That Time Jesus was Angry

In a discussion I was once involved in regarding the inclusion of children in corporate worship, someone made this statement:

“I think whenever you start including children in worship, you should expect a certain amount of cynicism.”

As you can imagine, I didn’t agree. In fact, I don’t think we should ever expect cynicism in any context when it comes to welcoming people into our worship settings. Expecting the worst often brings about the worst. And I don’t want that. And, I believe, neither does the Church.  The church is the body of Christ. His Spirit indwells their midst. My expectation is that the Church will react to and welcome children just as Jesus did, just as He showed us and demonstrated while among us. 

But even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t “get it” at first. The disciples were the first to turn children away, with seeming good intention, but apparent lack of insight and understanding of Christ’s heart.  In the gospel of Mark, we read this account.

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. – Mark 10:13-15

So,  how did Jesus handle that moment?  Well, he was angry.

That word “angry” is sometimes translated “indignant” or “very displeased.”  It’s the jesus-christ-2516515_1920same word used to describe how the Pharisees felt when the children were calling out “Hosanna to the Son of David” during the Triumphal Entry and when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath. The disciples felt that way when Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and “wasted” it and when James and John’s mom asked if they could sit next to Jesus in heaven. It’s overall…not a good feeling. It indicates a general unhappiness with a person or situation.

But then, notice what Jesus does.

He doesn’t just get angry. He gets angry but then explains why.

He explains that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children.

He explains that the disciples needed to accept the kingdom like these children if they ever wanted to truly enter in.

Then He showed them what to do. He took the children IN HIS ARMS (oh my, what a beautiful picture) and placed his hand on their heads and blessed them.  In front of the disciples. Demonstrating before their eyes exactly how He wanted them to treat children.

I’m willing to bet that in the future, the disciples  made sure that the children were never turned away. They had seen Jesus and they understood.

I picture in my head a future time where not only was Jesus holding children and blessing them, but the disciples were too. I imagine that in their churches after Jesus had left, children were in their midst, blessing and being blessed. In fact, I can assume that children were there, considering that Paul writes specifically to them in letters that were read aloud to the congregation.

Perhaps, you’ve experienced something similar.

You’ve asked your pastor if children can come and worship with the congregation and been turned away.

You’ve brought your children with you to worship service and been invited to enjoy the remainder of the service in the lobby

You’ve presented ideas for a Family Worship Service or an intergenerational gathering and been dismissed.

You’ve shared your heart with parents and ministers about the importance of allowing children to see faith modeled, to participate in liturgy, to be active members of the congregation and have faced… cynicism.

And you may even be angry, indignant, or very displeased.

Please don’t stop there.

The children still need you. And the Church still needs you.

Take the children in your arms. Bless them. Every chance you have, demonstrate the heart of welcome and the love of Jesus to them.

Because your actions speak volumes. Your testimony shines brightly. The disciples turned the children away because they didn’t understand. They didn’t know. But Jesus showed them, just as He has shown us. Let’s expect the best just as He did.

I’m not a huge sports fan but I do like this quote by Michael Jordan: If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome.”  Let’s not accept that the expectation is cynicism; let’s expect to find Jesus. 


Wanna read about a “real-life” scenario regarding kids and worship and expectations?  Check out this article: What my Pastor did About the Rowdy Kids at 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 the author

EmbreeFam2017Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. 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. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

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Dr. Mohler, Kids in Worship, and Three Things We Need to Know

Yesterday, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted a video from a recent chapel service where he addressed the topic of children in the worship service. While Dr. Mohler and I likely have some theological disagreements in other areas, this is one place where my heart and his resonate together. You can hear a portion of his sermon here, but I’ve included below a few pertinent quotes that lend specifically to the conversation of intergenerational worship.

“Christ’s people ought to be more welcoming than anyone else to children.

Our churches should not be places where the adults cannot wait to put the children away in order to get to the adult task of worship.

One of the scandals of so much evangelicalism is that we send people to their rooms as soon as we get to church…

You should see people sitting in pews whose feet cannot touch the floor…we should, in church, welcome the wiggling and the squirming “- Dr. Albert Mohler

In 12 hours, the video had generated over a thousand shares, over 2,000 reactions, and over 100 comments. So, it touched a nerve. Some people wholeheartedly and enthusiastically agree with Dr. Mohler’s points. Some people vehemently opposed his approach.

This has been my experience since I began championing the ideas of intergenerational worship as part of a healthy church experience. Like Dr. Mohler, I take a both/and approach to this idea meaning I support age-appropriate ministry within church settings as long as it doesn’t disallow for intergenerational times of worship and ministry.  However, I find, like with some many things, the tendency is to turn this discussion into an either/or scenario – either we wholeheartedly agree with something or we vehemently oppose it.  And, like with so many other things, that does not allow for a way forward.

