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

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“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

Guest blog: Raising Kids in a Screen Saturated World

Eliza Huie, author of Raising Kids in a Screen Saturated World, approached me a few weeks ago after reading my series on social media, technology and discipleship. We quickly discovered we share much of the same heart on issues surrounding these topics and her book offers some insight on how we, as parents, can approach these topics with our kids. I’m excited to have her share some of that insight with us as a guest blogger today!


Realities of the Digital Age

Have unwanted graphic texts, violent video games, pornography, cyber bullying, sexting, or screen addiction been a concern for you as a parent children in this cyber age? Do you feel overwhelmed in figuring out how to bring balance into your child’s screen use?

You are not alone.

These name only a few of the concerning vices that our screen-saturated world has brought about. Parents can feel lost in the digital landscape where their children are the technological experts and mom and dad struggle just to keep up. But keeping your child screen-free is about as realistic as keeping them from outgrowing their clothes.

If it isn’t already your reality, eventually your child will one day have that telltale rectangular pattern lining their jean’s pocket. Most parents are dependent on their child having a phone of some type in order to keep up with one another in this busy, fast pace life.

Despite the discouraging engagement that a world of devices can bring, the question to ask is this; Are screens really the problem?

Navigating the Digital Age

kids-playing-1253096_1920Is the solution to avoid giving your child technology? Most parents have already found that is an unrealistic option. Screens enter children’s lives at early ages. Pediatrician’s offices have screens in their waiting room to help the children pass the time. Libraries rent colorful tablets that are preloaded with books and games for preschoolers. Schools begin using iPads at the elementary level and many students will be assigned a device at the start of a school year.

Parents fighting for screen-free space in their family can wrongly vilify the device as the problem. But if the screen is not the problem what is? A motivational factor for writing my book was the realization that parents, like me, need practical answers to this tension. It was my desire to address the heart issue and understand what God-honoring screen use looks like. Consider the following:

“We are not fighting against technology. Phones, tablets, laptops, etc., are amoral. They are tools that can be used for good or evil. Don’t over- spiritualize activities because they either include or exclude a screen. Certainly there are times where living a life pleasing to the Lord will mean the intentional absence of screens but keep in mind that the screen is not the enemy. The frailty of weak and wandering hearts turns a potentially helpful tool into an instrument of destruction. In a world so profoundly dependent on technology, the answer is not to label devices as the problem and avoid them. Rather, reflect on what technology is revealing about what is in your heart and your children’s heart.”[1]

The Deeper Issues of the Digital Age

This approach deals with the deeper issue. Conversations about what is driving screen activity are most important. What is motivating what they consume, produce, and promote online is the deeper issue for parents to explore. The screen simply gives a platform for the heart. As parent’s we want to know and address the heart of our kids.

Recognizing that technology or screens are not the root problem will create an avenue to see the potential positive use that screens can bring into your child’s world. Rather than focusing on the screen consider how to better understand what is alluring your child and begin to have conversations there.

One of the things I attempted to do in writing this book was to give parents helpful questions to ask their child to begin conversations. These questions are intended to draw out the heart rather than to put the child on the defense about their screen use. For example, asking your child “What areas of our family life to you feel would be good to be screen-free?” or “What are ways you think we can use our screens to engage each other? Questions like these allow the child to enter into the conversation and share their thoughts.

With this disposition you are focusing on the relationship above screen issues.

That allows for conversations that reveal their heart and  puts you in a much better place to walk with your child in this screen-saturated world.

[1] From Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World. Available at 10of Those.com and Amazon.

Guest Blogger: Eliza Huie is the executive director of Life Counseling Center in Marriottsville, Maryland. She is a biblical counselor and author of Raising Kid’s in a Screen-Saturated Worlda readable, practical, and much needed book for all parents.  Eliza and her husband Ken have three grown children.

