Sam Halverson


A few weeks ago, I was visiting a confirmation class in a nearby United Methodist Church. As we were talking about the students’ upcoming decision to be confirmed and join the church, one youth spoke up, “How can we make a decision to join the church when the church is right in the middle of a decision of what it’s going to be?”

The decision in question was the upcoming discussion at General Conference (in May of 2020) around whether conferences and churches will separate over the issue of LGBTQ marriage and ordination (in addition to many other church related matters which can all be found here in the Advance Daily Christian Advocate)

General Conference is the only body that can speak on behalf of the United Methodist Church so, as you can imagine, every time it is meeting the tension and stakes can feel raised! Several different plans to split and reimagine the UMC will be up for discussion. The “Protocol  of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” being the plan with the most current attention because of the process and people involved in its creation (We have a helpful overview of that).

Confirmation students are not the only ones uncertain where their church will stand on the issue, and the youth raise a good point: how do I participate in a church ready to separate? For youth workers the question I keep hearing is a similar one: how can I help my young people navigate the paths of division?

Remember, youth have a vote!

Fortunately, in the UMC any youth who has joined the church (either through a Confirmation Class or on their own) is a voting, full member of the United Methodist Church. Teenagers, like adult members, have just as many rights in the church as does the adult who has been head usher and served on committees of leadership for the past 35 years. The task of the youth minister (and the rest of the congregation) is to support youth in bringing their voices into the leadership and decisions of the faith community.

It is vital for young people in your congregation to realize their role as voting members in these days ahead. Youth as well as the entire congregation will benefit when young people speak up and let their ideas be heard. Here’s why…

Help youth experience their church listening!

Regardless of which decision your youth supports in an upcoming vote, our younger members should experience their faith community listening and respecting their voice. Youth have been told they matter to their church; youth have been given the same rights as adults; youth have opinions and experiences like everyone else. It is our job as youth workers to carve out space for them to speak in the meetings and then help them know that they were heard.

Youth need to be confident their church supports them and respects them regardless of their decision. (Read that last sentence again! It is important!)

When I first began youth ministry in the early 1980s, my very wise senior pastor suggested we have a youth member serve on the church council. It took a while to talk Steven, who was in the eighth grace,  into attending Administrative Council meetings, but I recall his comment after the first meeting where he gave a report. “They actually listened and paid attention to me.” He was surprised at the respect and interest these adult leaders showed a “lowly” eighth grader, but such respect had a strong impact on that young mind. Today Steven is still an active part of the UMC, serving on the board of a Wesley Foundation, helping people recognize the voice and importance of the young.

Older congregants need the perspective the youth have!

A recent study has revealed what we already know:  youth have had much more experience with this issue. Fifty-six percent of 13-to-20-year-olds said that they knew someone who went by gender neutral pronouns.  That is far more than most of the older adult leaders.

While this does not mean they will lean one particular way in making their decision, it does mean our congregations must hear from those members who are already in close connection with the issue being discussed. Whatever direction your community decides to take, make sure they do so with the knowledge of generations of experience; make sure they realize they have heard from those called to carry on the mantle of church leadership.

Youth have different gifts, qualities, talents, and insights !

Mark Oestreicher, of The Youth Cartel, asks the question, “In your congregation, are youth a problem to be solved or a wonder to behold?”

There are traits in teenagers we no longer find in older church members. Some of those traits can be frustrating as we see them only as signs of immaturity. Many of those qualities are just what we need as we look toward possible change, transitions, and maybe even upheaval.

Youth, for example, are generally more comfortable trying something new. You don’t hear “We’ve never done it that way before” from their mouths as much as you might from our older leaders. Youth are more willing to risk, find it easier to become vulnerable, and are more willing to trust. There is a reason Jesus instructs us to “become like children” in order to experience the Kingdom of God. How can we learn ways to become like them if we don’t spend time in ministry with them? We will more likely continue to grow in God’s reign (experiencing the kingdom) if we invite the wonder of our teenagers into our decision making and ministry mindset.

Don’t tell them how to vote!

This may go without saying, but your job is not to tell the youth how to vote.  Your job is to make sure their voices are heard and they have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.  

Certainly, these months ahead will be times of uncertainty and transition – no matter which direction you and your congregation decide to go. Make certain such a journey is clearly made in the WITH the youth who are in your congregation and community. The way your church listens to them now will show them how willing you are to meet them in their own growth and leadership.

Just because you know a passage well, like Luke 15, remember that your students will often be experiencing it through fresh eyes.  As you lead students through this powerful passage, keep a sense of wonder about you!

