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You are holding a very valuable book! No, it won't make you a genius or millionaire, but it does contain a year's worth of instant discussions to help middle school youth develop as disciples. Inside you'll find reproducible OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets that cover 52 stories from creation to Gideon turning away from God—plus simple, step–by–step instructions on how to use them. All you need is this book, a few copies of the handouts, some young people (and maybe a snack or two), and you're on your way to landing on some serious issues in teenagers' lives.
These OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets are user-friendly and very flexible. You can use them in a youth group meeting, a Sunday school class, or a Bible study group. You can adapt them for either large or small groups. And you can cover the material in as little as 20 minutes or explore it more intensively over two hours.
You can build an entire youth group meeting around a single OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheet, or you can use OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets to supplement your other materials and resources. These TalkSheets are tools for you—but how you use them is up to you.
Middle School OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets is not your average curriculum or workbook. This collection of discussions will get your young people involved and excited about talking through important issues. The OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets deal with epic stories and include interesting activities, challenging talks, and thought–provoking questions. They'll get your youth forming new opinions, learning about themselves, and growing in their faith.
IMPORTANT GUIDING PRINCIPLES BEFORE USING OLD TESTAMENT TALKSHEETS
Let's begin by agreeing on two primary principles:
1. Faith is essentially caught not taught, and
2. The Holy Spirit alone works best to establish faith within teenagers' lives, changing them from knowers to believers, from church attendees to lifelong followers of Jesus.
If we can agree on these two principles, then it's easier to explain how OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets is designed. It's not so much a teaching tool as a tool designed to engage real faith connections and encourage faith vocabulary in young people's lives.
So many church attendees don't know how to articulate their faith, nor do they often perceive vital connections to their faith outside the church building. Which is why OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets' exercises are designed to help young people connect what they believe to their day–to–day lives, as well as develop a living faith vocabulary as opposed to a church vocabulary used only during church to please adults and religious leaders. For faith to grow with us throughout our lives, we must discover faith's vital connection in "real time." To see how and where Jesus in our lives engages the real world. And we must express this connection through a "vocabulary of faith" that grows with us and goes with us as opposed to expressing "church language" we reserve for religious settings and certain occasions.
Our Lord Jesus used the concept of fishing to connect his first followers with what he was doing, using words and images that were familiar to them. In the same way, you can use these OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets to create settings in which young people can talk about faith, employing familiar concepts that help develop faith vocabulary and deepen faith by connecting it to relevant life experiences.
OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets as an Engaging Tool More Than a Teaching Tool
I believe we've often made a very fundamental mistake in how we assist young people in developing their faith: We've hammered down on obvious answers to questions that they're often not even asking. And as a result youth can answer questions "correctly" but don't see why the answers are relevant to their daily lives.
Take for example the primary question of faith: Who is your Lord and Savior? The right answer, of course, is "Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior." I've heard young people answer this question correctly for many years. But I've also witnessed many young people get stumped regarding what Lord means in a culture in which we're all our own sources of truth, or why we need to be saved when everyone is basically okay. We mistakenly believe that just having good information is enough. But the information needs vitality and relevance that youth can wrestle with.
This is why we believe that young people must understand the tensions of life from which questions arise and struggle with how to answer those questions before they hear how God addresses lordship and salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. Then we can ask, "If this is how life is, then who is YOUR Lord and Savior?"
By engaging young people inwardly—"INNERgizing" them into a real dialogue about their lives, their perceptions, and their faith—we can create pathways upon which we can partner with them as they grow as disciples.
A Common Pitfall to Avoid
Faith development is often a multi–step process. Some things must be set in place before other things can be embraced. For example, we might say a person moves from A to B before moving on to C and eventually arriving at D; but many leaders mistakenly view the move from A to D as a simple task and grow impatient for those under their care to make that developmental leap. And people may be willing to make leaps they're not ready for because they trust their leaders or are afraid to express doubts in "unsafe" environments. They also may believe they lack faith and feel guilty. And sometimes people just want to fit in.
I've witnessed these conditions where real faith isn't deep enough to sustain the pressures of real life, and substitutional faith is worn like a garment in God's house. Such followers attend gatherings but cannot pray for themselves, hold a secret doubt and guilt, and often defer to leaders on all matters of faith. Jesus says such followers are like shallow soil on which the seed falls and eventually dies.
Instead good Christian leaders understand that they're guides on the roadside as people follow the master.
Essentially a discussion leader can fill three roles: A Tool, a Thorn, or a Stage Director:
Tool: A force in the hand of the Holy Spirit that works in a young person's life during the process of faith building.
Thorn: The leader becomes an irritant in disciples' lives, which can alienate them from the faith community due to the unsafe faith environment and unrealistic expectations and impatient discipleship methods.
Stage Director: Leader inoculates young people against "catching" real faith by creating an environment that encourages wearing masks of belief and speaking a kind of church language, effectively insulating them from embracing a real, vital faith expressed in a living language.
Clearly only one role serves well here: the Tool.
OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets Can help Us Be Good Stewards of a Sacred Process
But if we understand that deep, rich soil may take time and much mulching if a seed is to take root, then we can as leaders trust that faith is not about us achieving something in others' lives but about the Holy Spirit shaping followers' lives. We can become stewards of a most sacred process. Young people can pick up useless notions of faith and life on their way to discovering real faith through vital discipleship, and if these useless notions are to be replaced with life–giving awareness in a living, vital faith in Jesus, we must offer patience and loving mentoring.
Remember that Thomas didn't at first believe that Jesus was resurrected even though the other disciples expressed to him what they had witnessed. It's a great testimony of those early followers of Jesus that Thomas was still with them "in their midst" a week later when Jesus showed up and confirmed himself to Thomas. In the same way it's important to create a safe environment where youth can explore their faith and express themselves without the expectation of correct performance or the pressure to make a developmental leap that they're not ready to sustain as a disciple until, for them, Jesus shows up.
LEADING AN OLD TESTAMENT TALKSHEET DISCUSSION
OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets can be used as a curriculum for your youth group, but they're designed as discussion springboards. They encourage your young people to take part and interact with each other while talking about real–life issues. And hopefully they'll do some serious thinking, discover new ideas for themselves, defend their points of view, and make decisions.
Youth today face a world of moral confusion. Teenagers are bombarded with the voices of society and the media—most of which drown out what they hear from the church. Youth leaders must teach the church's beliefs and values—and also help young people make right choices in a world full of options.
An OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheet discussion works to remedy this. While dealing with the questions and activities on the OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheet, your young people will think carefully about issues, compare their beliefs and values with others, and make their own choices. OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets also will challenge your youth to explain and rework their ideas in a Christian atmosphere of acceptance, support, and growth.
One of the most common fears among middle school youth group leaders is, "What will I do if the young people in my group just sit there and don't say anything?" Well, when young people don't have anything to say, it's because they haven't had a chance or time to get their thoughts organized! Most young people haven't developed the ability to think on their feet. Since many are afraid they might sound stupid, they don't even attempt to figure out how to voice their ideas and opinions.
Again, OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets let your youth deal with the issues in a challenging, non–threatening way before the actual discussion begins. They'll have time to organize their thoughts, write them down, and ease their fears about participating. They may even look forward to sharing their answers! Most importantly, they'll want to find out what others said and open up to talk through the topics.
If you're still a little leery about the success of a real discussion among your youth, that's okay! The only way to get them rolling is to get them started.
Your Role as the Leader
The best discussions don't happen by accident. They require careful preparation and a sensitive leader. Don't worry if you aren't experienced or don't have hours to prepare. OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets are designed to help even the novice leader! The more OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheet discussions you lead, the easier it becomes. Keep the following tips in mind when using the OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets as you get your young people talking.
Each OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheet deals with a different story. Under the title of each OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheet is a subtitle expressing its theme; you can use the subtitle to choose an OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheet to match your group's needs and maturity level. Don't feel obligated to use the OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets in the order they appear in this book, either. Use your best judgment and mix them up however you want—they are tools for you!
Each student will need a copy of the TalkSheet—which is the right–facing page. The material on the reverse side (the Leader's Guide) is just for you. You can make copies for your group only—but not every group in your town!—because we've given you permission to do so. But U.S. copyright laws have not changed, and it's still mandatory to request permission from a publisher before making copies of other published material. Thank you for cooperating.
Try It Yourself
Once you've chosen an OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheet for your group, answer the questions and do the activities yourself. Imagine your young peoples' reactions to the OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheet. This will help you prepare for the discussion and understand what you're asking them to do. Plus you'll have some time to think of other appropriate questions, activities, and Bible verses.
Get Some Insight
On each Leader's Guide page you'll find numerous tips and ideas for getting the most out of your discussion. You may want to add some of your own thoughts or ideas in the margins.
Set Up for the Talk
Make sure the seating arrangement is inclusive and encourages a comfortable, safe atmosphere for discussion. Theater–style seating (in rows) isn't discussion–friendly; instead arrange the chairs in a circle or semicircle (or on the floor with pillows!).
Introduce the Topic
You may introduce the topic before you pass out the OLD TESTAMENT TalkSheets to your group and then allow the topic to develop as you use the material. We have a simple format on the Leader's Guide that can help your introduction: In the "Read Out Loud" section, simply read the paragraph/s aloud, then ask a young person to read the story from the Bible. After the story is read, you can use the question in the "Ask" section to get the group primed for a discussion of the story.
Depending on your group, keep your introduction short and to the point. Be careful not to over-introduce the topic, sound preachy, or resolve the issue before you've started. Your goal is to spark their interest and leave plenty of room for discussion, allowing the material to introduce the topic.
Now you're on your way! The following are excellent methods you can use to introduce any topic in this book—
Show a related short film or video.
Read a passage from a book or magazine that relates to the subject.
Play a popular CD/DVD that deals with the topic.
Perform a short skit or dramatic presentation.
Play a simulation game or role–play, setting up the topic.
Present current statistics, survey results, or read a newspaper article that provides recent information about the topic.
Use an icebreaker or other crowd game, getting into the topic in a humorous way.
Use posters, videos, or other visuals to help focus attention on the topic.
Excerpted from High School TalkSheets, Epic Old Testament Stories by David Lynn Copyright © 2012 by David Lynn. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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