Stop Saying God isn’t in School

Note from the author: I shared these thoughts a few years ago and with the return of students to the classroom, I felt the urge to share this again. Please consider the message we send to our children when we tell them that God isn’t in the public schools. Don’t limit who He is in their lives, in the lives of teachers and administrators who follow Him, and His Spirit that is everywhere, calling all of us to Love. Instead of sharing a meme that say “God’s not there”, share this post instead and remember, “Our God is with us!”

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“If you think Jesus should be allowed back in schools, click “Like” and Share!”

“New Law  in Kentucky allows Bible to be taught in school. Do you Agree or Disagree?”

“God was kicked out of schools! It’s time we let Him back in!”

For some reason, memes and posts like this have started showing back up in my various social media streams. It seems like this particular melody gets sung every 6-12 months by some Christians and the chorus of “likes” and “shares” and “I agree” comments fill to social media outlets.

But I do not join the chorus. And I don’t think it is advantageous for any of us to do so.

“Why?  Don’t you think God should be allowed in public schools?  Don’t you believe in the Bible?  Don’t you think that prayer should be present in our educational system?”

Even typing those words made me cringe on the inside. Because laden within them and within the memes and posts above is this underlying assumption: God isn’t there. That somehow a law or a custom or a man-made institution is capable of restraining or inhibiting our God, our King of Kings, our Emmanuel.

Every year, as Christians, we celebrate Christmas.  In this season, we spend days focusing on one thing – the birth of Christ. And throughout the season we remind each other that we have a God that is not far off in some distant place waiting for us to come to Him. No! We serve a God who came to us, wrapped in our frail flesh, and walked among us, promising to be our Emmanuel – God WITH us – forever and ever.

During this season we marvel at the miracle of our Savior’s birth, foretold by prophets and angels, and witnessed by shepherds and kings.

We tell our children that because of this, they can rest assured that God is always with them, always present, always showing Himself strong on their behalf.

We even think ahead to the next big celebration of Easter and we explain that through Christ’s birth and death as fully man and fully God, we have been given a Way into eternity ourselves and we will never be separated from God, ever, for all time.

And then… we post memes that say we kicked Him out.  We bemoan the lack of His presence in our classrooms. We act as though our Emmanuel is not “God with us” but “God with us when we say it’s okay.”

How sad for us and how confusing for our children. That in one moment we speak with such faith and confidence and in the next we mourn as though we have been left abandoned.

Oh friends, wouldn’t it be much better to acknowledge the truth?  That God CANNOT be “kicked out” of this world, no matter how hard humanity might try to do so?  That our God thrives in places where men and women have tried to push Him out and silence His church?  That our God isn’t just present in our schools, but in prisons, concentration camps, Roman amphitheaters and arenas, in the darkest persecutions and even in the greatest prosperity. God can’t be banned from earth. That battle was fought and won thousands of years ago.

He is here to stay. He is Immanuel. He is God WITH us! 

And that is what we need to tell our children.

boy-2205733_1920We need to tell them the truth, that God IS in the public schools. That God IS in their classrooms and at their lunch tables and in their college dorm rooms and in their high school locker rooms.

God is there, fully present and fully able to sustain them as they live for Him.

The Bible isn’t banned; they carry the Word of God within them and they can speak words of truth and life anywhere they want to. Prayer isn’t prohibited; they can pray for themselves, for friends, for teachers, for anyone, anywhere at anytime and God will hear and will answer.

Friends, our children need to hear that God isn’t quivering in a corner, afraid or tied down. Our God, the God that took on flesh and came to us as a baby, is coming back as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He is not fearful; He is triumphant. 

If we continue to act as though this world somehow regulates that truth, we make our God too small and if anything, the next generation needs to know how big and how loving and how present our God is.  We can’t proclaim His strength in church on Sunday and then lament His weakness the rest of the week.

How much better to send them off to school or work or play with these words, God is with you, everywhere you go. He is before you and behind you. He is on every side. You are not alone. You are NEVER alone. Know that you are loved so that you can love God and love others. Be WHO you are, all the time, everywhere, because God is present.”

God is in the public schools. I’ve seen Him.

God never got kicked out. He never removed His presence or His grace. No rule, regulation, law, or anything is strong enough for that. So let’s stop living a life of fear and regret. Let’s show our children that as long as we are His, He is here, present and active and ready to be Emmanuel to everyone who desires Him.


