Asking the Question “Do I Belong?”

I wrote a blog a while back that explored the Pew Research findings that showed that the fastest growing label in the “religion” category was “Unaffiliated” or not connected to any particular religion. This category was filled primarily with Millennials who had at one time associated themselves with organized religion. I was curious why this trend was happening so I read a number of blogs written by Millennial authors about why they had chosen to leave the church.

alone-1868905_1920By and large, the overall message was “We don’t feel like we belong.”

I could relate, but on a different level. If you’ve ever visited a foreign country, you probably can to.  A few years ago, Luke and I had the chance to go to Europe and I loved every minute of it BUT the whole time I was there, I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong. I may have been there, dressed in the right clothes, paying with the right money, and eating the right food, but I didn’t feel like I belonged. Even when things were done to make us feel more at home, it still couldn’t eradicate the feeling of not belonging. Why?

We didn’t know anyone – Everyone was new to us; a stranger. Even the friendliest people we met were still new. We had no relationships with them nor them with us, so our conversations were necessarily surface and without depth.

We weren’t familiar with the customs – It’s funny how the littlest thing can remind you that you are out of your element, things like asking for “just water” at a restaurant and having a chilled bottle of seltzer water delivered to your table or not walking on the right side of the road because that is the bike lane and they will run you over. These moments, seemingly small, were poignant reminders we were in unfamiliar territory.

We didn’t speak the language – Obviously one of the most visible ways we felt unaffiliated was in terms of just speaking to those around us. Trying to figure out if what we were paying for an ice cream cone was actually the right amount could lead to times of intense stress. Reading maps and taking the subway? Yeah, we lived Finding Dory.

So what does this have to do with the church?

If the bloggers I read are accurate in their assessment, they share much the same feelings when they are in church. It makes sense then that they would want to leave and find somewhere where they feel they belong.

And, if during their lives as children in church they spent most, if not all, of their time separated from the older generations and not in attendance for corporate worship or congregational gathering times, the feeling of not belonging would simply be a natural occurrence, an expected consequence.

They wouldn’t know anybody – Or perhaps, more accurately, they wouldn’t be known by anybody. If coming into “big church” is a new experience and the majority of people attending are new to them, it would not feel like a community they were a part of or were familiar with. It’d be like going to a new country in a way.

They wouldn’t know the customs – Every church has a liturgy; a way of worshiping together. Some follow traditional liturgical practices that have been passed down for centuries; some just have a habitual way of going about church service (song, welcome and greeting, song, song, prayer, offering, song, sermon, prayer, son…something like that). When to stand, when to sit, how to “pass the peace”, how to sing, when to clap, when to go up front, etc. – these customs help create the atmosphere that is unique to that church.

How foreign it can feel if it’s never been experienced before and how unusual that must feel when it is happening in a space where you’ve been attending for most of your childhood and youth.

They wouldn’t know the language – Almost every church I’ve attended has some time where the congregation participates in some way praying, reciting, or singing together. In some churches, especially more liturgical ones, there are certain things that are to be said at certain times. For the inexperienced, I imagine this could feel quite intimidating and at times isolating.

What can we do?

My encouragement would be this:  Find ways to connect the older and younger generations in meaningful relationships where they know each other names long before the young ones head off to college AND seek to create space where the whole congregation can engage in worship and fellowship together before the young people are launched into completely unknown territory.

Give them a chance to know and feel like they belong before they even arrive.

Part of the fun of visiting a new place is that you don’t know everything. The same holds true with church. There should always be more to know of Christ and of each other and there should always be a certain sense of stretching and discomfort as we truly engage in living life together as community.

However, recognizing that transition is difficult and we sometimes need a bridge to make the journey, there’s nothing wrong with creating space for relationships and times of corporate worship to reinforce the message for young people that they most certainly do belong.


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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“I’m Not Sure I’m Cut Out for This ‘Discipling’ Thing”

“We will not hide these truths from our children;

We will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord

About his power and his mighty wonders…

He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children

So the next generation might know them–even the children not yet born–

and they will in turn teach their own children

So each generation should set its hope anew on God”  Ps. 78:4, 5b-7a NLT

The other day, I had the opportunity to share with some children the miracle that is new life; something coming to life in unexpected ways, much like our Savior. We talked about how a seed falls into the ground, and dies, but then brings forth new life. Much to my surprise, my object lesson was sitting beside my kitchen sink; a popcorn kernel had fallen into a potted plant and had begun to grow and sprout a new seedling.

When I was talking to the kids, we talked about the fact that the seed was “hiding” in the soil but it wasn’t “hidden” from God. It was still doing all the things the seed was supposed to do; it was bringing about new life. 

Psalm 119:9-11 says, ” How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me stray from Your commandments. I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” In much the same way, God’s Word is “hidden” in the heart of a child (young man) but it is not dormant; rather, it is doing what the Word came to do – bring forth new life. 

affection-1866868_1920As a parent, I can at times become discouraged when I don’t see the fruit of discipleship evident in my children’s lives. Like most Christian parents, I wonder, “Have a done this thing right?  Have I shared the right things?  Have I been a good disciplemaker?  What about all the times I’ve messed up?  What about all of my mistakes?

