The Star Didn’t Lead Them to Jesus

“Where did the star lead them?”

This question was asked three years ago during our Epiphany Sunday service.  A young voice from the back of the room yelled out what we were all thinking. “Bethlehem!” he exclaimed as a chuckle when through the congregation. “Actually,” the pastor responded, “Jerusalem. The star led them first to Jerusalem where they spoke with Herod.” (check it out at Matthew 2:2).

I’d never considered this part of the story before.

You might say, I had an epiphany.

And I’ve shared this exact story for the last three years at Epiphany because each year, I need the reminder as God shines His Star in my life.

camels-1150075_1920You see, the wise men saw an unusual star rise in the East and felt it had enough significance to warrant a costly and timely journey towards its location.  We naturally skip to the end of the story, but in doing so we miss a significant middle portion.

The first place the star led them was not the Messiah.

As a matter of fact, it led them to a corrupt king, intent on securing his reign and filled with evil intention.  But this corrupt king was actually the one who pointed the wise man towards Bethlehem, back towards the rising star and ultimately towards Messiah, Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

God didn’t have to add this little bump in the road.  He could have just led them directly to a stable in a little town in Judea.  But for whatever reason, God sent them on this little detour first.

Ever had a detour? 

Ever been following God’s calling on your life or implementing a plan you really felt His leading in and.. bump… oops… how did we end up here?

Has your “star” taken you to a place that is definitely not what you were looking for?

We usually label these bumps and detours as “failures.”  And sometimes, when that happens, we stop the journey.  We assume we heard wrong, said wrong, and did wrong.  We make the U-turn back to where we started and we analyze how it was we could have been detoured so badly.

But what if it wasn’t a mistake? 

I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the wise men arrived at Herod’s palace and said, “This?!?  This is what we came for?” and then turned around and headed home.

But they didn’t.  They said, “We are following a star.  We believe a great king has come.  We aren’t leaving until we get some answers.”

And their persistence paid off.  They were given direction and insight from those who understood the situation better than they did and they saw that star rise again and lead them straight into Emmanuel’s dwelling.

If you find yourself detoured and landing in a place you didn’t anticipate as you lead your ministry, your home or your own life, don’t be so quick to say, “I must not have heard God right.”  Instead, try these three wise moves like our magi did.

  1. Accept where you are, but don’t assume you are staying – When we end up somewhere unexpected, it is tempting to assume we’ve reached the end of our journey and that assumption can lead to a place of resignation.  Maybe you’ve tried integrating a service, but families are complaining that it is not meeting their needs.  Perhaps you’ve tried initiating faith talks with your family, but you are the only one that ends up talking.  Or maybe you’ve started a course of study and your grades aren’t what you had expected or hoped.  Those detours can appear more like periods than commas on your journey.  But what if you…
  2. Pause long enough to take in your surroundings – The voice of failure can be loud, but the quiet voice of the Lord can be overwhelming.  Be still enough to know that He is God.  Then, listen to the other voices.  Ask what needs your families don’t feel are being met, inquire of your family why they don’t feel comfortable participating in faith talks, or consult your fellow students or professors about where you could improve academically.  Often God clarifies His leading in our lives through the people He puts in our path, even the detours.
  3. Let God restore your vision – At some point, after talking to Herod and the scribes and staying for a time in the palace, the wise men had to once again turn their eyes to the sky and lo, and behold, when they did “the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them.”  God resumed the journey, this time with deeper understanding and clarity and this time to the final destination.  Maybe your intergenerational service will take on some new characteristics or your family faith talks might play out differently than you assumed or your academic expectations may need adjusted, but when we follow God’s leading and lift our eyes to Him, He will lead us right into His presence.

A speaker I once heard (Pastor John Stumbo, President of Christian & Missionary Alliance Church) said, “Where you see a period, God sees a comma; He’s not done writing your story yet.”   If you find yourself detoured and wondering how you ended up there, assume it’s a comma and learn from the moment.  He’s not done writing your story yet either.


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

Let’s Make 2017 Mean Something

Our country is starving for kindness.

We are desperate for joy.

We are longing for peace.

This year a video of a woman putting on a Chewbacca mask and laughing hysterically went viral on social media within moments of being posted. All she was doing was laughing. We are desperate for Joy. 

This year, every major news outlet shared the story of a woman who accidentally texted a lonely teenager about Thanksgiving dinner and ended up inviting him into their home to share that holiday. We are starving for kindness.

