Teaching Through James
A trend I have begun with our high school retreats is teaching through a whole book of the Bible. This is done for a couple of reasons:
- Given the setting, I have the ability to go longer in my messages. After a long day at school on Wednesdays, students have a hard time if I go longer than 20 minutes. With plenty of interaction and activities within lessons, I can take up to an hour on retreats.
- Students are stuck for 4 sessions in a row, and can’t miss anything, so it’s a really good time to go through a comprehensive topic.
Last year? 1 John. This year? The book of James!
On the way up, all the students had to read or listen to the book of James in whatever vehicle they were riding in. Then we had “Session 0” where we went through the camp overview and watched a video overview of the book of James.
We began our first full session with our students in shepherding groups, which are small groups of students led by youth leaders. In those, the students shared about their current lives and prayer requests, expectations for the retreat, and read & discussed James 1:1–18.
Our lesson time began with the discussion of hoarders, including some personal experience I have had in ministry with hoarders. Then, I showed them this video, about the super gross experiences the children of hoarders have had:
In breaking down the second half of James 1, we discussed what “moral filth” and “useless religion” is…. well, it’s a lot like hoarding! In James, those things are characterized by a faith with no action, anger and hatred, and an out of control tongue. Furthermore, we discussed what it meant to be a doer of the Word, not just one who always consumes churchy things, but one who takes action.
This session took place at the dining room tables, each student assigned to sit with their own shepherding group (which wasn’t a hard thing to do… our boys and girls don’t intermingle that much). We began our lesson by having them make an advertisement for our youth ministry using a funny picture. You can check out the winning ad by clicking this Facebook link:
We moved on to the topic of judging others. Those ads were reflective of how they see our ministry. How do you think other people in our ministry (or church, or school) see you? Then the student were asked how they were doing at being judgmental of others over things like appearance, athletic ability, and popularity.
I gave the shepherding group leaders about 10 minutes to read and discuss the faith and works section of chapter 2. In closing, we had a time of communion--reviewing the severity of taking communion when your heart is out of alignment, while explaining the importance of the fact that we celebrate the life of Jesus and His current ministry to the church.
This was our anticipated formal dinner event. Students and leaders all dressed up, and students were escorted in to a “5 star” Italian dinner cooked by one of our fantastic volunteers. After a few other icebreaker games, I led a game called “Box of Lies”, demonstrated here:
After playing, we discussed what was most surprising and whether it was easier to tell if someone was telling the truth or lying and what was most surprising. We then dug into the text and discussed the power of the tongue and all the imagery used in this body of text. We then dug deep into these questions:
- How have you personally seen (or not seen) Christians reflect Jesus with their words?
- What about the words you use? How often are you in a tough spot because of what you said?
- Have any of you ever been encouraged?
In closing, the students all had to write an encouraging note to each person at their table — perhaps seeing something in them that they themselves hadn’t seen. We closed the lesson in worship and with a magnificent dessert!
In the morning of our final day, the students had to read James 3:13–4:17…. such good content but certainly not enough time in the weekend to cover it all. We did all of chapter 5 in one sitting, first opening with the question about advice:
“Has anyone ever been given any good advice but chosen not to follow it?”
James 5 is full of snippets of good advice. Breaking the students off into their 3 shepherding groups, I had each group act out one of the following sections: 5:1–6, 5:7–12, 5:13–18.
We discussed the application and importance of understanding our own wealth, having patience, and believing in the power of prayer. We closed with 45 minutes of shepherding group time — reviewing the weekend and ending in prayer.
All in all, it was one of the better weekend retreats I have ever been on. We had lots of time connecting and pouring into students, having lots of fun (including going cosmic inner-tubing), and just enjoying time together. Reading through the book of James twice just sweetened the fellowship.