Students’ Letters to Congress about School Safety

lessons, social activism, youth ministry

The other day I published a list of ideas to help talk to students about school shootings. As I stressed, I believe that the church should be a place where students feel safe–on both a physical level but also safe to have hard conversations…even about the most controversial issues.

School safety is one of those; everyone has a different idea of how to make our schools safer from mass shootings. But I know that all of us do believe that there should never be another mass shooting again…especially on a school campus.

Right now in our 8th grade class we’re talking about the spiritual gifts of prophecy, givers, and encouragement; gifts I’ve called the movers. Movers are people who speak out, who get things done, and who push for social and personal change.

At the end of each section of gifts, students have an opportunity to put those gifts into action. With recent events, I asked students to write letters to our Senators and Representatives.

I stressed repeatedly: I am not telling you what to write. I did provide a sample letter that I found online and beefed up a little. I also encouraged them to focus on one of the three main factors that people believe impact school shootings: gun laws, mental health, and general school safety. That was all I gave them.

Afterwards, I did give them some questions to process this. In truth, they didn’t have time to discuss my questions because they were so into the letter-writing and discussing their ideas for change. It was really cool to watch them think critically. Often times our kids only hear us diss our politicians, not think about how to constructively interact with them.

But the questions I gave them were about what it means to mold our politics and our faith together:

  1. How is this “speaking out?” How does this activity change your view of a “prophet?”
  2. Why is it our “Christian duty” to speak out against injustice?
  3. Why should Christians not only speak out, but also put their words into action?
  4. What else could we, as Christians, do to prevent school shootings?
  5. Often times we talk about a need for “separation between church and State.” When and why should your faith impact your political beliefs? How does your faith personally impact your political beliefs?
  6. When prophets predicted Jesus’s birth, they prophesied that Jesus would be a “great king” that would bring about “great political reform” to save them. It’s interesting that, even then, religion and politics worked together. What do you think Jesus would want to change today?
  7. (this question can get dicey, but let’s go for it) Why do you think religious people can have such different political beliefs? (be nice, don’t just blast Trump/Hillary/Bernie/Republicans/Democrats…think critically)

But onto the letters, because that’s the main reason I’m writing this post: I want to share some excerpts from the letters that these precious students wrote. I loved that our students had a range of political beliefs (I super-love that about my church), but that they were able to think really constructively and talk with one another about their differences. At the end of each teen’s letter they asked the senator/representative to write them back.

Aren’t you glad that these kids will one day rule the world? (Snapchat debaccles aside)

Here’s what they wrote:

“I am writing to you to ask that you help make school safer. I don’t know about other schools but the only form of security seems to be a police officer. I feel that we should have the type of security that airports do. Even if it will cost a little more it is worth it to keep us safe. I feel like kids should also be monitored better because the shooter in Florida had talked about it for months but no one did anything. I just feel like I should be able to feel safe while learning.”

“My friends are scared. They don’t come to school sometimes because of their fear. I am also spooked, by stomach aches and my head hurts because of it. It’s hard for me to focus and it’s hard for teachers to teach.”

“Recent events have sparked conversations on social media, at school, at church, and within my family. I recently learned something that had never occured to me before. It recently occured to me that this didn’t happen in past generations. My generation is the only generation that knows how to do a lockdown drill. I have memories from first grade of hiding in the corner of my dark classroom, being silent, and waiting until we got the all clear. A feeling of fear in my own school, a place where I should never be scared of losing my life, was planted in me at a young age. I do not feel safe in a place where I am forced to go every day. I should feel safe at school, a place I go to learn how to be functioning member of society. Giving guns to my teachers would not help that.”

“We are asking you to consider how we feel, and we are using our voices to the fullest extent that we can. We are asking you to do the same.”

“I am writing you to ask that you help make school safer. I am concerned that going to school can put my life at risk. That EVERY student at my school may be at risk of a school shooting. School should make you feel safe, not in danger.”

