A Certain Brightness

Depression and Hope

and discussion starters

According to the BBC 1-in-4 girls and 1-in-10 boys aged 14 show signs of depression. That means there’s probably someone in your youth groups who is suffering.

The good news is Jesus is Good News for all your young people. If you want to start the discussion off can I suggest my friend Philippa’s blog – A Certain Brightness – as a great place to look for the interplay of hope in times of depression. She’s very real and very excellent. Worth checking out.

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Happy New Year!

Remembrances and resolutions

For the blog and for your Sunday Schools too

It’s nearly 2018 – in case you hadn’t noticed. And everybody is in that ‘fresh start’ mode whether it’s buying gym memberships, taking up veganuary or resolving to read their Bible more often. We’re also looking back at 2017 and evaluating the good and bad in ourselves and in the world. If you’re keen to do some of that with your young people and children here are three options:

This brand new session plan for children to get them counting their blessings.

This Bible study for teens on what it means to be a new creation

This easy to adapt weekend away plan, inspired by Joshua, focusing on looking back in thanksgiving and looking forward in dependence.

For this blog: I’m thankful that I get to reuse and rethink children’s work I’ve created in the past and that it can be useful for others out there. And I’m resolving to plan what I’m going to post in advance: It’s definitely not my strength but his grace is sufficient for me, for his power is made perfect in weakness.

Christmas crafts

For Sunday Schools

and for teens

I’ve hunted out crafts that use what most Sunday schools have on hand or can get easily:

Paper Plate Nativity
Good for anyone who can fingerpaint – if you’ve got a team or the time to cut and outline them before hand. Great for those who can be trusted with scissors; and prep free at that point!

Cardboard Roll Nativity
Printable characters you can wrap around toilet rolls or the tubes from inside your wrapping paper. Good for all those who can colour and glue under supervision.
Here’s a much craftier version – you could always steal some ideas to add to the printouts.

Nativity Story Stones
(I grew up near a beach and not the sandy kind – you may have less access to stones than I did) Good for small groups; older kids; and when you have time for creative play. A thin permanent pen sounds good for outlines but acrylic paint is fine for colours.
Did you know you can make acrylic paint by adding PVA to poster paint?!

Shadow Puppet Nativity
Great for teens. Maybe they’re too cool to get out and act but they can make these and perform to children or for the kids to perform this. You could even video it for use in a carol service.

Use your nativity crafts to retell the story or talk about the historical events. Here are some good questions to get that conversation started:

Where do we get our ideas of what these people look like from? How accurate do you think they are?
What mistakes/assumptions do you often get in a nativity set?
What’s the evidence that this actually happened? Can we believe in something with angels and a virgin birth?
How can we make our angels look like a person who has to start every conversation with ‘Do not be afraid’? What was scary about them?
When you hear this story every year what can you do to make it have an impact on your life?

Here’s a bonus nativity True or False Quiz to start break down assumptions your sunday schooler or youth may have. And I’ve written the answers for you too.

Get ready for

Thanksgiving

The non-turkey variety

It’s about to be my first thanksgiving and we’ve been invited round to some friends to experience this very American tradition in all it’s glory. What I’ve written is not at all related to the history of America – I’m not remotely qualified to do justice to that – but is all about giving thanks to God for his gifts.  There are a few activities on the internet related to gratitude rather than a seasonal holiday but a lot of these focus on what you’re thankful for without really considering who you’re giving thanks to – there is a lot of good in simply counting our blessings (which is why I’ve included a few links to games of this kind); it’s far to easy to take things for granted, but it’s important to know who to thank – what we have, our very lives, are given to us by God and he deserves the credit.

There’s also Looking Back in Thanksgiving which I wrote for children’s work at a church weekend a while back. It focus first on Joshua about to enter the Promised Land and all that he has to thank God for before moving on to consider what we can thank God for on top of that. Designed to be paired with Looking Forward in Dependence; you could pic-n-mix the best of each to end up with a session that best suits your group.

Exciting opportunites

For your youth

and their understanding of the gospel

Not my snappiest title ever – but it’s true (if you live in England) because REBOOT is back in London.

We took a joint youth group trip down last year and loved it – despite 3 hours of train travel! They gave us doughnuts, water, sweets, anchor pendants (as a reminder of faith), questions, answers, fun, some worship songs we hadn’t heard before, an opportunity to chat …
Our group was a mixture of Christians and regular church-going teenagers and it worked well for all of them, speaking into issues that are big in our culture, in their lives and showed us how a relationship with Jesus affects every aspect of living.