It can be…exhausting and defeating. 

But as I read these Scriptures a few things come into focus for me; things that help me to remember whose they are and who I am actually called to be. I hope these reminders can be a wells of God’s grace and truth to any others who have said, “I’m not sure I’m cut out for this ‘discipling’ thing.”

Talk About God

Just do it. Talk about what He’s done for you, for us, for others, for the world. Talk about the miracles. Talk about the mundane. Talk about His love. Talk about His Grace. Talk about it when we sit at home and when we drive along the road; talk about Him when we lie down and when we get up (Dt. 6:7).

Don’t hide Jesus from them; hide Him inside of them. And trust that the Word (Jesus) will do the work of transformation that will bring about new life, in His time.

See a Bigger Picture

Moments pass; they do not last. Doubts are part of life and a healthy faith; they do not define one’s path.  Emotions and feelings are real but they are not reality.  Even if our words seem to have no impact or little impact or negative impact, the bigger picture is that we hold the greatest influence over our children’s faith and, according to the Psalm above, not only our children’s faith but the faith of those who are to come; our grandchildren who are not even born yet.

If we can look with eyes of faith beyond today, we will continue to speak with faith and hope about this Jesus who loves us and them so much, He reaches beyond today and into tomorrow with His grace.

Trust the Process

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell myself this about other stuff; work stuff and medical stuff and school stuff.  And it usually pans out; if we just trust the process, the work usually gets done.  But here’s the biggest difference with God:  There is no “usually.”  With God, His promises are “Yes” and “Amen.”  And while our children will always have their free will, we can rest in the fact that God will do all that He said He will do.

  • His Word will not return void (Is. 55:11).
  • He goes after his sheep (Luke 11, John 10).
  • He made sure our children are always being prayed for continually (Mt. 18:10).
  • He calls them to come (Luke 18:16).
  • He loves them; oh, how He loves them (Mt. 18:2-6).

The Word is at work in our children’s hearts. I believe that much as I believe a seed I bury in the ground doesn’t just die but it dies to new life. What we have hidden in their hearts, through our words, our prayers, our actions, and our lives, remains there. Jesus tells us that if He is lifted high, he will draw all to Himself (Jn. 12:32); our job is to lift Him high, He will do the drawing.

Right now, I am the mom of a high schooler, a middle schooler, and an elementary student.  Every day, new scenarios arise that make me question my adequacy as a parent, let alone a person called to form faith and raise disciples.  But every day, when I look to the Lord, I remember I’m called to one thing: Lift Jesus high – talk about Him, talk about His word, talk about His love, talk about His goodness and grace, talk about His approach-ability and His incarnate humanity, and talk about His eternal promises.

I am called to plant endless seeds. He alone can make them grow.



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. 

Tips for Intergenerational Worship Services

More and more, churches are recognizing the importance of creating space within their corporate worship for the full church body to gather and worship, including the youngest among us.   But that does create a challenge for many faith communities that have been used to not having children and youth in the sanctuary for part or all of the corporate service time.

kiddistractionOver the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with three different churches who approached intergenerational worship in different ways and I’ve gathered a few ideas from them about how other churches might be able to approach these types of services.

These ideas are by no means exclusive… look at them as a starting point and let the culture of your church help fill in the gaps as needed.

Here’s a few things that I’ve done or seen done at the churches I’ve been blessed to serve in:

1. Kid’s Worship Team – This team doesn’t necessary lead “singing” but they worship through hospitality (holding doors, handing out bulletins, etc), prayer (they go forward during prayer time and pray for themselves and others) and generosity (they take up the communion and pray over it).

For our team, the kids followed a weekly schedule, just like the adult worship team, and if they missed their Sunday, they had to get someone to take their spot. They also had to go through a training on worship with me before they could serve.

2. Sermon Notes – There are a lot of great templates out there for sermon notes and for older kids, it’s a great way to keep them involved with the service.  In one church, if a child completed their sermon notes, they could get something out of a treasure box and the completed form was given back to their parents so the parents could have a follow-up conversation with their kids at home.

3. Call Out the Kids – Kids love to get attention and they love when they get to be drawn into “adult” things like the sermon. We often asked whoever was speaking to at some point in the sermon just say something like, “Hey kids, have you ever seen this?” or something else that would be appropriate to the text to help draw the kids into the story. It’s amazing how just that little comment really drew them in and helped redirect their attention to the service.

4. Interactive Teaching and Learning – Anything interactive is great!  One of the ways our current church engages the kids is if there is a topic that involves a story from the Bible, the pastor will have the kids help act out the story. Everyone loves it – it’s spontaneous so things definitely go wrong, but the whole congregation gets involved and no one forgets the Scripture we studied that week.

5. Busy Bags  – Busy bags get a bad rap, mostly because people don’t understand the developmental science behind them. Have “busy bags” but explain to parents and other church members that these activities aren’t intended to distract the kids but rather to help the kids use all of their developing senses; studies show if their hands and eyes are busy, their ears will be listening. 

