The Distraction During Worship

Why do we go to church?

Seems like a simple question.   One that kids like to ask a lot. I’ve heard parents and Sunday school teachers and pastors give all kinds of answers. “We are here to worship God.” “We are here to learn about God.” “We are here to learn how to be better Christians.”

In my last church, during our kids church time, we have a short liturgy we go through with the kids each week. Our worship leader would ask, “Who are you?” and the kids reply, “I am a child of God.” Then he’d say, “Who are we?” and they’d reply, “We are the body of Christ.” And to end, he’d ask, “Why are we here?”

So, why are we here?

If individually we are children of God and collectively we are the body of Christ, why do we gather on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, or any other time in the week for “church”? What is the purpose of our gathering?

If we go to Acts 2:42, we get a really cool picture of what the “first church” looked like through these four activities.

  1. Devoted to the Apostle’s Teachings – Keep in mind, there really wasn’t a “Bible” yet so when the early church gathered, what they heard shared was the teachings from the disciples; stories from when they walked with Christ and words of encouragement and teaching from the apostles themselves.
  1. To fellowship – Yes, they used that word back then too!! In this case, it is more literally referring to “community” or “joint participation” not so much coffee hour, donuts and time with friends.
  1. To the breaking of bread – It is generally believed that the breaking of bread here refers to communion, which interestingly is the same word as the one used for fellowship above. It’s the idea of the body of Christ being one, participating in one holy communion and united by one Holy Spirit.
  1. To prayer – The people of the early church gathered to talk to God and listen to God together. That was part of what “church” looked like for them as they came together as the body of Christ.
Lots of similarities to today.
But then, a lot of differences too.

For instance, there is a strong emphasis on “together.” Community, communion, fellowship – no matter how you break down these words, it was about the whole body of Christ in “joint participation” together. It wasn’t about a person coming and being fed or another person coming and have a great experience in worship. There’s no emphasis on the individual at all. The emphasis is the body of Christ.

Sometimes though, when it comes to church that does not seem to be the emphasis. Often we hear a lot about individual preferences, personal needs, and unique desires expressed regarding reasons for attending church. We can often hear a lot of these sentiments expressed specifically when we talk about including children in times of corporate worship.   Because kids will distract from those things.

be-quiet-in-church

To be clear; children are not a distraction.

They might be distracting. No wait, they are distracting.

But they are not distraction.

They are members of the body of Christ. They are part of the community of faith.

And they are the only group of people Jesus specifically instructed us to welcome.

As I’ve watched kids in church, I’ve seen two things.

I have seen children lead the call to worship, lead the congregation in song, kneel and pray at the altar, and affirm their faith with the whole church.

I’ve also seen them drawing pictures on random bulletin inserts, turning around to see what others were doing, fidgeting and squirming, and, well, being distracting.

The tradeoff seems worth it to me.

They are members of Christ’s body. The body of Christ is built up by them. If church is about WE and not “me”, then most certainly, there must be times when WE are all together.

Kids don’t come expecting to get anything but they come ready to give. Every chance they have to actively participate, they will. Not reluctantly or under coercion; if they have are given a chance to be involved, they excitedly do just that.

What if we give them more chances?

If not for them, then most certainly for us. Because without them, our fellowship is incomplete. Our body is not whole. We may be distracted from what church is really all about – communion, joint participation, togetherness, being the body of Christ.

Does that mean we will need to seek other times to grow personally without that distraction? Yes, it does. It also means as a community we should seek to provide those times for one another. Because that is also what church is. It’s both/and, not either/or. It’s all of us together seeking for the good of the other. So..

Who am I? I am a child of God.

Who are we? We are the body of Christ

Why are we here? We are here to know more of God and His covenant of love to US.

All of 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

family

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

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What Intergenerational Worship IS

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

So what IS intergenerational worship?

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


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

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

It can feel more like a collision than a collusion. 

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

Community

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

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

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

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

Communication

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

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

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

Consistencey

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

Intergenerational Worship is NOT…

A children’s pastor recently spoke to the larger church community about the important role they play in influencing young people to remain in the church as they grow.

She explained that research has shown that having the opportunity to worship with those of different generations than their own actually helps them to feel more a part of their faith community and build relationships outside of their own peer group. And she shared that at some point in the future the children and youth would be invited to be part of the larger corporate worship experience of the whole church rather than always being separated at that time.

