Kids & Church: The Total Package

ballet-2789416_1920When our oldest daughter was preschool age, she was obsessed with The Nutcracker Suite. Well, let’s be honest, it was the Barbie version, but she loved it. She would dress up like a princess and dance around the house pretending that she was the star of the show. When the Nutcracker came to town for holidays, my husband asked her to go with him. They dressed in their finest; she even got put her hair in an up-do, and off they went.

It was a long show. There were many in attendance, almost all older than her. While she loved being with her dad and seeing the show, she was also a preschooler so she wiggled and squirmed and squealed and giggled. She had to go to the bathroom. She got hungry and wanted snacks.

But when she got home, she beamed.

I asked her to tell me about it and all she could remember was the scene with The Rat King (Oooo…scary!).

I asked Luke to tell me about it and much of what he could remember was her wiggliness. But then I asked if people seemed bothered by her and he said, “No. Actually I had a few people compliment me on bringing her to the ballet.”

I posted an adorable picture of their date on Facebook and many similar comments were posted, things like, “So good that you are giving her this experience at such a young age” and “This is exactly what kids should be experiencing.”

Surprisingly not one person commented, “Hmm, seems like a waste of money to me. I mean, did she even understand anything?” Nobody criticized us for forcing her to sit through a long performance filled with imagery and dialogue she couldn’t follow. No one complained about her fidgeting or her outbursts. And nobody questioned whether this was beneficial for her.

Because everyone recognized, it wasn’t about her understanding the “story” of The Nutcracker Suite or her watching the ballet with a critical eye or even her sitting still through the performance.

It was about giving her an experience, a total package, filled with sights and sounds and smells and stories that could be felt and experienced even if they couldn’t be understood or comprehended.

One Sunday, a mom shared with me that the reason her kids didn’t join us in Kids Church is because every now and then she wants to them to get to experience the traditional service at church, to hear the liturgy, to listen to the hymns, to be a part of a service that replicates the services that she grew up in and that have been part of their family’s tradition.kidsinchurch

You see, for this mom, it’s not about her children understanding each word of the sermon or comprehending the history of the liturgy or the meaning of the hymns. It about the total package; the experience of being in church, surrounded by the things that have been formational for generations and by the people who make up the body of Christ.

These children get to be seen, they get to see, and they get to experience church. 

The church experience is much bigger than a sermon.

Big or little, child or adult, the sermon is only part of the whole experience. Not understanding the sermon in no way negates the rest of the experience. Seeing the people. Singing the songs. Giving our tithes and God’s offerings. Praying, at your seat or at the altar or in small groups or corporately as a whole church. Reading Scripture. Reciting psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Smelling the incense. Tasting the communion elements. Serving. Celebrating. Fellowshipping. Communing with God and with each other.

It’s a total package.

And much of what is included in that package is not comprehended through the mind, but through the heart. It’s not things that require a certain level of development but things that are experienced through the senses and understood through emotions. A sense of belonging, a place in community, an important part of a body. All of that can be experienced, regardless of age.

As adults, we recognize that there is more to the church service than just the sermon. The same holds true for children too. Giving them the opportunity to experience the total package is a gift; whether they understand parts of it or not.

A version of this article first appeared on this blog here


For more information about

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

About this Blog

IMG-0573Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

No Time to Make Disciples

Last week, this blog focused on the importance of the faith community joining parents and caregivers in the work of intentional discipleship. That stirred up a pretty robust conversation with a few people and one thing that was brought up is something parents and caregivers ask me a lot: “How?” Usually, the question also includes an explanation something like this:

We are so busy (tired, full schedule) that we are barely home (awake, together) and when we are, we just want to rest (relax, watch TV) not try to have church (do a family devotion, have a faith talk).

The conclusion usually sounds something like, “I know that’s not right but I just don’t even know where to start.”

watch-1245791_1920I feel that, I truly do. Our family like many of yours also lives a busy life. Currently, all of us, from the youngest to the oldest are students, in five different schools, doing activities ranging from musical to yearbook and three of us are gainfully employed to boot. Our calendar is a veritable rainbow of appointments, events, and practices.

And the thought of having to add something else to it, especially something as intentional as a family devotional time or a faith talk, can feel absolutely overwhelming. 

It’s at this point though that it is tempting to say, “Forget it. The kids will just have to get the Jesus stuff at church.” And that kind of thinking leads to a relinquishing of our unique responsibility to raise our children in the faith as well as a willingness to overlook the very real fact that parents and caregivers, not ministers, have the greatest influence on their child’s faith whether they are intentional about it or not.