Raising Kids in a Screen_EHUIE Refocus


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

“Family Ministry” when Kids Come Alone

I’ve heard some concerned discussion lately regarding family ministry especially as it pertains to reaching children who do not have engaged caregivers or believing parents in their home.

Specifically the concern is, if our ministry at church is focused on families, what happens to kids that don’t have a believing family or Christian home life? Are we just going to turn them away or not provide for their spiritual needs?

It’s a legitimate concern and one that deserves addressing, especially if a church is looking to transition from one that has been primarily focused on age-specific ministry to one that is more focused on reaching the family unit as a whole.  And to be honest, there is no easy answer but here are some things to consider as we approach this topic.

Reach for Home

More than likely, some kids will get dropped off who do not have parents that attend the church.  But, that does not preclude us from reaching out to their home.

It is important for us to recognize this need to welcome children who aren’t in “church families” in a way that is both accepting and embracing, providing for their needs spiritually, physically and emotionally while they are with us (Ideas for how to do that, click here).

But it is equally as important to recognize that we are sending them back to a home that will have profound formational effects on their faith and to not further our reach by extending our arm of welcome to the home is to miss an opportunity for “going and making disciples.”

Some ways we can do that:

  • Provide Parent/Caregiver Workshops or Seminars, free to the public, without an overt spiritual focus.  For example, host a Social Media workshop that open to the whole community, and focused on the internet and kids, not necessarily religious in nature.  Our faith will be discussed but the topic is one that all parents have questions about.
  • Provide Activities for the Whole Family.  A lot of parents/caregivers look for free, fun things to do with their kids.  Fall Festivals, Family VBS, and Summer Movie Nights are examples of ways to engage the home.
  • Visit with the parents/caregivers – Drop by, say hi, get contact information, introduce yourself, offer resources, tell them what you are doing, bring a pie.  Show caregivers that your faith community is excited about serving them in their home even if they don’t come to church.  And express your desire to serve not only their kids but them as well.

Of course there is no guarantee that this will lead to anything beyond what is already happening.. but it might.  What you do for one, do for all.  If the church family is getting a handout, a parent letter, an invitation, make sure the others families do too.

Connect the church to the home as much as possible.

Embrace Family

Sometimes when we think “family” we get a picture in our head of a Dad, Mom, two kids, a dog, maybe a cat and a cute Cape Cod with white shutters.  That’s really not an accurate picture of “family” today.  Family has grown to mean many things.  Sometimes family isn’t even people we are related to by blood.  Sometimes Grandma is Mom or Uncle is Dad or family friend is Aunt.

child-1051288_1920

One main goal of “family ministry” is to minister to the family as a whole.  It is important then to find out how family is being defined by those being ministered to and the needs that their unique situation gives rise to.  For more on this, check out this blog on “The ‘Family’ in Family Ministry” and consider ways that we can reach the families we serve.

Encourage Faith

Even atheists believe something; they believe that there is nothing. It takes faith to believe anything so everyone has faith.

Our job as Christian family ministers is to equip the home to be a place of faith formation in Christ.  However, that can be complicated if the leaders in a home don’t believe in Christ.  That doesn’t mean you don’t equip or resource them anyway.  Providing materials, information, and training for faith formation at home is key to an effective family ministry.  Those who desire what is offered will transform their homes into places of discipleship.  Those who choose not to use the tools given are still being given them and that in and of itself makes a difference in the home.

God is the ultimate home builder; we are vessels of His grace and love.

Finally, I feel like it is important to point out that while we need to be aware of this potential area of concern, there is another glaring fact we cannot ignore that the family unit itself is a mission field for the church today.  Ministering to families is important.  Missionaries to other countries or inner cities or specific age groups train to reach a specific group of people in that context.

If we look at families in that same light, as a mission field in need of missionaries to bring the good news of the gospel to their homes, I believe we could see a revolution in the church of children and youth who graduate ready to serve Christ in their homes, church and community; discipled in the faith and grounded in their love for Christ because of their intentional faith formation they experienced at home and intergenerational relationships at church.

