Using Fear Tactics? There’s a better way

In Kentucky, we are 2.5 weeks into a “Healthy at Home” response to the current COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted the entire globe. In the days and weeks leading up to these stronger restrictions, I began to read social media posts from my fellow Christians calling for the media to stop “fear mongering” or using fear tactics to hype the virus and, in their estimation, cause panic.

But lately a surprising and frankly discouraging trend seems to have replaced this call for the media to stop using fear as a motivator. Over the past two weeks I have seen posts that say things like this:  “You know what’s even scarier than coronavirus? Depart from me, I never knew you – Jesus” or “Corona virus is God’s way of calling America to repentance”

Friends, that is fear-mongering.

Using the abundant LOVE God showed us through His Son in order to bring us eternal life as a tool of fear to scare people into repentance? That is not right. It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4) not his wrath.

little-boy-1635065_1920And while it is true that our kids are not likely reading these posts, we have to be careful in how we approach children at this time. They are already scared. Things don’t make sense.  I am going to make the broad assumption that people aren’t saying these things to children but it concerns me that they are getting said at all.

Is there another way?

Absolutely there is. We serve a God who is Love incarnate. We have the opportunity to life up life and hope and peace because we serve the God of life, hope and peace. Believe it or not, that can be done without using fear to motivate people. The salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ doesn’t need the threat of eternal damnation behind it to be effective.

Here are some ways we can lead from FAITH and not FEAR:

Acknowledge the world honestly, MAGNIFY the Lord intentionally – Yes, there are bad things that happen in the world. Hiding the truth from people, especially kids, will only make them more inquisitive. Talk to them when they ask about things that are scary BUT don’t focus on the scary thing; intentionally shift your focus to how GREAT God is

This virus is scary. My kids and my friends’ kids are asking questions every day so I assume most kids are. And we can answer them honestly without magnifying fear. What we can do is reassure them that we are with them, God is always with them, and that they are not alone.

Walk by FAITH and not by SIGHT – Kids watch what we model. If we make decisions or post memes out of fear, that will be the model that they learn from. If we model decision-making and social media sharing from a place of faith and seeking God, that’s what they will learn to do as well.

Be the HANDS and FEET of Christ – We are confronted with the reality of a fallen world on a daily basis. People who are lost, in need, alone. When we become Christ to those people by serving them and sharing hope and life with them, we show our kids that faith conquers fear every time and we model participation on the life of Christ as the way to approach a Christian life.

One our our church members recently started a Zoom Call called “Fort Fellowship” where she gathers kids and families together in a blanket fort they’ve built and share a short Bible Study. Each time we gather, she issues a challenge for us to bless others even while we are apart. To write a letter, call someone who is alone, make a card, share a video, and in that way be the hands and feet of Christ even as we are physically separate.

PRAY without ceasing – The reality is we cannot protect our kids forever from the results of living in a broken world. We can minister and parent from faith, we can give them tools for the task, and we can hold their hand for a while, but eventually we have to let go. But, we never have to stop praying, in the morning, at lunch, before bed, while we walk along the road, while we sit in our house. We can always, always pray. Pray together, pray apart, and pray often.

One day, this crazy season of life will be over (and there will be a new one with new challenges and opportunities). Let’s give our kids and families the best possible foundation on which to move forward.

“Now these three remain, faith, hope and love but the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13


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.

 

An Open Letter to My Fellow Ministry Leaders

The definition of the word “overwhelm” is to “give too much of a thing to (someone); to inundate.”

Friends, parents in America are overwhelmed.

In a few short days, they have been handed the responsibility of teaching their children at home while continuing to work their job (from home or in person) all while being thrown copious amounts of information about COVID-19 from every possible direction… and then there is us.

With the best of intentions, we have joined the cacophony of voices that are offering advice, resources, videos, experiences, links, songs, lessons, books, devotionals, etc.  And that is not a bad thing; in fact, the majority of responses I’ve seen posted publicly are those of gratitude and thankfulness.

But… my guess is only a very small fraction of those resources will actually be accessed.

And we need to be okay with that.

We need to refrain from thinking things like, “Well, I guess we’ll see if parents really can disciple their kids at home” (actual comment I’ve seen repeated in one format or another over the past week). We need to be careful about not offering so much “stuff” that parents can’t figure out what they could or should do as they juggle schooling, cooking, working, cleaning, entertaining, comforting and the like.

TiredParentsAs a parent, I can almost promise that what most parents are feeling right now is a sense of concern that they are not doing enough, exhaustion as they are trying to figure out what is best, fear that they are not going to be able to hold themselves and their home together, and frustration that they’ve lost every sense of normalcy and routine.

And while they are likely grateful for resourcing and support, what they might need most of all is a high five, a virtual pat-on-the-back, and a serious vote of confidence in them. 

Consider, instead of offering another resource, sending a personal text to say, “I believe in you and I am praying for you. You are going to be an amazing parent during this time and I am excited for your kids getting to spend this time time with you.”

Or, drop a note in the mail for the kids that praises their caregivers.

