Watch and Learn: The Power of Observational Learning

There is something so beautiful about seeing a child worship God.  The enthusiasm of their praise, the purity of their worship – it’s enough to make a grown man cry…literally. Many times during the service, I’ve had someone interrupt my own worship to point out a child or family engaged in a precious moment with God.

A friend of mine posted this testimony regarding her own Sunday morning experience:

Received a blessing this morning at worship that also served as a sobering reminder for me. I was singing, praying, and raising my hands in gratitude to the One Who has delivered me from death, and generally not paying much attention to what was going on around me, when the lady sitting behind me grasped my shoulder and told me to look across the aisle.

One of our sweet children, no more than maybe 2 years old was on her mom’s hip, watching me and lifting her hands in praise like I was. It made me weep to see her learning worship from her church family. But it also reminded me to always be aware of how I conduct myself. You never know who is watching.

The idea of older people modeling behavior for younger ones isn’t a new one.  Also known as observational learning, this process helps us to see, internalize, and then act in the ways we have observed.

Developmental psychologists have long known that children learn by imitating adults and older children (Source). It’s one of the ways that we not only transmit knowledge but also culture and yes, faith.

study by an Australian team found that children will imitate adults even if the behavior doesn’t make sense such as opening a box with a stick instead of with their hands.  What the children saw modeled, they imitated in their own everyday life.

A study of teenagers and addiction found that “many parents turn to professionals thinking that when their teen hears about the dangers of drug use from someone else, they will be swayed, but the truth is that usually, it’s the parents’ behavior that have much more impact on a teen’s behavior.”  

watchingWhat our children see modeled, they will imitate, and what they imitate will create their framework for how life is “done.”

So, it begs the question, what behavior are we modeling when we consistently remove the children from the larger congregational worship experience?

Children don’t BELONG in “big” church

I can think of no stronger message that we send to children and youth when we consistently segregate them from corporate worship.  As I’ve stated many times before, I am not against times where youth and children are separate and spending time growing in ways that reach specifically to them, but I am opposed to ministry that exclusively keeps children and youth from interacting with the larger faith community in worship.

 I am convinced that there must be times of corporate worship where children can see adults, more specifically their parents, engaged in worship, growing, and fellowship with the whole congregation if we want them to learn (imitate) what it is to participate in the local body of Christ.

Children don’t have anything to GIVE to the larger church

When our attitude towards kids is to consistently segregate them away from the adults and keep them in their own space together (with a few volunteers), we are telling them that that are unnecessary to the functioning of the church.  That we adults don’t need them to grow in our faith.  That they are a distraction from what we are doing on Sunday morning.

But Christ sends a very different message – He tells us we MUST learn from them. He tells us that that the kingdom of God belongs to them (Mark 10:14), that by welcoming them we welcome Him and the Father (Luke 9:47, 48), that we should become like them (Matt. 18:3). How in the world can we do that if we never get to see them in praise and worship, in prayer and fellowship? How can we imitate them?

Children aren’t old enough (smart enough, mature enough) to UNDERSTAND God and church

Sunday school.  Ever thought about those words? It implies a place where you go to “get taught” about something.  We even call our volunteers “teachers” many times. How about Children’s Church?  Even this sends a message that this is a place for kids, not adults, but kids to “do church.”  But frankly, I have learned more from the kids in Children’s Church than I think they’ve learned from me.  They’ve taught me how to praise with abandon, to pray with great faith, and to love each other.  So many times I’ve thought, “Oh, how I wish the whole church could see this right now!”

Because children DO understand God and His love, often in ways we adults cannot grasp.  We don’t have to “dumb down” theology for them; they get it!  Yes, we do need to communicate it to them in ways they understand but they are definitely “smart enough” to know God and to participate in church.

Our children are imitating our behavior; our worship and our community and our prayers and our fellowship.

Let’s make sure we are modeling what we really want to be modeling.

Let’s make sure what we are teaching them is what we actually want to be teaching them.

As my friend shared, let us always be aware of how we are conducting ourselves. Because they are watching and learning… all the time.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

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One of “Those” Parents

Recently my husband and I have been working on tightening and/or enforcing some boundaries in our home in regard to internet and device use.  Our decision was precipitated by a myriad of concerns not the least of which was the influence that we recognize that the messages being perpetuated through certain media outlets was having on our home and children.

