The Question of Relevance, Discipleship and Kids

One of my favorite television shows is Sherlock. I love his character, based on the book kid, but fleshed out in the show by actor Benedict Cumberbatch. One if the concepts that Sherlock employs as he is attempting to solve a case is his “mind palace”  the basic premise is this: We are barraged with an onslaught of information all day long, some seemingly relevant and most not so much. Sherlock says that he has trained his mind to put all the information into “rooms” in his mind that he can access in the future as needed.

The reality is, most of us just tend to forget information that our mind seems irrelevant and focus only on things that are messaged as important, necessary or relevant to our life, likes, and lifestyle. 

When it comes to discipleship, there is a lot of discussion about making the Bible “relevant” to children and youth.

Bible-and-PhoneThere are those who say that the Bible is inherently relevant so it doesn’t need our help; we just need to teach the Bible (or at least our denominational understanding of the Bible because, let’s face it, there are different interpretations even within that context).

There are others that say while yes, the truths of the Bible are timeless, the message needs to be framed in more culturally accessible forms, ranging from live-action videos and pop music styles to video games and social media messaging.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know I am not a fan of the either/or approach to just about anything. I think a both/and approach that takes into consideration social context, spiritual formation and physical development is the best way to be truly relevant, not just in the present, but well into the future.

So how can we, as parents and ministers, help our children and youth create a faith “mind palace” where the truths of the gospel and Christ’s love can take up residence and be recalled as they grow and as there is need?

 

Creative repetition

Have you ever noticed how your young children will watch the same movie or series over and over and over again?  Believe it or not, what we can find mind-numbingly repetitive, they actually like!

My favorite quote from G.K. Chesterton states, “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.”

That’s not to say we should make things boring, but we shouldn’t be afraid to share the same story with them in a bunch of different ways, especially in ways that reflect the world around them. My son and I have read through a total of three children’s Bibles and we are getting ready to start a third. It’s the same message every time, but each time, he gets something more from it, just like we do as we read God’s Word.

Active participation

Hearing about something and actually doing something are two very different things. Experience trumps description every time and participation in real life makes any abstract concept instantly relevant. So if we are talking about things like serving others and love being more than words, it is important for us to find ways for our children and youth to actually serve and love others. Let them practice what we preach!

There are so many ways that we can help kids and youth to get more involved in actively participating in worship, community and service!  Check out this page for some ideas on how to help kids be more actively plugged into their faith community and this one for ideas on practical ways to disciple kids at home.

Consistent modeling

This is on us. We are the adults, the ones who the children in our faith community and/or family are looking to for the context into which their beliefs are lived out.  Are we giving them a holistic picture of what it means to be a disciple?  Could they look at us and see us loving God and loving others, serving and mentoring, being available to them and to others in our faith community?  Does what we say and what we teach them line up with what they see and how we treat them?

Relevance isn’t just about fitting into today’s culture; it’s also about being connected or closely related to something. If our faith is connected to and/or closely related to our actions, we’ve just made discipleship, Scripture, and faith relevant.

There’s no silver bullet for discipleship.

There’s no super-secret easy way to make sure that faith sticks.

But there are ways to make the things we desire to pass on to them in terms of our faith relevant enough that they will remember them for a lifetime; that somewhere in their mind palace the truths they need to carry them forward will be stored and ready for them to pull out when needed, without all the detective work.

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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Why We Need To Be There

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

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

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

Which is why I have an Instagram account.

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

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

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

And I need to be there.

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

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

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

Be where your kids are. Be present and aware.

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

When It Comes to Parenting, I want the Guarantee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That God loves these children more than me.

That He is perfect.

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

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

And that is my guarantee.

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

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

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

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

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

We are not called to be perfect.

We are called to be parents.

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Shifting Blame: Digging Deeper on the Question of Church Attendance and Family Ministry

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. 

Who’s On Their Team?

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

It made my heart so happy.

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

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

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

The Power of The Five

So, why is having those five adults so important?

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

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

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

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

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

How We Can Help

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

The Sacred Ordinary

It wasn’t much. Just a little note taped to a door. A few simple words. Nothing profound. But that simple note changed everything about the day.

christiseverywhereI walked into a room, like I did every day, but this day I found a note that read, “Christ is everywhere, SO BE HAPPY.” It was from my then 9-year-old daughter. And it couldn’t have come at a better moment as we were praying to know if God was calling us to sell our home and move. It was as though God Himself spoke right to my heart. He was with us; He would always be with us. In the most ordinary place in the most ordinary way, the extraordinary broke through.

The simplest things.

 The sacred in the ordinary.

