No, You Are Not Having Intergenerational Worship on Sunday

When the “stay-at-home, school-cancelled” executive orders began to spread across the United States, a lot of social media posts began circulating that parents of school-aged children would now all be homeschoolers. Since I am friends with a number of people who homeschool, I immediately began to hear from them that this thing that most people were now doing (Zoom class, online work, turning work into a teacher in a different location, navigating new technology, etc.) was most definitely NOT homeschooling.

It didn’t take long for new social media posts to begin circulating that said, “You are not homeschooling; you are schooling at home in crisis.” Within a few weeks, distinction having been made, people began to accept that the experience of homeschooling and the experience they were currently facing were not one and the same.

Enter “Church Re-Opening.”

In many states, churches are beginning to re-open their doors, albeit with a number of cautions and restrictions. One major thread that appears similar across the board is that children’s ministries are delaying their opening even longer which means children will be joining their parents in corporate worship (or “big church”, a name that is a personal pet peeve of mine but generally understood in church circles).

Church People Believe Faith Religious

I’ve seen multiple helpful posts regarding how to help children to engage in the worship service or, at the very least, keep them engaged so that others can worship. Ideas, very many of them similar to ones I’ve shared here for years, are floating about and people are trying, some for the very first time.

This has the potential to be an incredible boon for connecting generations and creating space for corporate worship across America.

My concern however is that it will have exactly the opposite affect. 

You see, first and foremost, intergenerational ministry is not about putting people of multiple generations in a communal space where worship, prayer, and/or teaching takes place. That might be what happens BUT that is not the heart of intergenerational ministry.

True intergenerational ministry is a culture which strives to create environments that foster generational mentorship, intergenerational relationships, and multi-generational experiences that focus on welcome, belonging, and discipleship.

It’s not about putting people in the same space and making sure that everyone can somehow make it through an hour together and hopefully not distract one another too much. That’s online schooling in a crisis. It’s a current reality that we have not chosen but that has been thrust upon us and we are dong our very best to work with.

Intergenerational ministry is something that needs time and cultivation. In churches that are strongly separated along generational lines, the introduction of intergenerational worship, study, and prayer is something that should be entered into circumspectly with care given to community needs and corporate identity. Like homeschooling households, there is no cookie-cutter method for intergenerational ministry. Each faith community has particular needs and considerations that must be addressed as intergenerational culture is lived into.

The danger that exists with creating a few busy bags, printing out sermon sheets, making coloring pages available, and the like, isn’t that those things are inherently unhelpful (I actually recommend them in certain contexts); it’s that those things do not an intergenerational worship service make.

My encouragement to those of you dipping your toes in the waters of corporate worship for perhaps the first time is to take the next few Sundays in stride.

You might find that your faith community is ready to begin exploring ways to connect the generations in corporate worship, learning, and serving settings. GREAT!  I would be happy to point you in the direct of some fantastic resources.

You might find that your faith community is not ready to engage in fully-integrated worship and learning settings for all ages. That’s fine too. Forcing a square peg in a round hole doesn’t work. But, changing the shape or the culture can work and given time and community buy-in, you might find ways to begin to overlap generations and find space to allow generational discipleship and intergenerational relationships to flourish. I’d be happy to walk alongside of you as you begin to explore ways to make that happen. (A great place to start is here)

Regardless, the major takeaway of this post is simply this: What will be happening in most churches over the next several weeks, while inclusive of all generations, will not likely be true intergenerational worship or ministry. Accept it as it is –  a way to worship during a state of global crisis – and know that God’s grace is sufficient and His presence is promised wherever we gather in His Name.


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 BlogIMG-0573

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

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

Book Review: Children & Family Ministry Handbook by Sarah Flannery

Every now and then, I have the great privilege of being asked by an author to review their book on my blog. Often the books have something to do with my area of training and ministry (children, youth, family ministry) but rarely do they deal directly with my passion, intergenerational ministry and generational discipleship.

So I was especially Sarahsbookblessed when fellow minister, Sarah Flannery, asked me to consider reviewing a chapter in her newly-released book, Children and Family Ministry Handbook, entitled “Intergenerational Ministry”. I jumped at the chance…and let’s be honest, I, of course, read the whole book because I so appreciate her voice (I also loved Chapter 7 on Milestones so I might review that one at a later date).

