“Just Because We Don’t Like It Doesn’t Mean It’s Not True”

My family recently watched Avengers Infinity Wars (don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this post). At the end, some of us were unhappy with the way things had ended in the movie and have spent considerable time coming up with alternate endings or spinning theories about what “actually” happened. At one point as I was offering just such an explanation, and a really good one at that, my youngest piped up with this nugget, “Just because we don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

His words stuck with me for two reasons; one, because he probably heard that from me and two, because he’s absolutely right. Often times, when we are faced with a truth that we don’t like, we try to find alternative ways of facing the facts.

If the truth makes us uncomfortable, we try to find a comfortable option to face that truth with. If the truth doesn’t fit within our expectations, desires or opinion, we find ways to explain it away or simply say it doesn’t work for us. 

face-2031963_1920The nature of this blog is often to share uncomfortable truths and offer ways for us to embrace those truths even if it means we have to consider implementing change or doing things that we find less comfortable than others.

In the case of this particular blog, the facts we often look at and consider surround the idea that more and more of the members of the rising generations are walking away from the Protestant church and increasingly labeling themselves as “unaffiliated” with religion.  And we ask questions about why that is and what we can do about it.

And often the answers presented involved uncomfortable things; things that require us to change how we are currently operating and the approach we are currently taking.

Things like:

Inviting and welcoming children and youth into places of corporate worship as active participants not passive observers

Creating space for meaningful interactions between generations with the intentional focus of fostering relationships that lead to mentorship and discipleship.

Involving children and youth in the decisions, leadership and activities of the church in a way that affirms that they are full-fledged members of the body of Christ.

Redefining church, not as a place we go to on Sunday, but as a people and a way of life that is who are are every day of the week and therefore we join into each others lives on ball fields and ballet recitals and dinner tables and coffee dates and just being a people that fills that intrinsic, God-given need for community.

But these things require something of us. They require change and intentionality.

They require that we accept the truth that something has to change and we begin to try uncomfortable things.

It means that we may not always get the Sunday morning experience we are used to and/or we desire. It means we may need to get creative about when and where we have our intimate and undistracted times of worship. It may mean that throughout the week instead of just hunkering down and living our life, we open up our doors and our schedule to invite others in or to go to where they are.

It might mean sitting on hard bleachers in the cold just to cheer on that kid from church that sits in the pew in front of you and just can’t believe you came to her game.

It could mean not going out to our favorite after-church restaurant but instead inviting that new family over to our house for lunch.

It could mean that instead of passing the offering plate and dropping in a check and feeling as though we’ve given enough to the church, we also raise our hand and volunteer for that after-school program or that to be a prayer partner for that young person.

It might even mean that on Sunday morning our worship is accentuated with the cries of an infant, the squirms of a three-year-old, the laughter of a fifth grader, the fidgeting of a fifteen-year-old and the questioning look of a seventeen-year-old and instead of seeing those things as distractions, viewing them as opportunities to face the truth head on; that loneliness and being “unaffiliated” are real things for this generation and if being with a faith community on Sunday morning and hearing one’s name spoken each week with love and welcome can combat it, then it’s worth whatever discomfort one might face.

We can no longer offer alternative explanations to the very real truths about the rising generations. As much as we might like to just continue on as we always have, the reality is, if we do, these truths will become more and more the experience for our children and youth. But if we are willing to face these truths head on, in our church and in our lives, and do uncomfortable things in order to address them, then it is possible that those whose lives we intersect with might just experience a different truth.

As for the Avengers, well, I still have my theories about that one…


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. 

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Are We Teaching Too Many Bible Stories?

What’s your story?

If I were to ask you that, what comes to mind?  For many of us, we begin to construct a short biography in our head. Where we come from, what our history is, how we got to where we are, what is happening in our life, what we think the future might hold.  An overview of our life, an overarching narrative or succinct summation.

I doubt very much what you would share first would be the memory of your first bicycle ride or that time you fell out of your desk in middle school or the day you got promoted at your new job or when you got an A on your final exam. Those were all momentous occasions and probably formational in making you…you.

But those aren’t your story. Those stories are part of your story.

As I get to know you, I’d probably hear about all those other important moments. But if I were introducing you to another friend, I probably wouldn’t include any of them in my introduction.

So why do we do that with God?

We are masters at telling children stories about God but when it comes to telling God’s Story, we can fall short.

We love to tell them all kinds of wonderful Bible stories like David and Goliath, Noah and the Ark, Jonah and the Whale and Jesus and the 5,000. These stories make up the bulk of our Christian children’s books and Sunday school curriculum. It’s not unusual for children’s ministers to ask, “What are the key stories children need to know before they move into youth group? And how can I tell them in new, exciting ways?”