This year, a video of a black man and a white police officer embracing and praying for peace together was viewed 1.5 million times within the first 24 hours and was shared across the world in that same time. We are longing for peace.

Our children are being raised in a time where feeding someone dinner is worthy of a national headline. Where two people praying together gets worldwide attention. Where a woman genuinely laughing is a novelty so unusual it leads to a global conversation.

 
As we come upon this new year, many of us are making resolutions, setting goals, and planning for the future. I have plenty of those I could make. We all do.

But what are all those things without kindness, joy, and peace?  If we reach every goal, but don’t experience joy, what legacy are we leaving?  If we achieve every resolution, but don’t know what it is to have peace, what have we really achieved?  And if things actually go as planned (which we all know is a rare exception) but kindness is a afterthought, what has really been gained?

What if we gain the whole world…but lose our soul? (Mark 8:36)

sunrise-1756274_1920

Our kids need us to make these things; kindness, joy and peace, a priority.

Our resolutions need to be to show them the things that are missing in this world. 

Resolve to show kindness.

Actually plan for it. Find a tangible way to be kind. Write it in our planners. Put in on our calendars. Show that kindness is a normal practice in the lives of a believer.

Celebrate with great Joy!

Not just on holidays, but in the everyday. Take the opportunity to laugh if it is offered. Stop for a second and look for joy around you. Capture it with your children and celebrate it together. Resolve to look up and out more often for the things that bring joy and share that with those around you, especially the children.

Pursue Peace.

Go after it with intensity. Seek reconciliation. “Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:14). There is so much hurt in our country and in our world. There are so many opportunity we have to pursue peace. Perhaps it is reaching out to a disenfranchised people group. Perhaps it is bringing cookies to your neighbor. Whatever it is, pursue it. And invite your children into it with you.

These things; kindness, joy, peace, they all have something in common. They are listed among the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22,23

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

So, ultimately, our goal for 2017 is really to bear more fruit. And the only way to do that is to abide in Christ (John 15:5). We can’t abide in politics or legislation or social justice and bear more of this fruit. We cannot abide in sports or clubs or hobbies and bear more of this fruit. We can’t even abide in church or ministry or parenting and bear this fruit. We can be fully present in all these places but we should be abiding in Christ.

We can offer our children, our world, the things that make their hearts feel again. The things that go viral. The things we are desperately longing for, starving for.

I want to try. This year I want to resolve to show kindness, to celebrate with great joy, and to seek peace and pursue it. I want to leave a legacy for my kids that is full of hope, anticipation, and expectation for the future. Don’t we all want that?

Abide. Bear fruit. Be kind. Be joyful. Pursue peace. 

Five resolutions that could literally change the world.

Happy New Year, friends. Let’s make 2017 mean something.


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

Worshiping with Children: What’s the expectation?

“I think whenever you start including children in worship, you should expect a certain amount of cynicism.”

Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t. I really don’t.

I don’t think we should ever expect cynicism in any context when it comes to welcoming people into our worship settings. Because, our churches are not ours. They are God’s. And from what I’ve read about Him, He was pretty cool about accepting pretty much everyone into His presence. Well, admittedly, He wasn’t thrilled with hanging around the religious folks, but He sure seemed drawn to the young, the sick, the needy, the hurting, the ordinary, the lame, the lonely, the humble.

Expecting that the church will react with cynicism is not how I choose to approach ministry to children within the larger church context.

Expecting the worst often brings about the worst. And I don’t want that. Neither do you.  And, I believe, neither does the Church.  The church is the body of Christ. His Spirit indwells their midst. So my expectation is that the Church will react to and welcome children just as Jesus did, just as He showed us and demonstrated while among us. 

The experience many have had when trying to re-introduce children into congregational worship has not coincided with my expectation, and I understand that. But we don’t have to look far to see that play out in Scripture too. The disciples were the first to turn children away, with seeming good intention, but apparent lack of insight and understanding of Christ’s heart.

And how did Jesus handle that moment?

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. – Mark 10:13-15

That word “angry” is sometimes translated “indignant” or “very displeased.”  It’s the same word used to describe how the Pharisees felt when the children were calling out “Hosanna to the Son of David” during the Triumphal Entry (those kids…causing trouble all over the place!) and when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath. The disciples felt that way when Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and “wasted” it and when James and John’s mom asked if they could sit next to Jesus in heaven. It’s overall…not a good feeling. It indicates a general unhappiness with a person or situation.

But then, notice what Jesus does.

He doesn’t just get angry. He gets angry but then explains why.

