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Jeremy Steele

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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?

We have a lot to be thankful for!  However, many times when we approach the idea of thankfulness we focus on the material things that fill our lives.  We are thankful for a roof over our head, food to eat, etc.  This simple lesson will help us think about another category that is worthy of our thanks:  People.

Icebreaker:

Have everyone begin in pairs. Each pair will choose someone to be the “name sayer” and someone to be the “thanks giver.”  On the count of three the “name sayer” will say their full, legal name. While they are saying their name, the “thanks giver” will have to say thank you to the “name sayer” for something.  They can say anything from “Thank you for being awesome” to “Thank you for being a snappy dresser.”  The key is they have to begin their sentence with “Thank you for…”

Whoever finishes first wins.  The loser sits down and the winner goes on to challenge another person.

If you have less people or want to extend the game, make it double elimination.

Lesson:

Intro the lesson by talking about the importance of being thankful.  Lead with these questions about material things:

What item of clothing are you most thankful for?

What part of your home are you most thankful for?

What book or game are you most thankful for?

Now let’s think about another level of thankfulness.  As we read this scripture, be listening for things to be thankful for:

Read Hebrews 12:1-3

The great cloud of witnesses is talking about people in our lives and people who have gone before us.  What does the writer of Hebrews mean by the term witnesses?  Witnesses to what?

Right after the statement about being surrounded by witnesses, the writer says we should throw off sin and follow Jesus.  How do witnesses help us do that?

It ends talking about Jesus enduring the cross and calling us to not get tired.  How can/should that help motivate us to not grow weary of following Jesus?

It all started with the cloud of witnesses.  Take a moment to identify who is in your cloud of witnesses.  Who inspires you to follow Jesus?

Now, take out your phone (or have them write a note) and send a message to one or two of them and say “Thank you for ___________ that really helps me when I’m struggling spiritually”  or something like that.

Close in prayer.

When we discern a call from God, we must respond.  This lesson from the Explore Calling church-wide resource guides students through a response to the call of God on their lives.

And Then…

You are going to create a story as a group. First, you need to select the most random person in the group. This is the person who says random things when it comes to discussions that may or may not always relate to the question. Their job is to come up with a very weird beginning to the story. After they say two or three sentences, the person to their right will pick up where they left of by saying, “and then…” Go around until the first person gets to finish the story.

Doing Nothing is Not an Option

We are ending back where we started because where we started will help us know what needs to happen next.

Read 1 Peter 2:9 again

Simply put, you have been called. You have been called into ministry, and whether or not someone ends up referring to you as “Reverend” some day, God has called you to minister wherever you are. In fact, those who are called to become “Reverends” are really called to a type of the ministry God asks every Christian to be involved in (more on that in a second).

Before we talk about “what you want to be when you grow up,” we need to explore one more Scripture.

Read Matthew 4:18-22

There is something very surprising about this passage. Jesus walks up to grown men working at their job and says, “Follow me,” and they straight leave everything right then. They don’t sell of their boats, they don’t take a couple weeks to pack up their stuff. They drop everything and follow Jesus.

That is huge because students often think of their “call” to be something that will happen in the future after they finish schooling or do an apprenticeship or something. But, this scripture is very clear. When God calls you, the call is for now not later.

So, it’s time for you to drop out of school and move to Africa, right? Not really. Right now part of your calling is likely related to school. Before we talk about what it is, let’s ask the opposite, what is it not? What in your life are things you cannot drop now?

That is helpful. Now let’s talk about right now. What is your “and then…” at this point in your life? What is the next step for you to minister right where you are? How can you minister at school?

How can you minister at home?

How can you minister at church?

The reality is that God may be calling you into ministry as a career or as part of your career. A lot of people assume that means becoming the senior pastor of a church, but there are many forms of ministry in addition to being a senior pastor that god may be calling you to. Let’s look at some of those.

There is a lot more information at www.explorecalling.org.

An Ordained Elder

What the job usually looks like: Most Ordained elders are the senior pastor of a church or an associate pastor. They preach, teach, offer serve communion, celebrate baptisms, perform marriages and burials, visit people in the hospital, and do pastoral counseling.

What is required: In general, ordained elders have completed an advanced theological degree (masters or above) usually a Master of Divinity. In addition, they have submitted to an intentional discernment process with Church committees that help them clarify their call, and been through a residency period.

An Ordained Deacon

What the job usually looks like: Deacons are ordained to serve all people, particularly the poor, the sick, and the oppressed, and to equip and lead the laity (not ordained Christians) in ministries of compassion, justice, and service in the world. They can do this in a church, but also may choose to work in another setting like hospitals, social-service agencies, mission agencies, schools, etc.

What is required: In general, ordained deacons have completed the educations required for their particular field (like a degree in counseling, etc) as well as specific graduate courses in theology. In addition, they have submitted to an intentional discernment process with Church committees that help them clarify their call.

Licensed Local Pastors

What the Job Usually Looks Like: Local pastors are not ordained but are licensed to preach and conduct divine worship and perform the duties of a pastor. They will usually serve a local church (often in a part-time status) as the primary pastor.

What is required: In general, local pastors have gone to licensing school (a several-day training in the basics of being a pastor) and completed the course of study (a five-year process that involves attending some day-long or weekend-long courses and implementing what you learn in the local church setting).

Lay Minster

What the Job Usually Looks Like: These individuals are not ordained, but serve in a leadership role (often on staff) in a particular area of ministry. Many youth pastor, children’s ministers, and music ministers are engaged in this form of ministry.

