Love Beats Fear – Every Time

“The statistics are frightening.”

“Young people are leaving the church in droves.”

“The numbers are scary.”

“The church is dying”

If you are 1. A Christian, 2. Serving in ministry, 3. A parent, or 4. Any combination of all or one of these things…you’ve probably seen or heard these phrases. They catch our eyes. Our stomachs twist. Our hearts race a little. We can feel something. We call that thing…fear.

And, frankly, I’m tired of it.

Fear has this capability of magnifying itself so much that it blinds us to reality.

But isn’t that reality?  Aren’t young people leaving the church? Aren’t the numbers showing a sharp decline in church attendance?  Shouldn’t we be fearful?

If you read my blog at all, you know that, yes, I am well aware that for the past few years the number of people who identify themselves as “Unaffiliated” has increased while the number who identify with evangelical Christianity has decreased.  And yes, I recognize that the consistency of church attendance has greatly affected the numbers that are recorded in church on a given Sunday. And yes, I am concerned about that, which is why I am so passionate about ministering to children through discipleship at home, intergenerational ministry at church, and times of corporate worship within the faith community.

But I am not afraid.

And I don’t think you should be either. And I don’t think that fear is ever the right motivation for us to address the issues that concern us.

Fear has its root in a place of mistrust and uncertainty. It finds footing in places that are shaky and unstable. Fear forces reactions and clouds our judgement.

There’s another way. A better way. A more perfect way.

magnifyloveBecause according to the Bible, perfect love casts out fear.  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (I Jn. 4:18).

What if when we heard the bad news, the scary numbers, the terrible situations that cause our hearts to race, instead of reacting in fear, we stopped and we looked for love.

What if we allowed our actions to be fueled by love? What would that look like?

I think it would look a lot more like relationships and not programming.

I think it would be a lot more hand-holding, shoulder-hugging, and knee-bowing than it would head-shaking, shoulder-shrugging, and knees-quaking.

I think love would say, “How can I help?  What can I do? God, who can I love?” instead of “How can our worship style help? What can the pastors do?  God, who can we hire?”

I was convicted of this fear vs. love thing most recently through this story of dear friends of mine, who tell it far better than me, so I’ll let their words reveal God’s love. For background purposes, these friends are seeking to adopt three girls, their nieces, and, as you will read, there was much room for fear, but then…perfect love took over.

These girls have experienced more heartache, more disappointment, and more pain than any seven, eight, and fourteen year old should ever know. And no matter how hard their parents tried, they simply could not provide the kids with a safe and stable living environment. These girls have suffered more heartache and pain at this young age than many people will face in a lifetime. As a result, they were removed from their home in May 2013. Although we all waited in hopeful expectation for their mom and dad to complete their case plans, change their lifestyles, and bring their beautiful children home, after three years they have yet to do so.

We came to realize the full depth of our longing to adopt these three beautiful girls one night in November 2014. Cody was standing in the kitchen making dinner when all of a sudden he held his face in his hands and began to weep. Through tears he said, “I just love them so much, Ash… and… I think God’s calling me to be their father.” What Cody didn’t know is that Ashley had been having a recurring dream for months on-end wherein the two of them welcomed these sweet girls into their family to have and to hold in covenantal relationship. In that moment, it was clear that God had been uniquely and individually preparing our hearts and minds for something extraordinary. He was calling us to truly consider adopting our nieces into our family to raise them as our very own daughters.

These sweet friends of mine still face a long journey before these girls will be with them, in their forever home, but what really struck me was this: Fear raised its head but love was greater. There are a lot of reasons why Cody and Ashley “shouldn’t” do this. Trust me, I’ve seen their struggle. There are a lot of fears. But they have chosen to magnify the love. Faced with scary numbers, a devastating situation, and terrible statistics, they chose to allow love, God’s love, to flood their hearts and they asked the questions: “How can I help?  What can I do? God, who can I love?”

There are a lot of children in our churches and in our communities. A lot. And there are not enough children’s pastors or Sunday School teachers in the world to reach every one. But there is you. Don’t let fear motivate you to react; let love overwhelm you into action. 

The numbers aren’t as scary as they appear. The Church is not dying. God is still moving, even among the Unaffiliated, even in those crazy Millennials, and most definitely among the children. Respond with love. Find a child (or two). Develop a relationship. Ask the questions.

