Main Point: It takes a long time to build someone up using our words. Unfortunately, it takes only a moment to tear them down using our words.
Discussion Starter: Tumbling Towers
(For this discussion starter, you’ll need a few tables and those wooden blocks that children play with in the church’s nursery. The bigger your group, the more you’ll need. The blocks can be painted or unpainted; that doesn’t matter. Just make sure you have lots of blocks!)
First, divide your students into 4 groups. Depending on size, there may be more or less groups, but you’re looking for about 7-10 kids per group. Next, put up one table for each group and send the groups to their respective tables. (HINT: Placing the tables in the corners of the room with plenty of space in between them works best.) Finally, put the wooden blocks in a couple boxes up front. Now you’re set to go.
Tell the students that you’re going to give them about 6 minutes to build the tallest structure they can, using the blocks in the box. Group members must run from their table, grab blocks, and race back to their table with the blocks so they can start their tower. There’s a catch, though: the groups’ members can only carry one block at a time. (This is just to keep one group from hoarding all the tall blocks.)
Pretty simple, actually. What’ll probably happen is groups will self-assign “runners” and “builders.” Some will go and retrieve blocks while others use them to build the team’s structure.
Give them about 6 minutes to work on it, and then call “time.” Have ALL students return to their seats while you walk around and “judge” who’s got the tallest structure.
And here’s where you “get ‘em.”
SAY: You know, I was watching you guys while you built your towers. Some of you put a system in place where some of you ran for blocks while other teammates of yours functioned as the builders. That was really cool. But regardless of your role on the team, each of you intentionally worked toward the same goal: building a tower. I was super proud of you!
You runners made sure you were supplying your builders with blocks. You builders did really cool things to make sure your tower was tall and strong. I watched you painstakingly set each wooden block in the perfect place. You analyzed the pieces you had at your disposal and then made a game plan for building the best tower.
In the end, it took LOTS of hard work to build up this tower…don’t you agree?
(Then, walk over to the first tower on the first table.)
Yep, “building up” a tower is hard to do. It takes effort, skill, intentionality, and a plan. “Building up” people is also difficult. We have to love them and choose our words carefully. It takes lots and lots of gracious words to build someone up. But it only takes one careless, sinful sentence to tear someone down.
For instance, “You’re really stupid!” (As you say this, swipe at that team’s tower with your hand. Make sure you totally obliterate it.)
(Walk over to the second tower. While standing there, say…)
I hate you! (Then knock that one over, as well. Do this over and over until all the towers have been knocked over.)
If you were to tell me the truth, you’d say you were fairly upset with me right now for knocking over your towers that you worked so hard to build. I’d say that you had a right to be upset. But I needed to show you EXACTLY what your unkind, unloving, hurtful words do to others. Sometimes they sting but we are able to brush them off. Sometimes, they hurt really badly. But sometimes, they absolutely destroy! Yep, sometimes hurtful words tear down so badly that it’s hard to look at the mess left behind (motion to the blocks on the floor) and even realize that it was once something beautiful like a tower. The truth is, it takes a long time to build someone up using words, but it only takes a moment to tear them down using our words.
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 say which tower we think was actually the tallest.
- ASK A FEW: For those of you who were the teams’ “builders,” how carefully did you have to work to make sure your tower was built up? Could you just throw pieces together, or did you have to plot and plan what you were doing?
- ASK A FEW: Have you ever been torn down by somebody’s hurtful words?
- ASK A FEW: Have you ever been the one to tear down someone else using words?
- ASK A FEW: Why do you think we speak to each other with hurtful words?
Read the following passage:
Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV)
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Hopefully, each of us now knows the power of our words. They can be used in mighty ways to build up others, but they can also be used to tear them down, as well. We must be careful in how we speak to one another.
The Bible has plenty to say about how we talk to each other. Listen to a few of these passages:
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:8-12)
Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. (Proverbs 4:24)
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca, ‘is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22)
Bear in mind, these are just a few of the passages from the Bible concerning how we talk to one another. There are many, many more. In fact, the Book of James has almost an entire chapter dedicated to how we talk to each other.
Exercise: Build Up Notes
Give each student about 10 of those address labels with the adhesive backs that you stick on envelopes to save time. (They’re about 1” by 3.5” in size.) Then give each student a pen/pencil. Tell them this is no time for jokes and to take this very seriously. If they can’t do that, then lovingly tell them you’d rather them not participate.
Play some soft music in the background, and then give students about 10 minutes to write down some deeply encouraging remarks on their stickers, and then have them peel them off and place them on the backs of others’ shirts. So, if Bryce writes, “Juli, you are always so eager to greet me at church. I really appreciate that,” he’ll then take that sticker and place it on Juli’s back.
Right before you release them, remind them of how serious you expect this to be. No jokes. Some of the students might have come in tonight really suffering because of what someone said. They really need to be encouraged. So, tell them to go build some people up!
When everything is winding down – probably about 10 minutes later – ask if anybody would like to come up front and have some of their stickers read out loud. This is a REALLY powerful time.
End the night by thanking them for encouraging one another, and then challenge them to remember the power of their words: either they build up or tear down.
Close in Prayer
Idea by J. P. Clouse, Written by David R Smith
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.