Sarah does a great job up front defining what she means by “intergenerational ministry” and offering several examples of what that could look like in specific congregational settings and homes.

But the key takeaway from this chapter is one that I can wholeheartedly echo: Intergenerational ministry is not a program; it is a culture, a way of doing church, that invites the entire congregation, every age, every generation, into meaningful worship and service together.

Consider these words taken from Chapter 6, page 116:

Intergenerational ministry does not fit in the context of a programmatic approach because it is too messy and too unwieldy to be programmed. Programs limit the audience in order to maximize the effectiveness for that one target group. Ministry asks us to expand the audience to include majorities and minorities, young and old, anyone and everyone.

Often, the dilemma that churches run into in creating space for intergenerational ministry is that they try to take a programmatic approach rather than a ministerial approach. They may look for a particular curriculum or a series of specific events or a special service project and, while all of those things could be good for the church, they may also be unhelpful or even detrimental depending on the congregation.

There is no cookie-cutter approach to intergenerational ministry.

The needs and gifts of each generation represented in a faith community as well as the culture and tradition of their church tradition and their local community must be considered. Which is why intergenerational ministry can be “messy” and “unwieldy.”

But take heart!  Messy and unwieldy does not mean impossible.

In fact, it means the possibilities are endless.

Within your church are gifts and graces that can be shared among the members of your congregation if space is created for them to flourish. And that is the meat of this chapter in Sarah’s book; she not only offers a guide to intergenerational worship and service that is helpful in knowing your own church, she provides multiple practical and easily implementable ideas for how to dive into intergenerational in each church context.

Her final paragraph reminds us to “Always maintain a perspective of ministry, not programs.”

That is the heart of generational discipleship.

It’s about relationship and connection.

It’s about making space for old and young and everyone in between to fill the role in the body of Christ that they have been gifted and graced for.

And it is about hospitality and community lived out in our corporate worship, mission, and service.

If you are interested in learning more about Sarah and her book, I encourage you to visit her website at sarahmflannery.com.

To put your hands on a copy of her book, check it out at CokesburyAmazon or any major book retailer (pssst…free shipping with Cokesbury right now and only $12 for the book!).

 

 


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 BlogIMG-0573

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

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

The Church Has Left The Building

I miss church. I bet you do too. And I bet that you or someone in your house has said this exact phrase over the past 6 weeks.

Theologically, we all know that “church” is not a building. We understand that “church” is the body of Christ. So more precisely, I think, when we say we miss “church”, we mean more than that. We miss the people. We miss the things we do together as people; worship and communion and conversation and prayer and hugs and food. We miss the community of faith. We miss each other and we miss the practices that renew our faith each week as we reenact the promises of Scripture through our worship and celebration.

The challenge for us as parents and ministers is to consider; how do we model authenticity and consistency as Christians safe at home while still acknowledging we are all struggling with our new reality?

Consistency in what we teach and how we live is critical to creating an atmosphere of authenticity both at home and at church. 

We are the church, when we are at home and when we are together. Who we are and how we are living should flow seamlessly between those worlds without friction or tension. What we do in one place, we should be able to just as freely do in another place and our faith should reach beyond the walls of church into the everyday life we live.

churhccomeshome

Consider these five “church” activities that we often engage in easily and freely when we gather together but can struggle to engage in our homes along with some ideas for how to simply and easily add them into our “healthy at home” life:

Worship

Every Sunday without fail, voices are raised in song in churches around the world, praising and worshiping the Lord through “songs, hymns and spiritual songs.”  Have you ever considered hosting a worship service with your family at home?  Worship through song isn’t limited only to the walls of a church, in fact Paul says we are to to always be “singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord.” Many church services are online now and offer singing as part of their worship but if yours doesn’t, it’s perfectly fine for you to sing in your home. Easy ways to incorporate singing? Sing a song instead of praying a prayer before dinner. Teach a favorite song to your kids. Check out resources on Psalmody and pick a Psalm to learn and sing as a family.