He explains that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children.

He explains that the disciples needed to accept the kingdom like these children if they ever wanted to truly enter in.

Then He showed them what to do. He took the children IN HIS ARMS (oh my, what a beautiful picture) and placed his hand on their heads and blessed them.  In front of the disciples. Demonstrating before their eyes exactly how He wanted them to treat children.

welcomejesusisexpecting

I’m willing to bet that in the future, the disciples  made sure that the children were never turned away. They had seen Jesus and they understood. I picture in my head a future time where not only was Jesus holding children and blessing them, but the disciples were too. I imagine that in their churches after Jesus had left, children were in their midst, blessing and being blessed. In fact, I can assume that children were there, considering that Paul writes specifically to them in letters that were read aloud to the congregation.

Some of you have tried.

You’ve asked your pastor if children can come and worship with the congregation and been turned away.

You’ve presented ideas for a Family Worship Service or an intergenerational gathering and been dismissed.

You’ve shared your heart with parents and ministers about the importance of allowing children to see faith modeled, to participate in liturgy, to be active members of the congregation and have faced… cynicism.

And you may even be angry, indignant, or very displeased.

Please don’t stop there.

The children still need you. And the Church still needs you.

Take the children in your arms. Bless them. Every chance you have, demonstrate the heart of welcome and the love of Jesus to them.

Because your actions speak volumes. Your testimony shines brightly. The disciples turned the children away because they didn’t understand. They didn’t know. But Jesus showed them, just as He has shown us. Let’s expect the best just as He did.

I’m not a huge sports fan (let’s be honest, I’m not any kind of sports fan) but I do like this quote by Michael Jordan: If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome.”  Let’s not accept that the expectation is cynicism; let’s expect to find Jesus. 

Wanna read about a “real-life” scenario regarding kids and worship and expectations?  Check out this article: What my Pastor did About the Rowdy Kids at 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 the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Book Review: Team Up! by Phil Bell

teamupI’ve been putting off writing this book review for a month. Not because I’ve been dreading it. Certainly not; to the contrary, this was perhaps one of the best books I’ve read for churches that are transitioning into family ministry. If anything, the reason I’ve hesitated is because I’m not sure I can do it justice. So, if what I say below doesn’t entice you to GO. GET THIS BOOK. READ IT. then feel free to ignore what I say and just do as I do (Go. Get the book. Read it!) .

Author Phil Bell starts out the book sharing a bit of his own testimony and experience in family ministry. As he shares, he answers some of the questions I know that many of us have when it comes to how family ministry looks and feels within a church setting. Questions like, “What is family ministry?” and “What if parents don’t want to partner with me?” and “But how can I give parents practical help?”  If you are in children’s or family ministry, you’ve probably asked at least one of these questions. This book can give you some amazing answers.

Phil begins with a look at where family ministry starts – at home. And not just any home – your home. Without this foundation in place, the ministry that happens lacks content. “The way you invest in your own family will significantly affect the fruit of your ministry” (p. 25). Throughout the book, Phil reminds us to keep an eye on our home and how our ministry activity is affecting our family.

From that point, each chapter of the book unfolds a cohesive and practical plan for implementing family ministry in your church. He covers everything from creating a team, casting vision, resourcing and equipping parents, implementing a strategy and identifying a network of partners. A few highlights that stood out to me…

Chapter 5 – Communicate strategically

Phil introduces us to his concept of “promotion dilution” which is basically the bombardment of parents by hundreds to thousands of messages every week from a variety of sources until it all becomes a diluted blur. In church it happens when we attempt to promote too many events and programs at a given time. He shares, “In our charge to promote everything we’re doing, nothing really gets highlighted.”

This really hit home for me both as a parent and a minister! So how do you get your message through the blur?  The book offers so many ideas on how to get heard but the one that stuck out to me? “Say multiple things in multiple ways.”  Don’t expect your singular email or your solitary text to reach parents. If you want to be heard, use multiple avenues to say what you want to say in different ways. After reading this, I actually decided to start doing short training videos week for my volunteers and found I reached a much larger audience and had a lot more interaction than all my emails, texts and Facebook messages.

Chapter 7- Equip Disengage Parents

This is a tough one. How are you supposed to help parents disciple their kids at home if the parents you serve are disengaged and completely unconnected to you? Instead of skirting the issue, Phil addresses this concern straight on.  He offers a lot of great hints and tips about how to help the conversation you start at church to continue at home, but the key is in his summary, “The biggest hurdle to equipping parents is getting them to show up, and to clear that hurdle we have to put their – not our – needs first.”