As we began to roll out these changes or doubled up on our enforcement of already established boundaries, you can imagine that we were met with a high degree of eye rolling, sighing, accusations of being “controlling” and ultimately the title of being “one of those parents.”

Out of curiosity and also a desire to know my tribe of “those parents” I posted a simple request on my Facebook wall:

“Having most recently been dubbed “one of those parents” for our overly stringent and utterly unbelievable boundaries we are enforcing regarding device and screen use in our home…I’d love to hear, if you are willing to share, the boundaries in place in your home. Particularly interested in hearing from parents with teens (think around 13 & 16). Also, if you have no boundaries, I’d love to know that since apparently we are the only parents who do 😉. Signed – One of those parents”

teenphoneThe response was overwhelming and encouraging. I heard from parents that ranged from more permissive to more restrictive. People shared with me their boundaries and the reasons why they were established. Not one person was exactly the same in their boundaries or their concerns, but all who participated in the discussion shared one thing in common: Every single parent was doing what they felt was best for their children out of the motivation of love.

It was tangible – we love our children so when we choose our boundaries, we are doing our very best to provide for them what they need to grow up healthy and whole. We may not all agree on what those boundaries are, but we do agree on why they are in place.

That being said, I wanted to share (anonymously) some of the comments so that if you are “one of those parents”, you will have the chance to know that you are not alone. 

“No screens in bedroom. Phone comes to me at 9pm. I use Circle to filter and to set time limits for online use. Under 2 hours total. I have full access and read everything.” (Circle is an internet-monitoring system that allows you to set Time Limits for apps and web site as well as age-appropriate Filters that apply to all devices.)

“We don’t have a set screen time limit but we do ask them to put them away if I feel like they have been on them too much. We also use software (Secure Teen) that limits content and shuts the Internet down from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. so they can’t really use their phones. We also monitor all their social media and check their photos.  Doors must be open and screen facing the door if Chromebooks are used their bedrooms.”

“No phone after 9pm. Safari and social media are disabled until academics are where we feel like they should be. We also do check texts/photos at random intervals, but are aware they can be deleted.”

Covenant Eyes not only monitors activity but the family admin can set restrictions/permissions. Also, a weekly report of activity is emailed to the admin for accountability. As far as the time limit – our kids are quite limited, not only in the amount of time they spend on devices (some on weekends, rarely during the week), but but they are limited in where they can go online. And no social media for them for years to come. It’s safer that way for so many reasons”

“Yes our 13 year old has a breakdown about once a week regarding how strict we are 🙄 We’ve used Circle for a couple years and also use the screen time limits built into iPhones.  Our kids are almost 9, 11 and 13. Up until now, basically no screens during the week (unless sick, snow day etc) we tried it several times and it didn’t work. They can text friends via Wi-Fi, no internet at all on their phones (which really operate as iPod touches). They all love audio books so they do that quite a bit on phones. There are games only on their iPads bc if they were on their phones we’d have to restrict them more. They have about an hour a day for texting/FaceTime. The older 2 only text friends. We also read all emails and texts and they aren’t allowed to communicate with anyone we don’t know.”

“We use Qustodio, which I think is similar to Circle and allows us to view all texts as well as web activity. It also allows us to set time limits. Speaking of web activity, we do not let our kiddos have that on their phones. We have a desktop in our living room, which we share for internet searching and which has a large, viable screen. We do not allow phones in rooms or bathrooms – only in common areas. We do not allow head phones in the house. We turn in phones at 8:00 pm.”

“I’m like the Outback Steakhouse… “No Rules, Just Right!” Lol! Seriously, though… I have to pick and choose my battles as a single mom of 4 teenagers. Not saying my kids don’t need boundaries, but they are very transparent with me and we keep a very open dialogue. I let them do their “teenage” thing, and I’m blessed enough to be trusted by them to always know where they are and what they’re doing, because they know they can trust me without judgement. In turn, they want to be home mostly, because it’s such a safe haven for them… and nowhere I’d rather them be by choice.”

