Church or Parents: Whose Job Is Discipleship Anyway?

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of posts directed at Christian parents that go something like this:

The Church gets 40 hours/year, the Schools get 2,000 hours/year, Parents get 3,000 hours/year – It’s YOUR job to disciple your children.

There is definitely truth in that statement. The hours listed aren’t far off from what research shows us. The influence that parents/caregivers have on their children cannot be understated and the home is primarily the place of faith formation for all of us. But I’m afraid when this is our approach to beginning the discussion with parents/caregivers about their responsibility of leading discipleship in the home, we do both the parents and kids, but more importantly, the body of Christ a huge disservice.

Let me explain.

There is one verse that we often use to demonstrate the mandate in Scripture for parents/caregivers to disciple their kids: Deuteronomy 6:7 – Impress these commandments on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  I love this verse because it shows the most everyday, most ordinary moments and tells us in those very ordinary times to talk about our extraordinary God.

But I fear that in shining the spotlight so often on this verse and directing our focus of discipleship exclusively to parents/caregivers, we miss something of great importance, something that changes everything about the command.

This command wasn’t given exclusively to parents.
It was given corporately to the community of faith.

people-3120717_1920The charge to talk about these commandments, to impress them on the children, to disciple the next generation in faith what given to the entire gathered assembly and never once were parents singled out and told that discipleship was their sole responsibility. On the contrary, the command was clearly given in the presence of everyone (Hear, O Israel) and deemed by God through Moses as applicable to the whole assembly. So much so, it is repeated, nearly word for word in Deuteronomy 11:18-20 again in an address to the whole congregation.

So what does this mean?

Parents, it is not “your” job to disciple your children in isolation.

Church, it IS corporately our job to disciple our children.

So, yes, if you are a parent and you are a believer, of course, it is your job to disciple your kids, especially since you have the most time with them and the most influence on them!

But, Church, please hear this, parents are not supposed to be doing this alone. This isn’t a command devoid of community. This isn’t a mandate that applies only to parents/caregivers and their children. This is a command given to all of us, every single member of the community of faith, to all of our children, not just those who live in our house. 

When viewed in this light, some of our common excuses fail.

We can’t say, “I gave my time serving with in Sunday School and youth group when my kids were young. It’s their turn now.”

We can’t say, “Well, they aren’t my kids. It’s not up to me to talk to them about God.”

We can’t say, “It’s not my responsibility.”

I mean, we can say those things, but if we do, we are willfully choosing to ignore the commands that God gave, not to parents alone, but to all of us to pour into, engage with, impress upon, and walk with the youngest generations.

It is time for us to release some of the burden we’ve put on the backs of parents by repeatedly telling them, “This is your job” by changing just one letter and a whole way of understanding and instead saying, “This is OUR job.”

No parent should ever feel alone in this calling. Not in the dynamic the God has given us.

They should feel the support, nurture and equipping of an entire faith community surrounding them and ministering to them and their children.

The children in our church should be known (by name) not just by their parents and a few close friends, but the congregation, the community of faith, who are committed to helping them grow in their faith.

The covenant of the congregation, spoken often at baptism or confirmation, in which the congregation pledges to walking with the child and helping them grow in their faith needs to become more than just “what we say” and turn into “what we do.”

The ministries to children and youth in any church should not be lacking in volunteers or servants on mission because the entire church is called and has verbally confirmed their commitment to disciple these young people in the faith.

To place the responsibility squarely on parents without recognizing the responsibility of the church to walk hand-in-hand with them skews the command of God to “impress these commandments on your children.”

Church, it is time we step up and relinquish our excuses. It is time we read the Scripture as it was given; to the whole assembly in community as a unit. It is time we seek to not only support and equip parents but to join them, hand-in-hand, and be part of the work of discipleship.

A version of this blog was first posted here in April 2016. 


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

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Welcome Them, Welcome Him: What does it mean to “welcome” a child?

What does it mean to “welcome” a child?

Then they came to Capernaum. While Jesus was in the house, He asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had been arguing with each other which of them was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all.” Then He had a little child stand 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 welcomes not only Me, but the One who sent Me.”       Mark 9:33-36

As someone who works with children, I cannot read this passage of Scripture without getting goosebumps.   Honestly, I feel as though I could write endlessly about this beautiful picture of Jesus’ ministry to all ages, but I want to focus on one word in particular: Welcome.

What is welcome?

There has been much written about this word, but I want to share an experience I once had. A friend texted me; she needed to talk. I opened my home and invited her to lunch. We had a wonderful time together, but at one point she made a comment that it “really felt like” I wanted her there. I asked what she meant and she shared, “You didn’t just open the door and let me in. You cleaned your house, turned on music, lit a candle, set the table, made and served me lunch and dessert, listened when I shared and truly welcomed me into your home.”