She was met with mixed reactions.

But one person in particular was concerned enough about this turn of events that he/she wrote the children’s pastor a letter. In it he/she expressed that “90% of the church” was happy with the way things were now and if she wanted to have the children and youth worship in the sanctuary, maybe she could start a service on Friday or Saturday night for them to go to that was more the style that they would like. And maybe if she did that “some other adults” would go to and, ba-da-bing.. the problem would be solved.

Actually.. therein lies the problem.

What the children’s pastor said and what this member of the congregation heard were two very different things.

Lenses of tradition, personal preference, and familiarity often cloud the conversation when we talk about any kind of change at church, but especially when we talk about bringing together generations for times of worship in a corporate worship setting.   It may be helpful that begin by explaining what this time of worship is NOT so that it can set the stage for what it is intended to be.

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.

Glorified Kid’s Church

boy-1929539_1920Some 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).

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.

I’m not about to argue 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 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.

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.

So how can we do that?  The follow-up article is coming soon. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on the ideas expressed in this one. What are your concerns, ideas, frustrations, and encouragement?  And what ways have you found to connect generations creatively without neglecting the needs of anyone?


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

A Distinctly Different Welcome

This past Thursday, I had the chance to sit with some members of our church plant leadership team and discuss some upcoming events.  Our church plant is in its very beginning stages, so things like “kids ministry” and “family ministry” don’t really exist in more traditional formats.  But here’s what does exist; a culture of welcome for all ages. 

How do I know that?  Because when we were planning these events and the topic of children was brought up, we didn’t shy away from the topic or try to figure out how to work around it. We wrestled through the developmental realities of having children in the service and worked together to come up with ideas that would allow the children to remain with their parents if so desired.

I used the word “wrestled” on purpose because I think it is important to acknowledge that this isn’t a topic that easily approached. There are real concerns and issues when we talk about making space for all ages in a worship service.  And different churches reach different conclusions based on their families and their needs. If you read my blog, you know that I prefer a “Both/And” approach where children are able to be in worship and relationship with adults AND receive time where they get some age-appropriate teaching and time with peers.

But I digress, because what I really wanted to point out was this:

Regardless of the decision we arrived at, the approach was one of intentional welcome. It wasn’t an afterthought, it was a forethought. And the thought wasn’t, “How do we deal with them?” it was “How do we welcome them?”

And I think that is ultimately the underlying culture that must be in place if we are to have any kind of effective ministry to children, youth, and families, no matter what it “looks” like at a given church. Actually, I think how we welcome children and youth directly effects the overall health of the church and the experience of the Lord’s presence in our midst.

Jesus tells us in Mark 9:37, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Think about that. Whoever welcomes a child, welcomes Christ, but not only Christ, but the one who sent him (the Father).

Our welcome of children into our midst ushers in the very presence of God. That’s pretty fundamental to the idea of church.

church-2564560_1920A culture of welcome speaks volumes, not just to the children who are being welcomed, but to the parents who bring them and to the community around them. In a world that is increasingly segregated by age, each generation being “sent” to its appropriate place, the church is different – it requires no separation; rather integration and relationships are modeled for us through Scripture and commended by our Savior.

It is distinctly different from what is happening in the world today and as such, it requires some intentional wrestling on our part.

Overcommunicate the welcome. Make it so apparent that there is no question.

Through words. Through visible things such as coloring tables and busy bags. Through relationships that span generations. Through grace extended to one another when generations collide. Through wrestling with the constraints and fighting for a culture of welcome. Through love.

Realistically, there are no easy answers to creating space for intergenerational worship and a culture of welcome for all ages. But there are answers worth fighting for, worth wrestling with. And whatever answers we find, may we always remember that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (the little children)” and strive to embrace the children God brings into our faith communities.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

Singing Songs isn’t Worship

Recently, a discussion on a popular Kidmin Facebook group grabbed my attention. The original poster shared her frustrations that Sunday worship time with the kids was a struggle. The kids just weren’t interested in joining the singing, despite her use of fun videos and songs with actions. Despite her many efforts at teaching and motivating kids to participate, they were more apt to play with their fidget spinners then to join in.

