For Youth Workers Post
What Is a Christian?
“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for January 6–12, 2014.
MAKING THE CONNECTION
“Although I grew up in the church, during my early years as a teenager, I’m not sure I knew what being a Christian meant. Going to church was simply something my family did. I had no doubt that God was real or that the events recounted in the Bible were based in history; but I didn’t have a sense of being personally connected with God. That changed when I was eighteen years old, after a gradual process of discovering that God wanted me to live in relationship with God. I’m passionate about helping young people discover that simple, profound truth, which is life-transforming.” —Craig
MEET THE WRITER
Craig Mitchell is the National Director for Formation, Education, and Discipleship for the Uniting Church in Australia. He has been involved in youth ministry for over twenty-five years. Craig also leads children, youth, and family ministry programs in his local church in Adelaide, South Australia. Check out the “Forming Faith, Growing Disciples” group that Craig moderates on Facebook to explore what it means to assist people in exploring spirituality, and in particular Christian faith, in a variety of contexts and cultures.
STUFF YOU WILL NEED
- tape or safety pins
- copies of the instructions for the three positions on what it means to be a Christian (see “Exploring the Word” below)
- Download and print the statements about Christian discipleship from “What is a Christian?” at Growing Disciples.
- a votive candle for each person
- Print-Friendly Version of this session
You’re already aware that the Internet is full of weird ideas, including perspectives on Christian faith that are quite unhelpful because they are far too narrow or far too broad. Where would you encourage young people to look if they wanted to explore Christian faith while surfing the web? Here are a few:
- United Methodist Church, USA
- Presbyterian Church, New Zealand
- Think about involving young people in collecting digital stories of the faith lives of people in your church as a way of exploring what it means to be Christian:
> digital storytelling
> Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling
> Center for Digital Storytelling
Before the session, print on separate sheets of paper the following names (or use your own list of names):
- Lady Gaga
- President Obama
- Hagrid (from Harry Potter)
- Bilbo Baggins
- Justin Bieber
- Mother Theresa
- Taylor Swift
- Zac Efron
- Cookie Monster
- Katniss Everdeen (from The Hunger Games)
When everyone has arrived, invite group members to play “Who Am I?” Use a pin or tape to attach a name to each person’s back. Then invite people to try to guess the name on their back by walking around the room and asking one another questions that can be answered “yes” or “no.”
Bring the group together. Ask:
When you were young, whom did you idolize on TV?
Who is a famous person that you consider a positive role model?
EXPLORING THE WORD
Scripture: John 1:1–14
Introduce the theme for this session: “What Is a Christian?” Then ask people to form three groups. Ask the members of each small group to select one person to represent them on a TV panel discussion. The discussion will focus on the question: What is a Christian? Explain that the members of each small group will be responsible for preparing their group’s representative for the panel discussion.
Explain that each group will take one of the three positions below. Distribute paper and pens and copies of the instructions for each of the three positions:
- You believe that being Christian is all about believing the correct truths or doctrines. A Christian is someone whose beliefs are in accord with the Bible and acceptable Christian teaching. No other definition of what it means to be Christian is acceptable to you. As a group, work out statements or arguments that support this view.
- You believe that being Christian is all about going to church. A Christian is someone who is part of a congregation and goes to church weekly to worship God. Being a solo Christian isn’t possible. No other definition of what it means to be Christian is acceptable to you. As a group, work out statements or arguments that support this view.
- You believe that being Christian is all about being a good person. The mark of a Christian is someone who always seeks to do what is right. Christianity is about attitudes and actions. No other definition of what it means to be Christian is acceptable to you. As a group, work out statements or arguments that support this view.
Give the groups seven to ten minutes to prepare and to write down key points for the panel members. Then host the panel show. (Let people decide if they want TV theme music, props, and so on.) Ask each panel member to make a brief introductory statement about his or her views and then to engage in discussion with the other members of the panel. Here are some questions that may help guide the discussion:
Why does it matter what we believe?
Suppose someone says all the right things about God and faith, but he or she is actually a mean person. Does the way a person acts matter?
What is so important about being part of a community?
Why can’t a person believe in God and not go to church?
Is being a good person enough? Does a Christian need to believe the teachings of the church?
After the panel discussion, take a moment to debrief. Ask people to move back to where they were previously sitting and then check on how they are feeling. Ask the whole group:
What questions were raised for you in the discussion? (Make a note of their responses.)
Display the “What is a Christian?” statements printed from Growing Disciples. Invite people to walk around the room and to read the statements.
After several minutes, ask people to stand by one of the quotes that they particularly like. Invite people to talk about the statement with two or three other people standing by the same quote.
Then ask those same discussion groups to come up with a complete sentence that begins, “A Christian is . . .” Ask people to SMS (text message) their sentences to people in the other groups. Then invite the groups to compare and contrast their sentences.
Distribute Bibles, and invite everyone to read John 1:1–14. Explain that this text is like creed, a faith statement about who Jesus is. Invite discussion:
What verses or phrases jump out at you?
What does the passage say about Jesus?
What does it say about our relationship with God and with Jesus?
Say: “What if being Christian is not primarily about what we believe or what we do or who we spend time with? What if being Christian is primarily about a relationship: living in a trusting relationship with God through Jesus Christ? If so, then truth is a person, the way to live is about a person, even community is about a person. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Being Christian is all about a relationship with Christ, in and through whom the way, the truth, and the life are revealed. The relationship is uneven in the sense that it is first about what God has done for us, not what we do for God.”
How would seeing the Christian life as a relationship shape the way we live it?
SHARING IN PRAYER
Invite group members to find another statement about being a Christian that they would like to make into a prayer. Ask people to sit in a circle. Place a votive candle in front of each person.
Invite each person in turn to read all or part of the statement he or she chose as a prayer (or to make up a brief prayer based on the statement.) After each person reads, ask the person sitting on his or her right to light the candle in front of the reader and to say: “The light of Christ is in you.”
When everyone in the circle has offered a prayer, close this time by inviting group members to pray together The Lord’s Prayer.
TAKING IT FURTHER
One of the most powerful ways to learn about what it means to be Christian is through stories. The Christian practice of testimony or witness is about telling the stories of God’s presence in our lives. Consider providing one or more of these opportunities for your group members to hear the stories of faith:
- Invite members of your congregation to tell the group their faith stories.
- Invite the group to watch and discuss movies such as these:
> Amazing Grace
> Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story
- Encourage group members to read short versions of the lives of saints in history. 365 Saints: Your Daily Guide to the Wisdom and Wonder of Their Lives is an excellent book that offers each day a description of the life of a saint, a reflection, and a brief prayer.