Or just let them know that while the resources are available, if they can’t or don’t use them, that’s okay. Just being present with their children is the work of discipleship. If all they do is hug them, feed them, love them, and keep them healthy through this time, they have done an amazing thing.

Help them redefine discipleship. A disciple is someone who follows Jesus. Discipleship is anything that we do that helps someone to follow Jesus.

For many parents, that’s gonna be a bedtime story, a math problem solved, a meal around the table, and a hug when someone is scared.

Parents are the greatest influence on their kids, now or any time. Let’s bolster their confidence and help them do the work of discipleship that they are already doing.

So, let’s offer the resources but without any strings, without any expectation, but just as a simple gift. And let’s jump to our feet and praise our parents for handling this unexpected major life change like the champions they are.

Oh…. and wash our hands.


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.

Can’t do An Easter Egg Hunt? Easter Photo Scavenger Hunt Alternative

Years ago, I put this Easter Photo Scavenger Hunt together for my church family but recently I’ve been seeing lots of posts looking for alternatives to Easter Egg Hunts. This family-focused Easter activity does not require social interaction, other than family members, and utilizes the outdoors, technology, and some creative storytelling to help families engage with the Easter story.

family with backpacks taking selfie by smartphone

Photo Scavenger Hunt with the Family; Finding Easter is even more fun than finding eggs

We’ve all got our smart phones in hand; why not put them to good use and use them to tell our children the story of Easter? After families find each “clue” the family takes a selfie together with the object they found so that by the end, not only do they have fun, faith-filled memories, they have seven new family pictures.

Feel free to use this scavenger hunt with your church and/or family and may we all be blessed as we consider together the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord!


Clue #1 – Birth – Luke 2:6-12

This story begins in a different way

The Baby Jesus was sleeping on Hay

He was the Messiah, God’s Only Son

But His journey began as a quiet, humble one…

With your family, find a barn or manger and take a selfie together beside it. Think about what it meant that Jesus wasn’t born rich or mighty, but as a humble baby, just like us. Talk about why that is important to us as we follow Him.

Clue #2 – Baptism – Matthew 3:13-17

As He grew, he gained respect from God and man

And His calling to save us, He began to understand

He declared He came to set the captives free

And was baptized by John to begin that journey.

John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. See if you can find a stream, a pool, a river, anything with water for your family selfie. Take some time to think about what happened when Jesus was baptized, how God spoke from heaven and what John said about Him.

Clue #3 – Ministry – Matthew 4:18-20

Jesus began to teach all the people

They’d come to hear him, no building or steeple

He’d talk in the mountains and down by the sea

And to those who would listen, He’d say “Come, follow me!”

 Jesus went to places where people were to talk to them about God’s Love. If Jesus were here today, where do you think he would teach? Take a picture of your family in the place you thought of and write down a little explanation of why you picked that place!

Clue #4 – Miracles

Many people came to Jesus in need

Some sick and some lame, some broken indeed

And often Jesus would heal, touch or feed

News of Him spread around Israel with speed

There are many stories of Jesus’ miracles in the Bible. With your family pick your favorite story and read it together. There are several ways to take your family selfie – you can all point to the Scripture reference and take a pic; you can re-enact the story and take a pic; or you can take a video of your family reading or telling the story!

Clue #5 – Last Supper – Matthew 26:20-30

But some of the people did not like God’s Son

And started a plan to get rid of the One

So Jesus gathered his friends for a Passover meal

And shared what would happen; it seemed so unreal

During the Last Supper, Jesus explained that he would die and rise again, but the disciples didn’t understand his words. It was here that Jesus first described communion – the bread representing his body and the juice representing his blood. After this, he left and went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray before the soldiers came to arrest him. With your family, go find a garden or a patch of flowers. Take your picture together and consider how just a few weeks ago this ground was cold and dead, but today there is hope and new life.   Jesus came that we might have new life and have it for all eternity!

Clue #6 – Crucifixion – Matthew 27:32-56*

Betrayed by a friend, Jesus was arrested

He was tried by a court and his death was requested

On that saddest of days, our Savior did die

But within that dark moment, our salvation did lie

When Jesus died on the cross, his disciples and his friends lost all hope. But God had a bigger plan. A beautiful plan that was way bigger than they could see in that moment. We remember the cross as a place of suffering but also as a place of hope for all eternity. With your family, find a cross and take your picture and talk about how we can have hope in Jesus.

*Parents, this can be a difficult subject to approach with children. You know your kids best and what is the best way to share this part of the story. While I have included the Scripture reference, use your discernment and discretion when you share.

Clue #7 – Resurrection – Luke 24:1-12

Some may think that our story is done.

But they would be wrong! It has only begun!

For after 3 days, Jesus rose from the dead

To give us New Life forever…just as He said!

Our greatest hope comes in knowing that we will get to spend all of eternity with Jesus and with all who follow him! We don’t have to be slaves to sin. Jesus can help us to live with joy and life now. That is what Easter is all about! Take a picture of your family celebrating with GREAT JOY that Jesus is ALIVE!


Wanna get even more involvement?

