“Where Do I Even Start?”

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

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

Where do we even start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 6:7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

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“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

Practical Discipleship When We Lie Down: Valentine’s Day Edition

At our church, at the end of each of our gatherings, you’re likely to hear someone say, “At Plowshares we don’t dismiss from worship because we believe that all of life is worship.” In other words, we don’t think worship is restricted to a specific time or place; rather, worship is a part of our everyday lives as believers because Jesus says wherever two or three are gathered in His name, He is present. And that includes our homes.

This Thursday is Valentine’s Day, the perfect opportunity to celebrate the greatest Love of all, the gift of Jesus, in your home with your family at home. As we’ve looked at the four moments of Deuteronomy 6:7 the past few weeks (when we sit at home, walk along the road, when we rise and when we lie down), we’ve explored how to bring Christ into our everyday settings.

family-457235_1280This post offers a simple communion liturgy for families to engage the act of communion in their home together, a perfect activity for the family to engage in after supper before “we lie down”.  It invites the family to join together for a time of focus on Christ and the love He has shown us in his life, death, and resurrection through the meal He gave us to do so.  

All that is needed is some bread and some juice and some time together as a family. Simply follow the outline provided which includes conversation starters, Scripture readings and prayers and together remember what Love looks like as show to us by Jesus.

If celebrating communion isn’t something your family is familiar with or you prefer another way of experiencing this greatest love together, consider using the conversations starters and replacing the communion time with a time of blessings. There are some simple blessings at the end of the attached liturgy that could be a special time of blessing one another as you consider Christ’s deep love for us.

It is my sincere hope that this week your family is able to spend some time in worship together and that God will continue to invite you into a celebration of His Love together.

greatestlove


Family Communion: A Celebration of God’s Great Love

Prepare:  Communion is a celebration!  While it is a sacred experience and should be always treated as holy, it is intended for us to remember and celebrate God’s goodness to us. Set the tone with your family by discussing some ways God has shown His love to your family.

Have a conversation beforehand explaining what communion means. Remind your family that Jesus showed the Greatest Love of all when He died on the cross for us and rose from the dead and that this meal helps us to remember that great love. As with any time of worship, Christ is with us in communion. This is a special way to that we can invite Christ into our home.

Confession:  Before we take the Lord’s Supper, we examine our hearts and silently confess anything we need to before God. It might help if you offer your children some guiding questions like, “What do you want to tell Jesus ‘thank you’ for?” and “Is there anything you want to tell Jesus you are sorry for?”

Choose one of these Scriptures to read as a family: Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14: 12-16, Luke 22:7-38, I Corinthians 11:23-26

Partake: During communion, show your kids what to do. Even if it is very obvious to you, it may not be to them. Take some time to pray as a family some prayers of thankfulness.

If you would like, you can follow this suggest format for communion time:  Take the bread, thank the Lord for it and for his gift of love and offer it to one another saying, “This is the body of Christ, broken for us.”  Then hold the juice, offer another prayer of thanks, and then give it to each other saying, “This is the blood of Christ, poured out of us.”

Process: Take some time afterward to discussion  what it means to them to remember Jesus in this way. Ask question ensure understanding and to offer clarity, like, “What do we take communion?” and “What are we celebrating?” and “What are we remembering?”  Then move on to more personal questions like, “How did you feel when you remembered Jesus’ sacrifice?”

Conclusion: Finish your time together by reciting the Lord’s prayer (Mt. 6:9-13). Let your children know that this is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray when they asked him how to pray.

Blessings for the Family

Father, thank you for our family. Lord, you know our hearts. You know our strengths, our weaknesses and every tiny detail about us. May we seek You above all else. When we wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night, may you be on our minds and hearts so that in everything we do, we would see You.*

Father, we thank You for Your blessing over our family. May we be unified in Your Love. Help us to speak the same language and share the same vision that You have for us. Lord, guide us and keep us on the right path. May we stand in unity…preferring one another over ourselves and loving You above all else.*

Father, thank you for creating our family with a purpose. We know that you have plans for each of us individually and for our family as a whole. Lord, reveal this purpose to each one of us and help us to walk it out daily. Help us to have an appreciation for each other’s personalities, gifts and even our weaknesses. Lord, teach us and guide us in all that we do, that we may glorify You.*

*Consider replacing the pronouns with your family names and praying these prayers of blessing for one another

(Blessings were inspired by Flourishing Today)


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at the ReFocus 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

Practical Discipleship: 4 Easy Parenting Wins for Family Movie Night

“When you sit at home…” Dt. 4:7

This verse is found in the oft-quoted passage regarding discipleship in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 where Moses addresses the congregation of Israel and explains how they are to pass their faith on to the next generation. He mentions four specific moments to talk about faith: When we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we rise.

