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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 and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and

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