Life on Earth is temporary. One day, we’ll all have an epitaph. What will it say?
This discussion starter is a bit different from most. First, it’ll take some prep time on your part contacting a local funeral home. Second, you’ll have to actually take students to several different locales. And third, it’s all about in-your-face death. Here’s how you pull it off.
Call a funeral home/parlor that your church has a good connection with, and pre-arrange a trip to visit it with your group. (Most churches do LOTS of “business” with funeral homes, so this should not be a problem.)
The night of the Death Trip, have students meet at the church. Start off the Death Trip by having every student write out their will. (You can get a copy of a standard, blank will off of the Internet. Just pass them out to the students and instruct them to fill in the blanks.)
Load the students in vans (each of which is driven by a responsible adult) and visit the funeral home you’ve chosen. Have one or more of the staff members talk to your group about death and how some people deal with it well, while others are devastated by it. Allow the students to ask questions. Thank the funeral home staff for their generosity and head back to the vans.
Leave the funeral home and head to the local cemetery. Upon arrival at the cemetery, tell the students to walk through the cemetery and look at the epitaphs written on the tombstones. Have them pick out a few that stand out. Have the students reconvene at a designated area at a designated time. (If possible, keep the students in the cemetery for the discussion part.)
As we all know, death is a part of life. Lots of people spend lots of money trying to avoid it, but in the end, we all have to face the same reality: life on Earth is only temporary. One day, we’ll each have a tombstone marking our place in the ground. But, the good news is, we get to choose what our epitaph is. Let’s spend the next few minutes talking about our long-term future.
Divide into Small Groups:
Let’s go ahead and split up into our discussion groups, and then afterward we’ll come back together for a final word.
CLICK HERE for a quick training article on how to maximize your small groups using our small group format—a great resource to equip your small group leaders.
- AROUND THE CIRCLE: As we get started, let’s all take a second to share our names and how many funerals we’ve been to.
- ASK SOMEONE: Ummm…this may sound like a really stupid question, but what do all the people in this cemetery have in common. (Leaders – The answer is, “they’re dead!”)
- ASK A FEW: What could you tell about these people by looking at their tombstones?
- ASK A FEW: Did any of the tombstones stick out to you in any way?
- ASK A FEW: Usually, people don’t choose their own epitaphs on their tombstones; others do it for them after their death. Do you think any of these people would like to re-write their epitaphs now that they’ve died? Why or why not?
- ASK A FEW: What do you think these people would say to us today if they could come back to life for 5 minutes?
Read the following passage:
ASK A FEW: Peter opens this passage by saying that in the last days, scoffers will come following their own evil desires. Does that happen today? And if so, how?
ASK A FEW: This passage mainly centers on the end of the world. Are you scared by this passage or not? Why?
ASK A FEW: In this passage, Peter says that some people look around and ask, “Where is Jesus’ return? Looks like life is going on as usual.” Standing here in the midst of this cemetery, do you sorta wonder the same thing? Why or why not?
ASK A FEW: In light of those people’s scoffing and ridicule, Peter says God has given some promises about life and death. Does anybody know what some of those promises were? (Leaders –Jesus told us in no uncertain terms that death is a reality. But Jesus also said that He would return for those that love Him, that He has built a place for us in Heaven, and that where He is, we will also be!)
ASK A FEW: Let me ask the EXACT SAME question Peter asks in verse 11: Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?
ASK A FEW: What does it mean to live holy and godly lives? What does that really look like?
ASK A FEW: Why do you think it’s important to “be found spotless and blameless and at peace with God” at the end of our lives?
2 Peter 3:3-14 (NIV)
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
My grandfather used to tell me, “You know what? One out of one people die!” That’s right; the death rate is hovering somewhere around 100% these days. That means none of us are getting out of this alive!
That really freaks some people out. On the contrary, some people are totally fine with this reality. The difference between these two kinds of people usually boils down to how they’ve lived their lives and why.
It’s been my experience that those who “scoff and follow their own evil desires” are also those that have doubt in the end. Some of those people were good dads, loving moms, hard-working students, and so on. But the bottom line was this: they didn’t prepare themselves to be spotless and blameless with God. In other words, they never followed Jesus…because Jesus is the only one who can make us spotless and blameless and prepare us for the judgment that God will pass on all of us.
On the other hand, some of these people were good dads, loving moms, and hard-working students…who also loved Jesus! And that’s the key! Those people have been found by God to be spotless of sin and blameless and are now with God. They lived their lives for Jesus Christ and are now partaking in the reward He has set before them.
Here’s the point to all of this: what will your epitaph say one day? I ask that, because, ALL of us will have one! All of us will die. All of us will be judged. All of us will face God.
PASS OUT SHEETS AND PENS
(If possible, have the 8.5X11 sheets of paper printed with a large tombstone on them.)
I want you to take your sheets of paper and pens and do two things. First, on the tombstone on your paper, I want you to write out the epitaph you want written on your tombstone.
(Give them a few moments to do this together. Make sure the tombstone graphic is large enough for this.)
Now, underneath the picture of the tombstone and your epitaph, I want you to write out what you must do in life – and NOT do in life – so that others will want to write THAT epitaph on your tombstone.
When everyone’s done, close in prayer.
Close in Prayer
Idea by Greg C.
Written by David R Smith