“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

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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

When Church is “Boring”

Brutal honesty time.

Sometimes, my kids think church is “boring.”

My middle child has definitely fallen asleep on her dad’s lap right in the middle of a 9:30 service.  My oldest has made the most amazing doodles you’ve ever seen during service times and, when he was little, if I could get my youngest to make it through any portion of a service, he spent most of his time touching everything he can get his hands on like hymnals, bulletins, random stranger’s hair…

So, why in the world do I make such a big deal about having kids in worship?

Obviously they are bored.  Obviously I am forcing them to do something that they don’t like and probably scarring them for life when it comes to attending services.

Wouldn’t it be better for them to be somewhere else, like with other kids in a different room, where they can have fun and want to come to church?

There’s a lot to unpack in those questions, more than one blog post can cover.  A lot of underlying assumptions about why we go to church and what church is supposed to look like and how kids are wired and all that stuff, but I’m just going to tell you my simple reason for why I want my kids participating in worship.

Because they are members of the body of Christ.

It’s simple really.  They have each made declarations of faith, appropriate to their age and understanding, that they love God and want to follow Him.

They are part of the church.  The church needs them.  And they need church.

Okay, you thought I was brutally honest above… check this out.

Sometimes, I think church is boring.  Hey now, so do you!!  Be honest, sometimes we have a really hard time engaging, in some cases, staying awake.  We wish we could curl up on our daddy’s lap and grab a quick cat nap during the sermon.

But most adults I know, especially adults that are desiring to grow in their faith and active in their walk with Christ, would not use the fact that church is “boring” to dissuade them from attending.

Because that’s not why we go to church.

We don’t go to church for an adrenaline rush.  We don’t go to church to be entertained.  We don’t go to church for goosebumps and thrills and chills.  I’m not saying there aren’t times when we have amazing moments where those things might happen, but that is not WHY we go to church.

And that is not WHY my kids go to church.  Sure, I do my best to engage them with the service.  And we continue to explore more ways to welcome and invite kids and youth into active participation in the service.

But even if we do it all perfectly, chances are, there are going to be days where church is boring.  And that’s okay.  Because there are days when school is boring, and home is boring, and life is boring.

If we are never bored, if we are constantly entertained and distracted, how are we ever going to find time to “be still and know that He is God?”

boredkidIf you are concerned with bringing your child into worship because you are afraid that he/she will be bored, don’t be.  Being bored is not the worst thing in the world.  But here are some great suggestions for how you can engage with your child during the service so that being bored and being left out don’t have to be the same.

Kids don’t just have to sit and tolerate services.  They can be invited into the experience and my guess is, if we engage with them during service time, we may just find out that we too get more from the service. (BTW, these ideas were inspired from an insert from Christ Church Parish in Raleigh, NC and a pew card that we use at my church)

  • Sit towards the front where it is easier for your little ones to see and hear what is going on. They tire of looking at the backs of others’ heads.
  • Quietly explain parts of the service and actions of the ministers and whisper the sermon to them in words they can understand.
  • Sing the hymns/songs, pray and voice the responses because children learn the liturgy by watching you!
  • If you have to leave the service, feel free to do so but feel free to come back as well!
  • Let your kids doodle and color in church.  Often when their hands are busy, their minds are engaged with the service more than you realize.

So many times I have parents tell me, “I didn’t think my child was listening to the sermon at all but then later, he said something almost word-for-word that the pastor had shared!”

Kids are a lot more perceptive than we give them credit for.

They are learning all. the. time.  They are watching you, listening to you, and imitating you.

The next time your child says, “I don’t want to go to church.  It’s boring!!” and they will because they are kids, give them a hug and say, “I know it can be boring sometimes, but that’s not why we go to church.  We go to church because we are part of the body of Christ. And you are an important part of Christ’s body.  If you aren’t there, a piece is missing.  Who knows?  God might use you today to encourage someone who is sad, to teach someone who is needing to learn, to love someone who needs to be loved.  God might even speak to YOU if you listen closely.  You are special to God and to us, and we need you there!”

And, as needed, remind yourself of that truth as well.


A version of this post first appeared on this website 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 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

How Can We Nicely Kick Kids Out of Church?

A few weeks ago, I shared a post about a card a church had given out inviting parents who brought their kids to “enjoy the remainder of the service” in the lobby so others could “engage with the sermon.”  This past week, another children’s ministry group I am a part of had a similar conversation regarding if a church is large and streaming on-line,  what card they  should hand out to parents if kids are loud in the main service.

Apparently this is a new thing?  I had not heard of this practice of handing parents cards to invite them to leave the service until recently, but twice in one month made me decide to some digging.  What I found was disheartening, at least for me.

