Re-Focus on the Family: Influencing the Influencers

Kids walking away from the faith. Lagging attendance at church.

Lack of relationship in the faith community.

Disengaged youth. Absentee parents. 

These are the topics I get emails about on a weekly basis. These are the things that are keeping ministers up at night praying and parents up at night worrying. And these are very real concerns that are multifaceted and complex to explore. But lately, I’ve become more and more convinced that there is one main area that needs to be addressed in our churches if we are going to find lasting answers. And that area is the family or the home, specifically as it relates to parents and caregivers.

A recent study released by Search Institute, a research group dedicated to “discovering what kids need to succeed.” suggests that there is indeed a secret weapon..only, it’s not that secret. The title of their research is “Don’t Forget the Families: The Missing Piece in America’s Effort to Help All Children Succeed” and what it shows is that we have made a big mistake in America – we nixed the family and tried to raise the kids without it.

family-1599826_1920They report, “too many institutions and professionals have given up on families, focusing exclusively on the struggles families face and the problems they create. We then put our energy and resources into setting up systems and supports that compensate for the failures we perceive in families.”

So what does that mean?

We tried to “fix” the shortcomings we’ve perceived in families by, well, replacing the family with things like school, and sports, and therapy, and youth programs and … church.

Yes, church.

As a society we collectively decided that “many families are dysfunctional and even hopeless. Changes in family structure and family life have led some observers, advocates, and the public to characterize the state of families today as bad and getting worse.”  The solution? Remove the “power” from the family and replace it with other more stable things.

The problem with that is, we forgot that we are hard-wired to be a part of a family, and no matter how many institutions we create to vie for power in our hearts, our family consistently remains the most influential. 

“In reality, there is little evidence that families have lost their power in the lives of children and youth—even though many families do face major challenges.[A] University of Virginia study found that most parents are quite happy with their own families (Bowman et al., 2012).

A 2010 survey of 2,691 U.S. adults by the Pew Research Center similarly found that 76% said their family is the most important element of their lives, and 75% said they are very satisfied with their family (Taylor, 2010)…

Longitudinal evidence suggests that it is more accurate to describe families as changing, not declining… family influence remained strong… levels of maternal engagement remained strong.

Conclusion? Families still matter greatly, and families can and do tend to perform well those functions that are particularly relevant to the lives of children, even in different social and historical contexts, household arrangements, and living conditions (Bengstan, et al, p. 15).”

What does that mean to us in the Church?churchpeople

Parents/caregivers are the single most important influence in a child’s life. Period. No amount of programming, support, systems or institutions can change that.  We are hard-wired to exist within families by the very One who wired our system in the first place.

And thus the call to parents to disciple their kids in the faith all through Scripture. Because God knew what researchers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell us in a pages-long report on the success of children:

We propose focusing family engagement on reinforcing families’ central role in helping children and youth develop character strengths through which they discover who they are, their power to shape their own development, and why they matter in their families, communities, and world 

In the church, we call that…discipleship.

And it is time we give the power back to the place it belongs. It means we “shift the how of engaging families: from emphasizing the tactical ways families reinforce what happens in schools or programs (or church!) to supporting families in building developmental relationships.

For the last few years, many ministers in the Church have been sharing the theological reasons for a shift towards family ministry or ministry that focuses on equipping the home as the primary place for faith formation.  And in some cases, they have been met with resistance by those, who like the study points out, see the changing face of the family and the imperfections therein and say, “We just can’t turn this important job of teaching kids about God over to parents…what could happen?”

But now, this study, aimed at the larger society and having nothing to do with faith or religion or church, is saying we must “refocus family engagement for greater reach and impact based on the perspectives, priorities, and strengths of families.”

It is time, Church.  

We need to reconnect, reengage and refocus on the home. Family, no matter what it looks like or how messy it feels to dive into, is where it is at. The power has always resided there.  The influence has always been strongest there.  The fact is, families were wired that way from the start by the One who said, “Impress these commandments upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road; when you lie down and when you rise.”

It’s time to fix the disconnect and turn our attention, our energy, our desire to see children follow Christ towards the home and equip the leaders there to do what they are wired to do…go and make disciples at home.


About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

Advertisements

Is Christ Welcome in Church?

Welcome

What does that word mean to you?  When you think about being welcomed somewhere, what does it look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like?

I grew up Italian, and even if my grandma married in, she was Italian through and through. I’ll never forget showing up at Grandma’s house and hearing, “Come in, how are you? How was the ride? Are you hungry?” while being wrapped up in hugs and ushered into her home. To this day if I smell something that reminds me of her home like a roast cooking on the stove, I feel welcome – I literally feel it.

Welcome was more than just opening the door and allowing me to come inside.

