Can I Do It?

“Can I do it?”

baking-1951256_1920If you are a parent with children at any age, you’ve heard this question asked. Whether it is in reference to breaking an egg for the batch of cookies you’re making, filling out a class schedule for the next year’s classes, or going to the mall for a night out with friends, this question surfaces.

The need for personal attainment, achievement and involvement is there almost from the start. We watch our babies start taking those steps to individual growth quite literally and then, over the years, take on more and more of the tasks that we were once needed for.

“Can I do it?” is a question that is innate in all of us.

Most of us don’t like to be sidelined. We want in on the action. We want to give it a go or at least try it once. Sometimes life forces us to take on things and we must ask ourselves the question, “Can I do it?” but nonetheless, it’s a question we have all asked.

I was recently reminded of this while listening to an interview of a church planter whose church was reaching out specifically to younger Millennials in an unchurched, dechurched part of the globe.  He said despite what we typically hear about Millennials, he has found them to be “highly interested” in religion and deeply desirous of being involved in church.  They are asking the question, “Can I do it?” not just in terms of belief but also in terms in action and involvement.

Can I be the one who carries the cross, both figuratively and literally?

Can I be the one who serves the poor, feeds the hungry, teaches the kids, takes care of the church, leads the prayer, reads the Scriptures, coordinates the service, leads the worship, takes up the offering, creates the bulletin, preaches the Word, and the list goes on and on?

Can I do it?

I was curious why he felt like this was the trend he was experiencing in those their church was onboarding. And he answered the question: “When they were growing up, they never got to do these things.”

Like most children and youth in traditional Western Protestant churches, their experience of “Big Church” was separate and other.  They didn’t see that corporate gathering or communal worship as something to be involved in but something attend. The answer to the question, “Can I do it?” was a resounding, “No!”

This church has chosen an apprenticeship model to begin helping change the answer to guitar-3957586_1920an even louder, “Yes!”   In other words, they are helping these young Millennials attached to an older church member to teach them their “craft”; to show them the ropes on how to be actively involved in a local church. To bring them from a place of mere attendance and consumerism to a place of real community and active participation.

But, that leads to a new question; why would we wait until these young people are adults? 

Why not begin these types of experiences now, while this generation of children and youth are still young?

Why not change the answer to “Yes!” now so that they don’t even have to ask the question in the future because they know beyond a doubt that they are wanted, needed, and welcomed as active, thriving and participating members of their local church?

This isn’t a program (although I’m sure those exist and the framework could be helpful). This is a change in how we approach discipleship within the walls of the church. It’s more than just helping our kids and youth know stories from the Bible and good morals and values. That’s important but if that is not combined with active and growing relationships with all generations in their faith community, these things will lack the depth needed for long-term faith.

Call it mentorship.

Call it apprenticeship.

Call it discipleship.

But whatever we call it, let us make sure that when we hear the question, “Can I do it?”, we are ready to help our youngest members experience a hands-on faith in a congregation that embraces them and cries out with great enthusiasm, “YES!”


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

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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

Is Christ Welcome in Church?

Welcome

What does that word mean to you?  When you think about being welcomed somewhere, what does it look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like?

I grew up Italian, and even if my grandma married in, she was Italian through and through. I’ll never forget showing up at Grandma’s house and hearing, “Come in, how are you? How was the ride? Are you hungry?” while being wrapped up in hugs and ushered into her home. To this day if I smell something that reminds me of her home like a roast cooking on the stove, I feel welcome – I literally feel it.

Welcome was more than just opening the door and allowing me to come inside.

It was enveloping me in love. It was making sure my needs were met. It was serving me with grace and engaging me with intention.

I felt wanted. I felt cared for. I felt like I belonged. 

welcomeI can think of no better way to describe this feeling than through this video. I’d love it if you’d click this link and watch it, but if you don’t here’s a snapshot: Two Congo boys who have been adopted by an American couple come off the plane and literally run into their new parents arms. The tears, the absolute JOY, the intensity of the welcome… it brings tears to my eyes each time.