The commentary to follow listed everything from suggestions on other songs to use to the evils of fidget spinners (seriously, I could write a whole blog about this and how we major on the minors and minor on the majors, but just read this post about bottle flipping and you’ll get the gist). But I was disheartened as I read through the many suggestions and thoughts about worship to find that only one was able to separate the idea of worship from the action of singing.  In fact, it seemed like the only way that most fellow ministers could have a conversation about worship was to talk about it in the context of song.

If worship were simply singing songs, much of the New Testament wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. For example…

Romans 12:1 (NIV) Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.

Hebrews 13:15 (NIV) Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

Continual singing?  That doesn’t make sense. And how can we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice merely through song?  There’s got to be more to the equation.

And as adults, we know that and we understand that. We know that singing is a part of worship (and honestly, it’s only a small part of worship). We should understand that worship is a much bigger thing. It encompasses so much more than just singing a few songs on a Sunday morning.

But is that what we teach our children when we talk about worship?

My husband, a pastor and church planter, recently wrote an article about worship in which he states,

Worship, for us, is a way of life. It is following Jesus into the everyday activities of raising families, working jobs, interacting with neighbors. Simply put, worship is Kingdom building. It’s the intentional act of inviting Heaven to earth; it’s making the ordinary sacred.

Or, as I have often told my kids as I’ve helped them explore worship, “Worship is putting the attention on God and not on us.”

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With that in mind, if faced with a group of kids unenthusiastic about singing or dancing to music or doing actions to songs…maybe expanding the definition of what a worship service is could help them engage in true worship.
If we can help our kids understand that worship is a life lived, words spoken, and hearts focused on giving attention to God, suddenly worship becomes far more than a song or two on Sunday morning. And if a life of worship becomes realized, singing those songs will come from heart that is already overflowing with worship, not just mouthing words or imitating actions.

Some worship ideas that might be used instead of songs.

  1. Art – A lot of kids find art a perfect way to express their feelings. What if each child were offered the chance to draw or paint or sculpt Scripture? That could be a really cool worship service!
  2. Thanksgiving – Giving thanks is one of the ways that the Bible says we worship God. Maybe a chalkboard wall for the kids to write their thanks on or a bunch of post-it notes to fill up a whole wall in the room?
  3. Acts of service – These are the kinds of things that I’ve seen kids get very excited about; being able to do something for others. Consider creating Blessing Bags as a group and praying over them together. Finding ways to serve in and around the church. Writing notes to homebound members or coloring pictures for those who are sick.
  4. Prayer – There are so many ways to pray. You can pray with words. You can pray in silence. You can pray with art and you can pray with action. You can pray together and you can pray apart. You can write out prayers. You can do popcorn prayer. You can connect them to the world through prayer. And prayer always brings attention to God and thus it is worship.
  5. Liturgy – A lot of time we think of liturgy as oft-repeated and dry rhetoric, but the word liturgy actually means “the work of the people.”  It’s a chance to do something communally, whether it be reading Scripture responsively, praying the Lord’s prayer together, taking communion together (so powerful with kids!), washing each other’s feet or just sharing in a spoken word together. To think that they’d be joining in word and practices that have been done by Christians for thousands of years is a very cool concept for children.

And then, what if, after doing all these things, which puts something in their hands besides a fidget spinner, a song of praise was offered up before leaving for the day or for the lesson?  Could that, would that, change the reception of that moment?  Could it maybe then truly be a time of worship, not just a time of singing?

Perhaps. Perhaps if worship truly was more than singing, not theoretically but practically, our children would want to engage more ways of expressing their love for and giving attention to God.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

Gabbie’s Church: A Lesson in Inclusion

When my friend Mary asked me if I would consider sharing her article about her experience with inclusive worship, I didn’t think twice – absolutely I would! In this guest post, Mary shares tells us her story, inviting us to catch a glimpse into how life and ministry changes when you find your child in need of more inclusive environments.

As you read, take time to consider how perhaps your church and your home could be places where all children and all families find a place to belong. Thank you, Mary, for sharing your heart with all of us!

“So what does this mean?”

That’s the only question I could muster when a team of pediatric specialists told me that my 3 year old daughter had what they were sure was something called “Sensory Processing Disorder.” At the time, a myriad of thoughts flooded my brain. I recalled all the fears, tantrums, and meltdowns that had basically controlled the flow of our family for the last 18 months. There were so many “couldn’ts” on our list of activities.