May I offer a different perspective; another way of thinking?

Could it be that when the charge to “impress these things upon your children” was given in Deuteronomy 4, it wasn’t a just call to family devotions?  That perhaps what God had in mind was a bit more involved than that?

What if instead of adding another thing to our calendar, we sought for ways to intentionally invite Christ into what we are already doing?

What if instead of saying, “There’s no time to do more” we started saying “We are going to let God do more with our time.”

In that famous Deuteronomy passage, there are four discipleship moments mentioned: Getting up in the morning, going to bed at night, sitting down at home, and leaving the home (along the road). Throughout the world, these things happen every. single. day. We all wake up, we all sleep, we all sit, we all go.

I find it so interesting that these are the times that God said, “Talk to your kids about Me.”

The most ordinary, normative moments of the day become extraordinary moments to disciple our kids in the faith.

So, back to that original question of “How?”

By simply inviting Christ into your calendar, into each moment, into each activity. It starts with just one comment, one reflection, one pause to turn our focus from the temporal to the eternal.

At a workshop I once did for family ministers, I had people write down some everyday activities they do during these four moments. For instance, what do they do each morning when they wake up? Then I asked them, “Now consider, how can you invite Jesus into those moments?”  A lady piped up, “I don’t think Jesus can join me while I brush my teeth?”  I challenged her to get creative and see if there was anything she could think of to invite Christ into that most ordinary moment.

A few months later, I bumped into her and she said, “Oh, I just have have to tell you. I took you up on your challenge. I had the idea to start writing Bible verses and encouraging notes to my family and using post-its to hang them on the mirror in the bathroom. Now every day when they brush their teeth, they are reading God’s word to them for the day. We all do it now. It’s become a ‘thing’ in our house. Thanks for pushing me to think about how to invite Christ in.”

Wow. Brushing teeth as discipleship. If there could be a more mundane, non-spiritual activity on the planet, I can’t think of what it would be. And yet, when Christ is invited into that space, it becomes extraordinary. 

What about us? Where in our daily lives can we invite Christ in?  Could we talk about a verse as we drive to soccer practice?  Could our dinner conversation open doors to discuss how God loves us and lives through us?  Could movie night be a chance to impress God’s commands upon their hearts?  Could God meet us as we tuck our kids into bed each night?

Discipleship at home isn’t about doing more; it’s about inviting Christ into what you are already doing.

It’s about impressing the heart of God into our children’s hearts in the everyday moments so that being a Christian isn’t about going to church or managing sin or even reading the Bible but rather about living each moment with hearts turned to God and lives reflecting His love. It’s about creating disciples.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time” Eph. 5:15, 16a (ESV)


For more information about

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

About this Blog

IMG-0573Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

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

Who Should Disciple Children?

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

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

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

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

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

Who are the Parents?

ST_2015-12-17_parenting-11

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

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

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

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

What do we mean by “Who Should”?

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

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

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

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

Who is “The Church”?

churchpeople

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

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

Often the verses found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 are quoted as a mandate for parental discipleship in the home. It’s important to note that the charge to talk about these commandments, to impress them on the children, to disciple the next generation in faith what given to the entire gathered assembly and never once were parents singled out and told that discipleship was their sole responsibility. On the contrary, the command was clearly given in the presence of everyone (Hear, O Israel) and deemed by God through Moses as applicable to the whole assembly. So much so, it is repeated, nearly word for word in Deuteronomy 11:18-20 again in an address to the whole congregation.

Implications: This is a command to disciple is given to all members of the community of faith, to all of our children, not just those who live in our homes.  When viewed in this light, some of common excuses for not serving and ministering to children in the church fall short. We can’t say, “I gave my time serving with in Sunday School and youth group when my kids were young. It’s their turn now.” We can’t say, “Well, they aren’t my kids. It’s not up to me to talk to them about God.” We can’t say, “It’s not my responsibility.” I mean, we can say those things, but we miss out on our call of discipleship within the community of faith.

For more on this topic, check out these articles.

So What is the Answer?

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

IMG-0573Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

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

The Healing Gift of Hospitality

When I was a young child, I remember hearing people talk about how we wanted to “offer hospitality” to others and I was so confused why we would offer to take people to the hospital. And what did that have to do with me cleaning the house and setting the table for dinner?

If your home is anything like mine, December becomes a perfect time to practice hospitality and believe it or not, my childish question wasn’t as far off base as you might think. I did a little digging and found the word “hospitality” comes from the Latin word hospes, meaning “host”, “guest”, or “stranger.”

