The Sin of Neglect: Discipleship and the Next Generation

Sometimes, as I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed, a post will jump out at me and I will go back for a second look. That happened yesterday.

Yesterday, a senior pastor I know posted the following in Facebook discussion.

John Wesley on the pastor’s responsibility to minister to children, “Talk with them… pray in earnest for them, diligently instruct and vehemently exhort all parents…. Some will say, ‘I have no gift for this.’ Gift or no gift, you are to do this, or else you are not to be called a Methodist preacher” (On Instructing Children, Minutes of Several Conversations)

Hold up!  I gotta see more. Let’s read through the conversation that follows.

Response: And I remember reading somewhere that the average church spends 2% of its budget on reaching kids.

Reply: This neglect is a systematic sin in the general church.

 Response: I would add that church needs to be done in a way that lets children know they belong there. I never mind the noise as it means life and growth and sometimes the only response to my questions.

I must remind you, this discussion was not a discussion between children’s pastors or youth ministers. The very real impact of not effectively ministering to the next generation in ways that tell them they belong, that they are a part of the community of faith, of segmenting our churches into aged blocks that don’t interact and where the lead pastor delegates all the work with children and youth to others who are “gifted” was being felt at a different level.

This is a big deal to me. Why? Not because senior pastors or lead pastors are somehow more gifted or more called or more important than other members of the church. That would be a terrible overstatement and frankly, one that many churches and pastors do struggle with.  But let’s engage in some honest reflection for a moment (and please indulge some generalities and stereotyping: don’t immediately rush to defend your church or critique these statement; hear the sentiment behind the words).

Who has the most influence on a church/congregation? Hint: It’s not the children’s minister. It’s not the youth pastor.

Who (typically) gets paid the most for their work in the church? Again, same hint applies.

Whose voice carries the most weight, is often required to sit on the most committees and is needed to make most of the vision and mission decisions of a congregation? You guessed it.

The senior pastor.

Now we could sit here and debate the rightness or wrongness of these statements. Personally, I find those things to be most troubling and hope that churches are getting to a place where instead of being a pastor-driven church, they become mission-driven and each member of the body serves according to his/her gifts. But that’s a topic for another space and probably a different blog.

pedro-lima-IkqhfoJjwSI-unsplash

Photo by Pedro Lima on Unsplash

The reason I have chosen to bring attention to this Facebook post on this blog is because… the poster was right.  His description that “this neglect is a systemic sin in the general church” is spot on. We, the body of Christ, are called to make disciples.

In our churches, we are gifted with multiple generations, all at different paths on the journey, all in different life circumstances, all with so much to give to one another, all called to disciple…and, in many cases, they don’t even know each other’s names let alone speak to one another outside the church walls.

How can we answer the call to go and make disciples if we can’t even stay and make disciples?

I was so glad to see this Facebook discussion because I am convinced that it is time.

It is time for churches in America to recognize that doing the same thing we’ve been doing for the next 20 years will simply yield the same results of neglect and loss.

It is time to recognize the structural and personal constructs that keep us from engaging with one another, across generations, in meaningful ways that lead to relationships and discipleship.

If your church building has entirely separate wings for separate ages, it is time to figure out how to literally break down the walls.

If your curriculum is targeted at only one age group so that your Sunday school classes or Wednesday night groups are limited in who can attend, it’s time to get creative and figure out how to include more generations in these conversations.

If your church board or leadership team or welcome committee or worship team or outreach group doesn’t have a chair for a member or two of the next generation (yes, youth group kids) to have a voice and be a part of the mission, it is time to recognize the mission and vision will end with the generations that do.

Open the doors. Have the conversations. Listen to one another.

Hear the babies cry and the toddlers play and the children laugh and the teens whisper and the young adults converse and the new mamas sigh and the old mamas advise and the new husbands wonder and old husbands share and the elders remember. Listen to the life of the church.

Don’t be afraid of each other and of change. Let’s be the generation that says “No!” to the systemic sin of neglect and “Yes!” to the call to make disciples right in our own pews.

And senior pastors, do not neglect the children and the youth. They need you too. As Wesley said, “Gift or no gift, you are to do this!”  If our churches are going to change direction, they are going to need you to embrace this reality.

If I am passionate, it is only because I truly believe it is time. We cannot keep wasting our time arguing about whether we want to do this or debating that we like things this way or that. It is time to get serious about being the body of Christ, to one another and to the world, without limits places on age or generation.


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

IMG-0573Refocus 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 holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

Kids & Church: The Total Package

ballet-2789416_1920When our oldest daughter was preschool age, she was obsessed with The Nutcracker Suite. Well, let’s be honest, it was the Barbie version, but she loved it. She would dress up like a princess and dance around the house pretending that she was the star of the show. When the Nutcracker came to town for holidays, my husband asked her to go with him. They dressed in their finest; she even got put her hair in an up-do, and off they went.

It was a long show. There were many in attendance, almost all older than her. While she loved being with her dad and seeing the show, she was also a preschooler so she wiggled and squirmed and squealed and giggled. She had to go to the bathroom. She got hungry and wanted snacks.

