Engaging Children in Worship

The other day, my son and I were at a community center that had, as part of the building, a small room called the “Children’s Chapel.” Inside the room were a few instruments (mostly drums), a number of boxes that had Bible stories inside of them, and several benches with chairs. When we went in the room, my son asked if he could play the drum. I agreed, but I reminded him that this space was sacred, which meant is was set aside to tell God that we love Him and for us to hear from God, so if he played the drum, it had to be for Jesus.

That was all the instruction he needed. He understood the space was set aside for holy purposes. In a few moments, he was joined by two young girls and together they held church. No really, they did. They used the drums there to make up songs to sing to God. His song lyrics said, “Oh God, I love you with all of my heart. You made me and take care of me. You love me and I love you.” One of the girls sang, “You are high in heaven but you made me and my friends and my mom and my dad and my sisters. And I praise you and I love you. You are great and amazing.

Then my son pulled out one of the story boxes and proceeded to tell me the story of the Good Samaritan that he had learned in small group at church today. Then together we explored the story of the Good Shepherd and talked about all the ways Jesus was our Good Shepherd.

It was a beautiful unexpected time.

It was church, in all of its fullness.

The worship was pure and from the heart. The preaching was convicting and interactive. And the faith like a child was evident in all.

I am becoming more and more convinced that children need spaces like this where they can explore who and what God is to them, unscripted and unhindered.

church-1499312_1920They hear a lot. They have the chance to listen to stories and sermons, hear songs and hymns, and do lessons and games. But this unhindered space with no direction other than, “Do whatever you want, but do it for Jesus” opened the door for these young children to worship Jesus in their own words, tell the stories as they understood them, and learn in a way that enraptured their hearts.

How can we create space for children to explore God in unhindered ways?

We can give them permission

Kids have a lot of structure in their lives. Rules as school. Responsibilities at home. Ways of behaving that are expected. But if we give them permission to have freedom in expressing their worship of God, it opens the door for them to experience more.

Ideas for how to do that? Give them a blank piece of paper and tell them they can draw whatever they want for Jesus. Offer them an instrument and invite them to write or sing Jesus a song. See if your church has a felt board you could use, and let them re-tell the stories they’ve heard.

We can give them space

As believers, we know that we can worship God anywhere at any time. But it can be helpful if we create space for those special moments in our homes.

Maybe there’s a corner in your home, a part of a bedroom or office, a wall that could be turned into a prayer wall or a worship space. Fill it with items like instruments, paper and crayons, notebooks and journals that are set aside for worship, for listening and for prayer. And model it for them by spending some sacred time yourself, worshiping God unhindered, in your home.

We can give them awe

Nothing draws us into a story more than mystery. We love to be drawn into the unknown. And nothing is more mysterious and full of awe than our God. Sometimes our Bible stories made to be accessible to children can unwittingly remove that sense of awe and make God nothing more than a superhero or really great adult. But God is so much more.

Take a look at the night sky and wonder together about a God who calls each star by name. Watch a thunderstorm and wonder about a God who can calm the storm by just using His voice. Imagine together what the moment of Creation was like or how the earth shook when Jesus rose from the grave. Invite your children into the mystery and let them experience the awe of our awesome God!

In Matthew 18: 1-3, the crowd asked Jesus, “Who will be greatest in the kingdom of God?” Jesus responds by placing a child in front of all of them and basically says “Whoever knows me like this little one.” In Luke 18: 15-17, people are bringing children to Jesus and the disciples try to send them away, as The Message puts it, “Jesus called them back. “Let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.

There is something to a child’s unhindered faith that we, the adults, need as much as they do. Let’s give them space to explore and worship their Jesus so we can get to know our Jesus better.

This blog was originally written for the D6 Family blog, March 7, 2017 and can be accessed 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

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

Bringing Ash Wednesday Home

The celebration of Ash Wednesday and the observance of Lent was not a part of my experience growing up, but over the past few years, I’ve grown to appreciate this time in the liturgical year to reflect, to repent, and to realign myself with God. And, I tell you, I’ve always loved Easter but it has so much more meaning and depth when connected to the preceding season of Lent.