I love these four moments because they are universal – every single person ever had done these things. They’ve sat at a place they call home, they’ve left and gone out on the road, they’ve slept and they’ve woken up. These simple, everyday moments are when God shows up, if we are looking for Him.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to look at these four moments and find some creative ways to use the time we’ve been given. Today, we’re going to look at the moments where we sit at home and how we can redeem that time to share our faith with our kids.

Shot of a happy young family of three watching tv from the sofa at home

One time our whole family sits at home, which is increasingly a harder feat to accomplish, is when we watch a movie together. Movies are great because they tell a story, much like the metanarrative of Scripture and the parables that Jesus uses to each his disciples. Often in movies, we can find rich plots, interesting characters, and complex moral dilemmas and in those things, we can often find just the right opportunity to share with our kids how we can live out our faith or how God can meet our deepest needs.

Here’s four faith-forming movie moments we can capture for our Family Movie Night discipleship times

  1. The BIG Story

Every movie has an overall plot and many times the plot has something to do with good vs. evil.  Of course, we always want good to win and just when it looks like evil has taken the lead, good comes from behind for the BIG win.  Does this sound anything like another story you’ve heard in your life or read in the pages of the Bible?  The original good vs. evil story took place in the narrative of Scripture and is repeated in all of the small stories we read over and over again, not the least of which was the resurrection of Christ that we celebrate on Easter.  Some examples of questions you could ask your kids:

  • Where does the idea of good and evil come from?
  • Who was the good guy in the movie? Who is the ultimate good guy?
  • Can you give an example of the Bible where good beat evil, like in the movie?
  1. The BIG Lesson

Most movies have a “lesson” or moral they are trying to get across to their audience.  It may not be a deep lesson (Dumb and Dumber anyone?) and it may not be a healthy one (50 Shades of Let’s Not Go There) but there is some lesson behind the story.  Before you watch the movie with your kids, be aware of what the messages are and ask your kids if they can find it or figure it out.  I’ve been amazed by some of the insights my girls have come up with about the messages in movies.  Here are a few questions to help you get started.

  • What is the main message this movie is telling you about life? love? relationships? friendship?
  • Do you think the message is true or false?
  • Do you think that is a the same message Jesus would give you?
  1. The BIG Picture

Movies try to paint a certain reality, whether it is set in a high school or outer space, the movie tries to pull you into their alternate universe and have you believe it’s real.  Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on the movie, the fact is that reality is not real.  Sometimes kids especially have a hard time discerning that as their minds are still developing the skills necessary to tell  the difference between fantasy and reality.  Here are a few thoughts you might want to share with your kids before and after the movie.

  • Before the movie: Look for things in the movie that are different from your reality.
  • After the movie: What did you think was unrealistic?  Why?  How has that been different from your experience?  As a Christian, what would you have done in that situation?
  1. The BIG Hero

Oh, we love our heroes!  My girls recently discovered Indiana Jones and MacGyver (Thank you Daddy and Netflix) and they think these two men are simply amazing.  Every good movie has a great hero who always rescues the needy ones, loves the unloved ones, and saves the lost ones.  It’s as though they had a prototype to work off of (hmmmmm), an ultimate Hero that could change the whole world (AHA!).  We of course know His name, but let’s make sure our kids know Him too. Here’s some ways to start that conversation.

  • Who in the movie needed rescued and who was the hero?
  • How did we know that he/she was the hero?  What makes a hero heroic?
  • Who is the ultimate Hero of the world?  Who has He rescued?

These questions and conversations flow easily in our house now since we started them a long time ago, but at first it can be a little awkward.  Don’t let that awkwardness stop you.