“I am a strict parent about many things. For example, we expect that our children will keep their grades above a 94 (they are capable…any grade below this for a middle school or high school student is automatic forfeiture of electronic devices until overall grade is returned to a. 94) and they are actively involved in healthy activities (church youth group, church choir, band, orchestra, community service organizations, community theatre). My theory has always been to keep my children too busy to find trouble. Our oldest two children are both recent self-supporting college grads who have avoided making any major poor decisions so I think my parenting style is working for our family. All that being said, I do not monitor texts or emails or conversations that my high school or middle school daughters are having as I feel that they are entitled to some privacy. I would have been weirded out if my father would have recorded my phone calls as a teen and I feel like this is the method that most contemporary teens use to communicate. Obviously if I learned of an issue with bullying or inappropriate messages or pics, this policy would change. I do think that like everyone else teens deserve some privacy. I also think it is a time to learn how to conduct relationships. My oldest daughter at home is a senior. She will be going away to college in a few months. If I had read every single email and text and then one day sent her 500 miles away to live I would fear she would not know how to conduct relationships on her own. We have used Covenant Eyes to make sure everyone was on the up and up on what sites that they were visiting and we do limit screen time (though we are not as strict as many on this assuming that kids are being good citizens and students…and getting all work done).”

” We are in the phase of no boundaries. Our boys are a 22 year old FT college student who lives at home and a 17 year old. Our rule has always been that I can ask for the phone at any moment for a phone check, as well as have all passwords. I do them from time to time. But we live in a world where parents are bubble wrapping their kids – and as soon as they leave and the wrap is gone they don’t know how to function. We have always been open about talking etc. the only boundaries we set were no Snapchat, and I turned off their ability to down load apps – I had to do it this it had to be approved. Also no internet on their phones until age 15. The final rule, if your technology causes you to be a jerk or a recluse, you don’t need it and I won’t pay for it. This covered participation in family time.”

As you can see, there are many ways of approaching this issue in our homes. I hope that by reading through some of these, you will have a better idea of how to best approach the boundaries of your particular family. There were over 70 comments on my initial thread; I’ve only shared a few. That shows me just how much of an issue this is for us as parents, especially as we are the first generation of parents to navigate this with our children. My prayer is that with each decision we make, we feel the grace of God towards us and our children as we do our very best with the gifts He has entrusted us with.

If you would like to comment on your boundaries at home, please feel free to do so below. This is not a place, however, to critique or judge others for theirs and any disparaging comments will be deleted. We are all doing our best and relying on God’s grace. Let’s encourage one another instead!!


For more information about

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

About the author

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

 

NextGen and Discipleship: Whose Job Is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

This command wasn’t given to parents.

It was given to the community of faith.

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

So what does this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

You Can’t Just Put Kids In Church

I mean, you just can’t. Developmentally, kids aren’t ready to be in a worship service. They aren’t going to get anything out of it and they will just be a distraction to the adults.  Besides, they have their own classes that are geared toward their age that are a lot more fun and they get to be with their peers.

Oh, wait….that’s actually not what I meant. But this is exactly what I have heard many people say. And frankly, they have a point. Not because these reasons are correct but because most worship services in America are geared towards one target audience, one that falls somewhere between 25 and 65 and the outliers, those older than 65 and those younger than 25 are left on the fringes.  In that sense, those who believe kids shouldn’t be in worship service for the reasons above have some ground to stand on.

But in reality, there’s a fundamental understanding of church, community and culture that is missed in this approach.

If “putting kids in” a worship service means simply placing their bodies in a pew and expecting them to sit for an hour and then being confused when they are bored, or want to talk, or wiggle too much, or (fill in the blank), then we’ve missed what it means to welcome children in worship.

Developmentally, children aren’t ready to sit for an hour without engagement. Children need a “re-set” about every 10-15 minutes to regain their attention.  Changing positions (like standing to sing or going to the altar), hearing their name called (like having the pastor say, “Kids, listen up, this is for you”), being given something tactile to work with (like sermon notes or coloring sheets or even busy bags with quiet activities), or just having the chance to change their focus for just a few minutes.

