Main Point: God never intended for Christians to live their lives in isolation. He knows we are stronger when we are together.
The Discussion Starter: Breaking Toothpicks
NOTE: This illustration is a great one, but you have to get a few details right to pull it off and make your point! Essentially, you’re going to show your students how easy it is to break “one” toothpick…and how difficult it is to snap a “group” of them.
Start by buying several boxes of high quality toothpicks; the thicker, the better. You absolutely must buy the round, wooden kind and NOT the flat, wooden kind of toothpicks! In fact, if you can get the long, thick toothpicks used for hors d’oeuvres, that would be best.
Next, experiment with the toothpicks to make sure they are as difficult to break as possible. It’ll be easy to snap one of them, and even two or three. But when you get up to seven or eight toothpicks, it gets really hard to break them all IF you have good quality toothpicks.
When it comes time to start your discussion, give a few kids one toothpick each and ask them if they think they’re strong enough to break it. They will quickly take the challenge and easily snap the toothpick. Give the same kids two toothpicks and ask them if they think they can snap two toothpicks. Again, they’ll say yes and snap them without any problem.
Now the stage has been set. Choose a student – maybe a younger girl – to come up to the front and give her a dozen toothpicks. (Make sure the twelve you hand out are in good shape. Sometimes, brand new toothpicks can be splintered, etc.) Ask her to hold all of them together and try to snap them at the same time. She probably won’t be able to do it. Next, get another student – maybe a middle school guy – to give it a try. He probably won’t be able to do it either. (We tested this on a few MS boys in our group and they couldn’t do it.)
All the while, tenderly joke with them about how fragile a toothpick is and how simple it should be to snap one. Say things like, “It’s just a few toothpicks. Come on; don’t let them get the best of you. Surely you can snap a few toothpicks.”
You can probably even pull up one of your female leaders or a high school guy to let him give it a try and they won’t be able to break them. (I’m a big guy and routinely work out. Twelve toothpicks required a good bit of finger strength for me to snap them.) I don’t recommend choosing the high school senior who just broke your state’s bench press record, but you can still use this illustration even if one of your students happens to snap the handful of toothpicks.
Here’s what we just saw: one toothpick was ridiculously easy to snap. Everybody in this room could snap one toothpick. In fact, two and three, maybe even four or five toothpicks, can be fairly easy to break. But did you see what happened when we grouped just one dozen toothpicks together? They couldn’t be broken! (If one of your students did happen to snap them, talk about how difficult it was for him/her to do it.) The same is true of us in this life. It’s easy for one of us to “get broken” in life. We can all be weak and frail at times. But when we are together, we’re stronger than when we’re alone. Maybe that’s why the Bible talks so often about how important it is to band together. God never intended for Christians to live their lives in isolation from one another. We need each other…or we run the risk of “getting broke.”
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 CIRLCE: As we get started, let’s all take a second to share our names and whether we’re a toothpick person or a floss person.
- ASK A FEW: Were you surprised at how hard it was for the students to snap the group of toothpicks? Why or why not?
- ASK A FEW: We’re going to spend a few minutes talking about how important it is for us to do life together because we’re stronger together than when we’re alone. Why is that?
- ASK A FEW: What are some situations in life that require togetherness, or what are some areas in life where it’s nice to be with someone who has your back?
- ASK A FEW: Has there ever been a time in your life where you got help or encouragement or support from someone in our youth ministry? Can you briefly share?
- ASK A FEW: You may not know it yet, but the Bible has lots of passages that deal with us supporting, helping, encouraging, and strengthening one another, and we’re going to talk about some of them before we’re done. But first, why is it so important to God that we work, pray, study, and live our lives together?
- ASK A FEW: What are some things that keep us from doing life together? (Leaders – This might be a question the students struggle with answering. Get them started by talking about fear or sin or pride or other hindrances to community.)
Read the following passage:
- Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 (NLT)
I observed yet another example of meaninglessness in our world. 8 This is the case of a man who is all alone, without a child or a brother, yet who works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, “Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?” It is all so meaningless and depressing. 9 Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble. 11 And on a cold night, two under the same blanket can gain warmth from each other. But how can one be warm alone? 12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
- ASK A FEW: King Solomon, the richest person to ever live, wrote this passage. Why do you think he used the word “meaningless” to describe a person who was rich…but all alone?
- ASK A FEW: According to verses 9-12, what are some of the things we can do TOGETHER that we can’t do if we’re ALONE?
- ASK A FEW: Have you ever tried to do a two-person job by yourself? Or, have you ever been in a situation you couldn’t get yourself out of? Or have you ever been in a situation where you were taken advantage of because you were alone? If so, can you briefly share? (Leaders – It would be a good idea to have an example ready to go in case they need a moment to think back on the past.)
- ASK A FEW: In verse 12, King Solomon says a cord of three strands isn’t easy to break. He doesn’t say it’s impossible to break them; he only says it’s not done easily. Understanding that “cords” are “friends,” how many good friends do you think you need?
- ASK A FEW: If you were to take a look at your life right now, would you say you have enough friends around you, or not? Why?
- ASK A FEW: Do you know of anyone at school or maybe even in our youth ministry that is walking through life alone? What can you do to help?
- AROUND THE CIRCLE: What will you do this week to let someone in your life to give you help and support?
- AROUND THE CIRCLE: Who are you going to talk with that needs some help, support, or encouragement?
We are stronger together than we are alone. We proved that with some simple toothpicks. Then we looked at a passage from the Bible that taught us that exact same lesson. Earlier, it was said that there were lots of passages in the Bible that talk about how important it is that we do life together. I don’t have time to run through all of them, but I do want to show you just a few of them to prove the point and help cement this in our minds and hearts.
And the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion who will help him.”
Right after creating Adam, or “the man,” God said it wasn’t good for him to be alone. No, there was nothing wrong with the man in and of himself, but God knew it wasn’t good for him to be all alone in the garden. We’re told that God then made a woman – a helper – for him. Then, God later said what He’d created was “very good.”
1 Corinthians 1:10
Now, dear brothers and sisters, I appeal to you by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so there won’t be divisions in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.
The apostle Paul wrote this passage to an ancient church that was having great difficulty in getting along with one another. He told them to quit arguing so much and seek to live in harmony with one another. He encouraged them to be as unified as they could possibly be.
Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one heart and purpose. 3 Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. 4 Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing.
The same guy wrote this passage, too. Again, what we see Paul saying is to love one another and work together. He said we should think about others and put their needs first. A group of people that actually does that is difficult to overcome.
Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.
One last passage, here. Did you catch what we’re supposed to do? The writer of these verses wants us to stick together, encourage each other, and even warn each other when needed. He says that it’s even more important to do so the closer we get to the return of Jesus and the end of the world.
It’s really, really unwise to try and live life all alone. Even the wildebeests and antelopes have that figured out. They know that lions and tigers and cheetahs and hyenas are on the prowl. They also know it’s safer together. If an antelope has that figured out, why are we struggling with something so simple.
I want you to have full, rich lives…but you can’t do that unless you’re doing life together. We’re going to close in prayer in a moment, but if you want to talk more about this, just pull me or one of our adult leaders aside. We would love to get you connected with those around you.
Close in Prayer
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.