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Sharon Cook

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Get your group sharing their thoughts on everything from school dances to sunburn using this throwback idea from elementary school.

Tell your group that for the next few minutes, it’s “opposite day.” This will be a fun way to learn about how we don’t really feel about certain topics. Going around the circle, give each person a topic. They should react by telling you things that are exactly the opposite of what they think. If the members of your group don’t really know each other’s names, have each one introduce themself.

  • school dances
  • Snapchat
  • bluegrass music
  • gym class
  • 2-week-old marshmallow peeps
  • hamsters
  • “just talking”
  • dry erase markers
  • clowns
  • sunburn
  • the attic

Finding common ground is one of the best ways to begin relationships and get students talking.  This icebreaker brings both in spades!

Give each youth a blank Tic Tac Toe board, but tell them we’re going to use it like a mini-Bingo card. They can write FREE in the center square. In the remaining 8 squares they write behaviors/traits that they think are unappealing. Then have the youth mingle, sharing their answers with one another. If they match with someone, they can put an X in that square. Can anyone get three in a row? Four corners? Cover their whole board?

Follow up with these questions:

  • Without naming names, do you know anyone who does these activities?
  • How do you relate to those people?

I wonder what exactly all those Jewish friends said to one another when they received the Spirit. The Scripture records what Peter said to the crowd, but we don’t know what the others said. Were they witnessing to Jesus? The Spirit? Saying, “Holy cow! I can speak Russian! This is amazing!” We can imagine, but we’ll probably never know. This tool will help your students imagine what they would do in that situation.

Begin by explaining that you’re going to ask all of them what they would say. Ask them to consider that the whole world could hear and understand them  and was required to actually listen. Though they can’t force anyone to respond, but if they are persuasive, they might be able to enact global change. What is the one, most-important message they would want to share with the world?

  • Hand each youth another index card. Invite them to take several minutes to think about their One Big Message. If they could say one thing to the world, what would they say?
  • They will have no more than 30 seconds.
  • Once they have written down their ideas, have them share with the group. No doubt some of these will be ridiculous, but some will likely be profound. You may want to gather these cards and compile them in a way to share with your congregation.

Tip: Consider your group’s behavioral history. You may want to enact expectations around how to respond to each speech. Will youth be able to ask questions? Applaud? Debate?

If you work regularly with young people, you are likely well-versed in the best practices of Safe Sanctuaries. But even veteran youth workers can feel uncomfortable and uncertain about what exact steps they need to take when they witness or receive a report of child abuse/neglect. Let’s break down the reporting process, to make it less daunting.

  1. Know who to call

Every state has a slightly different process for reporting. Well before you ever have to make a call, you should know the website and phone numbers for your state. To get started, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

  1. Know who should make the call

Anyone with reasonable suspicion may call. Those who are designated as Mandatory Reports are required to call. Regardless, the one who actually makes the report should be the one who has reason to suspect abuse/neglect. This may mean you witnessed something yourself, or that a child or youth has told you about their experience.

  1. Know why to call

If you have a reasonable suspicion of abuse/neglect, or if a child/youth reports they are being abused or neglected, you should report to Social Services. Abuse and neglect can be physical, sexual, or emotional. State definitions vary, and can be found at the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

  1. Know how quickly to call

Reporting suspected abuse/neglect should be done in a timely manner. States vary on what that means, but it is often within 1 day. If you suspect a child/youth is in imminent danger, and is at risk of death or serious harm, you should call local emergency services (911), who are equipped to respond faster than Social Services.

  1. Know what to report

Your job is not to investigate the details of what may or may not have happened. But when you call to report abuse/neglect, you will be asked a lot of questions. First they will want your name and contact information. This information is confidential, but important if they determine they need to get in touch with you later for more information. Then they will want to know about your specific concern. They will ask for the victim’s name, age, and address. They will want to know the name of the abuser, and their relationship to the child/youth. They will ask about what you witnessed or what was reported to you, and if you have any additional information. It is okay to answer a question, “I don’t know.”

 

Depending on your local laws, you may or may not have a right to know any further follow up information on how your report is processed. You should refer to your own congregation’s policy on whether there is further reporting to be done to your church’s staff.