Watching it between those tears, I could not help but think of the story of the prodigal son and the welcome he received from his father when he returned home. The tears, the absolute JOY, the intensity of the welcome. 

And I could not help but think of this Scripture

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them,“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.

“Welcomes one of these little children.”

And so, I think as the church we should ask, do we welcome the little children?

Are they enveloped in love? Are we serving them with grace and engaging with intention?

Are they welcome everywhere or only in certain spaces?  Are they welcomed by the congregation, known by name, and identified as part of the community?

Do they know that they are wanted, cared for…that they belong?

These are good questions for us to ask, even if the our answer is yes, because Jesus says, if we welcome them, we welcome Him and if we welcome Him, we welcome the one who sent Him.

And no, of course there won’t be a flood of tears each time they walk through the church doors and our finest robes and food for feasting brought out each time they enter, but there should definitely be a sense of “I’m wanted here” and “I’m known here” and “I belong here” each time they come to worship, to fellowship, to learn, to be a part of the church.

Regardless of how each church decides to approach ministry to children and families, welcome should be an overall characteristic of the culture and the heart of our approach to children’s ministry, because by welcoming them, we welcome Christ and not only Christ, but the One who sent him… we welcome the fullness of God into our midst.

Looking for some ideas on how to welcome children to corporate worship? Check out this article on Practical Ways to Welcome Children to Church

Some children don’t have a family to come to church with. Here are some thoughts on welcoming those who come alone

Another way to help create a sense of welcome is to find spaces where we can incorporate the whole family in worship together; check out some ideas for that here


For more information about

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

About this Blog

family

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, 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. 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

 

Bringing Ash Wednesday Home

The celebration of Ash Wednesday and the observance of Lent was not a part of my experience growing up, but over the past few years, I’ve grown to appreciate this time in the liturgical year to reflect, to repent, and to realign myself with God. And, I tell you, I’ve always loved Easter but it has so much more meaning and depth when connected to the preceding season of Lent.

Churches across America, even those that traditionally did not celebrate this season, are beginning to involve their congregations more and more in this time of reflection and repentance and it is a wonderful place for families to gather around the the story of God’s great Love and His unending faithfulness to us (For more on that from Family Life Today‘s Barbara Rainey, click here).

The first day of Lent and Ash Wednesday is today. If your church doesn’t currently have an Ash Wednesday or Lent celebration (or if it gets snowed out), but you want to engage your family in the season, here are a few tools to use today/this week in your home that may give you some ideas and some guidance.

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

What is Lent? – http://lecfamily.org/daily-devotio…/…/what-is-lent-all-about

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

Prayer for Lent – https://skitguys.com/videos/item/a-prayer-for-lent
Pslams for Lent – https://skitguys.com/vid…/item/psalms-for-lent-ash-wednesday
Preparing for Lent – https://skitguys.com/videos/item/preparing-for-lent

3. Need some coloring pages for your younger kids? Check out the collection at http://www.theclipartwizard.com/lent-coloring-pages.htm

4. Host your own worship service at home with your kids. Here are a list of current worship songs (like those you’d find on K-Love) that have great application to Lent. Consider looking up videos on YouTube and creating a worship list so you can worship as a family.

http://seedbed.com/…/five-new-songs-to-consider-for-worshi…/

If you are more of a hymns family, here are a list of traditional Ash Wednesday hymns you may want to also look up!

http://www.worshipaccompaniment.com/?tag=ash-wednesday

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

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

Whether you have traditionally celebrated Lent or not, these resources are worth checking out and considering as a way to invite Christ into your home. At the very least, it will open a chance for discussion with your family about why we celebrate Easter and why Christ’s death and resurrection is such a beautiful picture of God’s love, grace and faithfulness to us!

May your Lenten season be one full of knowing all those attributes deeper and more personally then you have ever experienced before. Blessings friends!


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 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. 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

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

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

The Great Debate: Are We Real or Artificial?