Quiet activities like lacing cards, stickers scenes, foam craft kits, beads and pipe cleaners, small puzzles and coloring are all great ways to engage your kinesthetic and visual learners.

6. Active Involvement – The difference between “having kids in Big Church” and welcoming kids into corporate worship lies basically in participation.  Are children being invited to actively participate or passively observe?  Inviting children and youth to be part of the order of worship has incredible sway in creating a sense of inclusion and welcome.

Children and youth can read Scripture, say the benediction, lead a song (doesn’t always have to have actions – it can just be a song that they like – my son loves, “No Longer Slaves” and can’t wait to lead it), and pray.   Being involved signals that we have a place in the congregation – we are a part of something bigger – and everyone needs to know that truth.

There are many, many more ideas on how to incorporate children and youth into the larger worship experience and I’d love to hear from you!  What have you seen done or are you currently doing in your church context? If you are a parent, how do you help your kids connect to the larger body in worship? And if the answer is, “Nothing yet!” hopefully these tips will get your creative juices flowing!


For more information about

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

About the Blog

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

Easter for the First Time

Last week I had an experience that I will not soon forget. I had the chance to share the story of Easter with a group of kids, half of which had never heard the story before.  I’ve shared the Easter story in church on many occasions but usually the kids who come, even if they don’t regularly attend church or wouldn’t call themselves “Christians” still have a rudimentary understanding of the Easter story.   But this year, the group I got to share with had literally never, ever heard the story before.

Imagine with me if you can the looks on their faces as I began to tell of this man who had some friends and they followed him around. One day he told them to go get a donkey that was tied up and bring it to him.

So like, he told them to steal someone else’s donkey?  And they did it?  That’s not cool. That’s like peer pressure. I would have said no.

Imagine with me the incredulity in their eyes when I told them that one of Jesus’ friends decided to betray Jesus so he’d get arrested and got paid 30 pieces of silver to do it and that another one of his friends denied he even knew Jesus and all of his other friends deserted him.

Why do you keep calling them friends?  Those aren’t friends. Friends definitely do not do that to each other.  

Imagine with me the disgust on their faces when I told them that a group of soldiers made fun of Jesus and whipped him and put a crown of thorns on his head so that his back and head were bloodied and torn.

That is not okay!  That’s totally wrong. You can’t hit people. Even people in charge can’t do that stuff. Did it hurt him?  Was he crying?  Why didn’t he just run away?

Imagine with me the sadness and disbelief when I told them that after all of this was done to Jesus, he was convicted even though he’d done nothing wrong and his punicross-1375765_1920shment was the same as every other convicted criminal; death on a cross.

What?!? They killed him. Like for real? How is this about Easter?  Where are the bunnies and eggs?

Imagine the weight on their hearts when I confirm that indeed, he was killed, for real and to make sure, a soldier pierced his side and blood and water came out.

Silence. Sadness. 

But why?

“Because, sweet child, God so loved this world, you, that He sent his only Son, Jesus, to make a way for us to be with God for all eternity.  Because we’ve all done things that hurt others and hurt God and those things put a gap between us and God, but Jesus filled the gap – he had never hurt God or others and yet he allowed himself to be hurt so we could know true love.”

Silence. Sadness.

“But wait.”

Eyes lifted.

“The story doesn’t end there, because something else happened.”

Hope rising. Heads turned up. Eyes questioning.

“Jesus didn’t stay dead.”

Eyes widened. Mouths drop open.

“Jesus rose from the dead. Death was not strong enough to hold him. He was stronger than even death. When some of his friends who were women came to the tomb to honor him, the stone was rolled away and Jesus wasn’t there. He had risen.”

So, is he a zombie?

“Nope, He was really alive. Not living dead. Truly alive.”

Prove it!

“Oh, his friends asked the same thing. They thought he was a ghost. So you know what he did? He asked for food… a lot. He told them, “Would a ghost eat food?” And they said, “No” so he ate food. He ate bread and fish and cooked breakfast for them and ate dinner with them and hung out with over 500 different people, proving that he was really alive again. ”

So, did he die later?

“Oh no, He beat death!  He’s alive forever and he promised he would go prepare a place for us for after we die.

We will get to be with Him forever.

And that, my friends, is our promise at Easter.  Whether it’s the first time you’ve heard this story or the last, the first time you’ve shared this story or the last, may this promise be what brings us to the work of the ministry.

As we share with children, as we connect generations, as we grow disciples and form faith, may we never forget that the promise of Easter is life with our Savior forever, starting today.


For more information about

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

About the Blog

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

Can I Do It?

“Can I do it?”

baking-1951256_1920If you are a parent with children at any age, you’ve heard this question asked. Whether it is in reference to breaking an egg for the batch of cookies you’re making, filling out a class schedule for the next year’s classes, or going to the mall for a night out with friends, this question surfaces.

The need for personal attainment, achievement and involvement is there almost from the start. We watch our babies start taking those steps to individual growth quite literally and then, over the years, take on more and more of the tasks that we were once needed for.

“Can I do it?” is a question that is innate in all of us.