“I am currently aware of the political debate over gun control. I may just be a student, but I have a voice that needs to be heard. I want to speak up about my perspective on gun control. Our president believes giving more guns out to the teachers of our district can benefit our schools. I believe that there should be stricter gun laws. Putting more firearms in a harmful situation can only make it worse.”

“I hate that kindergartners have to know how to hide from a person with a gun, trying to kill them. School should be a safe and secure place where you don’t need to be afraid. Now days people can easily buy a gun as long as they have enough money. This needs to stop. I can’t imagine losing my best friend in a school shooting, or getting a call telling me there has been a shooting at my child’s school.”

“School should be a safe place to learn, not a place to question your safety.”

“I am writing to you after hearing of the shootings in Florida. Although I’ve supported Republicans all my life, I feel as though we need a flat-out ban on assault rifles. NO good comes from semi-automatic rifles. When our founding fathers wrote the second amendment, they had no army and therefore relied upon citizens to take up arms against enemies of the United States. Also they had muskets, not assault rifles back in the 1800s. We can protect ourselves without military grade assault rifles now. We also have a military to protect us, unlike back in the 1800s. We can protect ourselves with handguns, shotguns, crossbows, etc. I appreciate your help and ask that you please send me a response and maybe an autograph?”

(that one made me laugh)

“I’m already a very paranoid person and school is scary enough on its own, but with the threat of a school shooting my brain goes crazy. Columbine, Sandy Hook, and the most recent school shooting in Florida are some of the worst and most terrifying. I shouldn’t have to worry about going to school, and while I don’t believe we need to band guns I do believe we need to make a change. From my observations, some of these kids that are planning to or actually do commit these crimes are social outcasts, people who don’t know how to fit in, people who are bullied by what they believe to be “popular” people. For example in Columbine the shooters wanted revenge on their popular peers. We, the schools, need to stop talking about laptops in the lunchroom, we need to be talking about caring for people, we need to destroy the whole “I’m popular and you’re not” philosophy. Maybe then, after making these kids feel loved and helped, the problem won’t be so bad.”

Y’all… let’s do right by our kids. Let’s give them an opportunity to use their own voice, from their own perspective, to speak their own truth. For some of these kids, their truth was a little different than my own. But that’s why it’s important that I listen to them–because that’s the only way to learn from them. And I think in this situation–it’s the only way to bring about change that can positively impact their lives.

Addressing School Shootings in Youth Ministry

lessons, youth ministry

I have two major philosophies in youth ministry:

  1. The church should be the safest place in the world. Every kid has the right to have a place where they belong, where they can be themselves, where they can share their story and feel known. I work with middle schoolers because no place feels safe to this age: home can feel like a war zone, friends change more than their underwear, and the need to compete and be perfect in academia and extracurriculars is making our children anxious. Plus… their bodies are betraying them.
  2. In order for the church to be the safest place, we have to have the toughest conversations here. Conversations that are otherwise untouchable become essential to understanding our human condition and our calling as Christians.

And while I hate that I have to write a blog post about how to discuss school shootings, I do so because I recognize that (a) our kids literally don’t feel safe right now and (b) it’s our duty to make sure that students can talk about this at church.

As I process the latest school shooting, my heart is full of grief and lament. My love lost a long-time dear friend in that shooting, a man who lost his life protecting children. When I initially heard the news last Wednesday, I quickly moved on. This happens all the time. It hit me at Ash Wednesday service, when our pastor began the service with a lament. I was sitting next to two middle schoolers, and I almost felt like it was inappropriate to remind them of their reality. Isn’t that crazy? And when PJ found out his friend’s life was robbed, I still hadn’t quite connected it all. It wasn’t until Sunday, when PJ was grieving in worship and our pastor stood up and called it our Christian duty to react that I realized: I had been numb. Apathetic. And that is nothing more than pathetic. 

Today I repented of my apathy, and committed myself to doing whatever it takes to make sure that those who are grieving have the space and resources to turn their grief into holy work. And since the voices of this movement are young, I feel like it’s only appropriate that we make the church a place where students can react and take action.