And you guessed it, the Latin word ‘Hospital’ means a guest-chamber, guest’s lodging, an inn.  In other words, when we invite people to come and stay in our home, we are actually filling the role of hospital.

christmas-791142_1920Today, we understand a hospital to be a place where people go to stay for medical care, not for leisure. But in the past, offering someone hospitality was often a matter of survival and protection. It was much more than simply good etiquette and entertainment; it was often a place where people found safety and shelter with others.

It was a hospital where a different kind of healing took place.

In the story of the walk to Emmaus, we find this kind of hospitality. The two disciples were walking together and talking and they were joined by a stranger. Not only was he invited into their conversation, he was invited into their home. That’s the first kind of hospitality, one of shelter and safety.

But once in the home, the stranger became the host of a different kind of hospitality, that of spiritual healing and holy communion. The stranger was Jesus and as he “broke the bread” and they recognized him a few things happened.

First, they saw God, which in and of itself is pretty amazing.

Second, they believed God. They believed in the resurrection that the women from the tomb had proclaimed.

Third, their souls were revived. So much so that they ran all the way back to Jerusalem, leaping and overflowing with joy.

And finally, they told others. This is the kind of hospitality that knows others are welcome too, and so it is proclaimed to others as a place of spiritual safety and healing.

As we get ready to gather with friends and families and even neighbors and strangers this holiday season, let’s flip the script on hospitality as we’ve known it, the hospitality focused on etiquette and entertainment, and ask the Lord how we can offer a hospitality of safety and security and of spiritual healing and holy communion to those we get the chance to be with, dine with, and worship with over the next few weeks.

Here are some ideas on how we can do just that with our children and our faith community.

Pray for Others – That sounds so cliché right? But praying for others has been shown to create a deeper empathy in us for the people around us and what better way to show hospitality than to be a safe place for people to come and know they are loved and prayed for.

And do it aloud with your children; model for them what it is to talk to God on behalf of others and to listen when He leads us to serve them in some way.

Attend Advent/Christmas Events – It’s hard to offer hospitality to others if we are never around others. Even if all you do is interact with one other person and pray for them as you do, you’ve engaged with a means of grace given to us by God and therefore placed yourself in His presence and He has promised to meet us there.

Plus, Jesus promised us that wherever two or three are gathered in His name is present with us; find some time to be with Christ present in His people these next few weeks.

Be a Safe Space – We all have hard days and for many, the holidays are some of the hardest. If someone you know has had one and they share with you, hold their confidence and join them in prayer. Be a safe place for others to find encouragement and grace just as Jesus was for those disciples on the road.

Be that place of healing and communion for your children, your family, your church, and those who don’t even know Jesus yet. Just as Christ always beckons us to come, be a place of welcome and rest for those you interact with.

Christmas is a time where we remember that we were shown the greatest hospitality of all. God Incarnate came to us. He made a way for us to spend eternity with Him. I like to think of it this way:  He put out the welcome mat, opened the door, and invited us in.  May you find time to walk in and enjoy his hospitality this season.

Merry Christmas, friends!

May your celebrations be rich with His Hope, Peace, Joy and Love and may you find moments of rest and renewal in His promise of being “God with us!”


For more information about

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

About this Blog

IMG-0573Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

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

Right in the Middle of The Story: Why Christmas is Bigger than Christmas

Years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to share with a group of local single young mothers through a ministry called Step by Step. The topic was “What Christmas is All About For Your Kids” and the heart was to share with them that Christmas isn’t about gifts but about THE gift and how to make Christmas the most meaningful for your kids.

My heart was that if I were going to share the Christmas story most accurately, the women there needed to hear the bigger story, the metanarrative of Scripture, the whole all-encompassing story of love, hope, and grace that extends over time and that we are a part of today.

They needed to hear The Story.

For those who follow my blog, you’ll recognize this from a post I shared during Lent. This is the same story but modified for Christmas.   I shared it with the moms who gathered as if they were their kids and each mom left with a The Story booklet and the four props used during the story.  If you are looking for a new way to tell the whole story of Christmas to your kids or those you serve, perhaps this can be helpful for you as well!

“The Story”

Props: 2 red hearts, one black lightening bolt, one brown cross. (I cut mine out of construction paper)photo

Gather your family together and pick one parent to be the story teller. Everyone else will help with the props.

Okay you guys, I need your help today to tell a story. And this isn’t just any story; this is THE STORY. The story of all time! And you get to be a part of it!! So, who wants to be my first helper?