I found stories of parents being told that children younger than seventh grade were not “allowed” in the main auditorium (Source).

I found articles by leading people in the children’s ministry world listing the reasons why children should not be in the corporate worship service (Source).

I found articles written by pastors describing why their church chooses not to welcome or even allow children to congregational worship times (Source).

I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea.

I’d love to say that this information was new to me, but it’s not. But, like all of us, I get into my little bubble, my echo chamber, and I wanted to think that since I first was made aware of these types of policies and actions, that things had changed.

I wanted to believe that over the past decade as more and more research has emerged about the absolute importance of intergenerational relationships and shared space for prayer and worship and creating a sense of belonging for all generations to the larger church body has come out, that churches would have examined these practices and worked to transition out of them.

I wanted to think that the examples of Scripture, of Jesus welcoming children and rebuking the disciples for turning them away, of Paul addressing children in letters that would be read in the general assembly, of all the Old Testament times of gathering where all of Israel was present, had been prayerfully considered and embraced by the American church.

And I had hoped that as a community of faith, we would have recognized that the very continuation of our faith is dependent on generational discipleship, not a curriculum or a program, but one generation passing on their faith to another generation through times of mentoring, prayer and communal worship.

Instead, I found this question being asked:

“How can we nicely invite the children to leave?”

suitcase-1412996_1920Oh Church, what is happening?

Even if a church is not actively working to create a culture of welcome and participation that doesn’t target their communal worship to one or two generations but actively seeks to minister to the full body as one congregation…even if that is not happening…actively working to bar children from being in the congregational assembly with their parents and their church seems unbelievably counterintuitive to a faith that is literally passed down from generation to generation.

But we have an amazing children’s program?

Great, that’s wonderful. Children need times of age-specific ministry and teaching that is appropriate to their level of understanding. But they also need meaningful time with their church, hearing the words of the sermon, watching the adults worship God, participating in the acts of worship, and being present in the midst of the assembly. One does not negate the other.  To sacrifice one for the other is not an answer; it’s just a new problem.

But kids are a distraction?

First, that saying needs fixed. Kids are not a distraction; they can sometimes be distracting. As Dr. John Trainer has said, ““Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” And, so what if there is a distraction during the service?  That’s part of life. Distractions come in many shapes and forms and not all of them children. Are we going to remove anyone and everything that causes distraction? Of course not, but we will ask the children to leave.

But this is the way we’ve always done it? 

No, it’s not. This idea of removing children from the corporate worship service and splitting everyone up in the church by their age or life experience is not the way we’ve always done it. In fact, it’s relatively new in the life of the church (think 50-70 years old).  For generations and generations, faith was a shared experience of all ages.

But it works for our church?

Okay, I get that. It is the easiest way for a church to operate. Curriculum is made for age-specific ministries. Services are geared towards adults between 25-65. It’s all set up in our systems and cultures to “work” this way.

But here’s the thing.

What works in our “church” may not be what works for the Church.  The kingdom of heaven, according to Jesus, belongs to “ones like these”, the children. In fact, Jesus says, “Truly unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

There simply has to be more. There has to be a place for the little ones to come.  And not “come” to a place where nearly everyone looks like them, but come to a place where they are part of something bigger and they can belong to a faith community.

If there isn’t room for them in our little corner of the Church, there will be room for them somewhere else. They will find somewhere to belong.

And at least our invitation for them to leave will have been kindly worded and printed nicely on a card.


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

Why Do We Gather?

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42

That word, fellowship, is an interesting one.  The word in Greek is “koininia” which literally means “come together.”  In the Christian community, it means a little bit more than just to being together in one place. It means to come together as a unique community with one another with Christ at the center.

Why though?  Why do we gather together?

Perhaps the answer to that question goes back a lot further than just the book of Acts.  Perhaps it goes all the way back to our creation. In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us” (NLT).

The “our” in that statement refers back to the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   Think about that for a minute; this is how we were created – in the image of God. God put his hands on us. Everything else in the Genesis account was spoken into being but humanity was formed, touched by God, and then breathed into by Him.  All humankind that followed were knitted by  God in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139. )image_67164417

We all bear God’s fingerprints.

If we look up the words formed and knitted and translate them literally we find out that we were squeezed into shape, spread out and joined together, then breathed into by the Triune God. It’s as though humanity were a divine, hands on, interactive, group project to reflect God’s image in the world.

We were created in community for community.

Our souls look for it. Community has its root in the idea of common identity.  It’s not a “Christian” thing; it’s a humanity thing. We crave this idea of being together.  Just look the weekend – how many gathered this weekend for something we’ve created called “football?”  Sports, clubs, politics, interest groups, book clubs, and parties are all examples of ways we gather.