We couldn’t go to the beach because the waves and sand terrified Gabbie. What is more, people often take their dogs to the beach and Gabbie panicked when a canine of any size came into her purview.

We had to avoid public restrooms with automatic flushers and those horrible hand dryers that blow your skin off because someone thought it was wise to power them with jet engines.

Amusement parks were a nightmare because lines, heat, and crowds were so overwhelming.

But of all the “couldn’ts” the hardest one on the list was Sunday worship.

We couldn’t take Gabbie to worship with us because she had a hard time sitting still, never cared for small talk with strangers, and she desperately wanted to be on my hip as I ministered. Of course there were times when Gabbie had to stay with us during worship, and I am forever thankful for the parishioners who offered grace and understanding when this occurred. Nevertheless, I worried constantly.

Truth be told, stress had taken its toll on me, my husband, on Gabbie, and our other five children. It seemed we all had to take turns being the most adequate coper (a word I made up that essentially means: the person who can best deal), so that the rest of us could empty those feelings of frustration, sadness, anger, and fear. Sometimes it felt like the eight of us against the world as we protected Gabbie from critical words and negative body language from those who did not live within the confines of our four walls.

All of these experiences washed over me as the doctor responded, “You have an exceptional child. Gabbie is highly intelligent, perceptive, and her brain takes in an incredible amount of information at a very fast pace. She will likely need some occupational therapy to learn to cope and how to slow down her processing. This will be hard, but the result will be good and well worth the effort.”

Ever the researcher, I took the information, asked for all the handouts, and went immediately to Barnes and Noble to purchase all the books they had on Sensory Processing Disorder.

As I devoured one book after another, I read characteristics that described my child perfectly. I also read staggering statistics that showed how the rate of children with special needs has increased drastically in the last 20 years. According to one U.S. Census study, 54.5 million Americans (about 1 in 5), have some form of a disability or special need. Statistics also tell us that nearly 15% of children ages 3-17 have some sort of developmental disability.[1]

Those numbers were sobering and assuring all at once.

Gabbie wasn’t alone.

And we weren’t alone. It was nice to know that there were people out there on this journey with us—parents and families all just trying to do what was best. But then the Holy Spirit hit me in my gut and I thought, “Where are all of these children in the Church? 15% is a big number.” I thought about how many “special needs” kids I had seen in worship over my 30 years as a church goer and honestly, I counted them on one hand. So so a mom of a newly diagnosed, “special needs” child I felt a fair amount of indignation and shame upon this personal discovery. As a pastor, I was broken.

I was felt this jumbled mix of emotions because the two roles I live into as mom and minister often intersect. As I sat there with my stack of books, articles, and all the wisdom that Google offered, I wondered how I missed “it.” The “it” being the reality that my daughter has a need that cannot be reduced to a “phase” or an “idiosyncrasy” of which she would eventually outgrow.

Just as I began to sink into the perpetual pit of mother guilt, I became very aware of the presence of God and memories of things past came to mind. Specifically, I recalled a time when I was dropping Gabbie off at preschool at another United Methodist Church in our district. I was in a hurry that morning but Gabbie insisted we go through the sanctuary instead of cutting around the building. “Mommy, I have to see my church. I love my church. They love me here.” I couldn’t resist that plea but I was curious as to why Gabbie called the church that housed her preschool,  “her church.” When we entered the sanctuary I inquired and she responded enthusiastically.

“Look! There’s beautiful blue and white things! And the baby Jesus will be born and put right here!” (The sanctuary had been carefully adorned for the season of Advent). I watched my daughter show me “her church,” a place where she was free to look, touch, feel, and tell the story of Jesus without boundaries. A place where someone with an incredible gift with art and design took the time to beautify and bring the scriptures to life with color, fabric, and texture.

It didn’t make sense to me then, but when we got her diagnosis a few months later it hit me as I walked through that same sanctuary after dropping the kids off for school. I looked around and breathed in all that Eastertide had inspired the artist to create in vibrant colors, branches, and butterflies.

For the first time, I understood why this was Gabbie’s church.

This church was truly a sanctuary for her to be herself. Here, Gabbie was free to girl-354579_1920run to the feet of Jesus as described in the Gospels (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:16-17). Here, is where she could go to Jesus without being scolded for her loud and excited volume.

