The Gift of a Child

I’ve always been drawn to the story of the Little Drummer Boy. Here’s a little boy, who has nothing but a drum. All around the adults, who have money and vocations and big important jobs, are bringing their finest gifts to the newborn King. Their gifts were shiny and pretty and new and all the little boy had was his drum, something a little baby boy could never use. So what was he to do?

He gave what he could. He gave Him a song.

And then Jesus smiled.

This morning in church surrounded by adults that knew all the right words and ways to act and songs to sing, a little boy scribbled on a piece of paper.  And with no pomp or circumstance, that little boy walked right up to our altar, right in the middle of the worship service, and laid his scribble right next to the Advent wreath and communion elements. His mom started forward to remove it until the pastor (my husband) signaled her to leave it there.

He gave what he could. He gave Him a scribble.

And then, I really do think, Jesus smiled.

In that same service, my son made me a ring out of pipe cleaners. Someone saw it later and said it looked like I was wearing a muppet on my hand. But that ring, that meant the world to Caleb in that moment because he had made it and he had given it to me.

child-577010_1920The gift of a child is given with all sincerity.  See, for a child, when they create something, a song, a scribble, a ring, they genuinely give a part of themselves to it.

That’s why we hang these things on refrigerator doors and send through the mail and keep folders of treasures we just can’t bear to throw out.

So often, as adults, we come to church thinking about what we can receive. A word from the Lord. A moment of peace or inspiration. A break. A renewal. And it can be easy to look at our children and think that is true of them too.  But I wonder what would happen if we came asking what we could give. Even more than that, what if we asked our kids what they wanted to give at church on Sunday.

A song? A ring? A scribble?  What if we opened our altars to whatever a child brings to give?  Or our offering plates to things other than the shiny?  And our stages to songs that may not be the most beautiful but probably the most heartfelt?

Every time I hear the Little Drummer Boy song, I hear the accompaniment of some really amazing drum lines or drum riffs.  But it was a poor little boy. I have a little boy. When he plays the drum, it does not sound like the drums on that song.

And then Jesus smiled.

As those who bring our children to the Savior, the adults with the big important jobs, how can we begin to make room for the gifts of children?  How can we be like Mary in the song and “nod” to the kids? I truly believe it will make Jesus smile.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

*The advertisements 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. 

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Why I Don’t Like Church Christmas Programs

Is there anything cuter than kids in a Christmas play?  I mean seriously, don’t we just love seeing the kids sharing their songs, saying their lines, quoting their Bible verses and wearing all the Christmassy things?  And, of course, there’s always that “one” kid who unwittingly steals the show with their over-enthusiastic lines or their under-enthusiastic singing.  Or the one who is just a little bit off on the motions or the one who is pretending to conduct in the back row.  I mean, who doesn’t like seeing kids perform in church?

Me.

What?!?  I’m a children’s pastor. Isn’t that against the rules?

You guys, bear with me but, yeah, I usually don’t like them very much at all. I love that the kids talk about Jesus. I do think that they are beyond adorable and I want to hug every single one. But what I don’t like are the many implications that often come with it; things that go unsaid, but speak volumes to children and adults about the place of children in “big church.”

Four Reasons I Don’t Like Christmas Programs

  1. They define the role of Children in Worship – They are performers. They are cute. Everyone likes to “see” them. Everyone wants them on stage.  But children are much more than that. They are active, vital, necessary members of the body of Christ. If they are only invited into worship to “perform” guess what worship/church becomes for them?  A performance. And when they get tired of performing or they aren’t cute anymore, they move on to bigger and better things.
  2. They define the role of the Children’s Pastor – Many or most who work in Children’s ministry, rarely spend much time in “big church.”  The role is unseen; serving downstairs or upstairs making sure children are loved, rooms are covered, volunteers are appreciated, parents are affirmed, janitors are appeased, visitors are welcomed, and families are encouraged. But the only time a children’s minister is seen in church is when he/she bring the children up to put on a show. It creates a very limited view of who children’s ministers are.
  3. They define the role of the Congregation – When the children perform, all the feelings are there! The kids are sweet and cute and the church loves to see them in church. But it is a passive reception; the kids give, the church receives. There are no active, ongoing relationships. Many don’t even know the children’s names. They are the “girl in the red dress that sang so loud” and the “boy in the tie who sat on the steps.”  It creates an environment of “us” and “them” and when the performance is over, everyone returns to their posts.
  4. They define who is and who is not “the Church” – This is the same reason I despise the term “big church.”  There isn’t a big church and little church in God’s kingdom. There’s just church.  We, all of us, old, young and in-between, are all members of God’s body, part of the Church, His Bride. We affirm this at baptism or dedication. The whole congregations commits to being one body. And then, we go our separate ways, big and little, for the year, until it’s time to perform again.