It was enveloping me in love. It was making sure my needs were met. It was serving me with grace and engaging me with intention.

I felt wanted. I felt cared for. I felt like I belonged. 

welcomeI can think of no better way to describe this feeling than through this video. I’d love it if you’d click this link and watch it, but if you don’t here’s a snapshot: Two Congo boys who have been adopted by an American couple come off the plane and literally run into their new parents arms. The tears, the absolute JOY, the intensity of the welcome… it brings tears to my eyes each time.

Watching it between those tears, I could not help but think of the story of the prodigal son and the welcome he received from his father when he returned home. The tears, the absolute JOY, the intensity of the welcome. 

And I could not help but think of this Scripture

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them,“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.

“Welcomes one of these little children.”

And so, I think as the church we should ask, do we welcome the little children?

Are they enveloped in love? Are we serving them with grace and engaging with intention?

Are they welcome everywhere or only in certain spaces?  Are they welcomed by the congregation, known by name, and identified as part of the community?

Do they know that they are wanted, cared for…that they belong?

These are good questions for us to ask, even if the our answer is yes, because Jesus says, if we welcome them, we welcome Him and if we welcome Him, we welcome the one who sent Him.

And no, of course there won’t be a flood of tears each time they walk through the church doors and our finest robes and food for feasting brought out each time they enter, but there should definitely be a sense of “I’m wanted here” and “I’m known here” and “I belong here” each time they come to worship, to fellowship, to learn, to be a part of the church.

Regardless of how each church decides to approach ministry to children and families, welcome should be an overall characteristic of the culture and the heart of our approach to children’s ministry, because by welcoming them, we welcome Christ and not only Christ, but the One who sent him… we welcome the fullness of God into our midst.

Looking for some ideas on how to welcome children to corporate worship? Check out this article on Practical Ways to Welcome Children to Church

Some children don’t have a family to come to church with. Here are some thoughts on welcoming those who come alone

Another way to help create a sense of welcome is to find spaces where we can incorporate the whole family in worship together; check out some ideas for that here


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

 

Bringing Ash Wednesday Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

One of “Those” Parents

Recently my husband and I have been working on tightening and/or enforcing some boundaries in our home in regard to internet and device use.  Our decision was precipitated by a myriad of concerns not the least of which was the influence that we recognize that the messages being perpetuated through certain media outlets was having on our home and children.

As we began to roll out these changes or doubled up on our enforcement of already established boundaries, you can imagine that we were met with a high degree of eye rolling, sighing, accusations of being “controlling” and ultimately the title of being “one of those parents.”

Out of curiosity and also a desire to know my tribe of “those parents” I posted a simple request on my Facebook wall:

“Having most recently been dubbed “one of those parents” for our overly stringent and utterly unbelievable boundaries we are enforcing regarding device and screen use in our home…I’d love to hear, if you are willing to share, the boundaries in place in your home. Particularly interested in hearing from parents with teens (think around 13 & 16). Also, if you have no boundaries, I’d love to know that since apparently we are the only parents who do 😉. Signed – One of those parents”

teenphoneThe response was overwhelming and encouraging. I heard from parents that ranged from more permissive to more restrictive. People shared with me their boundaries and the reasons why they were established. Not one person was exactly the same in their boundaries or their concerns, but all who participated in the discussion shared one thing in common: Every single parent was doing what they felt was best for their children out of the motivation of love.

It was tangible – we love our children so when we choose our boundaries, we are doing our very best to provide for them what they need to grow up healthy and whole. We may not all agree on what those boundaries are, but we do agree on why they are in place.

That being said, I wanted to share (anonymously) some of the comments so that if you are “one of those parents”, you will have the chance to know that you are not alone. 

“No screens in bedroom. Phone comes to me at 9pm. I use Circle to filter and to set time limits for online use. Under 2 hours total. I have full access and read everything.” (Circle is an internet-monitoring system that allows you to set Time Limits for apps and web site as well as age-appropriate Filters that apply to all devices.)

“We don’t have a set screen time limit but we do ask them to put them away if I feel like they have been on them too much. We also use software (Secure Teen) that limits content and shuts the Internet down from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. so they can’t really use their phones. We also monitor all their social media and check their photos.  Doors must be open and screen facing the door if Chromebooks are used their bedrooms.”

“No phone after 9pm. Safari and social media are disabled until academics are where we feel like they should be. We also do check texts/photos at random intervals, but are aware they can be deleted.”