But when she got home, she beamed.

I asked her to tell me about it and all she could remember was the scene with The Rat King (Oooo…scary!).

I asked Luke to tell me about it and much of what he could remember was her wiggliness. But then I asked if people seemed bothered by her and he said, “No. Actually I had a few people compliment me on bringing her to the ballet.”

I posted an adorable picture of their date on Facebook and many similar comments were posted, things like, “So good that you are giving her this experience at such a young age” and “This is exactly what kids should be experiencing.”

Surprisingly not one person commented, “Hmm, seems like a waste of money to me. I mean, did she even understand anything?” Nobody criticized us for forcing her to sit through a long performance filled with imagery and dialogue she couldn’t follow. No one complained about her fidgeting or her outbursts. And nobody questioned whether this was beneficial for her.

Because everyone recognized, it wasn’t about her understanding the “story” of The Nutcracker Suite or her watching the ballet with a critical eye or even her sitting still through the performance.

It was about giving her an experience, a total package, filled with sights and sounds and smells and stories that could be felt and experienced even if they couldn’t be understood or comprehended.

One Sunday, a mom shared with me that the reason her kids didn’t join us in Kids Church is because every now and then she wants to them to get to experience the traditional service at church, to hear the liturgy, to listen to the hymns, to be a part of a service that replicates the services that she grew up in and that have been part of their family’s tradition.kidsinchurch

You see, for this mom, it’s not about her children understanding each word of the sermon or comprehending the history of the liturgy or the meaning of the hymns. It about the total package; the experience of being in church, surrounded by the things that have been formational for generations and by the people who make up the body of Christ.

These children get to be seen, they get to see, and they get to experience church. 

The church experience is much bigger than a sermon.

Big or little, child or adult, the sermon is only part of the whole experience. Not understanding the sermon in no way negates the rest of the experience. Seeing the people. Singing the songs. Giving our tithes and God’s offerings. Praying, at your seat or at the altar or in small groups or corporately as a whole church. Reading Scripture. Reciting psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Smelling the incense. Tasting the communion elements. Serving. Celebrating. Fellowshipping. Communing with God and with each other.

It’s a total package.

And much of what is included in that package is not comprehended through the mind, but through the heart. It’s not things that require a certain level of development but things that are experienced through the senses and understood through emotions. A sense of belonging, a place in community, an important part of a body. All of that can be experienced, regardless of age.

As adults, we recognize that there is more to the church service than just the sermon. The same holds true for children too. Giving them the opportunity to experience the total package is a gift; whether they understand parts of it or not.

A version of this article first appeared on this blog here


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

IMG-0573Refocus 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 holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

No Time to Make Disciples

Last week, this blog focused on the importance of the faith community joining parents and caregivers in the work of intentional discipleship. That stirred up a pretty robust conversation with a few people and one thing that was brought up is something parents and caregivers ask me a lot: “How?” Usually, the question also includes an explanation something like this:

We are so busy (tired, full schedule) that we are barely home (awake, together) and when we are, we just want to rest (relax, watch TV) not try to have church (do a family devotion, have a faith talk).

The conclusion usually sounds something like, “I know that’s not right but I just don’t even know where to start.”

watch-1245791_1920I feel that, I truly do. Our family like many of yours also lives a busy life. Currently, all of us, from the youngest to the oldest are students, in five different schools, doing activities ranging from musical to yearbook and three of us are gainfully employed to boot. Our calendar is a veritable rainbow of appointments, events, and practices.

And the thought of having to add something else to it, especially something as intentional as a family devotional time or a faith talk, can feel absolutely overwhelming. 

It’s at this point though that it is tempting to say, “Forget it. The kids will just have to get the Jesus stuff at church.” And that kind of thinking leads to a relinquishing of our unique responsibility to raise our children in the faith as well as a willingness to overlook the very real fact that parents and caregivers, not ministers, have the greatest influence on their child’s faith whether they are intentional about it or not.

May I offer a different perspective; another way of thinking?

Could it be that when the charge to “impress these things upon your children” was given in Deuteronomy 4, it wasn’t a just call to family devotions?  That perhaps what God had in mind was a bit more involved than that?

What if instead of adding another thing to our calendar, we sought for ways to intentionally invite Christ into what we are already doing?

What if instead of saying, “There’s no time to do more” we started saying “We are going to let God do more with our time.”

In that famous Deuteronomy passage, there are four discipleship moments mentioned: Getting up in the morning, going to bed at night, sitting down at home, and leaving the home (along the road). Throughout the world, these things happen every. single. day. We all wake up, we all sleep, we all sit, we all go.

I find it so interesting that these are the times that God said, “Talk to your kids about Me.”

The most ordinary, normative moments of the day become extraordinary moments to disciple our kids in the faith.

So, back to that original question of “How?”

By simply inviting Christ into your calendar, into each moment, into each activity. It starts with just one comment, one reflection, one pause to turn our focus from the temporal to the eternal.

