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Jeremy Steele

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This imagery of the armor of God is powerful not just because of its easy translation into flannel graph, but it invites us into prayer through its imaginative approach to Biblical themes. This prayer activity helps students think creatively about how they might pray about the issues it raises.

Before class get a piece of butter paper and have a student draw a life-sized outline of a body. Think through which parts of the body would be labeled with each piece of the armor of God, and pre-draw a line, but do not label the area. Once you are finished, tape the paper to the wall.

  • Begin by asking students to read Ephesians 6:10-20
  • Then, ask them students to look through the scripture and fill in the labels on the drawing.
  • Point out that the passage doesn’t end with the armor, but with prayer and tell students that you are going to spend time writing prayers for each element.
  • Challenge them to write a prayer that includes something about the faith idea (salvation) and the part of the body or the part of armor (helmet/head).  They might say something like “Please help redeem my thoughts and make them be like the new me instead of the old me.”
  • Give each student several post-it notes and invite them to write one short prayer for each piece of armor that will fit on a single post it.  When they finish each prayer, they can go stick it on the part of the body outline labeled for that piece of armor.
  • Close your group by praying several of those prayers out loud.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is a major theme in the New Testament.  This is a highly visual metaphor that people see a lot, yet don’t reflect on how it can help us understand what God asks of us when we open ourselves up to being filled with the Holy Spirit.  

Have two large mason jars.  Leave one empty, and in another put something that can float that is smaller than the opening at the top (a small rubber duck works great).  

Start by pouring water from a pitcher into the completely empty jar until the jar is full but not overflowing.  Then ask each student to hypothesize how many drops of water it will take to make the jar overflow. After everyone offers their guess, pass an eye dropper around the room allowing each student to add a single drop to the jar until it overflows.  Then, repeat this process with the other jar.

Read Ephesians 5:15-20

Debrief with these questions:

  • What about the empty jar seemed to echo the scripture we just read?  
  • How can it relate to being filled with the Holy Spirit?  
  • How can it relate to giving thanks at all times?
  •  Now think about the jar with the [rubber duck] in it.  What might that [rubber duck} symbolize?  
  • What does that make you think of when you think about this scripture’s call to be careful how you live?

Imitating people as if you are standing in a mirror is difficult because you have to pay close attention to even the smallest changes in their body language and try to predict what they are going to do.  This game helps students experience the act of actively imitating someone else to give them an experiential pathway into understanding what the Bilbe means when it calls us to Imitate God in Ephesians 5:1-2.

Before you begin pair students up and have them act like they are each other’s mirror. One person should be the “real” person, and the other person should be the “mirror” that is trying to copy.  Give them a minute or so to get used to the idea.

  • Once they have practiced, have students stand in a single file line facing front to back.  
  • When you say go, the first person will become the “real” turn around and face the person behind them who will be the “mirror.”  
  • The pair will mirror each other while they count slowly to five.   Once they reach five, the “mirror” will become the “real”  person and turn around to face the person behind them.  When that happens the first real person will go to the back of the line.
  • The new pair will continue counting at six and make the next swap at ten.
  • This will continue until someone makes a big mistake at which point the counting restarts at one, the “real” person goes to the back of the line, and the “mirror” becomes “real and turns around.
  • The goal is to have an unbroken chain of “mirrors” for as long as possible.

Questions for reflection:

Read Ephesians 5:1-2

  • How difficult was it to mirror someone like this?
  • What made it easier or harder?
  • What is difficult about imitating God?
  • What can make it easier or harder?
  • What could you change about this activity to make it easier (like choreograph movements ahead of time)? How does that relate to imitating God (we can know some of God’s moves by studying the Bible)?

The body metaphors in the fourth chapter of Ephesians abound, but in verse 16 it gets really specific saying “The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments.”  To explore this metaphor we are going to make an articulated “robotic” hand complete with tendons.  Instead of spending a couple thousand on servos and carbon-fiber bones, we are going to use the basic concepts drawn from human anatomy using straws and basic craft supplies. It may sound complicated, but it can be incredibly simple.  Though this is a lot of fun, its probably best for students to work in groups of two or three.  Here;’s how to create the hand step-by step.  

  1. Have students begin by tracing their hand and some of their arm onto craft foam or construction paper and cutting it out.  Once they are done give.  
  2. Then tell them to cut the straws.  They are going to need five two inch pieces and fourteen pieces that are less than an inch long.
  3. Now have them not glue the straw  pieces to the hand.  The long pieces are the bones in the hand, and the shorter pieces are the finger bones.  The key to making this work is leaving spaces between all the bones.
  4. While the hot glue dries, tell students to cut five pieces of twine to 1.5-2feet in length.  
  5. Each hand/finger set of bones should have a piece of twine threaded through it from beginning to end.  Once finished, a piece of twine  should be hanging out the ends of each finger and the long straws at the end.  
  6. Now tie a large bead (bigger than the opening of the straw) to each end of the twine.
  7. Your hand is complete.  You should be able to pull on the string and see how it makes the fingers move.