Covenant Eyes not only monitors activity but the family admin can set restrictions/permissions. Also, a weekly report of activity is emailed to the admin for accountability. As far as the time limit – our kids are quite limited, not only in the amount of time they spend on devices (some on weekends, rarely during the week), but but they are limited in where they can go online. And no social media for them for years to come. It’s safer that way for so many reasons”

“Yes our 13 year old has a breakdown about once a week regarding how strict we are 🙄 We’ve used Circle for a couple years and also use the screen time limits built into iPhones.  Our kids are almost 9, 11 and 13. Up until now, basically no screens during the week (unless sick, snow day etc) we tried it several times and it didn’t work. They can text friends via Wi-Fi, no internet at all on their phones (which really operate as iPod touches). They all love audio books so they do that quite a bit on phones. There are games only on their iPads bc if they were on their phones we’d have to restrict them more. They have about an hour a day for texting/FaceTime. The older 2 only text friends. We also read all emails and texts and they aren’t allowed to communicate with anyone we don’t know.”

“We use Qustodio, which I think is similar to Circle and allows us to view all texts as well as web activity. It also allows us to set time limits. Speaking of web activity, we do not let our kiddos have that on their phones. We have a desktop in our living room, which we share for internet searching and which has a large, viable screen. We do not allow phones in rooms or bathrooms – only in common areas. We do not allow head phones in the house. We turn in phones at 8:00 pm.”

“I’m like the Outback Steakhouse… “No Rules, Just Right!” Lol! Seriously, though… I have to pick and choose my battles as a single mom of 4 teenagers. Not saying my kids don’t need boundaries, but they are very transparent with me and we keep a very open dialogue. I let them do their “teenage” thing, and I’m blessed enough to be trusted by them to always know where they are and what they’re doing, because they know they can trust me without judgement. In turn, they want to be home mostly, because it’s such a safe haven for them… and nowhere I’d rather them be by choice.”

“I am a strict parent about many things. For example, we expect that our children will keep their grades above a 94 (they are capable…any grade below this for a middle school or high school student is automatic forfeiture of electronic devices until overall grade is returned to a. 94) and they are actively involved in healthy activities (church youth group, church choir, band, orchestra, community service organizations, community theatre). My theory has always been to keep my children too busy to find trouble. Our oldest two children are both recent self-supporting college grads who have avoided making any major poor decisions so I think my parenting style is working for our family. All that being said, I do not monitor texts or emails or conversations that my high school or middle school daughters are having as I feel that they are entitled to some privacy. I would have been weirded out if my father would have recorded my phone calls as a teen and I feel like this is the method that most contemporary teens use to communicate. Obviously if I learned of an issue with bullying or inappropriate messages or pics, this policy would change. I do think that like everyone else teens deserve some privacy. I also think it is a time to learn how to conduct relationships. My oldest daughter at home is a senior. She will be going away to college in a few months. If I had read every single email and text and then one day sent her 500 miles away to live I would fear she would not know how to conduct relationships on her own. We have used Covenant Eyes to make sure everyone was on the up and up on what sites that they were visiting and we do limit screen time (though we are not as strict as many on this assuming that kids are being good citizens and students…and getting all work done).”

” We are in the phase of no boundaries. Our boys are a 22 year old FT college student who lives at home and a 17 year old. Our rule has always been that I can ask for the phone at any moment for a phone check, as well as have all passwords. I do them from time to time. But we live in a world where parents are bubble wrapping their kids – and as soon as they leave and the wrap is gone they don’t know how to function. We have always been open about talking etc. the only boundaries we set were no Snapchat, and I turned off their ability to down load apps – I had to do it this it had to be approved. Also no internet on their phones until age 15. The final rule, if your technology causes you to be a jerk or a recluse, you don’t need it and I won’t pay for it. This covered participation in family time.”

As you can see, there are many ways of approaching this issue in our homes. I hope that by reading through some of these, you will have a better idea of how to best approach the boundaries of your particular family. There were over 70 comments on my initial thread; I’ve only shared a few. That shows me just how much of an issue this is for us as parents, especially as we are the first generation of parents to navigate this with our children. My prayer is that with each decision we make, we feel the grace of God towards us and our children as we do our very best with the gifts He has entrusted us with.

If you would like to comment on your boundaries at home, please feel free to do so below. This is not a place, however, to critique or judge others for theirs and any disparaging comments will be deleted. We are all doing our best and relying on God’s grace. Let’s encourage one another instead!!


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

 

Practical Discipleship: Bringing Sunday into Monday as We “Sit at Home”

Continuing our series on Practical Discipleship, it felt appropriate to take some time to consider ways we can bridge the gap between church, the place, and church, the body of Christ as we disciples our kids in our homes. A few years ago I had the chance to sit in on a class with my husband and some of his (and my) seminary friends. The class discussion revolved around how liturgical practices in the church could be utilized to address current themes such as nationalism, consumerism, the oversexualization of society, etc. It was a great discussion.

However, as the discussion continued, it became increasingly clear that the church has limited influence in speaking into these areas.  In fact, it became increasingly clear that if the message was going to be heard, it was going to need to come from parents/caregivers in the context of the home.