So what are some ways we can create a both/and discussion around this topic that is healthy, robust and cooperative, that is theologically sound, developmentally aware, and spiritually strong?

 

Know the Theology

It is so important before we begin advocating for something like incorporating all ages in corporate worship that we have at least a basic theological foundation for what we are doing; our “why” so to speak. When kids and youth began to be pulled from the larger congregation for age specific ministry beginning in the 1950s, the “why” that was given was fundamentally developmental in nature.  But as that was done, the theological and spiritual ramifications weren’t explored until later when we realized we were losing the gift of generational discipleship within our church walls because our generations never interacted.

If a church desires to bring back that intergenerational space is some form, it is vitally important to have a theological understanding of why it is choosing to do so.

The Bible is literally full of examples on the whole congregation being present, both in the Old and New Testaments. Christ’s life and ministry model the same for us. Know these verses and explore these Scriptures so that when questions come, there is a “why” behind what is being done that establishes a foundation for intergenerational faith communities.

Here is a great article from Fuller Youth Institute to get started with, but don’t stop there! Do your own study. Explore the Scriptures. Explore what theologians have written. Develop a “why” that fits with your church, its vision and mission, and its members.  I once had a mentor tell me that “Christ will meet me in the Scriptures.”  He has indeed and my “why” is firmly established in the Word. That’s so important if we are to champion this particular space in worship.

Know the Research

Because developmental research was so significant in the move from  a fully integrated church to a a fully siloed one, it is important that we are familiar with what the research is saying regarding intergenerational worship and relationships within the church.  That is why my heart is for a both/and approach to intergenerational ministry rather than an either/or. I’ve reach that point because of the research that has been done regarding children and youth and their relationship to faith.  boywithhymnal

As I’ve reviewed both developmental research and ongoing research into faith affiliation and church attendance, I’ve become convinced that both age-appropriate and intergenerational ministries are both strongly needed and should be fostered within a faith community.

How that plays out in each church will necessarily be specific to that church and its culture, but to do one to the exclusion of the other is a disservice to our rising generations.


Where to start?
 This article is a good spot to get started on looking the research that is coming out. I would also recommend the following books/studies:

Know the Community

Each faith community has an identity all its own. It’s been like that since the church started; just look at the names of the epistles in the New Testament and the specific way Paul speaks to each community (also, note that he speaks specifically to children so as these letters were read aloud, he expected the children to be there). It is so important to know the culture of each church and understand what it identifies with in terms of its vision and mission.

Cookie cutter intergenerational ministry does not work. It is not enough to simply steal a program from the church down the road and expect it to work in yours. While each program or project or idea for intergenerational ministry has merit, it is only an asset to your community if it fits within your church’s identity.

The best thing that we can do as we transition from a traditional, age-segregated model to a more intergenerational, age-inclusive model is to get to know our faith community and help them to do the same. Help the generations learn each others names. Find ways to plug children into places where they are already welcome to be involved. Strengthen the relationships that already exist and find ways to build new ones. Transitional ministry is crucial to introducing “new to you” things to any group of people, so go slow and put a lot of time, prayer and thought into getting to know the church.

Want a great way to start helping generations get to know each other?  Check out the Pray For Me campaign. It is a wonderful way to incorporate prayer into your church and connect the generations at the same time!

This discussion that is happening right now in the church world is a good one!! It might be a hard one in some spaces. We will likely disagree on some things. But the heart of the issues is this  – we love our children and youth and want what is best for them. It’s worth taking the time to have a good discussion about this; to know our theological “why”, to understand the research being done, and to embrace our faith communities. My prayer is that this discussion is one that results in more children and youth staying in the faith as they grow so that we, the whole church, can say we have answered the call to “impress these things upon our children.” (Dt. 6:8).


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 Intergenerational Worship IS

A few days I shared my thoughts on what intergenerational worship is NOT. So often we approach times of corporate worship where are all generations are present with pre-conceived notions of what we fear it could be. But often those things are not truly representative of the heart of intergenerational worship.

So what IS intergenerational worship?

Simply put, intergenerational worship is ministry that focuses on connecting multiple generations in faith-forming relationships cultivated through times of corporate worship, intentional discipleship, and ongoing mentorship.


It’s much more than a Sunday morning experience or simply worshiping in a specific location
. It has at its heart a focus on generational discipleship and a experiencing of our faith together as a community.

And, it can have its challenges, especially today where age segregation (keeping the generations apart both physically and culturally) is the norm. Let’s be honest, putting generations together in one space can be difficult.

It can feel more like a collision than a collusion. 