And those stories are PART of His story.

Important parts. Formational parts. Necessary parts. 

But those stories get their meaning, find their place, and add the most value when they are told in the context of The Story, what theologian N.T. Wright calls “the metanarrative of Scripture.”

baby-2604853_1920In their book, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen share that individual experiences make sense and acquire meaning within the context of some story we believe to be the true story of the world. We need a large background story to ground us because when “people don’t know the whole story so they get the parts wrong”  (Dr. Catherine Stonehouse).

Everyone has a metanarrative.

For Christians, Scripture is the metanarrative. 

The Story tells us WHO God is. It tells us our place in The Story. It takes the disjointed stories of Scripture and weaves them into a beautiful seamless tale of perfect love created, thwarted, rescued and realized. It is God’s story as Creator, Father, Savior, Son, Friend and Spirit.

To tell the stories apart from The Story can leave us with moments rather than perspective. These powerful moments are essential to rounding out The Story and helping us know God better, but without the context of The Story, we can reduce God to a God of moments rather than the God of Eternity.

Written into each of the moments is the bigger story of God’s Love calling us back to a perfect love relationship with him. Even the moments we don’t write into curriculum like David and Bathsheba, Ananias and Sapphira, and Jacob and Tamar, we can see a bigger picture of sin, redemption and God’s unchanging nature of love and justice.

In context, the stories matter because they are more than moments; they are parts of a greater whole. 

Recently a friend of mine shared with me that her grandfather, 85 years old, had begun to question his faith. After a stroke had left him in a place of needing care from others, he had time to really critically think about what he had heard in church his whole life. As she visited with him, he explained his frustration over the disjointed and seemingly discontinuous nature of the Bible stories he’d heard over and over again and how they had no relevance to his life.

One day it dawned on her; even though he’d been in church his whole life, he’d never heard The Story. So one afternoon she and her sister sat down with him and for the very first time, her grandfather heard The Story of God’s perfect creation, our separation because of sin, the reconciliation of the cross, and the invitation to us to join The Story for all eternity.

It changed everything for this 85-year-old man. For the first time, he understood the context. He saw what joined it all together.

He heard The Story of God…and it changed everything.

I believe it can…no, it will, do that for all of us too!


There are some really great resources out there that share some of the familiar Bible Stories in the context of The 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 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. 

 

Through Their Eyes: Seeing Like Children

There’s a pile of rocks at my back door. The pile has been growing over the last few weeks since Caleb discovered “diamonds” inside of them. These treasures have brought him immense joy. He has decided that he is going to sell these rocks to others at the “rock-bottom” price of $1/ each to those lucky individuals who want to have some diamonds of their own.

But the other day, when we went for a walk, Caleb found a very special rock. This rock, he told me, was broken in half but you couldn’t even tell. And that meant, even though it didn’t have diamonds in it, it was definitely worth more and he’d be charging $2 for that one.

I should probably let you know at this point that Caleb’s diamond rocks where purchased at Lowes a few years ago by the previous owners of this house and used for landscaping (rock beds) around out the heating units in the back yard.

But to Caleb, these rocks hold diamonds.

throughtheireyesChildren are special.  Their minds are full of imagination and dreams. They can create a treasure out of a piece of trash or a grand story out of an ordinary box. They have the capacity to “see” bigger than what is in front of them and to take the time to appreciate the smallest, inconsequential things.

And I can’t help but think about that when I think about how we teach them about Jesus and the Bible. You see, a lot of times as I listen to children’s pastors or parents, one of the things I hear them say is, “I want to find a new way to tell this familiar story or a super cool craft that will really get the kids attention.”  But what we fail to realize is that while the story may be familiar to us and we might need a craft to get our attention, the children may be hearing the story for the first time and a super cool craft might be as simple as just handing them a rock and letting their imaginations take flight.

The flashier our story, the louder our music, the crazier our environment, the less our children’s imaginations can flourish. We provide them the answers, the receipt from Lowes to show our rocks are just ordinary rocks, instead of letting them dream and see diamonds in the ruff.

Jerome Barryman, creator of the curriculum Godly Play, had similar concerns which led him to put together a curriculum that encouraged children to engage in the act of wonder. In the introduction to the curriculum, he states, “Godly Play assumes that children have some experience of the mystery of the presence of God in their lives but that they lack the language, permission, and understanding to express and enjoy that in our culture.

Why? Because we give them language, we offer them all the answers, and we hand them a craft with steps 1, 2, and 3 without space to dream, to create, to wonder about the story that have just experienced or the attribute of God they have just discovered.

What are some ways we can help our children’s imaginations free and let them wonder about the mystery and awe of God and His love for them?

