Practical Discipleship When We Lie Down: Valentine’s Day Edition

At our church, at the end of each of our gatherings, you’re likely to hear someone say, “At Plowshares we don’t dismiss from worship because we believe that all of life is worship.” In other words, we don’t think worship is restricted to a specific time or place; rather, worship is a part of our everyday lives as believers because Jesus says wherever two or three are gathered in His name, He is present. And that includes our homes.

This Thursday is Valentine’s Day, the perfect opportunity to celebrate the greatest Love of all, the gift of Jesus, in your home with your family at home. As we’ve looked at the four moments of Deuteronomy 6:7 the past few weeks (when we sit at home, walk along the road, when we rise and when we lie down), we’ve explored how to bring Christ into our everyday settings.

family-457235_1280This post offers a simple communion liturgy for families to engage the act of communion in their home together, a perfect activity for the family to engage in after supper before “we lie down”.  It invites the family to join together for a time of focus on Christ and the love He has shown us in his life, death, and resurrection through the meal He gave us to do so.  

All that is needed is some bread and some juice and some time together as a family. Simply follow the outline provided which includes conversation starters, Scripture readings and prayers and together remember what Love looks like as show to us by Jesus.

If celebrating communion isn’t something your family is familiar with or you prefer another way of experiencing this greatest love together, consider using the conversations starters and replacing the communion time with a time of blessings. There are some simple blessings at the end of the attached liturgy that could be a special time of blessing one another as you consider Christ’s deep love for us.

It is my sincere hope that this week your family is able to spend some time in worship together and that God will continue to invite you into a celebration of His Love together.

greatestlove


Family Communion: A Celebration of God’s Great Love

Prepare:  Communion is a celebration!  While it is a sacred experience and should be always treated as holy, it is intended for us to remember and celebrate God’s goodness to us. Set the tone with your family by discussing some ways God has shown His love to your family.

Have a conversation beforehand explaining what communion means. Remind your family that Jesus showed the Greatest Love of all when He died on the cross for us and rose from the dead and that this meal helps us to remember that great love. As with any time of worship, Christ is with us in communion. This is a special way to that we can invite Christ into our home.

Confession:  Before we take the Lord’s Supper, we examine our hearts and silently confess anything we need to before God. It might help if you offer your children some guiding questions like, “What do you want to tell Jesus ‘thank you’ for?” and “Is there anything you want to tell Jesus you are sorry for?”

Choose one of these Scriptures to read as a family: Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14: 12-16, Luke 22:7-38, I Corinthians 11:23-26

Partake: During communion, show your kids what to do. Even if it is very obvious to you, it may not be to them. Take some time to pray as a family some prayers of thankfulness.

If you would like, you can follow this suggest format for communion time:  Take the bread, thank the Lord for it and for his gift of love and offer it to one another saying, “This is the body of Christ, broken for us.”  Then hold the juice, offer another prayer of thanks, and then give it to each other saying, “This is the blood of Christ, poured out of us.”

Process: Take some time afterward to discussion  what it means to them to remember Jesus in this way. Ask question ensure understanding and to offer clarity, like, “What do we take communion?” and “What are we celebrating?” and “What are we remembering?”  Then move on to more personal questions like, “How did you feel when you remembered Jesus’ sacrifice?”

Conclusion: Finish your time together by reciting the Lord’s prayer (Mt. 6:9-13). Let your children know that this is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray when they asked him how to pray.

Blessings for the Family

Father, thank you for our family. Lord, you know our hearts. You know our strengths, our weaknesses and every tiny detail about us. May we seek You above all else. When we wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night, may you be on our minds and hearts so that in everything we do, we would see You.*

Father, we thank You for Your blessing over our family. May we be unified in Your Love. Help us to speak the same language and share the same vision that You have for us. Lord, guide us and keep us on the right path. May we stand in unity…preferring one another over ourselves and loving You above all else.*

Father, thank you for creating our family with a purpose. We know that you have plans for each of us individually and for our family as a whole. Lord, reveal this purpose to each one of us and help us to walk it out daily. Help us to have an appreciation for each other’s personalities, gifts and even our weaknesses. Lord, teach us and guide us in all that we do, that we may glorify You.*

*Consider replacing the pronouns with your family names and praying these prayers of blessing for one another

(Blessings were inspired by Flourishing Today)


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

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Practical Discipleship “Along the Road”

“When you walk along the road…” Dt. 4:7

This verse is found in the oft-quoted passage regarding discipleship in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 where Moses addresses the congregation of Israel and explains how they are to pass their faith on to the next generation. He mentions four specific moments to talk about faith: When we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we rise.

