Best Bibles for Kids and Youth: Our Top Picks and Why

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that my husband and I are involved with a church plant in Lexington, KY. I’m thrilled to be over NextGen ministries for our church and in a few weeks, we are having a special celebration service. One of my favorite parts of working with kids is watching them engage with the Bible (For a great blog post and story about this very thing, click here).  Our church has decided to honor our children and youth who have shown a desire to know God through Scripture by presenting them with a Bible during our celebration service.

Even though I and probably most of you who read this blog get to interact with the kids and youth pretty frequently, their parents are the ones who really know best where their child is at in regards to this area of their spiritual journey. So we provided our parents with a list of Bibles that we recommend for us to present to them during our Celebration service.

These Bibles were chosen based on personal experience and a lot of time spent in children’s ministry. They are organized by age and links are provided so you can give them a closer look.  For youth ages 14 and older, our church felt like the best Bibles are the ones we tend to use as adults but I personally recommend the NIV, ESV, and NLT versions for youth  because of their readability.

IamI AM: 40 REASONS TO TRUST GOD (Bible Stories, 2-6)

While this book is primarily Bible stories, it is an amazing and beautifully illustrated walk through Scripture looking at the different names of God.  It may not be a “Bible” in the traditional sense, it is Scripture and does a beautiful job of introducing young children to a living and loving Savior. The artwork alone will capture their imagination.

JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE (Ages 3-8)JesusBible

If you have not yet read this beautiful, moving introduction to Scripture, you are in for a treat. Sally Lloyd-Jones invites children and adults alike to interact with the Bible in ways that capture both the mystery of God’s love and the richness of theology.  Best of all, she helps us to see Jesus in every story that is shared because “every story whispers His name”. Luke and I have often teared up while reading it because it is so moving.

NIRV ADVENTURE BIBLE FOR EARLY READERS  (FOR NIVBibleAGES 5-10) &  NIV ADVENTURE BIBLE (FOR AGES: 8-11).

NIrVBible

Why these?  The readability of both of these Bibles is the biggest selling point for these Bibles.  Both of these Bibles are word for word Scripture; in other words, these are not Bible stories or summaries.  And there are extras added to help kids with what the Bible is saying. The introductions to each book, special sections like call outs in the text, and fun colors and graphics can all be helpful in connecting kids to what they are reading.

ESV FOLLOWING JESUS BIBLE  (FOR AGES 10- 13)FollowingJBible

Do you have some pre-teens in the house?  The ESV Following Jesus Bible is a great transitional Bible from childhood into young adulthood. The way the content is designed is helpful with preteens in mind as they transition from a beginner’s Bible to adult versions. Call Out Boxes on most pages help answer the questions of who, what, where, when, or why for specific verses or pieces of text, giving readers a more holistic understanding of what they are reading. And much like the Jesus Storybook Bible, there are “Seeing Jesus” sections throughout the book that help us to find the metanarrative of Scripture and the saving grace of Christ throughout the entire Bible.

Bonus: For Young Kidsbibleappkids

The Bible App for Kids Storybook Bible

This recommendation comes from my friend Judy Chatterton. She offered these thoughts a few years ago and I wanted to share because we’ve enjoyed this fun storybook Bible: “We’ve had this Bible for a year now. If you have young kids in your house you NEED this Bible!! The illustrations are adorable. It’s colorful. It’s an easy read aloud because there aren’t a lot of words on each page. I think this should be every child’s first Bible!!! For goodness sake’s, you want a child’s first impression of God’s word to be a positive one and this storybook accomplishes that.” (This Bible and other age-appropriate gifts for Christmas found here)

Hopefully this has been helpful to you as you consider what Bibles you might recommend to parents or hand out at your own Celebration Services.  If you have a favorite not mentioned here, I’d love to know about it; feel free to drop a recommendation and a link in the comments 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 this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

The B-I-B-L-E…Is that the book for me?

I recently had the opportunity to help a young man look up a Bible verse by its “address”. He was absolutely delighted by the experience. It captured his whole attention. I only had my phone with me when I saw him in the morning but that evening, I let him flip through my Bible. He rustled through the pages looking for Joshua 1:9 and when he found it, his little finger tracing the words, his whole face lit up.

I felt both thrilled and convicted; do I take time to realize the treasure under my fingers the way he did? And how often do I actually put the Bible into the hands of the kids I serve and let them read for themselves the inspired words on those pages?  It’s so much easier to just throw up the key verse, do some memorizing together, and not fuss with those super thin pages, tiny print, and even tinier numbers.

