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Neal Bowes

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This is a classic ice breaker that helps get students engaged in investigation-style questions with each other. In this game players need to guess the identity of the well-known person assigned to them. In advance of your session, prepare index cards with names written on them (suggestions below) or post its. If you have extra prep time, you could add a picture of the person clipped from a magazine or printed from a website.

Begin by taping a card on everyone’s back. They all move around the room asking each other yes or no questions about their person. “Am I fictional?” “Do I play sports?” “Have I been in a movie?” The game continues until everybody identifies their assigned person. Here are some suggestions:

  • Queen Elizabeth
  • LeBron James
  • Big Bird
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Batman
  • Tiger Woods
  • Jimmy Fallon
  • Scooby Doo
  • Taylor Swift
  • Simon Cowell
  • Drake
  • Tom Brady

This is a fun game where players need to guess the identity of the well-known person assigned to them. In advance of your session, prepare index cards with names written on them (suggestions below). If you have extra prep time, you could add a picture of the person clipped from a magazine or printed from a website. Start with a card taped on everyone’s back. They all move around the room asking each other yes or no questions about their person. “Am I fictional?” “Do I play sports?” “Have I been in a movie?” The game continues until everybody identifies their assigned person. Here are some suggestions:

  • Queen Elizabeth
  • LeBron James
  • Big Bird
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Batman
  • Tiger Woods
  • Jimmy Fallon
  • Scooby Doo
  • Taylor Swift
  • Simon Cowell
  • Drake
  • Tom Brady

In this icebreaker students will compete to find the funniest “because” response to random “why Questions.

Read the following list of “why” questions and then pass out slips of paper and writing instruments to everybody. Invite each person to select one of the questions and write an answer that begins with “because.” Encourage them to be creative and even a little out of nowhere. An example could be, “because a mouse ate all the peanut butter crackers.” Collect all the answers in a basket, and ask the following questions again, this time answering each one with a randomly-selected slip of paper. The results could be something like, “Why is Thanos so angry? Because a mouse ate all the peanut butter crackers.”

  • Why is Thanos so angry?
  • Why did Elon Musk shoot a Tesla into space?
  • Why does the iPhone X have a notch?
  • Why did Meghan marry Harry?
  • Why does Winnie the Pooh like honey so much?
  • Why do we have to stand up when there is a “*” in the bulletin?
  • Why do people get sunburned?
  • Why does soda fizz so much?
  • Why did Khloe name her daughter True?
  • Why are zebras black and white?

In our scriptural text for Christ the King Sunday, Revelation 1:4b-8, John writes that we are being called to be a kingdom of priests serving God. That doesn’t mean that everybody needs to enter the priesthood–or even take a seminary class. Considering the context of the rest of the passage, John is probably referring to the special access the tabernacle priests had to God. Only they could ever enter the Holy of Holies–the inner sanctuary where the Ark of the Covenant was kept behind a curtain (Exodus 26:33, 40:21; Leviticus 16:2, 17). But when Jesus was crucified, the curtain separating the inner sanctuary from the people was torn in two (Matthew 27:51), signifying that anybody can approach God now.

We are incredibly blessed to have a direct line of communication with our Creator. To help you discuss this point, draw a couple of simple designs on a piece of paper. Maybe a house with a chimney with a curl of smoke coming out. Or, maybe a sailboat with some waves.

Have your group members sit on the floor, one in front of the other. Only allow the person in the back to see the drawing. The person in the front has a blank piece of paper and a marker. The person with the picture “draws” it on the back of the person in front of them with their finger. That person draws it on the next person’s back, and so on. At the front of the line, the first person eventually draws the picture on the paper. Then, compare the results to the original.

  • How did that go?
  • What made it difficult or frustrating?
  • How would it have been different if the person with the original could have drawn it directly on the back of the person making the copy? What if they could have corrected mistakes as they were being made?
  • In the days before Jesus, what do you suppose it was like needing somebody between you and God. What if you didn’t know them? How could you be sure they would get your request right?
  • What would you say about our ability to pray directly to God?
  • What keeps people from taking advantage of that?
  • Is it still OK to ask other people to pray for you?
  • What can this group pray about for you?