These types of conversations carry more meaning than in just that moment; they begin to help your children build a framework through which they watch television and movies in the future.  They will approach these things with a mind that is looking for more, critically reviewing the messages they receive, and developing a worldview based on the reality of God’s word.

And to think it all started with some pizza, popcorn, and pop (soda, coke, whatever) in your living room on Family Movie Night.

If you are interested in seeing how this plays out with an actual movie, feel free to contact me and put the words “Family Movie Night” in the subject line and I’ll send you a parent discussion guide for a familiar movie!


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at the ReFocus 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

Talk About It When You Sit at Home: Bringing Advent from Sunday into Monday

What is Advent?

If you’ve read my blog at all, you know that Advent is probably my favorite celebration of the year. Not Christmas necessarily, but Advent, the time leading up to Christmas. The anticipation of Christ’s arrival. The celebration of Hope, Peace, Joy and ultimate Love.

A few years ago, I asked a group of elementary-aged children this question.  Keep in mind that sunday-school-kidsthese children have been “raised” in church so the terminology of “advent” was not unfamiliar to them.  But the answers… oh, the answers… seriously, one of the reasons I love working with kids.

Advent is…

… when you can’t find the angel for the top of tree and you look all over the house for it

… a fun trip into the jungle (I think he though I meant “adventure”)

… when you light candles on the tree branches that fall off the tree (think Advent wreath)

… that thing you use to light Christmas lights

… the songs you sing at Christmas time

Admittedly there were some closer guesses, “countdown to Christmas” being the most popular one, but in reality, most of the kids had no idea about the heart and the wonder behind the season of Advent.

And that got me thinking?  Why?  I know for a fact that Advent has always been celebrated at this church.  Every year on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, candles had been lit and Hope, Peace, Joy and Love talked about.  Liturgical Scriptures were read and Advent vespers services were held.  But somehow, the whole meaning behind the celebration of Advent was missed by the children.

So the question is, how much of what we do on Sunday still has meaning for us on Monday?

You see, lighting the candle of Joy this Sunday doesn’t mean a whole lot to me or you (or to our kids) if we don’t talk about that joy, contemplate that joy, and celebrate that joy for the rest of the week.

Reading beautiful Scriptures of God’s promises and love for us doesn’t mean a whole lot if it stays inside the church walls and never makes it to our dinner table, our car ride, our community, and our job.

Singing a few hymns about Christmas won’t impact our lives until we consider the words and use them to praise God on our recliner at home as much as we do our pew at church.

The reality is, if we are “doing” something at church and not “doing” that same thing the rest of the week, we are compartmentalizing our faith to a building instead of incorporating our faith into transformed lives.

We don’t have to literally light an Advent candle every night but if we want our children to know about the Hope of Christ, we need to talk about it every day.

And it’s fine and even fun to sing Christmas carols in the car but we also need to model a life of worship everywhere we go.

We don’t necessarily have to read Scripture aloud in front of our family but Scripture needs to be a part of our everyday conversations with our kids.

christmas-554720_1920I once asked a similar group of kids what church was.  My answers ranged from “A building we go to on Sunday” to “Where God lives.”  I know these are kids and “kids say the darndest things” but let’s be real for a minute.

If we live lives that say “Church is a building we go to on Sunday because God is there” how else are our children to interpret our faith?   What if instead we told our kids, “Church is the family of God and He is always with us so we are always in church?”  Not with those words, but with our lives.

Spontaneous worship.  Times of prayer.  Lighting of candles. Corporate worship.  Waiting expectantly in hope for the arrival of Christ. 

These things don’t need to be limited to a place, a time, a special moment.  These things can be lived all year long and our lives can be a living testimony to a vibrant, growing faith.

Want some ideas on how to bring Advent home in simple, practical ways? Click here!

Worried you can’t do it all?  That’s okay!  Click here.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at the ReFocus 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

“That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown”

Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights, please.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: “for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

 

This scene is probably the most well-known in the classic Peanuts story, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  It airs every year on ABC as part of their Christmas programming and is something that most of us grew up watching and make our kids watch annually. And at one time, most of the country would have agreed with Linus regarding what Christmas is all about…but times have changed.