Prayer

Whether it be a pastoral prayer or the communal recitation of the Lord’s prayer, we frequently engage in spoken prayer in a church setting; do we do the same in our homes?  The Lord’s Prayer is a great way for you to begin praying with your kids and creating that seamless flow between church and home.

Giving

In many churches, every week, the plate is passed and our tithes and offerings are given to the Lord.  But we don’t have to limit our giving to the church offering plate.  It can be hard sometimes to remember to give from a cheerful heart if we don’t see the need or if our gift is automatically withdrawn from our checking account Maybe your family could talk about ways to  support your church or a missionary or provide meals for families in need so they can be a part of the gift of giving.  The cheerful heart of giving isn’t only for church.

Bible Reading

If the only time our children see us open the Bible (or pull up the app on our phone or tablet) is in the church building, the model they see is one where the Bible is only for certain times not all of life.  But the writer of Psalms says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” This the perfect time to add some daily Scripture meditation into your family rhythm.  The Scripture is for everywhere, every day.

Fellowship

Let’s face it; a big reason for going to church is to see  friends.  I had someone tell me the only time they saw their friends was on Sunday morning.  It’s really hard for your kids to see the community and family that is the body of Christ if they only see people for 1 hour a week, 4 times a month.  Invite people over, even if only by Zoom for now, build and maintain relationships with those you miss and create space for fellowship all week long.

When our children see consistency in who we are and what we do at church and who we are and what we do at home, it will be easier for them to understand the providence of our God who is present with us in the everyday.

When we are consistent, we are authentic, and when we are authentic, we are modeling the truth of Jesus 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 BlogIMG-0573

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

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

What Are We Missing?

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?”

Admit it, you sang it. But, in all seriousness, have we ever felt this song more strongly as a society than now?  The words “I miss…” have been uttered countless times in our home this week. I miss my friends. I miss my classmates. I miss going out. I miss hanging out at the mall. I miss church. And, believe it or not, I miss school and I miss work.

My guess is that many of us are experiencing these deep feelings of loss as we miss the people and places that typically define our daily existence. And with their temporary loss, we see the impact that these place and people have on our lives and the gaps that are left when they are not there.

I can’t help but think about about the similarities between these missed opportunities and the past several years of study I’ve done into age segregation in the church.

Let me explain.

In the mid -1900s when age specific ministries were coming into focus, a lot of attention was giving to the number of children, youth, and families that were coming to church. By the late 20th century, most churches had developed age specific ministry departments focused on attracting a certain age group and/or their parents and grandparents to the church. And it was wildly effective. The rise of the youth group and the increase in children / family attendance at church did indeed go up.

message-4092821_1920But then something happened. As the youth group generation grew up, instead of remaining in the church, they began to leave the church. Yes, some of them came back with their kids, but not nearly the number that were represented in youth group (Source).

So what happened?

Perhaps in our zeal to increase our numbers in the present, we forgot to think about the future. Maybe we forgot to look at the people and places that helped define our faith and create connections to our local faith community and the larger Body of Christ.

Let’s just be honest, age integration (putting generations together) can be difficult. However, research has shown that it is not only a good and healthy thing for different generations to spend time in relationships one another, it is also one of the key factors in young people remaining in the faith after they’ve left their home of origin. And there are things we can do to help make our times of corporate worship beneficial to all.(For more on this, click here)

And, one more thing real quick..

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

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

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

We have this unique time in our lives and in our churches to consider what we are missing. It might be that we find that some of the things we are missing are things that we didn’t even realize we needed.

It’s become apparent that being together really does matter.

So, when we are together again, what is that going to look like? Could it be that when we gather together again, there might be space for all of us, all ages, all generations to worship, celebrate and gather together.  We may not even realize just how much we are missing.


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 BlogIMG-0573

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

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

 

The Beauty, Mystery and Sorrow of Easter

Two nights ago I awoke in Kentucky to the sounds of thunder, lightning and torrential downpours.  My phone was lighting up with flood alerts and I could hear what sounded like a small river in the gutter outside my window.