Most of us don’t like to be sidelined. We want in on the action. We want to give it a go or at least try it once. Sometimes life forces us to take on things and we must ask ourselves the question, “Can I do it?” but nonetheless, it’s a question we have all asked.

I was recently reminded of this while listening to an interview of a church planter whose church was reaching out specifically to younger Millennials in an unchurched, dechurched part of the globe.  He said despite what we typically hear about Millennials, he has found them to be “highly interested” in religion and deeply desirous of being involved in church.  They are asking the question, “Can I do it?” not just in terms of belief but also in terms in action and involvement.

Can I be the one who carries the cross, both figuratively and literally?

Can I be the one who serves the poor, feeds the hungry, teaches the kids, takes care of the church, leads the prayer, reads the Scriptures, coordinates the service, leads the worship, takes up the offering, creates the bulletin, preaches the Word, and the list goes on and on?

Can I do it?

I was curious why he felt like this was the trend he was experiencing in those their church was onboarding. And he answered the question: “When they were growing up, they never got to do these things.”

Like most children and youth in traditional Western Protestant churches, their experience of “Big Church” was separate and other.  They didn’t see that corporate gathering or communal worship as something to be involved in but something attend. The answer to the question, “Can I do it?” was a resounding, “No!”

This church has chosen an apprenticeship model to begin helping change the answer to guitar-3957586_1920an even louder, “Yes!”   In other words, they are helping these young Millennials attached to an older church member to teach them their “craft”; to show them the ropes on how to be actively involved in a local church. To bring them from a place of mere attendance and consumerism to a place of real community and active participation.

But, that leads to a new question; why would we wait until these young people are adults? 

Why not begin these types of experiences now, while this generation of children and youth are still young?

Why not change the answer to “Yes!” now so that they don’t even have to ask the question in the future because they know beyond a doubt that they are wanted, needed, and welcomed as active, thriving and participating members of their local church?

This isn’t a program (although I’m sure those exist and the framework could be helpful). This is a change in how we approach discipleship within the walls of the church. It’s more than just helping our kids and youth know stories from the Bible and good morals and values. That’s important but if that is not combined with active and growing relationships with all generations in their faith community, these things will lack the depth needed for long-term faith.

Call it mentorship.

Call it apprenticeship.

Call it discipleship.

But whatever we call it, let us make sure that when we hear the question, “Can I do it?”, we are ready to help our youngest members experience a hands-on faith in a congregation that embraces them and cries out with great enthusiasm, “YES!”


For more information about

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

About the Blog

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

Giving our Kids a Great Big God

His eyes looked up at me with the most lively gaze I’ve ever seen. Dancing in those big brown pools was a story of heroes and adventure and mystery and excitement. His hands waved around emphatically as he jumped from foot to foot, bursting with energy, alive in his imagination.

Welcome to my son’s World of Wonder.

My son is older now. But his sweet imagination has not dimmed. I still come home to findkids-1338627_1920 him climbing trees to  fight dragons in trees or hiding in the “cave” under the trampoline.  Oh, there are so many times I wish I could join him there. I love the way he sees the world around him, full of potential, full of life. Behind every tree is a villain, between each home a person needing rescued, and around each corner another adventure in which he gets to plays a starring role.

The story is so big and so beautiful, grand in its design and boundless in its depth. 

I often look at children in church and wonder, “Are we giving them a big enough God?”  If their world of imagination is so big, are the stories we tell them, big enough to fill the space?

A lot of the Bible stories I hear in church are just that…stories. They have a limited scope, beginning and end. They have limited heroes and villains like David and Goliath and Daniel and the lions and Jonah and the Whale.  They have limited life lessons like “Be brave because God is with you” and “Be obedient when God tells you what to do.”

Recently, I heard Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales and more recently Buck Denver’s What’s in the Bible series, put it this way: “We tend to give kids superficial lessons in the Christian faith but we’ve found that superficial teaching leads to superficial Christians. The formula for teaching Scripture to kids has become a biblical value + a verse to back it up + a song to make it memorable”.

We have been given the greatest story of all time through the person of Jesus Christ and the revealed Word in Scripture. It is truly THE story of all stories. So much so that nearly every story we can think of follows the pattern of this one, even those stories in my son’s imagination. It goes something like this:

All is good. Evil comes on the scene. All is not good. A hero is needed. A hero comes and vanquishes evil. All is good again.

Kinda like…

When God created the world, He declared all was good. Evil entered the world through sin and what was once good began to experience the consequences of that sin. A hero was needed to redeem mankind. Jesus came to be that hero, to once again make all things new. He vanquished sin and death and made His goodness available to all once again. 

Catherine Stonehouse, author and researcher on the spiritual formation of children, shares, “Can children grasp the full meaning of Christ’s coming, death, and resurrection? Can we as adults? No, but awareness of the mystery draws us to explore, wonder, and discover more and more, year after year.

So often we stop short of giving children the deeper context to the stories because we are afraid the theology will be too deep for them to comprehend. When faced with this question, Phil Vischer responded by saying, “Kids can learn more than we think. Adults can learn less than we would hope. We consistently underestimate what kids are capable of learning and overestimate what adults will learn. Kids still ask questions; grown ups stop asking questions.

