The 1st question you should ask in small groups

On Sunday mornings, we utilize small group discussions as part of our large group teaching in our high school ministry.

Currently, we're in the midst of a series called “Jesus' Family Tree”. It's our way of talking about the characters in the Advent story. However, we do so with a twist, focusing not just on their story but on how we imagine each person might have influenced Jesus' faith.

This past Sunday, we talked about Mary, the mother of Jesus. To do so, we explored the two typical Mary passages: The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) and the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56). After teaching the passages in large group, we broke into small groups to wrestle further with them.

For the first time in a long time, I began my small group simply by asking teens the question that should be asked first at any small group: “What questions do you have?” 

One teen, typically more quiet, asked a question about poverty based on the magnificat. Another quickly built off that and asked about why God would want those of us who have stuff to become poor in order to help those who are currently poor.

We talked about both questions for quite a while before exhausting the topic. At that point, even though I had questions ready to use during this small group, before moving into them, I again asked teens, “What other questions do you have?”

This time someone asked about the virgin birth. “Did it really happen?”

Another expressed confusion over the logistics of the virgin birth, due mostly, I think, to Luke's wording, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God”. As a result of the ambiguity in that sentence, another teen wanted to know if it was the Holy Spirit or God (the Most High) who actually impregnated Mary.

This eventually prompted a conversation about the Trinity. As one of my teens put it, “If Jesus was present in the creation of the world, was he also there when Mary got pregnant with him?!? But that makes no sense!”

Together, we wrestled with that, trying to make sense out of things that don't make sense, like the Trinity and Jesus' miraculous birth.

By the time I looked at my watch, I realized I had no time to discuss the questions I'd prepared.

I suppose that doesn't really matter. Throughout our time together, teens were thoroughly engaged, wrestling with some very tough and confusing issues of faith.

It was, quite honestly, the best small group discussion I've led this year.

It was also evidence of something I've said for years, “Small groups are only as good as the questions asked in them.

And as it turns out, sometimes, the best small group questions come not from us, but from teens themselves.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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