I love these four moments because they are universal – every single person ever had done these things. They’ve sat at a place they call home, they’ve left and gone out on the road, they’ve slept and they’ve woken up. These simple, everyday moments are when God shows up, if we are looking for Him.

Over the past few weeks, we looked at the first of these four moments and found some creative ways to use the time we’ve been given as we sit at home. Today, we’re going to look at the moments where we walk along the road and how we can redeem that time to share our faith with our kids.


Americans spend a lot of time in cars in cars. Of course, the vast majority of this time is adults commuting to work but it is estimated that for the average American family, 6% of their time is spent on the road (Source). That comes out to roughly an our hour in the car daily. Between sports practice, school drop offs and pick ups, dance rehearsals, youth group and everything else under the sun, the car has become a place we often find ourselves as we “walk along the road.”

family-932245_1920The car is a transient place, not somewhere we expect to stay for very long, even if we are on a longer drive; it brings us to the place we really want to be. So it’s easy to overlook as a space where discipleship can take place. But what would happen if we capture those moments and instead of making it a place that just gets us back and forth, it becomes a place where we intentionally invite Christ to be present with us?

Here are some simple ideas that can help us capture the fleeting moments in the car and turn our hearts to eternal things even in the most temporal of places.

Make a Mix “Tape”

Remember the good old days?  Just you, your dual cassette recorder, and your favorite songs?  Did I just date myself?  Anyway, there are a lot of fun ways to make a mix of all of your kids’ favorite church songs.

Ask your children’s pastor or worship leader what songs the kids have been singing over the past year and put together a mix.  You could burn a cd, add it to your Itunes or even make a play list on YouTube.  When you are in the car or sitting at home, pop it in and spend some time singing, dancing, and worshipping with your kids, with songs they know and love!

Find a Great Podcast or Radio Show

When our kids were younger, we would have to “pause” our show when we got out of the car and our kids were excited to pick it back up when we got in to go anywheres.

If you have to travel frequently, might I suggest downloading or purchasing some Adventures in Odessey programs from Focus on the Family?  These radio dramas provide a great platform for discussion with  kids and they will love listening to them (you will too – they’re pretty great!).  We have had many conversations with our children brought on by topics discussed in the episode and as an added bonus, the episodes all have Scriptures to go with them so you don’t have to figure it out yourself!

Find a Way to Serve Together

Sometimes the fun isn’t in doing something secretly but doing something together.  Lots of families will go on family missions trips but if that’s outside your budget or not the right age for your kids, there are a lot of other ways you can serve together as a family.

Your family could bake cookies for your neighbors, run a free car wash, serve at a local food pantry or free meal program, host a neighborhood potluck, visit the shut-ins or homebound members of your church, make up a picnic lunch and give it to another family, etc.  Putting together Blessings Bags to keep in the car in case your family comes across people in need as you travel.

Making service a family activity is not only fun, but it is the #1 ways researchers have found that teens connect their faith in Jesus to their life.  Make Jesus come alive by being His hands and feet together!

Use Your Words

The older our kids get, the more we are able to have intentional conversations that lead us into some more complex spaces. The car is a perfect place for safe intentional conversation. For one thing, we don’t have to make eye contact which sometimes makes us feel more comfortable when talking about uncomfortable things. Two, we can’t “escape” by leaving the space; we’re all in the car together. And three, it makes the time on longer rides go by faster.

If you don’t know how to get the conversation going, check out these great conversation starter questions and topics from Doing Good Together.  For an example of one intentional conversation I had with my pre-teen girls, check out this blog on Practical Discipleship in Middle School.

If we are intentional about making sure our communication with kids is real, relevant, and regular, we will make a much greater impact when we begin to speak, even in the fleeting moments of traveling in a car.  The idea isn’t to be perfect communicators; the idea is to be effective communicators, and for kids nothing is more effective that seeing adults who are living what they preach, attuned to their needs, and committed to an ongoing conversation with them about God.