However, research has shown that it is not only a good and healthy thing for different generations to spend time in relationships one another, it is also one of the key factors in young people remaining in the faith after they’ve left their home of origin. So what can we do to help create environment that allow for this type of interaction in our faith community, without causing conflict and collision?

Community

It is important to keep in mind the community cannot be forced upon a group. It must
be nurtured and watered and given space to grow. One cannot simply tell older members of a congregation that they need to go mentor and worship with younger people and expect it to take place. Bonds of community take time to grow and develop and they require a certain level of shared vision and commitment on the part of the people involved.

In order to create nurturing environments for these types of intergenerational relationships to develop, we need to intentionally create situations where meaningful interactions can take place or, even more fundamentally, offer a way to simply get to know each other’s names.

team-spirit-2447163_1920

Service projects and shared meals are wonderful places for these types of interactions to begin to occur. There is something about serving with others that leads to a sense of unity and community and the act of sharing a meal together has long been seen as a way for people to connect and bond with each other. Shared communal activities like going to a baseball game together or working on mission together can go a long way in nurturing relationships across the generations.

I’m also a huge advocate for the Pray For Me campaign that connects young people in your church up with three prayer partners from three generations in ways that help them get to know each other and connect on a spiritual level (Read more on this experience HERE).

Communication

Without a “Why” it is really difficult to introduce change of any kind. People need to know that there is a reason behind doing something differently or moving in a new direction or they will resist it because it’s easier to keep doing something familiar.

It is important to “create a need” by sharing with those who will listen your vision
and the “why” behind it. If there is no understanding of the basic reasons for connecting generations (history of children’s/youth ministry, the facts about young people leaving the church, the things that help young people to “stick”), there will be no “need” that has to be met.

So we have to share. We have to give a reason for wanting to bring the generations together. We have to communicate in ways that everyone can hear. For some, it’s going to need to be from the pulpit. For others, in the bulletin or church newsletter. For still others, social media or email or even text. But there must be a clear and consistent message if we are to engage others in the need. 

Consistencey

If I were to ask you today to tell me about your church, you would probably tell me something about your church’s vision and mission. You’d tell me about the things your church is passionate about or excited about. For instance, if your church focuses on community outreach, you’d tell me about that. If worship is your main focus, you’d tell me about your worship. If you are into community groups or life groups, I’d hear about that.

As we introduce new things, like intergenerational worship into our church context, it’s important that we recognize what our church is already passionate about and find ways to join the generations in that mission.

For instance, if our goal is to connect the generations in our church and our church is really into service projects, it might be reasonable to find ways to get the children and youth plugged in there before having them join the worship service. Or, if worship really is the big thing, to find ways to involve children and youth in active participation or slowly introduce times of corporate worship as we move towards more times spent together.  If we remain consistent with our church’s heart and vision, the transition to something new will be a much smoother experience. 

Always keep in mind that the ultimate goal is relationship, and while those are cultivated in times of corporate worship, intentional discipleship, and ongoing mentorship, the relationship is the key to the long-lasting effect on the faith of young people.

It is simply impossible to create relationships if generations remain segregated from each other all the time. Intergenerational worship creates space for relationship to happen. Ultimately, intergenerational worship IS the whole church, being the church, together. 


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

What the Latest Pew Research Offers for Children, Youth, and Family Ministry

This past week the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life released their newest findings on how and why people choose a new house of worship. It is a long report but I highly recommend reading the whole thing if you are someone that is interested in overall ministry within the church.

For those of us who are more specified in our interest, namely children, youth and family, here’s what I would call the Highlight Reel – the information most pertinent to these specific ministries.

1. 65% of young parents rank ministry to kids as playing an important role in choosing a new house of worship

Overall, 56% of adults who have looked for a new congregation say the quality of educational programs available for children was an important factor in their decision. Among those who currently are parents of minor children, however, about two-thirds (65%) say this. – Page 1, Pew Report

What does this mean for us?

It means that what we do matters to families that come and visit our church. In fact, this factor ranked 5th overall in importance, which is impressive considering this survey included those without children and those with grown children as well as parents of school-aged children.

2. The biggest reason to look for a new church (34%) is because of a geographical move not because of problems with their old church (7%). 

About half of Americans have never looked for a new house of worship, perhaps because they are not churchgoers or because they have been members of the same church, synagogue or mosque since childhood…They are also more likely to have lived in the same place all their life. – Page 1, Pew Report

What does this mean for us?

It means that for at least half of the children you begin ministering to at birth will remain with you into adulthood. This is why generational discipleship is SO important. Helping those children and youth establish relationships within the church with people of multiple generations is essential to creating a strong ethic of mentorship and discipleship within the church.