First, don’t worry about being flashy or cool. They get that everywhere they go. Instead, invite them into the story by asking them questions. Godly Play encourages asking “I wonder” questions like, “I wonder why the Good Shepherd knows all of his sheep by name?” instead of saying, “God is the Good Shepherd and He loves us enough to call us by name.” Letting kids reach those kinds of conclusions on their own is a treasure.

Second, let them tell you the story.  This is my favorite part of teaching children about the Bible. I love to tell them a story and then, usually as we are doing an activity, I ask them questions about the story to see what they got out of it. I’m constantly amazed at the things they pick up on and what stood out to them in the story. Very often, it’s not the main point or the part that I think is important, but it’s the part that they most resonated with or what they connected to, and it often ends up making God even bigger than my retelling.

Third, open up your activity or craft time to their imagination. Instead of a step-by-step put together craft, create an open-ended space for them to explore or re-tell the story in their own way. Crayons and paper, glue and scissors, play doh and clay, wiki sticks and legos; whatever you can make available to them to retell the story.  It’s amazing what children can come up with when we give them the space to be imaginative and creative.

Finally, let the children know that Jesus wants to meet them in their imagination. Their creativity is a gift and their ability to see a bigger world is a precious thing that their Creator has given to them. Jesus wants them to explore and see Him in everything, even in their wonder.  I tell the kids, “Jesus is with us right now and if we listen, he may talk to our hearts. So let’s be quiet as we do our craft so that if he talks, we can hear him and if he talks to our friends, they can hear him too.” I’m always surprised at how quickly the room will grow quiet and how often children will tell me later that they felt God in their heart.

We may see ordinary rocks but our children see diamonds. We may see a familiar Bible story but our children see a great big God.

Let’s give them space to wonder. 


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. 

Fan Into Flame: The gift of Firsthand Faith

Recently I’ve heard a number of sweet stories of kids experiencing God in their lives. I love that whenever kids have these experiences, parents seek me out to tell me about them. But I love even more that in each of the stories, the kids were having their own personal revelation of God and His love for them in ways that were unique to their story and to their life.

Because that is firsthand faith.

I heard that particular description yesterday during a chapel service at Asbury Theological Seminary. The speaker was the dean of chapel, Jessica LaGrone, and she shared about the relationship between Paul and Timothy through the lens of a pilot light.

She shared that growing up there was, in the basement of her grandparents beach house (more aptly described fishing shack, according to her) an old gas water heater. In order to get hot water in the house, one needed to travel to the dark, dingy corner where it was located and turn on the gas. But the gas always instantly turned to a huge flame with a “whoosh” because the pilot light was burning deep inside the seemingly dormant device.

She compared this to Paul’s conversation with Timothy where he tells him to “fan into flame” the pilot light that had been lit in him by his mother Lois and his grandmother Eunice. In describing this, she stated,

“Faith can be passed on to us, but it cannot be secondhand. We need firsthand faith.”

It’s the difference between indoctrination and influence.  The nuance between being dogmatic and being one who disciples, between forceful acceptance and faithful formation.

Generational discipleship, the passing on of our faith from one generation to another, is essential to who we are as the body of Christ. Just as Timothy’s mother and grandmother, and indeed, Paul and other believers, invested in him as a young man, so must we “light the pilot lights” of those who come behind us; our children, our friends’ children, young people in our faith community, our neighborhood, our world.

But we must also encourage them to “fan into flame” that light that has been lit within them. We don’t want to create secondhand Christians, that live only off of our experiences and convictions. We want them to burst into bright flame because of their own revelation of who God is and what He has for them.

And we don’t want that to be a once and done thing. We want them to grow and mature and experience the love and grace of God over and over again in their lives.

We want to inspire firsthand faith. 

Which means…

Our kids may not look like us. They may not act like us. They may not like the same worship styles that we do. They may not end up attending the same church as us or even remaining in the same tradition as we do. We may even disagree about some things as they grow up and mature and own their faith.

heart-1783918_1920But that pilot light, no matter how different or dormant their faith looks, can only be lit if we invest in discipleship, in the passing on of our faith.  If there is nothing to fan into flame, it is much less likely that they will find that firsthand faith.

It is for us, church, adult believers, grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, friends who are like family and friends who choose to be invested, the Pauls of this age; it is for us to light that flame. To demonstrate what firsthand faith looks like be living a life worthy of the calling we’ve received and fanning into flame the gift we have been given from those who came before us.

If the next generation is to have firsthand faith, we must light the pilot light. 

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:5-7)


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. 