There is no cookie cutter family ministry model.

There are no easy answers for the concerns that arrive.

But there is a call by God for us to partner with and minister to parents as they raise their children and to offer them a broader community that will support and encourage them along the way.  And if that is a call from God, then we know He will provide all we need to reach each and every family He sends our way.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

NextGen and Discipleship: Whose Job Is it?

It’s the parent’s job to disciple the children. Have you heard this statement?  Maybe phrased something like this:

The Church gets 40 hours/year, the Schools get 2,000 hours/year, Parents get 3,000 hours/year – It’s YOUR job to disciple your children.

There is definitely some truth in that statement. The hours listed aren’t far off from what research shows us. The influence that parents/caregivers have on their children cannot be understated and the home is primarily the place of faith formation for all of us. But I’m afraid when this is our approach to beginning the discussion with parents/caregivers about their responsibility of leading discipleship in the home, we do both the parents and kids, but more importantly, the body of Christ a huge disservice.

mother-and-daughter-3281388_1920There is one verse that we often use to demonstrate the mandate in Scripture for parents/caregivers to disciple their kids: Deuteronomy 6:7 – Impress these commandments on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

I love this verse because it shows the most everyday, most ordinary moments and tells us in those very ordinary times to talk about our extraordinary God.

But often in shining the spotlight  on this verse and directing our focus of discipleship exclusively to parents/caregivers, we miss something of great importance, something that changes everything about the command.

This command wasn’t given to parents.

It was given to the community of faith.

The charge to talk about these commandments, to impress them on the children, to disciple the next generation in faith what given to the entire gathered assembly and never once were parents singled out and told that discipleship was their responsibility. On the contrary, the command was clearly given in the presence of everyone (Hear, O Israel) and deemed by God through Moses as applicable to the whole assembly. So much so, it is repeated, nearly word for word in Deuteronomy 11:18-20 again in an address to the whole congregation.

So what does this mean?

Parents, it is not exclusively “your” job to disciple your children.

Church, it IS corporately our job to disciple our children.

So, yes, if you are a parent and you are a believer, of course, it is your job to disciple your kids, especially since you have the most time with them and the most influence on them!

But, Church, please hear this, parents are not supposed to be doing this alone. This isn’t a command devoid of community. This isn’t a mandate that applies only to parents/caregivers and their children. This is a command given to all of us, every single member of the community of faith, to all of our children, not just those who live in our house. 

When viewed in this light, some of our common excuses fail.

We can’t say, “I gave my time serving with in Sunday School and youth group when my kids were young. It’s their turn now.”

We can’t say, “Well, they aren’t my kids. It’s not up to me to talk to them about God.”

We can’t say, “It’s not my responsibility.”

I mean, we can say those things, but if we do, we are willfully choosing to ignore the commands that God gave, not to parents alone, but to all of us to pour into, engage with, impress upon, and walk with the youngest generations.

I truly believe it is time for us to release some of the burden we’ve put on the backs of parents by repeatedly telling them, “This is your job” by changing just one letter and a whole way of understanding and instead saying, “This is OUR job.”

No parent should ever feel alone in this calling. Not in the dynamic the God has given us.

They should feel the support, nurture and equipping of an entire faith community surrounding them and ministering to them and their children.

The children in our church should be known (by name) not just by their parents and a few close friends, but the congregation, the community of faith, who are committed to helping them grow in their faith.

The covenant of the congregation, spoken often at baptism or confirmation, in which the congregation pledges to walking with the child and helping them grow in their faith needs to become more than just “what we say” and turn into “what we do.”

The ministries to children and youth in any church should not be lacking in volunteers or servants on mission because the entire church is called and has verbally confirmed their commitment to disciple these young people in the faith.

To place the responsibility squarely on parents without recognizing the responsibility of the church to walk hand-in-hand with them skews the command of God to “impress these commandments on your children.”