The other day, my oldest and most practical child told me that when she is on her own, she’s going to get an artificial tree because, “It’s less work, it costs less because you only buy it once, and it looks just as pretty.”

I responded with, “For me, it’s not about that.”

“What?” she asked.

“It’s not about the cost or the work or the end result of looking pretty. For me, it’s the whole experience of finding, cutting, dragging, and decorating a live tree with my family.”

She kinda “humphed” and said, “What part?  The fighting over picking the tree, the dirtyness of cutting it down and dragging it, or the frustration when you can’t hang ornaments because the branches aren’t strong enough?”

“All of that…and more. The laughter when we find a tree that looks ridiculous, the shared joy when we do find ‘the one’, the memories we make with each tree like the one with ‘rat tail’ and the ‘Charlie Brown tree’ and the one that smelled like oranges, the fun of eating Chinese food together and watching a Christmas movie, the silliness of decorating, the nostalgia we feel as we look at special ornaments, the warmth the grows as we decorate our home… all of those things. The experience. That’s what makes it different. That’s what forms us. The experience is formational.”

“I get that….but I’m probably still going to get an artificial tree.”

decorating-christmas-tree-2999718_1920Haha, and that’s fine. She will come up with her own traditions and memories and meaning for her family and her life as she grows.

But the reality is, the things that form us the most aren’t simply things that we put together and plug in so that they “work.” 

The things that form us most are wrought with “experience”, with feelings both good and bad, with hard work, with relationship and sometimes with Chinese food.

And that’s important for us to realize when it comes to ministry within our faith communities.  You see, we could have the best programming, the best curriculum and the best practices in place, but if it if is all just “plug and play”, we are missing the most important part – the messy part, the fun part, the experience and the deeply formational place where we are formed into disciples of Jesus Christ.

It’s not enough to just put children in a room with multiple generations and call it intergenerational ministry; we’ve got to put some experience to it.

Words need to be spoken between generations, names need to be known, relationships need to be cultured, frustrations and joys shared, and lives woven together.

It’s not enough to throw a video up on the screen with a Bible story or song to sing; we got to connect to the story and recognize the song as a means of grace where God can reach our hearts.

We need to offer the opportunity to live into the story through service and prayer and to experience worship as a place to turn our attention to God.

Churches need to be more than a place we go on Sunday. I hear this all the time through phrases like, “We don’t go to church, we are the church” and “Don’t do church, be the church.”  But how do we live this out in formational ways?  Where’s the experiences with this that our children and youth can grab onto and recognize as “church” even when there is not singing or sermon or preaching or pews?

My passion for intergenerational ministry and generational discipleship isn’t about putting kids into corporate gatherings just to check a box and said, “We are now intergenerational.”  That’s plug-and-play.

Rather my passion stems from the idea what we can create spaces where old and young; children, youth and families of all ages, can gather and experience God together in formational ways.  That the whole church can have a sense of belonging and knowing and that no matter one’s age, each would know they are an integral part of the family.

Sometimes, the family won’t agree to pick their “tree” and feelings might get hurt. But it’s a “tree” and no one leaves a family over a Christmas tree.

Sometimes, the family will get dirty doing the work it takes to have that live “tree” which can be uncomfortable and frustrating, but ultimately yeilds the reward of having done something meaningful together.

Sometimes, the family will try to do things, beautiful things and good things, and hang ornaments on their “tree” that just won’t work or the “tree” can’t support and feelings will get hurt and disappointment will be expressed… but no one leaves the family over not getting their beautiful things.

Experiences force us to recognize that we are part of something bigger.

Experiences like worshipping together, which can lead to some discomfort and some beautiful things not being experienced every time we gather. Experiences like serving together, which can be dirty and disheartening at times. Experiences like sharing life together in true community, which can be inconvenient and uncomfortable.

But, oh the rewards! When we gather in worship together, God promises to be in our midst!  When we serve together, we experience God’s grace as a whole, poured out in our hearts beyond measure and binding us together in Him. And when we truly share life together in community, we find a place where we belong, a place we call home, a family.