And therein lies the wonder… the beautiful mystery that is our faith.

Precisely because we do not have all the answers and we cannot explain all the mysteries can we rest in the assurance of something greater than us, our God.

So, how can we let them wonder about this Great Big God?
  1. Let them ask questions and don’t have all the answers – I know that is so hard to do, but sometimes the best way for kids to learn about God is to wonder aloud to Him (we call it prayer) and let Him answer them in His way and time.
  2. Ask “Wonder Questions” – There’s a great curriculum called Godly Play written by Jerome Barryman that incorporates asking “wonder questions” into the lesson. In other words, while the lesson is being shared, the teacher will say things like, “I wonder why the shepherd went to find the lost sheep? I wonder why the other sheep stayed in the pen? I wonder who is our Shepherd?”  I like to do this with my own kids, even my older ones, with normal everyday life situations. Things like, “I wonder why He made the grass green? I wonder why God made some things edible and some things not? I wonder if the birds are singing to Someone?  I wonder if God is speaking to his/her heart?”
  3. Listen to them tell the stories – Oh, I love, love, love this one!  If you know your child, especially your young child, has heard a Bible story, ask them to retell it to you. There are so many times I’ve done this and instead of telling me word-for-word the “right” version of the story, they tell it with a little twist, a subtle plot change or a humorous undertone. What’s so cool about this is you get to hear who their God is according to how they heard and understood the story. And you get to underscore God’s love and goodness if they’ve missed it or even if they hit the nail on the head. For more on this, check out the book Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey by Catherine Stonehouse and Scottie May (Phil Vischer’s mom). 

When I ask Caleb to imagine God, his faith in who and what God is supersedes anything I could teach him in my feeble understanding and far exceeds the stories I tell him from the Bible. His God is big, bigger than anything, bigger than my mind can fathom and bigger than this blog could possibly convey or contain. And I love that my faith grows by wondering with him about our big, big God!


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

Re-Focus on the Family: Influencing the Influencers

Kids walking away from the faith. Lagging attendance at church.

Lack of relationship in the faith community.

Disengaged youth. Absentee parents. 

These are the topics I get emails about on a weekly basis. These are the things that are keeping ministers up at night praying and parents up at night worrying. And these are very real concerns that are multifaceted and complex to explore. But lately, I’ve become more and more convinced that there is one main area that needs to be addressed in our churches if we are going to find lasting answers. And that area is the family or the home, specifically as it relates to parents and caregivers.

A recent study released by Search Institute, a research group dedicated to “discovering what kids need to succeed.” suggests that there is indeed a secret weapon..only, it’s not that secret. The title of their research is “Don’t Forget the Families: The Missing Piece in America’s Effort to Help All Children Succeed” and what it shows is that we have made a big mistake in America – we nixed the family and tried to raise the kids without it.

family-1599826_1920They report, “too many institutions and professionals have given up on families, focusing exclusively on the struggles families face and the problems they create. We then put our energy and resources into setting up systems and supports that compensate for the failures we perceive in families.”

So what does that mean?

We tried to “fix” the shortcomings we’ve perceived in families by, well, replacing the family with things like school, and sports, and therapy, and youth programs and … church.

Yes, church.

As a society we collectively decided that “many families are dysfunctional and even hopeless. Changes in family structure and family life have led some observers, advocates, and the public to characterize the state of families today as bad and getting worse.”  The solution? Remove the “power” from the family and replace it with other more stable things.

The problem with that is, we forgot that we are hard-wired to be a part of a family, and no matter how many institutions we create to vie for power in our hearts, our family consistently remains the most influential. 

“In reality, there is little evidence that families have lost their power in the lives of children and youth—even though many families do face major challenges.[A] University of Virginia study found that most parents are quite happy with their own families (Bowman et al., 2012).

A 2010 survey of 2,691 U.S. adults by the Pew Research Center similarly found that 76% said their family is the most important element of their lives, and 75% said they are very satisfied with their family (Taylor, 2010)…

Longitudinal evidence suggests that it is more accurate to describe families as changing, not declining… family influence remained strong… levels of maternal engagement remained strong.

Conclusion? Families still matter greatly, and families can and do tend to perform well those functions that are particularly relevant to the lives of children, even in different social and historical contexts, household arrangements, and living conditions (Bengstan, et al, p. 15).”

What does that mean to us in the Church?churchpeople

Parents/caregivers are the single most important influence in a child’s life. Period. No amount of programming, support, systems or institutions can change that.  We are hard-wired to exist within families by the very One who wired our system in the first place.

And thus the call to parents to disciple their kids in the faith all through Scripture. Because God knew what researchers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell us in a pages-long report on the success of children:

We propose focusing family engagement on reinforcing families’ central role in helping children and youth develop character strengths through which they discover who they are, their power to shape their own development, and why they matter in their families, communities, and world 

In the church, we call that…discipleship.

And it is time we give the power back to the place it belongs. It means we “shift the how of engaging families: from emphasizing the tactical ways families reinforce what happens in schools or programs (or church!) to supporting families in building developmental relationships.