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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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. 

One of “Those” Parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About the author

EmbreeFam2017Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  ChurchLeaders.com

 

Devices Are Not The Enemy

When I was young, my dad once shared with me that often times growing up, I would hear two sides to a story. Like a pendulum, opinions on things would swing from one side to another, but the truth usually lie somewhere in the middle. Decades later, a mentor to my husband shared the same thing (only in Latin, which sounds cooler): “Veritas en medio est” which means “The truth is in the middle.”

The latest wave of “sides” that I’ve seen has been in regard to the use of electronic devices by children, youth, young adults… everyone.  There are facts and statistics that seem to “support” each side of the pendulum on this one.

boy with phoneI know parents who are adamantly opposed to any form of device ever being used by their child, citing everything from biological research that devices literally harm the brain to social concerns regarding the availability of kids to access mature content at the push of a button or be vulnerable to bullying without a safe place to escape (all legitimate concerns).

I know other parents who lean towards embracing devices, citing other research that shows that kids who use devices at a young age are better at problem solving, are more socially conscious, and learn basic academic skills earlier.

Oh my goodness, how in the world are we supposed to navigate this?  Well, I’m going to follow the advice of my mentors here and encourage us to consider that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Devices are not the enemy.

They are devices.  We control them. We can even turn them off.

As parents, we control the access to them within our home. We can turn off the wifi. We can take away devices. We can monitor what our kids have access to.

We can also use them constructively. We can create space that invites our kids to learn with us how to responsibly use devices. We can model healthy behavior. We can create a culture in our home that helps our kids responsibly use devices.

Ultimately, devices aren’t the issue. We are.

Whether we are the parent that says, “No devices, end of story” or the parent that says, “All the devices, let’d dive in,” the reality is simply this – we are in charge of the narrative. And since, I suspect, most of us tend to be somewhere in the middle, aware of both the dangers and the benefits and doing our best to walk the wire and do the right thing, ultimately the issue is … us.

Jon Acuff has a great series on technology and kids and one of his primary takeaways is this: “You can’t stop a changing culture, but you can control the culture in your home.”  In other words, as parents, we can’t stop the fact that devices are becoming more and more integrated in our society. We can’t.

Even if we choose to remove all devices from our home, the reality is if we walk outside of our home at any time and choose to interact at all with the world, we are going to find a reliance on devices is part of that culture.   But what we can do is create a culture inside our own home that puts devices in their proper place.

We can respect the device as what it is – a tool, a social platform, a learning resource, an object with an off/on switch – and we can establish ways of interacting with said device that help our kids and youth to develop healthy habits that will help them when they walk out of our home.

But it’s even bigger than that.

We can establish a culture in our home of kindness, a culture that says we treat others as Christ would and that extends into our social media networks.

We can establish a culture of self control and moderation, a culture that says we don’t need to over indulge or become obsessed with anything and that can extend to our use of devices.

We can establish a culture that says we honor Christ first, a culture that is first of all focused on Christ-centered relationships and community and that can encompass how and where we use devices.

We can create a culture that becomes so much a part of our home that when anything new is introduced into it, that new thing is screened by the culture and put in its proper place, and that includes devices.

Doing that will take work,  a lot of work. It’s not an offhanded thing. Creating a culture in our homes requires actual and intentional thought and time.  It requires stated expectations and shared values. And those don’t happen overnight.

Creating that culture is as much a part of the discipleship process as reading the Bible, praying with our children, and serving our community.

Discipleship at home isn’t about adding more to our already busy lives; it’s about welcoming Christ into every aspect of our lives, including technology. It’s about finding ways to intentionally invite Jesus into our devices, not in some “super spiritual” Jesus juke kind of a way, but in a recognition that like every other part of our lives, this one needs His grace as well.

There are articles upon articles out there that will give ideas galore about how to actively engage your child in healthy ways with devices. Articles about how to make it more safe. Ideas on intentional conversations you should have with your children. I recommend reading them. But I also recommend this; don’t let fear or apathy control the decisions that we make in regard to devices.

We have the exciting opportunity to help our children experience life within the safe space of our home with the guiding principles of our culture through the grace of Christ.

With that before us, let’s not let devices steal the spotlight.

Instead, let’s prayerfully consider how these objects can be best experienced in our children’s lives in ways that prepare them for the future and engage them with discipleship within our homes.