At a workshop I once did for family ministers, I had people write down some everyday activities they do during these four moments. For instance, what do they do each morning when they wake up? Then I asked them, “Now consider, how can you invite Jesus into those moments?”  A lady piped up, “I don’t think Jesus can join me while I brush my teeth?”  I challenged her to get creative and see if there was anything she could think of to invite Christ into that most ordinary moment.

A few months later, I bumped into her and she said, “Oh, I just have have to tell you. I took you up on your challenge. I had the idea to start writing Bible verses and encouraging notes to my family and using post-its to hang them on the mirror in the bathroom. Now every day when they brush their teeth, they are reading God’s word to them for the day. We all do it now. It’s become a ‘thing’ in our house. Thanks for pushing me to think about how to invite Christ in.”

Wow. Brushing teeth as discipleship. If there could be a more mundane, non-spiritual activity on the planet, I can’t think of what it would be. And yet, when Christ is invited into that space, it becomes extraordinary. 

What about us? Where in our daily lives can we invite Christ in?  Could we talk about a verse as we drive to soccer practice?  Could our dinner conversation open doors to discuss how God loves us and lives through us?  Could movie night be a chance to impress God’s commands upon their hearts?  Could God meet us as we tuck our kids into bed each night?

Discipleship at home isn’t about doing more; it’s about inviting Christ into what you are already doing.

It’s about impressing the heart of God into our children’s hearts in the everyday moments so that being a Christian isn’t about going to church or managing sin or even reading the Bible but rather about living each moment with hearts turned to God and lives reflecting His love. It’s about creating disciples.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time” Eph. 5:15, 16a (ESV)


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

IMG-0573Refocus 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 holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

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

Who Should Disciple Children?

Among Children, Family and NextGen pastors and directors, this question often gets tossed around; Who should disciple children?

The question stems from books written over the past two decades which point out that in Scripture, parents are called to disciple their children, to raise them up in the faith and teach them about Christ. This is often shared in contrast to the idea of taking children to church for Sunday school and Wednesday nights and letting the volunteers and ministers there do the work of discipleship, rather like sending our children to school to let the experts and professionals teach them.

Most of the time, there are a few common answers that get shared.

  • First, that it is the parent’s responsibility and the church is there to support them.
  • Second, that it is a shared responsibility where both the church and the parents partner together.
  • Third, that is is the parent’s responsibility but so many parents don’t know how to disciple their kids that it becomes the church’s responsibility.
  • Fourth, that it is the church’s responsibility based on the Great Commission and parents, as part of the church, participate in the work of discipleship.

These are all valid points and I appreciate the hearty discussion that takes place around this topic; however, there are a few significant facts that tend to get left out of the discussion, facts that carry a lot of weight and are important for both the church and the home to consider as we continue the conversations.

Who are the Parents?

ST_2015-12-17_parenting-11

In 2015, Pew Research surveyed 1,807 US parents with children younger than 18, representing a wide swath of social, economic, racial, and religious demographics. Among other things, the study found that “today, fully 62% of children live with two married parents – an all-time low. Some 15% are living with parents in a remarriage and 7% are living with parents who are cohabiting. Conversely, the share of children living with one parent stands at 26%, up from 22% in 2000 and just 9% in 1960.”

ImplicationsMany children are not going home to the same set of biological parents each night and spending their time in the same home. Many bounce back and forth between two homes, with two different sets of parents and step-parents, siblings and step-siblings, and rules and expectations; others live with just one parent while others live with grandparents or other relatives or caregivers. When we say “the parents” should disciple their children, to whom are we actually referring?

In order to address this reality, many ministries now talk about the importance of discipleship in the “home” or discuss the influence that the “home” has on the faith formation of children. As we consider equipping the home as the place of discipleship, it becomes increasingly important for us to consider who is filling that parental role within the home.

For more on this topic, check out these articles and the full Pew Research report.

What do we mean by “Who Should”?

One key fact that gets left out of many of the “who should” conversations is that, whether they should or not, parents ARE the ones who “disciple” their kids. Studies show parents have the greatest impact on their children and their children’s faith, far above any church or ministerial context or person (Source). By default, parents are discipling their children.

My guess is what we are actually talking about in the “who should” conversations is intentional discipleship where parents are doing discipleship on purpose rather than incidentally. In other words, are parents engaged in the work of discipleship with intention or are they just accidentally influencing their kids’ faith in both positive and negative ways?

Implication:  This is an important consideration because it impacts how we address parents and caregivers in terms of equipping and supporting their work of faith formation in the home. Rather than telling them they “should” disciple their children or that it is their job to do so, we begin the conversation by letting them know that they are, in fact, discipling their children all the time and that we, as the church, want to come along side them and journey with them as they do so. This approach immediately changes the conversation from a directive to a cooperative action.

For more on this topic, check out these articles and another Pew Research report.

Who is “The Church”?

churchpeople

One of the major criticisms of the church in many of the books regarding family ministry is that a culture of “professional discipleship” has been created where caregivers think that they can leave the faith formation of their children to Sunday school teachers and children’s pastors rather than engaging with faith in the home.

