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. 

“I’m Not Sure I’m Cut Out for This ‘Discipling’ Thing”

“We will not hide these truths from our children;

We will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord

About his power and his mighty wonders…

He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children

So the next generation might know them–even the children not yet born–

and they will in turn teach their own children

So each generation should set its hope anew on God”  Ps. 78:4, 5b-7a NLT

The other day, I had the opportunity to share with some children the miracle that is new life; something coming to life in unexpected ways, much like our Savior. We talked about how a seed falls into the ground, and dies, but then brings forth new life. Much to my surprise, my object lesson was sitting beside my kitchen sink; a popcorn kernel had fallen into a potted plant and had begun to grow and sprout a new seedling.

When I was talking to the kids, we talked about the fact that the seed was “hiding” in the soil but it wasn’t “hidden” from God. It was still doing all the things the seed was supposed to do; it was bringing about new life. 

Psalm 119:9-11 says, ” How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me stray from Your commandments. I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” In much the same way, God’s Word is “hidden” in the heart of a child (young man) but it is not dormant; rather, it is doing what the Word came to do – bring forth new life. 

affection-1866868_1920As a parent, I can at times become discouraged when I don’t see the fruit of discipleship evident in my children’s lives. Like most Christian parents, I wonder, “Have a done this thing right?  Have I shared the right things?  Have I been a good disciplemaker?  What about all the times I’ve messed up?  What about all of my mistakes?

It can be…exhausting and defeating. 

But as I read these Scriptures a few things come into focus for me; things that help me to remember whose they are and who I am actually called to be. I hope these reminders can be a wells of God’s grace and truth to any others who have said, “I’m not sure I’m cut out for this ‘discipling’ thing.”

Talk About God

Just do it. Talk about what He’s done for you, for us, for others, for the world. Talk about the miracles. Talk about the mundane. Talk about His love. Talk about His Grace. Talk about it when we sit at home and when we drive along the road; talk about Him when we lie down and when we get up (Dt. 6:7).

Don’t hide Jesus from them; hide Him inside of them. And trust that the Word (Jesus) will do the work of transformation that will bring about new life, in His time.

See a Bigger Picture

Moments pass; they do not last. Doubts are part of life and a healthy faith; they do not define one’s path.  Emotions and feelings are real but they are not reality.  Even if our words seem to have no impact or little impact or negative impact, the bigger picture is that we hold the greatest influence over our children’s faith and, according to the Psalm above, not only our children’s faith but the faith of those who are to come; our grandchildren who are not even born yet.

If we can look with eyes of faith beyond today, we will continue to speak with faith and hope about this Jesus who loves us and them so much, He reaches beyond today and into tomorrow with His grace.

Trust the Process

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell myself this about other stuff; work stuff and medical stuff and school stuff.  And it usually pans out; if we just trust the process, the work usually gets done.  But here’s the biggest difference with God:  There is no “usually.”  With God, His promises are “Yes” and “Amen.”  And while our children will always have their free will, we can rest in the fact that God will do all that He said He will do.

  • His Word will not return void (Is. 55:11).
  • He goes after his sheep (Luke 11, John 10).
  • He made sure our children are always being prayed for continually (Mt. 18:10).
  • He calls them to come (Luke 18:16).
  • He loves them; oh, how He loves them (Mt. 18:2-6).

The Word is at work in our children’s hearts. I believe that much as I believe a seed I bury in the ground doesn’t just die but it dies to new life. What we have hidden in their hearts, through our words, our prayers, our actions, and our lives, remains there. Jesus tells us that if He is lifted high, he will draw all to Himself (Jn. 12:32); our job is to lift Him high, He will do the drawing.

Right now, I am the mom of a high schooler, a middle schooler, and an elementary student.  Every day, new scenarios arise that make me question my adequacy as a parent, let alone a person called to form faith and raise disciples.  But every day, when I look to the Lord, I remember I’m called to one thing: Lift Jesus high – talk about Him, talk about His word, talk about His love, talk about His goodness and grace, talk about His approach-ability and His incarnate humanity, and talk about His eternal promises.

I am called to plant endless seeds. He alone can make them grow.



For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Mind the Gap: Reuniting Generations in Our Churches

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

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

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

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

Is it possible to change our minds?