Opening questions:

  • “Why did Jesus tell parables? What was the point?”
  • “Can some of you list off a couple of parables that Jesus told to people?”
  • “What are some of the lessons we learn from parables?”

The parable we are about to read is a commonly referenced and well-known parable, but for some of you this may be a new story! Whether this is the first time you are hearing this story or the 100th time, let’s try our best to read it with new eyes and hearts that are willing to receive what God might be trying to teach us today!

Have a one or a few volunteers read.

Read: Luke 15:11-32

Discussion Questions:

  • What is something that stuck out to you in this scripture?
  • List off some of the characters from this parable and tell us what you know about that person.
  • If Jesus told parables to teach us valuable lessons, what was Jesus trying to teach us through the characters in this story?

Usually this story is taught with the focus being on the Prodigal Son (The one who ran away), but let’s take a look at the older brother!

  • Why was the older brother so mad after his younger brother returned home?
  • What was the dad trying to get the oldest brother to realize when he went outside to talk to him?
  • In what ways does the older brother have a “me, myself, and I” mentality?

The older brother wanted everything to be about him, but the Father wanted him to realize that there was something bigger than himself happening and he wanted him to join in on the celebration!

  • When are specific times that we find ourselves acting like the older brother, wanting everything to be about us?

Read: Luke 15: 1-2

  • Jesus was telling this story in front of the tax collectors and sinners who had come to hear him, and Pharisees stood nearby and mocked Jesus for communing with those people. In the story who represented the Pharisees? How?
  • Why does following Jesus mean that everything is not about us?

Closing Prayer
During our closing prayer each student is going to get a piece of paper and a pen, the challenge is for the students is to write down prayer request as they are shared and to find times to pray for those prayer request throughout the week to show that everything is not about us, it’s about serving others.

This team building game takes the classic trust walk to the next level helping students explore communication and trust when everyone is working with different abilities.

What to do:

  1.  Start by having youth find a partner (or assign them into pairs).
  2.  Once everyone is paired up, let the couples decide who will be the “car” and who will be the “driver”
  3. Give out specific instructions to the cars and drivers. Instruct the “cars” to wear blindfolds and walk with their arms out (their “bumpers”) Instruct the “drivers” that they will drive with eyes open (of course) and will establish with the “car” how they will communicate a right turn, left turn, drive (forward), reverse, braking (slowing and stopping), and honking the horn. To make it extra fun, eliminate the ability to say words (or even make noise).
  4. Once partners have decided how to communicate, tie each pair together around their waists (car in front) with the yarn or toilet paper (the seat belt).
  5. Tell the groups they are to spend a few minutes driving randomly around the room, staying within the boundaries you have set. Explain that they must stay together and not go so fast that the blindfolded person “crashes” or that the seat belt breaks.
  6.  After a few minutes, have the couples stop and tell them a pre-planned “route” you want them to take. This can be very specific (like following a meandering line on the floor) or can be a route of various points in the room where they must arrive at each one. Let the partners to travel this route at their own pace.

After 10 minutes…

Have everyone sit where they are and answer…

  •  How did you decide how you were going to communicate the directions? What were some of the choices?
  • What helped this work? What made it difficult?
  • How does trust fit into this activity? Who has to trust whom? How does trust go both ways?
  • What happened that made some trust less?
  • Why is trust so important in a real “Car & Driver” situation? Why do you suppose in reality we trust cars and drivers (and many of them strangers) coming our direction at speeds as fast as 60 or 70 mph?
  • What helps you trust each other in our group?

You’ll need:

  •  Blindfold for half the group
  • Yarn long enough to go around two people (or, for a different and more careful experience, use toilet paper strips long enough to go around two people)
  • Clear and flat playing space large enough for pairs to move around but with clear boundaries

Sometimes we end up competing against the people with whom we should be partnering.  When this happens within a team, it can be devastating.  This simple game helps students explore the urge to compete and how they can let go of that urge and partner together.

Start by dividing your group into an even number of teams with three to seven students in each team. (This is designed for two teams per game, but there is an option listed where you can play four teams against each other at once. If you have more than four teams then have multiple games of two teams playing at the same time.) Make sure you have areas for teams to talk away from the other teams where teams cannot be overheard or seen by opposing teams. A separate room for each team or far ends of a large field is generally best.