Churches across America, even those that traditionally did not celebrate this season, are beginning to involve their congregations more and more in this time of reflection and repentance and it is a wonderful place for families to gather around the the story of God’s great Love and His unending faithfulness to us (For more on that from Family Life Today‘s Barbara Rainey, click here).

The first day of Lent and Ash Wednesday is coming (Wednesday, March 1, 2017). If your church doesn’t currently have an Ash Wednesday or Lent celebration (or if it gets snowed out), but you want to engage your family in the season, here are a few tools to use today/this week in your home that may give you some ideas and some guidance.

1. If you are on Facebook, search for a community activity called ‪#‎picturelent‬ . This online program walks you through Lent with devotions, activities and prayers for the whole 40 days. For more information, check out LEC Family at http://lecfamily.org/lent/. To see the scope and sequence of the entire event, click here

What is Lent? – http://lecfamily.org/daily-devotio…/…/what-is-lent-all-about

2. If videos are more your style,ash-wednesday check out these great though-provoking videos from the Skit Guys.

Prayer for Lent – https://skitguys.com/videos/item/a-prayer-for-lent
Pslams for Lent – https://skitguys.com/vid…/item/psalms-for-lent-ash-wednesday
Preparing for Lent – https://skitguys.com/videos/item/preparing-for-lent

3. Need some coloring pages for your younger kids? Check out the collection at http://www.theclipartwizard.com/lent-coloring-pages.htm

4. Host your own worship service at home with your kids. Here are a list of current worship songs (like those you’d find on K-Love) that have great application to Lent. Consider looking up videos on YouTube and creating a worship list so you can worship as a family.

http://seedbed.com/…/five-new-songs-to-consider-for-worshi…/

If you are more of a hymns family, here are a list of traditional Ash Wednesday hymns you may want to also look up!

http://www.worshipaccompaniment.com/?tag=ash-wednesday

5. There are several online Lenten devotionals you could choose to do as a family. If you do a search online, you will find many from various faith traditions. Here is one that is a collaborative effort from a number of denominations and even comes with a free App so you can keep up on your devices.

6. Likewise there are many online resources for celebrating Lent with your kids. Many of these are particular to a denomination, so an online search will provide you with lots of options.  This page has a huge list of resources including a devotional from Ann Voskamp, Lilly Lewin and multiple crafts and activities for kids and families.

Whether you have traditionally celebrated Lent or not, these resources are worth checking out and considering as a way to invite Christ into your home. At the very least, it will open a chance for discussion with your family about why we celebrate Easter and why Christ’s death and resurrection is such a beautiful picture of God’s love, grace and faithfulness to us!

May your Lenten season be one full of knowing all those attributes deeper and more personally then you have ever experienced before. Blessings friends!


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

“No One Is Listening” and other Millennial Concerns

I’ve seen an article entitled “59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out—And They’re Trying to Tell Us Why“shared at least a dozen times over the last few days. As someone who works in ministry with families and children, it breaks my heart…but probably not for the reasons you think.

It breaks my heart because we are doing it again, to another generation, one that doesn’t have a catchy name yet or a voice to describe their concerns.

(Please read the article if you haven’t already, so what comes next makes sense).

What is even more disheartening to me than the fact that we are doing it again, is that this generation mostly has parents in the Millennial generation who, instead of ensuring their kids have a different church experience than they did, seem to be content with things staying the same for their children’s experience.

But where do we think the sense of “no one is listening” started? The “You can’t sit with us” mentality is inherent in many of our church practices that divide generations into siloed groups as soon as they walk into the doors of the church.

Many leading curriculum for children are “values-based” so our children grow tired of hearing about values and mission statements and most churches allocate the smallest budgets to those working with children and youth (both their employees and their working ministry budget) and we wonder why there’s a distrust about the misallocation of funds.

We fail to set up mentoring environments for children, often offering programs without intergenerational connections needed for discipleship, and we talk “about” the children and youth a lot but fail to find ways for them to connect and belong to the larger church body.