But, what do we mean when we say “the church?”  If we are merely referring to the few volunteers and paid ministry staff that interact with children or the programs, curriculum or activities that our children participate in, we are missing out on a huge portion of the church…namely, the people. 

Often the verses found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 are quoted as a mandate for parental discipleship in the home. It’s important to note that the charge to talk about these commandments, to impress them on the children, to disciple the next generation in faith what given to the entire gathered assembly and never once were parents singled out and told that discipleship was their sole responsibility. On the contrary, the command was clearly given in the presence of everyone (Hear, O Israel) and deemed by God through Moses as applicable to the whole assembly. So much so, it is repeated, nearly word for word in Deuteronomy 11:18-20 again in an address to the whole congregation.

Implications: This is a command to disciple is given to all members of the community of faith, to all of our children, not just those who live in our homes.  When viewed in this light, some of common excuses for not serving and ministering to children in the church fall short. We can’t say, “I gave my time serving with in Sunday School and youth group when my kids were young. It’s their turn now.” We can’t say, “Well, they aren’t my kids. It’s not up to me to talk to them about God.” We can’t say, “It’s not my responsibility.” I mean, we can say those things, but we miss out on our call of discipleship within the community of faith.

For more on this topic, check out these articles.

So What is the Answer?

The answer to the “Who Should?” question posed above is not an Either/Or; it’s a Both/And.  The church as a body (think people, community, not institution or program) should provide networks of support and mentoring that disciple children and uphold parents and parents should be intentional about their influence at home and consider how their own actions as Christians are impacting their children. In doing so, we provide the next generation with best road towards lifelong faith and a personal relationship with Jesus, which is our ultimate goal as members of Christ’s body.


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

IMG-0573Refocus 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 holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

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

The Healing Gift of Hospitality

When I was a young child, I remember hearing people talk about how we wanted to “offer hospitality” to others and I was so confused why we would offer to take people to the hospital. And what did that have to do with me cleaning the house and setting the table for dinner?

If your home is anything like mine, December becomes a perfect time to practice hospitality and believe it or not, my childish question wasn’t as far off base as you might think. I did a little digging and found the word “hospitality” comes from the Latin word hospes, meaning “host”, “guest”, or “stranger.”

And you guessed it, the Latin word ‘Hospital’ means a guest-chamber, guest’s lodging, an inn.  In other words, when we invite people to come and stay in our home, we are actually filling the role of hospital.

christmas-791142_1920Today, we understand a hospital to be a place where people go to stay for medical care, not for leisure. But in the past, offering someone hospitality was often a matter of survival and protection. It was much more than simply good etiquette and entertainment; it was often a place where people found safety and shelter with others.

It was a hospital where a different kind of healing took place.

In the story of the walk to Emmaus, we find this kind of hospitality. The two disciples were walking together and talking and they were joined by a stranger. Not only was he invited into their conversation, he was invited into their home. That’s the first kind of hospitality, one of shelter and safety.

But once in the home, the stranger became the host of a different kind of hospitality, that of spiritual healing and holy communion. The stranger was Jesus and as he “broke the bread” and they recognized him a few things happened.

First, they saw God, which in and of itself is pretty amazing.

Second, they believed God. They believed in the resurrection that the women from the tomb had proclaimed.

Third, their souls were revived. So much so that they ran all the way back to Jerusalem, leaping and overflowing with joy.

And finally, they told others. This is the kind of hospitality that knows others are welcome too, and so it is proclaimed to others as a place of spiritual safety and healing.

As we get ready to gather with friends and families and even neighbors and strangers this holiday season, let’s flip the script on hospitality as we’ve known it, the hospitality focused on etiquette and entertainment, and ask the Lord how we can offer a hospitality of safety and security and of spiritual healing and holy communion to those we get the chance to be with, dine with, and worship with over the next few weeks.

Here are some ideas on how we can do just that with our children and our faith community.

Pray for Others – That sounds so cliché right? But praying for others has been shown to create a deeper empathy in us for the people around us and what better way to show hospitality than to be a safe place for people to come and know they are loved and prayed for.

And do it aloud with your children; model for them what it is to talk to God on behalf of others and to listen when He leads us to serve them in some way.

Attend Advent/Christmas Events – It’s hard to offer hospitality to others if we are never around others. Even if all you do is interact with one other person and pray for them as you do, you’ve engaged with a means of grace given to us by God and therefore placed yourself in His presence and He has promised to meet us there.

Plus, Jesus promised us that wherever two or three are gathered in His name is present with us; find some time to be with Christ present in His people these next few weeks.

Be a Safe Space – We all have hard days and for many, the holidays are some of the hardest. If someone you know has had one and they share with you, hold their confidence and join them in prayer. Be a safe place for others to find encouragement and grace just as Jesus was for those disciples on the road.

Be that place of healing and communion for your children, your family, your church, and those who don’t even know Jesus yet. Just as Christ always beckons us to come, be a place of welcome and rest for those you interact with.