How to Play

  • Explain that you will play the game to ten rounds. At each round the teams must decide a color they will “play.” The choices are red or black. (There are no “items” to play – they just choose red or black.) Teams decide in secret what they will play and announce the choice by writing it on a piece of paper and handing it to the game facilitator. The decision must be unanimous. Tell the teams that they will be awarded points in the following way:
    • If both teams choose black – each team receives 300 points.
    • If team A chooses black and team B chooses red – team A loses 300 points and team B receives 500 points. (The reverse is also true: if team A plays red to B’s black then A gains 500 points and B loses 300 points.)
    • If both teams choose red – each team loses 300 points.
  • Help the teams understand they have two choices:
    • A team can play black and hope the other team plays black, too, resulting in each team getting 300 points each turn or you would lose 300 and the other team would get 500 points.
    • A team can play red, either gaining 500 points and making the other team lose 300 or, if both teams choose red, both teams would lose 300 points.
  • The goal of the game is to accumulate the most points you can in ten rounds.

What to know:

In most every situation one of the groups decides to throw a wrench into the process and chooses red, hoping to make the other team lose points. This often ends in both teams eventually getting negative points. Either way, it means they don’t reach the goal of “most points possible in ten rounds.” Teams most likely believe this is a competition, but in actuality you will do the following.

After ten rounds:

  • Have the teams come together. Show them the points of each team, and then add the two scores together. Explain that this is the final score.

Team building debrief:

  • How could you have made more points?
  • What stopped you from reaching the goal?
  • Did you think you were competing against the other team? Why?
  • What would it have taken in order to receive the most points possible?
  • Why did that not work?
  • Did anyone think of doing that?
  • Did anyone suggest it?
  • How is this like the way people live in the world today?
  • How can we, as a group, learn from this and make the most out of who we are as a whole group?


What happens when you combine hula hoops and a seemingly impossible task?  A simple-yet-brilliant team building game.  As your students struggle with competing loyalties and a seemingly impossible goal, they will be forced to think outside the box as well as shifting their focus from individual success to group success.  Here’s how it goes:

What you’ll need:

  • Plastic hoops (Hula hoops) or pieces of rope or tubing formed in a circle – one for every two people.
  • Lots and lots (and lots) of small, soft items. Stuffed animals work well (though aren’t much help if wet). Brightly colored bean bags also work. They need not all be the same thing. Try to have at least seven per person. More is always better here.
  • A large space to run and spread out.

What to do:

  • Have individuals pair up with one other person
  • Lay out hula hoops (or similar-sized circles) on the ground or floor, allowing about 20 feet or more between each circle. These should be scattered and not all in a straight line.
  • Ask pairs to stand with their circle.
  • Set a pile of the soft items in the center of the playing space – not in anyone’s circle.
    Tell students that they will be given ten minutes to collect all the soft items into their circle. They can take items out of someone else’s circle, but may not throw them. They may only carry them or hand them off to get them back to their circle. Once again, the goal is to get all the soft items into their circle.
  • Start the game and watch what happens. 

The Key to The Game:

While you have not stated this, it is helpful for you, the leader, to know that the circles can be moved. This is really the only way all groups can achieve the goal – to all lay the circles into one pile and to place all soft items into all the circles at once. This will most likely not happen right away, though (and if it does then most likely someone has played before or has read these instructions). Watch the dynamics as people take from others in order to get ahead, as they try to protect what they have, and as some seem to just give up or hand all their soft items over to someone else.

After ten minutes:

Ask what has happened so far. Has anyone been successful? Why or why not? Is it possible to achieve the goal? How many couples could achieve the goal at once? What needs to happen in order for all the couples to reach the goal at one time?

Allow the participants another three or so minutes to try to achieve the goal, but ask them to try to make it so all groups reach the goal at once. Then discuss these final questions:

What worked this last time? Why didn’t you think of doing that earlier? What stood in the way of you recognizing the possibility of combining all the circles? How do we do that in the world? Why do we think that in order to “win” or “get something” we have to take away from others? What would it take to see other possibilities?

The Most Important Part of This Type of Game:

The most important (and often most forgotten) part of leading initiative activities is taking the time to debrief after the activity. Without a proper reflection or discussion of the experience you have done nothing more than an activity, and the learning will focus only on how to succeed next time. A good debrief involves helping participants reflect on leadership, listening, communication, process, expectations, problem solving – things that can be applied to life skills and how the group interacts in normal routines.

It is also important to note the difference between initiative activities (like the ones here) and what is referred to as “low ropes” or “low element” activities which involve some sort of stationary setup and should be facilitated by someone trained to facilitate low ropes activities.

Each of the following initiatives should be done in groups no more than 5 to 12 people. If you have more than 12 try dividing into more than one group (two groups of 7 or three groups of 5 or 6) or have a few people (not just the leaders) stand aside for an activity and be the “watchers and listeners,” quietly observing the group dynamics and reporting what they saw and heard when the activity is over.