Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Category: Youth Ministry (page 2 of 4)

Noah: Discussion Questions

ark4As I’m been working on collecting my thoughts and reading other thoughts about the new film Noah, the Christian educator in me wrote out some questions. I’m sharing them here for those who are looking for such a resource. As a Christian educator, I should tell you, if you use these questions, don’t feel like you have to use them all. If anything, let the questions be a guide to having a conversation around the themes presented in the film.

Noah Discussion Questions

1. Which of the characters, as they are presented in the film, did you relate to the most? In what ways?

2. There is a lot of longing for communication with God in the film. How have you experienced (or not experienced) communication with God? What was that like?

3. In the film, God communicates with Noah through a dream. How has God traditionally communicated with the Church?

4. His father tells Noah about the tradition that has been handed down regarding caring for God’s creation. How is this a part of your faith tradition? How do you feel about humanity’s responsibility for caring for creation?

5. The film depicts the results of sin and wickedness through the barrenness of the earth. In what ways have you seen sin and wickedness depicted in prayers, hymns, or other forms of faith tradition?

6. Use this chart to compare the Biblical narrative with the film. Discuss how the filmmakers depicted different parts of the story.

7. There were a number of added scenes that were not recorded in Genesis. For example, the Bible does not communicate what happened on the ark through all the rain and floating. The filmmakers make an attempt to fill in that gap. What do you imagine may have happened on the ark? If you were one of Noah’s family members, what would it have been like for you?

8. One of the Watchers comes to Noah in the middle of the night to help him and his family get to Grandfather. Why do you think he came at night to help him? In what ways is this Watcher like Nicodemus (John 3)?

9. When Noah is describing his dream from God, he tells his Grandfather, “I saw death and new life.” How does this statement summarize Christian theology?

10. The first animals that are sent to the ark are doves. What do you think the significance of that is?

11. Ila, the girl Noah adopts and who will become Shem’s wife, is barren at first. Note other women in the Bible who were barren (at first). What similarities are they between them and Ila? What does barrenness symbolize in the spiritual life?

12. Noah changes in the film. At what point does this change happen and how does it affect him and his relationships?

13. What significant changes have happened in your life that has affected you and your relationships?

14. Noah and his wife have a conversation where Noah says that there is wickedness in all of us. His wife counters that there is goodness in us. How does this relate to the debate over original sin?

15. In what ways is Noah’s wife like the persistent widow in Luke 13?

16. In the battle scene, the Watchers one by one return to the Creator. What form do they take when they return to the Creator? How is this redemption?

17. While on the ark, Noah tells his family the story of creation. Temptation is symbolized by a black snake coming out of a green snake, living the skin behind. The fruit of the tree, beats like a human heart. A shadowed figure of Cain kills his shadowed figure of Abel. These images are shown throughout the film. Talk about each symbol and how it is significant to the Christian Story.

18. When Noah finds out that Ila is pregnant, he holds true to his task of destroying humanity. Why is Noah so certain that God has called him to destroy all of humanity?

19. Noah walks out of the ark and cries to God, “Why do you not answer me?” When have you had days like that? Why do you think God seems so silent at times?

20. After the ark finds dry ground, how has Noah changed? If you had such an intense experience, how would you have changed?

God Has a Purpose For You

purpose_10509cThis week I’ve stumbled upon some well written blogs by young people pondering faith in their life. Some are searching for purpose in the midst of it all. Others are ready to give up and turn away from this God figure and this thing called faith. One is bravely stepping out onto the bridge of doubt, asking questions about what he believes and why. Another honestly shares about her eating disorder and how Sundays are the hardest days of the week.

It is hard, at times, to acknowledge that God has a purpose for you. Buried deep inside each of us, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians, is a treasure. This treasure was placed in us by God. What I hear in the blog posts I found this week are voices trying hard to find the treasure within. They are rejecting conformity, which is what the Bible says to do (see Romans 12:2). Yet, they too often do not find or feel support of that from their communities of faith. Which saddens me deeply, for these communities are not fulfilling their purpose of discipleship.

I’m not going to sit here and be one of those Christian guys who tells you that life is going to be perfect if we just accept that God has a purpose for us. Yes, God has a purpose for you. But what is it? What isn’t the right question to ask. I think the better question is, “How do we know what it is?” Discerning, or figuring out, what God’s purpose for us is is not easy. It’s hard! It’s challenging! And sometimes, it’s not fun. In the midst of all of the promises Jesus made, there is one he did not make. He never promised that this thing called being a disciple – being a Jesus follower – would be easy.

