue.

But I think that it’s also important to address assumptions that are not based in facts but in one’s own experience or surface observation. So much of what influences us, shapes us, molds us and forms us doesn’t come in obvious ways, but in consistent and silent messages that tell us who we are, what we mean, and why where are here.

The subtext of the card above matters for these very reasons.

This card very clearly says that there are some people who are welcome in the corporate assembly and some people who are not.

This card lets parents know that they are not welcome to have their child attend service with them.

This card lets children know that there’s no place for them in the corporate gathering of the congregation.

It also lets children and their parents know that they are expected to be a distracting detriment to the service and that their proper place is outside the doors, not inside.

And these messages matter… a lot.

Because regardless of what one thinks about children and youth being included in the corporate assembly, we can’t deny the fact that when we read the stories of those who have chosen to leave the institutional church and in some cases their faith, these are the messages they heard and they repeat back as part of their reason for leaving.

A quick internet search will show you that some of the biggest reasons that people leave the church is because they express doubts, have questions but are given pat answers, don’t have a relationship with the church, and feel lonely and distant from God.  (A brief reminder here – the church IS the body of Christ; we are literally “God” to the world and to each other in the world today, so if distance is felt, that is very much on us.)

One of the most common complaints I hear about including children and youth in the corporate gathering is that they don’t get anything out of it. People will share their own stories about how church was so boring and all they did was waste time coloring or crawling around the pews.

My first response to them is, “But look, you remember. You remember being in church. You remember seeing the people and hearing the voices and watching the way the service unfolded. It’s part of your forever memory.” 

And that’s part of the bigger picture. Children remember.

So what if we used that time when they are in church to do something more; to connect to that memory in meaningful ways? Rather than leaving them with negative impressions, why don’t we work to ensure positive ones? Sure, there will be some “boring” moments, but what if they also remember…

…that lady who always asked me how school was going and came to my tee ball games

…that man who always had the lollipop that he gave to mom for me and told me how glad he was to see me

…that young adult who sat with me and colored every week and helped me to memorize the Bible verse

…my mom holding me and letting me lay my head in her lap as we listened to the sermon

…my pastor who always told a story or mentioned the kids at least once in the sermon so we understood what was going on.

…that older lady who always told me every week that she loved me and was praying for me

You see, children remember LOVE.

kidsinchurchThis is integral to their growing up years. How they perceive love and how they see love acted out around them speaks volumes. In an article by Psychology Today, we (adults) are reminded to “be creating moments with our children that will reinforce their connection of love with us, but also encouraging and modeling the moral mindset towards love one ought to have.” 

What better place to do that than at church?  And what better place than with the full congregation, all ages and generations, modeling love?

This should not only be the message of our subtext, it should be our overt, out loud, very explicit message – You are loved and you are welcome! When we reduce our corporate gatherings to a sermon or to a worship time or to a service, we miss the much bigger picture. Our corporate assembly is when we have the opportunity to be Jesus to each other, to show love to each other, to sit and stand with each other, to hug each other and to hear each other. And those things are remembered. Love is etched on our hearts.

So what brings people back to church?

In his article, Four Reasons I Came Back to Church, Christian Piatt gives four reasons: Community, having a voice, finding deeper meaning and a sense of belonging. The subtext of these reasons is simple to deduce:  I was welcomed to be part of something bigger, something meaningful, somewhere where I was truly wanted and my voice was valued and I knew I belonged. 

We can send that message now. We don’t have to wait for them to leave and hopefully come back.  And we don’t have to write it on a card; we can live it through our lives.

We can welcome our children.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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