Church, it is time we step up and relinquish our excuses. It is time we read the Scripture as it was given; to the whole assembly in community as a unit. It is time we seek to not only support and equip parents but to join them, hand-in-hand, and be part of the work of discipleship.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Discipleship at Home: The Sacred in the Ordinary

“Discipleship in the home”

For some, these words bring a sense of affirmation and anticipation; a hearty “Amen” in the heart. For others, the reaction to hearing these words can be quite different. One of the things I noticed when I started to work with parents in the area of discipleship was an oft-expressed sense of inadequacy. Why? Well, because often the parents I talk to didn’t experience “discipleship in the home” growing up; rather their experience learning about God and faith was isolated to their Sunday school or church service.

This experience of a compartmentalized lifestyle separates home life from church life from school life from work life and so on and can create an environment in many homes, even Christian homes, that is devoid of faith practices and spiritual conversations.

And many parents feel overwhelmed and a little scared to begin introducing these spiritual elements into the rhythm of their home.

But perhaps the answer to helping parents navigate these waters lies less in experience and even in equipping and more in a framework changes; a change that removes the separation of spiritual from secular and begins to explore life as one holistic experience rather than segmented ones.

In his book, Ancient-Future Faith, Robert Webber says, “We must learn, then, not to HAVE a spirituality, something we turn on at a particular place or time, but to BE spiritual, as a habit of life, a continuous state of being. It is to this end that we seek after God in the stillness and hubbub of life, but always and everywhere in and through the church, where Christ is made present to us and, through us, to the world.”

In other words, our spiritual life and our secular life aren’t separate but rather two parts of one whole simply called “life.”  Which means whether we are at our job or at home or at the ball game or in the car, we are still very much spiritual and attune to spiritual things.

So, what does all of this have to do with parenting, discipleship, and the home?

Those parents who feel so overwhelmed often feel that way because “churchy things” like talking about God, reading the Bible, and praying, are things they’ve only experienced in a building we call “church.”  Their sacred life and their secular life are strongly compartmentalized and allowing the two to intermingle is a foreign concept to them.

This compartmentalization of life is almost like a toddlers’ food plate, where each item gets its own little compartment and nary the foods shall touch.  But the thing about our faith is that it wasn’t ever meant to be left in one compartment. Rather it was intended to be the plate upon which all of the other things find their meaning and stability.

I remember when this all clicked for me. It was an “aha” moment like no other that culminated in this thought:

Discipleship at home is not about adding more to my already full schedule.

It is about inviting Christ into what I am already doing.

parents-and-children-1794951_1920Making disciples, according to the Great Commission, is something we do “as we go” (Matthew 28:16-20).  It’s something that should be as natural as eating and sleeping and coming and going. In fact when Moses told the people of Israel how to pass on their faith to the next generation, he tells them to do it “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:7).  These are the most ordinary, mundane, everyday times that all people on earth experience daily and it is in these moments that we are told to pass on our faith.

Because Christ, being fully human and fully God, can transform the most ordinary things into the most sacred because for him, there is no division; it is all “life.”

Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk wrote a book called The Practice of the Presence of God, where he encouraged Christians to live each day in the experience of God’s presence no matter what they are doing. He shares that “our sanctification [does] not depend on changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake that which we commonly do for our own”.   Inviting Christ into what we are already doing changes them from mundane to beautiful, ordinary to extraordinary, temporal to sacred; it brings our life as a disciple, harmony.

And that is “discipleship in the home.”

It’s truly not about doing more. It’s about experiencing Christ in all that we do.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

You Can’t Just Put Kids In Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

microphone-1209816_1920

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

What Happened at Church Last Sunday?

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

I witnessed something audacious in church last Sunday.

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

The pastor had forgotten to dismiss the children! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Children are valuable members of the community of faith

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

Young people can lead

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

Ministry is a team effort

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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