For the last few years, many ministers in the Church have been sharing the theological reasons for a shift towards family ministry or ministry that focuses on equipping the home as the primary place for faith formation.  And in some cases, they have been met with resistance by those, who like the study points out, see the changing face of the family and the imperfections therein and say, “We just can’t turn this important job of teaching kids about God over to parents…what could happen?”

But now, this study, aimed at the larger society and having nothing to do with faith or religion or church, is saying we must “refocus family engagement for greater reach and impact based on the perspectives, priorities, and strengths of families.”

It is time, Church.  

We need to reconnect, reengage and refocus on the home. Family, no matter what it looks like or how messy it feels to dive into, is where it is at. The power has always resided there.  The influence has always been strongest there.  The fact is, families were wired that way from the start by the One who said, “Impress these commandments upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road; when you lie down and when you rise.”

It’s time to fix the disconnect and turn our attention, our energy, our desire to see children follow Christ towards the home and equip the leaders there to do what they are wired to do…go and make disciples at home.


About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

Bringing Ash Wednesday Home

The celebration of Ash Wednesday and the observance of Lent was not a part of my experience growing up, but over the past few years, I’ve grown to appreciate this time in the liturgical year to reflect, to repent, and to realign myself with God. And, I tell you, I’ve always loved Easter but it has so much more meaning and depth when connected to the preceding season of Lent.

Churches across America, even those that traditionally did not celebrate this season, are beginning to involve their congregations more and more in this time of reflection and repentance and it is a wonderful place for families to gather around the the story of God’s great Love and His unending faithfulness to us (For more on that from Family Life Today‘s Barbara Rainey, click here).

The first day of Lent and Ash Wednesday is today. If your church doesn’t currently have an Ash Wednesday or Lent celebration (or if it gets snowed out), but you want to engage your family in the season, here are a few tools to use today/this week in your home that may give you some ideas and some guidance.

1. If you are on Facebook, search for a community activity called ‪#‎picturelent‬ . This online program walks you through Lent with devotions, activities and prayers for the whole 40 days. For more information, check out LEC Family at http://lecfamily.org/lent/. To see the scope and sequence of the entire event, click here

What is Lent? – http://lecfamily.org/daily-devotio…/…/what-is-lent-all-about

2. If videos are more your style,ash-wednesday check out these great though-provoking videos from the Skit Guys.

Prayer for Lent – https://skitguys.com/videos/item/a-prayer-for-lent
Pslams for Lent – https://skitguys.com/vid…/item/psalms-for-lent-ash-wednesday
Preparing for Lent – https://skitguys.com/videos/item/preparing-for-lent

3. Need some coloring pages for your younger kids? Check out the collection at http://www.theclipartwizard.com/lent-coloring-pages.htm

4. Host your own worship service at home with your kids. Here are a list of current worship songs (like those you’d find on K-Love) that have great application to Lent. Consider looking up videos on YouTube and creating a worship list so you can worship as a family.

http://seedbed.com/…/five-new-songs-to-consider-for-worshi…/

If you are more of a hymns family, here are a list of traditional Ash Wednesday hymns you may want to also look up!

http://www.worshipaccompaniment.com/?tag=ash-wednesday

5. There are several online Lenten devotionals you could choose to do as a family. If you do a search online, you will find many from various faith traditions. Here is one that is a collaborative effort from a number of denominations and even comes with a free App so you can keep up on your devices.

6. Likewise there are many online resources for celebrating Lent with your kids. Many of these are particular to a denomination, so an online search will provide you with lots of options.  This page has a huge list of resources including a devotional from Ann Voskamp, Lilly Lewin and multiple crafts and activities for kids and families.

Whether you have traditionally celebrated Lent or not, these resources are worth checking out and considering as a way to invite Christ into your home. At the very least, it will open a chance for discussion with your family about why we celebrate Easter and why Christ’s death and resurrection is such a beautiful picture of God’s love, grace and faithfulness to us!

May your Lenten season be one full of knowing all those attributes deeper and more personally then you have ever experienced before. Blessings friends!


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

One of “Those” Parents

Recently my husband and I have been working on tightening and/or enforcing some boundaries in our home in regard to internet and device use.  Our decision was precipitated by a myriad of concerns not the least of which was the influence that we recognize that the messages being perpetuated through certain media outlets was having on our home and children.

As we began to roll out these changes or doubled up on our enforcement of already established boundaries, you can imagine that we were met with a high degree of eye rolling, sighing, accusations of being “controlling” and ultimately the title of being “one of those parents.”

Out of curiosity and also a desire to know my tribe of “those parents” I posted a simple request on my Facebook wall:

“Having most recently been dubbed “one of those parents” for our overly stringent and utterly unbelievable boundaries we are enforcing regarding device and screen use in our home…I’d love to hear, if you are willing to share, the boundaries in place in your home. Particularly interested in hearing from parents with teens (think around 13 & 16). Also, if you have no boundaries, I’d love to know that since apparently we are the only parents who do 😉. Signed – One of those parents”

teenphoneThe response was overwhelming and encouraging. I heard from parents that ranged from more permissive to more restrictive. People shared with me their boundaries and the reasons why they were established. Not one person was exactly the same in their boundaries or their concerns, but all who participated in the discussion shared one thing in common: Every single parent was doing what they felt was best for their children out of the motivation of love.