Actually studies show that “When any human sits for longer than about 20 minutes, the physiology of the brain and body changes, robbing the brain of needed oxygen and glucose, or brain fuel. The brain essentially just falls asleep when we sit for too long. Movement and activity stimulate the neurons that fire in the brain. When we sit, those neurons aren’t firing.” (Source).

Children are not adults, but for some reason, when it comes to church, we expect them to be. We expect that what they “get out” of the service should be the same as what we as adults get out of the service. So we figure, if they can’t understand the sermon and don’t know how to sing the songs and really don’t get what’s going on with communion or prayer, then they aren’t getting anything out of being in church.

But I would offer that since kids are not adults, they get other things out of being in a worship service.

For one, they get to see. They get to see that they are part of something much bigger than themselves and their peers.

Second, they get to be seen.  Adults who don’t volunteer in children’s ministry rarely if ever get to see and interact with children and youth who are consistently separated from the congregation.

Third, they get to experience church. Even if they don’t “understand” it all, they get to have the opportunity to experience worship and liturgy and sacraments and Scripture like the Church has for centuries (More on this here).

microphone-1209816_1920

Because children learn through play, through movement, and through repetition, it is highly likely that they will in fact play, move, and repeat things throughout the service and yes, that can be distracting.

But there is a huge difference between being distracting and being a distraction.

Likewise, age-specific and age-appropriate classes are so important for developmental growth and for cognitive understanding. But that is just one part of our learning and growing process as disciples.

Being a disciple of Jesus means being a part of a community, a family, and it is just as essential for children and youth to have opportunities to interact and worship with their family, both physical and spiritual, as it is for them to have peer relationships and age-specific lessons. It’s a both/and, not an either/or. 

The reality is welcome is much more than just saying, “Sit here and be quiet.”  We would never “welcome” a guest to our home that way. When we want to welcome someone, we find out their needs, we create a space that allows for those needs to be met, and we engage with them in meaningful ways.

We can’t just sit children in a worship service and say, “Well, we tried it and it just doesn’t work.”  It takes intentional time, creativity, and work to ensure that the experience is one that is beneficial for all and not just for some. 

But the benefits or worshiping together and being with one another are so worth this hard work. Honestly, it’s good for everyone, old and young. We need each other. We were made for community (For more on this, check out all the amazing reasons for intergenerational worship here).

If your church is looking for ways to begin to welcome children and youth into corporate worship settings, it is a cultural journey not a program change or a scheduling adjustment. It does take time and education and a lot of grace. But there will be fruit, fruit that we may not see for years as our children are growing, but fruit that will be demonstrated as disciples are made.

I’d love to walk with you if you are beginning this journey!  Feel free to contact me here and share what God is stirring in  your heart. And be blessed; God meets us in His people, from the oldest to the youngest, so He is in this and He is excited about His church.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

The Question of Relevance, Discipleship and Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Creative repetition

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

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

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

Active participation

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

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

Consistent modeling

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

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

There’s no silver bullet for discipleship.

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

Why We Need To Be There

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

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

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

Which is why I have an Instagram account.

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

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

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

And I need to be there.

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

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

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

Be where your kids are. Be present and aware.

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

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

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

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

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


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Fan Into Flame: The gift of Firsthand Faith

Recently I’ve heard a number of sweet stories of kids experiencing God in their lives. I love that whenever kids have these experiences, parents seek me out to tell me about them. But I love even more that in each of the stories, the kids were having their own personal revelation of God and His love for them in ways that were unique to their story and to their life.

Because that is firsthand faith.

I heard that particular description yesterday during a chapel service at Asbury Theological Seminary. The speaker was the dean of chapel, Jessica LaGrone, and she shared about the relationship between Paul and Timothy through the lens of a pilot light.

She shared that growing up there was, in the basement of her grandparents beach house (more aptly described fishing shack, according to her) an old gas water heater. In order to get hot water in the house, one needed to travel to the dark, dingy corner where it was located and turn on the gas. But the gas always instantly turned to a huge flame with a “whoosh” because the pilot light was burning deep inside the seemingly dormant device.

She compared this to Paul’s conversation with Timothy where he tells him to “fan into flame” the pilot light that had been lit in him by his mother Lois and his grandmother Eunice. In describing this, she stated,

“Faith can be passed on to us, but it cannot be secondhand. We need firsthand faith.”