Here, is where she could witness, touch, and experience God’s creation without inhibition.

The mother in me felt a wave of mercy and grace wash over my worn and weary soul, and I sat in the front pew of that church and wept heavily for what felt like hours.

When I got up and left that day, I left with a new perspective. As a mother, I was free from the fake guilt and shame that the enemy tried to hurl on my life. As a minister however, I was forced to consider the 15% of children who need to have a church where they can really worship as part of the Body. Where they can be active participants no matter their age or ability. Where they can be included and understood rather than segregated and shushed. Where people with incredible and unique gifts can offer themselves to the worship service in such a way that their efforts are not belittled or deemed a frivolity.

Walking through “Gabbie’s church” with an open heart and mind allowed me to see that it is possible to be completely inclusive of individuals and families with special needs. It also convicted me on this: we in the Church MUST strive to do better for these precious souls. The truth is they are exceptional human beings who have a lot to teach us if we will listen.  While this will require time, education, and energy, I believe that by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit the Church will be greatly blessed by such effort.

Mary

Guest Blogger Bio:  My sweet friend, Mary Trent, is a minister in the United Methodist Church, mother to six beautiful girls including Gabbie, and a gifted writer. She  holds an MDiv from Asbury Theological Seminary where we met had the chance to live together for three years in seminary housing. So you can add to that list, a great friend and neighbor. 


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

It’s Time to Go Back (to School, that is)

We are starting back to school tomorrow and we are not alone!  In many places around the country, schools are gearing up to re-start sometime in the next month. For churches that often means a re-boot as well as they move from summer mode into fall programming and the start of a new academic year. With that can come a whole range of “new” things!  Kids promote to the next class, new volunteers come on to serve or they begin serving in a new capacity, and parents begin to navigate  new experiences with new teachers, new schools, and new grade levels for their kids.

education-908512_1920At the church I last served in, I was able to put together a time of commissioning and blessing over these groups as the new school year kicked off.  The entire time of blessing takes about 5 minutes and can be a way for your whole church to come together and let the kids, parents, and volunteers know that they are being held up and prayer and sent out as God’s lights of love as the academic year begins.

Feel free to adapt this script to your own church’s service and needs, and blessings to all as we encounter all the “new” things!


An All-Church Blessing for Parents, Children and Volunteers

Purpose – To recognize kids who are promoting to new classes/small groups, to pray over kids, parents and volunteers at the start of a new academic year

Children’s Pastor/Family Minister – We are excited to be able to celebrate with you the growth of our kids and families this year and recognize them as they promote to new classes and small groups within this ministry and some to youth group. But before we bring up the kids, can I ask all of our ministry volunteers to please stand and make their way to the center aisle?

(as volunteers are moving)

It is a blessing to serve with this group of people. The love they show our kids and the grace with which they serve is a testimony of the love of Christ in their lives and to the children. So, I’d like to not only say thank you, but briefly pray for you as you serve this upcoming year! Church, will you join me?

(PRAYER – Lord be with and bless these who serve. In their service, give the strength and by your Spirit give them grace. May the love they give be retuned to them in greater numbers and may your joy fill their hearts)

Volunteers if you will please line each side of the center aisle and get your high five hands ready, we will bring in our kids!!

(If you have some fun music, you could use this here. This is based on our structure with small groups. It can be adapted to fit whatever age groups, classes, or sections a church has for their programs. It can also be done as one large group which will reduce the amount of time needed for this commissioning and blessing.)

Joining us for the very first time as they are just starting school, we give you our preschoolers!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

Moving up into the elementary room, we are excited to recognize our new Kindergarten/First Grade small group!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

Not too far ahead of them, we want to recognize our “middle kids” our 2nd/3rd grade small group!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

And finally, our oldest group, and probably the most excited, our 4th/5th grade small group!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

Last, we’d like to recognize our 6th graders who will be moving up to join the youth group this year!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

AT THIS POINT, ALL THE KIDS WILL BE UP FRONT AND THE VOLUNTEERS WILL RETURN TO THEIR SEATS

Pastor or Worship Leader: Church, we are so blessed to have this group of children to welcome into worship and help their parents disciple in the faith. At baptism (or dedication, depending on the church), we commit to helping our kids grow in Christ and today we would like to re-affirm that commitment to them in their presence so that they can hear and know that we are here for them.