To her, there was a difference between me making space for her and me welcoming her.

I see that in this “Jesus story” too. I see Him take a child, and have this child stand among the people gathered in the home, and then, very intentionally, take the child in his arms. And after that very intentional moment He says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name, welcomes Me…” (If I were a Psalmist, there would be a “Selah” after that).  

Think about that! Jesus modeled for us something very important. When we talk about welcoming a child, it’s not about just making room for them to be present.

It’s not about just making space.

It’s not even about making sure that there are enough volunteers for the nursery, teachers for the Sunday school, crafts for each attendee, and activity packets for each worship service.

No, Christ’s welcome went beyond that.

It wrapped that child in His very arms.

It said, “You are not only allowed to be here, you are WANTED here!”

It said, “You are not merely present in this space, you are embraced in this space.”

welcomechildAs we consider children in the context of the church and the larger faith community, it would be wise for us to reflect on this moment. We can say, “Children are welcome here” with our words and we can have all the right things in place. We can open the door and say, “Come on in!” But if we don’t combine that with a culture that says “You belong here”, a message of grace and honor, our welcome may fall flat.

It has to be more than just making space for their presence. It needs to be a felt welcome, an embrace.

And what happens if we do that, and by we, I mean all of us – parents, leaders, lay people, seniors, teens, all of us? I mean, just listen to Jesus’ words!! “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes not only Me, but the One who sent Me.” We not only welcome that child, we welcome Christ himself and the Father who sent Him. We welcome God!

If your church is looking for some ways to help welcome children more fully into the midst of your congregation, here are some ideas of where to start.

1. Welcome the kids, every week, by name – This may sound redundant, but there is much to be said for a personal greeting from a friendly face and welcome to the service

2. Engage the kids in worship– Kids love to be a part of something.  Give them the opportunity to help lead worship, hand out bulletins, take up the offering, participate in communion, help with the sound/lights, read Scripture, share a testimony – anything that let’s them know they are a vital part of the congregation.

3. Reaffirm your covenant– When children are baptized or dedicated in churches, often the church will recite or affirm a covenant with them to walk with them as a community of faith.  Every now and then, let the kids hear you re-affirm that out loud and with your actions.

4. Engage the congregation– If having kids in service is new to your church, give the congregation fair warning, provide a time for them to meet the kids (put faces with names and parents with kids) and encourage a time of fellowship for all before adding the kids to the service.  Some churches start with once and month and grow from there.

5. Give kids a voice– You’d be surprised how much we can learn from children but often we still follow the “Kids should be seen and not heard” rule. Give kids an avenue to share what God is speaking to them by affirming to them that they can and do hear from God and giving them a space to share that.  A bulletin board where they can hang a picture they drew in service or a note they wrote about what they learned can create a space where the whole church can hear and affirm their hearts for God.

(List adapted from Practical Ways to Welcome Kids to Church posted here. This article first appeared at d6family.com on 4.4.17)


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Is Church “Developmentally Appropriate” for Kids?

Whenever we talk about including all ages in corporate worship, one of the concerns that gets raised is whether or not developmental needs of all ages are being met in that context.  Often this is specifically used to reference the inclusion of children in the larger worship context.

But sometimes this view is  based on a narrowly defined area of developmental research and theories and a wider look at developmental psychology can give us a broader view of what it means for something to be “developmentally appropriate.”

Like most research, developmental theories are just that – theories. Lots of research continues to be done in early childhood development. Most people only think about cognitive development as the ability to understand certain things like words in a sermon or abstract concepts like worship. However, if we are looking at basics of development, it’s helpful to think bigger than that.

Development not just about what children can understand in terms of words and concepts; it’s about what they can learn socially, emotionally and in our case, spiritually.

Here are a few research-based reasons that support the inclusion of all ages, including younger children, in times of corporate worship and intergenerational learning.

  1. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development– This developmental theory explains that young children need to be in close proximity to older people who have “mastered” the tasks that they are learning. For instance, a four-year old is going to learn how to stack blocks better when playing with a 6 year old who has mastered the trick.

Fally-family-Fun

When we are talking about church, these young children learn what church is, how to act, what is expected by being in close proximity to adults who are practicing especially their parents who hold the most influence on their children’s spiritual lives. Here’s a great article about the power of the Zone of Proximal Development.

  1. Observational learning is another powerful developmental tool for young children. Watching others model what they should do is an important part of social development and one that has been lacking to in the larger church. This is often why when youth “graduate” from youth group, they don’t know how to interact socially with the larger church body and often end up leaving the church and saying they don’t feel like they belong.