What is required: The requirements vary widely and are determined by the leadership of each individual church that hire lay people as ministers. The United Methodist Church offers certifications in many areas (like youth, children, camps, etc) in recognition that an individual has been called, made a commitment to serve, and has fulfilled the required standards for academic training, experience, and continuing study to serve with excellence in an area of specialized ministry.

Commissioned Missionary

What the job usually looks like: Missionaries witness and serve in dramatically different locales and cultures and engage in a range of professions and activities. These commissioned persons are usually (not always) called to serve outside their country of origin, as pastors, teachers, doctors, nurses (or in other healing ministries), social workers, church planters, evangelists, and in a variety of other ways through various forms of denominational or ecumenical ministries.

What is required: Because of the many varieties of particular roles missionaries fill, the requirements vary widely depending on the particular type of mission work. However, those commissioned submit to a discernment and training process as a part of their commissioning work in addition to the particular requirements in their fields. There are several ways particularly designed for young adults to engage in this role. That information is available at http://www.umcmission.org/Get-Involved/Generation-Transformation

After looking at all those ways people serve in ministry as a career, are there any of those that you think you may be called to? Which ones?

What about the others? Who in your group do you see fitting in those areas?

The first step in all of these roles is talking to a pastor and beginning to pray together about the future, but as we discovered before. God’s call is about now.

My Discernment

What is your next step in responding to God’s call? If you are feeling a calling into ordained ministry, one good next step would be to talk to a pastor.

When will you take it and who will you allow to remind you about it?

Take a moment to write a couple sentences that describe what you learned during this study… write it in a story form:

Now, write the next part:

And then…

The good news about learning how to hear and discern God’s voice is that Christians have been learning to do this for thousands of years.  This lesson from the Explore Calling church-wide resource  guides students through that discernment using a tool called the Quadrilateral.

Follow my voice

We are going to have some fun guiding people through an obstacle course. First thing first, decide who will be the obstacle course adventurer and send them out of the room equipped with a blindfold. One they are gone, rearrange the room. One of the remaining people will be giving the correct directions to the opposite side of the room while everyone else will be trying to misdirect your blindfolded member.

After you choose who will be the person giving correct directions, ask the blindfolded member to re-enter and have the person giving correct directions say “I am going to be the one giving you correct directions. Are you ready?” Once they say yes, everyone can start giving directions. After they complete the obstacle course, choose another person, rearrange the room and repeat!

Four Great Tools to Help Discern God’s Voice 

The good news about learning how to hear and discern God’s voice is that Christians have been learning to do this for thousands of years. One of the most brilliant methods for learning to discern God’s voice was practiced by John Wesley. He used four tools to help him to tell whether or not what he was feeling/hearing/sensing was God’s voice or not.

John Wesley began with Scripture. In fact, he often said that though he read widely, he was a man of one book: the Bible. The Bible is clear about how it is to be seen and used.

Read Hebrews 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:16

How do these verses tell us we should use the Bible?

What do you think the writer o Hebrews means when they say that the Bible is “living and active?”

That’s it, and it’s the key. For Wesley, God’s word was the thing that held everything else together. We should go to the Bible first and last. As we continue talking about the other tools for discerning God’s voice, we have to remember that they are only valid as they echo, explain or help us apply what we find in the Bible.

The next tool Wesley used was what people call tradition. By that we mean all of the people who have gone before us in the faith and what they learned about God. What we are doing right now (learning from Wesley) is using the tool of tradition. However, it doesn’t have to be people who are not currently living. Let’s look at a person in the Bible who used tradition to discern God’s voice.

Before you read, it’s important for you to know that this story is from the beginning of Samuel’s life when he was a boy serving in the temple with a wise priest named Eli.

Read 1Samuel 3:2-10

How did Samuel use tradition to discern God’s voice?

When have you done something similar to help you understand what God was saying?

The next tool, reason, is exactly what it sounds like it is. God gave you a brain and wants you to use it! The Bible is full of beautiful arguments, brilliant philosophy and the writing of some of the most beautiful minds to have ever lived. When we are considering whether or not God is speaking, we don’t need to check our brains at the door.

Take a look at this incredible story of Paul’s brilliant use of reason in discerning how God was speaking to the pagan philosophers in Athens:

Read Acts 17:19-23

If Paul had used something like “God told me so” as his argument, how do you think the Greek philosophers would have reacted?

Do you think Christians are more or less comfortable with using reason to discern God’s voice today than in Paul’s time?

Finally, we come to experience. The idea is here is that when we consider what the Bible says in light of how others explain it, making sure to use our ability to reason, we should ask, “Does this fit with my experience of God? Does this match what I know about God?”

Depending on how long you have been walking with Jesus, your experience tool might come up with a blank on a lot of subjects. That’s ok, but as your experiences with God grow, you can draw on them more and more. This is part of what Jesus was talking about in the passage we read last session in John 10. You know his voice better and better the more you listen to it. You can figure out whether or not something is the voice of God the more you experience it.

We are going see if we can use these tools to follow God’s voice through a real obstacle course. We are going to imagine that a friend has asked us to help them decide whether or not what they think God has said to them is really God or not. For each of these statements, allow one person to play the part of the person who believes they heard the statement. If any details are needed, they can make them up. The group should then use Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to answer whether or not God was the one who said the statement.

Statement 1: God wants me to beat up my brother for hacking into my instagram.

Statement 2: God wants me to break up with my girl/boyfriend.

Statement 3: God wants me to be a youth pastor as a career.

My Discernment

Take a look back at what you were thinking about over the past couple sessions. Choose one of them and use Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience to make them clearer:

Scripture: What does the Bible say about it:

Tradition: What do other people say about it that agrees with the Bible:

Reason: What makes logical sense in light of Scripture and tradition:

Experience: How does my past help me understand all of this: