For Youth Workers Post
MAKING THE CONNECTION
“I remember in high school being what I thought was bold about my faith. I think better descriptions might be obnoxious, aggressive, reactive, or even stubborn. Looking back, I’m not so sure that my bold was a Jesus sort of bold. In the last five years, I’ve been intently pursuing how to enact bold love without being obnoxious. At the least, I find it difficult. Extremes are always easier. Either be bold in an “I’m right, you’re wrong” sort of way or say nothing, which isn’t a Jesus sort of bold either. I look around in the church, and I see the extremes. I look around the world, and I see the extremes. I look around and discover the difficulty in finding bold love that, in practice, is both kind and strong.” —Sally
MEET THE WRITER
Sally Chambers has been practicing youth ministry for nineteen years as part of her life with God and people; she is currently on sabbatical. By trade, she is a counselor and a spiritual director. She is a lover of art, photography, people, hosting, adventure, stories, a cup of tea, beauty, all things English, her niece and her Grandma, abbey ruins and cathedrals, creation in its grandeur and wildness, playlists, and her furry four-legged companion Doodlebug. Sally is a co-author of the leader’s guide to The Way of Pilgrimage and the creator of The Pilgrim’s Way, an approach to leading pilgrimage with teenagers and adults. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is currently on staff and worshiping with St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. She dreams of creating altars in the world where pilgrims may gather together; rest for a while; find renewed vision; be healed in body, heart, soul, and mind; and offer to the world the hope of God in Jesus Christ. Be sure to check out Sally’s blog.
STUFF YOU WILL NEED
- a candle and matches
- Print-Friendly Version of this session
- Check out “Toward the Other,” a video about moving toward other people in ways that are hospitable and not hostile. These are possible discussion questions: How is the video related to bold love? When are we hostile without knowing that’s what we are? How is being stubborn or arrogant, assuming that we are right and other people are wrong, hostile? Why does arrogance keep us from bold love?
Invite the group to say responsively:
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Ask someone to light a candle.
Invite group members to close their eyes, to take a deep breath, and to relax. Invite them to pay attention to their breathing. Suggest that as they exhale, they imagine breathing out the distractions (tiredness, homework, worries) that occupy their minds, bodies, and spirits. Suggest that as they inhale, they imagine breathing in the peace of God. Invite them to repeat this exercise several times in silence.
Ask group members to walk around the room and to be present to one another by saying aloud to each person their own name and the name of one person (alive or dead, real or fictional) that they admire because he or she is bold.
EXPLORING THE WORD
Say: “The scriptures call us to be bold.”
Read aloud the following scriptures from the New Living Translation, or invite volunteers to read them aloud:
- 1 Corinthians 16:13 (NLT): “Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.”
- 2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT): “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
- Matthew 7:7 (NLT): “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”
- Ephesians 3:12 (NLT): “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.”
Then say: “The scriptures also speak of being kind, compassionate, loving, and humble. Jesus speaks of turning the other cheek. So perhaps boldness isn’t so easy to master. How can we be all these things at once?”
First things first: Invite group members to participate in a balance exercise.
Offer these instructions: “Find a partner. Stand a couple feet from him or her. Raise your hands so that your palms are facing your partner’s palms. Lean in until your palms touch your partner’s palms. Adjust your feet and arms so that each person is leaning in at the same angle. The goal of this exercise is to knock your partner off balance without moving your feet. Your palms must stay glued to your partner’s palms. When I say go, you will attempt to make your partner lose his or her balance.” [NOTE: Ask people to change partners every minute, and keep track of how many wins each person has; or hold a tournament, having the winners play other winners, until only two people are left.]
Following the exercise, ask these questions:
What did you find difficult? What was easy?
What helped you to keep your balance?
What did you need to do to knock your partner off balance?
What happened to the distance between you and your partner after one of you lost his or her balance?
Say: “If you shove or push someone, even though you are moving toward your partner, it actually creates greater distance between you.” (You may want to illustrate this in slow motion with a partner.) “Sometimes our words, attitudes, or behaviors toward other people function as a shove, creating distance between us and other people, while disrupting their balance or way of living.”
Check to be sure everyone understands the idea. Then invite discussion:
Did strength play into who won?
Did the bolder person win?
How would you define the word bold?
Does boldness sometimes create distance between people? Why? Why not?
Does being bold look like being aggressive, forceful, or hostile? Why? Why not?
In what ways can we be bold without knocking other people off balance or disrupting their way of life?
Explain that the group is about to read Acts 17:22–31, the story of Paul on Mars Hill. Paul is in Athens after he was converted to faith in Jesus Christ. Athens is a center of religious life in Greece and the melting pot of many different religions. Paul is standing in front of the Areopagus, a high court, the place where Ares was tried for the death of Poseidon. Before boldly standing and speaking in this place, Paul recognizes that he is talking to religious people, even though their religion is different from his own.
Ask group members to read the passage with an eye for the ways in which Paul is bold. Encourage them to pay attention to what Paul does and also to what Paul doesn’t do. Invite them to read the story a couple of times. Suggest that they jot down on paper things they notice about Paul’s boldness.
What makes Paul bold? (He is preaching Christianity in a non-Christian context, which takes strength and courage.)
What does Paul’s boldness look like? (He is confident, strong, articulate, and courageous. He also acknowledges the people around him. He quotes their religious poets; he notices their altars. Paul was friendly and took steps toward understanding. Paul tried to make connections with the people. But Paul doesn’t waver on what he believes.)
What did Paul not do? (Encourage group members to think about what bold faith looks like today. Paul wasn’t violent or hostile. He doesn’t seem to be in their face. Paul doesn’t seem to have an “I’m right; you’re wrong” attitude. Paul doesn’t attack their religion or put them down.)
What do you think of Paul’s boldness? Has he managed to balance being bold with being kind? Is he moving toward others, shrinking the distance between them, or pushing them away?
Say: “Boldness ranges between two extremes: a forceful shove and timidity. Religious suicide bombers or religious leaders who facilitate mass suicide illustrate one extreme. The other extreme is so concerned with the situation and other people that it is not really bold at all. If one extreme says, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong,’ then the other extreme says, ‘Anything goes as long as we are kind to one another’ and is illustrated by the idea that all religions are really the same.”
Ask these questions:
How difficult or easy is it for you to find a balance between these two extremes?
How do you see the extremes played out at school or in your community?
What are some ways that we can practice boldness that is kind and considerate rather than hostile and forceful?
How can we have a strong, bold religious identity without pushing other people away?
How can we be followers of Jesus that nonbelievers want to be around?
SHARING IN PRAYER
One way to practice a kind and loving boldness is through the holy habit of hospitality. Hospitality is the practice of creating an open, warm, and caring space for other people. Think of it as helping people feel relaxed, welcome, at home. To conclude the session, invite group members to spend a few minutes in silence, reflecting on how they can practice hospitality at school, with people who are different from them.
Invite group members to pray. Ask each person, in turn, to say one word that sums up what they need from God to practice a kind, loving, and bold faith. Then close by saying: “Loving God, hear our prayers.”
TAKING IT FURTHER
- Invite group members to come up with a group experience of hospitality.
- Invite people to write down and practice saying what they believe in a loving and kind way.
- Roleplay scenarios in which kind, loving, boldness might be needed. Choose divisive topics, such as, religion, politics, abortion, healthcare. Help students practice a kind, loving boldness in the words they use to state their positions. Challenge them to be hospitable with their words.
—from devozine In the Habit (November/December 2013). Copyright © 2013 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.