But how?  How can we take liturgical and sacramental practices like communion and baptism and put them in the context of the home while relating them to the themes and challenges of the culture today?

How can we as ministers give parents easy wins, simple ways to connect Sunday to Monday, so that the home continues the conversation of church? 

And how can we as parents, use these beautiful moments that connect us to the church across time and space in our homes to remind our family we are part of something bigger?

We need to think bigger.

We need to look at this whole idea of having ONE conversation in multiple locations so that when we are in church on Sunday, what we are talking about, and what we are doing, doesn’t seem new or different or foreign. Instead, when we walk into church, it seems familiar and natural, a continuation of the conversation.

Like with communion:

What if we gave parents activities to explain communion to their kids at home BEFORE their kids take communion at church?

What if, after Communion Sunday, we give them a few conversation starters to share with their kids about how communion speaks to consumerism and materialism (not with those words, but with that heart)?

What if we created round table discussions for parents to come to at church, not when their kids are 13 and in the middle of the pangs of puberty, but when they have infants and are preparing for this whole parenting thing and at those tables, we took communion and talked about how we can live out this practice in our homes through sacrificial living and experiencing God’s presence?

And how about baptism?

family-1784371_1920What if the words spoken, the commitment of the church to walk alongside the child and family at baptism or dedication (depending on your tradition) were given to parents to take home and review with their kids on a regular basis? Maybe even framed and signed by the pastor and members of the church?

What if we offered remember your baptism services and encouraged families to talk about their baptisms at home before they come to church so that baptism was more than a one-time event but a continual reminder of identity in Christ and as a member of the Church?

A lot of “What ifs” in all of that, but imagine if those “What ifs” became easy wins for parents/caregivers to have intentional faith conversations with their children and youth when they rise, when they lie down, when they sit at home and when they walk along the road.

Here are some Easy Wins to get us started

Easy Wins – Communion

At our church one Valentine’s Day, we created little “Take Home Communion Kits”for families that included a short liturgy, the elements of grape juice and bread which were blessed by our pastor, and a little lesson the Greatest Valentine Ever (Jesus). Families were able to celebrate together with a lesson that connected to the holiday of Valentine’s Day and reminded them of where True Love is really found. Need elements? Click here for what we used. 

How do you talk about communion with youth?  Here’s an article that makes talking about communion as easy as talking about eating dinner, something all kids and youth understand. This is a great way to talk about communion as community, literally “communing” with God and the whole family of God. And this conversation can be had over dinner a.k.a. “when we sit at home.”

Creative Communion, a book by Margaret Withers and Tim Sledge, actually has six session around different foods and snacks that actually helps open the discussion with kids about different aspects of communion such as gathering, confession, gospel reading, offering, communion, and dismissal. It’s a really neat approach using food kids love (like pizza) to have an ongoing conversation about the sacrament of Eucharist. For more ideas and more about the book, click here.

Easy Wins – Baptism

Remember your baptism – Many church traditions offer the opportunity to “remember your baptism” as part of their regular service. This can easily be done by the family in the home and parents can remember aloud with their children their own baptism and what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. Simply use water to pour over one’s hands or touch to one’s head and remember together.

 Check out this amazing booklet from one church that gives baptism anniversary activities for the parents and children to do at home and remember together their baptism. 

Regardless of your church’s baptismal tradition, one thing we all agree on is that baptism invites us into the community of faith, into the Church, the Body of Christ. In an age where belonging and identity are often questioned, baptism gives us both. For parents, this can be a good way to talk to their kids when they question who they are and where they belong. Baptism brings us back to that place. Here are some links on ways to spark or have that conversation at home:

Discipleship at home doesn’t have to be a scary thing; it is as simple as inviting Christ into the spaces we inhabit daily. As ministers, we can help families discover Christ in their home as they sit and walk and rise and lie down and as parents we can capture the moments to discover Jesus is with us everyday, in every way!


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

Talk About It When You Sit at Home: Bringing Advent from Sunday into Monday

What is Advent?

If you’ve read my blog at all, you know that Advent is probably my favorite celebration of the year. Not Christmas necessarily, but Advent, the time leading up to Christmas. The anticipation of Christ’s arrival. The celebration of Hope, Peace, Joy and ultimate Love.

A few years ago, I asked a group of elementary-aged children this question.  Keep in mind that sunday-school-kidsthese children have been “raised” in church so the terminology of “advent” was not unfamiliar to them.  But the answers… oh, the answers… seriously, one of the reasons I love working with kids.