Create a space on your website for families to upload their pictures, offer a contest for families who complete the hunt, offer the experience to your whole church or release the clues once per day so that it takes a few days for families to complete. However you do it, this gives churches a chance to engage the family with Easter and without crowds.

Want a fun and unique way to tell The Story of Scripture with a perfect set-up for Easter? Check out this re-telling using just four simple but memorable symbols to tell the story


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

My kid doesn’t “get” anything out of Church

Note from Author:  Of all Refocus Ministry’s posts over the last five years, this one has by far been the most talked about. I get asked about it on a regular basis. I use it in nearly all of my conversations with people regarding kids and church. But based on some of those more recent conversations, I felt it needed to be shared again; for some of us, as a reminder of the richness of “church” and for others, as a first-time consideration of exactly what our kids “get” out of church.

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

But they probably don’t.

You see your kids are young in their faith.  They don’t understand the desire for fellowship or the beauty of corporate worship or the need for continued learning and growth in their walk with Christ.  They go to church because they follow you to church; they are your disciples and they are learning what being a Christian looks like by watching and emulating you (if I were a psalmist, I’d write a “Selah” after that and encourage to to “stop and think about” that for a moment).

So, parents often express this concern:  kid-church

My kids are only going to church because I make them.  It’s bad enough when they are going to Sunday School where they get to have fun but when they are just sitting in “big church” and they don’t get anything out of it, it seems rather pointless.

I get it, I do!  I have kids and I know that often the worship service is geared towards adults only and not applicable or appropriate for them (more about that here).  I too have struggled with the fact that they don’t seem to “get” anything out of those corporate times of gathering.  But I have also seen and read many studies that show definitively that these times of worship and learning in the midst of the larger congregation are one of the leading reasons for increased “stickiness” of faith in young adults.  Thus, there must be something to it, even if what they get out of church is not the same as what we adults “get” out of attending church service.

So, what is it?  What do little kids “get” out of going to “big church”?

1.  They get SEEN

I have been at churches where I have seen kids dropped off by parents in the Children’s Area as soon as they walk in the door and picked up as it is time to leave.  More than once I’ve heard it said in the hallway, “You have kids?  I had no idea!”  That makes my heart hurt.

It has been shown that one of the most important and meaningful thing for kids is that someone knows their name.  When kids are secluded from the congregation, not only are their names unknown, their faces aren’t even recognized.  They are for the most part a dismissible part of the church and wouldn’t be missed except by a few volunteers and staff members if they never came back… which is often exactly what happens when they are old enough to do so.

2. They get to SEE

One of the main ways that kids learn is through emulation by watching activities and actions and imitating them.  Every church I’ve been to has had its own form of liturgy or way to worship.  Some churches have prayers that are prayed each service. Some celebrate communion.  Some engage in corporate prayer, take up offerings, recite a creed, or have a time for sharing testimonies.  Some use hymnals, some projectors with contemporary praise and worship.  During the service, Scripture is read, Bibles are opened, and the Word comes to life.

All of these things are imperative for kids to be discipled in.  It may seem like they are not “getting” anything out of it, but they are learning and growing in those moments.  They are watching Mom and Dad and other adults they respect and trust show them how to worship. And if they don’t learn from the church, they will learn somewhere else.  The world has plenty of things to worship and are more than willing to teach kids how to do so.

3. They get EXPERIENCE

For a moment, I want you to think back on your own walk of faith.  Do you remember the first time you took communion?  Got baptized? Found a Scripture verse in the Bible by yourself? Put money in the offering plate?  Prayed at the altar?  Maybe even shared in front of church?

For many of us, those things happened in the context of congregational worship.  Now, I bet you did some of those things in Sunday School or Kids Church before you did them with the larger congregation, but I also bet there was something meaningful and affirming about doing it with the whole church. 

When my girls got baptized, they shared their testimony in front of the church and after the baptism, the congregation cheered and hugged them and loved on them in a way that left deep impressions on their hearts of their place in God’s church.  We don’t attend that church anymore since we moved, but the experience of being accepted in the body of Christ has stayed with them.  Having the experience of an entire congregation embracing them gave them a sense of belonging that is not easily forgotten.

It would be naive to think that this is a simple or easy task. 

Kids are… kids.  Churches would be wise to find ways to make it easier to invite kids into worship (click here for more on this ).  Parents should be prepared for the inevitable eye rolls of boredom or occasional acting out and having to do follow-up after the service to reinforce what was taught.

But I firmly believe these frustrations of the moment are far less painful than the alternative – a generation who is unknown, disengaged, and separated from the larger body of Christ.

By giving our children a place to be seen, to see, and to experience their faith with others, we give them so much more – we give them a foundation for their faith that will leave lasting impressions on their heart.


To read the follow-up blog, Do Not Hinder: Welcoming Kids to Worship, click 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

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

Who Should Disciple Children?

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

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

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

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

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

Who are the Parents?

ST_2015-12-17_parenting-11

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

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

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

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

What do we mean by “Who Should”?

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

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

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

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

Who is “The Church”?

churchpeople

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

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

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

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

For more on this topic, check out these articles.

So What is the Answer?

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

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

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