Some of your students are, or will be leaders. But all of us take turns being followers. This activity will help students think about the attributes they want in a leader. Prepare by printing out an image of a silhouette for each student, and gathering magazines and newspapers for them to use to find words and images.

  • When it’s time, explain that for the next 15 minutes, you’re going to try to create the perfect leader. Tell them to think about the qualities they hope for in a leader.
  • Then give each student the silhouettes and ask them to use the magazines and newspapers to find words and images that describe their ideal leadership
  • Students then  cut out words and images that describe either the kind of leader they want to be or the kind of leader they want to follow and glue those onto the silhouette.

When there are 10 minutes left, invite anyone who wants to the chance to share their work.

Materials:

  • Assorted magazines, newspapers
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks (because glue takes forever to dry)
  • Handouts with the silhouette of a head

The concepts of fitting in and belonging are at the center of Acts 10:9-17a, 34-48. By engaging their creativity, students will get to process the struggle of fitting in and belonging in their own world

Start by asking this question: What is the difference between ‘fitting in’ and ‘belonging?’

When we invite outsiders to join us, we need to be aware of inviting them to do more than fit in, but must invite them to fully belong.

Divide into groups and have the youth write skits. Each skit must include at least one character who has a habit/behavior that they think are unappealing. The skit should illustrate how that person feels to be excluded/disliked and demonstrate how others can accept and include them – without changing them. You may also explore why this person has this trait/behavior.

After the skits are finished, they can perform them for the group.

It is one thing to understand, and another thing entirely to teach what we know. That is the tension at the center of Acts 8:26-40.  Youth will experience this tension by describing a sculpture you have pre-made using uncooked spaghetti and mini-marshmallows.  

Note: you can determine the difficulty of your structure. For structural integrity, remember that triangles are the strongest shape. The harder you make it, the longer this activity needs.

  • Divide the group into two, and let them know that one of them will take the role of Philip and the other will be as the Ethiopian. Send all the Ethiopians into the hall.
  • Show your sculpture to all the Philips. Let them know that using only words, they will have to describe this structure so their partner can build a replica. Give them a few minutes to study the structure, then put it in a box. (Describers can still take a look at it if they need a reminder, but builders shouldn’t be able to see it. TIP: another way to accomplish this is to give each describer a printed photo of the structure.) 
  • Bring the builders in, and pair them with a Philip. Give each enough pasta and marshmallows for the build (include extras, because they will end up mangling marshmallows and breaking pasta) Let the teams work until they are done, or until time is nearly up.
  • Save a few minutes for final discussion. Reveal the original structure, and see who is close and who is nowhere near the original.
  • Challenge version: give the youth a list of words they may not say: right, corner, above, etc.

Closing discussion

  • What were some of the emotions you felt during this project?
  • Ask the describers: What made it easy or hard to describe the structure? Can you compare that to how Philip may have felt in this Scripture?
  • Ask the builders: What made it easy or hard to follow your partner? Can you compare that to how the Ethiopian may have felt in this Scripture?

Materials:

  • Bibles for students
  • Uncooked spaghetti
  • Mini-marshmallows
  • List of ‘forbidden words’ (challenge option)
  • Hand made sculpture using spaghetti and marshmallows
  • Cardboard box, large enough for your sculpture

Self Harm is a major issue in the lives of your teens.  That is, unfortunately, not news to anyone who cares about and works with this group; however, with all of the resources available, where do you turn? This list is a place to start, but before you engage with these resources, there is one thing to note.

Prior to roughly the year 1998, self-harm was almost exclusively understood as a psychotic behavior. After that, we see a rise of books and resources describing this behavior as a maladaptive coping mechanism. As you look beyond this list for other resources, keep in mind that books written prior to 1998 may not be discussing self-harm as the same behavior intended here.

Books

A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain
by Marilee Strong

Written by a journalist, this book is well-researched without getting bogged down in nuanced theories of psychology. As an observer, and not a self-harmer,  Strong draws from interviews with medical professionals, adults who work with youth, those who actively self-harm, and others. A good introduction to what is self-harm, and why someone might do it.