The holy in the everyday.


stpatsprayer

This was a concept St. Patrick took to heart. His famous prayer (see below) includes the lines “Christ in my sleeping, Christ in my sitting, Christ in my rising, light of my life.” What could be more ordinary than sleeping, sitting, and rising?  What could be more extraordinary that Christ being there in the midst of those things?

One the best pieces of advice I can offer to both ministers and parents alike is simply this “You don’t need to DO more; you need to invite Christ into what you are already doing.”

So many times we can feel the pressure to do more, to be more, to add more to our lives so that we ensure God has His rightful place in our ministries and in our homes.  But in doing that, we can sometimes miss the point…that Christ is already there, in our midst, just waiting to be invited into our every day.

Jonathan Edwards, an early 18th century theologian, once said, Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church, consecrated to Christ, and wholly influenced and governed by His rules. And family education and order are some of the chief means of grace. If these fail, all other means are likely to prove ineffectual.”

Can that be true?  Is a family, a home, like a little church?

I can’t help but think about what Jesus said when he spoke to his disciples and said, “Wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, there I am with you” (Mt. 18:20). Interestingly, most Christian marriages begin in churches where they are joined together quite literally “in Jesus name.”  So, two people (or more once they have children) gathered together in Christ’s name means that Christ is in their midst..all the time…including in their home, their little church. 

It stands to reason then, that the ordinary and everyday rhythms and routines of the home become extraordinary places for us to welcome, invite, and acknowledge Christ’s presence with us; chief means of grace. 

We don’t have to designate special times to do that; we can do that in the simplest moments of the everyday. Moments like when we rise and when we lie down, when we sit and when we go out. When we are watching television and when we are eating breakfast. When we are crying and when we are celebrating.

In this world of full busy lives, adding one more thing to our plate can feel impossible and overwhelming. Isn’t it wonderful to know that Jesus is already there?  And simply acknowledging that to each other, to our spouse, to our kids, to our guests can take the most ordinary things and make them sacramental, holy unto God?

The next time you are watching television, simply ask your child, “How do you think Jesus would respond in a situation like that?”

The next time you are folding laundry, simply pray for the owner of each sock, shirt, skirt, and shorts.

The next time you are saying goodbye to your spouse, simply grab their hand and pray a quick blessing before they walk out the door.

The next time you are doing the most ordinary, mundane, everyday thing you can imagine, just turn your head and look and see Jesus right beside you.

This St. Patrick’s Day, let’s join him in his prayer of extraordinary ordinary life.

Christ be beside me,
Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me,
King of my heart.

Christ be within me,
Christ be below me,
Christ be above me,
never to part.

Christ on my right hand,
Christ on my left hand,
Christ all around me,
shield in the strife.

Christ in my sleeping,
Christ in my sitting,
Christ in my rising,
light of my life.

Christ be in all hearts thinking about me;
Christ be on all tongues telling of me;
Christ be the vision in eyes that see me;
in ears that hear me, Christ ever be.


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. 

Talking about the Hard Things: Teaching Kids Healthy Disagreement and Discourse

I was recently invited to join a group of ministers in a closed Facebook group whose explicit purpose is to have  discussions about “the hard stuff”, namely, the theological, cultural, and social issues that we are bound to disagree on. The person who started the group noted that in the other ministry groups he was a part of, if a controversial subject got brought up, the conversation either disintegrated into a fight or turned into a wishy-washy “it doesn’t really matter so believe whatever you want” concession, neither of which did he feel was healthy or helpful. He created this group to see if there was a way for people to have a discussion about things they disagree on and still remain mature and respectful towards one another.

Spoiler: They can!  We’ve had some really great discussions over the last few weeks and we definitely don’t agree about everything. But the people in the group trust each other and are willing to say, “This is what I think and here is why” without fear of retribution or of starting a big fight.

The latest question, however, gave me pause. It was basically asked, “How do we teach kids to do this?”  How do we teach the next generation that disagreements don’t necessarily mean dislike and that we can share our thoughts with gentleness and respect in a culture that seems to have no room for healthy public discourse?

As I’ve considered this question, here are my thoughts.

We Embrace It

Look, the reality is that we were created in the image of God and given both a free will and a mind capable of conscious thought. It is inevitable that we are going to disagree on things.  Not only is that okay, it is healthy.  Jesus often disagreed with people who came and asked him questions. He often responded in ways that genuinely upset the people who disagreed with him. He never shied away from a difficult conversation, although he did find creative ways to get at the heart issues rather than the surface ones.

Throughout the Bible, we find conflict and disagreement (Paul and Barnabas, Eunice and Syntyche, Mary and Martha) and we see grace and resolution (Paul and Timothy, Jesus and Nicodemus, Peter and Paul).  It may even be helpful to say to kids, “Look, we aren’t always going to agree, but that doesn’t change my love and respect for you.”