My first thoughts during the storm were that it was Holy Week, Good Friday was coming, and how appropriate the dark weather was to experience this week.  My heart went to Mark 15 where we read:

“At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “”Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? “”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:33,34.37-39)

Traditionally, the sorrow of Good Friday would be commemorated at churches all over the world with darkened services, candelight vigils, readings from Scripture that cause us to ponder anew the sacrifice made by Christ that day.

This year, it may look a little different.

This year we will try to bring that commemoration into our homes. Parents will have the primary responsibility for sharing the events of Good Friday with their children.

There is something palpable about the beauty and mystery of Good Friday.  Sometimes, it is our tendency to shield our children from these dark emotions, from the sadness and the heaviness of the crucifixion.

Don’t.

cross-1375765_1920I realize that they won’t understand it all.  I know that it could make them sad.  I understand that they are young.  But the depth of understanding goes beyond our emotions on this day.

When we allow ourselves to remember the darkness of this day, the sadness of this moment that, if we are truly honest, not one of us completely understands, we create space for God to do a deeper work that our minds can understand.

Children are young.  Cognitively they don‘t understand.  But their hearts are attuned to God’s love.  Their understanding of spiritual things goes deeper than we adults sometimes give them credit for.

Throughout Scripture, we are told that infants praise him, the faith of children is pure, little ones know him, and we should be like them.  In children, the kingdom of God is made manifest so, trust me, they may not understand the theology, but they understand the heart of God and the love that was given.sunset-476465_1280

Ever been outside when a storm rolls away and the sun breaks through? 

Does it ever shine brighter in that moment?

On Good Friday, we experience sadness.  But only for a moment.  Because on Sunday we will experience unspeakable joy.  No matter the depth of sorrow we feel on Friday, our rejoicing on Sunday will far exceed those limits.

If we want our children to truly know the JOY that is Easter, we must let them also experience the sorrow that is Good Friday.

It’s okay for them to feel.  Feel with them.  It’s okay for them to cry.  Cry with them.

BUT, cry with hope.  Feel with expectation.  And Sunday morning, before eggs and bunnies and chocolate and flowers, before dinners and tulips and fancy dresses and suits and ties, before all of that… let them experience the OVERWHELMING, LIFE-CHANGING, HEART-POUNDING Joy of crying out, “He. Is. RISEN!!” 

Rejoice!  Cry out!  Dance a little.  Celebrate with your kids in a way you never have before.  Let joy swell in your hearts and come out as shouts of praise. Let them experience all the wonder and mystery wrapped up in God’s love for us on these three days.  Don’t let it just pass by unnoticed.  Don’t let your fear of their sadness keep them from experiencing the immensity of Easter Joy!!

Make this Easter a day they will never forget and they will long to experience for years to come.

May the words Ps. 30:5 come alive this year: “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning!”

For He IS Risen, just as He said!  He is Risen.. Indeed!!


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 BlogIMG-0573

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

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

Practical and Simple Tips to Aid Intergenerational Worship

I’ve fielded several questions this week on the practicality of having all ages in corporate worship together. While some of the questions pertained to older generations participating in church, most of them were focused on the challenge of having children in the church service.  But after conversing for a bit, the basic need wasn’t to be convinced that children should be there at some point (that reconciled fairly quickly after some theological, developmental, and sociological evidences of the benefits of intergenerational worship); the bigger felt need was just for some practical and simple ways to make it possible for children to be integrated into the service.

Our traditional service structures often make it difficult to extend the hand of welcome to the next generation and it can be difficult to maneuver within those confines and find ways of incorporating all generations.

With that in mind, here are some practical tips and tools for Intergenerational Worship Services that might be useful for your faith community. I’ve shared these in the past and have had a lot of great feedback from multiple churches and denominations. I’d love to hear what your church is doing to make room for all ages to find a space to worship together.

1. Kid’s Worship Team – This team doesn’t necessary lead “singing” but they worship through hospitality (holding doors, handing out bulletins, etc), prayer (they go forward during prayer time and pray for themselves and others) and generosity (they take up the communion and pray over it).

For our team, the kids followed a weekly schedule, just like the adult worship team, and if they missed their Sunday, they had to get someone to take their spot. They also had to go through a training on worship with me before they could serve.