Magnify LOVE! And drive out fear.

swoboda

 

If you are interested in helping to support my friends Cody and Ashley Swoboda as God leads them in love to adopt their nieces, you can find more information here and join them in their journey. 

 


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.

Advertisements

Who are America’s Parents?

On December 17, Pew Research Center released their newest study regarding parenting in America; the good, the bad, and the rest. Their research 1,807 US parents with children younger than 18, representing a wide swath of social, economic, racial, and religious demographics.

Here’s some the highlights that stood out to me:

Finances are a huge indicator of how safe a parent feels their child is and their confidence of a positive and successful future for their children. Those with lower-incomes (less than $30,000) tended to rate their neighborhood, schools, and community as “fair” or “poor” and they worry about such things as violence, kidnapping and teenage pregnancy far more than those of higher incomes ($75,000+). (Source)

Parental marital status was also dramatically affected by income levels. While the number of children living with married parents has decreased overall, the greatest percentage are found in the higher-income bracket. Lower income families tend to have more single parents or co-habitating but not married parents in the home. (Source)

American children – including preschoolers – participate in a variety of extracurricular activities. At least half of parents with school-age children say their kids have played sports (73%), participated in religious instruction or youth groups (60%), taken lessons in music, dance or art (54%) or done volunteer work (53%) after school or on the weekends in the 12 months preceding the survey (Source).

Overall, most parents feel like they are doing a good job raising their children, across all genders and socio-economic groups. Millennials rated themselves the highest and moms were more confident than dads. Moms also tended to have a larger network of support and were willing to look for help in a variety of sources (friends, websites, social media sites) than men were. (Source)shadowparent

So, what implications do these things have for those of us serving in ministry?  Dr. Catherine Stonehouse, renowned children’s ministry author and researcher states, “The spiritual formation of children should begin with the spiritual formation of their parents…given the brokenness of our society this is absolutely crucial.”  Therefore, understanding the parents we serve is vitally important to our ministry.

  1. Parents are worried  – The list of concerns varied in intensity depending on socio-economic status, but the worries were there all the same. One common concern across the board was that their child would experience bullying and/or struggle with depression or anxiety.

What can we do?  Practically, we can ensure that our ministry areas are safe by creating environments where volunteers are screened and trained, protocols are in place to ensure proper check-in and check-out, and make sure classrooms are visible and adequately staffed. As ministers, ask parents how you can be praying for their kids and what concerns them. Put the focus back on Christ and help them to “cast all their anxiety” on Him.

2. Families don’t fit molds – I’ve shared before that the idea of “family” has become fluid in our society, in some cases referring to people who aren’t even related to one another. Notice the increased number of cohabitating parents in the survey and this study didn’t even look at others who serve as caregivers such as grandparents, other relatives and even close family friends.

What can we do? Practically, we need to make sure that we know the make-up of the families in our church and community and structure our ministry accordingly. If we are hosting events that only reach one demographic of “family” we may be failing to minister to those outside of that mold. From a spiritual standpoint, we still need to realize that the home is the primary place for faith formation and do our best to equip, support and train the leaders of that space.

3. Everyone is Busy – Parents are busy, kids are busy, preschoolers are busy!  For those of us in ministry, it comes as no surprise that our families have many competing demands on their time. The good news is that after sports, religious activities come in as the second most popular “extracurricular.”

What can we do?  Drop out of the competition, and by that I mean, don’t add more “noise” to the crazy busy lives. Meet families where they are. Provide more than one avenue for involvement in the church. Pray over kids and families who play sports and send them out as the light in this world. Give them tools to use at home or in the car, at bedtime or in the morning (Duet. 6 moments) and offer more than one way to be involved in faith formation at church and home. Some families may be able to do it all; some may choose one or two activities. The goal isn’t to win their time; the goal is to help them experience Jesus in the everyday, not by doing more but by inviting him into every moment.

4. Community is desired – Even though most parents thought they were doing a good job, they still sought out a community to learn from and to experience life with. A community is more than a weekly check-in at a church service. A community does life together. There are good times and there are not so good times but regardless, they are together.

What can we do?  Foster community within your ministry. Encourage interactions between your families and the larger church body. Be intentionally intergenerational. Go out of your way to introduce people to each other, to encourage friendships, to establish mentorship. Make sure people know each other and make sure that when they are not there, they are missed.  Create a space that is safe and welcoming but also authentic and real by creating a space where life is done together.