Shifting Blame: Digging Deeper on the Question of Church Attendance and Family Ministry

It’s no secret. Attendance at church across the board is down…depending on what metric you use and what statistics you look at. But for the most part, it’s safe to say, that regular weekly attendance in a church building is in a downward spiral. Some studies show than the average “regular attender” at church only comes once or twice per month and obviously, this affects the attendance of children and youth as well. Having been down this road in a number of different ministry settings, I’m always struck by the reasons that are given by those in children, youth and family ministry for why attendance is down.
boys-2769553_1920

“Sports are to blame.” And let’s be honest, team sports, especially travel ball, are one reason. Practices and games no longer get put on hold for Sundays and Wednesday nights so if a child joins a team, they will likely be asked to be with the team on those days at some point.

“Parents are to blame.” The common line is that parents no longer value church and therefore church is seen as optional while other things require commitment. In fact, just today I saw a tweet that read, “The most common parenting perspective fail I see played out on a regular basis: church should be convenient but sports require sacrifice” which is a combination of the two observations above.

“Church is optional.” Some have pointed to the fact that church attendance is sometimes used as a disciplinary tool (i.e. Didn’t do your homework? No church for you!) while others comment on how school is a priority but church is not.

There’s a lot of blame being doled out for why things are the way they are. But is it possible that the criticism we often shift outward also needs to be directed inward?

Instead of blaming sports and ballet and parents and society and school and (fill in the blank), it seems it would be wise for us, the church, to look inward and ask,

“Why is it so easy to leave? How have we created an environment that implies consistency is not necessary, that commitment is optional, and “church” is a thing of convenience?

I believe if we take the time to honestly critique ourselves, we will find that we must share part of the blame for the shift in church attendance and necessity.

Church as an Event

I’ll never forget hearing the phrase, “Make Sunday morning the best hour of their week!” encouraging ministers to focus all of their attention on making that Sunday morning hour so popping, so exciting, so over-the-top memorable and fun, that kids couldn’t wait to come back.

However, the trade-off for that is that we had to create programs that appealed primarily to the senses and not necessarily to the soul and spirit. That’s why the approach of using church attendance as discipline is an easy “punishment” to dole out.

Church as Competition

A friend was talking to me the other day about church programming and marketing and made the statement, “When will the church realize we don’t have to compete with the world, that we really can’t compete with the world? We have a totally different thing to offer.”

And that’s just it. Our churches, funded nearly entirely by donations, cannot compete with concerts and movies and malls filled with all the things. We can’t compete with Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter feeds. We can’t compete with multi-billion dollar ad campaigns and streamlined marketing plans. And we don’t need to. It’s not a competition. We aren’t going to win people back to church by being the newest, coolest thing on the block. We are not in competition with the world OR with each other. We have Jesus. We have community. We have truth. It’s not a competition.

Church as a Building

My husband has pointed out quite frequently that if you look at the history of the word church, it changes over time. The simplest explanation is that in the New Testament, “church” was “ekklesia” which translates to “a gathering of people called out”. Over time, as buildings were built for those people to meet in, the German word “kirche” took the place for church and it referred to the building. So when we ask, “Did you go to church?” we usually mean, “Did you go to a building?” But the reality is, church isn’t a building.

We all know that in our head, but when we measure things like “church attendance” we are looking specifically to people being in a kirche not people living in ekklesia. And when we invite people to church, we invite them to a place, but, as my husband often points out, we should be inviting them into our lives. If church is a building, it’s easy to miss a week or two. If church is community, it’s much harder to skip out.

Church as Age-segregated Silos

We don’t see each other and so we don’t miss each other. We don’t know one another’s names or what our lives look like outside of Sunday morning, so we can’t check in on one another through the week and ask how things are going. We don’t pray together. We don’t worship together. And we don’t share life together.

And we can give all the reasons in the world why that is okay and best and most convenient for all, but the reality is, the consequence of consistently segregating the generations from one another has led to a breakdown in community and a lack of intergenerational relationships from which discipleship and mentorship flow.

I’m sure there are many more things we could add to this list. I’m sure that some of them are particular to individual faith communities. I’m also sure it is easier to blame sports and school than to look inwardly at ourselves and ask hard questions about how we, the church, have contributed to the lackadaisical attitude towards regular attendance and consistent community.

But what if we did? What if instead of focusing the blame elsewhere, we determined to look to ourselves first and to do what we could to create a community, an ekklesia, that was focused not so much on attendance as discipleship, not so much on programming as relationship, not so much on a building and a time as a people and a way of life.

What if we started with our 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. 

This is Holy Week: Experiencing the Sorrow and the Joy Together

This week as believers, we celebrate highest highs and lowest lows in the pivotal moments of our faith. On Sunday we met Christ with shouts of “Hosanna!” and waved palm branches of praise to welcome him to Jerusalem.