Creating opportunities for observational learning can be tricky if a church is structured in a way characterized by all ages being separated from one another. The key is to create spaces where generational interaction can take place. For some practical tips and ideas for creating spaces where generations can connect together in worship and discipleship, check out this article.

  1. Fowler’s theory of Faith Development – Probably the best known developmental work in the area of faith comes from James Fowler and is based heavily on the work of Piaget, Erikson and Kohlberg (Check out the book The Church of All Ages by Howard Vanderwell, Chapter 3 for much more on this). 

In Fowler’s first stage (preschool aged children up to age 6) called the Intuitive-Projective faith stage, children basically reflect the spirituality of their parents.  Children will build their first ideas about their faith from the impressions of what they see and hear in church.  

The second stage (age 6-11) is called the Mythic-Literal stage where kids begin to learn the stories of the faith and articulate their own beliefs. That belief is largely mitigated by information they get from others and parents begin to share their influence with the rest of the church family. Framing sermons with a biblical story is a perfect way to invite this age into the sermon.

Other noted developmental ideas come from the work of Jean Piaget whose first two stages of development put a high premium on the importance of language combined with sensorimotor exploration.  This is why sensory bags or activity bags during services can be such a powerful tool for helping children engage during worship time.

Activity bags get a bad rap, mostly because people don’t understand the developmental science behind them. It’s important to understand that these activities aren’t intended to distract the kids but rather to help the kids use all of their developing senses; studies show if their hands and eyes are busy, their ears will be listening.  Quiet activities like lacing cards, stickers scenes, foam craft kits, beads and pipe cleaners, small puzzles and coloring are all great ways to engage your kinesthetic and visual learners.

The truth is if we look at the broad spectrum of developmental theories including these and others not mentioned here like Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development or Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, we can find space in all of them for including all ages in contexts of intergenerational worship and ministry.  Because ultimately, as social creatures, humans learn best from one another regardless of age. That means developmental appropriateness is something we can incorporate into any setting where we connect with other, especially others at different stages of development than we are.

Does that mean we shouldn’t have age-sensitive spaces?

No, not at all. There are lots of other developmental reasons to have spaces that meet our unique developmental needs. For instance, the ability to think abstractly is a characteristic of higher levels of development; until then, concrete thought is our primary means of processing. So we should have places where concrete access to learning is granted.

But to say that excluding children from corporate worship is necessary due to the fact that they are not developmentally able to be there is a fallacy and it limits the definition of what it means for something to be “developmentally appropriate” to a very narrow scope.

The truth is that worship services where all generations interact and connect can be developmentally appropriate if we are willing to broaden our understanding and find ways to build on the developmental stages we all find ourselves in.  That would also mean we would craft environments that aren’t targeted to a couple of generations but we would take the time to ensure each member in attendance would be able to participate in developmentally appropriate ways.

Instead of using developmental research to keep us apart, we can use it to create ways of connecting,  learning and growing together.  And in that way, we can even more fully explore what it means to be the body of Christ.


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

“Hospitality is the Most Subversive Weapon We Have”

When my kids were younger, I worked in direct sales with a company that sold packaged foods (dips, desserts, dinners, etc) to busy cooks. On days where I had a party that night, I would often bake delicious treats, whip up yummy snacks, and prepare different foods for taste-testing. Inevitably one of my children would smell that baking cakes or simmering sauces and ask, “Is that for us?!”  And I would say, “No, this is for my party tonight. You guys are having hot dogs and mac-and-cheese.”

One day, my more outspoken daughter looked up and responded, “How come you always cook the yummy food for other people and we just get hot dogs?”  Oh, ouch…I hadn’t looked at it that way. I had looked at it as, “This is my job and I have to do this and I need something quick to prepare for dinner.” But the message my children were receiving was that I cared more about the strangers than I did about them. 

fancyfridayOut of that moment was born “Fancy Dinner Fridays” where each Friday night I would cook a meal fit for a king (or at least as close as I could get to that). The table would be set with nice dishes, decorated with a theme, and the food..well, the food would be the very best I could make with my meager skills (and budget). They loved it.

But what they really loved…was being loved. 

This story came to mind once as I heard my friend, Dr. Marilyn Elliot, share with a group about hospitality. She made the comment that “Hospitality is the most subversive weapon we have against the enemy.”  Think about that.

While the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, hospitality is where things are offered freely, life is celebrated, and character is built.

Now, put that in the context of children.

I often hear fellow parents and ministers talking about how we need to “fight for the souls of our children.”  Could part of the answer be as simple as being hospitable to them?  And by that I mean, welcoming them and embracing them in special ways that tell them that they are wanted, desired, and expected in our lives?