3. The idea of “regular attendance” is a fluid one with most churchgoers BUT many say they attend church MORE now than that have in the past 

More than a quarter of Americans (27%) say they currently attend religious services at least once or twice a month, but that there was once a time in their adult lives when they attended less regularly than they do now. And more than one-in-five adults (22%) say they currently attend religious services infrequently or never (a few times a year, at most), but that there was once a time when they attended more often. – Page 3, Pew Report

What does this mean for us?pewresearch

Perhaps this surprised you as much as it did me. We are always told that church attendance is declining in America so I was shocked to find that most evangelicals would say that they attend more frequently now than they did in the past.

That being said, the idea of attendance is quite fluid because the definition of attending regularly (in this study) is “once or twice a month.”  You read that right. Once or twice a month is now considered regular attendance. That means, for the most part, you will get to interact with those families and kids for 1 to 2 hours a month. That alone shows the importance of reaching families in their home, workplace, schools, and athletic events with support and consistent communication outside the “box” of church. Our time with is important, but it simply doesn’t carry the most weight. The other 167 hours of the week are hugely influential and we need to be there.

4. Roughly 8 in 10 of religious “Nones” or the Unaffiliated were raised with a religious affiliation

There are clear patterns in the reasons “nones” give for disaffiliating, based on how they describe their current religious identity. For example, most of those who now identify as atheists (82%) say a lack of belief spurred them to become unaffiliated. By contrast, fewer than half of respondents who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” (37%) cite lack of belief as the reason they no longer affiliate with a religion. – Page 3, Pew Report

What does that mean for us?

If you are like me, your heart just broke a little. Maybe a lot. This is my why. This is what motivates me every day as I recognize that 80% of those who self-identify as “unaffiliated” were at one time part of a church or community of faith. And, a deeper study will show you, these are primarily coming from evangelical Protestant backgrounds. For more thoughts on this and on what we can do to turn this tide, please read this article regarding last year’s study released on the “Religious Nones” and this response regarding Millennials walking away from faith.

There is a lot more to be gleaned from the research provided by Pew regarding this topic but I hope what was highlighted will help us prayerfully consider who we can use the resources of time and community to help our children, youth, and families grow together as a community of faith.

Creating space for deep and meaningful intergeneration connections that extend beyond the walls of the church and the hour or two a month we might be there together is absolutely critical to helping our young people find their place of belonging within the congregation. 

For more information regarding the current landscape of the church in America, please refer to the following information provided by Pew Research.

The first report on the 2014 Landscape Study, based on a telephone survey of more than 35,000 adults, examined the changing religious composition of the U.S. public and documented the fluidity of religion in the U.S., where roughly one-third of adults now have a religious identity different from the one in which they were raised. The second report described the religious beliefs, practices and experiences of Americans, as well the social and political views of different religious groups. A third report drew on both the national telephone survey and a supplemental survey of participants in Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel to describe how Americans live out theirreligion in their everyday lives.


For more information about

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

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. 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. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com

Family Ministry is not “Family” Ministry

When you hear the words “family ministry” what comes to mind?  What did you picture in your head as you heard those words?  Many people tell me that when they think of family ministry, the first thing they picture is, well, a family – Dad, mom, kids… you get the idea.

americanfamiliesBut if I were to ask them (and you) to picture your family, what comes to mind? For some , that original picture doesn’t change much, but for the majority (at least according to the research and data) it looks a lot different.

For some there is only one parent in the picture; for others, step-parents and siblings enter the scene. Some have grandparents acting as caregivers or grandparents living in the home. Some have adopted family members and include people that are in no way related by blood, but considered family members nonetheless.

You see, language matters.   If the term “family ministry” feels limiting, it is, but only to the extent that we limit it. Our own understanding of family has been and is being shaped by how our own experience is informing it.  It can be a difficult translation though over into an area that, for whatever reason, is defined by images of “traditional” family units. As a result, those who “come alone” or those who don’t fit the image can often feel unwelcome or disenfranchised by the idea of family ministry.

So what can we do?  I think there are a few things we can all do that would go a long way in helping the Church more effectively minister to the families in our faith community and surrounding community.

Recognize that the term “family” is fluid – When planning your events and creating your context for serving families, be intentional about ensuring that your programming is flexible to reach a wide range of families. If you are prepared to minister to parents who come alone, parents who come with different children each week due to shared custody, multi-ethnic families, multi-generation families, news will spread that your ministry truly is to families, not just one type of family.

Language matters – I’m not necessarily against using the term “family” because all of those groups, no matter how different they look from the traditional image of family we all seem to embrace, would still describe themselves as a family. But by adding in terms like “parent/caregiver” and expressly inviting participation from grandparents or single parents, the door is swung open wider so that more feel welcomed to participate.

Image matters – If every piece of promotional material shows a traditional family then that is who it appears the ministry is targeting. But if the materials and programming show a variety of different family groups gathering or participating in your events, then again, the welcome becomes a little wider.