But, even so, is there value in physically putting the Bible into a child’s hands? I think there is, but it has to be more than just putting it there. We need to talk about what Scripture is to us. They need to see that we love it too!  

kid-2603857_1920Children are information gatherers so if they never gather from us that the Bible has value, if they never see us reading it or studying it, why would they?  A 2016 LifeWay Research study found 1 in 5 American Protestants said they had read all of the Bible at least once. However, more than half said they have read little or none of it.

Here are some common reasons that are given for not reading Scripture:

  1. It’s boring
  2. It’s out of touch with today’s culture/world
  3. We hear the important parts in church
  4. I don’t have time

All of those reasons are only valid if they actually relate to the reason we read Scripture in the first place.

Do we read the Bible for entertainment?  No, not really. It’s not a novel or a work of fiction and while there are some entertaining parts for sure, its purpose isn’t to entertain.

Do we read it to get a commentary on the world today?  No, that’s not really the intent. There are things that apply to our current culture and situation, but it wasn’t written to comment on today’s experiences.

Are there important parts and less important parts?  Maybe but there doesn’t seem to be any differentiation in what we are given so it’s not really up to us to make that call.

Is it intended to be read in one sitting?  No, certainly not. In fact, our modern translation conveniently breaks it up into chapters and verses that can take minutes or even seconds for us to read.

So, why do we read the Bible?

  1. Because God is revealed in Scripture (1 Tim. 3:16)
  2. Because God meets us in His Revelation (Acts 8:26-40)
  3. Because God invites us to come (Rom. 10:17)
  4. Because Scripture can be used by God to transform our hearts (Heb. 4:12)

Ultimately, we read to the Bible because God inspired the words, gifted them to us through his servants, and reveals Himself across time and space in the text. And in that place, we encounter His Grace.

What are some ways that we can give that gift to the next generation?

Let Them Flip The Pages

Yes, most of us use electronic Bibles these days but there is something uniquely special in turning the pages of a book. Giving kids the chance to get a feel for where books and chapters and verses are and letting them flip through the pages will feel special in a world where screens dominate.

Seek, Find, then Memorize

Most curriculums are set up so that the Key Verse for the month is handed out on slips of paper, shown on a screen with its own slide, accompanied with a song or motions and/or found on coloring sheets or activity papers. And that is all fine and good but the verse is then left to stand alone without context or placement.

Instead of starting with the memorization, consider beginning by having the kids find the verse, talk about what is going on (context), look at the verses before and after, and then begin memorization work.

Give Them a Bible

Many churches and parents gift Bibles to their kids as a rite of passage for certain ages or as a reward/award for accomplishing a task. That is fabulous! But often times that Bible gets left on a shelf and unused, like a trophy rather than a tool. So, encourage the kids to bring their Bible with them to church or to the living room with them, and if they don’t, have a few Bibles there that they can use, even if it’s just your own.

Make touching the Bible at least once each time you get to be with kids in discipleship or worship a goal during your time together.

Read Together

Whenever one of my kids wanders into the room while I’m reading Scripture, I start reading aloud. Usually they will move closer and look over at the page. It may not be the most life-changing thing ever, but I hope that these moments will find a space in their heart to remember that Mom read the Bible and got something out of it, so maybe they should too.

Sometimes the incidental discipleship is just as important as the intentional discipleship. We don’t always need to program reading the Bible into discipling our kids; we just need to engage in it ourselves and invite them to participate with us when they show up.

A long time ago St. Augustine of Hippo said, “The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.” Isn’t that a great way to think about it? We are reading words from our homeland where our citizenship lies with Christ. And that is a treasure worth passing on to those who come behind us.


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. 

Kids in Church: What do You Expect is Going to Happen?

A wise person once shared with my husband that “Frustration is the difference between expectation and reality.”  He went on to say, “If you are frustrated, you will need to either change your expectation or you will need to change your reality.”  As we continue to have conversations about including all generations in corporate worship, I think it might be wise for us to do consider this idea

In the past, the church has chosen to “change the reality.”  When children and youth were seen as distracting or having specialized needs that couldn’t be met in a corporate worship setting, the church changed the reality.

We removed them from the space, put them in their own spaces, and separated the generations from one another as much as possible.

To be clear, there is a lot of good that comes out of age-sensitive ministry. In fact, an approach that completely overlooks the unique needs of each age would be a bad idea. However, time has revealed to us some unintended consequences of the age segregation model adopted in the mid-20th century. And it’s not just in the church; our whole culture bought into the idea that separating generations is a good idea…but we were wrong.

family-4295385_1920Researchers have found that among the unforeseen results of age segregation are things like “negative stereotypes and people feeling isolated from each other” and “features of antisocial behavior and to socialization for competitiveness and aggressiveness.” (source).