We avoid talking to them about the “controversial issues” of the day or even helping their parents to (or parents choose not to attend or seek out the support offered) and we keep the public perception of children’s ministry and youth ministry as primary a childcare or babysitting service that allows adults to go to church.

child-1439468_1920Every time I share these things, I get kickback that kids and youth need age-appropriate spaces to learn and adults/parents need a break from kids and I AGREE! But if we read this article and think that we are going to solve the Millennial problem without addressing the system that got them where they are, we are not being very wise.

We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing and hope it is somehow different for the next generation.

We’ve got to find ways to break outside our siloed molds and reach across the generational gap and learn to worship, commune, grow, discuss and live together if we don’t want another article like this one written in the future.

I’ve read a lot of comments that say, “It’s like this for every generation.” Perhaps there are some similar frustrations, but not every generation has only 4% that claim to believe the Bible and a 59% dropout rate for church.

It won’t change unless we do (which is another critique offered in the article – failing to adapt). It’s not the culture’s fault (another critique); it is ours. And we need to own it and start thinking outside the Millennial box to their children and the generation that is following in their footsteps.  We need to end the Millennial postmortem and look to the next 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

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

Family Ministry When No One Goes to Church

When we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing. We worship anything. – G.K. Chesterton

A few years ago I shared the article Leaving Sunday Behind which looked at lagging church attendance and the role of the home and the church in reaching families struck a chord with many of my readers. It does beg the question, if families are not regularly attending corporate worship together anymore, where are they?

As Chesterton says, when we cease to worship God, we don’t cease to worship; rather we replace the object of our worship with something else.

So, we must ask, what is being worshiped today?

A survey done by Faith Communities Today found these top three reasons cited by families regarding the demands on their time that conflicted with regular church attendance.

  1. School or Sports related activities
  2. Work Schedule conflicts
  3. Driving distance/Time and cost

So it’s not that the families were just sitting at home not doing anything, but they had made the decision to choose other demands on their time over attending church on Sunday morning and Wednesday night.

As parents, this should give us pause and help us consider; what are we teaching our children to worship? If these activities that pull families away from church truly are important to individual families, then as Christians it should also be our goal to find alternatives time to commit to corporate worship and fellowship with other believers.

church-188087_1920As ministers, we need to recognize that in a battle against a changing culture, we are going to lose if we don’t recognize that culture is changing.

The constraints of traditional service times will increasingly become inadequate for reaching families in our church and new families we desire to share God’s love with.

We can spend time lamenting this change and dissecting why it happened and if it’s good or bad or neutral, or we can just acknowledge that it is, and we can begin to look for ways to address it head on.

If we use the following findings from Barna Research Group as a frame for how families in our cultures operate, perhaps we can consider some innovative ways to connect the church with the home.

  1. Parents are just as dependent on technology as are teens and tweens.
  2. Most family members, even parents, feel that technology has been a positive influence on their families.
  3. Very few adults or youth take substantial breaks from technology.
  4. Families experience conflict about technology, but not in predictable ways
  5. Few families have experienced—or expect—churches to address technology

And what about the study that found when 1,500 kids were asked what makes a happy family they responded, “Doing things together”? Contrast this with what we traditionally do in our church settings with separate children, youth, adult, and senior adult ministries.barna

Finally consider another study from Barna that asked self-identified Christians why they chose not to attend church where 40% responded “I find God elsewhere” and 35% said “Church is not relevant to me personally.” Additionally, in the past “regular attendance” was defined as those who attended church three or more weekends a month but now families that show up once every 4-6 weeks consider themselves regular attenders.

A lot of people have come up with a lot of ways to address these changing trends. May I offer just this suggestion?

Let us shift of vision from one of attraction to one of “going and making disciples”.

Let’s refocus faith formation at home and building relationships between generations.

Let’s concentrate on lifting Jesus up so all may be drawn to Him, not necessarily our brand, our building, or our band.