But what we welcomed Him to is actually the beginning of the end; we praised Him into Gethsemane, we ushered him to the mount of Calvary. And even as we shouted with joy on Sunday, our hearts know what this week holds – the Last Supper, Good Friday, the dark silence of Saturday.

easterloveAnd in those lowest lows, we grieve. We are sad. Our shouts are silenced.

But oh, the glory that awaits us. Oh, the joy that is coming. Oh, for Sunday morning with the Light breaks through the darkness, and our shouts return, this time with eternity in the strains, for this time we will shout to a risen Savior; this time to a everlasting Lord; this time “Hosannas” without end.

This is Holy Week.

A few years ago, on Good Friday, I shared these thoughts. This still ring true today

There is something palpable about the beauty and mystery of Good Friday. Sometimes, it is our tendency to shield our children from these dark emotions, from the sadness and the heaviness of the crucifixion.

Don’t.

I realize that they won’t understand it all.  I know that it could make them sad.  I understand that they are young.  But the depth of understanding goes beyond our emotions on this day.  When we allow ourselves to remember the darkness of this day, the sadness of this moment that, if we are truly honest, not one of us completely understands, we create space for God to do a deeper work that our minds can understand.

Children are young.  Cognitively they don‘t understand.  But their hearts are attuned to God’s love.  Their understanding of spiritual things goes deeper than we adults sometimes give them credit for.

Throughout Scripture, we are told that infants praise him, the faith of children is pure, little ones know him, and we should be like them.  In children, the kingdom of God is made manifest so, trust me, they may not understand the theology, but they understand the heart of God and the love that was given.

Ever been outside when a storm rolls away and the sun breaks through? Does it ever shine brighter in that moment?

On Good Friday, we experience sadness. But only for a moment.

Because on Sunday we will experience unspeakable joy.

No matter the depth of sorrow we feel on Friday, our rejoicing on Sunday will far exceed those limits.  And if we want our children to truly know the JOY that is Easter, we must let them also experience the sorrow that is Good Friday.

It’s okay for them to feel.  Feel with them.  It’s okay for them to cry.  Cry with them.

BUT, cry with hope.  Feel with expectation.

And Sunday morning, before eggs and bunnies and chocolate and flowers, before dinners and tulips and fancy dresses and suits and ties, before all of that… let them experience the OVERWHELMING, LIFE-CHANGING, HEART-POUNDING Joy of crying out, “He. Is. RISEN!!” 

Rejoice!  Cry out!  Dance a little.  Celebrate with your kids in a way you never have before.  Let joy swell in your hearts and come out as shouts of praise. Let them experience all the wonder and mystery wrapped up in God’s love for us on these three days.  Don’t let it just pass by unnoticed.  Don’t let your fear of their sadness keep them from experiencing the immensity of Easter Joy!!

Make this day a day they will never forget and they will long to experience for years to come.

Feel every moment of this Holy Week. Feel the joy. Feel the sorrow. Let yourself feel. And in those feelings, let yourself find hope in the Resurrection – for we have this hope, THIS HOPE, as an anchor to our souls.

“The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!”


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. 

Who’s On Their Team?

The other day I borrowed a movie from the library that my middle daughter had been asking to watch. When she saw it, she immediately asked if two friends could watch it with her. Both of the friends she requested are adults, friends of mine that had intentionally developed relationships with her. Only one was able to stay and watch the movie, but when I came downstairs at one point, my daughter had her head laid on the shoulder of my 24 year old friend as they were enjoying a movie together.

It made my heart so happy.

Sure, I could have watched the movie with her, but the fact that she had other adults in her life that she not only desired to spend time with but who desired to spend time with her as well, meant the world to me.

stickfaithIn 2010, I had the opportunity to read the book “Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids” by Drs. Kara Powell and Chap Clark. This book had a profound effect on how I parented my own children but my biggest takeaway was the idea of The Five.

In the book, they explains that “Despite the age segregation that exists in our churches and broader culture, each young person is greatly benefited when surrounded by a team of five adults.” In the book, they called this “the new 5:1 ratio” as compared to the normal five kids per adult ratio used in many Sunday school classrooms.

The Power of The Five

So, why is having those five adults so important?

  1. Adults have significant lasting influence on youth.  Studies show that significant, non-parental adults play an important role in adolescent development (Source). Having a healthy, well-rounded world view requires more than just parental input; other supportive adults fill out that role.
  2. It makes their faith bigger than Mom and Dad.  Research has found that children go through three phases of relationship with their parents: First, as children, they adore them. Second, as youth, they question them. Finally, as young adults, they rationalize them. It’s very helpful in each of these stages for children to see that in terms of their faith, their parents weren’t alone in what they believe and passed on to them; that they can see that their faith is something bigger than just their parents’ beliefs and that they are a part of a much wider community.
  3. It provides stability. There is nothing more fragile than the adolescent’s world. Peer groups are prone to change as teens grow and discover their own individual personality. Friendships morph and change. Relationships come and go. Having adults who have already walked that path and are now relatively stable in their faith, their personality, and their life give kids a sense of stability and foundation that they desperately need.