Here are some ideas and resources for both discussion and action:

Tools for Discussion

Ideas for Action

  • Partner with other churches. Contact your denominational office, nearby churches, etc. to see how you can partner.
  • Partner with “March for our Lives.” More information will come out about what this looks like, but do whatever you can to make sure that your church has a presence.
  • Collect money. March for our Lives is also a great resource for that.
  • If you partner with one main local school, consider making your church a hub for the walk-out on April 20th. Definitely ask parents how they feel about this before you condone skipping school. I remember in high school we did a “walk-out” once, and most of my friends ended up rioting; so if you have a place where students can come grab snacks and hang out, then that could be helpful.
  • Pray over the names and pictures.
  • Adapt a “Safe Shooter Policy” at your church. We went through this a few years ago, and it was really difficult for me to sit through a seminar on what to do if a shooter walks into your church…but it’s important.
  • Write letters with students to local congressmen. Click here to find your representatives. You can also use the “Town Hall” feature on Facebook.
  • Research to see if there are any Town Halls, or if you can get school shootings on the agenda at your local town meeting. Show up with students.
  • Whenever you can, make sure that students are leading the efforts within the church. This is THEIR concern, let THEM tell the story from their perspective. The only way this will change is if it gets personal–and we needs kids telling adults their story.
  • Allow students to write prayers of lament.
  • Support campaigns of students as they come up with them, like this Facebook page students started or this one that killed Kmart sales of guns after Columbine.
  • Create an evening of prayer stations. Here’s one (created for All Saint’s Day, but still amazing).
  • Or these prayer stations, created for the Belgium terrorist attack.
  • Go OT and build an altar on your prayers.
  • Share this article with parents from PBS.

GAME: Mario Kart

games, youth ministry

A few years ago, PJ took me on THE MOST CREATIVE date: Mario Kart down at Fountain Square. It was so much fun–there were people in costumes, racing around in a cross between a go-cart and a tricycle. The crowd could purchase water balloons to throw at them, and it was just amazing.

PJ and I wanted to recreate this for our youth ministry, so we tested it out last year, and it was a huge success…so we did it again! Here’s the video from last years’:

Mario Kart: Invite Night edition from St. Luke’s UMC Youth on Vimeo.

SET-UP:

  • 10 boxes total will be set up, in 2 sets of 5.
  • Under each box should be one of the following: a dodgeball (AKA a “shell), a printed out picture of a Mario Star, or a toy banana
  • Finish line with tape
  • Tape around the room to mark off the course (take a look at the video to understand how we did it!)
  • Trikes at the finish/start line (we rented ours from a local party rentals place)
  • We purchased helmets for each trike

HOW TO PLAY:

  • Students will race the course using trikes and helmets.
  • Twice, there will be a set of 5 boxes that students MUST stop for and choose an item.
  • Shells (Dodgeballs) students take with them and may throw at another student. If hit, student must stop for ten seconds and shout ONE MISSISSIPPI…TWO MISSISSIPPI…
  • Bananas stop students suddenly for ten seconds. They must shout ONE MISSISSIPPI…TWO MISSISSIPPI…
  • Stars give STAR POWER. An adult will push a student for ten seconds, giving them a huge boost! During this 10 seconds they can’t be hit by dodgeballs.
  • First student to the finish line wins!

It’s that easy to play! We had this as part of our “Giant Games Night,” with giant Jenga, Checkers, Hungry-Hungry Hippos, Twister, Human Fooseball, and more!

Nerf Night Games

games, youth ministry

Nerf Night is a favorite of our students, one that they look forward to each year. I’ve put on Nerf & Nachos Night for the last three years, and we are looking forward to it again Friday!

We purchased:

We communicate to our students that they may bring their own Nerf Blaster (we label it with painter’s tape and duct tape as soon as they walk through the door), but to leave the darts at home. I recommend being careful about the language used for Nerf: saying “darts” instead of ammo, “blaster” or “toy” instead of gun, things like that.