2. Sermon Notes – There are a lot of great templates out there for sermon notes and for older kids, it’s a great way to keep them involved with the service.  In one church, if a child completed their sermon notes, they could get something out of a treasure box and the completed form was given back to their parents so the parents could have a follow-up conversation with their kids at home.

churchkids

3. Call Out the Kids – Kids love to get attention and they love when they get to be drawn into “adult” things like the sermon. We often asked whoever was speaking to at some point in the sermon just say something like, “Hey kids, have you ever seen this?” or something else that would be appropriate to the text to help draw the kids into the story. It’s amazing how just that little comment really drew them in and helped redirect their attention to the service.

4. Interactive Teaching and Learning – Anything interactive is great!  One of the ways our current church engages the kids is if there is a topic that involves a story from the Bible, the pastor will have the kids help act out the story. Everyone loves it – it’s spontaneous so things definitely go wrong, but the whole congregation gets involved and no one forgets the Scripture we studied that week.

5. Busy Bags  – Busy bags get a bad rap, mostly because people don’t understand the developmental science behind them. Have “busy bags” but explain to parents and other church members that these activities aren’t intended to distract the kids but rather to help the kids use all of their developing senses; studies show if their hands and eyes are busy, their ears will be listening.

Quiet activities like lacing cards, stickers scenes, foam craft kits, beads and pipe cleaners, small puzzles and coloring are all great ways to engage your kinesthetic and visual learners.

6. Pew Boxes or Worship Boxes  – Similar to busy bags, these boxes can be placed underneath chairs or pews and filled with quiet activities and books for kids to use during worship services. I love the ones put together by Traci Smith and outlined here

6. Active Involvement – The difference between “having kids in Big Church” and welcoming kids into corporate worship lies basically in participation.  Are children being invited to actively participate or passively observe?  Inviting children and youth to be part of the order of worship has incredible sway in creating a sense of inclusion and welcome.

Children and youth can read Scripture, say the benediction, lead a song (doesn’t always have to have actions – it can just be a song that they like – my son loves, “No Longer Slaves” and can’t wait to lead it), and pray.   Being involved signals that we have a place in the congregation – we are a part of something bigger – and everyone needs to know that truth.


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 BlogIMG-0573

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

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

“I Wanna Go Home”: The Yearning of Lent

“I wanna go home.”

The other day my tired son mumbled these words and I started laughing. “You are home,” I told him as I tucked him into bed. We both kinda laughed but I also realized this this particular statement is one that he often makes especially when he is tired, uncomfortable or ready to relax. Home for him is a safe place where he can just be at peace, feel loved, and rest so sometimes, even when he is in our house, the words, “I wanna go home” slip out because they mean so much more.

I cannot think of a better phrase to describe the season of Lent than this one.

On the Christian calendar, Lent is the period of 40 days plus Sundays leading up to the celebration of Easter. Traditionally, it is a time of confession, reflection and contemplation. Unlike Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, it is not a time of joyful anticipation, but more a time of realization as we consider our need for a Savior and truly grasp what Jesus accomplished through his death.
prodigal

The yearning that this season creates in my heart is very much like the yearning my son expresses when he says, “I wanna go home.”  Much like the story of the Prodigal Son, it’s a yearning for refuge, a yearning for rest, a yearning for love. It’s almost a groaning in our souls as we consider how weary we can become apart of the life-giving grace found in resurrection. 

Reflection and contemplation don’t necessarily come easy for children and youth. The celebration of Advent is full of ways to engage the whole family in joyful anticipation through fun activities and meaningful practices. But Lent is a much more personal, much less “kid-friendly” season.

So what are some ways that we can help engage the next generation in a time of meaningful reflection that stirs their spirits to say, “I wanna go home!”

Seek Salvation (Easter Scavenger Hunt)

Who said that Lent has to be boring? Sometimes I think just because we talk about contemplation and reflection we think that means we have to sit around and just think about how sinful we are. But that’s not the only way to contemplate and reflect. We can actively reflect and contemplate too.