The church is a family – Yes, we say this a lot, but does our family ministry embrace this concept? Are there ways for generations to connect in worship, relationship, and community that extends past Sundays and Wednesdays and into homes and community?  Family ministry should embrace the whole church in its scope of ministry. 

Recognizing all that family ministry can and should be for our church and our community takes time and effort. There’s no curriculum in the world that can correctly assess the unique dynamic and needs presented by your ministry context.

Begin by simply taking a look at where you are and think about where you’d like to be. If family ministry for your church is limited due to language or imagery or by lack of available options for those outside the traditional mold, then begin to take steps to remedy it. Expand your focus and embrace the wider vision of family ministry can be!

silhouette-74876_1920While I am in no way a proponent of a “cookie-cutter” model for any ministry area, including children and family ministry, I do think there are some key markers of family ministry that we should seek to incorporate in our context, whatever the unique needs of our community are. For a full discussion on this click here, but for a snapshot, here are the five markers of family ministry that I find all effective family ministries exhibit.

  1. Focus – The focus of the church becomes centered on the home rather than the organization and the entire congregation joins in celebrating parents/caregivers as shepherds to the next generation.
  2. Function –  Rather than being program-focused, family ministry “represents a fundamentally different way of doing church” (Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, editor of Perspectives on Family Ministry: Three Views). Every area of the church participates and is involved in family ministry regardless of age, ministry, or worship service.
  3. Family as foundation– While this characteristic might seem obvious, it becomes less so when we pose the question, “What makes family family?” Family ministry consistently recognizes the family, no matter what it looks like, as the normative place for discipleship of children and supports and resources as needed.
  4. Formational – Family ministry has as its heart a commitment to passing the faith from one generation to another through the platform of the home supported by the church.
  5. Fun – That’s right, fun! This is my own thing. I don’t have research and studies to back me up on this but I’m just putting it out there that if family ministry is not fun, if it is a chore for the church, a duty for the parents, and a drudgery for the kids, then it has failed in its role.  Family ministry should bring inspiration and joy to the entire church body and life and health to the home.

For more information about

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

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. 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. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Worshiping with Children: What’s the expectation?

“I think whenever you start including children in worship, you should expect a certain amount of cynicism.”

Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t. I really don’t.

I don’t think we should ever expect cynicism in any context when it comes to welcoming people into our worship settings. Because, our churches are not ours. They are God’s. And from what I’ve read about Him, He was pretty cool about accepting pretty much everyone into His presence. Well, admittedly, He wasn’t thrilled with hanging around the religious folks, but He sure seemed drawn to the young, the sick, the needy, the hurting, the ordinary, the lame, the lonely, the humble.

Expecting that the church will react with cynicism is not how I choose to approach ministry to children within the larger church context.

Expecting the worst often brings about the worst. And I don’t want that. Neither do you.  And, I believe, neither does the Church.  The church is the body of Christ. His Spirit indwells their midst. So my expectation is that the Church will react to and welcome children just as Jesus did, just as He showed us and demonstrated while among us. 

The experience many have had when trying to re-introduce children into congregational worship has not coincided with my expectation, and I understand that. But we don’t have to look far to see that play out in Scripture too. The disciples were the first to turn children away, with seeming good intention, but apparent lack of insight and understanding of Christ’s heart.

And how did Jesus handle that moment?

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. – Mark 10:13-15

That word “angry” is sometimes translated “indignant” or “very displeased.”  It’s the same word used to describe how the Pharisees felt when the children were calling out “Hosanna to the Son of David” during the Triumphal Entry (those kids…causing trouble all over the place!) and when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath. The disciples felt that way when Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and “wasted” it and when James and John’s mom asked if they could sit next to Jesus in heaven. It’s overall…not a good feeling. It indicates a general unhappiness with a person or situation.

But then, notice what Jesus does.

He doesn’t just get angry. He gets angry but then explains why.

He explains that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children.

He explains that the disciples needed to accept the kingdom like these children if they ever wanted to truly enter in.

Then He showed them what to do. He took the children IN HIS ARMS (oh my, what a beautiful picture) and placed his hand on their heads and blessed them.  In front of the disciples. Demonstrating before their eyes exactly how He wanted them to treat children.

welcomejesusisexpecting

I’m willing to bet that in the future, the disciples  made sure that the children were never turned away. They had seen Jesus and they understood. I picture in my head a future time where not only was Jesus holding children and blessing them, but the disciples were too. I imagine that in their churches after Jesus had left, children were in their midst, blessing and being blessed. In fact, I can assume that children were there, considering that Paul writes specifically to them in letters that were read aloud to the congregation.

Some of you have tried.

You’ve asked your pastor if children can come and worship with the congregation and been turned away.