I’ll let the Zacharias Trust introduce this year in their own words:

We wanted to let you know about this year’s event on 23rd September 2017 at the Emmanuel Centre, London. Tickets are going fast and it promises to be another great opportunity to ask your big questions about God.  As before, no question is off limits; you can ask anything at all!
 
The speaking team will be there and you will be able to ask your questions from your phones, just like at last year’s REBOOT. The more difficult the questions the better.

They mean it about no question being off limits: One of last year’s questions was “Can Christians play Pokémon Go?” as well as the ones on topics you’d expect like homosexuality, gender, creation, sex, and other beliefs.

Here’s a quick video from last year. There’s a very brief shot of our youth in there.

If you’re interested (and you should be) you can read more on the rebootglobal website or book tickets.

I loved it. If you can, you should go.

The end of the journey

Pilgrim’s Progressed

and we reached the end of this series

Weeks four, five and six of Pilgrim’s progress are up!

As part of the story Bunyan wrote this song (well not this exactly but it’s pretty similar) and I think it’s fantastic in its teaching. I do find the traditional tune stirring: it is also pretty fun to rap! Here it is for your encouragement:

He who would valiant be ’gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.

Who so beset him round with dismal stories
Do but themselves confound—his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight,
He will make good his right to be a pilgrim.

Since, Lord, you do defend us with your Spirit,
We know we at the end, shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away! I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labor night and day to be a pilgrim.

I really hope that this is true of me and all of us on this journey with Jesus; not in our own strength but reliant on our king, our guide and our protector!

New Series!

A Pilgrim’s Progress

and how it helps us realise what it really means to be a Christian

I cried the first time I read it.

When Christian loses his burden in the shadow of the cross: I broke down.  I knew what that felt like and to my embarrassment I knew (and still know) I was picking up that discarded burden again and again; fighting Jesus for the right to carry it. That’s why although PP isn’t one of my favourite books – I really value it as an allegory. There are no perfect Christians here only redeemed sinners struggling along.

I hope that this series, which is a heavily abridged version of the story accompanied by questions to link it to its Biblical inspiration and apply it to our lives, helps your young people. It may prepare them for struggles ahead or help them to realise they’re not trusting Jesus yet.

It’s largely adapted from Geraldine McCaughrean’s retelling of the classic, although I turned to the original for help sometimes. I also used Jason Cockroft’s beautiful pointillist illustrations in my powerpoint where I could (because they’re stunning!) but since I have no rights to them I haven’t shared them. You could buy the book and scan them in as I did. That’s why, in my version, Christian is young and Hopeful is female – it matched the illustrations.

More in this series next week.

Distinctives

Living a life that’s different

because that’s what following Jesus looks like

Here’s another short youth work series: Distinctive Living. I adapted Vaughn Roberts book Distinctives into five short studies for teens. The idea being; it’s hard as a teenager to stand out from the crowd and they need all the encouragement they can get that it’s a) not just them and b) the right thing to do.

It’s worth checking out the book, not only for the two chapters I didn’t adapt, but also for the in-depth thinking, explaining and examples that I couldn’t remotely do justice to in half an hour. I may adapt Purity in a World Obsessed with Sex and Certainty in a World in which Everything is Relative at some future date: the only reason I haven’t already is that I had a five week term and those two were harder. I myself occasionally use the book for my morning devotionals as it’s nicely divided up with thoughtful questions on each chapter. And it’s not just teenagers who need to be reminded that living distinctively is plausible, possible and profitable.

Edit:

I found Narnia!

Not at the back of my wardrobe unfortunately.

Instead I updated the Narnia page on this blog with the talks and powerpoint from that series. I’m not entirely sure how or why they disappeared in the first place. Nevermind, they’re back now!

Take a journey

With Paul

from the comfort of your own youth group

First in a new series of Bible Studies for teenagers. This series takes us through the first two of Paul’s Missionary Journeys.
Check out the menu above for more studies written for a youth group setting. (It’s under Youth Work).

PS I’ve just spotted that the Narnia page is very broken (just the word Narnia – nothing useful)! Sorry about that; I’ll fix it soon and let you know when everything’s back in place.