Another thing that is important is to establish the rules for the evening:

  1. Load the Blaster properly.
  2. Wear your goggles at all times.
  3. No aiming toward the head.
  4. If you get hit, you are out until the next game.
  5. Ricochets do not count as hits.
  6. Darts that are on the ground are fair game to pick up and reuse.
  7. Each round might have specific rules for that game–listen to your game leader!
  8. When you are listening to the rules, Blaster is on the ground and hands are in the air. (This is so they’ll listen and not fidget)
  9. Have fun!

Nerf Games

Round One – Basic Nerf

  • Students will be in four teams (designated by paper wristbands)
  • Students will use barriers to eliminate the other team.
  • Once out, people will come to the sides of the gym and root their team on.
  • You can add in bases–essentially, a target on all sides of the gym for teams to protect. If a team’s base gets hit with a dart, the game is over for the team.

Round Two – Hunger Games

  • Each person gets a Blaster, and scatter them around the four sides of the room.
  • Put the darts in the center of the room in the “Cornucopia.”
  • Students race to the center to grab darts for their Blaster and hit each other.
  • Last person standing wins.

Round Three– Zombie Nerf Tag

  • One to five people are designated the “Zombies.” They each are equipped with a gun.
  • All other Blasters are put into the center of the room (if students brought their own Blaster, that also goes into the center–we allow students to grab whatever Blaster they’d like, but you can have the rule that students who brought theirs get theirs).
  • The Zombies hit the living with their Blasters. When a person is hit, they go grab a Blaster.
  • This continues until the last person without a Blaster wins!

Round Four– Dodgeball Style

  • The people are split into two teams
  • Each side has a Blaster. All of the darts are sprinkled along the center line of the room, like you would for Dodgeball.
  • Students race to the center to grab darts for their Blaster and hit each other. They must stay on their team’s side.
  • Like dodgeball, the last person standing wins for their team! At a certain point, like when there are five or less on one side, you can call “NO BOUNDARIES” and they can cross to each other’s side.

Round Five– Capture the Flag

  • For this game, the teams will use the hallways of the church on the first floor only. We close all rooms in the church, so that students don’t go in. We tell students “if the door is open, you can go in, but you cannot go into closed doors.”
  • Each team gets their color of bandana for their team.
  • Each team hides their color flag around the church–point each team in a general direction. Have an adult go with them so that it’s “semi-visible.”

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Youth Ministry Olympics

games, youth ministry

Each year for the past four years, I’ve celebrated the Olympics in some way with our students. This year I had help–our high school director and I created some really fun games that our students really enjoyed.

Here I’ll recap the games that we did yesterday, along with the graphics that I made on Canva (you may steal them for yourself!). I”ll also throw it back and re-discover some of the games I did in years’ past.

2018 – Winter Games

1

This year we combined all of 5th-12th grade together for our Olympics. We planned our games for 144 participants, to be placed in random teams through paper wristbands at checkin. We gave all of our Adult Leaders pinnies to wear (leftover from another event), and called them our official “Olympics Referees.” As this image flashed on the screen, the Olympic Fanfare played to get students’ attention. We planned for 12 teams of 12, eliminating 3 teams per round. For teams that were eliminated, we had plastic clappers so that they would have something to “play with” to keep them engaged.2

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Biathlon is a game I’ve never given much thought to, until I realized it’s the most youth-ministry game ever (next to Curling!). We gave each team two shoe boxes–we had several leftover from Operation Christmas Child years ago. We placed tape at the “start line”, then placed Nerf Guns on the other side (two per team to keep the game moving quickly, so that adults had enough time to reload Nerf guns). Students did this relay-style.