Consider this; Marilyn asked us to reflect on how it makes us feel when we arrive somewhere and two cups are set out, a candle is lit, the door is answered with a hug and smile. Welcomed, right?  We feel as though we are supposed to be there. We are wanted and desired. The atmosphere says, “Come in! I was expecting you!”

Now, contrast that with being met upon arrival with a cluttered space, a person with a towel on their head saying, “Oh my goodness, I totally forgot you were coming.” Even though we might stay, we feel awkward, forgotten, unwelcome in the space.

Intentional hospitality combats the sense of ‘not belonging’ that so many people face, so many children, face every day. Intentional hospitality says, “I am so glad you are here. I’ve gone out of my way to express to you how special you are to me.”  It brings with it a level of purpose and love that burgeons the receiver’s very soul. There is even an old Jewish proverb that says, “Hospitality is one form of worship.”  It is a weapon to combat that which the enemy seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.

“If you give a moment of rest, a moment of peace, to the person next to you – you are practicing hospitality – you are defeating the enemy in their life” – Dr. Marilyn Elliot

Are we being hospitable to our children, in our homes and in our churches?

At home, do we prepare space that is welcoming to our kids; space that is open for conversation and quality time; space that is prepared with expectation and intentional in experience?  This could play out in a number of ways:

  • Special dinner plans with the children in mind (Click here for conversation starters that lead to discipleship moments)fancy_it_up
  • Special family times like Movie Nights or an evening at the park
  • “Dates” with Mom or Dad
  • Welcoming them back home after school, day care, playing, etc with intention
  • Asking for their thoughts in decor decisions or family plans
  • Prayer times that are just for them
  • Books that are “theirs” that you read together

What about at church? When children enter the worship space, is there anything to let them know they are welcomed there?  Not just in the “children’s area” but in the wider community? Things like…

  • Activity bags or Worship bags or Sermon notes appropriate for them
  • Adult church members who know their names
  • Places for them to serve like ushering or taking up the offering
  • Songs that they might be familiar with during worship
  • A verbal welcome like, “We are so excited to see our children and youth worshiping with us today!” or “What a blessing to see our kids and parents and grandparents all gathered to worship today!”
  • For more practical ways to welcome kids to church, click here

If Christian hospitality truly is a subversive weapon against the enemy, then it behooves us to consider, how can we fight better?  Hebrews 13:2 encourages not to forget to show hospitality. Interesting that the word “forget” is used. Because that’s where I usually end up when it comes to hospitality to my own family. I forget that they need to hear the words, “I’m so glad you are here! I was expecting you!” as much as my friends and neighbors and guests do.

“The kingdom happens over hospitality. We might miss the most precious of moments if we forget to be intentional in this.” – Dr. Marilyn Elliot


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Watch and Learn: The Power of Observational Learning

There is something so beautiful about seeing a child worship God.  The enthusiasm of their praise, the purity of their worship – it’s enough to make a grown man cry…literally. Many times during the service, I’ve had someone interrupt my own worship to point out a child or family engaged in a precious moment with God.

A friend of mine posted this testimony regarding her own Sunday morning experience:

Received a blessing this morning at worship that also served as a sobering reminder for me. I was singing, praying, and raising my hands in gratitude to the One Who has delivered me from death, and generally not paying much attention to what was going on around me, when the lady sitting behind me grasped my shoulder and told me to look across the aisle.

One of our sweet children, no more than maybe 2 years old was on her mom’s hip, watching me and lifting her hands in praise like I was. It made me weep to see her learning worship from her church family. But it also reminded me to always be aware of how I conduct myself. You never know who is watching.

The idea of older people modeling behavior for younger ones isn’t a new one.  Also known as observational learning, this process helps us to see, internalize, and then act in the ways we have observed.

Developmental psychologists have long known that children learn by imitating adults and older children (Source). It’s one of the ways that we not only transmit knowledge but also culture and yes, faith.

study by an Australian team found that children will imitate adults even if the behavior doesn’t make sense such as opening a box with a stick instead of with their hands.  What the children saw modeled, they imitated in their own everyday life.

A study of teenagers and addiction found that “many parents turn to professionals thinking that when their teen hears about the dangers of drug use from someone else, they will be swayed, but the truth is that usually, it’s the parents’ behavior that have much more impact on a teen’s behavior.”  

watchingWhat our children see modeled, they will imitate, and what they imitate will create their framework for how life is “done.”

So, it begs the question, what behavior are we modeling when we consistently remove the children from the larger congregational worship experience?

