Enhancer of Joy
Agency and Activism
Lesson Developed by
Almeda M. Wright, Ph.D.
Joy, Faith & Action
Tips to Prepare
Review background information on historical youth activism, the biblical narrative, as well as general information on building agency to get a better understanding of both the content and methodology of this lesson.
- Chart Paper
- Ink pens/pencils
- Hand cut outs (2/participant)
- Audio of Ben Harper’s “With My Own Two Hands”
- Handout of Historical Youth Activism
- Bibles or copies of scripture lesson
Setting the Atmosphere
Chairs should be arranged so that students can see each other, in a circle or around a large table. Students should also have space to spread out and work in smaller groups.
- John 6: 1-13
- Philippians 4:13
In this lesson, participants will reflect on their communities and lives and explore what resources they need/have to begin to address these concerns. They will also begin to explore the ways that joy emerges in/from their active engagement in the world around them. Part of the biblical narrative will push them to explore both the biblical and historical examples of youth as faithful agents of change, as well as explore how they can participate in this type of active engagement.
In this session, youth will learn about historical youth faith leaders and change agents. Youth will also begin to apply the lessons from the leaders to their own lives and work in their communities. Youth will discuss the ways that joy and faithful communal action are connected.
Gather (10 minutes)
A Prayer for Living the Gospel
God of yesterday, today and tomorrow,
we call to mind your presence within us and around us.
Open our ears that we may hear your Word.
Open our hearts that we may understand your Word.
Open our mouths that we may speak your World.
Inspire us with the Gospel message,
that we may celebrate all that is life-giving,
restore hope where it has been lost,
and work to bring about change where it is needed.
May we live the Gospel with courage,
constancy and love.
May we be open to the challenge
of your call to true freedom.
May we be faithful to you in our daily choices and decisions.
May we make your love known
through our words and actions.
May the triune God reign in our hearts, now and forever.
- If it is the first time that youth are sharing together, considerable time should be spent with community building activities, ice breakers, and introductions. At a minimum, students should be invited to share their names and one fun (but unknown) fact about themselves. Other options might include time for participants to create a name tag or placard with a symbol that represents something about themselves (or to create a motion or adjective that describes them). Depending also on the size of the group, this can be done as a whole group sharing event on in smaller pairs or quads.
- If this is a returning group, then students can be challenged to see how many names/motions/adjectives/symbols they can remember as a way of greeting each other. Other options for more intimate groups who have already been exploring themes of joy, might be to ask students to greet a neighbor and share one way they experienced joy this past week (or one reason it was particularly challenging to experience joy).
- Here the leader should invite the students to focus in on their time together, noting that today they are going to both reflect on their lives and communities, their history, and the ways that we might begin to transform it all.
- Today we are going to take a candid look at our communities and world, what we like, what we don’t like, what brings us life/joy and what might limit our experiences. We can draw on all kinds of concerns, from our personal lives, to schools, communal and global concerns. At each level we want to be honest about what we see and what we feel. And at the end of our time together we want to begin to imagine not just the concerns but the ways that we can begin to transform these concerns.
- Of course, we will explore the bible and what we learn from particular stories there and from contemporary and historical examples of other youth and young adults who began to work for change in their own lives and communities.
Engage (30 minutes)
Activity: With My Own Two Hands
- Invite the group to think about their lives, community, and world. Ask them to think of some of the things that are troubling to them. Ask them to think about even the concerns that seem to be without solutions. (Do not rush this time of reflection. Give students time to write or draw what comes to mind before sharing. If they seem to be at a lost, then you can encourage them to reflect on any of the major news stories or social media feeds.)
- Record the concerns on chart paper, so that all members of the community can see them. (Again do not rush this process, allow them to write as many as they wish and to describe them in as much detail as they want).