A recent poll by Pew Research found…pew

“Today, 66% say they believe Jesus was born to a virgin, down from 73% in 2014. Likewise, 68% of U.S. adults now say they believe that the wise men were guided by a star and brought gifts for baby Jesus, down from 75%.

And there are similar declines in the shares of Americans who believe that Jesus’ birth was heralded by an angel of the Lord and that Jesus was laid in a manger as an infant.  Overall, 57% of Americans now believe in all four of these elements of the Christmas story, down from 65% in 2014” (Source).

Why is that?

Well, a big reason for the decline in these numbers is the increase in others, especially the rise of the religious “Nones” who consider themselves unaffiliated with any religion. The majority of those who would categorize themselves this way are in the younger generations, specifically Millennials.  In addition to leaving organized religion and subsequently churches, many are also leaving behind the beliefs of the faith they grew up with and that includes the Christmas story.

So very much has been written about Millennials and, while I too have my thoughts, this post really isn’t about this; rather, I am hoping that this encourages us to really consider the generation we are currently raising in the light of this information.

What if we were to ask ourselves some questions, like…

Are we presenting the story of Christmas as a fairy tale or a significant part of church history?

Our kids hear fairy tales all the time and in fairy tales (or superhero stories or fantasy stories) magical and impossible things happen; things like a virgin giving birth to a baby and angels appearing in the sky.

How we tell the story matters. If we want our kids to understand that these events have been passed down from people who lived through them and experienced them, from one generation of Christians to another, for over 2,000 years, we have to tell the story that way. We have to tell them that no one made this story up or dreamed it in a dream. Actual people lived the events, told other people about it, who recorded their stories and then shared those stories with us.  And that is way, way different than a fairy tale and makes our God way, way bigger than a story.

christmas-crib-figures-1060017_1920

An example of this is how we present the story as though it actually happened on December 25 in the snow with a glowing Christmas tree in the background of the cozy stable and wise men by Mary’s side. Okay, this is a bit of an exaggeration of course, but you get the idea.

God’s story of coming to earth as a poor baby to an unwed mother in a place where animals were kept and first visited by the outcasts of society is grand enough; let’s tell them what Mary told John and John recorded for us and what the disciples told Luke and he wrote it down for Theophilus and for all of us. Let’s give them the truth because the truth is incredibly beautiful, raw and real. 

Are we entering into the journey of Advent or just joining the celebration of Christmas? 

The older I’ve gotten, the more important I realize Advent is. Advent is the period of time leading up to Christmas and throughout church history, it’s been the time of waiting and anticipating that made Christmas Day so amazing. It’s a time of hearing the story, not once or twice, but over a period of days and weeks and contemplating it together as we wait for the culmination, the birth of Christ, on Christmas Day.

Advent slows us down and lets us truly consider the incredible events of that time, all wrapped up in the themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. This is a powerful opportunity for children to embrace and understand how the birth of Jesus fit into a larger story of who we are and who God is; a story that they get to be a part of as members of God’s family.

Are we keeping Christ as our focus or is He the afterthought? 

Yes, Church family, I’m looking at you. Because this is the crazy, busiest time of the year for church people, especially ministers. Not only are there all the things that happen outside of church, but all the things that happen inside too – cantatas and concerts, breakfasts and banquets, programs and performances, evening services and midnight services, and everything else that comes with all of those things.

And while they all may be “about” Jesus, those things are not Jesus.  And  while they all may feel important, we do need to be careful that these things enhance the story of Christ and don’t clutter the season with even more distraction.  Kids see and remember; let’s be sure that what they remember is Jesus.

There’s a great video about the church calendar that explains how the church has celebrated the life of Christ throughout history. In it, the narrator says, “”Ordinary season has passed; it’s time to inhabit His Story.”

That is the beauty of Advent and Christmas. It is our chance, as the church of God, to enter into the story of Jesus’ life and to celebrate once again the Greatest Gift, the Word who became flesh and took up residence among us.

Advent leads to Christmas, Christmas to Epiphany (God’s revelation to all mankind, symbolized by the Wise Men), Epiphany to Lent (a time of testing and trial, reminding us we have a Savior who knows what it is to be human), Lent to Easter, Easter to Ascension, and finally Ascension to Pentecost where God once again comes to earth in the form of the Holy Spirit and takes up residence in mankind.