Advent is…

… when you can’t find the angel for the top of tree and you look all over the house for it

… a fun trip into the jungle (I think he though I meant “adventure”)

… when you light candles on the tree branches that fall off the tree (think Advent wreath)

… that thing you use to light Christmas lights

… the songs you sing at Christmas time

Admittedly there were some closer guesses, “countdown to Christmas” being the most popular one, but in reality, most of the kids had no idea about the heart and the wonder behind the season of Advent.

And that got me thinking?  Why?  I know for a fact that Advent has always been celebrated at this church.  Every year on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, candles had been lit and Hope, Peace, Joy and Love talked about.  Liturgical Scriptures were read and Advent vespers services were held.  But somehow, the whole meaning behind the celebration of Advent was missed by the children.

So the question is, how much of what we do on Sunday still has meaning for us on Monday?

You see, lighting the candle of Joy this Sunday doesn’t mean a whole lot to me or you (or to our kids) if we don’t talk about that joy, contemplate that joy, and celebrate that joy for the rest of the week.

Reading beautiful Scriptures of God’s promises and love for us doesn’t mean a whole lot if it stays inside the church walls and never makes it to our dinner table, our car ride, our community, and our job.

Singing a few hymns about Christmas won’t impact our lives until we consider the words and use them to praise God on our recliner at home as much as we do our pew at church.

The reality is, if we are “doing” something at church and not “doing” that same thing the rest of the week, we are compartmentalizing our faith to a building instead of incorporating our faith into transformed lives.

We don’t have to literally light an Advent candle every night but if we want our children to know about the Hope of Christ, we need to talk about it every day.

And it’s fine and even fun to sing Christmas carols in the car but we also need to model a life of worship everywhere we go.

We don’t necessarily have to read Scripture aloud in front of our family but Scripture needs to be a part of our everyday conversations with our kids.

christmas-554720_1920I once asked a similar group of kids what church was.  My answers ranged from “A building we go to on Sunday” to “Where God lives.”  I know these are kids and “kids say the darndest things” but let’s be real for a minute.

If we live lives that say “Church is a building we go to on Sunday because God is there” how else are our children to interpret our faith?   What if instead we told our kids, “Church is the family of God and He is always with us so we are always in church?”  Not with those words, but with our lives.

Spontaneous worship.  Times of prayer.  Lighting of candles. Corporate worship.  Waiting expectantly in hope for the arrival of Christ. 

These things don’t need to be limited to a place, a time, a special moment.  These things can be lived all year long and our lives can be a living testimony to a vibrant, growing faith.

Want some ideas on how to bring Advent home in simple, practical ways? Click here!

Worried you can’t do it all?  That’s okay!  Click here.


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

“That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown”

Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights, please.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: “for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

 

This scene is probably the most well-known in the classic Peanuts story, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  It airs every year on ABC as part of their Christmas programming and is something that most of us grew up watching and make our kids watch annually. And at one time, most of the country would have agreed with Linus regarding what Christmas is all about…but times have changed.

A recent poll by Pew Research found…pew

“Today, 66% say they believe Jesus was born to a virgin, down from 73% in 2014. Likewise, 68% of U.S. adults now say they believe that the wise men were guided by a star and brought gifts for baby Jesus, down from 75%.

And there are similar declines in the shares of Americans who believe that Jesus’ birth was heralded by an angel of the Lord and that Jesus was laid in a manger as an infant.  Overall, 57% of Americans now believe in all four of these elements of the Christmas story, down from 65% in 2014” (Source).

Why is that?

Well, a big reason for the decline in these numbers is the increase in others, especially the rise of the religious “Nones” who consider themselves unaffiliated with any religion. The majority of those who would categorize themselves this way are in the younger generations, specifically Millennials.  In addition to leaving organized religion and subsequently churches, many are also leaving behind the beliefs of the faith they grew up with and that includes the Christmas story.

So very much has been written about Millennials and, while I too have my thoughts, this post really isn’t about this; rather, I am hoping that this encourages us to really consider the generation we are currently raising in the light of this information.

What if we were to ask ourselves some questions, like…

Are we presenting the story of Christmas as a fairy tale or a significant part of church history?

Our kids hear fairy tales all the time and in fairy tales (or superhero stories or fantasy stories) magical and impossible things happen; things like a virgin giving birth to a baby and angels appearing in the sky.

How we tell the story matters. If we want our kids to understand that these events have been passed down from people who lived through them and experienced them, from one generation of Christians to another, for over 2,000 years, we have to tell the story that way. We have to tell them that no one made this story up or dreamed it in a dream. Actual people lived the events, told other people about it, who recorded their stories and then shared those stories with us.  And that is way, way different than a fairy tale and makes our God way, way bigger than a story.

christmas-crib-figures-1060017_1920

An example of this is how we present the story as though it actually happened on December 25 in the snow with a glowing Christmas tree in the background of the cozy stable and wise men by Mary’s side. Okay, this is a bit of an exaggeration of course, but you get the idea.

