“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. 

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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. 

What’s the Point of Children’s Ministry if Children Don’t Come To Church?

Last week, I posted an article called “Sports are Not the Problem” regarding the decline in church attendance and invited us to consider how we, the body of Christ, could evaluate our role in that reality rather than blaming things like sports, dance, vacations, etc. A few people reached out to me a bit discouraged. “Does what we do even matter?” they asked. “We put hours and hours of our time and passion into this ministry and it feels like it doesn’t even matter. If parents are the faith formers called to disciple their kids and so many kids don’t even come to church regularly, does what we do mean anything?”

We can’t ignore the reality of the situation. Some studies indicate that a regularly attending child could be present up to four times a month but may only be in church once  or twice a month. Other studies remind us that in the 168 hours in a week, only one of those will be in church . Additionally, there is a rising recognition that the home is the primary place of spiritual formation and that the parents are the greatest influence of faith in their children.

mistake-1966448_1920When considering these facts, it can begin to feel as though children’s ministry or family ministry or next gen ministry is becoming…well, inconsequential. Pointless. I mean, if our time with the children is so minuscule and our influence so secondary, why do we pour so much time, effort, and love into what we do?

 Does our time serving the children at church even matter?

Yes. Yes. Yes!  A thousand times…Yes!

You see, right from the start, God intended the faith community to be an integral part of the spiritual growth of children. When Moses shared with parents that they should talk about their faith when they sit at home and when they walk along the road, and when they rise and before they sleep, he did so in the presence of the entire Israelite community (Deut. 4:10).

All of Israel was there.

All of Israel heard the commands. They all understood that the responsibility to nurture the following generations. They all understood that if things were going to go well for them and if they would increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey then THEY ALL needed to pass on their faith to their “children and their children after them” (Deut. 6:1).

The parents were never supposed to do it alone.

They were supposed to pass on their faith at home in the midst of a faith community who joined them in their discipleship and supported them in their work of faith formation.

That’s what the church is supposed to be doing today!  As a faith community, the church is the place where parents find nurture, support, and equipping for the work they are called to do. And we, as those who minister to families and children, whether paid or volunteer, have the unique privilege to be the hands and feet of that partnership.

And that’s why that hour or two, that short period of time each week, is so important.

In 1976, child developmentalist John Westerhoff wrote a book entitled Will our Children have Faith? and concluded with this answer: “that depends on whether or not they are embraced and formed within a faith community.” In other words, yes, even though parents have the greatest influence, his studies found that how children are engaged in the church has profound effects on how their faith grows.

 Children need the formative influence of the faith community. They need relationships with each other, with the youth in church and with the adults in church (Dr. Catherine Stonehouse, 2016).

What we do with that time then becomes crucially important!

It is worth our time, our effort, and our love.

What happens in that hour or two can create for a child a deep sense of belongingpurpose, and meaning within a community that coincides with the values and teachings of their parents and creates relationships that can last long into the future.

Can I encourage you to embrace whatever short time you have with the children of your church with as much enthusiasm and commitment as you can muster?

Seek for ways to nurture, support, and equip their parents.

Create intentional space for intergenerational relationships to be created and fostered.

Find times for children to join the faith community in worship, in serving, in sharing the story of faith.

Just as they were present to hear Moses speak of their future, their Promised Land, find ways to engage the children in their legacy, the legacy of our faith.

My mom often told me in regard to parenting that the days are long but the years are short. When it comes to our ministry to children in church, the hours may feel short, but the legacy lasts long. Use the hours wisely and know that you are ministering far beyond that hour – you are passing a legacy of faith to the children and their children that are to come!


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. 

Sports are Not the Problem

It’s no secret. Attendance at church across the board is down…depending on what metric you use and what statistics you look at. But for the most part, it’s safe to say, that regular weekly attendance in a church building is in a downward spiral. Some studies show than the average “regular attender” at church only comes once or twice per month and obviously, this affects the attendance of children and youth as well.

