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.

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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.

Family Ministry for Kids who Come Alone

I’ve heard a lot of concerned discussion lately regarding family ministry.

Maybe because it’s still perceived as a “new thing” or because people don’t really understand it or the heart behind it.  For whatever reason, there seems to be an almost caustic response from some about moving towards an intergenerational, home-focused ministry platform.

One of the biggest concerns I’ve heard raised was in regard to reaching children who do not have engaged caregivers or believing parents in their home.

Specifically, if our ministry at church is focused on families, what happens to kids that don’t have a believing family or Christian home life? Are we just going to turn them away or not provide for their spiritual needs?

It’s a legitimate concern and one that deserves addressing, especially if a church is looking to transition from one that has been primarily age-focused to one that is more family-focused.  And to be honest, there is no easy answer but here are some things to consider as you approach this topic.

1. Reach for Home – More than likely, some kids will get dropped off who do not have parents that attend the church.  But, that does not preclude us from reaching out to their home.

It is important for us to recognize this need to welcome children who aren’t in “church families” in a way that is both accepting and embracing, providing for their needs spiritually, physically and emotionally while they are with us (Ideas for how to do that, click here). But it is equally as important to recognize that we are sending them back to a home that will have profound formational effects on their faith and to not further our reach by extending our arm of welcome to the home is to miss an opportunity for “going and making disciples.” 

Some ways we can do that:child-217230_1280

  • Provide Parent/Caregiver Workshops or Seminars, free to the public, without an overt spiritual focus.  For example, we are hosting a Social Media workshop this month, open to the whole community, and focused on the internet and our kids, not necessarily religious in nature.  Our faith will be discussed but the topic is one that all parents have questions about.
  • Provide Activities for the Whole Family.  A lot of parents/caregivers look for free, fun things to do with their kids.  Fall Festivals, Family VBS, Summer Movie Nights, etc are all ways to engage the home.
  • Visit with the parents/caregivers – Drop by, say hi, get contact information, introduce yourself, offer resources, tell them what you are doing, bring a pie :).  Show them that you are excited about serving them in their home even if they don’t come to church.  And express your desire to serve not only their kids but them as well.

Of course there is no guarantee that this will lead to anything beyond what is already happening.. but it might.  What you do for one, do for all.  If the church family is getting a handout, a parent letter, an invitation, make sure the others families do too.

Connect the church to the home as much as possible.

2. Embrace Family – Sometimes when we think “family” we get a picture in our head of a Dad, Mom, two kids, a dog, maybe a cat and a cute Cape Cod with white shutters.  That’s really not an accurate picture of “family” today.  Family has grown to mean many things.  Sometimes family isn’t even people we are related to by blood.  Sometimes Grandma is Mom or Uncle is Dad or family friend is Aunt.

One main goal of “family ministry” is to minister to the family as a whole.  It is important then to find out how family is being defined by those you are ministering to and the needs that their unique situation gives rise to.  For more on this, check out this blog on “The ‘Family’ in Family Ministry” and consider ways that you can reach the families you serve.

3. Encourage Faith – Even atheists believe something (they believe that there is nothing). It takes faith to believe anything so everyone has faith.

Our job as Christian family ministers is to equip the home to be a place of faith formation in Christ.  However, that can be complicated if the leaders in a home don’t believe in Christ.  That doesn’t mean you don’t equip or resource them anyway.  Providing materials, information, and training for faith formation at home is key to an effective family ministry.  Those who desire what you have to offer will transform their homes into places of discipleship.  Those who choose not to use the tools you’ve given are still being given them and that in and of itself makes a difference in the home.

God is the ultimate home builder; we are vessels of His grace and love.

Finally, I feel like it is important to point out that while we need to be aware of this potential area of concern, there is another glaring fact we cannot ignore that the family unit itself is a mission field for the church today.  Ministering to families is important.  Missionaries to other countries or inner cities or specific age groups train to reach a specific group of people in that context.

If we look at families in that same light, as a mission field in need of missionaries to bring the good news of the gospel to their homes, I believe we could see a revolution in the church of children and youth who graduate ready to serve Christ in their homes, church and community; discipled in the faith and grounded in their love for Christ because of their intentional faith formation they experienced at home and intergenerational relationships at church.

There is no cookie cutter family ministry model.

There are no easy answers for the concerns that arrive.

But I firmly believe there is a call by God for us to equip the home, minister to parents, engage children in the broader community, and disciple families.  And if that is a call from God, then we know He will provide all we need to reach each and every family He sends our way.


For more information about

Check out 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.

When One-Size-Fits-All Doesn’t

file0001034197368I once knew a couple getting ready to celebrate their anniversary. The husband had cooked up an elaborate plan to surprise his wife. He took her on a hike and when they reached a certain spot, he had a table ready and a meal to share right there in the middle of the woods. A few years later, my husband and I went out to eat with that same couple and the wife made a comment about how much she enjoyed going to eat out a restaurant, “not like that time we ate dinner in the woods” as she teasingly elbowed her now sheepish husband.