No one is forcing us together but something innate within us draws us to be with other human beings.  Psychology Today puts it this way: “Every single one of us craves the feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves. By nature, we are tribal”

Early Christians recognized the power of community and created opportunities for the faith community to experience God together.  Corporate spiritual disciplines such as common prayers, liturgies, and celebrations were incorporated into Christians living, not as prescriptions or required religious activities, but as ways to experience community. Much like a sports team will have a fight song and a cheer so that the crowd gathers in one voice or fans of a musical will learn the songs and sing them together, there’s a unique feeling of belonging found in joining together in these spiritual disciplines and practices.

What is really incredible about the Christian experience of community, or koininia, is that what we gather around isn’t specialized to any age group, life experience, or special interest. We gather around Christ.  Jesus says in Matthew 18:20 that where two or three are gathered as his followers, he is present with them (NLT).

There’s no limitation to that promise!

There’s no specified location or special practice that needs to take place. There is nothing needed than for two or three people who claim the name of Christ, who are Christ-followers or Christians, to be together.

No age limits.

No life experience limits.

No special interests.

Just Jesus.

Any limits placed on our Christian community come not from God but from us.

Think about that for a minute.  The opportunity to gather, to come together with God and with each other has no limit except for that which we impose. 

We were created with an innate desire to be in community. Our children need community. Our elderly need community. Our middle-aged empty nesters need community. Our young and tired parents need community.

As the church, let’s do our best to create space for this coming together without limitations to experience Christ in our midst. Maybe we employ some of those spiritual disciplines that the early church has given us. Maybe we gather together for times of worship and prayer. Maybe we join together to serve one another or our community.

But regardless of the method, we gather… and He will gather with us. 


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.

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.

“Please Enjoy the Remainder of the Service in Our Lobby”

Last week, Christian comedian John Crist posted a picture on his Instagram account that he had been tagged in. It was a card that someone had been handed at a church they recently visited that said,

“Thank you for being committed to being in church with your child. In order to allow those seated near you to engage in the message, please enjoy the remainder of the service in our lobby…A Connection Team Member will assist you.” 

lobbyA full thread of comments ranging from the sad and angry to the agreeable and affirming filled in below the image.  If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know which response best fit me, suffice it to say, I was saddened that this particular church had decided to address the topic of having children in the service with a blanket “No.”

As an advocate for a both/and approach to youth and children’s ministry, one that acknowledges the need for age appropriate teachings and activities but also the need for corporate times of worship and relationships, I can see merits on both sides of this issue.

But I think that it’s also important to address assumptions that are not based in facts but in one’s own experience or surface observation. So much of what influences us, shapes us, molds us and forms us doesn’t come in obvious ways, but in consistent and silent messages that tell us who we are, what we mean, and why where are here.

The subtext of the card above matters for these very reasons.

This card very clearly says that there are some people who are welcome in the corporate assembly and some people who are not.

This card lets parents know that they are not welcome to have their child attend service with them.

This card lets children know that there’s no place for them in the corporate gathering of the congregation.

It also lets children and their parents know that they are expected to be a distracting detriment to the service and that their proper place is outside the doors, not inside.

And these messages matter… a lot.

Because regardless of what one thinks about children and youth being included in the corporate assembly, we can’t deny the fact that when we read the stories of those who have chosen to leave the institutional church and in some cases their faith, these are the messages they heard and they repeat back as part of their reason for leaving.

A quick internet search will show you that some of the biggest reasons that people leave the church is because they express doubts, have questions but are given pat answers, don’t have a relationship with the church, and feel lonely and distant from God.  (A brief reminder here – the church IS the body of Christ; we are literally “God” to the world and to each other in the world today, so if distance is felt, that is very much on us.)

One of the most common complaints I hear about including children and youth in the corporate gathering is that they don’t get anything out of it. People will share their own stories about how church was so boring and all they did was waste time coloring or crawling around the pews.

My first response to them is, “But look, you remember. You remember being in church. You remember seeing the people and hearing the voices and watching the way the service unfolded. It’s part of your forever memory.” 

And that’s part of the bigger picture. Children remember.

So what if we used that time when they are in church to do something more; to connect to that memory in meaningful ways? Rather than leaving them with negative impressions, why don’t we work to ensure positive ones? Sure, there will be some “boring” moments, but what if they also remember…

…that lady who always asked me how school was going and came to my tee ball games

…that man who always had the lollipop that he gave to mom for me and told me how glad he was to see me

…that young adult who sat with me and colored every week and helped me to memorize the Bible verse

…my mom holding me and letting me lay my head in her lap as we listened to the sermon

…my pastor who always told a story or mentioned the kids at least once in the sermon so we understood what was going on.