(Choose someone to hold Red Heart)

All great stories have a great first line. Usually we say “Once upon a time” but… How about we start it this way… In the beginning, God created… EVERYTHING! He created the earth and the sky, the bugs and the fish, the trees and the flowers, and then he created us. And when he did, he looked at us and said, “Man (because there was only a man at first) I love you!” And Man looked at God and said, “God, I love you too!” And everything was perfect.

(Choose child to hold Black Lightening Bolt)

Then one day, something terrible happened. Everything was perfect. God loved Man and Man loved God and all was well until… Well, as you know, every story has to have an evil villain so we are going to call our evil villain.. SIN. (refer to black lighting bolt).   Sin snuck right into that perfect world, being the sneaky villain that it is and it BAM! Came right between God and Man!! God still loved man very much but man choose Sin over God. Things were not perfect any more. It was a very sad time. Man was sad and started doing sad things, more and more sad things, and SIN kept pushing Man further and further away from God.

But God… he’s the good guy in our story… God still loved Man very much. He knew that Sin was out there trying to steal Man’s love and even before Man had chosen Sin, God had a plan in place to bring Man back to Him. God did something absolutely amazing, like a total SUPERHERO move!

(Choose child to hold Brown Cross)

God did an amazing thing. He decided to leave His place in heaven where he was safe and come to earth as a Man, a Man called Jesus, and fight the evil villain. In that day there was a woman named Mary and man named Joseph that God asked to be Jesus’ parents. They said “Yes!” and Mary gave birth to Jesus. This was the very first Christmas and God gave us the very best present that day. Every birthday needs a party, right? So God sent a whole bunch of angels down to earth to tell some shepherds that Jesus was born, and those shepherds went to see him and then ran out to tell everyone else. God also put a big beautiful star in the sky so that people from very far away would see it and come visit Jesus and bring him presents.

Sin wasn’t happy that Jesus came and tried to get Man to hurt him, but God protected Jesus so He could grow up and fight the evil villain. Jesus talked to a lot of people when he was growing up and told them that one day He would fight Sin once and for all. And then, that day came. It was an epic battle.   Jesus told the villain he couldn’t win, that he would defeat him, and Sin fought by telling Man to do evil things until one day, one very sad day, Man put Jesus on the cross because of Sin. Man killed Jesus. It seemed like all hope was lost.

Now, we’ve watched some great Superhero shows right?   Those shows, they are basically getting their story line from THE STORY, so you probably know what’s going to happen. Because in those movies, when the superhero looks totally defeated by the villain, what happens? (Kids might say things like the superhero comes back to life, or gets stronger, or beats the bad guy)

That’s right!! Sin isn’t strong enough to beat Jesus. Just when we think all hope is lost TA-DA, the grave opens and JESUS ISN’T THERE because He is Risen!! Sin is defeated!!!! God Wins!!! Oh, wait, but what about Man?

(Choose child to hold Red Heart)

Because Jesus beat Sin on the Cross, Man has an amazing opportunity. If we want to, we can have that perfect love relationship with God again. Sin cannot stop us from loving God and it could never stop God from loving us. We can go to God anytime we want because of Jesus’ victory on the cross and say, “God, I choose to love you and hate Sin. Jesus, you’re my superhero!”

(Have the kids lay all the signs out on the floor in a row)

Now, you may ask, why I told this story today. Because right now, as we get ready for Christmas, we are right in the middle of the story. We are right here.

(Point between lightening bolt and cross)

We are getting ready to welcome Jesus into the world on Christmas Day by celebrating when He was born. We are getting ready to open the best present of all, God’s love! We will celebrate the BIGGEST SUPERHERO VICTORY OF ALL TIME!! We will remember that SIN was defeated! That our HERO died BUT came back to life and SAVED the DAY! And that we can be in the perfect love relationship with God again.

So this month , as you wait for Christmas and you think about the Story, take time to remember. This story has the happiest ending of all! It ends with a LOVE SO BIG it wins every time! And you get to be a part of that story!!


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Teens and Church: Is It Worth The Battle?

“Do I have to go to church?”

I am the parent of teenagers. This has been uttered. More than once.

I realize that there are some parents who never experience hearing this but for many the parent of teens, this comment is a likely reality.

So how to respond?

Do you force attendance and run the risk of making your teenager even angrier with you, the church and maybe even God?

Do you allow them to skip every now and then and run the risk of encouraging them to begin a habit of not attending church?

After a lifetime of telling them that church isn’t a building but the people in it, do you double down on getting them in the building?