I know that not every church is like this.

christmaschurchPlease know that I realize that for some churches the program is more than a performance. For those churches, the children are involved in church all year long as participants and not just performers and the Christmas program is an extension of a greater story. I am beyond blessed to serve in a church like this.

But many of the reports I hear from Christmas programs across the board can be summed up like this, “All year we are invisible, but today…Today we shine.”  And that makes me sad.

What can be done?

Well, for one, we can start making the children part of the larger corporate worship more frequently, giving them a name and voice and relationships rather than just being cute and adorable.

Create space for adults to interact with children on level ground rather than as active performer and passive recipient.

Define roles differently – children as saints of God and adults as children of God; the children’s director as pastor and shepherd of God’s flock not keeper of kids; the congregation as a family of all generations not a division of age groups and ministries.

Christmas programs are in and of themselves not the issue.

I mean, let’s face it, they are part of the regular church experience and, come on, the kids are really cute!

But if that’s all they are, if that is the only time they are seen and the only role they fill, then Christmas programs are the issue. If that’s the only time the children’s minister is a part of corporate worship, it’s an issue. If a culture of “us” and “them” is perpetuated or if children are guests in the service rather than family at the table, then it’s an issue.

Christmas is a time we celebrate Love coming to earth…as a child. Our programming, no matter how cute or adorable it is, should be a continuation of that story through the community and family that is the church.

This post was originally published in December 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

EmbreeFam2017

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

What if all the “What If’s” Happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • What if they don’t show up or work hard?
  • What if they are irresponsible or do things incorrectly?
  • What if there are not enough adults to volunteer to supervise them so they just get in the way?
  • What if someone gets upset because they want it done a certain way or they think it’s their role in the church?
So, okay, let’s talk about it. What if all the “What if’s” happened?  
what-if

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if… 


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

 

 

 

It’s Old News: The Not New Fun Way to Do Church

I can’t tell you how many times a week I see posts from fellow kidmin and fammin leaders that say something like, “Looking for some new, upbeat songs for our kids” or “Need some new fun and energetic songs for children’s church.”  I smile a little because my daughter (11) has been going to a local camp for the past year and always comes home singing the songs she’s learned there (and now loves) and they are the same exact songs I was singing when I went to camp at her age.  New, fun, energetic – nothing wrong with any of that – but sometimes I wonder if we are looking for the right answer in the wrong places.

Often the reason given for needing or wanting these new things is that the old things are no longer engaging the children. The kids aren’t excited to come to church, they don’t want to stand up to sing, they are bored with the format, they want something new.  There’s always a ton of really great suggestions and resources, again often ministries that I would recommend, but I’m always curious about what happens next.

When the newer, funner, more energetic songs get introduced into the group, is there a change?  Do the kids begin to participate more?  Are they excited to come to church? Is boredom still an issue?  But even further down the road, does it help to create a generation of disciples that continue in their faith even into adulthood and parenthood and grandparenthood?

Wow, that escalated quickly!  I mean, that’s a whole lot to pin on some new music.

Indeed it is. It’s a lot to pin on a new curriculum too. Or a new building. Or a new children’s pastor. Or a new fill-in-the-blank.   It’s an awful lot to pin on any of those things.