I encourage you to take some time and read the full report. It really does give a great deal of insight into the families, parents and children we are serving. I’d love to hear what stood out to you and how that can help us be more effective ministers to the body of Christ and the communities we serve by commenting below.


For more information about

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

About 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.

No Rest for the Weary

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

Take a second and look around you.  What do you see?  Really take it in.  Pay attention to the feelings that you experience as you look around.

I’m currently sitting in a hotel lobby, quiet as people begin to wake up and experience the day, drinking a cafe latte and hearing dishes rattle, mumbled conversation, and elevators rising and falling. I feel distant, and a little bit anxious, as these moments make me acutely miss my family and long for the familiarity of home.

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 critically consider the environment that we are immersed in and that we create in our communities of faith.

Yesterday I was invited by Rick Lawrence of Simply Youth Ministries to do just that.  My 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.  Rick showed us 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.

Our kids 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.sky-758182_1280

So…how do you feel?

I feel…tired.

So I 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.

Friends, the number one reason Millennials 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, of 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” is that our upcoming generations 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.  I’m not saying 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.

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.


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge 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 ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

What Welcome Looks Like: What the Church can Learn from Germany

If you’ve been on social media at all today, you’ve probably seen it.  Within a few short hours of its release, millions watched the video documenting Germany’s welcome of Syrian refugees into their homeland.  Hundreds gathered with signs and banners, singing “Say it loud, say it clear: Refugees are welcome here!” to a crowd of weary, worn people who for the last few months haven’t been welcome anywhere.  As they stepped from the train, they were not met with blank stares or words of frustration, but with cheers and applause and a genuine welcome.

Tears couldn’t help but stream from my face, as I’m guessing they did for so many.

 And I couldn’t help but think, “Now that…that is a welcome.”

I’ve written many times about including children in our corporate worship, creating space for youth to serve in our churches, and welcoming the younger generations into our community of faith.  Of all the blogs I’ve written, these topics seem to strike the deepest chord with parents and ministers alike and more often than not, I get the question, “How?”

I’ve always heard this question as more of a “How to?” and have offered suggestions on ways that church can do that.  But, this morning as I watched these German citizens welcome “the least of these” to their country, I heard the question in a new light…because, my friends, that. is. how.

Without reluctance, but with great joy.germanwelcome

Without frustration, but with cheers and applause.

Without hesitation, but with open arms.

Because for all the practical ideas that can be incorporated into a church, if the heart is not one of welcome, then there is no welcome.  A bag of crayons and a paper to color carry little weight if not accompanied by a heart that says, “We want you here.” A bulletin insert or a children’s moment in the service have little meaning if it’s just a concession made or a tradition upheld.  These things, which are good, do not signal welcome and do not create relationship or foster community.

They are just things.

But names beings spoken.  Hugs being given.  Words like, “I’m so glad you are here” and “We need you” and “We are excited that you are worshiping with us today” spoken in the midst of great need to a group of people that are often pushed aside, disregarded, and unwelcome…those are not things; those are open arms and cheers and applause and joy and welcome.

I’m not saying that every time a child or youth walks through our church doors we need to bust out signs and sing songs of welcome (although – wow – wouldn’t that be cool?) but I am saying that our hearts need to be doing that so our actions demonstrate it.

Because of all the places in this whole world that children and youth should feel like they belong, shouldn’t it be the church?  Instead of walking away and saying, “I don’t belong there” as so many millennials have, shouldn’t they know that is where they belong most?

Our welcome should not be our last line of defense against them being a distraction but rather our first line of defense against a world that wants to capture their hearts.

Our place should be THE place they run to knowing our arms are open and our space is theirs.

It should be as if we are welcoming Christ, and indeed the Father, himself into our space.

Or as Jesus put it, “Whoever welcomes a child like this one, welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me, does not welcome Me only, but the One who sent Me.” (Mark 9:37)

Our hearts should leap within us when we see a child coming into a place of worship.  Our arms should open wide to embrace them and incorporate them into who we are.  Church, we should be singing, “Say it loud, Say it clear: Children and Youth are welcome here!”

Because that…that is welcome.


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge 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 ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

Where Are We When They Fall?