This is exceptional advice and something that as ministers its sometimes hard to remember when we are juggling meetings, volunteer schedules, and room decor. But taking the time to really find out where the parents of our kids are coming from can actually make the journey from church to home a reality rather than just a hope.

Chapter 11 – Building a Network of Partners

If the above seems a bit overwhelming, take heart, the final chapter of the book reminds us that we are not alone. With amazing preciseness, Phil helps us identify people in our community and our church that can help us create a web of support for the families and parents in our church.

I found this final chapter to be the perfect way to tie up this book. All of the advice and ideas make the most sense in practical ministry when they are done within community.  As a minister, it is sometimes easy to feel like I’m alone in sharing with and ministering to parents in discipleship and faith formation at home. But Phil points out, “Many of the parents you and I minister to are working as hard as they can to give their kids the best they can. But they’re also feeling as though they’re going it alone.”  Building community is the answer for both of us.

This is the first book I’ve read in a long time that felt like it was written to me. I feel like I was being poured into by a minister and friend and I know it will end up being a go-to resource for years to come. Get your highlighters ready, grab your copy, and join me in exploring this thing we call “family ministry.”


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused, intergenerational ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

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

Family Ministry Doesn’t Work

“Here, Mommy, this is for you to use.”

This was one of those conversations where I had been left out of the loop as to what was going on as my son handed me a tissue and a spatula.

“Thanks, buddy,” I replied, “What are these for?”

“For the game!” he answered joyously, boyish anticipation in his eyes as he imagined the next step in our day.

“Hmm,” I said quizzically, “What game?”

His smile quickly disappeared. What did I mean, “What game?”  THE game Mom! THE game that he had come up with in his head and we were going to play together and it was going to be SO. MUCH. FUN!  And all I said as, “What game?”

If you are in children’s, youth, or family planning-620299_1920ministry, there’s a very good chance that you have felt like my son. You spend time in study and prayer in order to best serve God in your ministry setting. You have caught His vision for family ministry, for equipping parents/caregivers as the spiritual leaders in their homes and for creating intergenerational opportunities for children to grow in the faith. You have researched the methods, read all the studies, and realized the goal.

And so you set out…and fall flat.

What went wrong?

You gave parents a really great resource or offered an amazing seminar or created an exciting intergenerational worship experience and in response you got a blank stare, a confused gaze, or an indifferent response.

It seems like after every conference I attend, I get emails and messages 1-3 months later from ministry friends around the country, sometimes the world, saying, “I tried. I really did. But family ministry (or intergen ministry or nextgen ministry) doesn’t work at my church.

My heart goes out to you because I know that sinking feeling. I think at some point in ministry, we all do. But I urge you, don’t give up yet.

Take a step back and consider: Is it possible that you handed your parents a spatula and tissue and told them to play the game?  Could it be that as good as your planning and vision are, the church you serve was never let in on the secret?

In his book Team Up, family minister Phil Bell shares that parents are on information overload, or as he puts it, they live in a world of “promotion dilution.”  This happens when “churches attempt to promote too many events and programs at a given time.”  When we are trying to get everything out in the open, sometimes nothing gets into the heart.  And then, as Phil shares, since “you’re one of thousands of other voices vying for attention and participation of parents,” your message gets lost in the mix. And you end up thinking that family ministry doesn’t work at your church.

(Phil offers some really great practical steps for how to deal with this so go read his book or follow his blog here)

In order for parents to engage intentional discipleship at home, they have to understand the WHY behind it.  They need to know that:

They are called by God to it.
They are the greatest influence in their children’s lives
They are already doing it whether they are intentional about it or not.
They are not alone in their work of discipleship.

And they only way they will know is if you tell them.  Not once, not twice, but over and over and over again. In a myriad of different ways, in a plethora of different platforms; one consistent message creating one specific need. 

In order for the church to engage meaningful intergenerational connections in worship and mentorship, they have to understand the WHY behind it. They need to know that:

They are called by God to it.
They are the greatest influence in young adults choosing to remain in church.
They are already sending messages to kids and youth about belonging.
They are not “lone ranger” Christians but part of a community, a family.

And they only way they will know is if you tell them.  Not once, not twice, but over and over and over again. In a myriad of different ways, in a plethora of different platforms; one consistent message creating one specific need.