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

Start Slow

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

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

Create a Common Identity

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

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

Allow for Interactions

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

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

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

Show Up in Unconventional Ways

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

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

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

We will be the body of Christ.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

“Holy Week Through Fresh Eyes”

Those of you who have followed by blog for the last few years have probably wondered, “Where is she?”  I have not posted in a while but it was on purpose. God did a cool thing and interrupted my life with His presence and rest.

Last week (April 1-5), I had the opportunity to spend a week at St. Meinrad’s Archabbey in southern Indiana. St. Meinrad’s houses a Benedictine monastery as well as a seminary and retreat center. Although I went with a cohort from my doctorate program, nearly 8 hours of our day, which started at 5 am as we joined the monks for prayer, was spent in silence, solitude and contemplation. On Monday, we turned over our phones and other communication devices and committed to a full week of retreat to focus on spiritual formation, prayer, and time with Jesus.

The week was more beneficial to me than I could have imagined. I was astounded with how retreat and rest could do so much not only for me spiritually but also physically and emotionally.

Part of the blessing was being able to share this remarkable time with my doctorate cohort representing 12 different denominations and 4 countries.  One of my cohort mates had a particularly special word to share about Holy Week and its implications to us as believers and especially the impact on children and youth in our congregations. While your faith community may not enter into all the practices she describes here, I know that each of us do celebrate the Resurrection and I pray her words will bless you as they have me.


Thoughts on Holy Week

by Sandra Malone

Some people look at Holy Week and think “too many services” or “the children will be bored”, but I’m urging us to pause and look at Holy Week through fresh eyes.

Why? The events of Holy Week are at the heart of what we believe as Christians as we recall Jesus’ suffering and his death and resurrection, and as we remember that it was for us.

Without those events, we wouldn’t have the opportunity for a restored relationship with God; without those events there would be no Easter/Resurrection Sunday to celebrate. There would, in fact, be no Christian religion.

And, if you’re worried about the children being bored, think of all the sensory “stuff” to catch their attention.

Palm crosses and palm branches being waved on Palm Sunday and a procession, no less.

Then there’s the anointing in Tuesday’s healing service and the drama of candles being extinguished one by one during Tenebrae on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the Eucharist is celebrated in the context of the Gospel reading, which is fleshed out as we imitate Jesus’ foot washing and share a simple agape meal, followed by the stripping of the altar – a ritual which never fails to tug at my heart.

If you still think that’s not enough to keep you and the children interested, on Friday cross-4062969_1920there’s the stark simplicity of the Good Friday Liturgy, conducted in a bare sanctuary where the Passion Gospel is acted out and we become the crowd calling for our Saviour’s crucifixion. And then comes the silence before the cross.

Saturday there’s the kindling of the new fire and the lighting of the Paschal Candle and its procession up the aisle with the reminder in the Exsultet that “to redeem a slave, God sent a Son”. During Saturday evening’s service, we also once more declare ourselves to be members of the redeemed family of God by renewing our Baptismal Vows and we’re reminded of our own baptisms as we are sprinkled with holy water.

If we come with open eyes and ears and hearts, there is nothing in any of that which could be considered even remotely boring!

While there are references in the events of Holy Week that are disturbing for us all – betrayal, violence, death – these are real things that we face in our lives, things that we can talk about with our children.

If they’re little, tell them about what they’re going to hear and place the emphasis on what Jesus was doing for us. And don’t be afraid to spoil the ending, let them know that Easter follows Good Friday.

Whatever their age, help them to engage – let them draw what they get from what’s going on, let them ask questions, let them tell you what they heard and how they felt, and … listen!

Holy Week is an essential part of who we are as Christians and it’s a great time for us to deepen our spiritual walk. So don’t use it as an excuse to stay home or to leave the children behind. Come to church this week as a family and let us join again as members of the Body of Christ as we share in the story of God’s saving grace.

Let’s teach our children that though egg hunts and chocolate bunnies are fun, the new life we celebrate at Easter is far more important and way more thrilling than any of that.

Let’s give ourselves, and our children, the gift of reflection and presence this Holy Week.


For more information about

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

About the Blog

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

Giving our Kids a Great Big God

His eyes looked up at me with the most lively gaze I’ve ever seen. Dancing in those big brown pools was a story of heroes and adventure and mystery and excitement. His hands waved around emphatically as he jumped from foot to foot, bursting with energy, alive in his imagination.