Let’s meet families where they are and bring the church to the world instead of trying to get the world to accommodate the church.

And may we all live lives of worship, inside and outside of the building we call church.

Article originally posted January 25, 2015. 


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

The Star Didn’t Lead Them to Jesus

“Where did the star lead them?”

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

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

You might say, I had an epiphany.

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

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

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

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

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

Ever had a detour? 

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

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

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

But what if it wasn’t a mistake? 

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

God is Amazing, Being a Christian is Awesome, and Other Things We Forget to Say

“Why do we make being a Christian sound like the worst thing ever?”

A legitimate question. It was posed to me the other day by someone who had been on Twitter and was reading through the titles of several Christian blog posts. Most had something to do with the fact that Christianity will make you uncomfortable, will cost you everything, isn’t about you, etc.

“It’d be nice” she said, “To read a blog post that talks about how great being a Christian and knowing God’s love actually is.”

She’s right. I think it would be nice to read that.  So why are so many blog posts tilted the other direction?  And, as parents and ministers, what kind of messages are we sending to the next generation about what it means to be a Christian?

Well, let’s start with the first. Why are so many Christians calling out the church and other Christians on so many things in their blog posts?  And, look, I’m putting myself there too. I’ve published more that one post directed at the church in a way that challenges what is being done.

I think it’s partly because it’s easier to point out a wrong that it is to affirm a right.

I mean, who is going to read a blog post that says, “Keep it up!” or “Just a reminder: God still loves you” as opposed to “Stop acting like a Christian and be one!” and “Worship isn’t about you: Stop making it!”  Both could be accurate…but which one will you read?

Also, I think it’s human nature to point out the wrong in someone else. In the oft-quoted (and oft-misquoted) Scripture passage that starts with”Do not judge…” Jesus meets this tendency head on with his own challenge,”Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?” (Mt 7:3)

And even if what is being shared is spot-on, not judgement but true concern and heartfelt conviction, I think it’s worth considering the next question.

What is the Christianity we are representing to our children and to the world around us?

You guys!!  Let’s review quickly the foundation of our faith

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

God LOVED us SO MUCH, He gave of Himself, wholly and completely, so that we can have eternal, abundant, overflowing LIFE forever!!

That’s the center. That’s the creamy goodness inside the chocolate shell. That’s the best part!

Yes, being a Christian can at times mean being uncomfortable. It can mean that we choose to lay aside our selfish desires and seek the good of others. It can mean that we don’t get what we want sometimes.

But that is not what being a Christian is.

audience-868074_1920Being a Christian is experiencing the wonder and awe of knowing that we are loved by God himself with such an overwhelming, all-encompassing love that He gave up everything for us and because of that we get to walk in freedom, in love, in abundant life, every single day, not just while we are here on earth, but for all eternity!!

Yes, I’m excited about that! Because friends, our world is hurting and hopeless. My kids hear sad things all the time on the news and in the headlines and from their friends. And we?

We have been given the gift, the absolute best present ever, of abundant life. Of hope and light and freedom!

I want that truth to echo in their hearts so loudly and so clearly that when things get uncomfortable, when they are called to love others more than self, when they don’t get what they want, those things are minuscule compared to the overwhelming sense of promise and hope they find in Christ and the love, life, and relationship they find in His body, the church.

Being a Christian is an exciting adventure, a chance to participate in the greatest story every to unfold, to be a part of God’s eternal plan. It’s not a headline that grabs attention or gets people to read the blog posts. But it is the good news we were sent to proclaim!

Before we sought Him, He sought us. He never leaves us. Never forsakes us. He meets our deepest needs. He calms our deepest fears. He’s an ever present help in time of need. We are never on our own again. We are never without hope. Never without an advocate, a friend, an ally, or hope.

We have all this and more because we have Jesus!  

And that is what our churches, our children and this world need to hear, over and over again, proclaimed through our words, our worship, our actions and our lives.

Please hear me, I fully understand the need for us as Christians to be challenged in our faith, to not grow complacent and to keep growing.