This is the story of God and the story of us.

And this is the story we need to share with our children, over and over, not as a dream of what could be but a beautiful picture of the reality of God’s presence and Love in our lives.

So, my friends, “”Ordinary season has passed; it’s time to inhabit His Story”. Blessed Advent and soon, Merry Christmas!


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at the ReFocus 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

NextGen and Discipleship: Whose Job Is it?

It’s the parent’s job to disciple the children. Have you heard this statement?  Maybe phrased something like this:

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

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

mother-and-daughter-3281388_1920There is one verse that we often use to demonstrate the mandate in Scripture for parents/caregivers to disciple their kids: Deuteronomy 6:7 – Impress these commandments on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

I love this verse because it shows the most everyday, most ordinary moments and tells us in those very ordinary times to talk about our extraordinary God.

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

This command wasn’t given to parents.

It was given to the community of faith.

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

So what does this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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. 

Through Their Eyes: Seeing Like Children

There’s a pile of rocks at my back door. The pile has been growing over the last few weeks since Caleb discovered “diamonds” inside of them. These treasures have brought him immense joy. He has decided that he is going to sell these rocks to others at the “rock-bottom” price of $1/ each to those lucky individuals who want to have some diamonds of their own.

But the other day, when we went for a walk, Caleb found a very special rock. This rock, he told me, was broken in half but you couldn’t even tell. And that meant, even though it didn’t have diamonds in it, it was definitely worth more and he’d be charging $2 for that one.

I should probably let you know at this point that Caleb’s diamond rocks where purchased at Lowes a few years ago by the previous owners of this house and used for landscaping (rock beds) around out the heating units in the back yard.

But to Caleb, these rocks hold diamonds.

throughtheireyesChildren are special.  Their minds are full of imagination and dreams. They can create a treasure out of a piece of trash or a grand story out of an ordinary box. They have the capacity to “see” bigger than what is in front of them and to take the time to appreciate the smallest, inconsequential things.

And I can’t help but think about that when I think about how we teach them about Jesus and the Bible. You see, a lot of times as I listen to children’s pastors or parents, one of the things I hear them say is, “I want to find a new way to tell this familiar story or a super cool craft that will really get the kids attention.”  But what we fail to realize is that while the story may be familiar to us and we might need a craft to get our attention, the children may be hearing the story for the first time and a super cool craft might be as simple as just handing them a rock and letting their imaginations take flight.

The flashier our story, the louder our music, the crazier our environment, the less our children’s imaginations can flourish. We provide them the answers, the receipt from Lowes to show our rocks are just ordinary rocks, instead of letting them dream and see diamonds in the ruff.

Jerome Barryman, creator of the curriculum Godly Play, had similar concerns which led him to put together a curriculum that encouraged children to engage in the act of wonder. In the introduction to the curriculum, he states, “Godly Play assumes that children have some experience of the mystery of the presence of God in their lives but that they lack the language, permission, and understanding to express and enjoy that in our culture.

Why? Because we give them language, we offer them all the answers, and we hand them a craft with steps 1, 2, and 3 without space to dream, to create, to wonder about the story that have just experienced or the attribute of God they have just discovered.

What are some ways we can help our children’s imaginations free and let them wonder about the mystery and awe of God and His love for them?

First, don’t worry about being flashy or cool. They get that everywhere they go. Instead, invite them into the story by asking them questions. Godly Play encourages asking “I wonder” questions like, “I wonder why the Good Shepherd knows all of his sheep by name?” instead of saying, “God is the Good Shepherd and He loves us enough to call us by name.” Letting kids reach those kinds of conclusions on their own is a treasure.

Second, let them tell you the story.  This is my favorite part of teaching children about the Bible. I love to tell them a story and then, usually as we are doing an activity, I ask them questions about the story to see what they got out of it. I’m constantly amazed at the things they pick up on and what stood out to them in the story. Very often, it’s not the main point or the part that I think is important, but it’s the part that they most resonated with or what they connected to, and it often ends up making God even bigger than my retelling.

Third, open up your activity or craft time to their imagination. Instead of a step-by-step put together craft, create an open-ended space for them to explore or re-tell the story in their own way. Crayons and paper, glue and scissors, play doh and clay, wiki sticks and legos; whatever you can make available to them to retell the story.  It’s amazing what children can come up with when we give them the space to be imaginative and creative.