Welcome to my son’s World of Wonder.

My son is older now. But his sweet imagination has not dimmed. I still come home to findkids-1338627_1920 him climbing trees to  fight dragons in trees or hiding in the “cave” under the trampoline.  Oh, there are so many times I wish I could join him there. I love the way he sees the world around him, full of potential, full of life. Behind every tree is a villain, between each home a person needing rescued, and around each corner another adventure in which he gets to plays a starring role.

The story is so big and so beautiful, grand in its design and boundless in its depth. 

I often look at children in church and wonder, “Are we giving them a big enough God?”  If their world of imagination is so big, are the stories we tell them, big enough to fill the space?

A lot of the Bible stories I hear in church are just that…stories. They have a limited scope, beginning and end. They have limited heroes and villains like David and Goliath and Daniel and the lions and Jonah and the Whale.  They have limited life lessons like “Be brave because God is with you” and “Be obedient when God tells you what to do.”

Recently, I heard Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales and more recently Buck Denver’s What’s in the Bible series, put it this way: “We tend to give kids superficial lessons in the Christian faith but we’ve found that superficial teaching leads to superficial Christians. The formula for teaching Scripture to kids has become a biblical value + a verse to back it up + a song to make it memorable”.

We have been given the greatest story of all time through the person of Jesus Christ and the revealed Word in Scripture. It is truly THE story of all stories. So much so that nearly every story we can think of follows the pattern of this one, even those stories in my son’s imagination. It goes something like this:

All is good. Evil comes on the scene. All is not good. A hero is needed. A hero comes and vanquishes evil. All is good again.

Kinda like…

When God created the world, He declared all was good. Evil entered the world through sin and what was once good began to experience the consequences of that sin. A hero was needed to redeem mankind. Jesus came to be that hero, to once again make all things new. He vanquished sin and death and made His goodness available to all once again. 

Catherine Stonehouse, author and researcher on the spiritual formation of children, shares, “Can children grasp the full meaning of Christ’s coming, death, and resurrection? Can we as adults? No, but awareness of the mystery draws us to explore, wonder, and discover more and more, year after year.

So often we stop short of giving children the deeper context to the stories because we are afraid the theology will be too deep for them to comprehend. When faced with this question, Phil Vischer responded by saying, “Kids can learn more than we think. Adults can learn less than we would hope. We consistently underestimate what kids are capable of learning and overestimate what adults will learn. Kids still ask questions; grown ups stop asking questions.

And therein lies the wonder… the beautiful mystery that is our faith.

Precisely because we do not have all the answers and we cannot explain all the mysteries can we rest in the assurance of something greater than us, our God.

So, how can we let them wonder about this Great Big God?
  1. Let them ask questions and don’t have all the answers – I know that is so hard to do, but sometimes the best way for kids to learn about God is to wonder aloud to Him (we call it prayer) and let Him answer them in His way and time.
  2. Ask “Wonder Questions” – There’s a great curriculum called Godly Play written by Jerome Barryman that incorporates asking “wonder questions” into the lesson. In other words, while the lesson is being shared, the teacher will say things like, “I wonder why the shepherd went to find the lost sheep? I wonder why the other sheep stayed in the pen? I wonder who is our Shepherd?”  I like to do this with my own kids, even my older ones, with normal everyday life situations. Things like, “I wonder why He made the grass green? I wonder why God made some things edible and some things not? I wonder if the birds are singing to Someone?  I wonder if God is speaking to his/her heart?”
  3. Listen to them tell the stories – Oh, I love, love, love this one!  If you know your child, especially your young child, has heard a Bible story, ask them to retell it to you. There are so many times I’ve done this and instead of telling me word-for-word the “right” version of the story, they tell it with a little twist, a subtle plot change or a humorous undertone. What’s so cool about this is you get to hear who their God is according to how they heard and understood the story. And you get to underscore God’s love and goodness if they’ve missed it or even if they hit the nail on the head. For more on this, check out the book Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey by Catherine Stonehouse and Scottie May (Phil Vischer’s mom). 

When I ask Caleb to imagine God, his faith in who and what God is supersedes anything I could teach him in my feeble understanding and far exceeds the stories I tell him from the Bible. His God is big, bigger than anything, bigger than my mind can fathom and bigger than this blog could possibly convey or contain. And I love that my faith grows by wondering with him about our big, big God!