And ultimately, that is what the church of God is called to be… his family… where every age is known and loved and belongs.


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

Come, Let Us Advent Together!

I have always loved Christmas time and one reason I have is because growing up, Christmas wasn’t just one day. My parents used the time of Advent to build anticipation and tell the story of Christmas over and over again until the we couldn’t wait until Christmas morning when we could celebrate Jesus’ birthday, with a birthday cake and all!

child-1867394_1920I have carried this love of Advent and Christmas with me and into our home and family.  We have all kinds of special Embree family Advent traditions but what makes the time most meaningful in our intentional celebration of Christ’s coming.

A few years ago, in order to make this time more meaningful, I collected a number of prayers, Scriptures, and activities for the family to experience together throughout the month. These brief readings and prayers do not take a lot of time (can easily be done at the dinner table) but they help to frame Advent and the celebration of Christ’s birth in the larger story, the metanarrative, of Scripture.

I hope that your family or your church family will be able to use them too and celebrate together the coming of our Prince of Peace!

 

Our Christmas “Advent”ure

This Advent Season, gather your family each day for a moment to read a Scripture, say a prayer, or do an activity below and add to your “Reverse Advent” basket.

December 2018

Week 1

2 – Make a your First Advent Candle. Use a paper towel or toilet paper roll as the candle. Wrap it or color it in purple and write the word “HOPE” on it. Create a “flame” using orange construction paper or just color one on white paper. Cut out and attach to the top with tape. You’ve just lit your first Advent Candle. The theme for this week is HOPE.

3– Read Luke: 1:26-38

4 – Pray this prayer together:

God of hope, who brought love into this world,
be the love that dwells between us.
God of hope, who brought peace into this world,
be the peace that dwells between us.
God of hope, who brought joy into this world,
be the joy that dwells between us.
God of hope, the rock we stand upon,
be the center, the focus of our lives
always, and particularly this Advent time.

5– Isaiah 7:10-1

6 – Read Matthew 1:18-24

7 – The Advent Theme for this week is Hope. What are some things your family hopes for?

– Read Isaiah 11:1-10

Week 2

9 – Make a your Second Advent Candle. Use a paper towel or toilet paper roll as the candle. Wrap it or color it in purple and write the word “LOVE” on it. Create a “flame” using orange construction paper or just color one on white paper. Cut out and attach to the top with tape. You’ve just lit your second Advent Candle. The theme for this week is LOVE.

10. Read Micah 5:2

11. Read Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11

12. Read Isaiah 2:1-5

13. Pray this prayer together:

Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the paths of thine Only-begotten Son:
that we may worthily serve thee with hearts purified by His coming: Who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen

14. Read Matthew 3:1-6

15. God is Love. Our theme for this week reminds of His great love for us. How does our family show and experience God’s love?

Week 3

16. Make a your Third Advent Candle. Use a paper towel or toilet paper roll as the candle. Wrap it or color it in pink and write the word “JOY” on it. Create a “flame” using orange construction paper or just color one on white paper. Cut out and attach to the top with tape. You’ve just lit your third Advent Candle. The theme for this week is JOY.

17. Sing “Joy to the World” together as a family. Sing it as quiet as you can. Now, sing it as loud as you can! How does our family share JOY with others?

18. Read Isaiah 9:6-7

19. Read John 1:19-34

20. Pray this prayer together

We beseech thee to listen to our prayers, O Lord,
and by the grace of thy coming enlighten our darkened minds:
Thou who livest and reigns with God the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

21. Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

22. Read Philippians 2:1-11

Week 4

23. Make a your Fourth Advent Candle. Use a paper towel or toilet paper roll as the candle. Wrap it or color it in purple and write the word “PEACE” on it. Create a “flame” using orange construction paper or just color one on white paper. Cut out and attach to the top with tape. You’ve just lit your fourth and final Advent Candle. The theme for this week is PEACE.

24. It’s Christmas Eve! Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. What are some ways we see God’s peace in our lives?