It’s the difference between indoctrination and influence.  The nuance between being dogmatic and being one who disciples, between forceful acceptance and faithful formation.

Generational discipleship, the passing on of our faith from one generation to another, is essential to who we are as the body of Christ. Just as Timothy’s mother and grandmother, and indeed, Paul and other believers, invested in him as a young man, so must we “light the pilot lights” of those who come behind us; our children, our friends’ children, young people in our faith community, our neighborhood, our world.

But we must also encourage them to “fan into flame” that light that has been lit within them. We don’t want to create secondhand Christians, that live only off of our experiences and convictions. We want them to burst into bright flame because of their own revelation of who God is and what He has for them.

And we don’t want that to be a once and done thing. We want them to grow and mature and experience the love and grace of God over and over again in their lives.

We want to inspire firsthand faith. 

Which means…

Our kids may not look like us. They may not act like us. They may not like the same worship styles that we do. They may not end up attending the same church as us or even remaining in the same tradition as we do. We may even disagree about some things as they grow up and mature and own their faith.

heart-1783918_1920But that pilot light, no matter how different or dormant their faith looks, can only be lit if we invest in discipleship, in the passing on of our faith.  If there is nothing to fan into flame, it is much less likely that they will find that firsthand faith.

It is for us, church, adult believers, grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, friends who are like family and friends who choose to be invested, the Pauls of this age; it is for us to light that flame. To demonstrate what firsthand faith looks like be living a life worthy of the calling we’ve received and fanning into flame the gift we have been given from those who came before us.

If the next generation is to have firsthand faith, we must light the pilot light. 

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:5-7)


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

Church, for Kids. Not Kids Church.

Imagine with me for a second what it would look like if you walked into church and the pews were filled with children and youth. In fact, imagine with me that it looked exactly like your church but switch the adults in your church to kids and the kids to adults. Imagine with me what that church would look like. What would it sound like? What would it feel like?

Well, you don’t have to imagine. You can actually visit this church.

Grace Kids Church is located in Louisville, Kentucky and they describe themselves as “a church devoted entirely to ministry for the unique spiritual, emotional, and practical needs of children and youth.” A quick trip to their website will reveal a schedule similar to most other churches; service on Sunday and Wednesday, Family Night on Friday, and even a pastoral staff. But what you will also find one consistent message:

We are here for children and youth and we are unabashed in our mission to reach the next generation.
CoreyandKids

Pastor Corey Nelson with some of the Grace Church congregants

I had the chance to talk to the pastor of Grace Kids, Corey Nelson, the other day and he
shared a bit about how Grace Kids came to be. When Corey was first asked to serve as pastor this a small United Methodist Church, just a couple of blocks away from the famous Churchill Downs race track, it was surrounded by a community who was not involved in any way with the church.

From the day he arrived, Corey was aware that while the church had a worship service the people in the community didn’t even know that the church even existed. He shared a story of meeting a group of kids in the parking lot one night and they shared that they really had nowhere else to go that was safe and drug-free. So on a whim, Corey told them to come back Friday and he would show a movie and serve popcorn and Koolaid. Thirty kids showed up. And they never stopped showing up.

No matter what the church did, the kids kept flooding the building. Corey was shocked at the number of children who had never truly heard the name of Jesus, having only experienced that name as a curse word. It became obvious to him what direction the church needed to go.   Currently Grace Kids Church has a roster of 200 kids, two pastors on staff, an administrative board to help them run rather like a non-profit and is a vibrant growing church. For most of the kids who attend, Corey can say with confidence he is likely the only positive male role model in their life.

 

I asked Corey what his advice would be to other churches regarding reaching the next generation. He shared the following:

We have done church the same way for so long that it can be hard to get older generations on board with the idea of intentionally investing in the youth. Consistent messaging is absolutely essential. Sometimes this move towards younger generations is not wanted. It takes strong leadership from the pulpit, a willingness to hurt some feelings, and a reminder that we are here to make disciples.

Many churches have come alongside to support Grace Kids through sending teams and supporting them financially. However, getting to this point has taken a great deal of time and long conversations. Corey hopes that people will begin to see the value in discipling kids and youth but recognizes that financial needs will always be a concern they will need to work around.