“In a world of competing messages, it’s imperative to communicate strategically, simply, and consistently.” – Phil Bell, Team Up

Don’t let the fact that it takes time to turn a ship, deter you from the course.  That vision you’ve received from God is a treasure. The excitement and anticipation you have in your heart about the work God can and will do is the wind in your sails. But there is still a journey ahead; stay the course, turn the ship, and give time for others to catch the vision. Because when they do, your ship will cut through the waters faster than you could have ever made it go on your own.

“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” Gal. 6:9 ESV


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused, intergenerational ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

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

Practical Discipleship Before They Are #Being13

“I don’t like dealing with things face to face because its really easy to hide behind your phone but face to face, like, you have to deal with the other person.”

“A lot of people follow me that I don’t know. There’s actually a lot of people who I have no idea who they are but I let them follow me because the more the merrier.”

“I would rather not eat for a week than have my phone taken away”

If you’ve read the study or the article by CNN entitled “#Being13” you know that these are quotes from teenagers that participated in a study conducted to discover social media trends of young teens. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth a look, especially if you have children in your home or church (fair warning: there’s language in the full study). Shortly after the release of the study, a follow up blog “5 Takeaways on CNN’s Study of 13 year olds” was written to help parents make sense of all the information.

After you’ve read CNN’s article (and you’re sufficiently shaken), go read the follow-up so you can calm down…and then come back here for some practical tips while your kids are still kids.girl-908168_1280

Okay… are you ready?  Sure? Take a deep breath and let’s go…

Moms, Dads, Ministers… you cannot fight changing culture.

More than likely those elementary kids you love on today will be living into this reality in the near future.  Toddler’s intelligible babble will be tomorrow’s emoticons.  The change to a digital society stops for no man..or parent..or child.  It’s happening.

BUT

Moms, Dads, Ministers…you CAN fight for unchanging truth.

You can give your kids the unchanging foundation of Christ to build on no matter what come into their life in the future. No matter what screen they end up behind, no matter what digital relationships they find themselves in.  Even now, when they are very young, you can give them the tools, the gifts, the foundation they need to enter this digital world and not lose themselves.

Here’s a few practical ways you can do just that.

Help your kids create face-to-face relationships with real people.

That might sounds pretty basic, but the results of this study shows that it is not.  Encourage healthy friendships by welcoming your kid’s friends into your home and life.  Be aware of who they are hanging around with at school and preschool even when they are young. Host the playdates. Get to know the other parents.

In addition to children, help your kids find healthy relationships with other trusted adults in the church. Sticky Faith recommends a ratio of 5 adults/child in order to build a “sticky web” of relationships. Make face-to-face relationships a priority in your home.

Teach your kids how to have a conversation.

Remember when your “baby” said his/her first word and you just couldn’t believe he/she was talking?  Talking and conversing are not the same, and social media is a great place for talking but a terrible place for conversation.  Words are often blurted out without adequate thought given to the person on the other end of the screen.  But a conversation, when you are engaged with another person emotionally and intimately, takes awareness of the other person and thought given to the words you speak.

Take your kids out on dates and have conversations. Ask questions, listen for answers, participate in the dance that is dialogue. (Hint: Cheesecake Factory does awesome dates for parents with kids and even gives you conversation starters at the table! Chick-Fil-A regularly does date nights for parents and kids as well).

Disciple them through your own social media.

As your children grow and as it is appropriate, let them sit with you as you scroll through Facebook or look at pictures on Instagram.  The truth is, not everything about social media is bad. Let them see that.  But the truth also is that there are things that aren’t great. Walk them through that too.

Explain that sometimes images pop up that aren’t godly, words are said that aren’t holy, and lives are flattened to a screen view that doesn’t reflect reality. Point them to truth in all things. (Jon Acuff has some amazing blogs at www.parentcue.org on social media; they are worth your time to read, trust me!).

Be brutally honest about your own social media habits.

Listen, I am in no way anti-social media.  I accept that it has become a major cultural trend and something I need to be involved in and aware of as my children grow. But at some point, we (and I’m talking to me here!) can cross a line where social media can begin to define us and how we process life.  We need to ask ourselves the hard questions. If the thoughts of the 13 year olds above sounded familiar to us because we’ve thought them, we need to consider what we are teaching our kids about the importance of social media in our lives.

Do you want to know the coolest thing that the study found?  I mean, the absolute best thing about the whole study.  Something that needs said over and over again until we believe it, we know it, we accept it, and we live into it…

Parents, you are the single greatest influence in your child’s life.

Period. End of story. You.