Five adults engaged in intentional communication and meaningful relationships with a young person doesn’t just happen.

color-3207345_1920In fact, in our age-segregated culture, it’s highly unlikely that it will happen at all unless some intentional work is put into ensuring that it does.

And so, that became a goal for Luke and me. We wanted our children to be able to name five adults, other than us, that they knew cared about them, wanted to spend time with them, and had a relationship with them built on mutual respect and trust. We wanted them to have a “team” that they knew were cheering them on, walking with them, and excited to be around them.

In order for that to happen, we had to make sure a few things happened. We had to make sure our kids had the chance to meet and interact with adults. We had to create spaces for intentional interaction to take place. We had to encourage healthy relationships when we saw them beginning to grow. And we had to “let go” of a little bit of our own control over some circumstances to make room for other trusted adults to speak into our children’s lives.

How We Can Help

  1. Create spaces within the church for generations to be together. This is so important and much has been written on the topic, but to simplify, if youth and children never have the chance to interact with adults in a faith community, it will be very difficult for them to build a relationship. Dr. Powell points out that one of the biggest reasons teens say they don’t want to go to church is because they don’t have friends there. By encouraging these intergenerational relationships, you’re not only helping your children’s faith long term, you are giving them a reason to come to church as they grow.
  2. Ask your children to name some adults that they respect and admire. Dr. Powell suggests doing this because this will help you to find the adults that your child is already aware of and wants to be around.
  3. Intentionally introduce your child to trusted adults and find ways to encourage those relationships in comfortable, organic ways. Have the adults over for dinner and invite the kids to play games or watch a movie with all of you afterwards.
  4. Speak highly of those individuals in front of your kids. Let your children know that you love and respect these adults, that you consider them a friend and that you trust them as people who love God and love others.

Every now and then, I’ll ask my kids, “Can you name five adults other than Dad and I that you know care about you and that you trust?”  When they can, I am grateful. When they can’t, I am prayerful, asking the Lord who He would want me to intentionally reach out to for their sake.


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. 

The Sacred Ordinary

It wasn’t much. Just a little note taped to a door. A few simple words. Nothing profound. But that simple note changed everything about the day.

christiseverywhereI walked into a room, like I did every day, but this day I found a note that read, “Christ is everywhere, SO BE HAPPY.” It was from my then 9-year-old daughter. And it couldn’t have come at a better moment as we were praying to know if God was calling us to sell our home and move. It was as though God Himself spoke right to my heart. He was with us; He would always be with us. In the most ordinary place in the most ordinary way, the extraordinary broke through.

The simplest things.

 The sacred in the ordinary.

The holy in the everyday.


stpatsprayer

This was a concept St. Patrick took to heart. His famous prayer (see below) includes the lines “Christ in my sleeping, Christ in my sitting, Christ in my rising, light of my life.” What could be more ordinary than sleeping, sitting, and rising?  What could be more extraordinary that Christ being there in the midst of those things?

One the best pieces of advice I can offer to both ministers and parents alike is simply this “You don’t need to DO more; you need to invite Christ into what you are already doing.”

So many times we can feel the pressure to do more, to be more, to add more to our lives so that we ensure God has His rightful place in our ministries and in our homes.  But in doing that, we can sometimes miss the point…that Christ is already there, in our midst, just waiting to be invited into our every day.

Jonathan Edwards, an early 18th century theologian, once said, Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church, consecrated to Christ, and wholly influenced and governed by His rules. And family education and order are some of the chief means of grace. If these fail, all other means are likely to prove ineffectual.”

Can that be true?  Is a family, a home, like a little church?

I can’t help but think about what Jesus said when he spoke to his disciples and said, “Wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, there I am with you” (Mt. 18:20). Interestingly, most Christian marriages begin in churches where they are joined together quite literally “in Jesus name.”  So, two people (or more once they have children) gathered together in Christ’s name means that Christ is in their midst..all the time…including in their home, their little church. 

It stands to reason then, that the ordinary and everyday rhythms and routines of the home become extraordinary places for us to welcome, invite, and acknowledge Christ’s presence with us; chief means of grace. 

We don’t have to designate special times to do that; we can do that in the simplest moments of the everyday. Moments like when we rise and when we lie down, when we sit and when we go out. When we are watching television and when we are eating breakfast. When we are crying and when we are celebrating.