We Model It

Ultimately, as the adults in the proverbial room, we are teaching kids through everything we do, our actions and our reactions, our conversations and our disagreements. How we respond to others, to the media, to government – all of it – is teaching our children what their response should be.

It’s a challenge for me to go back and re-read some of my social media posts or consider the words that I speak in a conversation knowing that these things could very well frame how my child will act and react in similar situations.

We Engage in It

children-763128_1920The home environment is the perfect place to engage in healthy disagreement, because I promise you, there will be times the family will disagree. I’ll never forget one day at dinner when my daughters began to disagree on something and the emotions started to escalate (they were 11 and 9). My husband immediately assessed the situation and set out some ground rules. They were each given two minutes to make their case, one minute to rebut, and thirty seconds to respond to the rebuttal. At the end they had to tell one another that they loved each other. You know what happened?  At the end of the “debate” they still disagreed, but they weren’t angry and frustrated. They were sisters who loved each other and happened to disagree about something.

Don’t shy away from the hard conversations! Teach your children how to engage in healthy ways.

We Address It

The worst thing we can do for our children and youth is not address the elephant in the room because we are concerned about making them uncomfortable. If there is a disagreement on something, I promise you, they are already uncomfortable. The better approach is to say, “I’m sure you’ve heard about (fill in the blank). How are you feeling about that?” and begin a conversation.

This is especially true in our current political and cultural climate when it seems like hot topics are around every corner. In my kids’ school, they watch a five minute news break every morning, so they are not immune to the headlines that we experience. That opens the door for some really great conversation if we choose to engage.

We Practice It

Healthy disagreement and helpful resolution are not easy because we are emotional beings surrounded by other emotional beings. How we address that reality can be compared to how we address any habit or routine that we want to establish – we practice it.

Practice it with our kids, practice it with each other, and practice it with others and when we feel ourselves beginning to cross an emotional line, practice saying, “I think I need to step back for a bit but thank you so much for talking about this with me” and practice the art of the graceful exit.

James puts it “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires” (James 1:19, 20). The gift of understanding, or truly listening, could perhaps be among the greatest gifts we can give our children.

Whether we are talking about a disagreement within a church, a disagreement about politics, or a personal disagreement about preferences or beliefs, the reality is disagreement is part of our lives.  If we don’t give the next generation tools for listening and discussing, the divide in our country, homes and churches will continue to widen. As the old folk song says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”


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 Wanna Go Home”: The Yearning of Lent

“I wanna go home.”

The other day my tired son mumbled these words and I started laughing. “You are home,” I told him as I tucked him into bed. We both kinda laughed but I also realized this this particular statement is one that he often makes especially when he is tired, uncomfortable or ready to relax. Home for him is a safe place where he can just be at peace, feel loved, and rest so sometimes, even when he is in our house, the words, “I wanna go home” slip out because they mean so much more.

I cannot think of a better phrase to describe the season of Lent than this one.

On the Christian calendar, Lent is the period of 40 days plus Sundays leading up to the celebration of Easter. Traditionally, it is a time of confession, reflection and contemplation. Unlike Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, it is not a time of joyful anticipation, but more a time of realization as we consider our need for a Savior and truly grasp what Jesus accomplished through his death.
prodigal

The yearning that this season creates in my heart is very much like the yearning my son expresses when he says, “I wanna go home.”  Much like the story of the Prodigal Son, it’s a yearning for refuge, a yearning for rest, a yearning for love. It’s almost a groaning in our souls as we consider how weary we can become apart of the life-giving grace found in resurrection. 

Reflection and contemplation don’t necessarily come easy for children and youth. The celebration of Advent is full of ways to engage the whole family in joyful anticipation through fun activities and meaningful practices. But Lent is a much more personal, much less “kid-friendly” season.

So what are some ways that we can help engage the next generation in a time of meaningful reflection that stirs their spirits to say, “I wanna go home!”

Seek Salvation (Easter Scavenger Hunt)

Who said that Lent has to be boring? Sometimes I think just because we talk about contemplation and reflection we think that means we have to sit around and just think about how sinful we are. But that’s not the only way to contemplate and reflect. We can actively reflect and contemplate too.

Here is a fun Easter Scavenger Hunt I put together a couple of years ago that gets the whole family involved in the story of Easter from birth to resurrection. Whether you do this as a church family or individual families, this activity will drive home the beauty of the journey of this season leading to resurrection.