But I think it is equally important, maybe even more important, that we continually affirm the good, reiterate the truth of God’s love, and proclaim to one another, to the world, and to our children just how incredibly blessed we are to be part of the family of God!

So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25The Message (MSG)


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

2016 In Review: Top Five Read and Shared Posts

Friends, what a blessing it has been to share this past year with you. Your encouragement, excitement and support has been a blessing to me as I’ve had the opportunity to share my heart with all of you regarding children, families and the body of Christ.

This year over 500,000 new people visited this blog and shared its posts. Many of you wrote to me and shared testimonies and prayer concerns and amazing resources. Several of you called me, emailed me, or chatted with me about various experiences in your homes and churches. I have been immeasurably blessed to join you in your ministry journey. 

Here are the top 5 blog posts of 2016.

stopbullyingIt is NOT Okay – This blog was first shared in March 2016 during the intense political presidential campaign and was read on Day 1 by more than 300,000 people. While the campaign is over, many of the concerns I shared in this post still exist and I continue to pray that we can find ways to tell our children in no uncertain terms that many of the words and behaviors being exhibited by leaders in our country are not okay.

“I can no longer hide behind the flag of “I don’t want to be political” rather I have to state the obvious and say, “This is not about politics. This is about human decency and I, for the sake of my children and all future generations who are seeing these things, must say, ‘I am not okay with this because this is NOT okay.'”

kidsinchurchWhy My Kids Weren’t At Kids Church – Inspired by a mom who shared with me why her kids weren’t in Kids Church one Sunday, this post looks at the larger experience of the Sunday morning church service. This post continues to be read and shared daily and has led to some wonderful discussion with many of you as we’ve explored this topic more together!

“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.”

kid-churchMy Kid Doesn’t “Get” Anything Out of Church – For the second year in the row, this post has struck a chord with people across the world. It has been read and shared in over 120 countries.

“One common concern I often hear from parents and other adult church members about including children in the corporate worship setting is that kids won’t “get” anything out of the worship or the sermon. From an adult perspective, there are certain things we want to walk away from church with such as a sense of having been in God’s presence or having learned something that will help us grow in our faith. We presumably come to church for a reason and it is easy for us to assume those same reasons apply to our kids.  But they probably don’t.”

bottles-60478_1920What’s with the Flipping Bottle?   – Remember that short-lived craze where kids across America were flipping bottles to see if they would land upright?  Here were my thoughts on the phenomenon and what we as adults could learn from the kids and the flipping bottle. Over 7,000 of you read and shared this post, helping it rise to the third most popular for the year.

“Have you seen your kids or others flipping bottles? Does it drive you nuts?  If so, you’re not alone…but, are we sending the best message to our kids?”

ChurchandkidDo Not Hinder: Welcoming Kids to Church – Making its appearance for the second year, this post continues to be read and shared in countries across to the world. The heart of this article is to explore what we mean when we say “welcome” to children in the corporate worship and fellowship of the larger faith community and has sparked numerous conversations, discussions and future posts.

 “It’s not about making sure we use strategies to keep kids occupied and from being a distraction.  That’s important, but its not about that.”

God has just blessed me so much with this opportunity to share life and ministry with all of you. Thank you for welcoming me into your conversations, your churches and your homes. I’m so looking forward to what 2017 holds for ReFocus Ministry and the work of children and family ministry across the world!


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

Christmas Amplified, Christ Magnified

When I was young, I remember my dad getting ready to lead worship by putting a “pick-up” inside his guitar that he would plug into an amplifier so his guitar would be louder.  The sound that came out of the amplifier made it much easier to hear the music.

As I sit this morning by my Christmas tree and think back over the last year, my memories seem louder. I think Christmas does that. It amplifies everything.  Family becomes bigger. Friends become family. Gratitude for blessings overflow. Everything is special. You want to capture each moment, hold onto the feeling, embrace the season.

Unless you don’t

Because just like the sense of joy and gratitude is amplified, so is the deep sense of loss and loneliness that is present for many of us.  The empty space looms larger. The silence becomes deafening. And sorrow rises again as grief becomes palpable.