Having been down this road in a number of different ministry settings, I’m always struck by the reasons that are given by those in children, youth and family ministry for why attendance is down.
boys-2769553_1920

“Sports are to blame.” And let’s be honest, team sports, especially travel ball, are one reason. Practices and games no longer get put on hold for Sundays and Wednesday nights so if a child joins a team, they will likely be asked to be with the team on those days at some point.

“Parents are to blame.” The common line is that parents no longer value church and therefore church is seen as optional while other things require commitment. In fact, just today I saw a tweet that read, “The most common parenting perspective fail I see played out on a regular basis: church should be convenient but sports require sacrifice” which is a combination of the two observations above.

“Church is optional.” Some have pointed to the fact that church attendance is sometimes used as a disciplinary tool (i.e. Didn’t do your homework? No church for you!) while others comment on how school is a priority but church is not.

There’s a lot of blame being doled out for why things are the way they are. But is it possible that the criticism we often shift outward also needs to be directed inward?

Instead of blaming sports and ballet and parents and society and school and (fill in the blank), it seems it would be wise for us, the church, to look inward and ask,

“Why is it so easy to leave? How have we created an environment that implies consistency is not necessary, that commitment is optional, and “church” is a thing of convenience?

I believe if we take the time to honestly critique ourselves, we will find that we must share part of the blame for the shift in church attendance and necessity.

Church as an Event

I’ll never forget hearing the phrase, “Make Sunday morning the best hour of their week!” encouraging ministers to focus all of their attention on making that Sunday morning hour so popping, so exciting, so over-the-top memorable and fun, that kids couldn’t wait to come back.

However, the trade-off for that is that we had to create programs that appealed primarily to the senses and not necessarily to the soul and spirit. That’s why the approach of using church attendance as discipline is an easy “punishment” to dole out.

Church as Competition

A friend was talking to me the other day about church programming and marketing and made the statement, “When will the church realize we don’t have to compete with the world, that we really can’t compete with the world? We have a totally different thing to offer.”

And that’s just it. Our churches, funded nearly entirely by donations, cannot compete with concerts and movies and malls filled with all the things. We can’t compete with Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter feeds. We can’t compete with multi-billion dollar ad campaigns and streamlined marketing plans. And we don’t need to. It’s not a competition. We aren’t going to win people back to church by being the newest, coolest thing on the block. We are not in competition with the world OR with each other. We have Jesus. We have community. We have truth. It’s not a competition.

Church as a Building

My husband has pointed out quite frequently that if you look at the history of the word church, it changes over time. The simplest explanation is that in the New Testament, “church” was “ekklesia” which translates to “a gathering of people called out”. Over time, as buildings were built for those people to meet in, the German word “kirche” took the place for church and it referred to the building. So when we ask, “Did you go to church?” we usually mean, “Did you go to a building?” But the reality is, church isn’t a building.

We all know that in our head, but when we measure things like “church attendance” we are looking specifically to people being in a kirche not people living in ekklesia. And when we invite people to church, we invite them to a place, but, as my husband often points out, we should be inviting them into our lives. If church is a building, it’s easy to miss a week or two. If church is community, it’s much harder to skip out.

Church as Age-segregated Silos

We don’t see each other and so we don’t miss each other. We don’t know one another’s names or what our lives look like outside of Sunday morning, so we can’t check in on one another through the week and ask how things are going. We don’t pray together. We don’t worship together. And we don’t share life together.

And we can give all the reasons in the world why that is okay and best and most convenient for all, but the reality is, the consequence of consistently segregating the generations from one another has led to a breakdown in community and a lack of intergenerational relationships from which discipleship and mentorship flow.

I’m sure there are many more things we could add to this list. I’m sure that some of them are particular to individual faith communities. I’m also sure it is easier to blame sports and school than to look inwardly at ourselves and ask hard questions about how we, the church, have contributed to the lackadaisical attitude towards regular attendance and consistent community.

But what if we did? What if instead of focusing the blame elsewhere, we determined to look to ourselves first and to do what we could to create a community, an ekklesia, that was focused not so much on attendance as discipleship, not so much on programming as relationship, not so much on a building and a time as a people and a way of life.

What if we started with our church?


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Asking the Question “Do I Belong?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does this have to do with the church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can we do?

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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