(This article is the third in a series on social media, technology and discipleship. To read the first and second, click on the links)


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

Why We Need To Be There

On Sunday, I joined with a group from our church to walk through the streets of Lexington for the Lexington Mural Challenge Scavenger Hunt. In Lexington there are over a hundred murals painted on the sides of buildings, in alleys, up and down streets, throughout the city.

Each mural has a story and each story is a part of what makes Lexington the city that it is. 

Our church hosted the walk through the city as part of our Lex Get Together activities aimed at helping people who are new to the city get to know it better and those who are old to the city to learn something new. We figure there’s no better way to get to know a place and the people who live there than to explore it, engage with it, and experience it.

Which is why I have an Instagram account.

twitter-292994_1920You see, I’m the mother of an almost 15 year old. Her “city” is Instagram. Her “streets” are the people she follows. Her “murals” are found in that lovely search feature at the bottom of the screen. And her community is found in the multiple group conversations she is a part of.

Each image has a story and each story is a part of what make her world what it is. 

Realistically, I know this is, like everything is, a phase that she is going through, an experiential stage common to most kids her age. I don’t think that for the rest of her life she will “live” there but for now, it’s where she is interacting with people on a daily basis.

And I need to be there.

I need to be on her streets and in her community. I need to understand viral videos, trending memes, and the language that is spoken. More than that, I need to be aware of the messages that are being given and received, not so that I can control them, but so I can have a conversation about them.

Our church plant recognizes that to minister effectively to those in the city of Lexington we feel called to, it’s important for us to experience the culture and engage with the environment.  Our children and youth are our first ministry but if we are not where they are, if we are not engaged, not experiencing their world, we will have a much more difficult time having conversations that lead to discipleship and faith formation.

I still get made fun of by my girls for being old and not getting things, but that doesn’t deter me from remaining engaged and aware. If I’m willing to walk the streets of a city so I can know it better, I’m definitely willing to scroll through a social media app to know my children better.

Be where your kids are. Be present and aware.

Ask questions like, “Have you seen anything interesting lately?” and “What’s new on Instagram?” For younger children, let them sit with you and see how you interact with people. Teach them healthy ways to engage digitally with you because one day, even if it’s after they leave your home, they will engage.

Establish the culture of loving God and loving others in all areas of life, including the digital one, so that even when you are not there, they will be able to approach technology of godly, responsible ways.

Discipleship at home is more than family devotions and Bible stories before bedtime. It’s intentionally welcoming Christ into every area of our lives and looking for opportunities to grow our faith no matter where we are and helping our children to see Him.

Note: In our home, we have limited the social media world our older kids have access to one location so that it is easier for us to engage and interact. Each family understandably needs to find their own rhythm and guidelines, but whatever those end up being, just make sure that you are there. You can follow me on Instagram @christinaembree.

This article is the first in a series on social media, technology, and discipleship. To read the second and third in the series, click on the link!


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. 

When It Comes to Parenting, I want the Guarantee

I had a fight with my daughter the other night. She was sure I was being unfair. I was sure she was overreacting. She cried. I got frustrated. She went to her room. I wondered, “Am I doing this all wrong? How am I messing this up so bad? What kind of a parent am I?  What is she going to think about me when she grows up?”

My son blurted out a word that, well, he didn’t hear from me. I tried not to react with shock and awe but I failed. The confusion in his eyes and the tears that came later when he told me he didn’t like it when I got mad at him broke my heart. “Why didn’t I handle that better?  What is he going to remember about this? What kind of a parent am I?”

Here I am, a blogger about discipleship, a minister in a faith community, a student of ministry focused on children, youth and family, and … a mom who wonders every day, “Am I getting this right?”

friendship-831522_1920 (1)I want the guarantee.

I want to know that if I do all the “right” things my kids are going to grow up to be lovers of God and lovers of others.

I want to know that I’ve equipped them with the tools to have healthy relationships, make wise decisions, and live lives of consequence. I want to make sure that with each interaction, I am pointing them to Christ and showing them love and creating space for them to be uniquely them.

But, oh, the moments, like the ones above, they happen and my heart clenches and I wonder, “What kind of parent am I?”

I’m an imperfect one. I’m not always going to get it right. And sometimes, even when I do get it right, it’s not going to matter because the right thing doesn’t always feel great to the child on the receiving end.

And there are no guarantees, except the only one that matters.

That God loves these children more than me.

That He is perfect.

That He is big enough to reveal Himself to them in spite or maybe even because of my failings.

That eventually, it won’t be me who decides for them what their faith will look like… it will be between the two of them.

And that is my guarantee.

That while I (and my husband) do have the greatest influence on them and that it is our great responsibility and joy to raise them by loving God and loving others in front of them and giving them the opportunity to meet God through His body, His creation, His Word and this family, ultimately, the only guarantee we have is that God will never stop pursuing them and loving them and never failing them.

We are called to “impress these things” upon the hearts of our children, the things of God, the things of our faith.

We are called to talk about them when we sit at home and when we walk along the road, when we rise and when we lie down.

We are called to “praise” God’s works and declare His might acts to generations to come.

We are called to love our children and not provoke them and we are called blessed if we have the chance to serve as parents to the next generation.

We are not called to be perfect.

We are called to be parents.

So, by the grace of God, let us live a life worthy of the calling we’ve received and rest in the guarantee that our God loves our children infinitely more than we can imagine and He will pursue their hearts.


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. 

Who’s On Their Team?

The other day I borrowed a movie from the library that my middle daughter had been asking to watch. When she saw it, she immediately asked if two friends could watch it with her. Both of the friends she requested are adults, friends of mine that had intentionally developed relationships with her. Only one was able to stay and watch the movie, but when I came downstairs at one point, my daughter had her head laid on the shoulder of my 24 year old friend as they were enjoying a movie together.

It made my heart so happy.

Sure, I could have watched the movie with her, but the fact that she had other adults in her life that she not only desired to spend time with but who desired to spend time with her as well, meant the world to me.

stickfaithIn 2010, I had the opportunity to read the book “Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids” by Drs. Kara Powell and Chap Clark. This book had a profound effect on how I parented my own children but my biggest takeaway was the idea of The Five.

In the book, they explains that “Despite the age segregation that exists in our churches and broader culture, each young person is greatly benefited when surrounded by a team of five adults.” In the book, they called this “the new 5:1 ratio” as compared to the normal five kids per adult ratio used in many Sunday school classrooms.

The Power of The Five

So, why is having those five adults so important?

  1. Adults have significant lasting influence on youth.  Studies show that significant, non-parental adults play an important role in adolescent development (Source). Having a healthy, well-rounded world view requires more than just parental input; other supportive adults fill out that role.
  2. It makes their faith bigger than Mom and Dad.  Research has found that children go through three phases of relationship with their parents: First, as children, they adore them. Second, as youth, they question them. Finally, as young adults, they rationalize them. It’s very helpful in each of these stages for children to see that in terms of their faith, their parents weren’t alone in what they believe and passed on to them; that they can see that their faith is something bigger than just their parents’ beliefs and that they are a part of a much wider community.
  3. It provides stability. There is nothing more fragile than the adolescent’s world. Peer groups are prone to change as teens grow and discover their own individual personality. Friendships morph and change. Relationships come and go. Having adults who have already walked that path and are now relatively stable in their faith, their personality, and their life give kids a sense of stability and foundation that they desperately need.

Five adults engaged in intentional communication and meaningful relationships with a young person doesn’t just happen.

color-3207345_1920In fact, in our age-segregated culture, it’s highly unlikely that it will happen at all unless some intentional work is put into ensuring that it does.

And so, that became a goal for Luke and me. We wanted our children to be able to name five adults, other than us, that they knew cared about them, wanted to spend time with them, and had a relationship with them built on mutual respect and trust. We wanted them to have a “team” that they knew were cheering them on, walking with them, and excited to be around them.

In order for that to happen, we had to make sure a few things happened. We had to make sure our kids had the chance to meet and interact with adults. We had to create spaces for intentional interaction to take place. We had to encourage healthy relationships when we saw them beginning to grow. And we had to “let go” of a little bit of our own control over some circumstances to make room for other trusted adults to speak into our children’s lives.

How We Can Help

  1. Create spaces within the church for generations to be together. This is so important and much has been written on the topic, but to simplify, if youth and children never have the chance to interact with adults in a faith community, it will be very difficult for them to build a relationship. Dr. Powell points out that one of the biggest reasons teens say they don’t want to go to church is because they don’t have friends there. By encouraging these intergenerational relationships, you’re not only helping your children’s faith long term, you are giving them a reason to come to church as they grow.
  2. Ask your children to name some adults that they respect and admire. Dr. Powell suggests doing this because this will help you to find the adults that your child is already aware of and wants to be around.
  3. Intentionally introduce your child to trusted adults and find ways to encourage those relationships in comfortable, organic ways. Have the adults over for dinner and invite the kids to play games or watch a movie with all of you afterwards.
  4. Speak highly of those individuals in front of your kids. Let your children know that you love and respect these adults, that you consider them a friend and that you trust them as people who love God and love others.

Every now and then, I’ll ask my kids, “Can you name five adults other than Dad and I that you know care about you and that you trust?”  When they can, I am grateful. When they can’t, I am prayerful, asking the Lord who He would want me to intentionally reach out to for their sake.


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. 

God, School, and The Truth We Need to Tell Our Kids

“If you think Jesus should be allowed back in schools, click “Like” and Share!”

“New Law  in Kentucky allows Bible to be taught in school. Do you Agree or Disagree?”

“God was kicked out of schools! It’s time we let Him back in!”

For some reason, memes and posts like this have started showing back up in my various social media streams. It seems like this particular melody gets sung every 6-12 months by some Christians and the chorus of “likes” and “shares” and “I agree” comments fill to social media outlets.

But I do not join the chorus. And I don’t think it is advantageous for any of us to do so.

“Why?  Don’t you think God should be allowed in public schools?  Don’t you believe in the Bible?  Don’t you think that prayer should be present in our educational system?”

Even typing those words made me cringe on the inside. Because laden within them and within the memes and posts above is this underlying assumption: God isn’t there. That somehow a law or a custom or a man-made institution is capable of retraining or inhibiting our God, our King of Kings, our Emmanuel.

We are getting ready to enter into one of the most joyous and anticipated seasons in the Christian calendar; the season of Advent, leading to Christmas.  In this season, we spend days focusing on one thing – the birth of Christ. And throughout the season we remind each other that we have a God that is not far off in some distant place waiting for us to come to Him. No! We serve a God who came to us, wrapped in our frail flesh, and walked among us, promising to be our Emmanuel – God WITH us – forever and ever.

During this season we marvel at the miracle of our Savior’s birth, foretold by prophets and angels, and witnessed by shepherds and kings.

We tell our children that because of this, they can rest assured that God is always with them, always present, always showing Himself strong on their behalf.

We even think ahead to the next big celebration of Easter and we explain that through Christ’s birth and death as fully man and fully God, we have been given a Way into eternity ourselves and we will never be separated from God, ever, for all time.

And then… we post memes that say we kicked Him out.  We bemoan the lack of His presence in our classrooms. We act as though our Immanuel is not “God with us” but “God with us when we say it’s okay.”

How sad for us and how confusing for our children. That in one moment we speak with such faith and confidence and in the next we mourn as though we have been left abandoned.

Oh friends, wouldn’t it be much better to acknowledge the truth?  That God CANNOT be “kicked out” of this world, no matter how hard humanity might try to do so?  That our God thrives in places where men and women have tried to push Him out and silence His church?  That our God isn’t just present in our schools, but in prisons, concentration camps, Roman amphitheaters and arenas, in the darkest persecutions and even in the greatest prosperity. God can’t be banned from earth. That battle was fought and won thousands of years ago. He is here to stay. He is Immanuel. He is God WITH us! 

And that is what we need to tell our children.

boy-2205733_1920We need to tell them the truth, that God IS in the public schools. That God IS in their classrooms and at their lunch tables and in their college dorm rooms and in their high school locker rooms.

God is there, fully present and fully able to sustain them as they live for Him.

The Bible isn’t banned; they carry the Word of God within them and they can speak words of truth and life anywhere they want to. Prayer isn’t prohibited; they can pray for themselves, for friends, for teachers, for anyone, anywhere at anytime and God will hear and will answer.

Friends, our children need to hear that God isn’t quivering in a corner, afraid or tied down. Our God, the God that took on flesh and came to us as a baby, is coming back as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He is not fearful; He is triumphant. 

If we continue to act as though this world somehow regulates that truth, we make our God too small and if anything, the next generation needs to know how big and how loving and how present our God is.  We can’t proclaim that in church on Sunday and then lament His weakness the rest of the week.

How much better to send them off to school or work or play with these words, God is with you, everywhere you go. He is before you and behind you. He is on every side. You are not alone. You are NEVER alone. Know that you are loved so that you can love God and love others. Be WHO you are, all the time, everywhere, because God is present.”

God is in the public schools. I’ve seen Him.

God never got kicked out. He never removed His presence or His grace. No rule, regulation, law, or anything is strong enough for that. So let’s stop living a life of fear and regret. Let’s show our children that as long as we are His, He is here, present and active and ready to be Emmanuel to everyone who desires Him.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

 

It’s Time to Go Back (to School, that is)

We are starting back to school tomorrow and we are not alone!  In many places around the country, schools are gearing up to re-start sometime in the next month. For churches that often means a re-boot as well as they move from summer mode into fall programming and the start of a new academic year. With that can come a whole range of “new” things!  Kids promote to the next class, new volunteers come on to serve or they begin serving in a new capacity, and parents begin to navigate  new experiences with new teachers, new schools, and new grade levels for their kids.

education-908512_1920At the church I last served in, I was able to put together a time of commissioning and blessing over these groups as the new school year kicked off.  The entire time of blessing takes about 5 minutes and can be a way for your whole church to come together and let the kids, parents, and volunteers know that they are being held up and prayer and sent out as God’s lights of love as the academic year begins.

Feel free to adapt this script to your own church’s service and needs, and blessings to all as we encounter all the “new” things!


An All-Church Blessing for Parents, Children and Volunteers

Purpose – To recognize kids who are promoting to new classes/small groups, to pray over kids, parents and volunteers at the start of a new academic year

Children’s Pastor/Family Minister – We are excited to be able to celebrate with you the growth of our kids and families this year and recognize them as they promote to new classes and small groups within this ministry and some to youth group. But before we bring up the kids, can I ask all of our ministry volunteers to please stand and make their way to the center aisle?

(as volunteers are moving)

It is a blessing to serve with this group of people. The love they show our kids and the grace with which they serve is a testimony of the love of Christ in their lives and to the children. So, I’d like to not only say thank you, but briefly pray for you as you serve this upcoming year! Church, will you join me?

(PRAYER – Lord be with and bless these who serve. In their service, give the strength and by your Spirit give them grace. May the love they give be retuned to them in greater numbers and may your joy fill their hearts)

Volunteers if you will please line each side of the center aisle and get your high five hands ready, we will bring in our kids!!

(If you have some fun music, you could use this here. This is based on our structure with small groups. It can be adapted to fit whatever age groups, classes, or sections a church has for their programs. It can also be done as one large group which will reduce the amount of time needed for this commissioning and blessing.)

Joining us for the very first time as they are just starting school, we give you our preschoolers!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

Moving up into the elementary room, we are excited to recognize our new Kindergarten/First Grade small group!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

Not too far ahead of them, we want to recognize our “middle kids” our 2nd/3rd grade small group!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

And finally, our oldest group, and probably the most excited, our 4th/5th grade small group!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

Last, we’d like to recognize our 6th graders who will be moving up to join the youth group this year!

(children will “run” through the volunteers to the front)

AT THIS POINT, ALL THE KIDS WILL BE UP FRONT AND THE VOLUNTEERS WILL RETURN TO THEIR SEATS

Pastor or Worship Leader: Church, we are so blessed to have this group of children to welcome into worship and help their parents disciple in the faith. At baptism (or dedication, depending on the church), we commit to helping our kids grow in Christ and today we would like to re-affirm that commitment to them in their presence so that they can hear and know that we are here for them.

(At this time, we read our church’s Congregational Charge read at baptism. More than likely, each church has a similar reading for baptism or dedication. This is a great time to remind the congregation of the commitment they have made to walk with these families and children and a wonderful chance for the children to actually hear the words being said since they are too young to comprehend it the first time is said.)

Pastor – Lord, we thank you for the gift of these children and youth. May we be faithful to serve them and may they walk in your love. Be with this as they go into this new school year and give them the grace they need to learn and grow.

Children’s Pastor/Family Minister– If you are a parent/caregiver of one of the children here, will you please stand where you are? Kids, these people love you more than you could possibly know and they want you to grow in faith and in love. Will you help me to pray for them like we did for you?

DISMISS KIDS TO PARENTS

Children’s Pastor/Family Minister (as kids are going) – Parents we know that the work you do is difficult and while the days are long, the years are short. Please hear this blessing as a prayer for you as you serve God as the faith formers in your home.