When reading Hebrews 10:11-25, we are reminded that the sacrifice of Jesus was sufficient for the forgiveness of our sins. In fact, all sins, for everybody, for all time. Sufficient. Nothing else is needed. So, it is unfortunate that we often hold on to the guilt and shame that comes along with our sinfulness. Even though God promises that, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” (Hebrews 10:17, NRSV), we can often find ourselves wallowing in regret, maybe even entertaining the heretical thought that God could not possibly still love us. The Scripture tells is to approach God with confidence. To do that, we will need to put down the burden of our sin and guilt.

Gather some heavy things. It could be 4 or 5 bags of flour, or some bricks, or some huge Bible commentaries from the pastor’s office. Get a volunteer who is willing to be burdened and have them hold all of your heavy things while you have your discussion. (Let them feel the weight over time but be careful they don’t hurt themselves.)

  • Who is willing to share about a time when they felt guilty about something?
  • In what ways can feeling guilty about something impact other parts of our lives?
  • When you are in a situation with a friend and you feel guilty about something, how does that affect the relationship?
  • Can the same sort of thing happen in our relationships with God?

Remember to check in on your burdened volunteer from time to time. Read Hebrews 10:11-25.

  • What has Jesus done to free us from our sins?
  • What else needs to be done?
  • Why do we sometimes tend to hang on to guilt and shame even though Jesus has paid for our sins and God has promised to forget all about them?

Invite your volunteer to put down their load.  If you have to do this before you get to this point, go ahead and get them to reflect with these questions whenever they put it down.

  • How does it feel to be able to put that down?
  • What if you would have had to carry that around the rest of the day? Would you have been able to live life effectively? Happily?

It’s really no different for us. If we burden ourselves unnecessarily with guilt and shame, when God has already forgiven us and moved on, we rob ourselves of a great deal of joy. Jesus wants us to live life fully. He wants that so much that he was willing to die for us. His death paid the penalty for our sins–there is no reason for us to continue penalizing ourselves. When we mess up, we own up to it, ask for forgiveness, ask for help doing better in the future, and then we need to move on, confident in the fact that God remembers our sin no more.

A greater appreciation for the sacrifice of Jesus can be gained through a deeper understanding of the tabernacle and what happened there.  This activity is a fantastic way to empower students to explore the tabernacle both through video and their own artistic expression.

Take turns reading the description of the tabernacle in Exodus 25-27, and the overview of the sacrifice ritual in Leviticus 16. Then, go online to find a visual representation of the tabernacle. You can find some videos here:

Collect some craft supplies such as felt, construction paper, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, modeling clay, yarn, scissors, and glue. Give the group time to work together to construct a model of the tabernacle.

Talk with your group about how important the atonement rituals were. Sinfulness has a penalty. Rather than the people having to bear the cost of their sins, God gracefully allowed the animals to be substituted for the penalty. It was not an easy process. The tabernacle had to be constructed with great care. Then, it had to be taken down, packed up, moved, and set back up over the course of 40 years as the Israelites traveled from place to place in search of the Promised Land. The priests had to carry out the ceremonies with precision, and each family had to make their sacrifices every year, year after year. The rituals moved from the tabernacle to the temple after Jerusalem was settled, and they continued every year, year after year, for centuries.

Then, read Hebrews 9:11-14, 24-28.

  • What connections do you see between the activities at the tabernacle and what Jesus did?
  • How is the sacrifice of Jesus different than all the other sacrifices?
  • Why can Jesus be a one-time sacrifice that covers all sins for all time?
  • What are some things that we could or should do in response to Jesus’s sacrifice?

On All Saints Sunday, we remember the faithful in Christ who came before us and have since left this world and gone on to their Heavenly reward. We honor their work and their witness on behalf of God. We recognize the spiritual impact their lives have had on ours. In Hebrews 11, the scripture lists a cloud of witnesses who lived by faith and set an example for us to follow. Of course, we are not influenced only by people in the Bible, but also by relatives, Sunday school teachers, and others we’ve encountered personally.