You’ve presented ideas for a Family Worship Service or an intergenerational gathering and been dismissed.

You’ve shared your heart with parents and ministers about the importance of allowing children to see faith modeled, to participate in liturgy, to be active members of the congregation and have faced… cynicism.

And you may even be angry, indignant, or very displeased.

Please don’t stop there.

The children still need you. And the Church still needs you.

Take the children in your arms. Bless them. Every chance you have, demonstrate the heart of welcome and the love of Jesus to them.

Because your actions speak volumes. Your testimony shines brightly. The disciples turned the children away because they didn’t understand. They didn’t know. But Jesus showed them, just as He has shown us. Let’s expect the best just as He did.

I’m not a huge sports fan (let’s be honest, I’m not any kind of sports fan) but I do like this quote by Michael Jordan: If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome.”  Let’s not accept that the expectation is cynicism; let’s expect to find Jesus. 

Wanna read about a “real-life” scenario regarding kids and worship and expectations?  Check out this article: What my Pastor did About the Rowdy Kids at 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 the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. 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. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Family Ministry Doesn’t Work

“Here, Mommy, this is for you to use.”

This was one of those conversations where I had been left out of the loop as to what was going on as my son handed me a tissue and a spatula.

“Thanks, buddy,” I replied, “What are these for?”

“For the game!” he answered joyously, boyish anticipation in his eyes as he imagined the next step in our day.

“Hmm,” I said quizzically, “What game?”

His smile quickly disappeared. What did I mean, “What game?”  THE game Mom! THE game that he had come up with in his head and we were going to play together and it was going to be SO. MUCH. FUN!  And all I said as, “What game?”

If you are in children’s, youth, or family planning-620299_1920ministry, there’s a very good chance that you have felt like my son. You spend time in study and prayer in order to best serve God in your ministry setting. You have caught His vision for family ministry, for equipping parents/caregivers as the spiritual leaders in their homes and for creating intergenerational opportunities for children to grow in the faith. You have researched the methods, read all the studies, and realized the goal.

And so you set out…and fall flat.

What went wrong?

You gave parents a really great resource or offered an amazing seminar or created an exciting intergenerational worship experience and in response you got a blank stare, a confused gaze, or an indifferent response.

It seems like after every conference I attend, I get emails and messages 1-3 months later from ministry friends around the country, sometimes the world, saying, “I tried. I really did. But family ministry (or intergen ministry or nextgen ministry) doesn’t work at my church.

My heart goes out to you because I know that sinking feeling. I think at some point in ministry, we all do. But I urge you, don’t give up yet.

Take a step back and consider: Is it possible that you handed your parents a spatula and tissue and told them to play the game?  Could it be that as good as your planning and vision are, the church you serve was never let in on the secret?

In his book Team Up, family minister Phil Bell shares that parents are on information overload, or as he puts it, they live in a world of “promotion dilution.”  This happens when “churches attempt to promote too many events and programs at a given time.”  When we are trying to get everything out in the open, sometimes nothing gets into the heart.  And then, as Phil shares, since “you’re one of thousands of other voices vying for attention and participation of parents,” your message gets lost in the mix. And you end up thinking that family ministry doesn’t work at your church.

(Phil offers some really great practical steps for how to deal with this so go read his book or follow his blog here)

In order for parents to engage intentional discipleship at home, they have to understand the WHY behind it.  They need to know that:

They are called by God to it.
They are the greatest influence in their children’s lives
They are already doing it whether they are intentional about it or not.
They are not alone in their work of discipleship.

And they only way they will know is if you tell them.  Not once, not twice, but over and over and over again. In a myriad of different ways, in a plethora of different platforms; one consistent message creating one specific need. 

In order for the church to engage meaningful intergenerational connections in worship and mentorship, they have to understand the WHY behind it. They need to know that:

They are called by God to it.
They are the greatest influence in young adults choosing to remain in church.
They are already sending messages to kids and youth about belonging.
They are not “lone ranger” Christians but part of a community, a family.

And they only way they will know is if you tell them.  Not once, not twice, but over and over and over again. In a myriad of different ways, in a plethora of different platforms; one consistent message creating one specific need.

“In a world of competing messages, it’s imperative to communicate strategically, simply, and consistently.” – Phil Bell, Team Up

Don’t let the fact that it takes time to turn a ship, deter you from the course.  That vision you’ve received from God is a treasure. The excitement and anticipation you have in your heart about the work God can and will do is the wind in your sails. But there is still a journey ahead; stay the course, turn the ship, and give time for others to catch the vision. Because when they do, your ship will cut through the waters faster than you could have ever made it go on your own.

“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” Gal. 6:9 ESV


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused, intergenerational ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

Where Do You Even Begin? First of All…

“I want to start moving towards family ministry at my church, but I have no idea where to begin!”