For more information about

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

About the author

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

Re-Focus on the Family: Influencing the Influencers

Kids walking away from the faith. Lagging attendance at church.

Lack of relationship in the faith community.

Disengaged youth. Absentee parents. 

These are the topics I get emails about on a weekly basis. These are the things that are keeping ministers up at night praying and parents up at night worrying. And these are very real concerns that are multifaceted and complex to explore. But lately, I’ve become more and more convinced that there is one main area that needs to be addressed in our churches if we are going to find lasting answers. And that area is the family or the home, specifically as it relates to parents and caregivers.

A recent study released by Search Institute, a research group dedicated to “discovering what kids need to succeed.” suggests that there is indeed a secret weapon..only, it’s not that secret. The title of their research is “Don’t Forget the Families: The Missing Piece in America’s Effort to Help All Children Succeed” and what it shows is that we have made a big mistake in America – we nixed the family and tried to raise the kids without it.

family-1599826_1920They report, “too many institutions and professionals have given up on families, focusing exclusively on the struggles families face and the problems they create. We then put our energy and resources into setting up systems and supports that compensate for the failures we perceive in families.”

So what does that mean?

We tried to “fix” the shortcomings we’ve perceived in families by, well, replacing the family with things like school, and sports, and therapy, and youth programs and … church.

Yes, church.

As a society we collectively decided that “many families are dysfunctional and even hopeless. Changes in family structure and family life have led some observers, advocates, and the public to characterize the state of families today as bad and getting worse.”  The solution? Remove the “power” from the family and replace it with other more stable things.

The problem with that is, we forgot that we are hard-wired to be a part of a family, and no matter how many institutions we create to vie for power in our hearts, our family consistently remains the most influential. 

“In reality, there is little evidence that families have lost their power in the lives of children and youth—even though many families do face major challenges.[A] University of Virginia study found that most parents are quite happy with their own families (Bowman et al., 2012).

A 2010 survey of 2,691 U.S. adults by the Pew Research Center similarly found that 76% said their family is the most important element of their lives, and 75% said they are very satisfied with their family (Taylor, 2010)…

Longitudinal evidence suggests that it is more accurate to describe families as changing, not declining… family influence remained strong… levels of maternal engagement remained strong.

Conclusion? Families still matter greatly, and families can and do tend to perform well those functions that are particularly relevant to the lives of children, even in different social and historical contexts, household arrangements, and living conditions (Bengstan, et al, p. 15).”

What does that mean to us in the Church?churchpeople

Parents/caregivers are the single most important influence in a child’s life. Period. No amount of programming, support, systems or institutions can change that.  We are hard-wired to exist within families by the very One who wired our system in the first place.

And thus the call to parents to disciple their kids in the faith all through Scripture. Because God knew what researchers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell us in a pages-long report on the success of children:

We propose focusing family engagement on reinforcing families’ central role in helping children and youth develop character strengths through which they discover who they are, their power to shape their own development, and why they matter in their families, communities, and world 

In the church, we call that…discipleship.

And it is time we give the power back to the place it belongs. It means we “shift the how of engaging families: from emphasizing the tactical ways families reinforce what happens in schools or programs (or church!) to supporting families in building developmental relationships.

For the last few years, many ministers in the Church have been sharing the theological reasons for a shift towards family ministry or ministry that focuses on equipping the home as the primary place for faith formation.  And in some cases, they have been met with resistance by those, who like the study points out, see the changing face of the family and the imperfections therein and say, “We just can’t turn this important job of teaching kids about God over to parents…what could happen?”

But now, this study, aimed at the larger society and having nothing to do with faith or religion or church, is saying we must “refocus family engagement for greater reach and impact based on the perspectives, priorities, and strengths of families.”

It is time, Church.  

We need to reconnect, reengage and refocus on the home. Family, no matter what it looks like or how messy it feels to dive into, is where it is at. The power has always resided there.  The influence has always been strongest there.  The fact is, families were wired that way from the start by the One who said, “Impress these commandments upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road; when you lie down and when you rise.”

It’s time to fix the disconnect and turn our attention, our energy, our desire to see children follow Christ towards the home and equip the leaders there to do what they are wired to do…go and make disciples at home.


About the author

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