Here is a fun Easter Scavenger Hunt I put together a couple of years ago that gets the whole family involved in the story of Easter from birth to resurrection. Whether you do this as a church family or individual families, this activity will drive home the beauty of the journey of this season leading to resurrection.

Reframe Repentance

Part of what can make this season so solemn is the emphasis put on repentance. But repentance isn’t all sorrow and ashes.

Repentance isn’t the end of joy; repentance is the beginning. It’s the gateway to freedom. Confession isn’t the start of shame; it’s the resounding end of it!

What if we could re-frame that for our children? How much greater would their experience of confession and repentance be?  How much more eager would they be to move quickly from sorrow to joy?  If we can talk about repentance being a beginning of a journey to freedom just like Lent is a journey to Easter, that yearning to “go home” and experience the resurrection can be stirred up!

Time Together

Lent, while a very personal experience, is a communal activity. It brings the church together for a specific season and reason. It’s the perfect time to connect generations to one another through a common experience. Here are some ideas of things that can be done together, whether as a family or as a church.

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/.

 If videos are more your style, 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

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.

Likewise there are many online resources for celebrating Lent together. 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.

Allow Space for Sorrow

Sometimes, it is our tendency to shield our children from sorrowful emotions, from the sadness and the heaviness of Lent and the crucifixion. But when we allow ourselves to remember the darkness of this season, the sadness of this moment, we create space for God to do a deeper work that our minds can understand.

During Lent, we may experience sadness. But only for a moment.  Because on Easter Sunday we will experience unspeakable joy.  No matter the depth of sorrow we feel during Lent, our rejoicing on Easter Sunday will far exceed those limits.  And if we want our children to truly know the JOY that is Easter, we must let them also experience the sorrow that is Lent and Good Friday.

It’s okay for them to feel.  Feel with them.  Cry with them.

BUT, cry with hope.  Feel with expectation.  And Sunday morning, before Easter eggs and bunnies and chocolate and flowers, before dinners and tulips and fancy dresses and suits and ties, before all of that… let them experience the OVERWHELMING, LIFE-CHANGING, HEART-POUNDING Joy of crying out, “He. Is. RISEN!!” 

Whatever your Lenten season looks like, I hope that your soul can cry out, “I wanna go home” as you look toward that place where our souls find rest – the resurrection and our hope for salvation.

This post originally appeared here in Feb. 2018


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 BlogIMG-0573

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

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

How to (Painlessly) Connect Generations in Church

Let me let you in on a little secret.  Well, maybe it’s not a secret. Maybe you already know. But here it is…

Some people don’t like the idea of children being in worship on Sunday morning.

Others don’t think it’s a good idea for the youth group to be in Sunday school in the same class as older adults.

Still others question whether corporate worship is developmentally appropriate and some wonder if it’s safe, considering the world we live in, for older people and younger people to interact in meaningful ways like mentoring relationships and close friendships.

Now, it’s possible that you do not feel any of these ways… but I promise you, there are some in your congregation that do. And let’s be honest. There are legitimate reasons for their concerns about safety and developmental appropriateness and there are years of experience and tradition and structures that bolster these opinions. And frankly, sometimes the protests arise from parents that are just tired and want a break and a place to receive instead of give.

I’ve written blogs about many these topics and concerns (just click on the links)…but that is not what this post is about. Because sometimes, instead of trying to turn a whole ship, it’s wiser to just introduce some simple course corrections; ones that offer the goal of intergenerational connections without having to completely overhaul programming or interrupt the congregational flow. And sometimes, these course corrections can eventually lead to a culture that is more ready and able to begin turning the ship and embracing new (actually old) ways of worshiping and congregating together, across ages and generations.

Below are a few practices that could allow for your community to begin to connect children, youth, and the elderly (the groups that tend to be left out of communal gatherings) in meaningful ways. I’ve linked to resources as needed and would be happy to discuss any or all in deeper conversation if interested.

Pray For Me Campaign

The Pray For Me campaign connects young people with others in the congregation as prayer partners for an academic year. While there are programming resources available, the church I did this with simply prayed for each other. Each child who participated was giving 3 bookmarks with their picture and a little bit of information on it and they asked 3 adults of varying generations to pray for them for the school year. We had 40 students and 78 adults participate. Each week an email was sent out with Scripture to pray over your student for that week. That was it.