In the church, Dr. Kara Powell shares that “A lot of kids aren’t going to both youth group and church on Sundays; they’re just going to youth group. As a result, graduates are telling us that they don’t know how to find a church. After years at the kids’ table, they know what youth group is, but they don’t know what church is.” (source).

Changing our reality doesn’t seem to have worked. In fact, it seems to have really hurt us in the long run. We are losing generations.

So what if instead of that, we changed our expectations?

We’ve grown up in an era where generations were segregated and separated from one another and we expect church to be a place that is tailored to meet our needs. We expect that we would have a certain experience at church and we expect others to have a similar one. We go to church for certain expected reasons (to worship, to hear a sermon, to grow in our faith, to get re-charged, to be with our friends). And those expectations often fail to be met when we put the generations in one room together.

If we were to change our expectations, what would that look like?  What expectations could we have instead?

Expect the church to be more than Sunday morning

When we look at the church of the New Testament, we find a group of people who are doing life together. They aren’t meeting once a week to have their needs met; they are invested in one another all week long, meeting one another’s needs throughout that time so that there’s not a one shot fix on Sunday morning.

What if our expectation was that there are times for both worship together, all generations, and discipleship apart, meeting the specific developmental needs of each generation?  What if our expectation was both/and not either/or?

Expect children to be children

There is no way a five-year-old is going to come to church to “get something” out of the sermon.  And because of that, it’s easy to say that kids don’t get anything out of church. But we are putting adult expectations on non-adults.

What if we adjusted those expectations so that children could be children?  They will “get something” out of church, but it likely won’t be the same things adults will (For more on that, click here).

Expect the church to be family

Sociologists have said “in contemporary Western societies, which are marked by widespread institutional, spatial, and cultural age segregation, only the family surviv(es) as an age-integrated institution.” (source)  But the church, as seen in Scripture, is to be like a family; one body with many parts, but one body nonetheless.

If we expect our church to be like family then we would expect to hear the littles crying, the bigs talking, the older sharing and the younger learning. We would expect to be together.

I can’t help but wonder if we shifted our expectations to ones like these, would our Sunday mornings (and Wednesday nights and Friday afternoons) begin to look and feel different to us?

Would we begin to see church as something more than a once-a-week re-charge and more of a communal way of living where we do life together?

And would our children and  youth and our seniors and elderly all know that they have a place at our family table?

And, perhaps, would we be a little less frustrated when we hear a child cry in service, laugh during a sermon, wiggle and squirm at the doxology, run up to the altar for communion or dance during the worship service?

Perhaps.  Perhaps it is time to change our expectations.


A version of this article first appeared on this blog in October 2017.

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. 

“Where Do I Even Start?”

“So, if someone came up to you and said that they had never done anything with discipleship in the home; never talked about God or had intentional faith-focused moments, where would you tell them to start?”

Such a good question. And one that I often get asked by parents.

Where do we even start?

There are a lot of great books out there for parents, amazing devotionals designed to bring families together, and outstanding resources to equip the home for faith formation. But if I had someone with no experience talking about God with their children…I probably wouldn’t start with any of them.

father-2212092_1920Not because they aren’t amazing and not because they won’t find them useful in time, but if I were going to “get them started” I would point them to four moments; four unique moments outlined in Deuteronomy 6:7, everyday occurrences where God says, “In these moments, talk to your children about Me.”

If I have the chance to speak to a parent who has never experienced faith formation in the home or been intentional about discipling their kids at home, then I would take them there. And guess what?  If I have the chance to speak to an experienced parent who has done multiple things to help their children with faith formation in the home, I would start them there.

Why?  Because these four moments is aren’t mysterious or unusual or out of the ordinary. They are normal everyday average moments like waking up and going to bed. Sitting down at home and heading out on the road.

Simple ordinary moments that happen to everyone, all the time, everywhere in the world. 

I encourage parents to make a list and write down as many things that they can think of that happen in each of these moments in their home.

For example, when does your family sit at home?  Perhaps dinner time or movie night, playing video games or board games, playing with play dough or reading a book. The times where seats are in seats and your family is together.

What about when you are on the road?  Driving to soccer practice, headed to church, shopping at the grocery store, or eating at a restaurant.

Bedtime?  Do you read stories or brush teeth or have some snuggle time?

And in the morning? Do you eat breakfast, drink coffee, follow a routine?

All of these everyday moments…these are the times God said, “Talk about Me.”

Such simple times, such ordinary moments, but they become extraordinary when God enters the picture. Isn’t that incredible? The ordinary becomes sacred because of God’s presence, even the most mundane everyday moments of life.

