You Can’t Just Put Kids In Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

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Age Segregation and Generational Gap: What do these mean and why does it matter to the church?

One of my favorite memories of my niece was from years ago when we were on a family vacation at the beach. She was about three years old and discovering the joys of the pool for the first time. We were all in the water, calling out an invitation for her to join us, when she turned to us and yelled, “Hold on a minute! I’m acclimating!!”

We all started laughing!  She absolutely used the word in the right way but hearing it from a three year old was just too much. Kids do that a lot! They use really big words in accurate ways or, more frequently, really big words in inaccurate ways, and it’s hilarious.

But, let’s be honest, we adults do it too. Especially with buzz words. These words show up in social media posts, newscasts, and daily conversations, but are often vague and act as a catch all, making it very easy for us to say the word with a certain thing in mind and have the person listening take a very different meaning from what we’ve said.

The solution to this “problem” is simple. We just need to clearly define the words we use. But that takes time and it takes intentionality, both things that are not often used in our busy lives.

team-spirit-2447163_1920Last week I had the chance to speak with a church about two such phrases: age segregation and generational gap. Most had heard of the two phrases, but many had not really taken time to consider what it meant. The first was less familiar and conjured up thoughts of nursing homes and retirement communities. The second was more familiar and most people applied it to politics and clothing.

For the sake of clarity, we took some time and intentionality and looked at these two phrases.

Age Segregation is defined as the separation of people based on their ages.  This can be intentional liked nursing homes and graded classrooms or unintentional like social media and clothing trends.

Intentional age segregation is a relatively new phenomenon. Graded classrooms didn’t really get their start until the last 1800s/early 1900s and didn’t spread to the whole country for decades after that.

Similarly, before the 19th century, no age restricted institutions designed for long term care existed (Source). Nursing homes and retirement communities gained steam in 1954 when the federal government created a grant that would fund such institutions and in the 1960s when Medicare and Medicaid began and provided payment for those services (Source).

Generational gap is the perceived difference of opinions between one generation and another regarding beliefs, politics, or values. The most important word here is “perceived.”  That means that we think there is a difference of opinion but we don’t know that for sure. That perception fuels a lot of our interactions and the way we approach issues ranging from political agendas to our preferred cell phone plan.

Why are these things important to the church?

Well, just like with society, age segregation is a relatively new thing for the church as well. You can trace the rise of separating the church community based on age back to about the 1950s when we see the start of youth groups. Over time, the church became more and more focused on age specific ministries and creating both classes and services aimed at meeting the developmental and felt needs of different generations.

It’s not unusual for generations within a church to spend little if any time with one another.

As a result, just like in society, there is a perception within the church that there are significant differences of opinion on everything from sermon topics to worship styles. The generational gap within churches can often be seen by taking a look at who attends the “traditional” service and who attends the “contemporary” one.

Since the separation of ages and the perception of differences mirrors that of our society, it’s easy for us to think “that’s just the way it is.”  But it’s important to note that it wasn’t that way for centuries. And equally as important to note that the impact on the church is a substantial one. Why?

Because our faith is primarily passed from one generation to another.

That means in order for “one generation to praise Your works to another” the generations must interact; they must be in the same geographical space, speaking to each other and building relationships with one another if generational discipleship is to occur (Ps. 145:4).

Studies bear this out. 

One of the first longitudinal studies done on youth in regard to church attendance post high school once the Millennial decline became apparent was done by Fuller Youth Institute in 2006-2010 and they released their findings here. Their research found was that while most U.S. churches focus on building strong youth groups, teenagers also need to build relationships with adults of all ages.

Further research showed that while there was no “silver bullet” churches that encouraged intergenerational connections and worship and youth that felt involved and connected to the larger church had a much greater chance of remaining in church post high school. (The findings can be found here).

In 2016, Fuller Youth Institute released a new study called “Growing Young” that looked at churches that were continuing to “hold onto” their young people and even grow in the Millennial sector of their congregation. One of the key reasons they found for that was “Warm intergenerational relationships” at that “involving young people in every ministry has allowed these churches to thrive with authenticity and intergenerational relationships” (Source)

In 2017, The Journal of Intergenerational Relationships explained that intergenerational relationships create essential learning environments for all generations.

Specifically they find that three things are necessary for intergenerational learning, 1. There must be space to learn about one’s own generation with other generations, 2. All generations must act as learners and teachers at the same time, and 3. The learning must motivate participants towards in a particular way. (Source)

In other words, we need each other.

When phrases like “age segregation” and “generational gap” can be applied to our community of faith, we need to take a step back and consider the ramifications on sustainability and disciple-making and take serious consideration if the benefits outweigh the costs.