If they are tuned out, is it even doing any good for them to be there?

girl-1848478_1920If you are like me, this wrestling match of “What is best?” ensues and you begin to question everything you’ve attempted to do as a parent, minister, and discipler.  And you’re also keenly aware that in just a few short years, they will know longer be under your roof and they will be making their own decisions about what to do on Sunday morning and Wednesday night (or whenever your church meets) and you will have no say and little influence.

Since I am knee-deep in the beautiful chaos that is parenting teenagers, I thought that at the very least I could share my thoughts and hopefully, glean from yours, so that together, we can encourage one another with the best choice we can make given our individual situations.

The Church IS People

I’m a big believer in the power of intergenerational relationships and cultivating friendship that exist outside the constructs of a building or a designated church time. The body of Christ is made up of all generations and we are called to share our faith with one another, one generation to another, and that can’t happen exclusively in the construct of a Sunday morning church service. It is up to us as parents to find ways to help our children build those relationships with other adults long before they reach the “I don’t want to go to church” age.

Why? 

1. Because sometimes they may not want to go to church but they might just want to go see a friend, even if that friend is an adult.

2. Because sometimes church might be them going out with said friend to the mall and having conversations with that adult who is pouring into them that they would never have with you.

3. Because we need each other; the church is supposed to support parents as they raise their kids and these relationships are necessary for holistic faith

4. Because the Church IS People not a building.

There’s More than One Way

Recently our oldest has requested to not go to youth group anymore since most of the teens there are younger than her. Really a hard call for us since we are the pastor’s family. But we gave her a choice: Either go to youth group OR meet with the youth pastor twice a month to do a book study.  She chose the latter.

So now my child is spending one-on-one time with someone I respect and want to have speaking into her life, talking about Scripture and God, and “getting her way”.  We decided that rather than say “No,” we’d work with her to find a way to ensure that while she is our home, she has some intentional time of discipleship that is developmentally appropriate for her.

What’s the Motive?

As parents, we thought long and hard about this. We all know that “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a cheeseburger.”  But there is value in being around a community of believers who care about you and worships the same God you do.  So we really have to consider why we feel like it is important for our kids to be in church, especially when they are teenagers.

For us it came down to this: Church is something we do as a family and while you live with us, it will be something you participate in. We know that you have to choose for yourself if you want to be a Christian or attend church once you leave our home, but while here, this is something that we value and we commit to doing as a family.

Now, does that mean our kids can never miss a church service? For our family, no, that is not what it means. We understand that there are things that come up that might cause them to miss a service and there may be times where we say, “Why don’t you all stay home today?”  But ultimately, we have said that church will be a non-negotiable in our home.

Watch for Substitutes

Being in church actually fulfills a deep need and longing that we have to be in community. God created us for that very thing in His image of perfect community in the Trinity. So, if church isn’t a place where that need for community is being met, teens will likely substitute with something else.

A recent article in the Washington Post about Millenials leaving church (not Gen Z, mind you, but still addressing the church attendance issue) states “Some of us are turning to convenient, low-commitment substitutes for faith and fellowship: astrology, the easy “spiritualism” of yoga and self-care, posting away on Twitter and playing more games..Here’s what really worries me: Few of these activities are as geared toward building deep relationships and communal support as the religious traditions the millennials are leaving behind. Actively participating in a congregation means embedding oneself in a community. This involves you in the lives of others and the other way around — their joys and sadnesses, connections and expectations. By leaving religion, we’re shrugging off the ties that bind, not just loosening them temporarily.”

This should be a wake up call for us as parents and for many of us who are in fact Millenials. If we see that our sense of community or our teen’s sense of community is coming from shallow substitutes, there’s a bigger thing going on that just missing a church service.

Community is key to connection; that is what the body of Christ is called to be for one another and for the world. 

This is where we have landed in our home. And I realize, that other parents end up in another place. Perhaps you have been blessed with a child who never questions the need to go to church or expresses a desire to not attend regularly. Perhaps every single Sunday is a struggle and you have grown weary and your heart is heavy.  It is not an “easy answer” issue with a cookie cutter solution.

But I do know this: God cares immeasurably more for your child (and my child) than you (or I) do and He is not the kind to let sheep run wild without a caring Shepherd to guide them to the fold. Whether their head, heart and body are in the pew or not, He is with them and we can entrust our budding adult to His hands.

I’d love to hear from you; what has your experience with teenagers and church been and how have you parented them in grace and love when it comes to church attendance?


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Best Bibles for Kids and Youth: Our Top Picks and Why

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that my husband and I are involved with a church plant in Lexington, KY. I’m thrilled to be over NextGen ministries for our church and in a few weeks, we are having a special celebration service. One of my favorite parts of working with kids is watching them engage with the Bible (For a great blog post and story about this very thing, click here).  Our church has decided to honor our children and youth who have shown a desire to know God through Scripture by presenting them with a Bible during our celebration service.