Gather some paper and some markers and tell your group that they can make a faith family tree. Here are some questions to get them thinking:

  • Who are some people who have had the greatest spiritual impact on your life?
  • What did they do that was so meaningful?
  • Do you have any idea who guided them spiritually?

Encourage them to chart back as far as they can. Perhaps sharing your own answers will help guide their thinking.

Then ask:

  • How can you increase the impact of the people who came before you by encouraging others spiritually?
  • Who might those others be? Add them to your tree.

When everybody has had time to complete their tree, give each person an opportunity to share with the rest of the group. This is more than a get-to-know-you activity. It honors the saints while reminding us that we are all called to be witnesses for God.

At this time of the year, many people find themselves in the midst of transition. Some people are changing schools. Others are done with school and starting jobs. These kinds of transitions also necessitate other changes: changes in friend groups, changes in supervision, changes in responsibility, changes in schedule.

Some transitions have long been expected. Students study hard, visit colleges, submit applications, and make their ultimate decisions. They knew they would be graduating high school; this transition was expected. Other transitions seem to come out of nowhere. Companies downsize and jobs are lost, or a bad diagnosis takes us by surprise. Whether we were expecting it or not, any transition brings with it a lot of uncertainty. Uncertainty can cause fear and worry, and it can test our faith. Through all of life’s changes, our constant is God

The book of 1 Samuel chronicles several transitions for the prophet: Leaving his mother to be brought up by Eli; being called by God to replace Eli as the spiritual leader; being forced by the elders to step aside in favor of a king; anointing Saul and installing him as king; seeing Saul lose favor with God; anointing David to replace Saul. Samuel weathered several significant life changes. There were awkward moments, times of fear, and periods of great uncertainty, but God was in the midst of all of it and remained faithful.

Talking about change and transition can be awkward, and that is the point of this activity. We wills tart with two awkward games and then use them to discuss the awkwardness of transition.

The first game requires you to break the group into pairs and give each an empty soda can and a few strands of uncooked spaghetti. Be sure the pull tab on the empty soda can is pulled upright. One member of each pair places a spaghetti stand in their mouth and, without using hands, guides it through the pull tab. Then the second member of the pair puts the other end in their mouth and the two work together to pick up the can and move it across the room from one table to another. If the spaghetti strand breaks, they start over.

The second game requires a toothpick for each person and a few lifesavers for each team. Each person holds the toothpick in their teeth, straight out. No hands. The first person starts with the lifesaver hanging from their toothpick. Team members must pass the lifesaver toothpick to toothpick down the line. If it falls, the team starts over.

After having some fun, have a discussion:

  • What made this activity difficult? What made it awkward?
  • All we did here was move an object from one place to another, but sometimes life has more significant moves in mind for us. What big transitions have you been through or are you expecting to go through?
  • What makes a transition difficult or awkward?
  • If you know a significant transition is coming up, what can you do to prepare for it?
  • What about an unexpected transition? What can help you when a big change takes you by surprise?
  • How have you witnessed God being faithful during the different stages of your life so far?

Needed for this Activity

  • Strands of spaghetti
  • Empty soda cans
  • Toothpicks
  • Lifesaver candies

There is different protective gear required for different situations. A hair net, for example, will protect newlyweds from finding an unpleasant surprise in their wedding cake. But a hairnet won’t be offering too much protection if you’re a construction worker on a high-rise. You had better have a hardhat, and your work boots, too, but don’t wear either of those when scuba diving.

In 1 Samuel 17:32-49, an adolescent David convinces Saul that because of his experience keeping his sheep safe from lions and bears, he’ll be able to defeat Goliath, the Philistine warrior who towers over every Israelite soldier. Saul agrees and tries to help David by having him use the king’s armor and weapons. David can hardly move under the weight of the armor. He would never be able to fight this way. The classic accouterments were not appropriate for this situation. David was going to fight with his familiar slingshot and something even more potent, his faith in God.

Have some fun introducing this story with a little relay race. Organize your group into two or three teams. Set up a table on one side of the room with a pair of oven mitts for each team. In addition to the mitts, have a paper bag for each team containing one stick of gum per person on the team. The first person from each team runs up to the table, puts on the oven mitts, retrieves a stick of gum from the bag, unwraps it, places it in their mouth, places the mitts back on the table, and runs back to tag the next person, who continues the relay.