Christmas is a time where we remember that we were shown the greatest hospitality of all. God Incarnate came to us. He made a way for us to spend eternity with Him. I like to think of it this way:  He put out the welcome mat, opened the door, and invited us in.  May you find time to walk in and enjoy his hospitality this season.

Merry Christmas, friends!

May your celebrations be rich with His Hope, Peace, Joy and Love and may you find moments of rest and renewal in His promise of being “God with us!”


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

IMG-0573Refocus 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 holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

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

Church, Children, and Interruptions

The other day, my husband and I had the opportunity to go to a beautiful Advent performance with a full choir, orchestra and children’s choir. It was a wonderful night, but I have to admit, there was one thing that started to irritate me during the evening.  In the row behind us were a couple of young children and, you guessed it, they had a difficult time during the performance.  More than once I was bumped in the head as there was a great deal of talking and shushing, movement in and out of the aisle and the like.

I found my reaction interesting, considering how much I advocate for children to be a part of corporate worship and attend “big church” with adults at some point in time. How could I blog about that and then get irritated when a child bothered me at a performance?

And then it hit me… no, not the child’s toy, though that did happen. What hit me was this thought; the reason I was agitated was because this was a performance meant to be listened to and involving me only in a few moments of singing and a candle-lighting portion at the end. It was a place of passive engagement where I was expected to sit, to listen, to observe and to soak up the entire experience.  I was there as a consumer and the product was a beautiful, inspiring musical performance. 

My agitation existed because a child was interrupting that performance.

Church, on the other hand, is not supposed to be a performance.

be-quiet-in-churchAfter all, who would we be performing for?  One another? The live stream video viewers? God? No, church is supposed to be a time where we gather to worship together, to speak life to each other, to pray for one another, and to come together in our shared faith and be the body of Christ together.

And yes, we may follow a liturgy or listen to a sermon or sing songs…but it’s not supposed to be a performance. It’s not supposed to be a place of passive engagement that only includes us for a few moments of singing and an occasional candle-lighting. Church isn’t something to be consumed; it is something to be!

The earliest churches met in homes and gathered at tables for communion and love feasts.  A crying babe?  A restless child? These weren’t interruptions; they were merely part of life.

So why does it bother us so much when our Sunday services get intruded on by the sounds of young children?

My guess is that even if we don’t intend for church to be a performance, it can so often become just that.

The bulletin becomes our script, the liturgy becomes our lines, and the stage becomes…well, our stage.

The pulpit becomes the spotlight and the clock becomes our timekeeper.

And somewhere in the midst of it all, we feel like we can’t interrupt the program or let it be interrupted because this is our chance, our one chance, during the week to get what we need for the upcoming days.

Is this an exaggeration? Maybe.  But maybe there is some truth in it. If our church services are so polished and our expectations of passively receiving are so high that the cry of a child or the rustling of a toddler are enough to steal our joy, maybe we are a little too oriented towards a performance mentality than a worship mentality.

Maybe the most worshipful thing we can do is embrace that child, ask their parents if they need anything, learn their name, say their name, and excitedly seek them out the next week so that they know they are welcome, giggles, wiggles and all.

I always feel like I have to caveat posts like this one with a simple statement that I am a fan of both/and; I believe there are important reasons to have both age-sensitive ministry and intergenerational ministry.  But I also think there are a lot of reasons why it is hard for us to include those younger generations in our corporate worship settings and one of those might just be our tendency to lean towards performance instead of worship.

In a previous post about talking in church (yes, I advocate for parents quietly explaining the church service to their kids in church), this statement appears:

“When we put such a high premium on non-disturbance in our modern-day church services, it comes with a cost…and in my opinion, that cost is relationship, discipleship, and compassion. I’d much rather see a brief conversation happen during the service that leads to engagement and discipleship than the rigid silence that leads to disengagement, boredom and resistance to God’s Word simply so one can escape the judgment and criticism of others.” 

Similarly, I would much rather see a child in church, playing with an activity bag, coloring on the bulletin, chomping Cheerios like there is no tomorrow, than to never see children and youth in the sanctuary walls.

Are there ways for us to make the space more welcoming to children and youth? Yes, of course (check out these ideas)…but if we always follow the same script, it will be hard to do those things. A shift in our mindset and our expectations is necessary for us to embrace what each generation has to bring us as we gather to worship 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

IMG-0573Refocus 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 holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

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

“But, What if….?” The Fears that Keep Us from Worshiping Together

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to be a part of many conversations about intergenerational worship and generational discipleship.  Most conversations inevitably end up in a series of questions that usually start with “What if…”

For example, if we talk about including children in the corporate worship time the “What if’s” include…

  • What if the kids talk or “whisper loudly”?
  • What if they cry or whine or whimper or wail?
  • What if they are bored?
  • What if they wiggle, squirm, move around, have to pee, get up and walk around?
  • What if they are distracting to the adults, to their parents, to the older generation?