“I’d love to do discipleship at home, but we’ve never really talked about those things – how do I even start?”

These are two of the move frequent messages I get from ministers and parents since I started this blog in November last year.  And that’s understandable.  Whenever you are embarking on something new, there’s always that initial, “But I don’t know how” feeling that pops up.  It’s such an uncomfortable place to be where you can envision where you want to be and you can imagine what things could look like, but you have no idea how to get started.

I imagine that Timothy (as in from the Bible) felt much the same way.  From all accounts, we can hands-407388_1280assume that Timothy was a bit younger than most of the other apostles and ministers.  When Paul writes to him, he does so in a tone that is almost fatherly in context referring to him as “my son” and asking him to run personal errands for him like bringing him his cloak.  There’s a familiarity in the letters that set them apart the rest of the epistles with an almost familial tone.

And while I think it is a great model to use for a glimpse at a powerful intergenerational relationship between a mentor and a mentee (just had to throw that in there) what stands out to me is where Paul tells Timothy to start.  You see, Paul is instructing Timothy on the basics of setting up church.  The whole first chapter, Paul is telling Timothy that he needs to be alert and aware of false teachings and God’s grace because “some have rejected these and so shipwrecked their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19b).

I imagine Timothy being much like us and saying, “Yes, Paul, I hear you!  I don’t want my faith to be shipwrecked.  I want to be faithful, to the fight the good fight like you have, to understand the truth.  But seriously, where do I even start?  I’m young. People aren’t going to listen to me.  What if I’m not good enough?  What if they walk away? What if I fail them completely?  How do I even begin to set up a church?

And Paul, being human and getting the fact that we all need somewhere to start says, “I urge, then, FIRST OF ALL, that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone…this is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:1, 3).

First of all…

Of all the things Paul was going to go on and tell him.  Of all the instructions Timothy was about to receive. Of all the places Paul could have told him to start…prayer, specifically, requests, petitions, intercessions, and thanksgiving.

“Oh yes, of course prayer. I mean, yeah, I pray.  We all pray. But, what’s really the first step? New curriculum?  Is the a family devotional I should buy? Should I go to seminary?”

First of all…PRAY.  Paul makes that pretty clear.  He has a lot to say about a lot of things but his urging is to first of all, before everything else, pray.

That’s where it starts.  That’s where it has to start.

Because prayer does this wonderful work in OUR hearts of letting us know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is ultimately not our words, our actions, or our wisdom that will accomplish anything…it is God who changes hearts, draws hurting souls, heals broken lives, and grows disciples.  We are merely vessels of His Spirit to do His work in the lives of the people He loves.  And we must always, always start there.

So, if you are looking for where to begin, may I urge you, first of all, to do these things:

1. Request – Tell God what is on your mind.  Tell Him the burden of your heart to see families, maybe even your family, growing in faith, at home, at church, and in the community.  To see homes strengthened, parents equipped, and children excited about Christ.

2. Petition – Tell God what you need. He wants to hear from you. And if God is the one putting the burden on your heart, He is very interested in meeting your needs

3. Intercession – Pray for your kids.  Pray for your family. Pray for your church. Pray for your community. Pray for your home. Pray for your country. Pray for your leaders. Repeat.

4. Thanksgiving – Give thanks for your kids. For your family. For your church. For your community. For your home. For your country. For your leaders. Repeat.

If you are feeling God calling you to transition your church or home towards a family ministry model, the best place I can tell you to start is here.  Sure, there are tips and strategies and books and trainings and a plethora of other things that are available and yes, I’d love to share those with you as well….but…I urge you, first of all, to pray.


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, Seedbed, and D6 Family.

Join the Conversation!

Hello Friends,

What a blessing you have all been to me that past few months!  Do you know that this blog has already had over 100,000 views and 80,000 unique visitors and almost 50,000 shares?  That means something about this idea of refocusing on the home, transitioning to a more family-focused ministry, and creating intentional intergenerational relationships within the church is striking a chord with a lot of people.

hands-598145_1280I think it’s time we start a conversation and I invite you to join in!

There’s a new group on Facebook called “ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry” created just for that purpose.  This group is open to all parents and ministers interested in having an ongoing conversation about the church and home working together in reaching the youngest generation. Topics such as transitioning to family ministry, equipping the home for discipleship, and creating intergenerational relationships at church are up for grabs. Appropriate blog posts are welcome to be posted as well, as long as it generates conversation towards these topics.

I hope that you will consider joining the group and adding your voice and questions to the discussion.  I truly believe with all my heart that we are touching a deep part of the Father’s heart as we welcome children into worship and disciple them in the home and the community of faith.  And I know that it is a calling that cannot be done alone; we need each other for support, prayer, encouragement and a “stirring up by way for reminder.”