So, how do we discern what God’s purpose for us is? In a word: prayer. As we spend time with God through spiritual disciplines or practices like daily devotions, journaling, mediation, and prayer, we begin to discern God’s purpose for us.

When I was a teenager it pissed me off when adults would say that we were the church of the future, like it was some attraction at Walt Disney World. It bugs me still when adults say that about teenagers and young people. You are not the church of the future, you are the church of right now. And I believe strongly that not only does God have a purpose for you, but God has a purpose for you in a community of faith. Partipicate in worship leadership. Lead a service project. Serve on a committee. The church needs you. I’ve been to a lot of church meetings, believe me when I say it, the church needs you.

As teenagers and young people, you have a voice that the Church needs to hear. You have a voice and insight that will make the church stronger and more faithful. To those young bloggers I’ve read this week, God has a purpose for you and it easily may be what you are doing now. So I thank you for your voices. Thank you for being brave enough to share where you are and how the church is or is not apart of that. We need to to hear it. We need to have our eyes opened to the world around us. We need you.

Young Leaders in the Church(*)

“Be the change you wanna see!” the Newsboys rocked out at a Christian Rock Festival one summer.  The church youth groups were spread out through the stadium seating around the green lawn, and yelled and cheered with excitement.  This is how they felt.  This band understood how they think about the church.  Their energy was around being the change, not talking about the change.

Of course, Newsboys wasn’t the first to say we should “be the change.”  Gandhi is most often quoted saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  And we’ve done with that what we do with most quotes we think are truly awesome: we plaster it everywhere imaginable.  Bumper stickers: check.  T-shirts: check.  Mugs: check.  Magnets: check.

But are we really being the change?

One of the greatest complaints that young people have about the church is that the church does not walk its talk.  The church, through the eyes of many young people, is not faithfully being the change.  The reality is that the church is situated on prime real estate for not just being the change, but for nurturing young people to be leaders of change in the world.

Nurturing young people to be leaders of change involves empowering them to be themselves. Whether is it adolescents or college students, they are on a journey of self-discovery developmentally.  They are doing the same spiritually, and the church needs to be a safe place for them to be who they are, when they are, because they are.  This means that we in the church need to receive each young person with open hearts and open minds.  We need to accept them for who they are.  We need to look pass the flip-flops in church, holey jeans, and random pop culture t-shirts, and hear their voices.

By hearing their voices, I mean listening deeply to what young people have to say, because they have a lot to say about a lot of things they see around them.  Dori Baker and Joyce Ann Mercer remind us in their book Lives to Offer that “young people today are concerned about the deep wounds of the world” (page 25).  Young people have insights and opinions that are worth listening to and worth taking the risk of putting these opinions into action.  It means being flexible with our own ideas, giving up some of the decision-making that we in the church tend to hold on to, and giving it over to the young people.

There is a saying that the young people are the church of tomorrow.  Friends, young people are the church of right now.  Leadership development of young people is not for the church to exist in the future.  Rather, developing young leaders is a partnership for the church today; a partnership that nurtures change in the world. The church learns just as much from young people as young people learn from the church.  This kind of partnership opens the door for intentional intergenerational opportunities, where mentoring happens.

About fifteen years ago, while working in children’s ministry, the third to fifth graders were pen pals with older adults in the congregation.  One of the third grade boys and one of the older men formed a close mentoring relationship that resulted in them working together in leading others in the children’s ministry to plant a community garden.  The harvest from that small garden was used to make a difference to the hungry families in the community.  This act of mission succeeded all because a third grader saw a need.

A high school student returned from a mission trip to Central America with a heavy heart as she remembered the children she had met who had so little to eat.  As she transitioned back into normal high school life of school, dance practices, exams, and lunch tables, she could not shake the image of children sitting alone in dusty shacks waiting for a few pieces of rice and bread at the end of the day.  She pulled a number of people from the mission trip together and she spear-headed a project called Feed Diques.  Now over fifty children get at least one hot, nurtritious meal a week because this high schooler saw a need.

Why is this kind of partnership so important to the church?  Because the way in which young people vision the church is a new and hopeful vision compared to the way we have always done church.

(*) Originally published in the Virginia United Methodist Advocate, June 2013 issue.