The Advent and Christmas seasons take the “noise” of our lives; the background hum we learn to live with, and amplifies it so it can’t be ignored. For the good things, this brings great joy. For the sad things, this brings sorrow. 

Enter Emmanuel.

As the crescendo of our lives rises in a cacophony of sound, there is a resounding cymbal crash as Christ emerges on the scene. His presence changes the symphony. His “God with Us” appearance overwhelms the noise. When we recognize His entrance into the song, everything changes.

The Psalmist declares, “Oh, Magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together!”

Magnify – Make Bigger – Amplify. bible-1149924_1920

That’s what Christ came to do. He understands the noise. He understands the joys and the sorrows. He understands that our hearts are malleable; they twist and turn with each rise and fall in our lives. He came to be bigger than all of that; to be present in each moment and to be louder than them all.

In the sadness, to be Redeemer.

In the joy, to be Prince of Peace.

In the heartache, to be the Eternal Hope.

In the anticipation, to be the Messiah.

In all, to be our Emmanuel, our God WITH us.

I recently read a quote that said, “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos” (L. R. Knost).

That is what Christ has done for us.

He has come into our sea of big emotions and put out His calming hand. At Christmas, we can experience this more than any other time, if we magnify the Lord together.

And we can be that for our kids at this time of amplified noise. We can whisper in their ears, “Look at Jesus. He’s more than a Christmas story. He’s our Hope, our Peace, our Joy, our Love. He’s here to be bigger than our fears, bigger than our successes, bigger than our deepest sorrow.  He is Emmanuel. He is God with us.”

Merry Christmas friends.

And Glory to God in the Highest.. peace on earth…good will toward all mankind. 


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

To Talk or Not to Talk…in Church

Please see Author’s Note at the end 

I had a great conversation with my oldest daughter on Sunday. We had the opportunity to broach the topic of “true love” and what that looks like in a Christian’s life. We talked about how sometimes true love has to say “No” even if it makes the other person upset. We talked about how we can show love to others, just by seeing them, instead of letting them go unnoticed. We even talked about how God’s love, agape love, was freely given and yet we have the choice to receive it.

And we talked about all of it…in church.

be-quiet-in-churchYes, in church, during the sermon. I know, I know, talking in church is a big “no-no”. In an article entitled the “Top 10 Rudest Things People Do In Church” talking in church took the number one spot. The author is willing to forgive some of the other offenses listed, but certainly not this one because, “There is no possible way we can please God or be His faithful followers if we don’t learn to listen.

Another author states, “If the Church is not on fire, you should not be talking.”

Hmmm….well, admittedly,  the church building wasn’t on fire, so were we in the wrong?

I’d like to push back on this particular thought and counter that if the Church isn’t on fire…maybe we should all be talking. Maybe we should consider how talking in church might actually be a useful tool for discipleship and potentially help us all listen well.

So, let’s talk about it.

To begin, what is the context in which we first hear about preachers in church?  I immediately thought of Paul and because I’m me, I thought about the story where Paul is preaching and some poor kid gets so tired that he falls out of a third story window. Fortunately, Paul is there to pray over him and raise him back to life. But let’s consider that moment found in Acts 20:7-12.  Was Paul really just monologuing from the front of a room for so long with everyone held in silence that a person could literally fall asleep and die?  Eh, probably not. The whole concept of church was a little different back then.

“Paul was not “preaching” to them. The American Standard Version renders verse 7: “Paul discoursed with them.” E.V. Rieu’s translation renders it: “Paul was holding a discussion with them.” The actual Greek word used is dialegomai. …that is, not by way of a sermon, but by a discourse of a more conversational character.”

…Meetings in the early church were much more fellowship oriented and casual than our current day church services. Everyone was expected to participate. The teaching was more conversational, with everyone involved. (Source)

Today, we call these conversational times “small groups” or “life groups” or “grow groups.”  They called it “church.”

Suffice it to say, talking was a necessary element of this church service. But ours aren’t like that, right?  So isn’t it rude to talk when the pastor is speaking?