Diverse people sitting in circle holding hands at group therapy

The Pray For Me book is fantastic if your church can afford to buy one for each participant; if not, buy a few copies for your team and each Sunday school and share as needed. Long story short – when people pray for each other, they begin to invest in one another. You can read more about my experience here.

Kids Worship Team

Often times in church, we define “worship team” as the group that gets up in front of church and leads singing. But worship is SO much more than that. Worship is showing reverence and adoration for God and we can do that in so many ways. Our Kid’s Worship Team “led worship” through hospitality (holding doors and handing out bulletins), prayer (going up to the altar to pray when the pastor offered that during prayer time so no one would pray alone) and generosity (taking up the offering and praying over it).

Get creative; how can the kids and youth in your church “lead worship”? In our church now, our kids teach the adults the lesson they learned at the end of the service. It’s incredible to watch how the adults connect to the kids lesson and how the kids get to share what they’ve learned. It takes 3 minutes but it’s 3 minutes well spent for all.  What about you?

Redefine “Next Gen”

A couple of weekends ago, I had the chance to join the pastoral staff at my church (Plowshares Brethren in Christ) in sharing our 2020 Vision with the congregation. Currently, I am serving as the NextGen pastor, so when it was my turn to speak, I felt it would be good to define what exactly we meant by “NextGen.”

I’ve found that for the most part, people tend to equate the term “NextGen” to youth ministry or children’s ministry or family ministry. And while all of these things are a part of NextGen, for our church, the term is much broader. We take seriously the reality that disciplemaking means that as a community we are all participating in the passing on of our faith to upcoming generations. That means, when Plowshares NextGen holds an event, if the only people that come are the next generation, we are missing a key component of NextGen – namely, the current gens.

NextGen is not just about providing a ministry space to youth and children and their parents; rather it is about creating a discipleship culture where we learn together and from one another in a way that fans the flame of faith in all of us.

With that in mind, I invited the entire congregation to join us for our first NextGen event of the year: A rice and beans dinnerthat would focus on gratitude, simplicity and privilige and end with packing Blessings Bags for our participants to take with them.  These types of events give us a way to experience discipleship together which is important for all ages, not just the next generation.

Serve Together

Warning: I’m gonna get a little scientific on you but it’s worth it so hold on. As human beings, we were created for social interaction. When we interact with other people, in positive ways, our brains release oxytocin. Oxytocin is a chemical that actually sometimes gets called the “cuddle chemical” because it helps us to trust and attach to others. When that happens, we are more likely to bond with the people we are interacting with and the part of our brain that forms memories is triggered and we hold on to that bond for years to come. (Source)

When people serve other people, a similar chemical reaction happens – humans “feel” good when they serve. So good in fact that people who serve live longer, healthier lives and experience reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety (Source).

Now, put to the two together in a church and you know what you end up with? Community. And with community we have a place for mentoring, discipleship and meaningful, lasting interactions with one another within the safety and security of communal gathering.  Those lasting bonds that are created will do more to draw hearts back to “church” than all the Sunday school crafts and silly youth group games in the whole world.

None of the things mentioned above require programming changes, curriculum overhauls or Sunday morning reorientation. They are simply course corrections. But all of them give the opportunity for the larger faith community to begin interacting with each other in ways that impact each other greatly. In other words, the ship could turn. The appetite may be whet for more because once we taste the rich gift that is true community across generations, our spirits will long for more…that’s how we were created and that’s how Jesus lived and loved.

Looking for more ideas? Check out the blog posts linked below.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

IMG-0573Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

The Sin of Neglect: Discipleship and the Next Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The senior pastor.

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

pedro-lima-IkqhfoJjwSI-unsplash

Photo by Pedro Lima on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

IMG-0573Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

Kids & Church: The Total Package

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

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

But when she got home, she beamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The church experience is much bigger than a sermon.

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

It’s a total package.

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

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

A version of this article first appeared on this blog here


For more information about

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

About this Blog

IMG-0573Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She holds Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry from Wesley Seminary and is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from the same. Christina blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed