Week One: God is Love

Set-up:

It’s important to create a welcoming environment for your small group. Ideally, chairs are arranged around a table, or there are chairs in a circle. However, this depends on where you meet. You may decide to have some kind of devotional help (a reminder that your time together is set apart, such as a candle, cross or icon) or you may not. You may wish to have a written agenda for the evening, although that is also optional.

The most important thing is that your teens feel welcome and safe, and that you’ve made time to be together.

Needed materials:

  • An extra copy of Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John prayer journal in case a participant forgets his or hers. (You can also reference the prayer journal online if necessary.)
  • Books of Common Prayer for each participant, or access to bcponline.org. Hymnals optional.
  • A bible (or smartphone; you can access a free New Revised Standard Version at bible.oremus.org) for each participant.
  • Participants’ smartphones for use during activity.
  • Writing utensils for participants.
  • Technology activity: Smart phones
  • Craft Activity: Construction paper, scissors, glue, markers, one poster-sized piece of paper.
  • Game Activity: Elastic headband and index cards.

Learning outcomes:

  • Participants will be able to talk about how God’s unconditional love influences their lives.

Gathering Prayer:

Have the teen facilitator open in prayer, or invite one of the other teens to do so. You can invite them to spontaneously pray, or you can use this prayer:

Loving God, we ask to experience your profound love for us; that we may know and truly believe that we are deeply and unconditionally loved by God now and always, just as we are. Amen.

Check-in:

Using the process of mutual invitation as outlined in “Getting Started: Meeting Jesus” begin the check-in process with your group.

  • Where did you see God’s love for you this week?
  • How was the process of journaling? What surprised you? (N.B. this is a question about process “How did journaling/praying go for you?” not content “What did you journal about?”)

Small Group Activities:

Technology: Finding God’s Love in the Everyday

In this small group activity, participants will take time to think about the ways that God’s love is shown to them in everyday life.

Have participants open up the photos section of their phone. Invite them to find three images that show God’s love for them. This can be interpreted as literally or abstractly as one wishes. Invite each person to share why they chose these images, and how God’s love is shown in them in their everyday existence. (If you have a large group, you may want to ask teens to only present one image.)

Craft: God’s Love for the World

In this craft, participants will articulate how God loves the world.

Needed: Construction paper, scissors, glue, markers, one poster-sized piece of paper.

Distribute the construction paper and tell participants to cut out different colored hearts of varying sizes. The more colors and variety of shapes, the better. Instruct participants to write a way that God shows God’s love to the world on each heart. When each participant has several hearts completed, start gluing the hearts in the shape of a heart on the large piece of paper. As you glue, make note of what is written on the heart, and ask follow-up questions about what was written. (Repeat answers are okay!) This may be displayed on a bulletin board or in the place where you meet.

Game: How Do You Say You Love Me?

In this game, participants will think about the different ways that people and creatures need to be loved.

Needed: an elastic headband and as many index cards as there are participants.

Before the session, take some time to write down names, types of people, or creatures that all of the participants should know.

When it’s time to start the game, explain to the participants that one person will be wearing a card on their forehead that everyone else can see except for them. The guesser has to guess what their card says by asking a participant, “How do you say you love me?” The participant then says, “I love you by…” Participants may not use any of the words found on the card. After the answer, the guesser may take a guess. If she guesses wrong, she asks another participant, “How do you say you love me?” and the process repeats until she has guessed what is written on her forehead. The guesser’s score is the number of questions it took her to get the answer; the lowest score wins.

For example, if the answer is “Bullied Kid on Playground” the guesser asks, “How do you say you love me?” and a participant answers, “I love you by inviting you to play a game with me.” If the guesser guesses wrong, she asks another participant, ““How do you say you love me?” and the participant answers, “I love you by being your friend even if it’s dangerous for me.” Continue until the guesser guesses the correct answer.

After everyone has taken a turn guessing, invite the participants to think about the following questions:

  • What did you notice about the different ways different people need to be loved?
  • What are some of the ways that all people need to be loved?
  • How can you show your love for another in a particular situation you are facing?
  • How does God show God’s love for us?

Small Group Conversation:

Directed conversation is the heart of a small group, and can be especially helpful for teens as they figure out who they are and process their new life experiences. Some groups will be very good at these conversations, others will not initially be good at these conversations and will get better, and other groups will need a lot of help, or different approaches, like starting your conversations around group activities. It depends on your teens.

Here are some questions to get your conversation started. It may be that you move through all of them, or have a deep conversation with the first question you ask. You may choose to ask your own question that speaks to the needs of your group. What matters is that participants are engaged with each other. These questions are based on the experience of the God in individual lives, and responses will be unique to each person. There is no right or wrong answers, there is only further discussion and exploration of our relationship with God and one another.

Sharing our personal stories and accounts of faith is only possible in an atmosphere of trust and mutuality. Tips for a fruitful conversation can be found here.

Questions for discussion:

Tell a story about a time when you felt loved unconditionally. Who loved you like that? How did that experience change you?

In the prayer journal’s introduction to Week One, the brothers write, “When we know ourselves to be loved deeply and unconditionally, we can love others with that same love that has been given so generously to us.” Have you seen this in action? What was the situation?

It has been joked that contemporary Christian rock music is really just love songs with “Jesus” replacing “Baby.” Play around with lyrics from songs the whole group knows. Does this actually work? Do any serious theological statements arise, or is it just silly?

The passage for Week One Day Six is 1 John 4:18. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” What does this mean to you?

How would people act differently if they really, truly understood that nothing could separate them from the love of God? How would you act differently?

Digging Deeper into Scripture with John:

Sometimes it helps to have a text to work with as the group talks about a topic. This story about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is found in John 13:1-15. Invite teens to get out their bibles and invite someone to read:

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you  are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

  • What do you think the disciples first thought when Jesus started washing their feet? How do you think they felt?
  • Why do you think Simon Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet? Do you ever feel that way?  
  • When Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, what does Jesus show us about love? What does Jesus show us about the way that God loves us?
  • Have you ever participated in a Maundy Thursday foot washing? What was it like? How did you feel about it?
  • What do you think is the modern equivalent of foot washing?

Check-out:

Invite group members to share feedback with each other by using one of these prompts:

  • Where did the group have a lot of energy? Where was the energy lacking?
  • Where did you feel close to God? Where did you feel far away from God?
  • Where did you meet Jesus in your session today?
  • Where did you see light from the Holy Spirit?
  • What did you notice about our time together?
  • [If short on time!] Please describe our time together in one word.

Housekeeping details:

  • Remind group members that they will start with Week Two Day One in their journal tomorrow. The theme of the upcoming week is The Word Became Flesh.
  • Remind participants that videos are available online, and that the social media campaign will be starting if they would like to participate online.  
  • Ask for a volunteer to lead worship next week, if this hasn’t already been decided.
  • If there is a meal or refreshments, remind the group of their decisions regarding food and clean-up, or ask for volunteers.

Worship:

Worship is the time we give thanks to God for all the gifts of our life and for our time together. Because Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John is a gift of the Society for Saint John the Evangelist, a monastic order in the Episcopal church, we recommend using the Daily Office, which is a cornerstone of monastic life.

We recommend that group leaders (teen and adult) take time to plan the worship before the session but that teen participants do the reading, supplication, music leading, etc. Worship with teens can be low-maintenance as you like, the instructions are straightforward and in the BCP, or it can be quite elaborate. This will depend on your group and your available resources. However, making time for worship is actually crucial for creating a group that bonds together. Always be sure to end your sessions with enough time to pray together at the end.

Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, found on pages 136-140 of the Book of Common Prayer, offers a wonderful and simple framework for your prayer time together. You may choose to use the recommended psalms and readings found in the BCP; supplement with our recommended readings; prayers and songs; or choose your own. Hymns may be sung a capella, or read as poetry. Be sure to make time for prayer intercessions, and encourage the group to pray for one another and loved ones.

For the week of God is Love, we recommend:

  • Scripture: 1 John 4:16-21
  • Hymn: “God is Love, and where true love is” (Hymnal 1982 #577) or “Just as I am” (Hymnal 1982 #693) or “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” (Hymnal 1982 #469, 470)
  • Collect: Loving God, we ask to experience your profound love for us; that we may know and truly believe that we are deeply and unconditionally loved by God now and always, just as we are. Amen.

If your group is meeting in the evening, you may also wish to use the service of Compline, found on page 127. This is a brief, beautiful, and very popular service.

Your worship leader may wish to do something more creative or context-specific, like use another liturgy, lead a meditation, invite participants into silence, lead participants in song, or use prayer beads together. There are many other ways to worship God. Taking into consideration the theme for the week, we invite you to explore what that might look like together.