Once a list has been created, I simply ask, “How can you invite God into those moments?”

I’m a firm believer that discipleship at home doesn’t mean you have to add more to an already busy, already full life but it means you get to intentionally welcome God into what you are already doing.

That list that they’ve created represents moments that are already happening, things that are already part of the family life and routine. It is into those physical moments that we can inject the spiritual conversation and use them to create a framework for faith and discipleship on which to build.

Here are some ways that our family has invited God into those moments:

In the morning, we pray a blessing over our children before they go to school. It doesn’t take long, just a few seconds, but it sets a tone for them and let them know that God is with them, they are loved, and this day is in His hands.

Here’s an simple outlines of what we pray each morning:

Lord, be with Caleb today. Go before him, behind him, hem him in on every side. Let him know that he is deeply loved so that he can love You and love others. Guard his heart and mind in Christ Jesus and let him return home safely today. Amen.

In the evening, we pray before they go to bed. I pray a prayer that reflects the meaning of their name and reminds them of their identity in Christ. My husband prays prayers of affirmation and blessing. Even if we are not able to be home in the evening, my children have been know to pray for one another before bed, because…that’s what we do.

While we sit at home during movie nights, we eat way too much popcorn and pizza, but we also ask some questions like, “Did that character make the choice you think God would want us to make?” and “Does that story remind you of any stories from the Bible?” (PS. Almost every superhero movie mirrors the metanarrative of Scripture – good vs. evil – great stuff for discipleship at home)

In the car, we love to listen to the radio and sing along. When the kids were younger we listened to lots of Adventures in Odyssey stories (see Focus on the Family for these wonderful adventures in faith). But one intentional habit that has stuck with all of us is that we pray whenever we hear a siren; we pray for the victims, for the emergency personnel, and for any medical staff.

(For more practical ideas on inviting God into these moments, check out this link)

These are just a few ideas of how we have invited Jesus into our everyday.  And these ideas, these very personal, very real moments are just that – realistic and do-able for everyone.

When I have conversations with parents who want to start bringing faith into their home, I tell them my story but I help them find theirs. In the future, I might offer resources like books and devotionals and point them to blog posts and give them tools, but first, I would help them find their moments.

These moments, given by God, experienced by all, are where I would start.

Deuteronomy 6:7 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.

What are some ways your family has found to invite Jesus into these everyday moments?


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. 

When I am Afraid

There is a verse in Psalms that brings me comfort, but probably not for the reasons you think . In Psalm 56:3, the psalmist writes, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” The part that brings me comfort is the fact that there were times that this person was afraid. Fear is a real thing. Jesus offers us the antidote through His perfect love that casts out all fear, but fear can creep up in our hearts, especially in times where violence surrounds us.

The headlines today (and most days) are big, they are bold, and they are scary.  They often tell a story of a million words, reduced to four or five. They call to our emotions and tells us to read on…but many times we only skim; after all, the headline tells us most of what we need to know.

I don’t know if it is because I’m getting older or because my kids are getting older, but I am becoming increasingly more sensitive to these big, bold words around us.

Maybe it’s because I spent a lot of time on Twitter the last two weeks watching people attempt to have discussions on amazingly complex topics in 288 words or less.

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen one too many headline that predicts the end of life as we know it from reasons spanning from the environment to the next U.S. president or even more sadly, the headlines that tell us of the increase of violence and loss of life in this world.

Maybe it’s because I am weary of the sensationalism and aggrandizement that seem to lace many articles I see posted, each sound byte I hear aired, and each newspaper I pass by.

little-boy-1635065_1920But mostly I think it’s because my children have looked at me and with all sincerity and with deep concern said, “Mom, I’m scared.”  

Of what, dear child?  Of bugs and bats and creepy crawly things?  Of the sounds you hear in the dark or of having a bad dream?  Of missing the bus or failing a spelling test?

Because these are the things I would expect kids to be afraid of.

“I’m afraid because I heard on the news that…”

I won’t fill in the blank. We know what is in the news. We’ve seen the headlines.

And so have our kids.

Their fear is real.

We can’t change the headlines or hide our children from the real world. We can’t shield them from every radio broadcast, political conversation, doomsday prediction or end-of-the-world scenario. What I can do, and what I think as parents and ministers and adult Christians who interact with the youngest generations should do, is to give them some frames, some truths, through with they are able to filter whatever they hear and hold onto the hope that is offered to us through Christ and His Word.