In this world of full busy lives, adding one more thing to our plate can feel impossible and overwhelming. Isn’t it wonderful to know that Jesus is already there?  And simply acknowledging that to each other, to our spouse, to our kids, to our guests can take the most ordinary things and make them sacramental, holy unto God?

The next time you are watching television, simply ask your child, “How do you think Jesus would respond in a situation like that?”

The next time you are folding laundry, simply pray for the owner of each sock, shirt, skirt, and shorts.

The next time you are saying goodbye to your spouse, simply grab their hand and pray a quick blessing before they walk out the door.

The next time you are doing the most ordinary, mundane, everyday thing you can imagine, just turn your head and look and see Jesus right beside you.

This St. Patrick’s Day, let’s join him in his prayer of extraordinary ordinary life.

Christ be beside me,
Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me,
King of my heart.

Christ be within me,
Christ be below me,
Christ be above me,
never to part.

Christ on my right hand,
Christ on my left hand,
Christ all around me,
shield in the strife.

Christ in my sleeping,
Christ in my sitting,
Christ in my rising,
light of my life.

Christ be in all hearts thinking about me;
Christ be on all tongues telling of me;
Christ be the vision in eyes that see me;
in ears that hear me, Christ ever be.


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 Have We Got To Lose?

The other day I was conversing with a minister at a local church discussing the fact that they do not have a lot of Millennials and Gen-Xers in their church. “We have two strong areas in our church,” he said, “Seniors and kids 5th grade and under. We just can’t seem to hit the generations in between.”

The church’s solution to this problem up until this point was to focus on reaching those generations. Offering classes they thought those missing generations would like. Playing worship songs and preaching sermon series they thought they’d enjoy. Even adjusting the service time and format in order to appeal more to those generations. Nothing seemed to be working.

So I offered this suggestion. Instead of focusing on the weaknesses, build up the strengths. Find ways to intentionally invest in and connect the oldest generations and the young generations in the church.  Create programming specifically for them. Give them the attention and the focus. Put together opportunities aimed at bringing those two groups together. After all, if the other generations aren’t there anyway, what have you got to lose?

Well, that’s exactly what they decided to do. As a pastoral staff, they began to find ways to enrich and strengthen the connections between their oldest and youngest generations. They found and are still finding ways to do this but more than that, they are finding that as a result of this intentional bolstering of their church’s strongest areas, the entire church is getting healthier and… lo and behold, other generations are beginning to get more involved.

Friends, I know that I beat this drum a lot but, I have to say it again:  We need each other. These walls of division we have created in our churches based on generational lines and age segregation are not doing us any favors. Instead of making us stronger, they have made us weaker.

We are not connected to each other.

We are not in community with one another.

Being in a building at the same time makes us not more connected that a bunch of loose legos in a bin. In order for those legos to build anything, they have got to be joined together.

We are at our very core hardwired to connect. This is actually the title of a study done by the Commission on Children at Risk completed in 2003 that looked specifically at depression, anxiety, attention deficit, conduct disorders, thoughts of suicide, and other serious mental and behavioral problems in young people. Their conclusion?

We are hardwired to connect to other people. We are built for community. We actually need places to be vulnerable and accountable and without those things in place, we begin to disintegrate as an individual.

We are alive in community. A few weeks ago the New York Times posted an article entitled “How Social Isolation is Killing Us.” In it the author states,

“A wave of new research suggests social separation is bad for us. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones.

One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent. Another analysis that pooled data from 70 studies and 3.4 million people found that socially isolated individuals had a 30 percent higher risk of dying in the next seven years, and that this effect was largest in middle age.

Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults, and isolated individuals are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with more robust social interactions. These effects start early: Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors. All told, loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking.”

We actually draw life from one another. It’s sustains us, not just spiritually, but emotionally and physically.

Why is that?  Because we are created in God’s image!

Recently I heard a researcher onld-2612041_1920 the radio make the statement, “You is always plural. You is never singular.” What he meant by that is for us to even make one unique thought or claim an individual identity, it takes thousands of brain cells all working together to form that one thing.   Even within our own selves, we are a community. Which makes sense, because we are created in the image of a triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Three in One.

We are literally created FOR community. There’s no getting away from that very essential part of who we are.

So if that is true, that begs the question, what have we got to lose?  The next generation. The oldest generation. All the generations in between. We have got one another to lose. In a faith that perpetuates itself through generational discipleship and passing the legacy of our faith from one generation to another, we have got the future church to lose.

If we are going to see our churches strengthened, we have to take our focus off the “missing” generations and begin to support, equip, strengthen, nurture, and connect the ones we still have in our communities.