It was tangible – we love our children so when we choose our boundaries, we are doing our very best to provide for them what they need to grow up healthy and whole. We may not all agree on what those boundaries are, but we do agree on why they are in place.

That being said, I wanted to share (anonymously) some of the comments so that if you are “one of those parents”, you will have the chance to know that you are not alone. 

“No screens in bedroom. Phone comes to me at 9pm. I use Circle to filter and to set time limits for online use. Under 2 hours total. I have full access and read everything.” (Circle is an internet-monitoring system that allows you to set Time Limits for apps and web site as well as age-appropriate Filters that apply to all devices.)

“We don’t have a set screen time limit but we do ask them to put them away if I feel like they have been on them too much. We also use software (Secure Teen) that limits content and shuts the Internet down from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. so they can’t really use their phones. We also monitor all their social media and check their photos.  Doors must be open and screen facing the door if Chromebooks are used their bedrooms.”

“No phone after 9pm. Safari and social media are disabled until academics are where we feel like they should be. We also do check texts/photos at random intervals, but are aware they can be deleted.”

Covenant Eyes not only monitors activity but the family admin can set restrictions/permissions. Also, a weekly report of activity is emailed to the admin for accountability. As far as the time limit – our kids are quite limited, not only in the amount of time they spend on devices (some on weekends, rarely during the week), but but they are limited in where they can go online. And no social media for them for years to come. It’s safer that way for so many reasons”

“Yes our 13 year old has a breakdown about once a week regarding how strict we are 🙄 We’ve used Circle for a couple years and also use the screen time limits built into iPhones.  Our kids are almost 9, 11 and 13. Up until now, basically no screens during the week (unless sick, snow day etc) we tried it several times and it didn’t work. They can text friends via Wi-Fi, no internet at all on their phones (which really operate as iPod touches). They all love audio books so they do that quite a bit on phones. There are games only on their iPads bc if they were on their phones we’d have to restrict them more. They have about an hour a day for texting/FaceTime. The older 2 only text friends. We also read all emails and texts and they aren’t allowed to communicate with anyone we don’t know.”

“We use Qustodio, which I think is similar to Circle and allows us to view all texts as well as web activity. It also allows us to set time limits. Speaking of web activity, we do not let our kiddos have that on their phones. We have a desktop in our living room, which we share for internet searching and which has a large, viable screen. We do not allow phones in rooms or bathrooms – only in common areas. We do not allow head phones in the house. We turn in phones at 8:00 pm.”

“I’m like the Outback Steakhouse… “No Rules, Just Right!” Lol! Seriously, though… I have to pick and choose my battles as a single mom of 4 teenagers. Not saying my kids don’t need boundaries, but they are very transparent with me and we keep a very open dialogue. I let them do their “teenage” thing, and I’m blessed enough to be trusted by them to always know where they are and what they’re doing, because they know they can trust me without judgement. In turn, they want to be home mostly, because it’s such a safe haven for them… and nowhere I’d rather them be by choice.”

“I am a strict parent about many things. For example, we expect that our children will keep their grades above a 94 (they are capable…any grade below this for a middle school or high school student is automatic forfeiture of electronic devices until overall grade is returned to a. 94) and they are actively involved in healthy activities (church youth group, church choir, band, orchestra, community service organizations, community theatre). My theory has always been to keep my children too busy to find trouble. Our oldest two children are both recent self-supporting college grads who have avoided making any major poor decisions so I think my parenting style is working for our family. All that being said, I do not monitor texts or emails or conversations that my high school or middle school daughters are having as I feel that they are entitled to some privacy. I would have been weirded out if my father would have recorded my phone calls as a teen and I feel like this is the method that most contemporary teens use to communicate. Obviously if I learned of an issue with bullying or inappropriate messages or pics, this policy would change. I do think that like everyone else teens deserve some privacy. I also think it is a time to learn how to conduct relationships. My oldest daughter at home is a senior. She will be going away to college in a few months. If I had read every single email and text and then one day sent her 500 miles away to live I would fear she would not know how to conduct relationships on her own. We have used Covenant Eyes to make sure everyone was on the up and up on what sites that they were visiting and we do limit screen time (though we are not as strict as many on this assuming that kids are being good citizens and students…and getting all work done).”

” We are in the phase of no boundaries. Our boys are a 22 year old FT college student who lives at home and a 17 year old. Our rule has always been that I can ask for the phone at any moment for a phone check, as well as have all passwords. I do them from time to time. But we live in a world where parents are bubble wrapping their kids – and as soon as they leave and the wrap is gone they don’t know how to function. We have always been open about talking etc. the only boundaries we set were no Snapchat, and I turned off their ability to down load apps – I had to do it this it had to be approved. Also no internet on their phones until age 15. The final rule, if your technology causes you to be a jerk or a recluse, you don’t need it and I won’t pay for it. This covered participation in family time.”