Or if we talk about holding an event that is open to all generations, the “What if’s” are more like this:

  • What if the generations don’t talk to each other or can’t relate to each other?
  • What if the time, place, topic, etc. doesn’t work for this group or that group?

And if we talk about including the children and youth in serving within the church community, the “What if’s” are more along the lines of…

  • What if they don’t show up or work hard?
  • What if they are irresponsible or do things incorrectly?
  • What if there are not enough adults to volunteer to supervise them so they just get in the way?
  • What if someone gets upset because they want it done a certain way or they think it’s their role in the church?

So, okay, let’s talk about it.

What if all the “What if’s” happened?  

Would it wreck the church? Would there be irreversible damage?  Would there be no recourse but to just say, “It’s over. Throw in the towel. Intergenerational ministry just doesn’t work?”

Are the risks really so great that if all of the greatest fears happened, if all of the “What if’s” came true, it’d be too much to even try?

IMG-2009Even if we know, because of research and studies, both secular and religious, that the results of intergenerational ministry and relationships include things like reduced “dropout” of young people once they graduate of high schoolincreased spiritual growth for the entire churcha mature faith in young adultsa sense of belonging and meaning for children, and a stronger community of faith across the board.

What if ALL the “What if’s” happened BUT so did all the other things?

Young people remained in the faith and in the church after they graduate high school as opposed to the current trend of rapid decline in both.

The entire church experienced overall spiritual growth and vibrancy in the congregational community was heightened (or as the researchers at Fuller Youth Institute put it, “Warm intergenerational relationships grow everyone young.”)

College students had a mature and well-developed faith that was able to carry them through their college years and into healthy marriages and parenting roles.

Children recognized themselves as part of the larger faith community, not separate or somehow lesser than, but genuinely a needed and necessary piece of the church as a whole.

The church grew stronger together, sharing not only a building during a certain period of time each week, but worship and relationship and creativity and fellowship that even carried over to life outside the walls.

Would it be worth it then… to hear some cries, to watch some wigglers, to have to hear music we didn’t necessarily like or see something done differently than it was before? Would it be worth some distraction, an interruption, some inconvenience or some sacrifice?

What if all the “What if’s” happened…and we decided beforehand that it was okay because it was, most certainly, worth it.

Because, my experience has been, and other attest, that all of these “What if’s” don’t usually happen and certainly don’t usually happen all at once. And there are ways to help make sure that if they do, there are tools and structures and support in place to ensure that they don’t cause irreparable damage.

And in the end, is really a risk… or just a stretch?  

Just a willingness to be a little uncomfortable in order to grow, to learn, to experience something that may seem new to us, but is actually the way things were for centuries; the way our faith was passed to us – from one generation to another (Ps. 145:4).

What if…


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Intergenerational Worship is NOT…

It seems like whenever the topic of intergenerational or multigenerational worship gets brought up, a lot of concerns and assumptions start being expressed. Recently, someone directed some comments towards me that included many of those assumptions such as, “Intergenerational worship doesn’t meet the developmental needs of children and/or adults” and “Kids need to have their own space” and “We can’t dumb down the service just so kids can be there.”

Each of these concerns is fraught with a backdrop of suppositions and presumptions about what it could mean to have all ages gather for a time of corporate worship. And rather than address each of these individually, I thought I’d share some thoughts regarding what intergenerational worship is not and what intergenerational worship is.

Intergenerational Worship is NOT…

Putting kids in the sanctuary

If the goal was just to put children and youth in the sanctuary, then creating a new service geared to them and separate from the rest of the body would make sense. But that’s exactly the opposite of what intergenerational worship is. The whole point is to create space for all generations, old and young and in-between, to worship together.

Creating a new service or maintaining an existing service that targets one specific generation can’t accomplish this goal. It’s not just about putting seats in the seats; it’s about engaging the entire body of Christ in the work of the people (liturgy) or, in other words, the corporate community worshiping God together.

Glorified Kid’s Church

Some people express the concern that if children and youth are welcomed into the service, they’d have to start doing “kids stuff” like singing songs with motions and eating goldfish during the super-short, kid-appropriate sermon.

Intergenerational worship is not old people pretending to be kids or young people trying to act old.

If that happened, it would be a total disservice to the whole point of intergenerational worship which has at its heart a desire to help kids and youth and adults and elderly be a part of the church as it is, whatever that looks like, and to experience all the parts of church that make it unique to their church tradition (such as liturgy, songs, Scripture reading, celebratory practices like baptism and communion, and all the other rhythms that make each worship service unique).

Developmentally Inappropriate

I’ve actually written entire blog posts on this topic, so I won’t go in depth here but let me just share this:  Development not just about what children can understand in terms of words and concepts; it’s about what they can learn socially, emotionally and in our case, spiritually.

Many developmental theories and constructs encourage children and adults to learn, play, and yes, worship, together. For example, Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development explains that young children need to be in close proximity to older people who have “mastered” the tasks that they are learning.  Fowler’s theory of Faith Development tells us that children will build their first ideas about their faith from the impressions of what they see and hear in church.