It’s not unusual for me to cry.  My kids think it’s hilarious.  My husband thinks it’s strange.  My friends just shake their head.  But for me, it’s just how I’m wired.

Today I cried watching a video of a little boy crossing a triathlon finish line after he dropped his crutches and fell twice only to rise again while a crowd cheered him on. I watched it more than once.  I cried every time.  Not like, weeping, sobbing, ugly-crying but there was definite tear leakage each time I watched him fall down, get up, fall down, get up, and finally finish.

In this video, the people in the crowd, by and large an adult population, cheered louder each time he fell, yelling encouraging words like, “You can do it Billy!  You’re amazing!  Don’t stop!”  And every time, he muscled his way back up, and continued on his way with determination.  At one point, a man moves in to help him get up but you can see him pull up, stop himself, and give room to Billy to do it himself, using the encouragement of the crowd to keep him going. (View video here)

On my third viewing, as I watched this little boy fall and rise and I heard the crowd cheer loudly, calling out his name, telling him that he would make it, I couldn’t help but reflect on the church today and specifically this verse in Hebrews 12:1,2a

person-692409_640Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith

“So great cloud of witnesses.”

I could go all deep and theological on you and join the many interpreters who have tried to determine exactly who this cloud of witness are but…I’m not.

I’m just going to take it at face value and assume that Paul was referring to a scene much like the one portrayed in the video and say that the cloud of witnesses are those who care very much for the runners in the race and are there to encourage and cheer the runner on.  Whether they be saints of old or Christians of today, whether they be family or friends or fellow believers from all over the world, whether spiritual or physical or a combination of both, they are those souls who are invested in and committed to seeing that runner succeed.

But, from my experience in working with children, I fear that perhaps our kids’ “cloud of witnesses” isn’t quite as encouraging as the crowd Billy had cheering him on.

 Because when Billy fell, they cheered louder, encouraged more, clapped harder, and yelled his name more passionately.  But, often when kids “fall” or youth “fail” in this race of faith, the reaction is often different.  They are hushed.  They are reprimanded.  They are isolated.  And sometimes they are rejected.  

I’ve watched it happen.  I’ve watched pregnant teenagers shamed. I’ve watched angry young men avoided.  I’ve watched children and youth in a variety of religious environments pushed aside because of how they look, act, express themselves, and doubt.  And I’ve watched the cloud of witnesses, at least the ones here on earth, dissipate with head-shaking and mumbling.  I’ve seen others rush in and try to pick them up and finish the race for them without giving them a chance to fight, to persevere, on their own.

My friends, I think we must do better.

We must be our children’s biggest cheerleaders.  Right from the start, we need to say their name and cheer them on.  The race is not an easy one.  They face many obstacles.  We cannot become one of them.

Church, the children need to hear you when they are young and starting out.  They need to walk into church and hear their name spoken and their faith encouraged.

The cloud of witnesses must surround them.

They cannot be set aside or pushed away because they are young and just starting the race and because they stumble a lot and fall down often.  Rather, in those moments, our cheers must be loudest and our affirmation strongest.

When they run around in church because they are three and their mom is busy with an infant and their dad is talking to the pastor, we need to say their name in love and call them back into the race not turn our back in frustration and wonder “Where that child’s parents are?”

When they speak out at the wrong time or are fussy during prayer, we need to say their name in love and invite them to join us again, not sigh inside and wonder why they just can’t sit still.

When they question the pastor’s sermon or wonder about this God we serve, we need say their name in love and embrace their curiosity with grace and encourage them to fix their eyes on Christ as they continue the race.

And when they walk away and turn their back, we must cheer louder! We must speak truth to their hearts, the words they long to hear, that God loves them so much, that He has a plan for their lives, and that He wants to be their friend.

We must be the loudest voice, the strongest voice, the most encouraging voice they hear…or they will remain fallen, unable to rise, because we have given up on them.

It is not enough to simply show them the race, explain the rules, wish them good luck, and walk away.  It is not simply enough to provide a few cheerleaders who graciously volunteer their time on a Sunday morning or Wednesday night to get them to the finish line.

 They need a cloud. They need a crowd.  They need the Church.


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge 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 ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

When Good Things Aren’t God Things Anymore

My daughter Hannah and I have been walking in the morning.  There’s a wooden bench we pass on our route that has captured our attention.  It’s a small bench, surrounded by a small garden and a little rock wall.  Obviously, this bench was a source of pride and joy to the people who placed it there.  Great care was given to make the surroundings beautiful and the atmosphere peaceful.