Create space for them to be in relationship with one another, making meaningful connections (not just passing in the hall), engaging in corporate times of worship (not just periodic performances) and life-giving discipleship relationships (not just the sharing of an occasional word of wisdom).

What have we got to lose? Tomorrow. So let’s invest in the generations of today and let’s focus on how we can strengthen their faith and their relationships in ways that will create lifelong faith for generations to come.


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. 

Talking about the Hard Things: Teaching Kids Healthy Disagreement and Discourse

I was recently invited to join a group of ministers in a closed Facebook group whose explicit purpose is to have  discussions about “the hard stuff”, namely, the theological, cultural, and social issues that we are bound to disagree on. The person who started the group noted that in the other ministry groups he was a part of, if a controversial subject got brought up, the conversation either disintegrated into a fight or turned into a wishy-washy “it doesn’t really matter so believe whatever you want” concession, neither of which did he feel was healthy or helpful. He created this group to see if there was a way for people to have a discussion about things they disagree on and still remain mature and respectful towards one another.

Spoiler: They can!  We’ve had some really great discussions over the last few weeks and we definitely don’t agree about everything. But the people in the group trust each other and are willing to say, “This is what I think and here is why” without fear of retribution or of starting a big fight.

The latest question, however, gave me pause. It was basically asked, “How do we teach kids to do this?”  How do we teach the next generation that disagreements don’t necessarily mean dislike and that we can share our thoughts with gentleness and respect in a culture that seems to have no room for healthy public discourse?

As I’ve considered this question, here are my thoughts.

We Embrace It

Look, the reality is that we were created in the image of God and given both a free will and a mind capable of conscious thought. It is inevitable that we are going to disagree on things.  Not only is that okay, it is healthy.  Jesus often disagreed with people who came and asked him questions. He often responded in ways that genuinely upset the people who disagreed with him. He never shied away from a difficult conversation, although he did find creative ways to get at the heart issues rather than the surface ones.

Throughout the Bible, we find conflict and disagreement (Paul and Barnabas, Eunice and Syntyche, Mary and Martha) and we see grace and resolution (Paul and Timothy, Jesus and Nicodemus, Peter and Paul).  It may even be helpful to say to kids, “Look, we aren’t always going to agree, but that doesn’t change my love and respect for you.”

We Model It

Ultimately, as the adults in the proverbial room, we are teaching kids through everything we do, our actions and our reactions, our conversations and our disagreements. How we respond to others, to the media, to government – all of it – is teaching our children what their response should be.

It’s a challenge for me to go back and re-read some of my social media posts or consider the words that I speak in a conversation knowing that these things could very well frame how my child will act and react in similar situations.

We Engage in It

children-763128_1920The home environment is the perfect place to engage in healthy disagreement, because I promise you, there will be times the family will disagree. I’ll never forget one day at dinner when my daughters began to disagree on something and the emotions started to escalate (they were 11 and 9). My husband immediately assessed the situation and set out some ground rules. They were each given two minutes to make their case, one minute to rebut, and thirty seconds to respond to the rebuttal. At the end they had to tell one another that they loved each other. You know what happened?  At the end of the “debate” they still disagreed, but they weren’t angry and frustrated. They were sisters who loved each other and happened to disagree about something.

Don’t shy away from the hard conversations! Teach your children how to engage in healthy ways.

We Address It

The worst thing we can do for our children and youth is not address the elephant in the room because we are concerned about making them uncomfortable. If there is a disagreement on something, I promise you, they are already uncomfortable. The better approach is to say, “I’m sure you’ve heard about (fill in the blank). How are you feeling about that?” and begin a conversation.

This is especially true in our current political and cultural climate when it seems like hot topics are around every corner. In my kids’ school, they watch a five minute news break every morning, so they are not immune to the headlines that we experience. That opens the door for some really great conversation if we choose to engage.

We Practice It

Healthy disagreement and helpful resolution are not easy because we are emotional beings surrounded by other emotional beings. How we address that reality can be compared to how we address any habit or routine that we want to establish – we practice it.

Practice it with our kids, practice it with each other, and practice it with others and when we feel ourselves beginning to cross an emotional line, practice saying, “I think I need to step back for a bit but thank you so much for talking about this with me” and practice the art of the graceful exit.

James puts it “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires” (James 1:19, 20). The gift of understanding, or truly listening, could perhaps be among the greatest gifts we can give our children.

Whether we are talking about a disagreement within a church, a disagreement about politics, or a personal disagreement about preferences or beliefs, the reality is disagreement is part of our lives.  If we don’t give the next generation tools for listening and discussing, the divide in our country, homes and churches will continue to widen. As the old folk song says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”


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.