The truth is if we look at the broad spectrum of developmental theories including these and others not mentioned here like Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development or Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, we can find space in all of them for including all ages in contexts of intergenerational worship and ministry.

A Disruption

Often a concern raised is that children especially don’t get anything out of church and everyone will be forced to spend their whole service shushing kids. I read an incredible article in The Federalist, of all places, about this, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with parents, caregivers and other congregation members about this concern.

boypeekingoutofpewI’m not about to say that children will get the same thing out of church that adults do; that would be ridiculous. I do think it’s important to consider what kids do get out of church (for more on that, click here) but also just as important to realize that kids are kids. They will wiggle and squirm and giggle and turn, but is that really such a huge issue that we shouldn’t offer times for the whole congregation to worship together?

It didn’t seem to be an issue for Jesus when He “called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’”

A New Fad

Actually, it’s exactly the opposite.  The segregation of ages within the church is a fairly new practice in American church history. Most of the time it gets traced back to the start of ministries on college campuses on post WWII America where it became apparent that there was a need for age-specific ministry. Churches began to recognize the need to create space to address the developmental concerns of each age group. Through time that progressed into less of a “both/and” model and more of an “either/or” model. In other words, instead of times of both age-specific and intergenerational gatherings, it became one or the other with little to no opportunity or encouragement to do both.

For those who see intergenerational worship as the “newest” fad to come down the block, it is helpful to understand that for thousands of years, the church all worshiped together and only recently have we begun consistently separating the ages, which makes it very hard to learn from one another as Christ indicated that we should.

So, what is Intergenerational Worship?

Simply put, it 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 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 just be honest, age integration (putting generations together) can be difficult.

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. And there are things we can do to help make our times of corporate worship beneficial to all.(For more on this, click here)

And, one more thing real quick..

For clarification purposes, please know that I am not opposed to quality Christ-centered, community-focused Children’s Ministry and Youth Ministry, but I do have concerns when families and churches are consistently separated from each other and never having time to fellowship together.

There is great benefit to all of us when we are given the chance to learn from, worship with, and grow together with one another.

It’s in our spiritual DNA; we were built for community by our very Creator God who exists in the perfect community of the Trinity and in whose image we are created.  When Christ called the Church, he didn’t differentiate by age. He simply called to all who believed in Him to follow Him together. We need each other, every age, every level of development, every part, in order for us to truly be “the body of Christ.”


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Kids in Church: What do You Expect is Going to Happen?

A wise person once shared with my husband that “Frustration is the difference between expectation and reality.”  He went on to say, “If you are frustrated, you will need to either change your expectation or you will need to change your reality.”  As we continue to have conversations about including all generations in corporate worship, I think it might be wise for us to do consider this idea

In the past, the church has chosen to “change the reality.”  When children and youth were seen as distracting or having specialized needs that couldn’t be met in a corporate worship setting, the church changed the reality.

We removed them from the space, put them in their own spaces, and separated the generations from one another as much as possible.

To be clear, there is a lot of good that comes out of age-sensitive ministry. In fact, an approach that completely overlooks the unique needs of each age would be a bad idea. However, time has revealed to us some unintended consequences of the age segregation model adopted in the mid-20th century. And it’s not just in the church; our whole culture bought into the idea that separating generations is a good idea…but we were wrong.

family-4295385_1920Researchers have found that among the unforeseen results of age segregation are things like “negative stereotypes and people feeling isolated from each other” and “features of antisocial behavior and to socialization for competitiveness and aggressiveness.” (source).

In the church, Dr. Kara Powell shares that “A lot of kids aren’t going to both youth group and church on Sundays; they’re just going to youth group. As a result, graduates are telling us that they don’t know how to find a church. After years at the kids’ table, they know what youth group is, but they don’t know what church is.” (source).

Changing our reality doesn’t seem to have worked. In fact, it seems to have really hurt us in the long run. We are losing generations.

So what if instead of that, we changed our expectations?

We’ve grown up in an era where generations were segregated and separated from one another and we expect church to be a place that is tailored to meet our needs. We expect that we would have a certain experience at church and we expect others to have a similar one. We go to church for certain expected reasons (to worship, to hear a sermon, to grow in our faith, to get re-charged, to be with our friends). And those expectations often fail to be met when we put the generations in one room together.

If we were to change our expectations, what would that look like?  What expectations could we have instead?

Expect the church to be more than Sunday morning

When we look at the church of the New Testament, we find a group of people who are doing life together. They aren’t meeting once a week to have their needs met; they are invested in one another all week long, meeting one another’s needs throughout that time so that there’s not a one shot fix on Sunday morning.

What if our expectation was that there are times for both worship together, all generations, and discipleship apart, meeting the specific developmental needs of each generation?  What if our expectation was both/and not either/or?

Expect children to be children

There is no way a five-year-old is going to come to church to “get something” out of the sermon.  And because of that, it’s easy to say that kids don’t get anything out of church. But we are putting adult expectations on non-adults.