I was so inspired by my conversation with Corey. His obvious dedication to serving the next generation was compelling but even more was his description of their church.

He said that sometimes people think that church for kids means “adult church dumbed down for children.” But Corey says that is not at all what this church is. Their teaching is vibrant. Their worship is heartfelt. They are making disciples. They are just doing it in a way that reaches the rising generations.

Even if we aren’t ready to start a church for kids, perhaps we can learn from that one thing.

We don’t need to “dumb down” church for kids.

They are ready to know Christ. They are aching to be discipled. We can find ways to welcome them in, if we are willing to be a little uncomfortable and a little more open to their energy and excitement. I encourage you to head to the website, check out Grace Kids Church, and pray about how you can join Corey in his mission, both at his location and in yours.


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

 

“It Feels Like I Belong”

The other day I was speaking with my daughter (11 years old) about our neighbors. “I really like them,” she said. “Me too! Why do you like them?” I asked. “Because when I talk, they listen to me.” she replied.

It was an interesting response. From a mom’s perspective, I thought that we, her parents, did a pretty good job of listening when she talked and I never really felt like her voice went unheard, but obviously, these particular neighbors stood out to her as unusual. So I asked her about that. Her response was convicting.

“Well, yeah, other people listen but most adults only listen halfway. They don’t really care about what you are saying. They are just polite and listen because they have to. But (our neighbors) really listen. They ask questions and they laugh and they treat me like an adult. I like being heard. It feels good. It feels like I belong.”

Her words struck me. Over the past few years, as I’ve researched and written for this blog and for classes, one theme kept coming up over and over again in regards to why young adults left the church behind when they went to college – they didn’t feel like they belonged.  They felt like they belonged in children’s ministry when they were little. They felt like they belonged when they were in youth ministry as teenagers. But once they were in “big church” they felt out of place, disoriented, like strangers in a familiar place but one where they didn’t belong.

This feeling or sense of not belonging could stem from many things.

If the only experience that children or youth have within a church is in age-segregated ministries, then the sense of not belonging in “big church” makes sense.

If children and youth do not have the opportunity to meet and interact with the larger faith community or the chance to worship with or even have their name known by the adults in the congregation, that also makes sense.

But what if the kids have been in some way a part of the corporate gathering and what if their names are known by the congregation?  Could it be possible that what we are missing is their voice?

Is there a place in our faith community where our children and youth can talk and really be heard?

Is there a space for them to know that the person or persons they are talking to aren’t just listening to be polite but listening because they care?  ‘

Do they know that they belong?

These questions, while challenging, are fair to ask. After all, Jesus tells us that we should be learning from children (Mt. 18:1-5) and that we are to welcome children (Mk. 10:13-16) but often children, even if they are included in the corporate gathering, aren’t given a chance to speak. 
microphone-1804148_1920

Last Sunday at our church, we nearly ended our service without the children having a
chance to speak, until a member spoke up at the end of service and said, “Don’t forget to let the children tell us what they learned!”  And we did. And they loved it. And I was struck in that moment to realize that, however unintentionally, we had created a culture where the children were expected to have a voice, to belong.  I wish we could say we had done that intentionally, especially as I reflect on my daughter’s words of belonging, but I’m grateful that nevertheless it is an expected part of our church plant.

That being said, I’ve served in churches of various sizes and know that space, time, and the flow of service don’t always allow for these types of promptings. Here are some ways that larger churches may want to consider creating space for the voices of children and youth to be heard.

Display their work

Children love to show off their artwork. If you’ve ever gone to a parent night at school, you’ll find the hallways filled with examples of student work and if you go with your child, you will need to find theirs and let them talk about it.

What if in church, we created the same opportunity for conversation by displaying the kid’s artwork, not in the children’s ministry wing, but in the space frequented by the adults, thus opening the door for conversation between young and old?

Give them a voice

Churches are great at making committees. Come on, you know it’s true! What if each time a committee is created or established, a “youth” chair is automatically a part of the plan?  Create a space where older youth can sit and be a part of the discussions that guide the church. Let them know their voice is a needed part of church growth and development by giving them an actual voice in those areas.