New York Mission: 9/11 Memorial

One of the highlights of the mission trip to New York was the expected visit to a 9/11 memorial. A highlight because I had hoped that we would get a chance to visit the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero.

One of the church members from Christ Community suggested and then took us to a 9/11 memorial at Breezy Point. There was a deck on the beach looking out over the bay, with a great view of the cityscape, including the Freedom Tower, filling up the lack of space left by the World Trade Centers.

Along the deck were tributes to each person from Breezy Point who was lost in the 9/11 terrorist attack. There were lined up all along the deck. It was a moving tribute to the individuals the community lost. Moving, as well, because there were so many.

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In addition there was a cross, made with beams from the World Trade Center Towers. A cross was beat, bruised, and bent. A reminder to us that in the darkest of tragedies and storms of life, there is One who has been there. One who is always with us, and One who loves us through the worst life can offer us.

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New York Mission: Day 7

Fridays on mission trips are often times the hardest. The team members are running low on energy, often due to the lack off sleep, while running high on emotions. Mission trips provide a unquine opportunity for individuals to grow closer to others, God, and themselves, all while helping others. This has most certainly been true this week.

After our quiet time/devotions and small group discussions, we loaded up and headed out to Breezy Point one last time. Some worked with Habitat for Humanity workers in finishing up Sheetrock in the winter chapel. Due to the electrical work not getting fully finished, we were not able to do the whole room in drywall, but pretty close. They also finished a layer of flooring in the winter chapel.

A handful of team members made signs about the free cook-out to post along the road, reminding people about what was happening. Others started setting up for the cook-out, which included setting games, a face painting/craft station, and of course the grill.

After lunch, small groups had a chance to walk up to the local store to get a soda or a snack. Then we headed to the beach along the bay. The group gathered in their small groups. They used this beach time to share with one another where they saw God in each other this week. This included qualities or things they did that touched them or made a difference. When the group arrived on Saturday they were given a stone and asked to keep the stone in their pocket during the week. Last night each student gave their stone to their small group leader who was to choose a name for them. The name was to symbolize who the person was from he leaders perspective. The students were to do the same for their leaders.

As the groups went around their circles sharing where they had seen God in each other, the leader shared his or her stone for each person. After this personal, spiritual, and emotional time, the team had about 20-30 minutes on the beach.

Then it was back to work. We had to finish getting ready for the cook-out and set up the stations. At about 5pm the first few people arrived, and they slowly started to come in. We had 100s of hot dogs and hamburgers, but 100s did not show up. Despite that the team had a blast spending time with those who did, especially the children. Speaking of children, we brought with us shirts and onesies decorated by children who attended Peakland’s Easter Egg Hunt back in March. One little girl put her shirt on right away and wore it the whole time. A member of Peakland made quilts for infants. We handed those out as well. One grandmother was extremely grateful to take one and share it with her new grandchild.

And the puppets! Four youth came up with three or so skits and practiced them throughout the day. Then they preformed them at different times through the evening. And they were at hit! At one point they lead the crowd that had gathered in singing “Jesus Loves Me.”

Before the cook-out was over we presented to Paul, the leader of the church, a small gift. We took a scrap piece of drywall and Linda drew a cross and flame on it, wrote the name of the church and date of the trip, and then everyone wrote a short message to them and signed their names. They hug it up in the winter chapel right away.

Paul shared that in the time following Hurricane Sandy very little work had been done at the church, and while hundreds of volunteers with Habitat for Humanity came through their church doors, very, very little work had been done on the church. Most of the volunteers came to work on homes. Paul, with some passion, expressed how more was done on and for the church in this one week than any other since Sandy.

After cleaning up the cook-out and putting it all away in the U-haul, we played a few rounds of charades in our small groups. Then we gathered in one large circle and we went around the circle sharing where we had seen God this week, it was a great time of sharing. Very moving!

We then went down the road in Breezy Point to a 9/11 memorial that was built there. A huge number of Breezy Point residents were tragically killed in the 9/11 terrorist attack. Standing there is a cross, made with two beams from the Twin Towers.

It was about 9:30tonight when we said good-bye to Breezy Point. We crossed the bridge back into Brooklyn and volunteered for cleaning duties, so that in the morning we have less to do and can roll out on time. In the morning we will spend a few hours at the Bronx Zoo before heading back to Lynchburg, brining this mission trip to an end.

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