So, click on the link above, join the group, introduce yourself and let’s get talking!!

Thank you again for your incredible support and feedback for the past six months.  Let’s see what a year brings!!

Blessings,

Christina


Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Family Ministry for Kids who Come Alone

I’ve heard a lot of concerned discussion lately regarding family ministry.

Maybe because it’s still perceived as a “new thing” or because people don’t really understand it or the heart behind it.  For whatever reason, there seems to be an almost caustic response from some about moving towards an intergenerational, home-focused ministry platform.

One of the biggest concerns I’ve heard raised was in regard to reaching children who do not have engaged caregivers or believing parents in their home.

Specifically, if our ministry at church is focused on families, what happens to kids that don’t have a believing family or Christian home life? Are we just going to turn them away or not provide for their spiritual needs?

It’s a legitimate concern and one that deserves addressing, especially if a church is looking to transition from one that has been primarily age-focused to one that is more family-focused.  And to be honest, there is no easy answer but here are some things to consider as you approach this topic.

1. Reach for Home – More than likely, some kids will get dropped off who do not have parents that attend the church.  But, that does not preclude us from reaching out to their home.

It is important for us to recognize this need to welcome children who aren’t in “church families” in a way that is both accepting and embracing, providing for their needs spiritually, physically and emotionally while they are with us (Ideas for how to do that, click here). But it is equally as important to recognize that we are sending them back to a home that will have profound formational effects on their faith and to not further our reach by extending our arm of welcome to the home is to miss an opportunity for “going and making disciples.” 

Some ways we can do that:child-217230_1280

  • Provide Parent/Caregiver Workshops or Seminars, free to the public, without an overt spiritual focus.  For example, we are hosting a Social Media workshop this month, open to the whole community, and focused on the internet and our kids, not necessarily religious in nature.  Our faith will be discussed but the topic is one that all parents have questions about.
  • Provide Activities for the Whole Family.  A lot of parents/caregivers look for free, fun things to do with their kids.  Fall Festivals, Family VBS, Summer Movie Nights, etc are all ways to engage the home.
  • Visit with the parents/caregivers – Drop by, say hi, get contact information, introduce yourself, offer resources, tell them what you are doing, bring a pie :).  Show them that you are excited about serving them in their home even if they don’t come to church.  And express your desire to serve not only their kids but them as well.

Of course there is no guarantee that this will lead to anything beyond what is already happening.. but it might.  What you do for one, do for all.  If the church family is getting a handout, a parent letter, an invitation, make sure the others families do too.

Connect the church to the home as much as possible.

2. Embrace Family – Sometimes when we think “family” we get a picture in our head of a Dad, Mom, two kids, a dog, maybe a cat and a cute Cape Cod with white shutters.  That’s really not an accurate picture of “family” today.  Family has grown to mean many things.  Sometimes family isn’t even people we are related to by blood.  Sometimes Grandma is Mom or Uncle is Dad or family friend is Aunt.

One main goal of “family ministry” is to minister to the family as a whole.  It is important then to find out how family is being defined by those you are ministering to and the needs that their unique situation gives rise to.  For more on this, check out this blog on “The ‘Family’ in Family Ministry” and consider ways that you can reach the families you serve.

3. Encourage Faith – Even atheists believe something (they believe that there is nothing). It takes faith to believe anything so everyone has faith.

Our job as Christian family ministers is to equip the home to be a place of faith formation in Christ.  However, that can be complicated if the leaders in a home don’t believe in Christ.  That doesn’t mean you don’t equip or resource them anyway.  Providing materials, information, and training for faith formation at home is key to an effective family ministry.  Those who desire what you have to offer will transform their homes into places of discipleship.  Those who choose not to use the tools you’ve given are still being given them and that in and of itself makes a difference in the home.

God is the ultimate home builder; we are vessels of His grace and love.

Finally, I feel like it is important to point out that while we need to be aware of this potential area of concern, there is another glaring fact we cannot ignore that the family unit itself is a mission field for the church today.  Ministering to families is important.  Missionaries to other countries or inner cities or specific age groups train to reach a specific group of people in that context.

If we look at families in that same light, as a mission field in need of missionaries to bring the good news of the gospel to their homes, I believe we could see a revolution in the church of children and youth who graduate ready to serve Christ in their homes, church and community; discipled in the faith and grounded in their love for Christ because of their intentional faith formation they experienced at home and intergenerational relationships at church.

There is no cookie cutter family ministry model.

There are no easy answers for the concerns that arrive.

But I firmly believe there is a call by God for us to equip the home, minister to parents, engage children in the broader community, and disciple families.  And if that is a call from God, then we know He will provide all we need to reach each and every family He sends our way.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.