Even though I and probably most of you who read this blog get to interact with the kids and youth pretty frequently, their parents are the ones who really know best where their child is at in regards to this area of their spiritual journey. So we provided our parents with a list of Bibles that we recommend for us to present to them during our Celebration service.

These Bibles were chosen based on personal experience and a lot of time spent in children’s ministry. They are organized by age and links are provided so you can give them a closer look.  For youth ages 14 and older, our church felt like the best Bibles are the ones we tend to use as adults but I personally recommend the NIV, ESV, and NLT versions for youth  because of their readability.

IamI AM: 40 REASONS TO TRUST GOD (Bible Stories, 2-6)

While this book is primarily Bible stories, it is an amazing and beautifully illustrated walk through Scripture looking at the different names of God.  It may not be a “Bible” in the traditional sense, it is Scripture and does a beautiful job of introducing young children to a living and loving Savior. The artwork alone will capture their imagination.

JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE (Ages 3-8)JesusBible

If you have not yet read this beautiful, moving introduction to Scripture, you are in for a treat. Sally Lloyd-Jones invites children and adults alike to interact with the Bible in ways that capture both the mystery of God’s love and the richness of theology.  Best of all, she helps us to see Jesus in every story that is shared because “every story whispers His name”. Luke and I have often teared up while reading it because it is so moving.

NIRV ADVENTURE BIBLE FOR EARLY READERS  (FOR NIVBibleAGES 5-10) &  NIV ADVENTURE BIBLE (FOR AGES: 8-11).

NIrVBible

Why these?  The readability of both of these Bibles is the biggest selling point for these Bibles.  Both of these Bibles are word for word Scripture; in other words, these are not Bible stories or summaries.  And there are extras added to help kids with what the Bible is saying. The introductions to each book, special sections like call outs in the text, and fun colors and graphics can all be helpful in connecting kids to what they are reading.

ESV FOLLOWING JESUS BIBLE  (FOR AGES 10- 13)FollowingJBible

Do you have some pre-teens in the house?  The ESV Following Jesus Bible is a great transitional Bible from childhood into young adulthood. The way the content is designed is helpful with preteens in mind as they transition from a beginner’s Bible to adult versions. Call Out Boxes on most pages help answer the questions of who, what, where, when, or why for specific verses or pieces of text, giving readers a more holistic understanding of what they are reading. And much like the Jesus Storybook Bible, there are “Seeing Jesus” sections throughout the book that help us to find the metanarrative of Scripture and the saving grace of Christ throughout the entire Bible.

Bonus: For Young Kidsbibleappkids

The Bible App for Kids Storybook Bible

This recommendation comes from my friend Judy Chatterton. She offered these thoughts a few years ago and I wanted to share because we’ve enjoyed this fun storybook Bible: “We’ve had this Bible for a year now. If you have young kids in your house you NEED this Bible!! The illustrations are adorable. It’s colorful. It’s an easy read aloud because there aren’t a lot of words on each page. I think this should be every child’s first Bible!!! For goodness sake’s, you want a child’s first impression of God’s word to be a positive one and this storybook accomplishes that.” (This Bible and other age-appropriate gifts for Christmas found here)

Hopefully this has been helpful to you as you consider what Bibles you might recommend to parents or hand out at your own Celebration Services.  If you have a favorite not mentioned here, I’d love to know about it; feel free to drop a recommendation and a link in the comments below.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

The B-I-B-L-E…Is that the book for me?

I recently had the opportunity to help a young man look up a Bible verse by its “address”. He was absolutely delighted by the experience. It captured his whole attention. I only had my phone with me when I saw him in the morning but that evening, I let him flip through my Bible. He rustled through the pages looking for Joshua 1:9 and when he found it, his little finger tracing the words, his whole face lit up.

I felt both thrilled and convicted; do I take time to realize the treasure under my fingers the way he did? And how often do I actually put the Bible into the hands of the kids I serve and let them read for themselves the inspired words on those pages?  It’s so much easier to just throw up the key verse, do some memorizing together, and not fuss with those super thin pages, tiny print, and even tinier numbers.

But, even so, is there value in physically putting the Bible into a child’s hands? I think there is, but it has to be more than just putting it there. We need to talk about what Scripture is to us. They need to see that we love it too!  

kid-2603857_1920Children are information gatherers so if they never gather from us that the Bible has value, if they never see us reading it or studying it, why would they?  A 2016 LifeWay Research study found 1 in 5 American Protestants said they had read all of the Bible at least once. However, more than half said they have read little or none of it.