3

Remember those ice packs you’d get as a kid from the nurse, made from paper towels and zip-lock bags? We made ice packs by making a thick stack of paper towels, wetting them, putting them in baggies, then placing a little more water in them and some food coloring to make three different colors of ice packs. I made a score board with painter’s tape on the table (I’m mad I didn’t get a picture of this!). Three teams went at a time, and the team that has the least points at the end of round is eliminated.4

One of my favorite games of all time is a game my good friend Elisa taught me, called “Snot River.” You give the teams two two-by-fours, and they have to figure out how to get their entire team across the river without touching the floor. We gave the two-by-fours to the students and told them that however they could get across, go for it! They just had to remember that the floor is lava/snot/ice and they can’t touch it. We had a time limit, and at the end there were only three teams left, but the team that had the most people across won. We placed them in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd going into the final rounds.5

We pre-chose ten songs for the students, and our high school director even made some hilarious videos to go in the back of each of the songs. We chose:

  • Uptown Funk
  • My heart will go on
  • …Are you ready
  • Don’t Stop Believing
  • Despacito
  • Filthy
  • Thunder
  • U Can’t Touch This
  • Havana

The first place team got to choose their song first, then so on. While teams chose their songs and did their strategies, I played this workout video that I’m obsessed with to get students moving…so they didn’t get bored. Middle schoolers are always bored and demanding that I entertain them. What’s more entertaining than this?

6

The medals we gave out were pieces of candy on ribbon. Creative, right? Cheapest way to award your participants, and let’s be honest; they’ll throw anything you give them away…but they WILL eat candy.

Summer Games 2016

We did an Olympics “Invite Night” (which is our outreach-ceneterd monthly event). One of my favorite pieces of the evening was the Taco Bell Olympics games that we did up-front with students. Purchase that here–I highly recommend it! The games included:

  • Baja Blast Relay
  • Crunchwrap Curling
  • Loaded Griller Javelin Throw
  • 12-Pack Marathon

We gave students stations that represented some games you might play at the summer games:

  • basketball
  • volleyball
  • soccer
  • broom ball (like hockey, but in the summertime!)

Shout to Hebrews 12 on “running the race” as your lesson theme. You are welcome. We also had inflatable globes that students could hit during worship, and hung flags around our chapel.

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Winter Games 2014

My games get less clever as we throw it back further and further. This year I did Hockey and Ice Skating, and they were a hit! But we ALSO had:

Field Curling–There’s one hula hoop in the center, and each team gets three frisbees. One team member from each team takes turns throwing their frisbee. Whoever is closest wins their round. Whoever has most round wins gets the medal!

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Medal Hunt — fill a kiddie pool with Orbeez and plastic medals. Place up to 4 people around the pool. Put one minute on the clock. The kid who collects the most medals using their feet wins! Hint: do this outside. It took us a while to clean this up from the retreat center we were at!

Sled Relay — First person in line puts the second person in line in their sled, and they race them to the other side. Second person gets out, runs the sled back, and then carries over the third person to the other side. First team to finish the relay wins!

ending thoughts…

There is so much more that I could say about how to incorporate the Olympics into student ministry. It’s such an easy win to do the games in some way each time it rolls around. For us, each year has been different: This year, on a Sunday morning; two years ago, at a special event; four years ago, as a part of a retreat weekend. It’s an awesome way to get students interacting on teams and relating a sport that should be appreciated to their own story.

I encourage you to consult Pinterest for more–there are lots more games, snack ideas, and cool ways to customize the Olympics, no matter the size group your have

Youth Group Birthday Games

games, Uncategorized, youth ministry

it's a bowling birthday party.png

My birthday fell on a Wednesday this year, and I decided to throw a birthday party for my middle school students!

I took inspiration from my dear friend Elisa, another youth worker, who at a former church shared a birthday week with her co-diretor of youth ministry. They threw a huge birthday bash for all of their students. For them, they called it “everyone’s birthday party”–so no matter when your birthday is, your celebration was that evening. For me, I marketed mine as “Heather’s Birthday Party…FOR YOU!”

I love the idea of sharing your birthday with students! I came up with some silly games. Enjoy!

Balloon Stomp

PREP: Balloon Stomp is one of the most classic youth ministry games of all time–each person has a balloon and a piece of string. They blow up the balloon, tie it to the string, and tie it to the foot (make sure that they tie it so that there is slack on the string–some of my students like to cheat and make the balloon TINY and then tie it to the ankle).