“May you love the Lord with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength. May His commandments always be upon your hearts, so that you can impress them on your children. May God give you grace to talk about these things continually, when you’re at home, or on the road, when you lie down and when you get up. When your strength fails, may you walk in His. When you are weary, may His arms carry you. And when the day is done, may you hear His voice saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

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

I wasn’t going to say anything. Shame on me.

I wasn’t going to say anything.  I wasn’t going to use this space to make a statement. I told myself it was the right call. I gave myself a million reasons why I couldn’t write about these things here, in this space, dedicated to the home and to the church, to generational discipleship and faith formation. I told myself to let it go, to move on, just like so many others on social media have told me they are doing and I should do. Post pictures of dogs and dinner. Write blogs on Sunday School and Kids Church.

But this morning, the battle playing out all over social media, all over the news, all over our country made its way into the church, into the home.  This morning I read this:

A group of Hispanic/Latino young people attending the annual Pilgrimage youth event in the North Carolina Annual Conference were victims of repudiation and intimidation upon their arrival on Friday November 11…

“Since we arrived at the event last Friday, young people wearing hats with the ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan have carried out hostile actions on our young people. Actions continued on the second day and we are worried and disappointed by this situation…Upon their arrival on Friday November 11…the clothes pins we traditionally used at this event to share positive messages of Christian love and fellowship were used to convey messages like, ‘I Love Trump’ and ‘Build the Wall’. The pins were put on the clothes of some of our young people.”

So why is this different than all the other reports on social media and in the news?  Why was this the one that moved me to find my voice and speak out in this space at this time?

Because the headline for these atrocious acts read, “YOUNG LATINOS INTIMIDATED AT METHODIST EVENT” and I currently work at a Methodist church and that, my dear friends, hits a little too close to home. 

Samerican-flag-795307_1920ince the campaigns began, I have been pleading with adults to please, please, consider the words they are using and the actions they are choosing because the younger generation is watching them and learning from them and emulating them.

Throughout the campaigns, I was told repeatedly by supporters of Mr. Trump that I should “vote for the policy, not for the person.”

The thing is, that is impossible.

We don’t elect a policy to the position of president. We elect a person.

81% of evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump, the person.

The silence of this group in regard to these atrocities that have been going on since the election is deafening.  The silence of president-elect Trump is twice as loud.*

See, the thing is, children and youth – they don’t understand the distinction of voting for someone because you agree with their “policies” but disagree with everything else about him unless they are expressly told that, early and often.

Children don’t hate, until it’s demonstrated for them. Children don’t understand immigration policy or the status of refugees. They need to have those things explained to them. By us. The adults. The ones they are imitating.

A quick perusal through the post-election hate crimes and racist actions will reveal that a a majority of the increase we are seeing is taking place in schools – schools!  Where the children are. Where the youth are. Where the young adults are. The bullying taking place, the graffiti being painted,the words being spoken are by and large coming from…children. 

We cannot close our eyes to this reality. We have taught them something, America. We have taught them something, Church. At this point, I don’t even care who we voted for. I care about what we are going to do now.

Are we going to tell our children that this. is. wrong?

The things Mr. Trump said during his campaign were wrong. The words he called human beings were wrong. The way he made fun of people was wrong. The manner in which he treated, talked about, and manhandled women was wrong. It was all very, very wrong.

90 youth, 6th-12th grade aged youth, were ostracized, terrorized, and threatened…at church. By church kids. Our kids.

And they learned it from us.

We were pretty loud in our support of policy, calling on the evangelical community to vote for the person.  If we are not equally as loud now in calling for the end to racism, sexism, and all the other -isms then we are continuing to teach our children that those things are okay.

In this space, dedicated to the home and to the church, to generational discipleship and faith formation, I cannot stay silent. Because this is in our homes. In our churches. It is how we are discipling our children. It is faith formation. It’s everything I write about. It is exactly why I started this blog. And I couldn’t remain silent about the biggest thing affecting our homes, our church, our children today.

It is my prayer that you won’t either. Talk about this with your children. Regardless of how you voted, remind them that every person, every child, every race, every gender, every human being is made in God’s image, loved and cherished, of great worth in His sight and we are called to love like Him. Disciple them.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

*I was just made aware that Donald Trump has asked those harassing minorities to “Stop It”. See article 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 the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.