We need to take the time and be intentional not only about defining our “buzz words” but also determining the effect they are having on us, on the generations that precede ours and for the generations that are to come.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Dr. Mohler, Kids in Worship, and Three Things We Need to Know

Yesterday, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted a video from a recent chapel service where he addressed the topic of children in the worship service. While Dr. Mohler and I likely have some theological disagreements in other areas, this is one place where my heart and his resonate together. You can hear a portion of his sermon here, but I’ve included below a few pertinent quotes that lend specifically to the conversation of intergenerational worship.

“Christ’s people ought to be more welcoming than anyone else to children.

Our churches should not be places where the adults cannot wait to put the children away in order to get to the adult task of worship.

One of the scandals of so much evangelicalism is that we send people to their rooms as soon as we get to church…

You should see people sitting in pews whose feet cannot touch the floor…we should, in church, welcome the wiggling and the squirming “- Dr. Albert Mohler

In 12 hours, the video had generated over a thousand shares, over 2,000 reactions, and over 100 comments. So, it touched a nerve. Some people wholeheartedly and enthusiastically agree with Dr. Mohler’s points. Some people vehemently opposed his approach.

This has been my experience since I began championing the ideas of intergenerational worship as part of a healthy church experience. Like Dr. Mohler, I take a both/and approach to this idea meaning I support age-appropriate ministry within church settings as long as it doesn’t disallow for intergenerational times of worship and ministry.  However, I find, like with some many things, the tendency is to turn this discussion into an either/or scenario – either we wholeheartedly agree with something or we vehemently oppose it.  And, like with so many other things, that does not allow for a way forward.

So what are some ways we can create a both/and discussion around this topic that is healthy, robust and cooperative, that is theologically sound, developmentally aware, and spiritually strong?

 

Know the Theology

It is so important before we begin advocating for something like incorporating all ages in corporate worship that we have at least a basic theological foundation for what we are doing; our “why” so to speak. When kids and youth began to be pulled from the larger congregation for age specific ministry beginning in the 1950s, the “why” that was given was fundamentally developmental in nature.  But as that was done, the theological and spiritual ramifications weren’t explored until later when we realized we were losing the gift of generational discipleship within our church walls because our generations never interacted.

If a church desires to bring back that intergenerational space is some form, it is vitally important to have a theological understanding of why it is choosing to do so.

The Bible is literally full of examples on the whole congregation being present, both in the Old and New Testaments. Christ’s life and ministry model the same for us. Know these verses and explore these Scriptures so that when questions come, there is a “why” behind what is being done that establishes a foundation for intergenerational faith communities.

Here is a great article from Fuller Youth Institute to get started with, but don’t stop there! Do your own study. Explore the Scriptures. Explore what theologians have written. Develop a “why” that fits with your church, its vision and mission, and its members.  I once had a mentor tell me that “Christ will meet me in the Scriptures.”  He has indeed and my “why” is firmly established in the Word. That’s so important if we are to champion this particular space in worship.

Know the Research

Because developmental research was so significant in the move from  a fully integrated church to a a fully siloed one, it is important that we are familiar with what the research is saying regarding intergenerational worship and relationships within the church.  That is why my heart is for a both/and approach to intergenerational ministry rather than an either/or. I’ve reach that point because of the research that has been done regarding children and youth and their relationship to faith.  boywithhymnal

As I’ve reviewed both developmental research and ongoing research into faith affiliation and church attendance, I’ve become convinced that both age-appropriate and intergenerational ministries are both strongly needed and should be fostered within a faith community.

How that plays out in each church will necessarily be specific to that church and its culture, but to do one to the exclusion of the other is a disservice to our rising generations.


Where to start?
 This article is a good spot to get started on looking the research that is coming out. I would also recommend the following books/studies:

Know the Community

Each faith community has an identity all its own. It’s been like that since the church started; just look at the names of the epistles in the New Testament and the specific way Paul speaks to each community (also, note that he speaks specifically to children so as these letters were read aloud, he expected the children to be there). It is so important to know the culture of each church and understand what it identifies with in terms of its vision and mission.

Cookie cutter intergenerational ministry does not work. It is not enough to simply steal a program from the church down the road and expect it to work in yours. While each program or project or idea for intergenerational ministry has merit, it is only an asset to your community if it fits within your church’s identity.

The best thing that we can do as we transition from a traditional, age-segregated model to a more intergenerational, age-inclusive model is to get to know our faith community and help them to do the same. Help the generations learn each others names. Find ways to plug children into places where they are already welcome to be involved. Strengthen the relationships that already exist and find ways to build new ones. Transitional ministry is crucial to introducing “new to you” things to any group of people, so go slow and put a lot of time, prayer and thought into getting to know the church.