God’s story of coming to earth as a poor baby to an unwed mother in a place where animals were kept and first visited by the outcasts of society is grand enough; let’s tell them what Mary told John and John recorded for us and what the disciples told Luke and he wrote it down for Theophilus and for all of us. Let’s give them the truth because the truth is incredibly beautiful, raw and real. 

Are we entering into the journey of Advent or just joining the celebration of Christmas? 

The older I’ve gotten, the more important I realize Advent is. Advent is the period of time leading up to Christmas and throughout church history, it’s been the time of waiting and anticipating that made Christmas Day so amazing. It’s a time of hearing the story, not once or twice, but over a period of days and weeks and contemplating it together as we wait for the culmination, the birth of Christ, on Christmas Day.

Advent slows us down and lets us truly consider the incredible events of that time, all wrapped up in the themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. This is a powerful opportunity for children to embrace and understand how the birth of Jesus fit into a larger story of who we are and who God is; a story that they get to be a part of as members of God’s family.

Are we keeping Christ as our focus or is He the afterthought? 

Yes, Church family, I’m looking at you. Because this is the crazy, busiest time of the year for church people, especially ministers. Not only are there all the things that happen outside of church, but all the things that happen inside too – cantatas and concerts, breakfasts and banquets, programs and performances, evening services and midnight services, and everything else that comes with all of those things.

And while they all may be “about” Jesus, those things are not Jesus.  And  while they all may feel important, we do need to be careful that these things enhance the story of Christ and don’t clutter the season with even more distraction.  Kids see and remember; let’s be sure that what they remember is Jesus.

There’s a great video about the church calendar that explains how the church has celebrated the life of Christ throughout history. In it, the narrator says, “”Ordinary season has passed; it’s time to inhabit His Story.”

That is the beauty of Advent and Christmas. It is our chance, as the church of God, to enter into the story of Jesus’ life and to celebrate once again the Greatest Gift, the Word who became flesh and took up residence among us.

Advent leads to Christmas, Christmas to Epiphany (God’s revelation to all mankind, symbolized by the Wise Men), Epiphany to Lent (a time of testing and trial, reminding us we have a Savior who knows what it is to be human), Lent to Easter, Easter to Ascension, and finally Ascension to Pentecost where God once again comes to earth in the form of the Holy Spirit and takes up residence in mankind.

This is the story of God and the story of us.

And this is the story we need to share with our children, over and over, not as a dream of what could be but a beautiful picture of the reality of God’s presence and Love in our lives.

So, my friends, “”Ordinary season has passed; it’s time to inhabit His Story”. Blessed Advent and soon, Merry Christmas!


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

The Great Debate: Are We Real or Artificial?

The other day, my oldest and most practical child told me that when she is on her own, she’s going to get an artificial tree because, “It’s less work, it costs less because you only buy it once, and it looks just as pretty.”

I responded with, “For me, it’s not about that.”

“What?” she asked.

“It’s not about the cost or the work or the end result of looking pretty. For me, it’s the whole experience of finding, cutting, dragging, and decorating a live tree with my family.”

She kinda “humphed” and said, “What part?  The fighting over picking the tree, the dirtyness of cutting it down and dragging it, or the frustration when you can’t hang ornaments because the branches aren’t strong enough?”

“All of that…and more. The laughter when we find a tree that looks ridiculous, the shared joy when we do find ‘the one’, the memories we make with each tree like the one with ‘rat tail’ and the ‘Charlie Brown tree’ and the one that smelled like oranges, the fun of eating Chinese food together and watching a Christmas movie, the silliness of decorating, the nostalgia we feel as we look at special ornaments, the warmth the grows as we decorate our home… all of those things. The experience. That’s what makes it different. That’s what forms us. The experience is formational.”

“I get that….but I’m probably still going to get an artificial tree.”

decorating-christmas-tree-2999718_1920Haha, and that’s fine. She will come up with her own traditions and memories and meaning for her family and her life as she grows.

But the reality is, the things that form us the most aren’t simply things that we put together and plug in so that they “work.” 

The things that form us most are wrought with “experience”, with feelings both good and bad, with hard work, with relationship and sometimes with Chinese food.

And that’s important for us to realize when it comes to ministry within our faith communities.  You see, we could have the best programming, the best curriculum and the best practices in place, but if it if is all just “plug and play”, we are missing the most important part – the messy part, the fun part, the experience and the deeply formational place where we are formed into disciples of Jesus Christ.

It’s not enough to just put children in a room with multiple generations and call it intergenerational ministry; we’ve got to put some experience to it.

Words need to be spoken between generations, names need to be known, relationships need to be cultured, frustrations and joys shared, and lives woven together.

It’s not enough to throw a video up on the screen with a Bible story or song to sing; we got to connect to the story and recognize the song as a means of grace where God can reach our hearts.

We need to offer the opportunity to live into the story through service and prayer and to experience worship as a place to turn our attention to God.

Churches need to be more than a place we go on Sunday. I hear this all the time through phrases like, “We don’t go to church, we are the church” and “Don’t do church, be the church.”  But how do we live this out in formational ways?  Where’s the experiences with this that our children and youth can grab onto and recognize as “church” even when there is not singing or sermon or preaching or pews?

My passion for intergenerational ministry and generational discipleship isn’t about putting kids into corporate gatherings just to check a box and said, “We are now intergenerational.”  That’s plug-and-play.

Rather my passion stems from the idea what we can create spaces where old and young; children, youth and families of all ages, can gather and experience God together in formational ways.  That the whole church can have a sense of belonging and knowing and that no matter one’s age, each would know they are an integral part of the family.

Sometimes, the family won’t agree to pick their “tree” and feelings might get hurt. But it’s a “tree” and no one leaves a family over a Christmas tree.

Sometimes, the family will get dirty doing the work it takes to have that live “tree” which can be uncomfortable and frustrating, but ultimately yeilds the reward of having done something meaningful together.

Sometimes, the family will try to do things, beautiful things and good things, and hang ornaments on their “tree” that just won’t work or the “tree” can’t support and feelings will get hurt and disappointment will be expressed… but no one leaves the family over not getting their beautiful things.

Experiences force us to recognize that we are part of something bigger.

Experiences like worshipping together, which can lead to some discomfort and some beautiful things not being experienced every time we gather. Experiences like serving together, which can be dirty and disheartening at times. Experiences like sharing life together in true community, which can be inconvenient and uncomfortable.

But, oh the rewards! When we gather in worship together, God promises to be in our midst!  When we serve together, we experience God’s grace as a whole, poured out in our hearts beyond measure and binding us together in Him. And when we truly share life together in community, we find a place where we belong, a place we call home, a family.

And ultimately, that is what the church of God is called to be… his family… where every age is known and loved and belongs.


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

You’re Not A Horrible Parent: Christmas Edition

Last Thursday at the stroke of midnight and the launch of Black Friday sales…it happened. Somehow we magically moved into the mysterious time we call the “holiday season.”  In just a few days my Facebook feed has lit up with posts about Christmas and Christmas trees and Christmas food. Christmas music has started playing on the radio and Thanksgiving turkeys are all discounted in grocery stores.

The whirlwind begins.

Keep in mind, dear friends, that I LOVE the whirlwind. I embrace it like a moth to a flame. The busy isn’t busy to me – it’s rich and full and bursting with life. Time with friends and family becomes the essential instead of the extracurricular and food, fun, and fellowship the norm rather than the exception.

But the is also the time of year where I see Stress get a capital-S. Because while all those things above happen, so does all the other stuff that goes on year-round. It’s not like we hit the pause button on life so that we can celebrate; instead the celebration gets piled on already busy, stressed-out lives.

A recent study by Pew Research has found that in nearly half of two-parent homes, both parents work full-time.

pewresearch

How does that affect the family?

The same research found that:

  • Of full-time working parents, 39 percent of mothers and 50 percent of fathers say they feel as if they spend too little time with their children.
  • 59% percent of full-time working mothers say they don’t have enough leisure time, and more than half of working fathers say the same.
  • 56% percent of all working parents say the balancing act is difficult, and those who do are more likely to say that parenting is tiring and stressful, and less likely to find it always enjoyable and rewarding

One mother interviewed by the New York Times said this, “You basically just always feel like you’re doing a horrible job at everything. You’re not spending as much time with your baby as you want, you’re not doing the job you want to be doing at work, you’re not seeing your friends hardly ever.”

adorable-blur-child-1261408When we add in the holidays, and all the stuff I mentioned that I love, on top of this…for many it is overwhelming.

And then, if we add in on top of that the calling for parents to intentionally lead and disciple their kids at home, using this time of year to teach them about gratitude, serving others, compassion, self-sacrifice, and giving through things like serving at a mission or participating in a food drive or giving up presents…for many, it feels impossible.

Parents, may I offer some encouragement?  

For a brief moment, before we are rushed headlong into this season, can we breath in this small respite of grace?

We don’t have to do it all.

We don’t have to do it perfectly.

We don’t have to make all the best choices, provide the best experiences, or present the best opportunities.

(deep breath)

But, if we can step back and before it all starts simply say, “Jesus, this year, with our family and our children, show us how to invite you into our everyday holiday season. In what we are already doing, show us how to have You be a part of it.  Be present in our presence;” if we can do that, my bet is at least part of the weight will lift from our shoulders.