I couldn’t help but laugh. We had all remarked about how sweet her husband was and how he did such a romantic thing, and here she didn’t even like it. As a young married couple we learned a valuable lesson that day; if we really want to say “I love you” we better find out what our better half loves.

Sometimes it’s tempting to look around at other families or other ministries and think, “Wow, what they are doing is so cool! I’m gonna do that for my family/ministry!  But it’s really, really important to make sure that what you are doing is what you should be doing for the ones you love and serve. The coolest, most innovative, eye-catching One Sizeresource in the world won’t be worth much if it doesn’t meet the need that exists.

One-size-fits-all just doesn’t apply to ministry or families.

Before you run ahead, prayerfully consider the following:

  1. Is this the best option for my family/ministry? There are a lot of amazing ministry tools available today, many of them for free and many of them highly recommended. But it is important to make sure that the needs your family has or your ministry has are being met by whatever resource you use. Otherwise, your energy bears no fruit. (To consider different types of family ministry models, click here)
  1. Will this take us deeper in Christ? If you are going to put time or money into doing something for your family or ministry, make sure that the end result is that you walk away closer to Jesus and each other. That might mean to take a trip to the movies as a family or hold a lock-in at the church for your tweens but make sure it’s meeting our greatest need of all – the need for Christ in our lives.
  1. Will it have positive lasting results? Whether we intend to or not, we are always leaving lasting impressions on our kids at home and at church. If we are planning to move ahead with a devotional, a curriculum, a change in rhythms and routines at home or a transition to a new ministry focus at church, it will leave lasting impressions on the children involved. Strive to ensure that those impressions are ones of a loving God, a caring family and an involved church.
  1. Have I sought input from the ones I wish to serve? Sometimes we do all the research, ask other parents, talk to other ministers, and then charge ahead with our “dinner in the woods.” But if we haven’t asked those we serve how they feel about something, what we see as a blessing, they might see in a different light. Ask for their thoughts. Seek out their opinions. You may still choose to move ahead, but it will probably be with a more informed slant and a plan to address any disappointment that may be expressed.

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list and ultimately, we can do our best and still fail at time (thus the beautiful gift that is GRACE).   However, if we take a moment and step back to consider these things, we have a much better chance of blessing the ones we love and desire to serve.


For more on Parenting from Grace or Transitional Ministry, check of ReFocus Ministry or “like” us on Facebook.

Answering the Endless Question: “But.. WHY?!?”

“But, why?”

whykids

via istock/thinkstock

“Because you need to.”

“But WHY?”

“Because it’s healthy and because you need to!”

“BUT…”

If you’ve ever had this conversation in your life, my guess is that you’ve parented a child old enough to use words.  This basic conversation gets repeated with all three of my kids (3, 8, 11) throughout the day with everything from teeth brushing to veggie eating.  It can get exhausting to explain things over and over again.  The first time I was asked “Why?” I’m sure I took the time to painstakingly explain the health benefits of keeping one’s teeth clean or consuming leafy greens.  But after the first few times, I fell back on the traditional, super-fast, completely ineffective, “Because I said so, just do it already!”

The deed might get done but the only lesson learned is that asking “Why?” repeatedly might make Mom mad.

As we lead our families or serve in ministry, the “Why?” question will come up often. Why do we have to do devotionals as a family?  Why do we have to go to church on Wednesday night?  Why do we have to read our Bible?  Why do we need to have intergrated church service times?  Why? Why? Why?

There might be part of us that wants to say, “Because we need to and God wants us to, so just do it already!”  But that is just as ineffective as the parenting line above.

Here’s a few things we need to recognize about that “Why?” question as we lead families and ministries.

1. Why Questions reveal a Heart

  When your kids ask why they have to eat broccoli, it’s not because they don’t know why.  You’ve explained it and they have heard it.  What they are really saying is, “I hate eating broccoli! Why are you making me do something I don’t like to do?”  If you are getting asked that about the discipleship or faith formation activities in your life, the worst thing you can do is brush that aside.  You are getting a peek into their heart.  For whatever reason, this activity has become one that they dislike.  You may be weary of the “Why?” question but try to hear the heart behind it and ask God for wisdom on how to speak to the heart.

2. Why Questions reveal a Need

Sometimes “Why?” is asked because there is a genuine lack of understanding why it is needed.  I had an older lady in church once sit me down and ask, “Why do our parents keep asking for family-oriented activities and discipleship?”  She was interested in understanding why we were integrating services and holding family faith formation nights instead of kids clubs.  We ended up talking for about 15 minutes about everything from Sunday school to faith talks and by the end, she better understood the need our parents had and WHY we were addressing it they way we were in our church.  Sometimes we think because we’ve explained things once or twice before, our kids or congregation should “get it” but in reality, we must be in a place of consistently explaining and championing the needs we are desiring to meet.

