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What Are We Passing On?

I was once with a friend who was going through some items she had been given by another family member. The boxes were labeled “Pass On” and inside were items that had been passed from one family member to another throughout time.

Some of the items were very special; a birth announcement, pictures of family members, medallions for bravery and the like. Others were, well, for lack of a better term, junk. Doilies that had been chewed by moths, musty blankets, and even some old socks had made it into the mix.

Because no one had truly taken the time in years to go through what was being passed down, my friend got it all; the good, the bad, and the stinky. Together we went through the box and decided what was good to keep and eventually pass on to her own children and what needed to passed by and just thrown away. Some things were easy to classify; some she questioned and even said, “I’m gonna hold on to it for now but they may choose to get rid of it in the future.”

The “Passing On” of things from one generation to another doesn’t happen just in families and it isn’t just trinkets and treasures. In fact, some of the greatest things we pass on aren’t tangible.

We pass on stories and values, faith and virtues, traditions and memories. We pass these on as we sit around dinner tables and tell bedtime stories, as we gear up for family reunions and celebrate holidays. All of this familial culture is given to us and many of us, as we grow older, unbox them and go through them, determining what still has value and what needs to be gotten rid of.

And, this same thing happens in our society. Our community and our country offer us many of the same identifying legacies. We have certain holidays that we celebrate in certain ways. We know the names of certain leaders and accept both truth and myth about who they are and what they stood for.

We have a whole system of culture and understanding passed to us from the generations who came before us. And over time, those things have been dug through, some discarded and others modified, all the while passing the box down.

In churches, we call this “passing on” of our faith, generational discipleship. The faith we’ve been given by God was intended to be shared one generation to another and not neglected (Judges 2:10, Ps. 145:4, Dt. 6:4-9, 2 Tim. 1:5).

On some occasions, we see the intersection of all three: Home, Church, Country. May I be so bold to say that I believe that is happening right now?

As we look at our country and we see what is happening in the realms of systemic racism, social injustice, and cultural violence, it is apparent that home, church, and national “boxes” are all being dug through and reviewed by current generations to determine the value of what we’ve been given.

I’ve seen a number of responses taking place among the many voices I’ve been listening to over this time.

  1. Passing on the Box – One response is simply to accept and pass on the box of whatever we’ve been given and move on.
  2. Unpacking the Box – Another response has been to unpack the box and look at the items there. Sometimes those items are gone through and discussed, sometimes they are just looked at and then boxed back up.
  3. Discerning the Box – For some who unpack the box, there is an effort made to discern if what has been given is worth keeping to pass on to future generations or if it needs to be modified/corrected or just thrown out.
  4. Ignoring the Box – Another response is to just say, “There is no box” and continue to move through life uncritically without acknowledging that life has been shaped by centuries of generational passing on.

My biggest concern as I’ve listened to many voices over the last few weeks are those who are either ignoring the box or passing on the box without taking the time to unpack the box and see what is there or, even better, discerning if the box needs some serious change.

When we talk about institutional racism, systemic bias and prejudice, and cultural assumptions and stereotypes, the only response that is worthy of us as followers of the Way, the Truth, and the Life is number 3 – Discerning the Box. As the Church, we need to faithfully and humbly we willing to look at the lenses that have been passed on to us and sit in the uncomfortable place of determining if legacies and systems we’ve been given should be given to our children.

Maybe it’s time to pass on some new things.

Maybe we need to be honest about some of the musty blankets and the moth-eaten doilies that have filled our history, traditions, and stories.

Maybe instead of letting our children shoulder the weight of whether or not to get rid of something, we decide now to stand against all systems that perpetuate racism, violence, oppression, and hate, even if we don’t totally understand all of these things or fully comprehend how our legacy has been impacted after 400 years of history.

If we are unwilling to even begin to unpack our boxes, in our homes, in our churches and in our nation, then this unrest that has defined our country, and indeed the world, over the last few weeks will be for naught and we will have simply passed the box to our children and youth.

Let’s open it up.

Let’s unpack it. Let’s listen. Let’s hear. Let’s discern. Let’s change.

If there was ever a time for generational discipleship to rise up in our churches, it is now. May we humbly be willing to let the Holy Spirit discern our hearts and may what we pass on be only those things that bring Him glory and honor both in the world and in our homes.

“At the nexus of righteousness and justice, transformation takes place.”

Rev. Jo Anne Lyons, General Superintendent Emerita and Ambassador of The Wesleyan Church

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About this Blog
The Embree Family

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. She also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.

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 Seedbed

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