What if we adjusted those expectations so that children could be children?  They will “get something” out of church, but it likely won’t be the same things adults will (For more on that, click here).

Expect the church to be family

Sociologists have said “in contemporary Western societies, which are marked by widespread institutional, spatial, and cultural age segregation, only the family surviv(es) as an age-integrated institution.” (source)  But the church, as seen in Scripture, is to be like a family; one body with many parts, but one body nonetheless.

If we expect our church to be like family then we would expect to hear the littles crying, the bigs talking, the older sharing and the younger learning. We would expect to be together.

I can’t help but wonder if we shifted our expectations to ones like these, would our Sunday mornings (and Wednesday nights and Friday afternoons) begin to look and feel different to us?

Would we begin to see church as something more than a once-a-week re-charge and more of a communal way of living where we do life together?

And would our children and  youth and our seniors and elderly all know that they have a place at our family table?

And, perhaps, would we be a little less frustrated when we hear a child cry in service, laugh during a sermon, wiggle and squirm at the doxology, run up to the altar for communion or dance during the worship service?

Perhaps.  Perhaps it is time to change our expectations.


A version of this article first appeared on this blog in October 2017.

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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Welcome Them, Welcome Him: What does it mean to “welcome” a child?

What does it mean to “welcome” a child?

Then they came to Capernaum. While Jesus was in the house, He asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had been arguing with each other which of them was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all.” Then He had a little child stand among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes not only Me, but the One who sent Me.”       Mark 9:33-36

As someone who works with children, I cannot read this passage of Scripture without getting goosebumps.   Honestly, I feel as though I could write endlessly about this beautiful picture of Jesus’ ministry to all ages, but I want to focus on one word in particular: Welcome.

What is welcome?

There has been much written about this word, but I want to share an experience I once had. A friend texted me; she needed to talk. I opened my home and invited her to lunch. We had a wonderful time together, but at one point she made a comment that it “really felt like” I wanted her there. I asked what she meant and she shared, “You didn’t just open the door and let me in. You cleaned your house, turned on music, lit a candle, set the table, made and served me lunch and dessert, listened when I shared and truly welcomed me into your home.”

To her, there was a difference between me making space for her and me welcoming her.

I see that in this “Jesus story” too. I see Him take a child, and have this child stand among the people gathered in the home, and then, very intentionally, take the child in his arms. And after that very intentional moment He says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name, welcomes Me…” (If I were a Psalmist, there would be a “Selah” after that).  

Think about that! Jesus modeled for us something very important. When we talk about welcoming a child, it’s not about just making room for them to be present.

It’s not about just making space.

It’s not even about making sure that there are enough volunteers for the nursery, teachers for the Sunday school, crafts for each attendee, and activity packets for each worship service.

No, Christ’s welcome went beyond that.

It wrapped that child in His very arms.

It said, “You are not only allowed to be here, you are WANTED here!”

It said, “You are not merely present in this space, you are embraced in this space.”

welcomechildAs we consider children in the context of the church and the larger faith community, it would be wise for us to reflect on this moment. We can say, “Children are welcome here” with our words and we can have all the right things in place. We can open the door and say, “Come on in!” But if we don’t combine that with a culture that says “You belong here”, a message of grace and honor, our welcome may fall flat.

It has to be more than just making space for their presence. It needs to be a felt welcome, an embrace.

And what happens if we do that, and by we, I mean all of us – parents, leaders, lay people, seniors, teens, all of us? I mean, just listen to Jesus’ words!! “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes not only Me, but the One who sent Me.” We not only welcome that child, we welcome Christ himself and the Father who sent Him. We welcome God!

If your church is looking for some ways to help welcome children more fully into the midst of your congregation, here are some ideas of where to start.

1. Welcome the kids, every week, by name – This may sound redundant, but there is much to be said for a personal greeting from a friendly face and welcome to the service

2. Engage the kids in worship– Kids love to be a part of something.  Give them the opportunity to help lead worship, hand out bulletins, take up the offering, participate in communion, help with the sound/lights, read Scripture, share a testimony – anything that let’s them know they are a vital part of the congregation.

3. Reaffirm your covenant– When children are baptized or dedicated in churches, often the church will recite or affirm a covenant with them to walk with them as a community of faith.  Every now and then, let the kids hear you re-affirm that out loud and with your actions.

4. Engage the congregation– If having kids in service is new to your church, give the congregation fair warning, provide a time for them to meet the kids (put faces with names and parents with kids) and encourage a time of fellowship for all before adding the kids to the service.  Some churches start with once and month and grow from there.

5. Give kids a voice– You’d be surprised how much we can learn from children but often we still follow the “Kids should be seen and not heard” rule. Give kids an avenue to share what God is speaking to them by affirming to them that they can and do hear from God and giving them a space to share that.  A bulletin board where they can hang a picture they drew in service or a note they wrote about what they learned can create a space where the whole church can hear and affirm their hearts for God.

(List adapted from Practical Ways to Welcome Kids to Church posted here. This article first appeared at d6family.com on 4.4.17)


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author.