Want a great way to start helping generations get to know each other?  Check out the Pray For Me campaign. It is a wonderful way to incorporate prayer into your church and connect the generations at the same time!

This discussion that is happening right now in the church world is a good one!! It might be a hard one in some spaces. We will likely disagree on some things. But the heart of the issues is this  – we love our children and youth and want what is best for them. It’s worth taking the time to have a good discussion about this; to know our theological “why”, to understand the research being done, and to embrace our faith communities. My prayer is that this discussion is one that results in more children and youth staying in the faith as they grow so that we, the whole church, can say we have answered the call to “impress these things upon our children.” (Dt. 6:8).


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

What Intergenerational Worship IS

A few days I shared my thoughts on what intergenerational worship is NOT. So often we approach times of corporate worship where are all generations are present with pre-conceived notions of what we fear it could be. But often those things are not truly representative of the heart of intergenerational worship.

So what IS intergenerational worship?

Simply put, intergenerational worship is ministry that focuses on connecting multiple generations in faith-forming relationships cultivated through times of corporate worship, intentional discipleship, and ongoing mentorship.


It’s much more than a Sunday morning experience or simply worshiping in a specific location
. It has at its heart a focus on generational discipleship and a experiencing of our faith together as a community.

And, it can have its challenges, especially today where age segregation (keeping the generations apart both physically and culturally) is the norm. Let’s be honest, putting generations together in one space can be difficult.

It can feel more like a collision than a collusion. 

However, research has shown that it is not only a good and healthy thing for different generations to spend time in relationships one another, it is also one of the key factors in young people remaining in the faith after they’ve left their home of origin. So what can we do to help create environment that allow for this type of interaction in our faith community, without causing conflict and collision?

Community

It is important to keep in mind the community cannot be forced upon a group. It must
be nurtured and watered and given space to grow. One cannot simply tell older members of a congregation that they need to go mentor and worship with younger people and expect it to take place. Bonds of community take time to grow and develop and they require a certain level of shared vision and commitment on the part of the people involved.

In order to create nurturing environments for these types of intergenerational relationships to develop, we need to intentionally create situations where meaningful interactions can take place or, even more fundamentally, offer a way to simply get to know each other’s names.

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Service projects and shared meals are wonderful places for these types of interactions to begin to occur. There is something about serving with others that leads to a sense of unity and community and the act of sharing a meal together has long been seen as a way for people to connect and bond with each other. Shared communal activities like going to a baseball game together or working on mission together can go a long way in nurturing relationships across the generations.

I’m also a huge advocate for the Pray For Me campaign that connects young people in your church up with three prayer partners from three generations in ways that help them get to know each other and connect on a spiritual level (Read more on this experience HERE).

Communication

Without a “Why” it is really difficult to introduce change of any kind. People need to know that there is a reason behind doing something differently or moving in a new direction or they will resist it because it’s easier to keep doing something familiar.

It is important to “create a need” by sharing with those who will listen your vision
and the “why” behind it. If there is no understanding of the basic reasons for connecting generations (history of children’s/youth ministry, the facts about young people leaving the church, the things that help young people to “stick”), there will be no “need” that has to be met.

So we have to share. We have to give a reason for wanting to bring the generations together. We have to communicate in ways that everyone can hear. For some, it’s going to need to be from the pulpit. For others, in the bulletin or church newsletter. For still others, social media or email or even text. But there must be a clear and consistent message if we are to engage others in the need. 

Consistencey

If I were to ask you today to tell me about your church, you would probably tell me something about your church’s vision and mission. You’d tell me about the things your church is passionate about or excited about. For instance, if your church focuses on community outreach, you’d tell me about that. If worship is your main focus, you’d tell me about your worship. If you are into community groups or life groups, I’d hear about that.

As we introduce new things, like intergenerational worship into our church context, it’s important that we recognize what our church is already passionate about and find ways to join the generations in that mission.

For instance, if our goal is to connect the generations in our church and our church is really into service projects, it might be reasonable to find ways to get the children and youth plugged in there before having them join the worship service. Or, if worship really is the big thing, to find ways to involve children and youth in active participation or slowly introduce times of corporate worship as we move towards more times spent together.  If we remain consistent with our church’s heart and vision, the transition to something new will be a much smoother experience. 

Always keep in mind that the ultimate goal is relationship, and while those are cultivated in times of corporate worship, intentional discipleship, and ongoing mentorship, the relationship is the key to the long-lasting effect on the faith of young people.

It is simply impossible to create relationships if generations remain segregated from each other all the time. Intergenerational worship creates space for relationship to happen. Ultimately, intergenerational worship IS the whole church, being the church, together. 


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 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  Seedbed

The Star Didn’t Lead Them to Jesus

“Where did the star lead them?”

This question was asked four 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 four 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.

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…

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.

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.