Our children are well acquainted with diversity. They are growing up in a time when discussions of racial justice, gender fluidity, and access for all are commonplace. Living into true diversity remains challenging, even when we value it. In this lesson, children will explore Paul’s metaphor of the church as a body working together to bring about God’s kin-dom. They will examine what it means to see each person as an important and necessary part of the body of Christ.
Begin your time with the children by asking them to think of a time when they prepared a recipe either alone or with someone else. What ingredients did they use? What did they do to transform those individual ingredients into tasty food? Then ask them to consider how the recipe might have been different if they had left out one or more of the ingredients. What would the food have tasted like? What if they had ignored one of the steps in the recipe? How might that choice change the final product? Note that recipes contain all the necessary ingredients and directions for a particular food to look and taste a certain way. While we sometimes substitute ingredients or adjust directions, if we simply omit one we won’t have the same end result. Encourage the children to keep this idea in mind as they look at the Scripture reading.
Prepare to read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a aloud. Provide some context for the children. Explain that the reading comes from a letter written by the Apostle Paul. Paul was an important leader in the early church. He started several churches. Those churches looked to Paul for guidance when they went through difficult periods. Sometimes the church leaders reached out to Paul to ask for his advice. Other times Paul heard about issues a church was having and he counseled them. Because the churches were spread throughout the region and travel was more challenging than it is today, Paul wrote letters to the churches so his thoughts could be shared with them. Today’s reading comes from one of those letters. It was written to the church in Corinth. One of the reasons for Paul writing this letter was he discovered that the congregations was treating some members of the church as if they were more important than others. They were not loving and caring for one another equally.
Exploring the passage
Read aloud 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a. Note that Paul uses the idea of a human body to help explain his point. Ask the children to recount what Paul says about the parts of the body. Be sure to highlight his insistence that each part is necessary and the parts must work together for the body to function. Then, explain that the body Paul talks about is the whole church. Each person is a part of the body. Ask the children to wonder what Paul is saying about the roles individuals play in the larger church. Encourage them to focus on the uniqueness of each person and the importance of every individual’s work in sustaining the church. Also, talk about why some people in the church at Corinth might have thought others were more or less valuable than they were.
Extend the discussion beyond the original context of the letter. Ask the children to think about their own congregations. Who are the people in their congregations? How are they different from one another? How do they work together to be the hands and feet of Christ? What challenges do they face? If you are working with older children, you can extend the discussion beyond individual congregations. Encourage them to think about the universal church. What differences are there within the larger body of Christ? How do they work together to bring about God’s kin-dom? What difficulties do they encounter? What parts of the body of Christ are marginalized? Which are treated as if they are most important? Make this part of the lesson a time of exploring and wondering.
Relating the passage to our lives
Conclude your time together with an art activity that reflects the ideas in the lectionary reading. Before you meet with the children, gather the materials you’ll need: crayons or markers, scissors, and photocopies of puzzle templates. If you’re working with younger children, use a puzzle template with a small number of pieces (4-8 pieces are best). If you’re working with older children, you can use a larger template. You can find several to download at: https://www.bestcollections.org/business/puzzle-piece-template.html. It’s best if you print these on cardstock rather than regular paper, as this will make them easier to cut and put together.
Hand one puzzle sheet to each child. Ask the child to use crayons or markers to draw a picture on the puzzle. The picture should show God’s hope for the world. It should present a scene that illustrates how God hopes his creation will live and work together. After each child has drawn her picture, have her cut out the puzzle pieces along the lines on the page. You may need to assist younger children with this task. If you’re working with several children, you can then have them “swap” puzzles so that each can put together someone else’s puzzle. If children are working alone, they can place the puzzle in a bag so they can put it together later, reminding themselves of the image they drew. Explain that the puzzle is like the body of Christ that Paul wrote about. Each piece needs to be connected to the other pieces for us to see the larger picture.