OBJECT: Students stomp on each other’s balloons. Once you’re popped, you’re out. Last balloon standing wins.

TIPS & TRICKS:

  • As the number of students dwindles down, make sure to also reduce the space.
  • One way to do this is to have everyone make a circle, hold hands, and stomp on each other’s balloons.
  • To make it chaotic, I like to call out to those who have been eliminated to get back in there and stomp on the balloons to eliminate quickly. You could even play a version where, from the beginning, when someone is eliminated they still play!

Human Piñata

OBJECT & PREP: Students are holding candy (in their pockets, on their person, etc) and a pool noodle. Students will hit each other, and if so, they give up candy.

VERSIONS:

  • Each person has a pool noodle and has candy (in their shirt, pockets, wherever). Essentially, students just go crazy and hit each other. When you get hit, you have to drop some candy. This game doesn’t really go smoothly, it’s just an excuse to hit each other and give out candy. After a certain amount of time, you yell out and everyone collects candy.
  • Each person has a pool noodle and candy. When a person is hit, they’re “out” and must drop all of their candy. At the end, you tell the last person that they get all of the candy. Then, say “just kidding” and everyone else gets in there and collects too!
  • One or a few people have a pool noodle, and a shirt that has candy taped to it (or, a bucket taped to their back with some candy in it). Students try to grab candy from the person’s clothing. If they get hit, they are out.

Extreme Pin the Tail on the Donkey Relay

PREP: Put a “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” game on the wall (we used “Pin the Like on the Emoji” from Five Below). Make enough Tails for each person–in sticker form or with tape on it. Since this is a relay, you can have on Pin-the-Tail game per team, or have them all race to one board.

OBJECT: Students spin around ten times (counting out loud), then run to the board and pin their Tail on. They then run back, tag the next person in line’s hand, and they do the same. The first team to get all their Tails pinned wins!

Cupcake Wars

VARIATIONS: You can play this as an up-front game with a large group, or you can include all students with a medium or small-sized group.

PREP: 

  • Bake or purchase enough cupcakes for each student.
  • Get some supplies to decorate the cupcakes: Frosting, icing, sprinkles, candy (Skittles, Mike & Ikes, M&Ms, Red Hots, Runts, etc.), chocolate chips, etc.
  • Place supplies in the center, put plates in each placeholder.

OBJECT: Best cupcake wins!

Top Reads of 2017

book review

I love reading. So much. Here are my five favorite books from this year:

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown: Braving the Wilderness is a book all about shame–something we all experience but can’t seem to put into words (or are too ashamed to–see what I did there?). I devoured this in a day, unlike her last book, which took me 10 months to read because it kept kicking my butt. I feel like this book was really influential in my journey this year.

Stand Out 2.0 by Marcus Buckingham: One of the things I’ve most enjoyed this year is taking some time to understand what my strengths are. I’ve often bought into the lie that I need to strengthen my weaknesses, but through the Strengthfinders test and now the Stand Out 2.0 test, I realize that what I need to do instead is to harness all the great things about me and find people to stand in my gaps. I feel like my sense of self-awareness is sharper than ever, and my self-confidence has really improved. PS, this book is actually really short.

Intentional Living by John C. Maxwell: I wasn’t sure about this book, since a grinning old white guy was on the cover. But I heard him speak last year at the Global Leadership Summit, and I put his book on my bedside table for 7 months before I finally picked it up and devoured it. Maxwell talks a lot about owning your story and telling it well–something that obviously interests me. He has a lot of his own personal stories in it, as well as practical activities.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg: This year I really wanted to focus on better habits (I might have failed at this). I loved this book, because it was more than self-help; it talked about how habits are formed, and related it not only to our personal habits but even how companies track our habits (which I found equally fascinating and creepy). This book was great for both the self-help geek and the information geek inside of me.

Off Balance by Matthew Kelly: One of the things I’ve been struggling with is how to do ministry, which I love, while also supporting a relationship with a kind man, who I also love. HOW CAN I SPEND ALL MY TIME WITH BOTH?! The great thing this book taught me is that balance is a lie, and the more I put up boundaries, the more chaos I make for myself. So, I quit having so many boundaries, and I feel more balanced than ever. Strange. But it works.