What the study actually showed was “parents that tried to keep a close eye on their child’s social media accounts had a profound effect on their child’s psychological well-being. Parent monitoring effectively erased the negative effects of online conflicts.

Effectively erased the negative effects.”

Parents did that.  Just by being involved.  Just by being active.  Just by being..the parent.

Don’t let fear frame how you approach social media with your kids.  Let the wisdom from heaven that is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17); let that wisdom guide you.  #Being13 can be an incredible time of growth for the kids you love and God has given us all we need to get them ready for it by His grace and in His love.


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

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

Kids Just Don’t Belong In Church

“To some extent the presence of children in the worship of the first Christians was a matter of necessity. But Paul’s acceptance of children of the church as ‘belonging to God’ or ‘holy’ suggest were not only there because they had to be. They were there because they belonged there.” – W. E. Strange, Children in the Life of the Early Church

Once when I picked my daughter up from an after-school choir practice, she came skipping out, quite happy, and when she got in the car she said, “Mom, these are my people.  This is where I belong.”  This was in contrast to the previous day when I had picked her up from a different club and her attitude was one more of resignation than exuberance and her words were, “I just don’t fit in there.”

We all have a sense of when we “fit” somewhere and when we don’t.  For instance, if you’ve been on Facebook for the last few weeks, you may have seen the meme of Lucy (of I Love Lucy fame) dancing with some ladies on a television set, woefully out of step, and obviously not “fitting in” captioned with the words ‘Me at Zumba.’  Seriously, it’s like the story of my personal Zumba experience.  I left my one and only Zumba class saying, “Yup, nope… I don’t belong there.”

But there are other places where within mere moments of being there, I just know, this is right, this is where I belong.  It’s not awkward.  I don’t feel unwelcome. It’s not strange or unnatural.

It’s just where I belong.

I’m sure you have figured out where this whole thing is going.  I mean, if the observation made by Dr. Strange in the quote above is accurate, children in the early church weren’t just there out of consequence but because there was a recognition of belonging.  They weren’t just there because the church met in their home, but because they were a needed and necessary part of the body.  

Dr. Strange goes on to point out that in the letters of Paul, he speaks directly to children (Eph. 6:1-4, Col. 3:20).  This is, as he says, remarkable meaning something we should remark on.  Why?

Because these letters were being read aloud in the corporate assembly of the church.

The church in a region would gather together and hear these words being read aloud to them and learning together the words of God.  And guess who Paul assumed would be there?  The children.  And guess who he felt was worthy of being taught specifically in the midst of the larger corporate gathering? Children.

Throughout all of the epistles we see children mentioned, often in regards to their instruction and upbringing at home under the loving discipleship and discipline of their parents.  

But what we don’t see is their omission.

They were (and are) an integral part of the church.  And while a thorough review of church history will reveal a strong emphasis on the raising of children in the home and the passing on of faith from the parents, there is never a dismissal of children from the larger church body and wider community.

If you don’t “fit” somewhere, chances are you won’t go back or stay when you can leave.  

If you don’t feel like you belong, it just makes sense that you will look for a place where you do.  

And if you don’t feel like a part of something, it’s easy to disengage and withdraw even if you are physically present.  

boyatchurchdoorI think we can all acknowledge that for the most part “big church” or our regular church assemblies aren’t places where children feel like they “fit.”  Even churches that are transitioning to more intergenerational approaches can find it difficult to create that feel through programming and atmosphere.


I think perhaps that’s because fundamentally, there’s a cultural expectation that kids won’t be there because for many years they haven’t.

Whenever you try on something new, it’s uncomfortable at first, for everyone.  But I truly think if our approach changes, over time programming and atmosphere won’t matter nearly as much as simply conveying the expectation that, of course, children will be there.  Like Paul’s approach, the assumption will be that they are there, they are listening, and they belong.

And the kids will know it.

And that’s not to say, there shouldn’t be times of age-appropriate ministry, because I think there should be.  And that’s not to say that the main focus of discipleship shouldn’t be the home, because Scripture is clear that it should be.  But, it shouldn’t be a surprise to us or an unexpected distraction when children do join us for corporate worship.  In fact, it should be welcome and expected.  They should just…belong.

Just like my sweet girl intuitively knew that those choir friends were “her people” our church children will know that we are theirs. In their heart, they will know that they are “supposed” to be there; that they belong. And eventually, it won’t be a surprise or distraction to us adults when they are. Because we too will know that they belong there.


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

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

Where Do You Even Begin? First of All…

“I want to start moving towards family ministry at my church, but I have no idea where to begin!”