Finally, let the children know that Jesus wants to meet them in their imagination. Their creativity is a gift and their ability to see a bigger world is a precious thing that their Creator has given to them. Jesus wants them to explore and see Him in everything, even in their wonder.  I tell the kids, “Jesus is with us right now and if we listen, he may talk to our hearts. So let’s be quiet as we do our craft so that if he talks, we can hear him and if he talks to our friends, they can hear him too.” I’m always surprised at how quickly the room will grow quiet and how often children will tell me later that they felt God in their heart.

We may see ordinary rocks but our children see diamonds. We may see a familiar Bible story but our children see a great big God.

Let’s give them space to wonder. 


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. 

What do I remind you of?

Most nights before bed, I tuck in my son with a story. We started with the Jesus Storybook Bible, moved on to the I Am Bible (which he insisted we read at least three times through) and then…we got stuck. We started reading just regular books but honestly, both of us missed our time in the Bible.

So one day, on a whim, as I was putting him to bed I said, “Tonight, you remind me of…” and I picked a Bible character and told his story. The next night he asked me, “What do I remind you of tonight?” and thus, a nightly tradition was born….one that he will persistently remind me of every. single. night.  Which is truly sweet and great, except we got through the “main” characters of the Bible pretty fast so now I’m pulling out obscure ones like “the little boy whose lunch Jesus used to feed 5,000” and “the child Jesus placed in the midst of the crowd to explain the kingdom of heaven.”

Regardless, every night, without fail, he asks. And I wonder, “How does he not get bored of asking and doing the same thing over and over and over again?”

childhood-1884281_1920


One answer, I think, is simply this: Kids genuinely like doing the same thing over and over again. But I think it is more than that. I think that perhaps God enjoys the same thing on repeat and since we are created in God’s image, so do we, even if we don’t always see it as innocently as a child.  

G. K. Chesterton put it this way:

“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.

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.”

This has always been a powerful statement to me, but I was especially reminded of it this week while listening to the speakers at the D6 Days conference.  Two in particular shared things that stuck with me.

The first was Dr. Timothy Paul Jones who spoke about how ministry to families has been changing over the last decade or so. In his conversation, he said, “The reason liturgy works is because it is a story that ties the generations together, that we share together, over and over and over.

For those of us who attend a church that utilizes liturgy, we know that every week, we say the same words when we recite a creed or before communion or as we pray together. Some people don’t like that but for many it is a powerful experience to say the same words each week that have been said for thousands of years in the church because, as Jones states, it becomes a story that connects us to those who come before us.

It makes us part of something bigger.

Even if your church doesn’t use a liturgical format, it’s likely you have your own liturgy of sorts – a predictable and familiar “way” of doing church that collectively you all flow in together (for example, Welcome, 3 songs, prayer, 2 songs, sermon, 1 song, Dismiss). That liturgy connects you together in a familiar rhythm that you’ve grown to love.

The second person to hit on this theme was Lydia Randall who talked about creating “We Always” moments in the home. She asked us to consider what are the moments that our children, when talking to someone outside of our family, would say, “In our family, we always…”  For the Embrees, it would be something like, “We always pray with each other before we leave the house for the day” or “We always eat Chinese food on the day we get our Christmas tree” (it’s true…not sure why… but we always do it).

These “We Always” moments are our own liturgy at home; our unique family rhythm that connects us together and makes us part of something bigger.  And those things, especially when Christ is welcomed into them, can be as formational to us as any worship service or prayer meeting we could ever attend.

The repeatable moments. The repetition of phrases and actions. The consistent grace, truth, and love expressed over time.

All of these things are things that God uses, over and over again, to draw us closer to one another and, ultimately, closer to to Him.

Timothy Paul Jones used the word “power” to describe the liturgy. Lydia Randall used the term “strength” to describe the family traditions. G. K. Chesterton used the word “strong” to describe the beautiful monotony of God.

