January can be a tough month to do youth ministry. This activity can help you and your youth refocus.
As Lars Rood reminds us in this thoughtful post, after the build-up of the fall and the flurry of the holidays, by January we are sometimes left asking "Where do we go from here?"
For these reasons, January is a great time to take stock with your youth about your ministry together. The month itself is named after Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings and transitions. Janus is often depicted as two-faced, looking toward the past and toward the future. January also marks the beginning of the season of Epiphany, when we observe the coming of the wise men and the manifestation of the light of Christ for the whole world.
This week, we'll be asking our youth to celebrate the season of epiphany by shining a light both on where we've been so far in ministry and on where we are called to go in the days ahead. Here a few suggestions for trying this approach with your group.
1) Last Year in Review: Warm up the group by seeing how much attention they were paying in the past year. Split into small teams and present a series of trivia questions both about world events from the past year and events within your own group or church. I like to keep this less competitive by providing each group with a small chalkboard. I ask the question, give each team a minute or so to decide upon and write their answer, and then all groups show me their written responses simultaneously. Every team with a correct response gets a point. (Want to be a little more raucous? Give each team a noise maker and let them sound it when they have an answer ready). Need some 2011 trivia? You might start here.
2) Epiphony: Provide each group with the short retelling of the Epiphany story below. Challenge them to underline elements in the story that don't quite jive with the biblical version (the errors are underlined for you):
In the season of Epiphany, we retell the story of a December long ago when the three kings spotted a huge, bright star in the sky and followed it to the manger in Bethlehem where Jesus had just been born. Their names were Balthazar, Melchior, and Caspar. After arriving in Bethlehem, the wise men met with Pharaoh who asked them to bring him word when they had discovered the location of the baby. Upon finding Jesus, they bowed down, worshiped him, and presented him with gold, frankenstine, and myrrh. Then, knowing that Pharaoh was up to no good, the wise men escaped on their camels by a different way home.
See how many inaccuracies they spotted and then talk about why it's important to get this story right (or, more to the point, why it's important not to just conflate this story with Luke's account). Ask the youth to share why they think Matthew included this story in his gospel. What could it mean? What does it have to do with Epiphany as a "season of light?"
3) Taking Stock: Share the origin of the word "January" and invite your youth to do some reflecting on the past and future. Post a series of flip chart pages or poster boards with different titles (see below) around the room. Youth should move in their small groups in turn to each poster and write or draw their reponses. Limit time at each poster to about 3 minutes and then have each team move to a new poster.
Possible headings could include:
- Looking Back: What Can We Celebrate About Last Year?
- Predictions: What Do You Want to Do Together in the New Year? (e.g. activities, events, trips, experiences, changes)
- Epiphany 1: What do You Want to Shed some Light on This Year (e.g. what do you want to learn, study, talk about?)
- Epiphany 2: Where Can We Shed Some Light this Year? (e.g. where can we serve, help, be in mission?)
- Which Endings Will We Observe/Celebrate This Year?
- Which Beginnings Will We Eperience this Year?
3) Setting Priorities: Next, provide each person with about ten stickers and give them a few minutes to review all the responses on the posters. As they do so, they are invited to put a sticker next to ideas, suggestions, statements by others that they like the most. Just remind them: only 10 votes per person. Later, you can review the posters to determine which ideas seem to connect most with the group overall and possibly intergrate these into your plans for the rest of the school year and beyond.
4) Light of the World: Close with a time of worship by sitting in a circle and giving to each teen a battery-operated LED votive candle. Challenge your youth to think of one significant way in the coming week that they can bring the light of Christ into the lives of the people around them (or perhaps one way they will bring light to your ministry together in the new year). Go around the circle, inviting each person to "light" their votive and share their plan for being a light in the darkness (if some youth choose not to share aloud, simply have them light their votive and then move on to the next person). Close in prayer and send the youth home with their candle, challenging them to light it as least once a day as a reminder of their committment.