“I’d love to do discipleship at home, but we’ve never really talked about those things – how do I even start?”

These are two of the move frequent messages I get from ministers and parents since I started this blog in November last year.  And that’s understandable.  Whenever you are embarking on something new, there’s always that initial, “But I don’t know how” feeling that pops up.  It’s such an uncomfortable place to be where you can envision where you want to be and you can imagine what things could look like, but you have no idea how to get started.

I imagine that Timothy (as in from the Bible) felt much the same way.  From all accounts, we can hands-407388_1280assume that Timothy was a bit younger than most of the other apostles and ministers.  When Paul writes to him, he does so in a tone that is almost fatherly in context referring to him as “my son” and asking him to run personal errands for him like bringing him his cloak.  There’s a familiarity in the letters that set them apart the rest of the epistles with an almost familial tone.

And while I think it is a great model to use for a glimpse at a powerful intergenerational relationship between a mentor and a mentee (just had to throw that in there) what stands out to me is where Paul tells Timothy to start.  You see, Paul is instructing Timothy on the basics of setting up church.  The whole first chapter, Paul is telling Timothy that he needs to be alert and aware of false teachings and God’s grace because “some have rejected these and so shipwrecked their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19b).

I imagine Timothy being much like us and saying, “Yes, Paul, I hear you!  I don’t want my faith to be shipwrecked.  I want to be faithful, to the fight the good fight like you have, to understand the truth.  But seriously, where do I even start?  I’m young. People aren’t going to listen to me.  What if I’m not good enough?  What if they walk away? What if I fail them completely?  How do I even begin to set up a church?

And Paul, being human and getting the fact that we all need somewhere to start says, “I urge, then, FIRST OF ALL, that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone…this is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:1, 3).

First of all…

Of all the things Paul was going to go on and tell him.  Of all the instructions Timothy was about to receive. Of all the places Paul could have told him to start…prayer, specifically, requests, petitions, intercessions, and thanksgiving.

“Oh yes, of course prayer. I mean, yeah, I pray.  We all pray. But, what’s really the first step? New curriculum?  Is the a family devotional I should buy? Should I go to seminary?”

First of all…PRAY.  Paul makes that pretty clear.  He has a lot to say about a lot of things but his urging is to first of all, before everything else, pray.

That’s where it starts.  That’s where it has to start.

Because prayer does this wonderful work in OUR hearts of letting us know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is ultimately not our words, our actions, or our wisdom that will accomplish anything…it is God who changes hearts, draws hurting souls, heals broken lives, and grows disciples.  We are merely vessels of His Spirit to do His work in the lives of the people He loves.  And we must always, always start there.

So, if you are looking for where to begin, may I urge you, first of all, to do these things:

1. Request – Tell God what is on your mind.  Tell Him the burden of your heart to see families, maybe even your family, growing in faith, at home, at church, and in the community.  To see homes strengthened, parents equipped, and children excited about Christ.

2. Petition – Tell God what you need. He wants to hear from you. And if God is the one putting the burden on your heart, He is very interested in meeting your needs

3. Intercession – Pray for your kids.  Pray for your family. Pray for your church. Pray for your community. Pray for your home. Pray for your country. Pray for your leaders. Repeat.

4. Thanksgiving – Give thanks for your kids. For your family. For your church. For your community. For your home. For your country. For your leaders. Repeat.

If you are feeling God calling you to transition your church or home towards a family ministry model, the best place I can tell you to start is here.  Sure, there are tips and strategies and books and trainings and a plethora of other things that are available and yes, I’d love to share those with you as well….but…I urge you, first of all, to pray.


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

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

Practical Middle School: Four Ideas For Intentional Conversation

Last week, I shared that I was away with my (almost) 12 yr. daughter for a pre-middle-school trip away, just the two of us; a trip dedicated to some serious conversations and some serious mother-daughter fun.  A number of you wrote to me curious about our trip and what those moments of discipleship looked like, so with my daughter’s permission, I’m happy to share with you a bit about our time away.

Middle school – just hearing that can immediately strike a chord of terror in many hearts.  Whether it is because you are reflecting back on your own experience or dreading the fact that your child is now entering or in that phase, the middle school era carries with it some unique challenges.  It is for some kids their first brush with “the real world” outside the relative bubble of care that most elementary schools provide.  For others, it is the first time they are handed a bit more control and responsibility for their academics, extra-curriculars and, most importantly, their choice of friends within a wide range of peers. For all, it is that mysterious time where their body starts changing, their minds start maturing, and their hormones start raging, leading to all kinds of emotions and discoveries…the stage parents cringe at as they consider their child and remember their own journey through adolescence.