Remember, discipleship doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult; in fact, it can be as simple as just remember to intentionally invite Jesus into the most ordinary of spaces like your car ride to the grocery store or the road trip to Grandmas. It’s about seeing the sacred in the ordinary, His presence in the present, and welcoming our kids into that sacred space.


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

Practical Discipleship: Four Questions That Transform Dinner into Discipleship

“When you sit at home…” Dt. 4:7

This verse is found in the oft-quoted passage regarding discipleship in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 where Moses addresses the congregation of Israel and explains how they are to pass their faith on to the next generation. He mentions four specific moments to talk about faith: When we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we rise.

I love these four moments because they are universal – every single person ever had done these things. They’ve sat at a place they call home, they’ve left and gone out on the road, they’ve slept and they’ve woken up. These simple, everyday moments are when God shows up, if we are looking for Him.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to look at these four moments and find some creative ways to use the time we’ve been given. Today, we’re going to look at the moments where we sit at home and how we can redeem that time to share our faith with our kids.

“Highs and Lows!!”

If you’ve ever eaten dinner with the Embree family, no doubt that right after we prayed, dinner-2330482_1920one of us said this phrase.  It has become part of our dinnertime DNA and something that has led to incredible faith conversations over spaghetti and salad.  Some of our most defining moments as a family in terms of discipleship and growth, especially as a young family, took place because of these four questions.

I can’t take credit for them.  That goes to Dr. Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute.  I had the opportunity a few years ago to attend a seminar led by her about Sticky Faith and how to help our kids develop a faith that sticks beyond high school.  She shared this dinner time routine at that conference and I immediately thought, “This is easy!  This is something we can do!” and so… we did.

Here are four simple but ever so critical questions we ask each other nearly every day.

1. What was your HIGH today?

Simply put, you are just asking what went well that day. Why? Well, I’m sure you’ve all experienced the oh-so-enlightening after-school conversation that goes something like this:

Parent – So, how was school today?  Child – Fine.  

Parent – Well, what’d you do? Child – Nothing.  

Parent – You had to do something. What did you learn? Child – I dunno.  

Parent – Oh come on, give me something! Child – *blank stare* 

Asking a question like “What was your high?” begs the answer in story form.  Sure every now and then, we get a shrug, but most of the time, we get to hear about something that happened that day that otherwise we would not have been privy too.  Plus the whole family gets to celebrate the moment together.

2. What was your LOW today?

It is important to recognize that not everything that happens in a day is fun and happy.  Sometimes things happen that make us angry or sad.  Having a safe place to mention low times and process with family can lead to some of the most meaningful moments in your family’s life.  We’ve cried together, talked through some difficult situation, prayed for people who hurt us or were hurting, and addressed some of the harder things kids face in life.  We don’t want our kids to live a “facebook” existence where only the good moments get highlighted; rather, we want to teach them that God and home are safe places even in the hardest times.

3. What MISTAKE did you make today?

We all cringe a little bit at this one.  It means we have to step back and acknowledge that we may have messed up. It takes humility to admit that, not only to ourselves, but also to our family.  And no one is exempt; even Mom and Dad have to answer the question.

Do you know what message this sends our kids?  That we mess up, but God’s love is available anyway.  Forgiveness and grace are always available.  Sometimes, we can genuinely say, “I had a good day and I can’t think of any mistakes” but those times are outweighed by the moments we recognize that we trip up and fall into the grace of God.  We want our kids to know that no matter how big the “mistake”, God’s grace, love and forgiveness are always available, and so is ours.

4. Where did you see JESUS today?

This is by far my favorite question.  it’s different from the High of the day.  It’s where we have experienced God in our everyday life.  I love the answers my kids give to this question, things like, “I saw Jesus when my friend gave me a hug” and “I saw Jesus when my teacher forgave some kids who had three strikes and let them have ice cream anyway.”  Seeing the attributes of God in the world around them keeps them looking for Jesus everywhere they go.  Once, one of my girls wrote a note to a friend in which she said, “When you [did that thing] I saw Jesus in you.”  That’s exactly the kind of note we need to be giving one another!

Four simple questions.  Four amazing life lessons.

Four easy ways to connect.  Four intentional moments for discipleship.

And while the dinner table works for us, maybe it would work better for you on car rides? Or before bedtime?  Or maybe even over text if your kids are older?