- Ask group to think about how they’d feel if someone asked them to address or solve all the concerns listed on the chart paper. (Typical Responses: overwhelmed, like you’ve gotta be kidding…)
- Share that there are examples of this kind of dilemma within the Christian Tradition and within U.S. history. We will start exploring the biblical example. My favorite biblical example is the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 (in John 6:1-13)
- Have the group read the text together
- Explicate the text…(A basic summary is offered here, but the Leader can feel free to draw on various resources to explain this or even to invite students to role play parts of the story if/as time permits)
- Jesus had to look up from the tiredness of his day to see and address the concerns of the community.
- Jesus’s disciples looked at the situation and felt that it was too overwhelming and impossible. They even considered that they didn’t have enough resources; because they didn’t have enough money. And finally, they only found a boy with 2 fish and 5 barley rolls.
- But Jesus blessed and honored the gifts of the young person. Instead of overlooking or thinking that what the young offered was insufficient, Jesus blessed it.
- And with the gifts of the youth, an entire community’s needs were met.
- Optional: An alternative interpretation of the miracle is that instead of being a miracle of food multiplication, it was a miracle of food sharing. The idea being that after seeing the example of the young person, other people in the crowd began to use their small resources and when put all together the community had more than what they needed for everyone to be blessed and filled. Ask youth what they think of this interpretation as well?
- Remind the youth that one significant parallel in this lesson, is that even when we go to God for help and miracles, God works through the resources that we have.
- Invite the group to reflect on what gifts and talents they have. What resources might they offer to God and the community to address the list of concerns generated at the beginning. They should write these down to share later.
Practitioner’s Note: Surprisingly, more than a few teenagers have difficulty naming their own individual gifts, talents, and strengths. It may help to bring the rhetoric down to earth. Point out that the boy in the story did not have a possession or capacity that was exceptional or not possible for others to have. Nothing in theh story suggests that he was other than an ordinary kid at the event. What gift did the boy find in himself — in addition to the loaves and fishes?
Depending on the length of the session and/or how quickly one moves through the biblical narratives, students should also be invited to engage historical examples of youth who have been confronted with serious social/communal ills and chose to act in response. A succinct list is found at:
These historical examples can be presented as a powerpoint/prezi with students being encouraged to ask questions or to do further research on any examples that they are not familiar. The leader should have some basic familiarity with each example before presenting this in order to facilitate a discussion. Again, ask students to reflect on these historical examples and what they see/learn from them?
Practitioner’s Notes: Leaders can also identify current youth led movements and find short clips that illustrate gun violence activism or environmental activism.
Reflect (15 minutes)
- Invite the group to reflect on what gifts and talents they have.
- What resources might they offer to God and the community to address the list of concerns generated at the beginning.
- What resources might they have not previously seen or considered less than like the disciples with the boy and his lunch or people in the past with many student groups?
Responding in Prayer and Action:
- Invite the group to write one particular concern they have on one hand and to write one resource/gift/talent they have on the other hand. The group can reflect silently, listening to Ben Harper’s “With My Own Two Hands”.
Practitioner’s Note: Take a listen/look on You Tube to see if your group will resonate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEnfy9qfdaU
- Invite the group to then place their hands on the poster board.
- After all have posted their concern resources, ask the group to reflect on the rich array of resources and talents they have even in their small group.
- Another option is to have you post their hands with their talents on them over the original list of concerns. This can offer a helpful reminder of how much can be corrected/covered/improved just with the work of their gifts.
Send Forth (5 minutes)
- The leader should summarize the ways that in our lives and in much of the biblical narrative and history, life can present overwhelming situations that see hopeless, joyless, and without solutions, but God also empowers us with gifts and talents that we can CHOOSE to use to bring about change (even if it does not feel immediate).
- The leader can also offer students a list of ways (beyond the ones they named on their own) for making a difference. See section III of https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/07/learning/lesson-plans/the-power-to-change-the-world-a-teaching-unit-on-student-activism-in-history-and-today.html
- Finally, the group should close in prayer, thanking God for the gifts each shared and the courage to address the community’s concerns now and in the future. Some youth may find it encouraging to close meditating on Philippians 4:13 as a positive affirmation of what they can accomplish with and through the help of Christ.