The only problem is, the bench is covered, completely covered, in a light green moss or fungus, and at this point actually has mushrooms growing on parts of it.  The garden is overtaken with weeds and the rock wall is hidden in their growth. It’s a curious sight.  There’s a part of me that wants to touch it just to see what it would feel like (old and spongy, rough and hard?!?). But there’s a bigger part of me that just says, as my daughter so candidly put it, “Eww, who would sit there?”

IMG_2839This whole bench thing has led to some really great conversations with her. We talked about how at one time that bench was new and shiny and obviously cared for.  Someone had put a lot of time into where the bench would go, what flowers would surround it, what direction it would face. It was important and new and wonderful in that moment.  But now, as we walk past, we think, “Who would want to sit there?”

It’s more sad than it is wonderful.  It’s a remnant of a different time; a good time, but a different time, and the only way that spot is going to see life again is if that bench is removed and something else is put in its place.  And if that doesn’t happen because the moss-covered bench that can no longer perform it purpose is too loved or too cherished to be removed, then that bench will rot into the ground and eventually that space will no longer have any life at all.

By now, you’ve figured out where our conversation ended up, I’m sure.

Because inevitably my thoughts went to the church.  So often I think we have mossy benches in our church.  It might be a program. It might be an event. It might just be “the way we do things around here.”  Whatever it is, there seems to be a plethora of them.  Things that at one time were new and beautiful and cherished, obviously put in place with purpose and care, but time and wear have begun to show their mark, and what once was useful and needed is now a moss-covered monument to its former glory.

That’s not to say all “old” things are not good things or unneeded things or not useful things.  In fact, I think we far too quickly get rid of things we should just use a little bit of elbow grease on and bring back the shine.  There are times like the story of the fig tree in Luke where what needs to happen is a bit of “digging around the roots” so life and nourishment can return to the system.  But there are other times where we need to be willing to recognize it is past fruit-bearing and needs to be cut down.

Because, as Hannah so aptly put it, who would want to sit there?  Who is going to hitch a wagon to something that is moss-covered, fruitless, and no longer useful for its purpose?  Maybe that’s why we see so many young people leaving the traditional church settings?  Maybe they can see something that we can’t see because we love our songs, our stage, our pews, our programs, our Sunday Schools, our “fill in the blank” so much that we can’t see that they’ve grown musty with tradition and covered in rote ritual and are no longer bearing fruit for the kingdom of God.

It’s a difficult thing to consider.  Because like that bench, there was love and passion and good, useful, fruit-bearing moments that accompanied these things at first.  But we have got toold-70942_1280 be willing to look, with open eyes and willing hearts, to the practices and programs of our churches and say, “Do we love this more than we love the kingdom of God?”  We must be willing to “pray continually” about the good things to make sure they are the God things.  We must use the Bible, not as a defense weapon to keep what WE want, but as a measuring stick to ensure we are in line with His will.

And, in my opinion, we must ask the children, the youth, the young people…”What do you think?” Because they might just have the exact right new bench ready to take its place and bring life to that spot once again.  Before they leave, we need to ask, “What is Jesus leading you to do?  Where is Jesus telling you to go?  What is God’s call on your life as a member of this body?”  And we need, we must, let them follow that call, even if it touches our beloved bench.

As I read this post to my husband, he said, “It’s good.  Nothing really outstanding or groundbreaking.”  Maybe not, but the truth is, I still see a lot of mossy, musty “benches” in churches.  I see ministers and pastors trying to make things work that are no longer workable.  I see frustrated parishioners trying to make things wonderful “like they’ve always been.”  I see weary leaders trying to keep the old afloat because “it is what it is.”  And it may not be new news that we don’t have to do that, but it sure seems like news we need to hear…again.

We don’t need to be afraid of the new thing.  God sure isn’t and He has only one thing in mind – to grow His kingdom and share His love. He says, “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Is. 43:19).  Life where there was no life.  Fruit where there was no fruit.  It’s time to ask the questions.



Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge 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 ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

Millennials Are Not Leaving Their Faith

Millennials are NOT leaving their faith.