I love the way this church pew card reads:

Relax! God put the wiggle in children. Don’t feel you have to suppress it in God’s house. All are welcome! Sit towards the front where it is easier for your little ones to see and hear what’s going on. They tire of seeing the backs of other’s heads. Quietly explain the parts of the service and actions of the pastor, ushers, choir, etc.

That “quiet explanation” necessarily means talking. A friend of mine who is the father of five children says what he likes to do is place two of his kids on his lap and whisper the sermon into their ears in words they understand. He says even he gets more out of the sermon by, well, talking in church.

Now please understand, I’m not suggesting we answer our phone and set up a hair appointment or turn to our neighbor and discuss what restaurant we are headed to after church. But when talking is done in a way that actually creates a context and space for the words being spoken or sung to find a home in our hearts….I can’t help but think that’s what church is all about!

What about the rudeness factor though?  If everyone is talking to everyone, who is actually listening?  Isn’t that in and of itself causing a disruption?

Yes. If all the people all started talking at the same time, yes, that would be disruptive.

But realistically, if a mother is leaning over to whisper something to her child or a father is sharing an insight with his son or a spouse with his/her significant other or a grandmother with a grandchild or… isn’t that what church is all about?  

Isn’t that why the sermon is even being shared?

If the words are sparking a thought, hitting on a topic held close to their hearts, or bringing to light something that would otherwise have been kept in the dark, isn’t it appropriate to lean over and quietly share that moment?

I think it is. I think it’s okay to talk in church. I think it’s part of this thing we call discipleship and it’s part of this thing we call fellowship.

And you know what else?  It makes the effect of church last a whole lot longer.

Because of that moment, those words, shared in a pew between my daughter and I on Sunday, the sermon will last long after we leave the building. The next time we are standing together in a checkout line, we will remember the conversation we had about seeing the person and loving them, not just passing them by. The next time I say, “Sorry, babe, but you can’t watch that show” we will remember together that my motivation is love. And the next time we sit next to each other in church, we will likely have another quiet conversation…because, that is discipleship; that is church.

Author’s Note: I’ve blogged about a lot of things on this website, but have never had the level of negative feedback this particular subject has generated (except during the election cycle). Some clarifications –  the conversation I had with my daughter was non-disruptive and quiet (not rude or loud); I am not advocating (as stated in the blog) long, off-topic conversations during the sermon; certainly the fact you are in a group should be kept in mind and deference given to others; and consideration of the environment is essential. 

Yet, with all that said, if 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. “All things in moderation” seems to me to apply to this situation as well as others.


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(40)

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. 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,  Seedbed

A Little Disruption

When it comes to children being present in the congregational worship service, there are many thoughts and opinions out there. Some say children should be separate from adults, in their own space, learning at the their own level. Some say children should be fully integrated, learning and worshiping with the adults at every level. And then, in-between the two, is every possible combination of separation and integration one can think of.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I fall squarely in the middle – I’m a big believer in the “both/and” approach.

I think it is vitally important for children to have the opportunity to worship and be in community with the larger congregation and it is also important to have space for children to learn and grow at their developmental level.

Both of these scenarios present unique opportunities and challenges; both require us to adjust, reflect, and serve each other and the children; both have a part to play in raising the next generation; and both require the entire community to embrace their role as disciplers – as legacy-leavers – as faith formers.

The following post was not written by me, but by a fellow mom and pastor’s wife who found herself in a situation that caused her to question and consider the importance of children being welcomed into worship. She shares, not to rant or vent, but rather to spur on conversation about the “whys” of having space in our congregational worship for disruption.

The Children Matter!