Reframe Repentance

Part of what can make this season so solemn is the emphasis put on repentance. But repentance isn’t all sorrow and ashes.

Repentance isn’t the end of joy; repentance is the beginning. It’s the gateway to freedom. Confession isn’t the start of shame; it’s the resounding end of it!

What if we could re-frame that for our children? How much greater would their experience of confession and repentance be?  How much more eager would they be to move quickly from sorrow to joy?  If we can talk about repentance being a beginning of a journey to freedom just like Lent is a journey to Easter, that yearning to “go home” and experience the resurrection can be stirred up!

Time Together

Lent, while a very personal experience, is a communal activity. It brings the church together for a specific season and reason. It’s the perfect time to connect generations to one another through a common experience. Here are some ideas of things that can be done together, whether as a family or as a church.

If you are on Facebook, search for a community activity called ‪#‎picturelent‬ . This online program walks you through Lent with devotions, activities and prayers for the whole 40 days. For more information, check out LEC Family at http://lecfamily.org/lent/.

 If videos are more your style, check out these great though-provoking videos from the Skit Guys.

There are several online Lenten devotionals you could choose to do as a family. If you do a search online, you will find many from various faith traditions. Here is one that is a collaborative effort from a number of denominations and even comes with a free App so you can keep up on your devices.

Likewise there are many online resources for celebrating Lent together. Many of these are particular to a denomination, so an online search will provide you with lots of options.  This page has a huge list of resources including a devotional from Ann Voskamp, Lilly Lewin and multiple crafts and activities for kids and families.

Allow Space for Sorrow

Sometimes, it is our tendency to shield our children from sorrowful emotions, from the sadness and the heaviness of Lent and the crucifixion. But when we allow ourselves to remember the darkness of this season, the sadness of this moment, we create space for God to do a deeper work that our minds can understand.

During Lent, we may experience sadness. But only for a moment.  Because on Easter Sunday we will experience unspeakable joy.  No matter the depth of sorrow we feel during Lent, our rejoicing on Easter Sunday will far exceed those limits.  And if we want our children to truly know the JOY that is Easter, we must let them also experience the sorrow that is Lent and Good Friday.

It’s okay for them to feel.  Feel with them.  Cry with them.

BUT, cry with hope.  Feel with expectation.  And Sunday morning, before Easter eggs and bunnies and chocolate and flowers, before dinners and tulips and fancy dresses and suits and ties, before all of that… let them experience the OVERWHELMING, LIFE-CHANGING, HEART-POUNDING Joy of crying out, “He. Is. RISEN!!” 

Whatever your Lenten season looks like, I hope that your soul can cry out, “I wanna go home” as you look toward that place where our souls find rest – the resurrection and our hope for salvation.


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. 

Church is More Than… (and why that matters to Kids)

ballet-71002_1280When our oldest daughter was preschool age, she was obsessed with The Nutcracker Suite. Well, let’s be honest, it was the Barbie version, but she loved it. She would dress up like a princess and dance around the house pretending that she was the star of the show. When the Nutcracker came to town for holidays, my husband asked her to go with him. They dressed in their finest; she even got put her hair in an up-do, and off they went.

It was a long show. There were many in attendance, almost all older than her. While she loved being with her dad and seeing the show, she was also a preschooler so she wiggled and squirmed and squealed and giggled. She had to go to the bathroom. She got hungry and wanted snacks.

But when she got home, she beamed.

I asked her to tell me about it and all she could remember was the scene with The Rat King (Oooo…scary!).

I asked Luke to tell me about it and much of what he could remember was her wiggliness. But then I asked if people seemed bothered by her and he said, “No. Actually I had a few people compliment me on bringing her to the ballet.”

I posted an adorable picture of their date on Facebook and many similar comments were posted, things like, “So good that you are giving her this experience at such a young age” and “This is exactly what kids should be experiencing.”

Surprisingly not one person commented, “Hmm, seems like a waste of money to me. I mean, did she even understand anything?” Nobody criticized us for forcing her to sit through a long performance filled with imagery and dialogue she couldn’t follow. No one complained about her fidgeting or her outbursts. And nobody questioned whether this was beneficial for her.

Because everyone recognized, it wasn’t about her understanding the “story” of The Nutcracker Suite or her watching the ballet with a critical eye or even her sitting still through the performance.

It was about giving her an experience, a total package, filled with sights and sounds and smells and stories that could be felt and experienced even if they couldn’t be understood or comprehended.