Here are some common reasons that are given for not reading Scripture:

  1. It’s boring
  2. It’s out of touch with today’s culture/world
  3. We hear the important parts in church
  4. I don’t have time

All of those reasons are only valid if they actually relate to the reason we read Scripture in the first place.

Do we read the Bible for entertainment?  No, not really. It’s not a novel or a work of fiction and while there are some entertaining parts for sure, its purpose isn’t to entertain.

Do we read it to get a commentary on the world today?  No, that’s not really the intent. There are things that apply to our current culture and situation, but it wasn’t written to comment on today’s experiences.

Are there important parts and less important parts?  Maybe but there doesn’t seem to be any differentiation in what we are given so it’s not really up to us to make that call.

Is it intended to be read in one sitting?  No, certainly not. In fact, our modern translation conveniently breaks it up into chapters and verses that can take minutes or even seconds for us to read.

So, why do we read the Bible?

  1. Because God is revealed in Scripture (1 Tim. 3:16)
  2. Because God meets us in His Revelation (Acts 8:26-40)
  3. Because God invites us to come (Rom. 10:17)
  4. Because Scripture can be used by God to transform our hearts (Heb. 4:12)

Ultimately, we read to the Bible because God inspired the words, gifted them to us through his servants, and reveals Himself across time and space in the text. And in that place, we encounter His Grace.

What are some ways that we can give that gift to the next generation?

Let Them Flip The Pages

Yes, most of us use electronic Bibles these days but there is something uniquely special in turning the pages of a book. Giving kids the chance to get a feel for where books and chapters and verses are and letting them flip through the pages will feel special in a world where screens dominate.

Seek, Find, then Memorize

Most curriculums are set up so that the Key Verse for the month is handed out on slips of paper, shown on a screen with its own slide, accompanied with a song or motions and/or found on coloring sheets or activity papers. And that is all fine and good but the verse is then left to stand alone without context or placement.

Instead of starting with the memorization, consider beginning by having the kids find the verse, talk about what is going on (context), look at the verses before and after, and then begin memorization work.

Give Them a Bible

Many churches and parents gift Bibles to their kids as a rite of passage for certain ages or as a reward/award for accomplishing a task. That is fabulous! But often times that Bible gets left on a shelf and unused, like a trophy rather than a tool. So, encourage the kids to bring their Bible with them to church or to the living room with them, and if they don’t, have a few Bibles there that they can use, even if it’s just your own.

Make touching the Bible at least once each time you get to be with kids in discipleship or worship a goal during your time together.

Read Together

Whenever one of my kids wanders into the room while I’m reading Scripture, I start reading aloud. Usually they will move closer and look over at the page. It may not be the most life-changing thing ever, but I hope that these moments will find a space in their heart to remember that Mom read the Bible and got something out of it, so maybe they should too.

Sometimes the incidental discipleship is just as important as the intentional discipleship. We don’t always need to program reading the Bible into discipling our kids; we just need to engage in it ourselves and invite them to participate with us when they show up.

A long time ago St. Augustine of Hippo said, “The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.” Isn’t that a great way to think about it? We are reading words from our homeland where our citizenship lies with Christ. And that is a treasure worth passing on to those who come behind us.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Let’s Give Them Hope

“Here’s what’s wrong.”

We start a lot of conversations with that sentiment.

Because let’s be honest – there’s a lot of things that are wrong.  There are a lot of things in this world that are wrong.  There are a lot of things that can get our blood boiling, our hearts pounding, our anger kindled and our hearts heavy. Today in particular, my heart is burdened for the Kurdish people, for the children who have already died or watched their parents die. I hate war and what it does to humanity.

And it’s not hard to find things like this and more.  Every day I read blogs that enumerate and extricate the wrong in the world, everything from drinking from water bottles to terrible wars and gross abuse.   There is a lot to get frustrated about. And the church, well, we have a lot to say about a lot of things.

I don’t know.  I’m not even here to say that we shouldn’t notice these things and speak up about them.  You all know, I’ve written my fair share of blogs stating my own “Here’s what’s wrong…”. And my version of pacifism isn’t passive at all but active in pursuing justice and hope in this world.

portrait-1880161_1920But I look at children and I see the hope in their eyes as they look to the future and they think about this world and I can’t help but think that all of my “here’s what’s wrongs” aren’t doing them any favors.