Open the pulpit

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned have come from kids and youth. As children and youth pastors, we have the great privilege of hearing those stories, but often the other members of our congregation do not.

What if we intentionally invited those kids and youth who have stories to share the opportunity to share what they’ve learned with the larger congregation?  Even if it is something “we” already know? Peter tells us to “stir one another up by way of reminder” and who better to stir us up than the next generation?

Listen. Just listen

Ultimately, that was what made my daughter feel like she belonged. She felt heard. They listened. It was really that simple. If there is room for their voices, I believe the children and youth will speak. But that won’t do any good if we don’t listen. Truly listen with all that we have, not passively because we have to, but actively because we want to.

There’s no silver bullet for reversing the trend of young adults leaving the church, but there are lots of opportunities for us to improve. Listening to our children and making space for their voice to be heard could be one really big area. Let’s give them a voice. 


For more information about

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

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

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

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

It’s Old News: The Not New Fun Way to Do Church

I can’t tell you how many times a week I see posts from fellow kidmin and fammin leaders that say something like, “Looking for some new, upbeat songs for our kids” or “Need some new fun and energetic songs for children’s church.”  I smile a little because my daughter (11) has been going to a local camp for the past year and always comes home singing the songs she’s learned there (and now loves) and they are the same exact songs I was singing when I went to camp at her age.  New, fun, energetic – nothing wrong with any of that – but sometimes I wonder if we are looking for the right answer in the wrong places.

Often the reason given for needing or wanting these new things is that the old things are no longer engaging the children. The kids aren’t excited to come to church, they don’t want to stand up to sing, they are bored with the format, they want something new.  There’s always a ton of really great suggestions and resources, again often ministries that I would recommend, but I’m always curious about what happens next.

When the newer, funner, more energetic songs get introduced into the group, is there a change?  Do the kids begin to participate more?  Are they excited to come to church? Is boredom still an issue?  But even further down the road, does it help to create a generation of disciples that continue in their faith even into adulthood and parenthood and grandparenthood?

Wow, that escalated quickly!  I mean, that’s a whole lot to pin on some new music.

Indeed it is. It’s a lot to pin on a new curriculum too. Or a new building. Or a new children’s pastor. Or a new fill-in-the-blank.   It’s an awful lot to pin on any of those things.

But churches do that all the time. I’ve done it. I’ve fallen for the “if we just get this thing or do that thing, then we’ll have the results we want” routine. Too often that’s the very direction we turn to for solutions. As parents, it can become easy to look for the next book or strategy or food or gadget that will help our children be all that they can be. As ministers, it can be come just as easy to look for the next resource or conference or gimmick or strategy that can help our ministry become all it can be.

But all of those things, while fine and good, cannot on their own produce the legacy of faith that we call discipleship.

They cannot create disciples. 

Only disciples can create disciples.

We need each other.  We need relationships. We need community.

It’s not even that we need it; it’s that we were created for it. Innate in each of us is this reflection of the image of a Triune God who exists in perfect unity and community. We were made in His likeness and therefore we can only be complete in community as well.

together-2450090_1920

Now, some new music, coupled with mentors dedicated to walking alongside a young person in the faith as they grow..that… that has some real possibilities. 

A new building and some dedicated volunteers who spend time not only in the church but outside of it, building relationships with the youth at soccer games and ballet recitals.. that has some promise. 

A new curriculum plus parents who are sold out to the idea that they are the greatest influence on their kids so they start the conversation ahead of time and follow up at home… that holds some solid hope for the future. 

A new children’s pastor and a faith community that is committed to ensuring that every person, regardless of age, knows they are welcomed, needed, and an integral part of the church… I mean, that, that could change the world.

In fact, if we had all of the latter and none of the former, I just bet we’d see more kids excited about church…and more adults too.

You see, it really is old news. We were made for one another.

New things are nice, even good, but without each other, they just can’t bring about the change we desire.

What if before we looked for something new, we took the time to strengthen the things that already are?  What if we intentionally removed the barriers that keep us apart and begin to find ways to discover God together?  It’s definitely more work than just adding a new thing, but my guess is the results would be much longer-lasting and much more along the lines of what we really desire for the next generation that we are ministering to.


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 and  Seedbed