3. Why Questions reveal a Desire

Even if spoken in the all-too-familiar whiny tone of a child being forced to do something ghastly like bathing or cleaning their room, the fact that the question “Why?” is being asked reveals a desire for legitimacy.  Kids want a legitimate reason WHY they should spend their valuable time on such things.  Your family wants a legitimate and meaningful reason to engage in discipleship together.  Your church family wants legitimate reasons for cross-gen services and family ministry programming.

If the only reason you are doing something is because “it’s the right thing to do”, I urge you to take some time and seek the Lord and examine your own heart to ensure what you are doing is what God wants you to be doing.  Doing things just to do things isn’t healthy for you, for your family, or for your church.  Doing things with intention and purpose as you follow the Lord’s leading is the only healthy way for you to grow and to answer the “Why’s” you will be faced with.

One of my favorite parenting verses is Galations 6:9,

“Let us not get tired of doing what is good.  At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we do not give up.”

It can get wearying to answer the “Whys” all day long.  It is so much easier to say, “Because I said so” than to engage and converse.  But if we persevere in sharing the answer to the “Whys”, eventually it will bear the fruit of blessing in our lives and in the lives of those we are serving and sharing life with.

And one day, the answers you have shared in love and consistency will be the answers your kids share with their kids, your church members share with new believers, and your family shares with friends around them.

So do not become weary.  WHY, you may ask?  Because there is a bountiful harvest of blessing to come and a God who is walking with you, every step of the way.


If you enjoyed this article, be sure to follow Refocus Ministry for more ideas for family ministry in church and at home or “like” us on Facebook for a variety of resources and parenting tools!


Don’t FREEZE out Your Ministry: 3 Ways to Thaw

I am freezing!

If you live anywhere in the contiguous United States you probably are too. It’s so cold that… Yeah, people are starting to say that every time you see them. Pipes are freezing, schools are closing, and heating bills are rocketing.

frozenfountain

Photo Credit: Michael Chanley

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with freezing cold temperatures but they can bring some unfortunate side effects. They can also afford some of the most beautiful ones, like this picture taken by a friend in Louisville where the temperature dropped so fast, the fountain looks like Elsa herself used her magic touch.

The theme of Frozen works well for a movie but the effects of frozen don’t coincide well with ministry. It’s not unusual to find ourselves in a place where we are “stuck” in something – a routine, a way do doing things, a program or an attitude. We hear things like, “We’ve always done it that way” or “That program has worked for ____ years” or “It is what it is; don’t fix what ain’t broke.”

It is important, in both our homes and our churches, that we don’t allow the beauty of something to disguise its negative effects.

 Frozen ministry or “stuck” programming fails to recognize that our children and youth, our culture and economy, are in a constant state of metamorphosis whose needs change as different events frame worldviews. A classic example is the age-segregated model of “silo” ministries where generations don’t interact with each other.   While the model appears to “work” because age groups get to be together, the negative effects of compartmentalization, lack of intergenerational relationships, and division in the church can’t be ignored.

If you see that there are ways that perhaps you’ve gotten stuck in a frozen practice or ministry, here are three ways to warm things up and start a thaw.

  1. Review your programs/activities every 2-3 years – Three years ago you started monthly faith talks with your kids on Sunday nights and they were great! Now, you find that they aren’t participating like they used to. Trying to force things back to “how they were” isn’t going to work. Consider what has changed (school needs for Monday morning, tired from the weekend, content needs revamped?) and critically review what is in place. This is especially true for churches – just because something worked well in 2010 doesn’t mean it does in 2015.
  2. Talk to your participants – Our tendency when we find something works is to plug in and start steaming ahead. We get into our routine and we know what to do when. But if we aren’t communicating with those we are working with or serving, we run the risk of freezing them out… literally. Need some questions to get the conversation started? Check out this great article by Carey Niewhof entitled “7 Leadership Conversations Every Church Team Should Have in 2015”
  3. Let go of the Beautiful Things – This is so hard. When we have seen good things come from something we have done, it can be hard to… “Let it Go!” Don’t let the good things of the past keep you from grasping the GREAT things of the future. Be brutally honest about the changes that have happened since you started and be willing to recognize you may need to change too.

I love how Christ modeled this concept of warmth and fluidity in his ministry. In one day, he could be eating with “sinners” and dining with Pharisees without skipping a beat. His words spoke right into hearts and his teachings appropriate to each situation. He wasn’t afraid of change, even rapid change, and he never appears frozen by location, community, or circumstance.

If you are stuck inside today, why not take a few minutes to see if there are any frozen areas in your life and ministry? Ask some tough question and start a thaw. As the song says, “Greater things are yet to come.”

For more articles like this, check out ReFocus Ministry or “like” us on Facebook.