The goal of this activity is to get participants to practice talking out their beliefs. Research shows that starting this practice out young helps adolescents grow stronger in their faith. As they put their faith into words, they claim the language as their own. As religious educators, we get to help facilitate the formation of their faith language. The good news: we have a rich tradition of resources to help guide this practice.
This or That – Random Options
Start participants standing.* Verbally designate one side of the room/space is Option 1, and the other side is Option 2. Before you begin, take a moment to name that this is a non-judgemental, open space where it is okay that people have different thoughts/opinions. Name whatever other covenant/space guidelines you wish to make sure everyone feels like they can be themselves. (Note that you will be modeling this, so be aware of your own words/reactions.)
Then, offer the group choices, starting with easy/lighthearted options, such as “chocolate or vanilla” or “orange or blue” or “basketball or golf” or “country or rap.” Direct the participants to move their bodies from one side of the room or the other. Feel free to adlib between options or, depending on the topic, invite participants to give reasoning for their choice.
Once the group has a good feel for it, but not before they get tired of it, tell the story, below, of Jesus with his disciples. (Tip: don’t read it. tell it in your own words. use your culture/context to dictate the language you use.)
Bible – 13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:13-15)
This or That – Statements of Belief
Explain to the participants that the people of Jesus’ time had different thoughts as to WHO he was. Was he the same God as YHWH, or was he a new, different God? Was he their promised Messiah? Was he really able to forgive sins? Explain that as people who follow Jesus, we have a tradition of belief statements that were decided by various groups of people over the centuries. These belief statements are called Creeds. Continue to play “this or that,” using various statements from creeds or your own tradition’s faith statements to encourage the participants to choose their belief.
Note: Encourage use of the middle space between the choices, especially if your faith tradition’s beliefs are in the middle ground (such as United Methodists). Invite participants to share their reasoning after each choice. Be okay with silence, feel free to reframe as needed, and be encouraging of all responses. Here are some optional beginning statements:
-Do you believe that Jesus was fully human OR fully divine (God)?
-Do you believe that the God we worship is the same God for all world religions or that there are different gods for each religion?
-Do you believe that God is alive and active in the world today or that once God created the world, God sits back and watches?
-Do you believe that the Church is a place where everyone has to believe the same thing, or can people belong to a Church and believe different things?
-Do you believe that God is both One and Three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or is God just God?
-Do you believe that God is a man/woman, or that God is a Spirit?
-Do you think women** should be allowed to be ordained (to be a pastor), or not?
-When we take communion, do you believe that the bread/juice ACTUALLY becomes Jesus’ real body/blood, or is it just something we do because Jesus did it with his disciples?
Develop your own Creed – Collect books/hymnals/articles of various creeds. Depending on your group, you may choose to consolidate them all and print them out, like this. Or, you may have the resources available on a table for participants to consider. Either way, make sure to have words/phrases/belief statements visible for participants to view during this activity.
Invite participants to write their own creed. If your participants are new at this type of thing or just beginning to formulate their beliefs, encourage them that this is a beginning step of putting words to their faith, not an “end result.” Ease anxiety by inviting discussion, asking questions about what certain things mean. Tease out the meaning of the more difficult words/phrases. Depending on the size of your group, you may even choose to have a facilitator with each small group to invite dialogue about the various topics (God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Church). Another option might be to have the small group come up with their creed together.
I used the attachment above, a printed version of most of the creeds in the United Methodist Hymnal, and gave each participant the blank “I believe” paper, a pair of scissors, and a glue stick or tape. My sixth grade boys literally cut and pasted words/phrases of belief together. I also had colored pencils available for them to write in extra words/phrases.
Circle Debrief ***- After your designated amount of time (we spent about ten minutes on ours), have participants form a circle. Once in the circle, invite participants to share any of the words/phrases that stuck out to them most of all. Then, invite the group to share in the form of a sentence what they believe about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Church. Example, “I believe that God is…” “I believe that Jesus..” “I believe that the Holy Spirit…” and “I believe that the Church…”
Closing Prayer Circle – wrap up your discussion with an invitation to continue growing in their faith and in the practice of putting their faith into words. Then, invite prayer concerns and joys and close in prayer or with your group’s benediction.
*This or That – Option to stay seated and instead of moving to one side of the room or the other: raise the left or right hand; hold up 1 or 2 fingers; point to one side of the room or the other; say aloud yes or no
**Feel free to substitute “women” for any other group of people.
***Note my article on circles.