  1. God is still God – Acknowledge the world honestly, MAGNIFY the Lord intentionally. Yes, there are bad things that happen in the world. Hiding the truth from your kids will only make them more inquisitive. Talk to them when they ask about things that are scary BUT don’t focus on the scary thing; intentionally shift your focus to how GREAT God is!
  1. Seeing (or hearing) Is NOT Believing – Walk by FAITH and not by SIGHT – Kids watch what you model. If we react out of fear, that will be the model that they learn to make decisions from. If we model decision-making from a place of faith and seeking God, that’s what they will learn to do as well.
  1. We have a part to play – Be the HANDS and FEET of Christ – We are confronted with the reality of a fallen world on a daily basis. People who are lost, in need, alone. When we become Christ to those people by serving them and sharing hope and life with them, we show our kids that faith conquers fear every time and we model participation on the life of Christ as the way to approach a Christian life.

We have an important role to play here.  Our reactions and consequently, our actions are being watched and recorded. My prayer is that we offer more than trite answers that “Everything will be okay” but real world acknowledgment that life is hard, and sometimes scary, but God is faithful and we can trust Him.

And the best way we can do that is to live that way ourselves; to measure our words and our responses in ways that communicate hope instead of hopelessness, action instead of reaction, grace instead of judgment and careful response instead of emotional outburst. 

Like the Pslamist, let us be able to say to our children and to one another, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You” and show it by our words, our deeds and our love for one another and our world.


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. 

Church or Parents: Whose Job Is Discipleship Anyway?

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

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

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

Let me explain.

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

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

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

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

So what does this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

The Kid Who Comes Alone

Fall programming is getting ready to kick off in churches all across America and I see one question get asked a lot, “How can I do family ministry with the kid who comes alone?”  That’s a valid question especially if a good portion of our programming, follow-ups and interactions are based around parental inclusion, equipping, and involvement.

When you serve in family ministry, your goal is to equip and resource the home in ways that promote faith formation and spiritual discipleship primarily by parents and caregivers.  But what happens when a child comes to your church and doesn’t have a home life that is conducive to that model?

In addition to doing our best to engage the family and minister to the parents as noted here, we also want to make sure our church is an environment that is prepared to be welcoming and inviting to everyone.

Here are some practical ways we minister to children who join us on their own.

Welcoming” Families– Before events that will likely bring more kids into your church, approach a few families and ask them if they’d be willing to “adopt” a child for the activities that day or week.

If your church has intergenerational services where kids attend, find families or even grandparents that will welcome the child to worship with them.

Talk about Home– Just because mom and dad aren’t there, doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the home with that child.  In fact, they may want and need support if they are trying to live out their faith at home without support.  Give them that space to share.

aloneatchurchInvite the family – If you are having a picnic, make sure to invite the whole family.  A word of caution – it can be hard on that child to have to constantly hand deliver invites or handouts that their parents might not want or show appreciation for.  If at all possible, make the contact yourself so that the child isn’t in an awkward position.

Give him/her a place– There’s nothing worse than feeling out of place and awkward.  But there’s nothing better than feeling like you are a necessary part of something.

There are many roles that need filled in preparing and completing a worship service.  Finding a place for that child to serve can give a strong sense of self-worth. (younger children can help hand out bulletins, help with greeting, be your “right hand man”; older children can read Scripture, help with sound/lights, participate on worship teams, help collect communion)

Know their name–  Being greeted each week by name says “You are welcome here. We want you here and we are excited that you are part of our church family!”

Appreciate WHO they are– Don’t let their identity be “The kid who comes without his/her parents.”  They are a beautiful and unique child of God.

A colleague of mine shared this with me about his own experience: “Once upon a time, when I was one of those kids (at church sans family), I appreciated being taken seriously on my own, not as a spare part (like so many singles do!)”

Host Cross-Generational Events– Instead of all events being focused on family groups, host events where all generations mingle and fellowship regardless of age or relationship.

One family minister I know has round tables and the simple rules are 1. You can’t sit with anyone you are related to and 2. You can’t sit with anyone your age.  Her church has grown to love these times of intentional intergenerational connection and no one feels singled out.

It is always a privilege to minister to and share the love of Jesus with the next generation but it is a uniquely special blessings to share with those who don’t experience these life-giving conversations in their home. Embrace the blessing and seek to find ways that say, “You belong here. You are family!”

Many thanks to the Family Pastors on Facebook who sent me these suggestions to share


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. 

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!”

——————————–

“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. 

Is Church “Developmentally Appropriate” for Kids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fally-family-Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

“Hospitality is the Most Subversive Weapon We Have”

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

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

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

But what they really loved…was being loved. 

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

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

Now, put that in the context of children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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