Outreach Agendas, Topical Curriculum

The Elephant Man

Main Point: Christians should treat all people with Christ-like compassion, but especially those who suffer with disabilities and/or handicaps.

Discussion Starter: The Elephant Man…Is a Human Being
Joseph Merrick, also known as John Merrick, was an Englishman who lived in the late 1800’s with an unknown disease that greatly disfigured his face, limbs, and torso. He was so affected by his birth defect that some people dubbed him “the elephant man.”

Throughout his short life, he was mistreated, abused, misused, and taken advantage of by others. His own father abandoned him. His manager robbed him. Others used his deformities to make money off him in carnival side shows. Mr. Merrick lived an unenviable and short life, dying at the age of 27 due to factors related to his unknown condition.

The only person Mr. Merrick called a friend was a man by the name of Dr. Treves. The doctor took care of him on a daily basis, visiting him each day in his hospital room until the day he died. Dr. Treves performed the autopsy on the Elephant Man, but could not determine with certainty what had actually caused the death of his friend.

YouTube Clip: The video clip can be found online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sF19L00KbAI

Transitional Statement:
Joseph Merrick was one of the most misunderstood men in our history. He was totally ostracized and ridiculed because of his disabilities and deformities. But the one thing he wanted to communicate to others was that he was a person…just like us. He wanted to be loved, and deserved to be loved. But instead of compassion and support, he mostly received scorn and scoff. The only person who treated him with respect was his one friend, Dr. Treves. How do you treat those who are different? Hopefully, you realize that as Christians, we need to treat people with disabilities the way Christ treated them: with compassion and love.

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.

Discussion Questions:

  1. AROUND THE CIRCLE: As we get started, let’s all take a second to share our names and whether or not we personally know someone who has mental or physical disabilities?

  2. ASK A FEW: What is life like for those people with disabilities and handicaps?

  3. ASK A FEW: Why do you think everyone treated Merrick, the Elephant Man, with such curiosity and contempt?

  4. ASK A FEW: In the clip we just watched, the Elephant Man cried out, “I’m not an animal! I’m a human being!” Why did he do that?

  5. ASK A FEW: What do you think would have been your reaction if you would have met the Elephant Man face to face?

  6. ASK A FEW: Why do you think Dr. Treves treated the Elephant Man differently than others?

  7. ASK A FEW: What does God expect of Christians when they encounter someone with handicaps or disabilities?

  8. Read the following passage:

      Mark 5:1-20 (NLT)

      So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the land of the Gerasenes. 2 Just as Jesus was climbing from the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit ran out from a cemetery to meet him. 3 This man lived among the tombs and could not be restrained, even with a chain. 4 Whenever he was put into chains and shackles– as he often was– he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to control him. 5 All day long and throughout the night, he would wander among the tombs and in the hills, screaming and hitting himself with stones. 6 When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him. He ran to meet Jesus and fell down before him. 7 He gave a terrible scream, shrieking, “Why are you bothering me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had already said to the spirit, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit.” 9 Then Jesus asked, “What is your name?” And the spirit replied, “Legion, because there are many of us here inside this man.” 10 Then the spirits begged him again and again not to send them to some distant place. 11 There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby. 12 “Send us into those pigs,” the evil spirits begged. 13 Jesus gave them permission. So the evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of two thousand pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake, where they drowned. 14 The herdsmen fled to the nearby city and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. Everyone rushed out to see for themselves. 15 A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, but they were frightened when they saw the man who had been demon possessed, for he was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane. 16 Those who had seen what happened to the man and to the pigs told everyone about it, 17 and the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone. 18 When Jesus got back into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go, too. 19 But Jesus said, “No, go home to your friends, and tell them what wonderful things the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” 20 So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to tell everyone about the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.

  9. ASK A FEW: OK, this man didn’t suffer from birth defects like the Elephant Man, but how did those around him treat him? (Leaders – They made him live in a cemetery and they tried to keep him chained up.)

  10. ASK A FEW: What did Jesus do to meet the needs of this man?

  11. ASK A FEW: After Jesus healed the man, he wanted to go with the Lord. What does that tell you about how appreciative he was to be treated with compassion?

  12. ASK A FEW: Conversely, how did the townspeople feel about Jesus helping the man? Why do you think that was?

  13. ASK A FEW: What do you think people with disabilities and handicaps need from us the most?

  14. ASK A FEW: What do you think others will say when we treat disabled people with respect and love? Why?

  15. AROUND THE CIRCLE: Who can you help, serve, and love this week?

  16. AROUND THE CIRCLE: What will you do for/with them?

Wrap Up:
Tonight we watched a clip from the true life of a tortured individual known as the Elephant Man. Because of a birth defect, his life was lived alone and without love. So many took advantage of him during his short life that it couldn’t have been a happy one.

On the other side of things, we read a story from the life of Jesus that showed Him at His best: taking care of someone that others had given up on. The demon possessed man in the story was chained up in the graveyard, and that’s where Jesus found him. Jesus freed him of his demonic possession, and showed him the kindness no one else was willing to give.

We have people in our lives like those found in both stories. There are lots of people around us who are hurting, alone, handicapped, and disabled. What will we do about it? We’ve been led by the example of Jesus on this matter: He treated them with respect and love and compassion. So must we.

Like those around the Elephant Man, we have three choices. We can be hostile to those who are different, like the crowd did to the Elephant Man. We could also just ignore them and go on about our lives completely oblivious to their pain and needs. Or we could live like Jesus, showing them compassion and love, helping them in any way we can.

I think you know which one we’re called to: we have to help them any way we can. So, who will you help this week? How will you show Jesus’ limitless compassion to those around you?

Close in Prayer

Written by David R Smith


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; 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.


  1. Annamarie Fraizer
    February 9, 2012 at 12:00 am

    I loved this lesson and the discussion questions! I am going to use the questions and use a clip from Sherk 1 instead of Elephant Man because I’m teaching children and not teens. Thank you!

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