Long before we reached this exact moment, my husband and I decided that it would be prudent for us to make some plans to be pro-active in starting an intentional conversation with our kids prior to entering middle school to address the issues and changes they were about to experience.

Here are a few of the things we did to make that time memorable and meaningful for our daughter.

1. Build the Excitemmother-338289_1280ent – Long before the summer of middle school angst, we told our daughter that she would be going on a trip with Mom all by herself during that summer.  We told her she got to pick where we went (within a 4 hour radius) for our two-day overnight trip and that we would do whatever she wanted (within reason).  The build-up alone was enough to set the stage for a memorable trip; no matter what we ended up doing, she was thoroughly engaged with and owned that time and was ready to take it all in.

2. Give Over (some) Control – Since we were going to talk about some sensitive topics that could make her feel uncomfortable, I wanted to make sure I gave her some measure of control.  I wrote the topics on a number of 3×5 cards (one per card) and told her, “We will talk about each of these things on our trip, but you get to pick the order and the speed at which we go through them.”  As she initially looked through the cards, you can imagine the reactions I heard…but she was able to be in control of the conversation and that seemed to give her some peace.

3. Offer a Tangible Reminder – Ever since she was born, I have prayed the same prayer over my oldest girl – that she would grow to be a woman of excellence and noble character whose worth is far more than rubies (Pr. 31:10).  Last fall, I found a necklace that had a pendant with those words inscribed on it and I bought it with this trip in mind.  During our last meal together, I gave it to her and shared with her that whenever she wore it should could remember our time together and all that we talked and prayed about and know that she can always talk to me about anything at anytime.  She’s worn the necklace nearly every day since.

4. Have FUN – Our serious conversations took place basically on the ride down and the ride back (3.5 hours both ways was plenty of time). Remember those 3×5 cards?  I told her that if she had questions about a topic we discussed to write them on the back of the card and I’d answer them when we drove home; that I wanted our time away to be fun and full of comfortable time together so she didn’t need to feel nervous that I’d talk about those things all during the trip.  It worked out well – she wrote her questions and we were able to process together on the way home and she had space during our trip to think things through without pressure.  And while we were away, we concentrated on important things like…shopping, swimming, hiking and eating.

By no means do I think this is a “cookie cutter” way of doing things with each family and child, but these were some of the ideas that worked for us as we get ready to head into our middle school years.  By far, I think the most important part of this trip away was the message that was sent: You are important to us, so important that we are willing to drop everything to just be with you!  That message of grace, of love, and of honor can be carried out in many ways, but it is oh-so-important that the message is heard.  Intentional moments of discipleship in parenting necessarily require our time. But the rewards from that investment are lasting.

Have you had a meaningful pre-middle-school activity or conversation with your child?  There are many tools available to help with this conversation such as Passport to Purity from Family Life Today , but I’d love to hear what worked for you! Feel free to check out the links below to join our conversation on Facebook and to learn more about practical discipleship at home.


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 

Family(40)

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. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

Join the Conversation!

Hello Friends,

What a blessing you have all been to me that past few months!  Do you know that this blog has already had over 100,000 views and 80,000 unique visitors and almost 50,000 shares?  That means something about this idea of refocusing on the home, transitioning to a more family-focused ministry, and creating intentional intergenerational relationships within the church is striking a chord with a lot of people.

hands-598145_1280I think it’s time we start a conversation and I invite you to join in!

There’s a new group on Facebook called “ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry” created just for that purpose.  This group is open to all parents and ministers interested in having an ongoing conversation about the church and home working together in reaching the youngest generation. Topics such as transitioning to family ministry, equipping the home for discipleship, and creating intergenerational relationships at church are up for grabs. Appropriate blog posts are welcome to be posted as well, as long as it generates conversation towards these topics.

I hope that you will consider joining the group and adding your voice and questions to the discussion.  I truly believe with all my heart that we are touching a deep part of the Father’s heart as we welcome children into worship and disciple them in the home and the community of faith.  And I know that it is a calling that cannot be done alone; we need each other for support, prayer, encouragement and a “stirring up by way for reminder.”

So, click on the link above, join the group, introduce yourself and let’s get talking!!

Thank you again for your incredible support and feedback for the past six months.  Let’s see what a year brings!!

Blessings,

Christina


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

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