So if we are looking to grow strong families, filled with strength and power, it would make sense then to begin to find ways to repeatedly connect us to a bigger story, both within our home and within our faith;

to find those “We Always” moments and intentionally welcome Christ into them;

to seek out a liturgy that reminds us that our faith is generations deep and centuries wide;

and to discover a God that says “Do it again” every morning to the sun because “He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

Tonight my son will ask, “What do I remind of?” and I will struggle to come up with an applicable character (he has given me permission to compare him to women as well in order to make the task more doable) and I will smile because “We Always” do that…and we love it.


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. 

What Happens When You Replace Pews with Coloring Tables?

I often have people ask me if I could give examples of how churches are finding creative ways to allow for intergenerational worship within their faith community. I’m always on the lookout for stories I can share that might strike a chord with someone and help them as they seek to find more ways to bring generations together within the church.

As soon as I read this account, I knew I had to share it because it is the perfect blend of simplicity, grace, and creativity that so many are searching for. Many thanks to Mike Woods of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church for his willingness to share his experience with all of us!


This summer we took out a couple of pews in the back of church, long wooden benches that are designed for fifty minute sitting sessions. Unfortunately worship usually lasts an hour. We replaced the pews with coloring tables. They were an immediate hit. No signs were needed as to why the tables were there.

Their presence just said WELCOME to a certain segment of the communion of saints.

One week later we heard Jesus’ story of this crazy farmer who threw seeds everywhere. A nine year old came to the communion table and with pride handed me her very accurate time lapse drawing of the life cycle of a seed that she wanted me to share with the congregation to make us all better people. I did.

The next week I was talking to a grown up about grown up things after church when I felt this tug my sleeve. The little one tugging was excited to show me something with such excitement that she forgot to wipe the ample supply of pumpkin bar off her hand so it now adorns my sleeve at the elbow.

She too needed to show what she had drawn during worship. We had heard Jesus’ story of the wheat and the weeds. I thought I was helpful when I said to consider that the kingdom of heaven like it is God’s holy ecosystem where weeds are necessary, like mosquitoes are necessary but in the end God knows what God is doing. Seemingly opposite things can co-exist in God’s church – sort of like Viking fans and Packer fans worshipping together.

Well she took all this in and produced a work of art that included a puppy, playing with a kitty, who was playing with a mouse who was playing with the puppy … a beloved community of play. She was probably five years old but a very good theologian. The stain would come out in the wash the next day but I am still thinking about that drawing.

GreenweedsThat same morning I came face to face with a three year old artist and his interpreter (mom). I saw a series of colorful slashings on his eight and a half by eleven canvas. I was told the larger blue scribbles are the wheat. The contrasting green slashes are the weeds. Both sets of plants seemed to be thriving. Yup, I thought, the wheat was good seed, unimpeded by weeds. God will use the wheat to make blue bread and the green weeds God can bundle up to build the fire to bake the bread.

When I asked about the bonus picture on the back of the paper of a rhinoceros and its horn and a wheel. The interpreter just shrugged her shoulders.

YouaremylightI like the piece on my door where a five year old wrote: “You are My light” from the bottom of her paper up, so that the word “light” was like a crescendo on top of the pile of letters. It does make sense if you think about it.

drawingpeopleSpeaking of light – another five year old showed me her drawing of red clouds, a yellow sun, green grass and two stick people with skinny arms touching one another and a beam of yellow glowing between those arms. What is this yellow here I asked. She looked at me with all the confidence in the world and said, “That’s friendship!” Is not friendship the stuff of light, and necessary for life as yellow sunlight?

Then there is the toddler who makes her own kind of music every time the congregation sings a hymn. She grabs a songbook like everyone else but she only knows one song so far in her short life. So with conviction and gusto she belts out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star every single time! Last Sunday for our last song the whole congregation, a couple hundred strong, sang in one voice, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star … because her daddy is serving in the military in Saudi Arabia and he wanted to let his daughter know it’s okay to sing her own song.

Because when churches use the word “we,” we always mean one more.

 

MikeWoodGuest Blogger: Mike Wood serves at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in La Crescent, MN. I first read his story on Facebook and it was also published in the Houston County News in his hometown.

What are some ways that your church has creatively made space for all ages to worship together? Send your stories, pictures, and short bio to christina.m.embree@gmail.com and perhaps we will be able to share your testimony on the ReFocus blog.


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

family

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 and  Seedbed