Forming Faith Blog

Which Mode? (February 2, 2020)

A person playing a video game. What mode?

We are continuing our march through the season of Epiphany, the time when we see God revealed to us in Jesus. We began this season with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in which he announced the kingdom of God with word and action. Now, we are discovering the power of this kingdom in a story of healing and life.

The Process

When you are reading this post, you are likely preparing your sermon/lesson/discussion/worship service for the week. It is likely that you start with reading the assigned text and familiarizing yourself with the story, doing any research that would be helpful to you to understand it. Hopefully, this blog is a helpful resource for this. At this point, you need to decide on the focus. How will you approach this passage?

Playing the Game

My kids like playing video games (shocker, I know). Recently, they were discussing a particular game. The older one (T) had tried out this battle game in regular (i.e. hard) mode, as that is the “right” way to play. T found this very difficult and frustrating and stopped playing for months. The younger one (H), on the other hand, has no personal need for any “right” way to play, so played on easy mode. Their recent conversation related to T finally deciding to give the game a second chance, this time using easy mode and was now enjoying the game.

What is my point? My point is that, whatever faith formation encounter you are preparing for, one of the decisions you need to make is what gaming mode will you be playing in.

Easy Mode: Teach the Story

The “easiest” way to approach an encounter with this passage is to purely teach the story. The question you are trying to answer, and the challenge for your participants, is: what happens in this story? This mode can be explored at any depth. You can simply ensure that participants know the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the story. Or you can teach the historical, cultural, literary (etc.) context of the passage. Or, anywhere in between. There are innumerable ways to teach the story. This is the comprehension stage.

I must say that this approach is a favorite of mine, both as a participant and as a leader. And this is a critical step. It’s about biblical literacy. Before you can do anything else, you have to do this.

Who is this good for? Everyone, but especially children and those new to the Bible.

Easy Mode Examples
  • Dramatize the reading with multiple voices or movement.
  • Retell the story from a different perspective (say, the woman’s or Jairus’).
  • Explore the details and context, such as: What is the significance of the woman’s illness? What does clean and unclean mean and how does that enter into the story? Why are these two stories told as one?
Regular Mode: Inhabit the Story

An approach that is more middle-of-the-road is to tell the story in such a way that participants can inhabit it. By this, I mean that participants can see themselves as a part of the story. They can simply make a personal connection with one of the characters or participants can connect the events or theme of the story to their own experiences. This is the life-application stage.

Who is this good for? Everyone, though this can take more abstract thought, so younger participants will need someone to help walk them through it.

Regular Mode Examples

Ask participants:

  • What would be like to be the woman, a disciple, Jairus, or even Jesus?
  • Has there been a time when you have struggled with a longtime illness or situation or felt desperate like the woman or Jairus?
  • Have you experienced some form of healing where you can see God’s hand at work?
Hard Mode: Wrestle with the Story

A third approach is to tackle the most difficult aspects of the passage. This can be slanted in an academic/theological direction, but the most effective (and scariest) path is to keep it personal. These are your skeptic’s questions.

That rabbit hole is deep with many branching tunnels. This is scary because sometimes (perhaps often) we as leaders don’t know the answers ourselves. At the core, these questions are about faith and doubt, the trustworthiness of the Bible and ultimately God. Leaders need to tread carefully here, but I believe that good things can happen when a leader shows vulnerability. In fact, I believe that it can be dangerous to ignore this level. People are going to have many questions like these, but they often don’t feel comfortable asking them or even pondering them. You can create a powerful opportunity for faith formation by providing the space and permission to wrestle with the Bible, and with God, together.

Who is this good for? It depends on how in-depth and challenging you go here, but this approach is best for curious youth and adults. A level of maturity and intellectual development is critical.

Hard Mode Examples

Discuss with participants:

  • Do you believe that miraculous healings happen today? If so, are they based on a person’s faith?
  • What if a miraculous healing happened to someone of a different religion or no religion at all?
  • Why do many people of great faith not get healed?
  • What does it mean for your faith if you don’t believe healings happen today or even in the time of the Bible?
Mix & Match

Unlike with a video game, these “modes” are not totally distinct categories, nor are they mutually exclusive. Unless your participants are familiar with the passage, all approaches must start with a basic teaching of the story. You can stop there or move forward to connecting participants to the story. You can add wrestling with the hard questions to this and balance all three modes, or you can focus on the wrestling. It’s up to you, and it depends heavily on your context. There are a multitude of concrete ways to implement each mode.

Free Resource

One of the ways to approach a Bible story on “easy mode” is to encourage artistic expression. This week’s free resource is an activity from our Living the Word: Youth curriculum entitled “Film-Strip Bible Bookmark.” Here, participants are challenged to create a four-frame “film strip” that tells the story of the woman and Jairus’ daughter. This was created for middle and high school students, but multiple ages can benefit from this activity.

May you experience the power of God’s kingdom this week!

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

If you would like to know more about our perspectives on faith formation and cross+gen ministry, you can check out the following links:

For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our complete Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings! Be sure to download our free Narrative Lectionary 2019-2020 Planning Tool, NL Readings Overview, and Scope & Sequence.

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