Honorary mentions of what I meant to read but didn’t even though they’ve been on my bedside table all year because I stink but PROMISE I WILL NEXT YEAR OKAY:

  • What is the Bible? By Rob Bell
  • Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey
  • Option B by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant
  • Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves
  • Martin Luther by Eric Mextexas (it took me 2 hours to read 70 pages)

What else should I read in 2018?

Christmas Game: Wheel of Naughty & Nice

games, Resources, youth ministry

I wanted to share my favorite Christmas game with you all-a game that I made up last year for our student ministry!

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The Main Idea: The Wheel of Naughty & Nice is a game that you can use with students to determine if they’ve been naughty or nice this year! If they spin “nice,” they get a candy cane. If they spin “naughty,” they have a chance to make up for their behavior and get an even better prize: a gift card. We used gift cards for Starbucks, Dairy Queen, Taco Bell, iTuness, & Steak N Shake.

Setting it up: Each “Nice” label has a candy cane underneath it, and each “Naughty” label has a challenge and then a gift card underneath. We use painter’s tape, FYI.

The “Naughty” Challenges:

  • Sing “Jingle Bells” at the top of your lungs. Think: your best Buddy the Elf voice.
  • Grab the jar of vaseline and cotton balls. Convince a friend to let you give them a Santa beard.
  • With a mouthful of water, hum “Frosty the Snowman” through the entire chorus.
  • QUICK! Name all 12 Reindeer
  • QUICK! Name the two books of the Bible that the birth of Jesus is in.
  • Sit on a person’s lap and tell them what you want for Christmas.
  • Lead the room in your favorite Christmas carol
  • Tell the room your top three Christmas movies
  • Grab the red paint. Convince a friend to let you paint their nose like Rudolph!
  • Have a few friends wrap you in toilet paper like a snowman.

Make sure that you collect all the supplies you need for the wheel and place them near your wheel for easy access! You can also do additional challenges. I have done challenges where students wrap each other like presents or decorate like Christmas trees, but that tends to take a lot of time–if an activity takes some time, and you have a large group that won’t pay attention for more than 60 seconds, have them move to the side, and keep spinning the wheel; then “check back in” with the challenge and give them their reward.

One last note: have a plan for if a student spins the wheel on an empty spot previously chosen by another. Either have an extra candy cane for them, or let them spin again.

Hope y’all enjoy! This was a hit with our students last year, and we are making another for this year.

update: here’s our picture for this year! The only issue was that we didn’t put it BETWEEN the prongs, so students kept spinning and choosing two. Don’t make our mistake! 😂

A story about an 8th grade boy

junior high ministry, lessons, youth ministry

In my last post I talked about sharing stories of hope. So here’s a nice one for you–

In our church we teach Confirmation in 7th grade (which, for my evangelical friends: Confirmation is a “coming of age” process where students affirm the vows made at their baptism by their parents to raise them in faith, and then pledge to own their faith as their own).  One of the crazy things about Confirmation is that people come out of the woods for the process: while a class could average 25 in 6th grade, it can average 45 in 7th grade. It’s kind of insane. And one of the big problems with Confirmation in our church–and others–is that after Confirmation, that number typically goes down dramatically–to 15 students weekly.

Lots of smart minds have put their heads together trying to figure out why there’s such a big drop-off after Confirmation, but no one really has tons of answers. And that’s sad, because I love my church and think it’s exactly what a teenager needs as they go through puberty and get a car and question their entire existence before they go off to college. So, I got creative and tried to figure out: How can we keep kids after Confirmation? But there was another question: What do students need after Confirmation? And since we do Confirmation in 7th grade, we ask: What doe an 8th grader need? 

We identified that an appropriate response to Confirming your faith would be to discover your Spiritual Gifts. This makes perfect sense for the 8th grade year, since ending middle school and entering high school brings about several questions of identity: Who am I? What am I good at? What do I have to offer the world?