…that older lady who always told me every week that she loved me and was praying for me

You see, children remember LOVE.

kidsinchurchThis is integral to their growing up years. How they perceive love and how they see love acted out around them speaks volumes. In an article by Psychology Today, we (adults) are reminded to “be creating moments with our children that will reinforce their connection of love with us, but also encouraging and modeling the moral mindset towards love one ought to have.” 

What better place to do that than at church?  And what better place than with the full congregation, all ages and generations, modeling love?

This should not only be the message of our subtext, it should be our overt, out loud, very explicit message – You are loved and you are welcome! When we reduce our corporate gatherings to a sermon or to a worship time or to a service, we miss the much bigger picture. Our corporate assembly is when we have the opportunity to be Jesus to each other, to show love to each other, to sit and stand with each other, to hug each other and to hear each other. And those things are remembered. Love is etched on our hearts.

So what brings people back to church?

In his article, Four Reasons I Came Back to Church, Christian Piatt gives four reasons: Community, having a voice, finding deeper meaning and a sense of belonging. The subtext of these reasons is simple to deduce:  I was welcomed to be part of something bigger, something meaningful, somewhere where I was truly wanted and my voice was valued and I knew I belonged. 

We can send that message now. We don’t have to wait for them to leave and hopefully come back.  And we don’t have to write it on a card; we can live it through our lives.

We can welcome our children.


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, ChurchLea

Discipleship at Home: The Sacred in the Ordinary

“Discipleship in the home”

For some, these words bring a sense of affirmation and anticipation; a hearty “Amen” in the heart. For others, the reaction to hearing these words can be quite different. One of the things I noticed when I started to work with parents in the area of discipleship was an oft-expressed sense of inadequacy. Why? Well, because often the parents I talk to didn’t experience “discipleship in the home” growing up; rather their experience learning about God and faith was isolated to their Sunday school or church service.

This experience of a compartmentalized lifestyle separates home life from church life from school life from work life and so on and can create an environment in many homes, even Christian homes, that is devoid of faith practices and spiritual conversations.

And many parents feel overwhelmed and a little scared to begin introducing these spiritual elements into the rhythm of their home.

But perhaps the answer to helping parents navigate these waters lies less in experience and even in equipping and more in a framework changes; a change that removes the separation of spiritual from secular and begins to explore life as one holistic experience rather than segmented ones.

In his book, Ancient-Future Faith, Robert Webber says, “We must learn, then, not to HAVE a spirituality, something we turn on at a particular place or time, but to BE spiritual, as a habit of life, a continuous state of being. It is to this end that we seek after God in the stillness and hubbub of life, but always and everywhere in and through the church, where Christ is made present to us and, through us, to the world.”

In other words, our spiritual life and our secular life aren’t separate but rather two parts of one whole simply called “life.”  Which means whether we are at our job or at home or at the ball game or in the car, we are still very much spiritual and attune to spiritual things.

So, what does all of this have to do with parenting, discipleship, and the home?

Those parents who feel so overwhelmed often feel that way because “churchy things” like talking about God, reading the Bible, and praying, are things they’ve only experienced in a building we call “church.”  Their sacred life and their secular life are strongly compartmentalized and allowing the two to intermingle is a foreign concept to them.

This compartmentalization of life is almost like a toddlers’ food plate, where each item gets its own little compartment and nary the foods shall touch.  But the thing about our faith is that it wasn’t ever meant to be left in one compartment. Rather it was intended to be the plate upon which all of the other things find their meaning and stability.

I remember when this all clicked for me. It was an “aha” moment like no other that culminated in this thought:

Discipleship at home is not about adding more to my already full schedule.

It is about inviting Christ into what I am already doing.

parents-and-children-1794951_1920Making disciples, according to the Great Commission, is something we do “as we go” (Matthew 28:16-20).  It’s something that should be as natural as eating and sleeping and coming and going. In fact when Moses told the people of Israel how to pass on their faith to the next generation, he tells them to do it “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:7).  These are the most ordinary, mundane, everyday times that all people on earth experience daily and it is in these moments that we are told to pass on our faith.

Because Christ, being fully human and fully God, can transform the most ordinary things into the most sacred because for him, there is no division; it is all “life.”

Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk wrote a book called The Practice of the Presence of God, where he encouraged Christians to live each day in the experience of God’s presence no matter what they are doing. He shares that “our sanctification [does] not depend on changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake that which we commonly do for our own”.   Inviting Christ into what we are already doing changes them from mundane to beautiful, ordinary to extraordinary, temporal to sacred; it brings our life as a disciple, harmony.

And that is “discipleship in the home.”

It’s truly not about doing more. It’s about experiencing Christ in all that we do.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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