As you can see, there are many ways of approaching this issue in our homes. I hope that by reading through some of these, you will have a better idea of how to best approach the boundaries of your particular family. There were over 70 comments on my initial thread; I’ve only shared a few. That shows me just how much of an issue this is for us as parents, especially as we are the first generation of parents to navigate this with our children. My prayer is that with each decision we make, we feel the grace of God towards us and our children as we do our very best with the gifts He has entrusted us with.

If you would like to comment on your boundaries at home, please feel free to do so below. This is not a place, however, to critique or judge others for theirs and any disparaging comments will be deleted. We are all doing our best and relying on God’s grace. Let’s encourage one another instead!!


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

 

Practical Discipleship When We Lie Down: Valentine’s Day Edition

At our church, at the end of each of our gatherings, you’re likely to hear someone say, “At Plowshares we don’t dismiss from worship because we believe that all of life is worship.” In other words, we don’t think worship is restricted to a specific time or place; rather, worship is a part of our everyday lives as believers because Jesus says wherever two or three are gathered in His name, He is present. And that includes our homes.

This Thursday is Valentine’s Day, the perfect opportunity to celebrate the greatest Love of all, the gift of Jesus, in your home with your family at home. As we’ve looked at the four moments of Deuteronomy 6:7 the past few weeks (when we sit at home, walk along the road, when we rise and when we lie down), we’ve explored how to bring Christ into our everyday settings.

family-457235_1280This post offers a simple communion liturgy for families to engage the act of communion in their home together, a perfect activity for the family to engage in after supper before “we lie down”.  It invites the family to join together for a time of focus on Christ and the love He has shown us in his life, death, and resurrection through the meal He gave us to do so.  

All that is needed is some bread and some juice and some time together as a family. Simply follow the outline provided which includes conversation starters, Scripture readings and prayers and together remember what Love looks like as show to us by Jesus.

If celebrating communion isn’t something your family is familiar with or you prefer another way of experiencing this greatest love together, consider using the conversations starters and replacing the communion time with a time of blessings. There are some simple blessings at the end of the attached liturgy that could be a special time of blessing one another as you consider Christ’s deep love for us.

It is my sincere hope that this week your family is able to spend some time in worship together and that God will continue to invite you into a celebration of His Love together.

greatestlove


Family Communion: A Celebration of God’s Great Love

Prepare:  Communion is a celebration!  While it is a sacred experience and should be always treated as holy, it is intended for us to remember and celebrate God’s goodness to us. Set the tone with your family by discussing some ways God has shown His love to your family.

Have a conversation beforehand explaining what communion means. Remind your family that Jesus showed the Greatest Love of all when He died on the cross for us and rose from the dead and that this meal helps us to remember that great love. As with any time of worship, Christ is with us in communion. This is a special way to that we can invite Christ into our home.

Confession:  Before we take the Lord’s Supper, we examine our hearts and silently confess anything we need to before God. It might help if you offer your children some guiding questions like, “What do you want to tell Jesus ‘thank you’ for?” and “Is there anything you want to tell Jesus you are sorry for?”

Choose one of these Scriptures to read as a family: Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14: 12-16, Luke 22:7-38, I Corinthians 11:23-26

Partake: During communion, show your kids what to do. Even if it is very obvious to you, it may not be to them. Take some time to pray as a family some prayers of thankfulness.

If you would like, you can follow this suggest format for communion time:  Take the bread, thank the Lord for it and for his gift of love and offer it to one another saying, “This is the body of Christ, broken for us.”  Then hold the juice, offer another prayer of thanks, and then give it to each other saying, “This is the blood of Christ, poured out of us.”

Process: Take some time afterward to discussion  what it means to them to remember Jesus in this way. Ask question ensure understanding and to offer clarity, like, “What do we take communion?” and “What are we celebrating?” and “What are we remembering?”  Then move on to more personal questions like, “How did you feel when you remembered Jesus’ sacrifice?”

Conclusion: Finish your time together by reciting the Lord’s prayer (Mt. 6:9-13). Let your children know that this is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray when they asked him how to pray.

Blessings for the Family

Father, thank you for our family. Lord, you know our hearts. You know our strengths, our weaknesses and every tiny detail about us. May we seek You above all else. When we wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night, may you be on our minds and hearts so that in everything we do, we would see You.*

Father, we thank You for Your blessing over our family. May we be unified in Your Love. Help us to speak the same language and share the same vision that You have for us. Lord, guide us and keep us on the right path. May we stand in unity…preferring one another over ourselves and loving You above all else.*

Father, thank you for creating our family with a purpose. We know that you have plans for each of us individually and for our family as a whole. Lord, reveal this purpose to each one of us and help us to walk it out daily. Help us to have an appreciation for each other’s personalities, gifts and even our weaknesses. Lord, teach us and guide us in all that we do, that we may glorify You.*

*Consider replacing the pronouns with your family names and praying these prayers of blessing for one another

(Blessings were inspired by Flourishing Today)


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com