(At this time, we read our church’s Congregational Charge read at baptism. More than likely, each church has a similar reading for baptism or dedication. This is a great time to remind the congregation of the commitment they have made to walk with these families and children and a wonderful chance for the children to actually hear the words being said since they are too young to comprehend it the first time is said.)

Pastor – Lord, we thank you for the gift of these children and youth. May we be faithful to serve them and may they walk in your love. Be with this as they go into this new school year and give them the grace they need to learn and grow.

Children’s Pastor/Family Minister– If you are a parent/caregiver of one of the children here, will you please stand where you are? Kids, these people love you more than you could possibly know and they want you to grow in faith and in love. Will you help me to pray for them like we did for you?

DISMISS KIDS TO PARENTS

Children’s Pastor/Family Minister (as kids are going) – Parents we know that the work you do is difficult and while the days are long, the years are short. Please hear this blessing as a prayer for you as you serve God as the faith formers in your home.

“May you love the Lord with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength. May His commandments always be upon your hearts, so that you can impress them on your children. May God give you grace to talk about these things continually, when you’re at home, or on the road, when you lie down and when you get up. When your strength fails, may you walk in His. When you are weary, may His arms carry you. And when the day is done, may you hear His voice saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

What Happens When You Replace Pews with Coloring Tables?

I often have people ask me if I could give examples of how churches are finding creative ways to allow for intergenerational worship within their faith community. I’m always on the lookout for stories I can share that might strike a chord with someone and help them as they seek to find more ways to bring generations together within the church.

As soon as I read this account, I knew I had to share it because it is the perfect blend of simplicity, grace, and creativity that so many are searching for. Many thanks to Mike Woods of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church for his willingness to share his experience with all of us!


This summer we took out a couple of pews in the back of church, long wooden benches that are designed for fifty minute sitting sessions. Unfortunately worship usually lasts an hour. We replaced the pews with coloring tables. They were an immediate hit. No signs were needed as to why the tables were there.

Their presence just said WELCOME to a certain segment of the communion of saints.

One week later we heard Jesus’ story of this crazy farmer who threw seeds everywhere. A nine year old came to the communion table and with pride handed me her very accurate time lapse drawing of the life cycle of a seed that she wanted me to share with the congregation to make us all better people. I did.

The next week I was talking to a grown up about grown up things after church when I felt this tug my sleeve. The little one tugging was excited to show me something with such excitement that she forgot to wipe the ample supply of pumpkin bar off her hand so it now adorns my sleeve at the elbow.

She too needed to show what she had drawn during worship. We had heard Jesus’ story of the wheat and the weeds. I thought I was helpful when I said to consider that the kingdom of heaven like it is God’s holy ecosystem where weeds are necessary, like mosquitoes are necessary but in the end God knows what God is doing. Seemingly opposite things can co-exist in God’s church – sort of like Viking fans and Packer fans worshipping together.

Well she took all this in and produced a work of art that included a puppy, playing with a kitty, who was playing with a mouse who was playing with the puppy … a beloved community of play. She was probably five years old but a very good theologian. The stain would come out in the wash the next day but I am still thinking about that drawing.

GreenweedsThat same morning I came face to face with a three year old artist and his interpreter (mom). I saw a series of colorful slashings on his eight and a half by eleven canvas. I was told the larger blue scribbles are the wheat. The contrasting green slashes are the weeds. Both sets of plants seemed to be thriving. Yup, I thought, the wheat was good seed, unimpeded by weeds. God will use the wheat to make blue bread and the green weeds God can bundle up to build the fire to bake the bread.

When I asked about the bonus picture on the back of the paper of a rhinoceros and its horn and a wheel. The interpreter just shrugged her shoulders.

YouaremylightI like the piece on my door where a five year old wrote: “You are My light” from the bottom of her paper up, so that the word “light” was like a crescendo on top of the pile of letters. It does make sense if you think about it.

drawingpeopleSpeaking of light – another five year old showed me her drawing of red clouds, a yellow sun, green grass and two stick people with skinny arms touching one another and a beam of yellow glowing between those arms. What is this yellow here I asked. She looked at me with all the confidence in the world and said, “That’s friendship!” Is not friendship the stuff of light, and necessary for life as yellow sunlight?