Children don’t BELONG in “big” church

I can think of no stronger message that we send to children and youth when we consistently segregate them from corporate worship.  As I’ve stated many times before, I am not against times where youth and children are separate and spending time growing in ways that reach specifically to them, but I am opposed to ministry that exclusively keeps children and youth from interacting with the larger faith community in worship.

 I am convinced that there must be times of corporate worship where children can see adults, more specifically their parents, engaged in worship, growing, and fellowship with the whole congregation if we want them to learn (imitate) what it is to participate in the local body of Christ.

Children don’t have anything to GIVE to the larger church

When our attitude towards kids is to consistently segregate them away from the adults and keep them in their own space together (with a few volunteers), we are telling them that that are unnecessary to the functioning of the church.  That we adults don’t need them to grow in our faith.  That they are a distraction from what we are doing on Sunday morning.

But Christ sends a very different message – He tells us we MUST learn from them. He tells us that that the kingdom of God belongs to them (Mark 10:14), that by welcoming them we welcome Him and the Father (Luke 9:47, 48), that we should become like them (Matt. 18:3). How in the world can we do that if we never get to see them in praise and worship, in prayer and fellowship? How can we imitate them?

Children aren’t old enough (smart enough, mature enough) to UNDERSTAND God and church

Sunday school.  Ever thought about those words? It implies a place where you go to “get taught” about something.  We even call our volunteers “teachers” many times. How about Children’s Church?  Even this sends a message that this is a place for kids, not adults, but kids to “do church.”  But frankly, I have learned more from the kids in Children’s Church than I think they’ve learned from me.  They’ve taught me how to praise with abandon, to pray with great faith, and to love each other.  So many times I’ve thought, “Oh, how I wish the whole church could see this right now!”

Because children DO understand God and His love, often in ways we adults cannot grasp.  We don’t have to “dumb down” theology for them; they get it!  Yes, we do need to communicate it to them in ways they understand but they are definitely “smart enough” to know God and to participate in church.

Our children are imitating our behavior; our worship and our community and our prayers and our fellowship.

Let’s make sure we are modeling what we really want to be modeling.

Let’s make sure what we are teaching them is what we actually want to be teaching them.

As my friend shared, let us always be aware of how we are conducting ourselves. Because they are watching and learning… all the time.


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

The Church of More, Fast, Fun, Easy

Environments are not passive wrappings, but are rather, active processes which are invisible.” – Marshall McLuhan

Environments matter a lot. 

They don’t come right out and yell at us, “Feel this way!” but they are constantly informing us about how we should feel and ways we should act.

So, if we are desirous of calling forth certain actions from ourselves and from our children, it would be a good idea for us to thoughtfully consider the environment that we are immersed in and that we create in our communities of faith.

drop-of-water-1004250_1920My husband often tells me often we are “fish who don’t see the water” meaning we just go about our lives without really noticing the atmosphere we are submerged in, just breathing it in and out as if it were not there.

I remember an experience once where I was invited by Rick Lawrence of Simply Youth Ministries to “see the water”…and I’ll be honest, it wasn’t pretty clear blue waters of the Caribbean…it was muddied, and dirty, and polluted, and frankly, not a nice place to be.

He led us through a diagnosis of the environment our kids are growing up in.  Consider these things carefully, just as you did your surroundings a minute ago, and think about the feelings these elements conjure up in you.

We are living in a marginless world; 8 of 10 teens never turn their cell phone off and most send between 60-100 texts every day.

They are constantly connected and when they disconnect, there is anxiety, probably partially because this constant connection has changed their brain chemistry to be more reactive and less thoughtful.

Our culture is characterized by the ideals of “more, fast, easy, and fun” and parents self-describe themselves with words like worried, fearful, distracted, and overwhelmed.

So…how do we feel?

We feel…tired.

So we look to the Church.

Surely there where we serve a Savior that says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” we will find a place of refuge, shelter from the Go, Go, Go lifestyle and a place where relationships are fostered with trust and grace.

Surely here we will find a hope, a God who invites us into community and gives strength to the weary.

Surely here our kids can see consistency in a world of variability, welcome in a world that’s too busy for hospitality, margin and space to grow in a world that demands constant connection and endless going.

And what do we find?  And let’s be honest…for just a moment, let’s see the water.

The number one reason Millennials and Gen Z point to for why they leave the church is not hypocrisy (that was my generation) and not because of new experiences (that was my parents’ generation).

The number one reason they leave is because they feel like they do not belong.

Our environment has told them that.

Our way of doing church, of segregating the young and making church an “adult worship service” as I heard one prominent children’s minister describe it recently in a blog, of creating spaces that delight our senses and meet our personal preferences and “needs” tells a story to our upcoming generations that they do. not. belong.