Even if I’m right about what’s wrong and even if it’s something they need to know is wrong, I’m beginning to think the conversation needs to start further back, before the wrong, to what is right.

In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth…and it was good.  Later on, sin entered the world, and it was wrong.  But the wrong that came did not negate the good that was.  If anything, the wrong that came showed us just how good the good was and our souls began craving that Good once again (Rom. 7).

But, if we taste that good, if we enter into that grace and once again experience all the good that God has to lavish on our souls, and then spend our days pointing out all the bad all around us…are we really living into the abundant life God has purchased for us?  Shouldn’t the good be our launching point, not the bad?

Hear me, I’m not saying we ignore what’s wrong.

I’m not saying we excuse it or dismiss it or pretend it’s not there.

In fact, I think we are actually called to speak out, to defend those who can’t speak for themselves, to be the voice to the voiceless and the friend to the marginalized.

But for me, I think I want to change the tone of the conversation.  Instead of starting with the “Here’s what’s wrong” routine, I think I want to start from the “Here’s what’s right” standpoint.  Instead of only pointing fingers, I want to extend grace as it has been extended to me. I want to start with Genesis 1 not Genesis 3.  I want my kids to know what’s right in this world and that all hope is not lost because we serve a God of future and hope. 

When I see the sin in this world, I don’t want to simply “smh” and walk away.

I want to remember that before the sin, God was good.

I want to tell my kids, “God is good.  His love is perfect.  What you see there, that wrong you are experiencing, that’s not Him.  That’s not His ways.  That’s not His heart.  Here’s what’s right in this world – God loved us SO MUCH that He sent His Son into this world to rescue us from the wrong and wrap us up in the good and whoever believes in Him can experience that abundant life.”

Because I believe that if we start celebrating what is right more, we may see actual changes to what is wrong. If we celebrate the good we see, it will contrast so much to the wrong, that it may help more people choose the good.  We can see that happen in simple things like Ellen’s statement this week to “be kind to everyone.”  That statement went viral seconds after it was posted because people are hungry for good. Ultimately, they are hungry for Christ, and as the Church, we are the ones who can point to that ultimate good.

What if we started more conversations with “Here’s what’s right…”

What if we celebrated more?  What if we affirmed each other more?

What if we took the time to point out the amazing things that are happening all around us every. single. day?

There’s HOPE to be had, there’s good to be noticed, and God is still at work in this world today.  

I want to give my kids something to fight FOR, not just things to fight against.

There are things that are wrong.  There are horrible terrible things.

But there are things that are good.  And I happen to think our children are one of those things and given the tools of love, grace, and hope, I believe they can be world-changers. I want to send the next generation out to wage peace in this world because they know there is good worth fighting for and they see it all around them.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Kids in Church: What do You Expect is Going to Happen?

A wise person once shared with my husband that “Frustration is the difference between expectation and reality.”  He went on to say, “If you are frustrated, you will need to either change your expectation or you will need to change your reality.”  As we continue to have conversations about including all generations in corporate worship, I think it might be wise for us to do consider this idea

In the past, the church has chosen to “change the reality.”  When children and youth were seen as distracting or having specialized needs that couldn’t be met in a corporate worship setting, the church changed the reality.

We removed them from the space, put them in their own spaces, and separated the generations from one another as much as possible.

To be clear, there is a lot of good that comes out of age-sensitive ministry. In fact, an approach that completely overlooks the unique needs of each age would be a bad idea. However, time has revealed to us some unintended consequences of the age segregation model adopted in the mid-20th century. And it’s not just in the church; our whole culture bought into the idea that separating generations is a good idea…but we were wrong.

family-4295385_1920Researchers have found that among the unforeseen results of age segregation are things like “negative stereotypes and people feeling isolated from each other” and “features of antisocial behavior and to socialization for competitiveness and aggressiveness.” (source).

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

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

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

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

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

Expect the church to be more than Sunday morning

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

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

Expect children to be children

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

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

Expect the church to be family

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

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

I can’t help but wonder if we shifted our expectations to ones like these, would our Sunday mornings (and Wednesday nights and Friday afternoons) begin to look and feel different to us?

Would we begin to see church as something more than a once-a-week re-charge and more of a communal way of living where we do life together?

And would our children and  youth and our seniors and elderly all know that they have a place at our family table?

And, perhaps, would we be a little less frustrated when we hear a child cry in service, laugh during a sermon, wiggle and squirm at the doxology, run up to the altar for communion or dance during the worship service?

Perhaps.  Perhaps it is time to change our expectations.


A version of this article first appeared on this blog in October 2017.

For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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