Then there is the toddler who makes her own kind of music every time the congregation sings a hymn. She grabs a songbook like everyone else but she only knows one song so far in her short life. So with conviction and gusto she belts out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star every single time! Last Sunday for our last song the whole congregation, a couple hundred strong, sang in one voice, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star … because her daddy is serving in the military in Saudi Arabia and he wanted to let his daughter know it’s okay to sing her own song.

Because when churches use the word “we,” we always mean one more.

 

MikeWoodGuest Blogger: Mike Wood serves at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in La Crescent, MN. I first read his story on Facebook and it was also published in the Houston County News in his hometown.

What are some ways that your church has creatively made space for all ages to worship together? Send your stories, pictures, and short bio to christina.m.embree@gmail.com and perhaps we will be able to share your testimony on the ReFocus blog.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

Doing Church Together: Five Ways to Keep the Family Together at Church

A recent article in Children’s Ministry Magazine made the following statement,

“The predominant mind-set in Christian education concerning families has long been that to “strengthen the whole you must strengthen the parts.” But families need more from church life than segregated programs and the occasional all-church activity. Many of our church activities actually pull family members apart from each other.We know something’s wrong with this picture, but sorting out a solution seems complicated.”

I happen to agree. My conversations with children’s ministers and family pastors across the country confirm that many churches are seeking to incorporate times where the family can stay together to worship, grow, and learn about God together in church, but don’t know where to even start. One reason for that is because each church has a unique culture and specific needs so cookie cutter approaches and one-size-fits-all curriculum approaches just don’t work.

But that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. It just means we need to get a little more creative.

If your church is looking for a way to get the family together at church, here are five different approaches that could help make that happen. These ideas come from a variety of different church backgrounds and traditions, so they may not ALL work for your ministry context, but chances are one might strike a chord and you will be able to begin working towards more and more times where the family experiences faith formation together with their faith community.

Family Worship Sundays 

Many churches have begun offering times of Family Worship, often once a month or on fifth Sundays, where the family stays together and worships as a unit. These Sundays should not be confused with Children’s Sundays or times where kids perform for the church. While these are special times for the church as well, they are more focused on children than they are families.

A Family Sunday will incorporate ways for the family to experience worship togethersuch as communion, prayers said aloud with the whole church, worship songs that everyone know and can sing to, a sermon that is appropriate for all ages and elements of the service that invite participation of parents/caregivers and children such as Scripture readings by families and prayer as families. For ideas on how to include families in worship on Sunday, check out jensfrontporch.org .

Family Worship Experiences 

There are a few subtle difference between a Family Worship Sunday, where the family joins with the whole congregation in a regular worship service time, and Family Worship Experiences where families are specifically targeted and ministered to. Often these experiences take place at a time other than Sunday morning and incorporate a variety of interactive activities, worship, and teaching.

Some great examples can be found at www.dandibell.com and if you want a group to come in to host, Seeds Family Worship has one they do in connection with Phil Vischer and What’s in the Bible? with Buck Denver.

Family Faith Formation 

familybiblereadingFor some, inviting the family to stay together takes place best in a mid-week experience. This is what a church I served at did and we had a lot of fun using these nights to explore the Bible together. We wrote our own curriculum in 5-week blocks based on what families have indicated they want to learn. Each family sat in chairs in a circle and explored Scripture, did activities, and participated in a time of affirmation and blessing each night. Our topics included Prayer, Salvation, The Bible, God as Creator, and Service.

Kids absolutely loved spending this time with their parents. Of all the programs we had at church, this one got the highest praise from children.

Family Activities 

If your church isn’t ready yet to host a Family Sunday or Family Worship Experience, one idea is to begin hosting Family Activities on a monthly basis. These activities should have as their central theme the idea of having family spend time together either with/around the larger faith community, around service to the larger community, or around worship and the Word as a family unit. Putting these focuses on a rotating basis can help your families begin to spend intentional time together around the topics of faith, community, and outreach.

For instance, one month you could host a Family Game Night at church (time with faith community), and the next offer an activity that families can do at home that include a Faith Talk and time in God’s word (time with worship/Word), and then the next month offer a service experience in the community that families can do together (outreach). By offering a variety of ways for families to come together around the themes of faith, community, and service, you can begin to cultivate times of faith formation for the whole family to engage in together.