Seriously, they aren’t.  In fact, 59% of the faith population are Millennials, which is crazy because only 40% of the general population are Millennials.  But it’s the truth.

It’s just that the faith isn’t Christianity.  It’s Islam.

If you read this blog at all, you know my passion for equipping the home as the primary place of faith formation.  While this concept is certainly not new to the Christian church, it is one that is experiencing a revival of sorts as the number of 18-29 year olds in church declines and recognition that “siloed” or age-segregated ministries have had the unintentional affect of segmenting families and replacing the parental discipleship role with a ministerial one.

But this concept of focusing on the home and parents/caregivers is not a uniquely Christian one.  While it is a “hot topic” right now in evangelical settings, it is not a new idea or a singularly biblical thought.

In fact, the Muslim religion is quite emphatic about the intentionality of discipling kids in the faith.  

In an article I recently read by a Muslim cleric on the topic of “pious parenting” he quotes the prophet Mohammad saying,

“The Prophet once looked towards some young children and said, “Woe be upon the children of the latter days from that which their fathers will do (to them).” It was said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! From their fathers who are polytheists? He replied, ‘No! From their fathers who are believers however they do not teach them anything from the (religious) obligations and whatever they teach their children from the (transient) world, they only teach them that amount which will allow them to “get by” with ease. Indeed, I am not from them, nor are they from me.”

He tells parents that…

“when you learn and review your faith and how you worship, especially its rituals and traditions, then review with your spouse what is of particular importance to you. Remember that your younger children will not understand many theological concepts of your faith, but they will develop their faith through words and actions and conversations with you and your spouse.”

child-573351_1280He quotes saying after saying from the Koran that encourages parents to play with their children, to show compassion to them and to live up to the promises they make to them, and to teach them the tenets of Islam before the disbelieving get to them. There is intentionality.  There is consistency.  There is a recognition that the home is the primary place of faith formation and that even in utero, the Koran is read to the unborn child.  The first words a child hears, whispered first into his right and then left ear is from the Koran.  As I heard one Muslim teacher once share, “The children are the greatest investment.”

I’m not an expert on Islam in any way nor would I claim to be and I know that just because I’ve read and heard these things, it doesn’t mean that’s how it plays out in every community. But I also know, it wasn’t hard to see this emphasis on the next generation as I’ve been studying my own heart for faith formation in the home.

And how has this emphasis affected Islam?

  • Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world (according to Pew Research).
  • The Muslim American population is much younger, on average, than the non-Muslim population. The survey finds that 59% of adult Muslims are between the ages of 18 and 39, compared with 40% of adults in the general public.
  • American Muslims have a 76% retention rate as compared to under 50% for most Protestant religions. (That means their kids stick with their faith as they become adults).

I realize of course that there are other factors involved but I do think that there is a correlation between the intentionality of religious instruction in Muslim homes and the fact that their children and young people do not tend to leave their faith as they grow.  And, as a family minister, I cannot help but contrast that with the decline of these same age groups in the evangelical church  and the growth of the “religious nones” or the Unaffiliated.  And guess which religion most of the Unaffiliated grew up with in their home?  Christianity. (Source: Pew Research).

Maybe it’s all a fluke.  Maybe the retention of Muslims has nothing to do with their emphasis on practicing their faith in the home with their children.  Maybe the growth of the Unaffiliated from Christian families isn’t because of the lack of emphasis on discipleship in the home and the segmented, age-segregated format of the church.  Maybe the correlations aren’t really correlations just things that happen to coincide.

But then again, maybe not.  

Maybe there is something to this refocusing on the family and reaffirming the home.  Maybe there is good to be found in the intentional creation of intergenerational relationships for the purpose of passing on the faith.  Maybe there is an integral piece missing when faith get compartmentalized to a building, a time, a Sunday school teacher or a pastor instead of incorporated into the very fabric of the home, the family, and the local body.

I happen to believe it’s more than a fluke and I’m willing to fight for this generation, these families, and Christ’s body today with these convictions in my heart.

Because children aren’t just our greatest investment.  They are a means of welcoming Christ, and not only Christ, but the One who sent Him, into our midst.  They are the ones to whom belong the kingdom of God.  They are the church.  Let’s give them every bit of the riches, grace, and mercy we’ve been given and pass our faith on, from the moment they are born.

Impress them 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. Dt. 6:7


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge 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 ChildrensMinistryBlog.com