Questions for reflection on Ephesians 4:14-16

  • How does seeing this metaphor in real life help you understand the metaphor in the Bible?
  • How do the muscles/tendons in this hold the hand together?  
  • What does this say about “building each other up with love?”
  • How can you act like this in your world?  How can you be part of the ‘ligaments’ in the Body of Christ?

Required Materials (per hand):

  • 1 sheet of construction paper or craft foam
  • 5 straws 
  • 10(fish) feet of twine
  • 20 beads
  • Hot glue and glue gun

Immigration is an issue that is repeatedly in the news in our current moment in American history. From headlines about travel bans to children being separated from their families as they try to migrate to America, our students are inundated with opinions on this topic. But the perspectives we offer on this issue go deeper than any politician’s rhetoric or even any current crisis.  It reaches deep into our sacred history and calls us to consider it in both practical and spiritual terms.  That is why we are excited to be able to distribute a digital version of Welcoming the Stranger  by Cindy Click.  

Here’s how  Welcoming the Stranger describes its purpose:

The goal of Welcoming the Stranger:A Youth Study on Migration is to offer youth ages 12 through 19 a Christian perspective on migration, emigration and immigration and our faithful responsibility to treat all people well. This study, written for leaders, will engage youth in the movement of people to new locations throughout history. Contexts of the study of migration, emigration and immigration include the Bible, ancient and modern history and the present.

Most students have either moved or have been affected by someone else’s relocation; most can trace their family tree to ancescors who were immigrants from another country to the United States. Youth today live in an information- saturated world in which conflict and hostility arise over the immigration status of people in their schools, neighborhoods and cities. They will learn to listen, study and develop their own perspectives rather than simply adopt the views of others.

Welcoming the Stranger has leaders guides to offer up to ten hours of programming around the issue.  This resource first published by United Methodist Women is a powerful tool to help you dive into this profound issue with your students.  We are proud to partner with them to offer it to you in downloadable form to use in your groups for free.

Welcoming the Stranger Youth Study.

We have reached the middle of the summer and you still have another trip or two, a fun day at the pool or beach and a handful of Sunday schools before we reach the end of the summer.  That would be fine and seem almost possible except that you’ve had at least one parent call the senior pastor, had to make a report of suspected abuse because of something a kid confessed to their small group leader, and you have an email you have to return about the state of the church van after your last youth trip.

Lesser youth workers would start working on their resumes.  They would fly off the handle and make rookie mistakes in handling frustrated parents and staff, but you aren’t going to.  You are going to make it through because you are going to remember three things to help you make it to the end of the summer.

1. You don’t ultimately answer to the church.

Yes, you answer to the church in terms of your paycheck, but ministry is an act of service to God.  Keeping that in mind helps you put all the rest in perspective.  Did you leave the van a mess?  Yes.  But is it an eternal problem?  No.  It’s not a big deal on the cosmic no matter what the maintenance staff person says.  They are coming at you talking in overblown terms, but when you remember that you are ultimately answering to God, your perspective can allow you to not respond with the level of anger that they are using.  That perspective will allow you to send a simple apology and say you’ll make sure to sweep next time.  Because sweeping the van is not about the state of anyone’s soul, nor does it impact a child’s immediate safety.  

2. You are not responsible for every aspect of everyone’s spiritual development that ever darkens the door of your youth room.

This can be one of the hardest lessons to learn.  You have answered a call of God to be used as a vessel to offer God’s grace to teens in your community.  But you have to remember, it’s God’s grace not yours.  Your hard work is important, but it is ultimately the job of the Holy Spirit to bring students to the moment where their hearts are being “strangely warmed.”  That means that if you spend every bit of energy you have and some you don’t thinking that your work will make a spiritual transformation happen, you are wrong.  Yes, your job is to take care of some logistics, prepare a lesson or two , but it is ultimately to surrender and be a conduit for the grace of God.  If you don’t have any energy left after loading the bus, driving the bus, assigning the rooms, and yelling at kids to go to sleep, you’re probably doing it wrong.  Stop.  Take a breath and let go of DOING everything.  Give some tasks away so you can focus on BEING.

3. Take a breath.

The previous two should make this one a bit easier.  You will only survive if you take some time.  You need a break.  You need sabbath.  Turn off your phone, take a nap and rest.  You will not survive if you don’t care for your own body and psyche.  And once it’s all over, before you have to run the race of fall, leave for several days.  You earned it, and if you are going to make it all the way to December you need it.

It’s not a fool proof list, but it’s a start.  Keep these in mind and you just might be able to make it to the end of the summer!

Summer is approaching like a freight train, and if we aren’t careful it will pick us up and drag us for miles before we realize that we are on the edge of burnout. Don’t let that happen.  I know that it seems impossible, but taking sabbath in the summer is beyond important.  You need sabbath.  You need 24-consecutive hours when you rest instead of work.

And remember, your job as a youth worker exists beyond the deposits, van mileage forms and packing list creation. Your job is to care for the souls of the youth in your group, and you cannot do that effectively when your running on empty either spiritually or physically.

That is at the heart of sabbath.  It’s more than a day off, it’s more than a time out.  Abraham Joshua Heschel in his brilliant book Sabbath explains the gift by saying ” “The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.”  He says that in sabbath we attempt to “to collect rather than dissipate time.”  Sabbath is about taking time away from the demands of this life and spending it resting in the grace of God.

Sabbath is about refusing to define yourself based on the amount of things you can accomplish today.  It is rooted in the belief that your true value comes as a child of God.

But how do you do that?  How do you collect time and rest when church camp looms large on your planner?  

1. Define your day different

This one idea completely transformed my ability to take a sabbath.  As I read some book somewhere I saw a fact that I had seen a million times:  the Jewish people defined day as starting and ending at sunset.  When I saw that idea  in terms of sabbath, it was a game changer.  I had forever been trying to sabbath from the time I got up to the time I went to bed, but in hectic times, that can be almost impossible.  When we define the sabbath day as beginning and ending at sunset, it gives space on each side of the sabbath for us to get things done.  

For me this means starting and ending sabbath at 5:00pm. Most people won’t fault you for not responding to something small after that time in a typical day. Then, if something comes up during your sabbath, you simply decide to address it after 5:00.  

2. Prepare for the Sabbath

Throughout the Bible when you see the subject of sabbath being discussed, you read that the people were called to “prepare for the sabbath.” This is important!  The only way you’ll be able to take the sabbath is if you prepare for it.  Mark sabbath on your calendar.  The day that sabbath will begin at 5:00pm, look at what might need to be done that day and the next.  Then, commit to finishing those things by 5:00 or securing permission to do them after 5:00 the following day.  In other words, prepare for the sabbath!

3. Rest, listen, and do what helps you recharge

What makes you relax?  What helps you recharge?  Is it cooking?  Then cook with all your might.  Is it gardening?  Then, go dig and prune and pull weeds until the stress of your life is a distant memory.  And whatever you do, find a time to do nothing.  Find a time to sit and listen to the Holy Spirit, and take a holy nap (if you like that sort of thing).

Seriously, don’t let this summer consume all that you have and some that you don’t.  Stop what you are doing now, look at the calendar and make sure sabbath happens!

Easter is one of those times when people you haven’t seen in a long while show up, and when that happens its important to have some ice breakers in your back pocket to help everyone get reacquainted.  Here are three great ones with an easter twist:

Five quick questions

This icebreaker combines memory and funny information into a great way to do an up-front icebreaker with a group.

  • Bring five students up to the front to answer five quick easter-oriented questions.  Each student will be given five sheets of paper  (one per question) and a marker.  
  • The MC will then ask them the five questions as a group making sure they write their one-word answer on each sheet of paper.  
  • Once the questions have been asked, the MC will ask the first person to read all five words in order, and then turn to the next person asking them to do the same.  The MC should not repeat the questions, but just ask the students to list the words.  
  • Then it’s time to get five “remembering volunteers” who think they can remember everyone’s answer to step forward.  
  • The MC will take one of the remembering volunteers and read one of the questions.  The volunteer will then be asked to reorder the group of initial student volunteers based on their answers (for example:  those who answered solid will be on the left and those who answered hollow on the right).
  • Once the remembering volunteer is sure they have the participants positioned correctly, the students will hold up their answers to reveal whether or not the remembering volunteer succeeded.  This is repeated until all questions are answered.  

Here’s a list of Eastery questions:

  1. Is the Easter Bunny real or fake?
  2. Which is better: solid or hollow Easter chocolate statues?
  3. Yes or no, is our youth pastor strong enough to have sealed Jesus’ tomb with a rock?
  4. Who got to the tomb first: Peter or John?
  5. Can bunnies lay eggs?

Easter Memories

This story-telling icebreaker helps students open up about their own memories of Easter in their past.  Go around the group asking students to say their names and share one of these Easter memories.