Family Service Projects 

What better way to bring the family together than in an opportunity to serve Christ and others as a unit?  There are many ways to engage the family in service. Check with your local food pantries and Salvation Army to see if there are ways families can work together stocking shelves or organizing donations. Many local soup kitchens or churches who serve meals will welcome family groups to serve together. Check also with local mission and ministries that serve the poor, homeless or other marginalized groups to see how families can offer assistance.

Engaging the family in the act of serving together can be one of the most transformational and meaningful ways to connect faith with everyday life and create bonds in the family that last long after their time of serving has ended.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

The Aftermath of Easter

Our front yard is littered with pieces of broken plastic eggs. Our trash can is full of shiny aluminum wrappers. There’s pieces of brightly colored “grass” in various places around the house. The fridge is full of leftover ham and mashed potatoes. And the Christ candle is not flickering with light. Let’s not even talk about what my office at church looks like.

The aftermath of Easter.

Just a reminder, He is still risen. He’s just as risen today as He was yesterday.

But our attention wanders. I mean, for the last forty days, we were in a season of Lent, looking towards one thing – Easter. The celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  And now, Easter is past. We have moved on.  But, He hasn’t.

You see, He is the same; yesterday, today, and forever.

He is risen indeed every single day. 

Yesterday, I heard children running around saying, “He is risen!” just because they knew an adult would answer “He is risen indeed!”  It was so fun for them. When my girls were little, we even had them yelling this during our Easter egg hunts. We told them just like the eggs were hidden, Christ was hidden in the tomb, but He didn’t stay there, so when they found an egg, they should yell, “He is risen!”  I could always find my girls during public Easter egg hunts as they shouted excitedly with each egg they found.

Easter flower crossAll that to say, I think it is vitally important that we keep the excitement of our risen Savior alive for our children. If we just continue on now, since Easter is past, without continuing to acknowledge the incredible miracle that is our salvation, we lose the chance to keep their excitement piqued and attitude expectant, not about eggs but about Jesus.

So what are some ways we can celebrate Christ’s resurrection in the every day?

Talk About It 

Don’t save the story of Christ’s resurrection for just one day. Celebrate it throughout the year. Talk about the HOPE we have because our Savior lives. Thank the Lord aloud that He is always with us and can never die. Bring it up whenever there is a God Moment with your child – consistently remind them that we serve a risen Lord. Bookend your Faith Talks with the resurrection truth.

Thank Him for this miracle at the dinner table, before bedtime, in the car, and when you get up in the morning. Make the resurrection part of the family vocabulary just like saying “Amen” and the end of a prayer or “Dear God” at the beginning.

Celebrate It

Who’s to say the only day we can celebrate the resurrection is Easter Sunday?  Do you know that in many Christian traditions, Sunday is a weekly day of this celebration?  What if we looked at Sunday as our mini Easter celebration every week?  What if we were intentional about reminding each other that on the first day of the week, Christ rose from the dead, so we gather to celebrate (not “go to church”)?

When our kids ask, “Why do we have to go church?’ instead of saying, “We get to go to church” and explaining our freedoms in this country (all good things) we said, “Because when they nailed Jesus to the cross, He didn’t stay there. He made a way for us to live with God forever in peace and love for all eternity. He rose from the dead!  And we gather to celebrate that amazing miracle every Sunday. We get to throw a Jesus party every week!  He’s alive and that is worth celebrating!!”

Live It

One of the greatest truths of our faith is that Christ’s resurrection means we have undying hope in the fact that we have all of eternity with God and with one another. Peter says it this way: In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1:3, 4).

There are times in this life that we can feel tempted to be hopeless. The stressors of life, things like bills and budgets, calendars and schedules, loss and grief, can cause us to lean towards hopelessness.  But because of Easter, we are never truly without hope. And if that’s all we can say in the difficult times, if all we can do is re-state what we shouted on Easter Sunday, that “He is risen!” then let us do that so our children see and hear that our hope is anchored deep, deeper than this world, deeper than these trials. Our hope is in the resurrection, anchored in eternity, deeply in the heart of God. 

What if the aftermath of Easter was just a continuation of a celebration, rather the culmination of one?  Even after the eggs are gone, the chocolate is consumed, the flowers fade…we still celebrate because He. IS. Risen!


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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