Christmas Day

25 –  Jesus has come!! Read Luke 2 as a family as you finish this season of Advent. Consider these prayers that have been shared through church history as a way to culminate our Advent celebration

God of love, Father of all, the darkness that covered the earth
has given way to the bright dawn of your Word made flesh.
Make us a people of this light. Make us faithful to your Word
that we may bring your life to the waiting world. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(From The Roman Missal)

Let the just rejoice, for their justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice, For their saviour is born.
Let the captives rejoice, For their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice, for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice, For their Liberator is born.
Let All Christians rejoice, For Jesus Christ is born.
St. Augustine of Hippo


For more information about

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

About the author

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

The Age Gap in Religion is Primarily a Christian Problem

Younger people are less religious than older people.

Across the board, this proves to be true. Doesn’t really matter what country one observes or what metrics one uses; statistically, research finds that younger generations tend to be less religious than those who have come before.

However, it turns out, what does matter is which religion is being studied.

According to recent Pew Research, Christianity not only has the most predominant age gap, in that it affects nearly every country that identifies as Christian, it also has the largest one by percentage meaning there is a larger gap in between the ages than other religions.

“Age gaps are also more common within some religious groups than in others. For example, religion is less important to younger Christian adults in nearly half of all the countries around the world where sample sizes are large enough to allow age comparisons among Christians (37 out of 78).

For Muslims, this is the case in about one-quarter of countries surveyed (10 out of 42). Among Buddhists, younger adults are significantly less religious in just one country (the United States) out of five countries for which data are available.

There is no age gap by this measure among Jews in the U.S. or Israel, or among Hindus in the U.S. or India.1 (Source)

PF.06.13.18_religiouscommitment-00-01-

The highest retention rates for religions are found in the Hindu, Muslim and Jewish communities.  The lowest retention rates are found in Mainline Protestants, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and atheism (Source).

Why?

man-3552247_1920There are so many people asking and answering this question. There’s a lot of research being done not only on why younger generations are leaving their faith and/or their church and why some choose to stay.  And there is no silver bullet or perfect answer. But here are a least a few things that we need to consider.

  1. Some stay away from church because they don’t feel like they belong. A study shared by Christianity Today found that about “58 percent of young adults indicated they dropped out because of their church or pastor. When probed further, they said:
    • Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical (26 percent).
    • They didn’t feel connected to the people at their church (20 percent).
    • Church members were unfriendly and unwelcoming (15 percent)
    • Fifty-two percent indicated some sort of religious, ethical or political beliefs as the reason they dropped out.”
  2. Others leave because their faith or their church was never truly theirs, just something they had to do for their parents or because children’s ministry or youth group was a fun social hangout. “Consider this finding: when students involved in the College Transition Project were asked what it means to be a Christian, 35 percent “gave an answer that didn’t mention Jesus at all.” (Source)
  3. Still others leave because they have no relationships the church or a compelling reason to stay.  According to an interview with Dr. Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute, “The number one reason why young people are walking away from their faith—it’s a lack of intergenerational worship and relationship” (Source).

Of course, there are more reasons, but these are some of the big ones. And the thing is, these can be easily solved! 

Basically, each of these reasons boil down to this:  We need faith communities that are, as Dr. Powell stated another interview, “ruthless about focusing on Jesus [and] realize that Christianity can be awkward and sometimes confusing, but Jesus is always magnetic.”

We need communities that foster a sense of belonging to something bigger, create space for intergenerational connections that are meaningful and long-lasting, and invite a willingness to engage in conversations of doubt, faith, and culture. 

We can keep moving forward with age-segregated ministries, church services, and programs or we can step back, see the bigger picture, listen to what we are hearing from generations to come, and begin implementing the changes needed to address the concerns listed above.

It won’t always be comfortable for many of us to “change” and to embrace new ways of thinking and “doing” church, but it’s time to think bigger than today, bigger than “us” and consider our children, grandchildren and generations to come.

For more on these topics, check out the posts below and share your own thoughts in the comments


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