Julie Choi

I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but the more I think about it, the more I feel like I have to speak up. This is important. A few weeks ago, at church, my son and I were in service and he was walking around the back. He was excited to be there and excited to see his friends. A woman turned around and whispered to someone else, “She needs to control her child.” I’m not just saying this to defend my son, but I don’t think he was being too disruptive. I think he was being three.
Let me tell you something about my son…and my daughter…and all children. They are not a disruption! Did you hear me? Let me say it again. My child, no child is a disruption and if you think they are – oh my, you have another thing coming. My son, my daughter, and children out there in the world are world changers. They are the future. They are bright lights in our cynical and sometimes dark world. They are curious. They are eager to learn. They are gifts from God Himself.
church-595701_1920After this “incident” I took it upon myself to read a few articles and found out that there is a church in South Carolina that actually does not permit children into their main service. The doors get locked after the sermon starts.  Another church in Chicago put out a statement, “We make it a priority on creating an environment that helps people worship without distractions during the service. By providing a variety of venues where people may view services, no one has to miss the message, regardless of their circumstances. We rarely have issues with disruptions during the service, but if one arises, the Guest Ministry team assess the situation and takes appropriate next steps, which could mean respectfully suggestion one of the alternative viewing options.
Wait, what?! They’re going to “respectfully” suggest you get out? In church? Ok, so quick question? If a child is crying or being loud in service that’s disruptive, but what if an elderly person has a heart attack mid-service? Is that a disruption? If someone walks into service late are they disrupting the service? But wait…aren’t we supposed to bear each others burdens and understand one anther’s shortcomings as a church family?

Listen folks. I’m not writing this in anger. Honest! This isn’t some angry mom rant. If you know me, you know I am all about manners. My kids will say “thank you, please, sorry, yes ma’am, no ma’am” and if my daughter cries in service, I’ll quietly and quickly walk out to calm her down before coming back. But all that energy spent on “avoiding disruptions” seems like such a waste of time.

An article I read offered the following thoughts:

“I’m not sure God cares all that much about disruptions (he has a long history of disrupting things himself). But also because I think God’s more concerned with us welcoming folks into his house – and extending love and grace – than he is about making sure people mind their p’s and q’s perfectly while they’re here. It seems these churches we hear about that shuttle disrupters out of a service care more about the comfort of the people in the pews than they do about the glory of God….But I have found the Holy Spirit to be wonderfully disruptive, sometimes upsetting our plans and timing, and to be faithful,…”

Look I get it. Sometimes, people just want to pay full attention to the sermon, but life is not without “disruption”. But to say that a child is the disruption. That just rubs me the wrong way. Moms are so worried in church as it is. They don’t need someone to turn around and look at them with an angry glare or judgement.

For me, I can deal with that, but imagine that had happened to a new mom that was visiting the church? Imagine that happened to a mom who isn’t as secure. She might never return! Serious question: WHY is there even a debate about this? WHY is this a controversial topic? WHY is this a sensitive issue? Sure, I could send my kid to “children’s church”, but what if I want to worship as a family? I want my son and daughter in the service to hear their dad preach, to use the moment as a teachable moment, to pray with them, sing with them.
Another blogger wrote in her own personal blog,

“I see them learning. In the midst of the cries, whines, and giggles, in the midst of the crinkling of pretzel bags and the growing pile of crumbs I see a little girl who insists on going two pews up to share peace with someone she’s never met. I hear a little boy slurping (quite loudly) every last drop of his communion wine out of the cup determined not to miss a drop of Jesus. I watch a child excitedly color a cross and point to the one in the front of the sanctuary.  I hear the echoes of Amens just a few seconds after the rest of the community says it together. I watch a boy just learning to read try to sound out the words in the worship book or count his way to Hymn 672. Even on weeks when I can’t see my own children learning because, well, it’s one of those mornings, I can see your children learning.”

It matters. This matters! I wholeheartedly believe in family worship services. I can’t change the world. I can’t change someone else’s mind, especially once it’s made up, but this is my rather puny attempt to get people thinking. It matters. Children matter.

About the Author: Julie Han-Choi is a wife, mom, counselor, and teacher. She and her husband, Pastor Brian Choi are the parents of two beautiful children and one angel baby and are passionate about intergenerational/family worship. Julie’s dream and vision is to start a small, Christian, Montessori-style charter school that offers a “whole child” philosophy. 


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(40)

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