  • What is your earliest Easter memory?
  • What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you on Easter?
  • What is the worst outfit your parents ever made you wear on Easter?
  • What is your favorite thing about Easter?

Creating an Easter Story

This icebreaker will spark your group’s creativity as they create a story as a group using special Easter words.  Before you begin, write several Easter-oriented words/phrases  on pieces of paper or 3×5 cards.  Make sure you have enough for at least two cards per person.  Have students sit in a circle and pass out the cards to the students face down.  STUDENTS MUST NOT LOOK AT THE CARDS AHEAD OF TIME.  If they do, ask them to swap with another student.  

Once the cards are in everyone’s hands, explain that you are going to create an Easter story together.  As you go around the room, each person will get to write two sentences of the story.  They will begin their turn by making up a sentence that continues the story.  After that sentence, they will reveal the word on their card to everyone and then make up a second sentence that includes that word.  The story will keep being written until all the cards are complete.  After the explanation, ask one of the students to begin  We know you don’t need help with words, but here’s some to get you started:

  • Jesus
  • Tomb
  • Resurrection
  • Bunny
  • Chocolate
  • Bible
  • Egg Hunt

You can also add random words to make the story take a weird turn:

  • explosion
  • bathtub full of Jello
  • dream
  • where the wild things are
  • spaceship

Youth facilities are always a mix of fun and function.  Yes, you need a place to discuss the Bible, but  who said you couldn’t have throw pillows made from the past youth group t-shirts.  Ben Johnson’s incredible team at Berea has taken facility fun to the next level by building a Lite Brite wall that is hours of endless fun.  You want one now, right?  Ben sent us the instructions.  Go ahead and find the name of your construction-minded youth parents ready, because you’re going to want to call them when you’re done reading this one.

Supplies for a 4×8 section:

  • 2 Mylar Blankets
  • 1 4×8 sheet of plywood
  • 2×6 to frame the outside edge of the plywood
  • 2.5” hole drill bit
  • Water bottles (important that they are all the same brand)
  • Food coloring
  • Four 3’ LED fixtures (important that it is narrow so it fits between the drilled holes)
  • Gorilla Glue
  1. Make the plywood holy. Each hole is equally spaced by making 2.5″ hole about 2″ apart which makes the whole board look pretty equal (Check your bottles to make sure this diameter works). This allows you to make each sheet of plywood look consistent. If you are doing multiple boards, then you need measure the boards on center, but if they are doing just one, then they can measure flush. 
  2. Frame the entire holy plywood sheet with 2×6 boards. You might need to plane the 2×6 boards about an inch or so to make sure the bottles don’t go too far into the holes but this is probably not necessary for everyone
  3. Cover the entire space behind where the wall was going to be with Mylar blankets for reflection using a staple gun.
  4. Place the light fixtures on the back of the holy plywood sheet with the holes drilled through it using two 3′ fixtures to reach the height of the board at about 1/3 and 2/3 or of the width of the sheet. Be careful to make sure that the fixtures do not extend into the space that the holes use, so the bottles won’t be impeded.  Make sure to deal with the cords so that they don’t cross the holes and are long enough to be plugged in after it is installed on the wall.
  5. Attach the holy plywood  to the wall, making a clean light box that bottles can be placed into.
  6. Make the battles.  Use as much or as little food coloring as you think you want for brightness of colors and then smear a drop or two of gorilla glue around the inside of the cap and screw it tight. This is important for the longevity of the project. 
  7. Play with it and make your own adjustments!

You’ll probably need some organization for the bottles.  Ben uses some bins to sort them by color.  Enjoy!

Whoever decided that getting teenagers into a room to learn early on a Sunday morning clearly remembered nothing about their own adolescence.  That means that we have to work extra hard to get students engaged and help them avoid the siren song being sung by the back of their eyelids.  Sometimes all you need is a good icebreaker question to get their attention warmed up so they can stay engaged through the rest of Sunday School.  Here are fifteen of my favorites:

  1. What is the thing that bothers you most about the wold right now?
  2. Chocolate or Skittles?
  3. What is something your parents do that you will never do when you are a parent?
  4. What makes a teacher a good teacher?
  5. What is your favorite thing to do late at night with your best friend?
  6. What recent news story made you the most mad?
  7. Snow in winter or beach in summer?
  8. What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever read or heard from the Bible?
  9. Where is the strangest place you’ve ever fallen asleep? Tell the story.
  10. Describe your dream vacation.
  11. Is the book better than the movie?
  12. What caused you the most physical pain you’ve ever felt?
  13. Name three issues worth devoting your life to.
  14. The best YouTube video ever:
  15. When was the longest you ever went without brushing your teeth?