Of course, there are no year-long courses on Spiritual Gifts (and especially not for students). And my colleagues thought I’d be crazy to talk about this for an entire year with middle schoolers. Will they care? Are they going to get bored? Shouldn’t we talk about stuff they want to talk about? 

What we realized was: this is kinda perfect. But we also decided to make sure that an 8th grader has a way of practicing their spiritual gifts as they are learning about them. So, I did several steps:

  • We used the Spiritual Gifts assessment and resources by LeaderTreks
  • I split the 15 gifts into 5 categories
  • Each of the 5 categories is a “unit”
  • At the end of the unit, we practice the gift in a hands-on way
  • (yes, I’ll go into this more into detail later. Shoot, I might even market this jank or give it away for free)

This month we did our unit on “Teachers” and focused on the gifts of Teaching, Evangelizing, and Mentoring/Pastoring. For the end of the unit, the 8th graders took over The Modge, our program for 5th & 6th graders. I decided to ask an 8th grade student to teach that day, and then have their peers lead Small Groups.

Who to ask? The class clown, obviously. Last year in 7th grade, Bob (not his name) would purposely troll the class. He was the kid that would shout things out, that would put silly questions in our “Ask Anything” jar, and who would be generally obnoxious. One leader even asked me if he could not be in his small group, because he can overwhelm things in a group setting.

But y’all. I believe in chaos. And when I got Bob’s gifts assessment back at the beginning of the year and saw Leadership, Speaking Out (prophecy), and Pioneering (apostleship). I squealed. I knew it. knew this kid was a leader.

And last month as I was teaching the lesson Evangelism, Bob shouted out “Heather, you want me to teach today?” And I laughed. And then I thought, “No, this boy should be teaching something.”

So I emailed his parents. And got his cell phone number. And talked to his dad. And told my leaders. And everyone thought it was equally crazy and equally possible that this could be the most brilliant thing to happen to our ministry. Maybe this could change things. Maybe this could solve our concerns about retention. Maybe this could just work.

And after meeting with him twice, high-fiving him 57 times, and handing over the stage? It did. It was amazing. At one point I took my eyes off of him to look around the room at all my leaders–who were all in awe with their mouths agape and grinning from ear-to-ear.

And when I asked his peers afterwards what they thought–they were impressed that their friend had the bravery to stand in a room full of almost 80 people.

Here’s another thing I love about this story: Bob’s lesson was on the shepherds at Jesus’s birth. The bottom line for the lesson was that God can use anybody to share his message with others. That shepherds had a lowly job, but they were visited by angels and given the only invitation to the greatest thing that has ever happened to our world–and then given the job to go share with with others.

Catch that? I didn’t even realize it until he was sharing his “underdog story” that we crafted together: God can use anybody to share his message with others. Even an 8th grade boy.

As for answering what to do after Confirmation, I’m not sure I have the magical answer. But what I walked away from Sunday thinking was, “I want to do this again.” I want to empower another student to lead. I want to see another student proclaim God’s promises from the stage. I want to see another group of students support their friend (even if they initially doubted him). I want to see another parent surprised at their kid’s potential. I want to see more Small Group Leaders rewarded for their investments pastoring these kids.

I want to see more. I need to see more. I crave more now. Because kids like Bob will solve all our problems but, more, they will readjust our hope for the church to be more about transforming lives and less about numbers.

Introducing: Letters to the Church

curriculum, Resources, youth ministry, Youth Specialties

Hi all! A few years ago, as I was writing the New Testament year for our middle school ministry’s rotation, I realized that there were no series out there on the Epistles. None. Nada. There are stories on Galatians, or Corinthians, or Philippians, but none that highlight each book and some of their core teachings.

So I wrote my own.

Introducing: Letters to the Church, on Youth Specialties! You can purchase a 6-week series for just $17. This is my first curriculum with my very own name on it (I wrote for YM360’s The Thread a few years back). I’m pretty proud of it, and I hope you find it to be original and helpful!