Allow your group to bond over the frustration they experienced during this exercise. Then, discuss how the oven mitts can offer you a lot of protection when trying to retrieve freshly-baked cookies but only impeded your progress unwrapping the gum.

Read 1 Samuel 17:32-49 and discuss:

  • Why did Saul give his armor and sword to David?
  • Normally, these things would be good to have in a battle. What made them inappropriate here?
  • Compared to a soldier, why would David seem to be the wrong person for this job?
  • What are the problems with comparing one person to another?
  • When was a time that you were surprised by a person because they performed higher than what your expectations had been?
  • When was a time that you surprised everybody else by performing higher than what they expected?
  • What “Goliaths,” or big challenges, are you facing?
  • Is there anything in your life, like David’s ill-fitting armor, that is holding you back from being all you can be?
  • In what ways do you see God equipping you properly to meet your challenges?

 

Needed for this Activity

  • Oven mitts
  • Paper bags
  • Sticks of gum

How much can you tell by looking at a person?  Not nearly as much as you thin and this activity helps students explore that big question through a creative exploration of the story of Samuel, Saul and David.

In 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 we read about the nation of Israel and the beginning of their transition from King Saul to King David. Saul has fallen out of favor with God because of his own arrogance and disregard for God’s wishes. The transition weighs heavily on Samuel. It’s necessary, but it won’t be easy.

With a king, there is no such thing as a recall election,  peaceful transition of power, or even impeachment proceedings. A king would have to be overthrown by amassing an army that would fight against his. Civil war is not a happy thing for any spiritual leader to ponder, but God said that Saul needed to be replaced and assigned Samuel to anoint the next king. Samuel would be committing treason against King Saul by carrying out God’s command.

When the fearful Samuel arrives in Bethlehem and meets Jesse’s eldest son, Eliab, he assumes, based on his appearance and being firstborn, that, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD.” (1 Samuel 16:6b NRSV) Not so fast. Eliab was not God’s choice for king. In fact, God’s choice was still working out in the field. His family hadn’t even bothered to call him in to meet the profit. What a stark contrast between how God regarded David and how his family regarded him.

We’re going to give your group members an opportunity to talk about the difference in perception. Ask them to think deeply about their answers, understanding that they are going to be shared with the entire group. Give each person a slip of paper and a writing utensil and ask them to complete each of these sentences.  Make sure they know you are going to read them back to the group.

  1. I think most people see me as…
  2. But I wish they knew that I…
  3. My parents think that I…
  4. I believe that God thinks that I…
  5. One fun fact about me is…

Collect the papers. Read them one by one. Let people guess whose paper it is before that person reveals themself. Take your time with what has been written. Ask about discrepancies in perspectives and how that can lead to unfavorable situations. Affirm their answers and get excited about their fun facts.

Then, pass out Bibles and read 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 together. Then discuss these questions:

  • Explain the difference between how Eliab was regarded by Samuel, his family, and God.[1]
  • Explain the difference between how David was regarded by Samuel, his family, and God.[2]
  • What do you find unfair about all this?
  • What are some things you can’t tell just by looking at a person?
  • How do you think David felt being left in the field?
  • How do you think he felt after being anointed?
  • Do you think David’s family regarded him differently after his anointing? Why or why not?[3]
  • What is the most important lesson for us to learn here?

[1] Samuel immediately saw Eliab’s physical appearance and assumed he was the choice. As the eldest son, Eliab’s family would expect him to become the head of the family when Jesse died; he would receive a double portion of the inheritance his father would leave. God obviously loved Eliab and blessed him in many ways but did not select him as king.

[2] Samuel didn’t have any feeling about David at first, because he didn’t even know he existed. That’s because, as the youngest son, his family didn’t even think he was significant enough to be called in from the field when the prophet arrived. And yet, he was God’s choice for king.

[3] In 1 Samuel 17:28-29, David visits his brother, Eliab, on the front lines of the battle during the stalemate with Goliath. The exchange between the two brothers seems to reveal a continued disrespect for David.