The idea isn’t to create another “thing “we feel pressured to do.  Rather, it is to layer some intentionality over what we are already doing to create the opportunity to model faith, experience grace, and increase love together.

Remember, discipleship at home is never about doing more things. Rather, think of it as an opportunity to invite Jesus into everything we are already doing. Many of use eat dinner at home and most of us strive to do that together, as a family. Inviting Jesus into that everyday practice takes it from ordinary to sacred, from dinner to discipleship, from temporal to eternal, and that is discipleship at home.

For more ideas on how to use the dinner table as discipleship, check out these posts:


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

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

“Family Ministry” when Kids Come Alone

I’ve heard some concerned discussion lately regarding family ministry especially as it pertains to reaching children who do not have engaged caregivers or believing parents in their home.

Specifically the concern is, if our ministry at church is focused on families, what happens to kids that don’t have a believing family or Christian home life? Are we just going to turn them away or not provide for their spiritual needs?

It’s a legitimate concern and one that deserves addressing, especially if a church is looking to transition from one that has been primarily focused on age-specific ministry to one that is more focused on reaching the family unit as a whole.  And to be honest, there is no easy answer but here are some things to consider as we approach this topic.

Reach for Home

More than likely, some kids will get dropped off who do not have parents that attend the church.  But, that does not preclude us from reaching out to their home.

It is important for us to recognize this need to welcome children who aren’t in “church families” in a way that is both accepting and embracing, providing for their needs spiritually, physically and emotionally while they are with us (Ideas for how to do that, click here).

But it is equally as important to recognize that we are sending them back to a home that will have profound formational effects on their faith and to not further our reach by extending our arm of welcome to the home is to miss an opportunity for “going and making disciples.”

Some ways we can do that:

  • Provide Parent/Caregiver Workshops or Seminars, free to the public, without an overt spiritual focus.  For example, host a Social Media workshop that open to the whole community, and focused on the internet and kids, not necessarily religious in nature.  Our faith will be discussed but the topic is one that all parents have questions about.
  • Provide Activities for the Whole Family.  A lot of parents/caregivers look for free, fun things to do with their kids.  Fall Festivals, Family VBS, and Summer Movie Nights are examples of ways to engage the home.
  • Visit with the parents/caregivers – Drop by, say hi, get contact information, introduce yourself, offer resources, tell them what you are doing, bring a pie.  Show caregivers that your faith community is excited about serving them in their home even if they don’t come to church.  And express your desire to serve not only their kids but them as well.

Of course there is no guarantee that this will lead to anything beyond what is already happening.. but it might.  What you do for one, do for all.  If the church family is getting a handout, a parent letter, an invitation, make sure the others families do too.

Connect the church to the home as much as possible.

Embrace Family

Sometimes when we think “family” we get a picture in our head of a Dad, Mom, two kids, a dog, maybe a cat and a cute Cape Cod with white shutters.  That’s really not an accurate picture of “family” today.  Family has grown to mean many things.  Sometimes family isn’t even people we are related to by blood.  Sometimes Grandma is Mom or Uncle is Dad or family friend is Aunt.

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One main goal of “family ministry” is to minister to the family as a whole.  It is important then to find out how family is being defined by those being ministered to and the needs that their unique situation gives rise to.  For more on this, check out this blog on “The ‘Family’ in Family Ministry” and consider ways that we can reach the families we serve.

Encourage Faith

Even atheists believe something; they believe that there is nothing. It takes faith to believe anything so everyone has faith.

Our job as Christian family ministers is to equip the home to be a place of faith formation in Christ.  However, that can be complicated if the leaders in a home don’t believe in Christ.  That doesn’t mean you don’t equip or resource them anyway.  Providing materials, information, and training for faith formation at home is key to an effective family ministry.  Those who desire what is offered will transform their homes into places of discipleship.  Those who choose not to use the tools given are still being given them and that in and of itself makes a difference in the home.

God is the ultimate home builder; we are vessels of His grace and love.

Finally, I feel like it is important to point out that while we need to be aware of this potential area of concern, there is another glaring fact we cannot ignore that the family unit itself is a mission field for the church today.  Ministering to families is important.  Missionaries to other countries or inner cities or specific age groups train to reach a specific group of people in that context.

If we look at families in that same light, as a mission field in need of missionaries to bring the good news of the gospel to their homes, I believe we could see a revolution in the church of children and youth who graduate ready to serve Christ in their homes, church and community; discipled in the faith and grounded in their love for Christ because of their intentional faith formation they experienced at home and intergenerational relationships at church.

There is no cookie cutter family ministry model.

There are no easy answers for the concerns that arrive.

But there is a call by God for us to partner with and minister to parents as they raise their children and to offer them a broader community that will support and encourage them along the way.  And if that is a call from God, then we know He will provide all we need to reach each and every family He sends our way.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

You Can’t Just Put Kids In Church

I mean, you just can’t. Developmentally, kids aren’t ready to be in a worship service. They aren’t going to get anything out of it and they will just be a distraction to the adults.  Besides, they have their own classes that are geared toward their age that are a lot more fun and they get to be with their peers.

Oh, wait….that’s actually not what I meant. But this is exactly what I have heard many people say. And frankly, they have a point. Not because these reasons are correct but because most worship services in America are geared towards one target audience, one that falls somewhere between 25 and 65 and the outliers, those older than 65 and those younger than 25 are left on the fringes.  In that sense, those who believe kids shouldn’t be in worship service for the reasons above have some ground to stand on.

But in reality, there’s a fundamental understanding of church, community and culture that is missed in this approach.

If “putting kids in” a worship service means simply placing their bodies in a pew and expecting them to sit for an hour and then being confused when they are bored, or want to talk, or wiggle too much, or (fill in the blank), then we’ve missed what it means to welcome children in worship.

Developmentally, children aren’t ready to sit for an hour without engagement. Children need a “re-set” about every 10-15 minutes to regain their attention.  Changing positions (like standing to sing or going to the altar), hearing their name called (like having the pastor say, “Kids, listen up, this is for you”), being given something tactile to work with (like sermon notes or coloring sheets or even busy bags with quiet activities), or just having the chance to change their focus for just a few minutes.

Actually studies show that “When any human sits for longer than about 20 minutes, the physiology of the brain and body changes, robbing the brain of needed oxygen and glucose, or brain fuel. The brain essentially just falls asleep when we sit for too long. Movement and activity stimulate the neurons that fire in the brain. When we sit, those neurons aren’t firing.” (Source).

Children are not adults, but for some reason, when it comes to church, we expect them to be. We expect that what they “get out” of the service should be the same as what we as adults get out of the service. So we figure, if they can’t understand the sermon and don’t know how to sing the songs and really don’t get what’s going on with communion or prayer, then they aren’t getting anything out of being in church.

But I would offer that since kids are not adults, they get other things out of being in a worship service.

For one, they get to see. They get to see that they are part of something much bigger than themselves and their peers.

Second, they get to be seen.  Adults who don’t volunteer in children’s ministry rarely if ever get to see and interact with children and youth who are consistently separated from the congregation.

Third, they get to experience church. Even if they don’t “understand” it all, they get to have the opportunity to experience worship and liturgy and sacraments and Scripture like the Church has for centuries (More on this here).

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Because children learn through play, through movement, and through repetition, it is highly likely that they will in fact play, move, and repeat things throughout the service and yes, that can be distracting.

But there is a huge difference between being distracting and being a distraction.

Likewise, age-specific and age-appropriate classes are so important for developmental growth and for cognitive understanding. But that is just one part of our learning and growing process as disciples.

Being a disciple of Jesus means being a part of a community, a family, and it is just as essential for children and youth to have opportunities to interact and worship with their family, both physical and spiritual, as it is for them to have peer relationships and age-specific lessons. It’s a both/and, not an either/or. 

The reality is welcome is much more than just saying, “Sit here and be quiet.”  We would never “welcome” a guest to our home that way. When we want to welcome someone, we find out their needs, we create a space that allows for those needs to be met, and we engage with them in meaningful ways.

We can’t just sit children in a worship service and say, “Well, we tried it and it just doesn’t work.”  It takes intentional time, creativity, and work to ensure that the experience is one that is beneficial for all and not just for some. 

But the benefits or worshiping together and being with one another are so worth this hard work. Honestly, it’s good for everyone, old and young. We need each other. We were made for community (For more on this, check out all the amazing reasons for intergenerational worship here).

If your church is looking for ways to begin to welcome children and youth into corporate worship settings, it is a cultural journey not a program change or a scheduling adjustment. It does take time and education and a lot of grace. But there will be fruit, fruit that we may not see for years as our children are growing, but fruit that will be demonstrated as disciples are made.

I’d love to walk with you if you are beginning this journey!  Feel free to contact me here and share what God is stirring in  your heart. And be blessed; God meets us in His people, from the oldest to the youngest, so He is in this and He is excited about His church.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Four Simple Questions Your Family Should Be Asking

“Highs and Lows!!”

If you eat dinner with the Embree family, no doubt that right after we pray, you’ll hear our youngest child yell this out.  It has become part of our dinnertime DNA and something that has led to incredible faith conversations over spaghetti and salad.

Our dinner time discussions are often spurred on by asking four simple questions. In fact, some of our most defining discussions as a family in terms of discipleship and spiritual formation have taken place because of these four questions.

I can’t take credit for them.  That honor goes to Dr. Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute.  I had the opportunity a few years ago to attend a seminar led by her about Sticky Faith and how to help our kids develop a faith that sticks beyond high school.  She shared this dinner time routine at that conference and I immediately thought, “This is easy!  This is something we can do!” and so… we did.

Here are four simple questions our family asks each other nearly every day.

1. What was your HIGH today?

Simply put, you are just asking what went well that day. Why? Well, I’m sure you’ve all experienced the oh-so-enlightening after-school conversation that goes something like this:

Parent – So, how was school today?  Child – Fine.  

Parent – Well, what’d you do? Child – Nothing.  

Parent – You had to do something. What did you learn? Child – I dunno.  

Parent – Oh come on, give me something! Child – *blank stare* 

Asking a question like “What was your high?” begs the answer in story form.  Sure every now and then, we get a shrug, but most of the time, we get to hear about something that happened that day that otherwise we would not have been privy too.  Plus the whole family gets to celebrate the moment together.

2. What was your LOW today?

It is important to recognize that not everything that happens in a day is fun and happy.  Sometimes things happen that make us angry or sad.  Having a safe place to mention low times and process with family can lead to some of the most meaningful moments in your family’s life.

We’ve cried together, talked through some difficult situation, prayed for people who hurt us or were hurting, and addressed some of the harder things kids face in life.  We don’t want our kids to live a “facebook” existence where only the good moments get highlighted; rather, we want to teach them that God and home are safe places even in the hardest times.

3. What MISTAKE did you make today?

We all cringe a little bit at this one.  It means we have to step back and acknowledge that we may have messed up. It takes humility to admit that, not only to ourselves, but also to our family.  And no one is exempt; even Mom and Dad have to answer the question.

Do you know what message this sends our kids?  That we mess up, but God’s love is available anyway.  Forgiveness and grace are always available.  Sometimes, we can genuinely say, “I had a good day and I can’t think of any mistakes” but those times are outweighed by the moments we recognize that we trip up and fall into the grace of God.  We want our kids to know that no matter how big the “mistake”, God’s grace, love and forgiveness are always available, and so is ours.

4. Where did you see JESUS today?

This is by far my favorite question.  it’s different from the High of the day.  It’s where we have experienced God in our everyday life.  I love the answers my kids give to this question, things like, “I saw Jesus when my friend gave me a hug” and “I saw Jesus when my teacher forgave some kids who had three strikes and let them have ice cream anyway.”

Seeing the attributes of God in the world around them keeps them looking for Jesus everywhere they go.  Once, one of my girls wrote a note to a friend in which she said, “When you [did that thing] I saw Jesus in you.”  That’s exactly the kind of note we need to be giving one another!

Four simple questions.  Four amazing life lessons.

Four easy ways to connect.  Four intentional moments for discipleship.

family-2611748_1920While the dinner table works for us, maybe it would work better for you on car rides? Or before bedtime?  Or maybe even over text if your kids are older?

The idea isn’t to create another “thing “we feel pressured to do.  Rather, it is to layer some intentionality over what we are already doing to create the opportunity to model faith, experience grace, and increase love together.

And, if your family is anything like mine, it will become an anticipated moment of each day.

So, where did YOU see Jesus today?  Share with your kids and let them share with you!

This article first appeared in May 2015 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

EmbreeFam2017

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