The Scarred Soul: Understanding & Ending Self-Inflicted Violence
by Tracy Alderman

An older book that emerged just as self-harm was being noticed and understood as we do today. This was widely affirmed as one of the best self-help resources available. This book primarily addresses those who struggle with chronic, significant self-harm, and may be less appropriate for one who is experimenting or is causing only superficial damage.

When Your Child is Cutting: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children Overcome Self-Injury
by M. E. McVey-Noble, S Khemlani-Patel, F. Neziroglu

This book declares parents to be the primary audience, although youth workers will find helpful strategies for communicating with youth who self-harm. Also serves as a basic introduction to the what/why questions people ask when first learning about self-harm.

Bodily Harm: The Breakthrough Healing Program for Self-Injurers
by Karen Conterio and Wendy Lader

Written by the founders of S.A.F.E. Alternatives (see website list below), this is an authoritative book for defining self-harm, understanding some of the causes, and promoting treatment. Written in 1999, it reflects older thoughts on cultural impact and treatment.

Helping Teens Who Cut: Using DBT Skills to end Self-Injury
by Michael Hollander

This is the recent (2017) second-edition of a popular book to help parents understand therapeutic treatment of self-harm. The book thoroughly explains and promotes dialectical behavior therapy as a way to treat self-harm. There are other ways to treat self-harm, but they are not explained in this book. Other chapters are more general, and about how to interact with youth who struggle with self-injury.

Websites

The Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery

With sections for those who self-harm, parents, friends, youth workers, and therapists, this incredibly comprehensive site has a wealth of information. Good for both beginners and those who have studied or worked with self-harm for years. It also includes many links to other resources, including tools and assessments. Also has videos and interviews.

S.A.F.E. Alternatives (Self Abuse Finally Ends)

With a history stretching to the 1980s, SAFE was one of the first to specialize in self-harm treatment and awareness. They remain a key name among those who work in this field. Their website includes information about treatment, hotlines, and resources. Their resource list is at least a decade old.

Self-Injury Outreach & Support

As a site intentionally about outreach, here you can find fact sheets, personal stories, coping tips for both loved ones and those who self-harm. They also have an extensive resource list, including additional websites and ongoing research.

Making history fun and engaging is difficult, but with such na rich history as Methodists, it’s absolutely essential to find ways to help our students understand and interact.  This tool takes a bunch of props and matches them with important moments from our shares history as Methodists.  Enjoy!  The idea is that you place all the props in a bag, and as you pull each one out you tell more of the story of the Wesleys and the people called Methodist.

Band Aid:
John was a sort of renaissance man, trying his hand at many different things. He wrote several books of medical remedies, though he had tried only ‘some’ of them. Some of his remedies made sense, while others were useless and random. Later, an actual doctor warned people about “this quack Mr. Wesley.”

Lighter:
John survived a house fire when he was six. He spent the rest of his life thinking he survived for a reason — God expected big things from him. Many of his brothers and sisters did not live past their first birthdays. June 17, 1703. John was 13th or 14th child, but only 7th to live past his first birthday.

Tassel:
John went to Oxford University, Christ Church. He wanted to become an ordained priest of the Church of England, like his father. He was working on advanced degrees when his younger brother came to college. John thought his brother should be more serious about religion. Charles remained unconvinced until the university encouraged tutors to teach the Articles of Religion. Then he and some freinds began to gather as a club to read Scripture and discuss. John encouraged them and met with them as well. They earned the derogatory name “methodists.” The group was also very involved in service, visiting inmates, etc.

Diary:
John kept an “exacter diary,” a diary for recording everything he did. He made entries for every 15 mintues. The code was a secret for many years, until an accidental discovery of a cheat sheet for the abbreviations. John kept as many as three different diaries at a time in his life.

Peaches:
John and Charles went to the American colonies (Georgia) as missionaries. They wanted to convert the Natives to Christianity. Though many things that happened during this time had a major impact on his life and understanding of Christianity, this was one of John’s biggest failures. Not only did the Natives hate him, but so did many of the colonists. He had to leave town quickly to avoid a lawsuit.

Heart:
John was very unsucessful in love. The woman he loved during his time in Georgia, Sophie Hopkey, betrayed him and married another man — while she was dating John! He was crushed, refused her communion, and was run out of town. The next woman he loved married another man — at Charles’ request! Finally, John did marry Mary Vazeille, but their marriage was never happy. He never had children, but Charles was happily married with kids.

Book of Common Prayer:
John was an ordained priest in the Church of England until the day he died. He never meant for Methodism to become a new church, merely a movement within his church. His biggest problems with the church? They weren’t pious enough in following the BCP, and no one cared about the common people. Religion was for show.

Boat:
On his sea voyage to America, there was an awful storm. John was scared to death. On the ship was another group of missionaries, the Moravians. They were not afraid, but in fact sang through the storm. John asked them about it, and they said their faith was so strong they weren’t afraid to die. John was a fair bit jealous of their faith and vowed to have a stronger faith.

Lighter:
John survived a house fire when he was six. He spent the rest of his life thinking he survived for a reason — God expected big things from him. Many of his brothers and sisters did not live past their first birthdays. June 17, 1703. John was 13th or 14th child, but only 7th to live past his first birthday.

Tassel:
John went to Oxford University, Christ Church. He wanted to become an ordained priest of the Church of England, like his father. He was working on advanced degrees when his younger brother came to college. John thought his brother should be more serious about religion. Charles remained unconvinced until the university encouraged tutors to teach the Articles of Religion. Then he and some freinds began to gather as a club to read Scripture and discuss. John encouraged them and met with them as well. They earned the derogatory name “methodists.” The group was also very involved in service, visiting inmates, etc.

Diary:
John kept an “exacter diary,” a diary for recording everything he did. He made entries for every 15 mintues. The code was a secret for many years, until an accidental discovery of a cheat sheet for the abbreviations. John kept as many as three different diaries at a time in his life.

Peaches:
John and Charles went to the American colonies (Georgia) as missionaries. They wanted to convert the Natives to Christianity. This was one of John’s biggest failures. Not only did the Natives hate him, but so did many of the colonists. He had to leave town quickly to avoid a mob.

Heart:
John was very unsucessful in love. The woman he loved most, Sophie Hopkey, betrayed him and married another man — while she was dating John! He was crushed, refused her communion, and was run out of town. The next woman he loved married another man — at Charles’ request! Finally, John did marry Mary Vazeille, but their marriage was never happy. He never had children, but Charles was happily married with kids.

Heating Pad:
Charles told John about his experience one night when he felt absolutely certain of God’s presence and love for even him. John, ever tentative about his own relationship to God, was jealous of his brother’s faith. A few nights later, while walking down Aldersgate Street, John had his own experience when he describes that “his heart was strangely warmed.” 

Running Shoes:
Not everyone liked John’s attempt to reach the common people. He often found himself in the wrong places and was swarmed by mobs of angry people. He was also so short that people who tried to punch his face would occasionally completely whiff. John tells of one violent mob in which he only prayed to defend himself. One of his attackers was so impressed with this that he protected John until they could get to safety.

Church:
It was considered proper to have services in a church only. John followed his friend George Whitefield who had begun preaching outside — again, to reach the common people. Because he did this, sometimes confliciting with and competing with ‘proper’ services, preachers didn’t like John. They refused to let him preach in their buildings. Once, John went back to preach at his father’s church. John had worked there for a short time. The preacher was so angry, the only place John could safely preach from was standing on his father’s gravestone.

Penny:
As Methodism grew, they formed “societies,” which were essentially unofficial churches. But John worried about people who didn’t have small group support for their faith. So they formed “classes.” Classes consisted of 12 people, generally based on geography. The leader was responsible for turning in 12 pence a week, one per person. But if someone in the class couldn’t pay, the leader had to contribute for them. Class membership was not voluntary. For those who did want even more small group time, there were “bands.” These groups had 5-10 people and were homogenous: women’s bands, men’s bands, married bands, etc. This was as intense as it got.

Keys:
Since the Methodist movment was attracting a lot of people who were not welcome in church, and since they needed a place to meet during the week, they purchased their own buildings and formed groups classed “societies.” Since this was not a church, John still encouraged them to go to church to receive the sacrament (communion).

Bible:
From the beginning and throughout his life, this is where everything stopped for John. Scripture was the most important consideration in everything. He was “a man of one book.”

Horse:
In the early days of American Methodism, there weren’t enough clergy to go around. Rather than making the people travel long distances, the clergy rode around on horses. They were called Circuit Riders. Periodically, Asbury would reassign the clergy to trade circuits.

Yellow Scarf:
Women were first given full clergy rights in 1956. Prior to that, women had been allowed to teach and to exhort, but not to preach. Exhorting was like preaching, except instead of starting with Scripture, they had to start with a story from their lives.

Cross and Flame:
The Methodist movement has split and merged in many different combinations over the centuries. The most significant merge was in 1968 when the Methodist Episcopal Church merged with the Evengelical United Brethren. Their new name was The United Methodist Church. Their symbol, the cross and flame, represents two churches together in one flame.

Chains:
The Methodist movement has split and merged in many different combinations over the centuries. The most significant split was over the issue of slavery. The church was greatly conflicted around this issue for some time, in great part because no one wanted the church (or its assets) to be divided.

Grape Juice:
In the 1920s, America witnessed a movement to abolish alcohol. The movement was largely led by women who were tired of dealing with their drunken fathers, husbands and brothers. The Methodist church also played a large part in this Prohibition movement. As a symbol of their comittment, the Methodists began serving communion with grape juice instead of wine. This tradition continues to this day. Welch, of Welch’s juice fame, was a Methodist. He wanted to find a way to make grape juice keep longer.

American Flag:
John Wesley did not want to see The Colonies secede from Britain, and he was opposed to the Revolutionary War. After American independence, the Anglican Church was invited to leave the country. There were no more priests to offer sacraments to the Methodists. John decided to resolve this crisis by ordaining two men as the first American Methodist bishops (though he really had no authority to do so). These men were Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury (Cokesbury, get it?). They then had the authority to ordain new Methodist clergy, and eventually even bishops. This is one of the reasons more traditional denominations find us questionable. We do not have the lineage of Apostolic Succession.

Middle schoolers are at a transition point in their lives. They are at the beginning of the crossroads between childhood and adulthood, and if you are working with them regularly, you will see that first hand. Each student will have times of amazing brilliance and insight, but also times of goofy or inattentive behavior. This is normal, and you will see how much your student matures over the course. Here’s a few tips to keep in mind when working with this age group:

1) Give your student plenty of time to think. If you ask a question, wait patiently for the answer. Practice sitting in silence, to give them time to think and come up with an answer. If you have a difficult time with silence, count in your head. If you reach 50 and the student still hasn’t spoken, then you can consider rephrasing the question.

2) Help your student learn the words of faith. Eighth graders may have great ideas but lack the language to explain them. Invite them to share their ideas in whatever way they can, and as appropriate, share with them new words and ways of expressing faith.

3) Be prepared to get sidetracked. This age group can focus for a long time, but sometimes their attention span is short. Youth often blurt out what’s important to them – even if it has nothing to do with the topic. Sometimes you’ll want to follow up with your student immediately, and other times you’ll need to ask them to focus. Remember, part of mentoring  is simply being with and listening to these youth.

4) Prepare more activities/discussion questions than you think you’ll need. Wouldn’t you rather have a question you don’t get to, than have too few and end up staring at each other? It can be frustrating to plan something and not have time to use it, but those are things you can send the youth home to think about.

5) Share Scripture when you can. Part of becoming a mature Christian is becoming Biblically literate. Maybe this is a growing area for you – that’s fine. It’s helpful for youth to hear which stories and passages of Scripture that are important to you. It’s also important for your students to see and hear how you refer to Scripture.

The Most Important Thing

Remember, many people recognize in you the gifts and graces to do this ministry. In 20 years, these students will not remember much (if any) of what we say. In 50 years, however, they will still remember that when they were young, an adult in the church cared enough to spend time with them. So above all, be yourself. The most important part of this ministry is building relationships – between you, the students, other youth workers, and Jesus Christ.