Some simple ideas, using those everyday moments from Deuteronomy 6:7 “when you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” could transform your holiday season without you feeling like you do a “horrible job” at everything.  Things like…

When you sit at home:  Watching a Christmas movie and looking for Jesus in it (see ideas for movie night discussion here), Wrapping gifts for family members and praying for each one while you do. 

When you walk along the road:  Listening to Christian Christmas Carols and asking what part of the Christmas story it was about, Looking at Christmas lights and talking about how Jesus is our Light (check out this Christmas lights scavenger hunt if you have a long drive), Handing out Blessings Bags to those in need. 

When you lie down:  Create a wall of blessing that you add to each night at bedtime (just tack up a piece of posterboard and let kids decorate with stickers, pictures, etc. and list the year’s blessings, one each night/week), Start reading the Christmas story on December 1 until Christmas Day, Add one ornament each Saturday night to the tree that has special meaning to your family.

When you rise: Use an Advent Calendar and open a door each morning before the day starts, Pray together for everyone you sent Christmas cards to (one person or family per morning/week), Put Christmas cards in your kids backpacks (you can get packs for $1 at Dollar Tree) with notes of blessing for them all season long. 

(Want more ideas: Click here)

The reality is that the holidays are coming, will come, and will pass.

Memories will be made. Life will happen. What January looks like for your family will in some way be dependent on what November and December looked like as they passed.

Don’t allow stress and shame steal the joy and opportunity of the season.

Realistically, no family can do it all. But realistically, we can all do something.

If we are unable to do “the big things,” let’s invite Jesus into all the little things and embrace the celebration for His sake.  It will look different for each home, as it should. But in each home, Christ desires to be the respite, the rest, the peace no matter what season it is.

An earlier version of this post can be found here.


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com

Thanksgiving: An Intergenerational Experiment in Community

This week, families and friends across the United States will gather to share a meal, to enjoy one another’s presence and to celebrate and give thanks for the blessings we corporately and individually share.

Community, the gathering together of people, will be at the center of our celebrations.

Community is broadly defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”. The design and make up of community is important to the functioning of society and the continuation of shared practices, traditions, and religion.  Information is passed from one generation to another, from the older to the younger and vice versa, through interactions, relationships and communication.

But in modern society we find a community that is becoming increasingly more age-segregated and our opportunities to engage in these interactions, relationships, and communication are being severely hindered. According to family sociologist, Dr. Karl Pillemer, this is the first time in history that young people have little to no contact with older generations other than grandparents leading him to claim, “this is the most age-segregated society that’s ever been” (Source).

Enter Thanksgiving.

This is one of the only times in our modern society that we put a bunch of people of all ages and generations into one space and anticipate conversation with one another. And, let’s all be honest, even with family, it isn’t always easy.

Why is that?

thanskgivingdinnerAccording to Pillemer, “People are more likely to have friends of another race than friends more or less than 10 years apart. That means that we are used to talking to be people to talk like us and do the same things as us and like the same TV shows as us and enjoy the same leisure activities as us. But believe it or not, that’s not really the best thing for us.

Studies show that when we spend time only with people our age, that leads to isolation and loneliness and greatly inhibits socialization in kids and teens and legacy-leaving in older people. The norms and practices of one generation fail to get passed to the next generation and each generation is forced to create or find their own identity, including language and customs and behaviors.

Our community is no longer communal.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t gather.

Regardless of our discomfort, most of us will make an effort this week to step outside of our comfort zones and talk with people from varying generations and life experiences. We will swap stories, laugh at how things were, laugh at how things are and, if we are intentional about, we’ll probably learn something new about us and something new about others.

The church in Western culture has not been immune to the impact of age-segregation. Age-specific ministries, curriculum, worship experiences, and facilities can create environments that make it difficult if not impossible to form intergenerational connections and nurture ongoing relationships across generations. As in the larger society, experiences of isolation, loneliness, delayed socialization, and lack of generativity occur within the church.

Our faith community is no longer communal.

But that shouldn’t mean we don’t gather.

Regardless of our discomfort, it is important for us, as a community of believers to ask some questions. Questions like “If spiritual formation is defined as “a process [and] journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God,” what is gained and lost in this process/journey by each generation when interaction and relationships with others is limited or not readily available in the church? Since Christianity is primarily perpetuated through discipleship and mentorship, how have these practices been impacted by the lack of generational integration?

What would happen if we did gather, together, and give thanks on a consistent basis? 

What stories could we stop, what laughter could we enjoy, and what can we learn about ourselves and others?

This Thanksgiving, as we grab that second helping of turkey, pause for a second and look at the people who surround us and give thanks for community and for the experience of being in it, even the uncomfortable bits.


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 the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus 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  ChurchLeaders.com