They’ve decided to swim in different waters.  They are just as disconnected at church as they are in life. There’s no respite, no quiet calm, no gentle acceptance and gracious authority.  They just feel… alone.

And I can see why.  And I think if we are all honest, we see it too.  

We need to change our filter.  Our water needs to be cleaned.  We need to see it so we can change it. Not that everything we’ve done has been wrong, but something we’ve done has not worked.

More and more, the Church needs to become the place where all those things described above – marginless space, disconnectedness, constant separation and constant motion – no longer find a home. 

Imagine instead a place where we come, together, connected to one another as a body whose head is Christ; where we stop as a family, a community, and we breathe in rest and peace, where we replace the cry of “more, fast, fun and easy” with hearts of simple love, welcome, and grace.

A simple place of worship and community and rest all because of Jesus who is the only “more” we need.

If our waters don’t look different, if we are offering more of the “more” and we are not creating space for meaningful relationships that stay grounded in a fluid world, then why are we surprised when our children walk away?  We’ve got to see the water.


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Don’t Dumb Down Theology for Kids

The other morning I saw a cartoon in my Facebook newsfeed that showed a pastor in front of the church behind the pulpit saying, “There’s been a complaint from a few of the members that the sermons are too intellectual. The following adult members are invited up front to join the children’s sermon…

At first I chuckled because…haha…but then I stopped and thought about what the cartoon was implying.

First and foremost, it indicated that somehow a children’s sermon would be less intellectual than the sermon offered to the adults.

Second, it made is seem like an adult experiencing something intended to reach children would not be challenged in their faith.

And finally, it seemed to imply that an adult would be insulted to be “lumped in” with the kids.

Ugh. If you know me at all, even a little bit, you know that my chuckle quickly disappeared, because…ugh. I don’t think any of these things are true nor should be they be perpetuated within our faith communities.

Both theologically and socially, these underlying assumptions about the differences between adults and children can actually undermine the church and lead to segregated faith communities where little to no interaction takes place between generations. 

So let’s start with the basics.

friendship-1146331_1920Of course we can all recognize there are differences between adults and children. Physically, emotionally, developmentally, and in a myriad of other ways, they are different. They have different needs based on these different stages of development. They have different abilities, both physically and cognitively. They have different likes and dislikes, frameworks through which they view the world.

And therefore, yes, age-sensitive ministry within the church is necessary and valuable.

However, in spite of these differences, there is much more we hold in common. In terms of church, there are important spiritual principles that are common to both. Theology, for instance, is something that doesn’t change based on age. The way it is presented might change, but the theology itself should not change.

Which means, even in a sermon intended to reach children, the theological content should be such that an adult would learn from it and gain insight from it as well. Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales and Buck Denver, shared this response at a conference to someone who said that theology was too deep for children:

Kids can learn more than we think. Adults can learn less than we would hope. We consistently underestimate what kids are capable of learning and overestimate what adults will learn. Kids still ask questions – grown ups stop asking questions.

Could you explain it to a 3rd grader? If you can’t disciple a 3rd grader, you can’t disciple anyone.

people-2603858_1920Faith, the foundation upon which we call ourselves children of God, is not only common to the whole community, but actually exemplified in children (according to Christ).  To assume that an adult cannot learn with and from children because adults are at a deeper place in their faith is to lose one of the most precious things about our faith, namely, that it is best experienced and expressed through the life of a child. Just ask Jesus. He repeatedly pointed to children and told his disciples and followers to have faith like them because to them belonged the kingdom of God (Mt. 18:1-6, Mk. 10:13-16, Luke 18:16, 17).

It is not an insult for an adult to be called to learn with and from children; it is what Christ has told us to do. 

What if we re-envisioned the whole sermon?  

What if the pastor of the church didn’t see himself as the pastor of the adults only but also to the youth and children?

What if the sermon was a time where we learned together, truly together, because the goal wouldn’t be one group being fed while the other was ignored or set aside or one group being entertained with simple stories and surface values while the other group sits hungry for discipleship and theology?

Can that even be done?

I think it can. I think it would mean we all have to bend a little. We’d all have to see one another as more important than ourselves.

Kids would have to listen to some things that developmentally they couldn’t understand and relate to.

Adults would have to humble themselves to a place where they could learn with and from children even if they think they are beyond that.

There would need to be grace given, one to the other, and discipleship offered as we grow together.

But I think it could be done and I think it could be a healthy place for the church to explore helping generations grow together. Simply having a discussion together, as a larger faith community and within our own church, may yield more insight and ideas that we could come up with on our own.

We can know this for sure: Since  God’s point of communication with all of us is the Word, it’s clear that the Bible must be for children too.

This story from the late 1800s of a pastor and his own interactions with his daughter in church touches me each time I read it. I think there is much to be gleaned from this personal testimony for all of us, but especially those of us who minister within the church.

“Papa, are you going to say anything to-day that I can understand? ‘ asked a little girl of her father— a Massachusetts pastor — as he was setting out for church on a Sabbath morning. This tender appeal touched the loving father’s heart, and he could not answer his daughter nay; he could not say to his child that she must sit in penance through all the long service with never a word designed for her instruction and cheer.

So, as he preached, he said, ‘And now, children, I will say something to you about this.” At once the face of every child in that audience brightened. Sleepy little ones started up ; tired ones took fresh heart.

Looking first at the minister, then at each other, again back to him, they were all eagerness for his message, as though now there was something else for them than to nod and yawn and ache un-cared for; and although the pastor’s following sentences to them were few and simple, doubtless many felt as did the child who had pleaded for this attention when, on her return at noon, she said contentedly, ‘ Papa, I understood all that you said this morning.’

Dear children! Who wouldn’t do as much as this for them in every sermon? — they are gratified so easily.” 

Taken from The Sunday School: Its Origins, Mission, Method and Auxilliaries written by H.C. Trumbull and available free on GOOGLE BOOKS.)

A version of this article was originally posted on this blog in June 2016


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 on this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Asking the Question “Do I Belong?”

I wrote a blog a while back that explored the Pew Research findings that showed that the fastest growing label in the “religion” category was “Unaffiliated” or not connected to any particular religion. This category was filled primarily with Millennials who had at one time associated themselves with organized religion. I was curious why this trend was happening so I read a number of blogs written by Millennial authors about why they had chosen to leave the church.

alone-1868905_1920By and large, the overall message was “We don’t feel like we belong.”

I could relate, but on a different level. If you’ve ever visited a foreign country, you probably can to.  A few years ago, Luke and I had the chance to go to Europe and I loved every minute of it BUT the whole time I was there, I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong. I may have been there, dressed in the right clothes, paying with the right money, and eating the right food, but I didn’t feel like I belonged. Even when things were done to make us feel more at home, it still couldn’t eradicate the feeling of not belonging. Why?

We didn’t know anyone – Everyone was new to us; a stranger. Even the friendliest people we met were still new. We had no relationships with them nor them with us, so our conversations were necessarily surface and without depth.

We weren’t familiar with the customs – It’s funny how the littlest thing can remind you that you are out of your element, things like asking for “just water” at a restaurant and having a chilled bottle of seltzer water delivered to your table or not walking on the right side of the road because that is the bike lane and they will run you over. These moments, seemingly small, were poignant reminders we were in unfamiliar territory.

We didn’t speak the language – Obviously one of the most visible ways we felt unaffiliated was in terms of just speaking to those around us. Trying to figure out if what we were paying for an ice cream cone was actually the right amount could lead to times of intense stress. Reading maps and taking the subway? Yeah, we lived Finding Dory.

So what does this have to do with the church?

If the bloggers I read are accurate in their assessment, they share much the same feelings when they are in church. It makes sense then that they would want to leave and find somewhere where they feel they belong.

And, if during their lives as children in church they spent most, if not all, of their time separated from the older generations and not in attendance for corporate worship or congregational gathering times, the feeling of not belonging would simply be a natural occurrence, an expected consequence.

They wouldn’t know anybody – Or perhaps, more accurately, they wouldn’t be known by anybody. If coming into “big church” is a new experience and the majority of people attending are new to them, it would not feel like a community they were a part of or were familiar with. It’d be like going to a new country in a way.

They wouldn’t know the customs – Every church has a liturgy; a way of worshiping together. Some follow traditional liturgical practices that have been passed down for centuries; some just have a habitual way of going about church service (song, welcome and greeting, song, song, prayer, offering, song, sermon, prayer, son…something like that). When to stand, when to sit, how to “pass the peace”, how to sing, when to clap, when to go up front, etc. – these customs help create the atmosphere that is unique to that church.

How foreign it can feel if it’s never been experienced before and how unusual that must feel when it is happening in a space where you’ve been attending for most of your childhood and youth.

They wouldn’t know the language – Almost every church I’ve attended has some time where the congregation participates in some way praying, reciting, or singing together. In some churches, especially more liturgical ones, there are certain things that are to be said at certain times. For the inexperienced, I imagine this could feel quite intimidating and at times isolating.

What can we do?

My encouragement would be this:  Find ways to connect the older and younger generations in meaningful relationships where they know each other names long before the young ones head off to college AND seek to create space where the whole congregation can engage in worship and fellowship together before the young people are launched into completely unknown territory.

Give them a chance to know and feel like they belong before they even arrive.

Part of the fun of visiting a new place is that you don’t know everything. The same holds true with church. There should always be more to know of Christ and of each other and there should always be a certain sense of stretching and discomfort as we truly engage in living life together as community.

However, recognizing that transition is difficult and we sometimes need a bridge to make the journey, there’s nothing wrong with creating space for relationships and times of corporate worship to reinforce the message for young people that they most certainly do belong.


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. 

Mind the Gap: Reuniting Generations in Our Churches

Recently there’s been a return to cross-generational and intergenerational communities and contexts mostly because of the research being done on the importance of multigenerational community. (Source).

As crazy as it seems to us, it’s actually quite normal and quite healthy for generations to spend quality time together.

intergenerational-cool-stuffBut, let’s be honest.  the way society is currently structured, connecting with generations outside of our own can feel uncomfortable and decidedly not fun.   And because of that, we sometimes think that we don’t have anything in common with generations other than ours and even more sadly, that we can’t be friends.

But, that’s simply not true.  It’s what we’ve become accustomed to but it’s not truth. The truth is we actually live better, more fulfilling lives when we are around each other.

Is it possible to change our minds?

Some amazing places are showing it is possible, like this intergenerational care home in the UK and these intergenerational communities in the US. They are built on the idea that we have more that unites us than separates us, more in common than difference. And I believe that can be done in the church as well. In fact, I believe it is one of the most important things we can do in our churches today. But how?

Start Slow

Realistically most of the generations that attend a church don’t even know one another’s names. They often don’t attend the same service times, they are in age-specific Sunday school classes that don’t intermingle with other classes, and they very often are in different parts of the church building.

The very first thing we can do is provide a way for generations within the church to learn each other’s names. Check out this cool resource that is a perfect way to create connections across generations: Pray for Me.

Create a Common Identity

As members of one faith community, this idea of a common identity should be relatively easy to create. Basically, using your church’s vision and mission, craft language that can be used across generations to say “This is who WE are.”  Don’t just use the language in the adult classes or church service where children and youth aren’t present.

Make sure that everyone knows they are part of the church and identify with the mission. As silly as this may seem, tee shirts are a great way to make this happen. Magnify the similarities NOT the differences.

Allow for Interactions

If your church is set up in a way that doesn’t allow for generations to mix and mingle (separate services, classes, and spaces) then it will be necessary to intentionally create space for interactions to take place. Meals together, intergenerational worship, and cross generational events are some ways to allow for that.

It’s also vitally important facilitate and encourage interactions outside of the church buildings. Some ideas:

  • Have the kids who play sports or dance post their game or performance schedules and encourage older folks to attend.
  • Ask the older generations videotape themselves telling stories about their memories of being in church and share videos with the kids once a month.
  • Create a Homebound Ministry with the youth who go and visit people who aren’t physically able to come to the church.
  • Host classes where skills can be taught between generations, older to younger and younger to older.
  • Find places in the community where teams could volunteer and serve and send intergenerational groups out to serve with one another.

Show Up in Unconventional Ways

If there is always an adult leading the call to worship, let a child do it. If a child always takes up the offering, have a college student do it. Move chairs and tables around so that people end up sitting with other generations and making new friends.  Keep messaging that we have more in common than we think and help them discover common likes, dislikes, and activities. And when you find a commonality, celebrate it!

If there is an advertised “churchwide” event, then make sure the whole church is there, all ages, including children, youth, and senior adults. As Paul would say, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

Regardless of what our society has convinced us of, this is actually what we want. Our soul longs for community and our physical health and well-being benefit from it in ways we are just starting to understand. So, yes, while it will take some intentional work and some consistent messaging, ultimately the end goal is worth it.

We will be the body of Christ.


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. 

Tips for Intergenerational Worship Services

More and more, churches are recognizing the importance of creating space within their corporate worship for the full church body to gather and worship, including the youngest among us.   But that does create a challenge for many faith communities that have been used to not having children and youth in the sanctuary for part or all of the corporate service time.

kiddistractionOver the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with three different churches who approached intergenerational worship in different ways and I’ve gathered a few ideas from them about how other churches might be able to approach these types of services.

These ideas are by no means exclusive… look at them as a starting point and let the culture of your church help fill in the gaps as needed.

Here’s a few things that I’ve done or seen done at the churches I’ve been blessed to serve in:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are many, many more ideas on how to incorporate children and youth into the larger worship experience and I’d love to hear from you!  What have you seen done or are you currently doing in your church context? If you are a parent, how do you help your kids connect to the larger body in worship? And if the answer is, “Nothing yet!” hopefully these tips will get your creative juices flowing!


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 Blog

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