But churches do that all the time. I’ve done it. I’ve fallen for the “if we just get this thing or do that thing, then we’ll have the results we want” routine. Too often that’s the very direction we turn to for solutions. As parents, it can become easy to look for the next book or strategy or food or gadget that will help our children be all that they can be. As ministers, it can be come just as easy to look for the next resource or conference or gimmick or strategy that can help our ministry become all it can be.

But all of those things, while fine and good, cannot on their own produce the legacy of faith that we call discipleship.

They cannot create disciples. 

Only disciples can create disciples.

We need each other.  We need relationships. We need community.

It’s not even that we need it; it’s that we were created for it. Innate in each of us is this reflection of the image of a Triune God who exists in perfect unity and community. We were made in His likeness and therefore we can only be complete in community as well.

together-2450090_1920

Now, some new music, coupled with mentors dedicated to walking alongside a young person in the faith as they grow..that… that has some real possibilities. 

A new building and some dedicated volunteers who spend time not only in the church but outside of it, building relationships with the youth at soccer games and ballet recitals.. that has some promise. 

A new curriculum plus parents who are sold out to the idea that they are the greatest influence on their kids so they start the conversation ahead of time and follow up at home… that holds some solid hope for the future. 

A new children’s pastor and a faith community that is committed to ensuring that every person, regardless of age, knows they are welcomed, needed, and an integral part of the church… I mean, that, that could change the world.

In fact, if we had all of the latter and none of the former, I just bet we’d see more kids excited about church…and more adults too.

You see, it really is old news. We were made for one another.

New things are nice, even good, but without each other, they just can’t bring about the change we desire.

What if before we looked for something new, we took the time to strengthen the things that already are?  What if we intentionally removed the barriers that keep us apart and begin to find ways to discover God together?  It’s definitely more work than just adding a new thing, but my guess is the results would be much longer-lasting and much more along the lines of what we really desire for the next generation that we are ministering to.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

 

 

The Distraction During Worship

Why do we go to church?

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

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

So, why are we here?

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

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

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

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

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

be-quiet-in-church

To be clear; children are not a distraction.

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

But they are not distraction.

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

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

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

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

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

The tradeoff seems worth it to me.

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

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

What if we give them more chances?

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

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

Who am I? I am a child of God.

Who are we? We are the body of Christ

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

All of us.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

What Intergenerational Worship IS

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

So what IS intergenerational worship?

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


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

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

It can feel more like a collision than a collusion. 

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

Community

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

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

team-spirit-2447163_1920

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

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

Communication

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

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

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

Consistencey

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

Intergenerational Worship is NOT…

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

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

She was met with mixed reactions.

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

Actually.. therein lies the problem.

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

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

Intergenerational Worship is NOT…

Putting kids in the sanctuary

If the goal was just to put children and youth in the sanctuary, then creating a new service geared to them and separate from the rest of the body would make sense. But that’s exactly the opposite of what intergenerational worship is. The whole point is to create space for all generations, old and young and in-between, to worship together. Creating a new service or maintaining an existing service that targets one specific generation can’t accomplish this goal.

Glorified Kid’s Church

boy-1929539_1920Some people express the concern that if children and youth are welcomed into the service, they’d have to start doing “kids stuff” like singing songs with motions and eating goldfish during the super-short, kid-appropriate sermon.

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

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

A Disruption

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

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

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

A New Fad

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

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

So, what is Intergenerational Worship?

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

For clarification purposes, please know that I am not opposed to quality Christ-centered, community-focused Children’s Ministry and Youth Ministry, but I do have concerns when families and churches are consistently separated from each other and never having time to fellowship together. There is great benefit to all of us when we are given the chance to learn from, worship with, and grow together with one another.

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

A Distinctly Different Welcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

Singing Songs isn’t Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

christian-1316207_1920

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

Some worship ideas that might be used instead of songs.

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

Gabbie’s Church: A Lesson in Inclusion

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

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

“So what does this mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those numbers were sobering and assuring all at once.

Gabbie wasn’t alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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