A few years ago, a mom shared with me that the reason her kids didn’t join us in Kids Church is because every now and then she wants to them to get to experience the traditional service at church, to hear the liturgy, to listen to the hymns, to be a part of a service that replicates the services that she grew up in and that have been part of their family’s tradition.

kidsinchurch

You see, for this mom, it’s not about her children understanding each word of the sermon or comprehending the history of the liturgy or the meaning of the hymns. It about the total package; the experience of being in church, surrounded by the things that have been formational for generations and by the people who make up the body of Christ.  These children get to be seen, they get to see, and they get to experience church. 

The church experience is much bigger than a sermon.

Big or little, child or adult, the sermon is only part of the whole experience. Not understanding the sermon in no way negates the rest of the experience. Seeing the people. Singing the songs. Giving our tithes and God’s offerings. Praying, at your seat or at the altar or in small groups or corporately as a whole church. Reading Scripture. Reciting psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Smelling the incense. Tasting the communion elements. Serving. Celebrating. Fellowshipping. Communing with God and with each other.

It’s a total package.

And much of what is included in that package is not comprehended through the mind, but through the heart. It’s not things that require a certain level of development but things that are experienced through the senses and understood through emotions. A sense of belonging, a place in community, an important part of a body. All of that can be experienced, regardless of age.

As adults, we recognize that there is more to the church service than just the sermon. The same holds true for children too. Giving them the opportunity to experience the total package is a gift; whether they understand parts of it or not.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

God is Not Bored with Us

“Do it again!”

boys-286158_1920The cry of every child who sees a funny faces, watches a “magic” trick, listens to a silly voice, snuggles with mommy, plays with daddy, swings with grandma, and rides a bike with grandpa.  I can’t tell you how many times we watched the same episode of Dora with our middle child or read the same book with our oldest.  And at Christmas, we do a lot of the same things we’ve always done. But let’s be honest…sometimes the repetition can get…boring?

Tell me you understand this weariness.

I love my kids, but I should not be able to quote every line of Dora’s exciting plan to find Grandma’s house or Dr. Suess description of uniquely colored food.  And as much as I love Christmas…  Well, you get the picture.

It gets old.  It gets monotonous.  It’s…boring.

But I once read a thought from G. K. Chesterton, celebrated theologian, author, and philosopher of the 20th century, that changed my perception of this repetition forever. His words challenged me to look at God, my kids, and eternity in a whole new light and consider my own walk of faith.  He writes:

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. (AMEN!)

For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. (Oh…)

It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. (...Wow…)

For me, this one of of those #mindblown moments…

The words forced me to look back on those times that had so bored my grown-up mind and think about my kids…and yes, sure enough, each repetitious moment, each repeated action, brought the same reaction – the joy of seeing it and hearing for the very first time.

There was no boredom. There was only genuine delight.

We are told in Scripture to have faith like a child.  Jesus surrounded himself with children.  I can’t help but imagine in those moments where He was healing people, the children laughing in delight and saying, “Do it again Jesus!” And I can’t help but imagine Jesus’ pleasure at hearing this.

And I can’t help but think…wouldn’t He like to hear that again, from His children?

Perhaps you’ve grown weary in this calling, as a parent or minister or both? But you can remember a day when the call was new and His Spirit was fresh and you were filled and flowing over.

Do it again, Lord.

Perhaps you have seen your church, your family, racked with pain or sorrow, fear or hurt, worry or dismay, but you can remember times where God’s presence was tangible and His comfort near and His love over all.

Do it again, Lord.

Maybe you remember the excitement of your first commitment to follow Christ and the fellowship you had with God and others, but your love has grown cold and friendships grown old and you have lost your first love.

Do it again, Lord.

And maybe, you’ve experienced healing, seen revival, led others to Christ, lived intentionally in your home, or loved intentionally in your community but are in a dry place without vision.

Do it again, Lord.

And maybe you remember Christmases past that have been wonderful and full of grace but are facing a Christmas this year that feels empty and without hope.

Do it again, Lord.

God isn’t bored with us.

Each outpouring of love, each song of praise, each whispered prayer, and each step of faith for Him is as new and fresh as the one before and the one to come.My mom tells a story of me as a child, waking up from a nap and telling her that “Jesus is ‘cited about us, but we aren’t ‘cited about Him.”  Maybe that childlike faith was speaking the truth of eternity; that God is new and fresh and excited and ready to “do it again” if only we ask.

If you find yourself in a weary place, a dry place, a lonely place, maybe it’s time to exercise that “faith like a child” and look up to your Father and say… “Do it again.”

He delights in His creation. He says “It is good!”  And He delights in us.  He rejoices over us with dancing.  He is NOT bored. “For we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

So…

Do it again, Lord.  Show your glory in this generation.

Let us be the ones who are excited about you. Amen – so be it!

This post was first published on this blog here.


For more information about

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

About 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.