In many congregations, including my own, music is an important part of worship. Through songs, we proclaim our faith, pray to God, share the good news, and explore our beliefs. Music is a powerful medium for knowing and expressing our relationship with God. In this lesson, children will explore the relationship between music and faith.
Begin your time with the children by asking them to listen to a few pieces of music and to notice how that music makes them feel. You could even encourage them to move in a way that demonstrates their response to the songs. First, play a gentle, slow song. Then, play a louder, fast song. After listening to the music, talk about the differences in the two songs. How did the tempo (speed), beat, notes, and lyrics affect the way you felt when you heard the music? Tell the children music can stir up emotions in us. It can make us feel a whole range of feelings. And all of the aspects of a song—from its lyrics to the instruments used to make it—affect how we feel when we hear it.
Exploring the passage
Prepare to read aloud Acts 16:16-34. Provide some context for the reading. Tell the children that this story takes place during the early church, the time after Jesus returned to be with God. Jesus’ disciples are traveling around sharing stories of Jesus’ life and teachings. Some of the disciples are those who knew Jesus while he was on earth. Others like the disciples Paul and Silas, who we will hear about in this reading, came to know Jesus through his original disciples’ teaching. While many people embraced Paul’s teaching, Jesus’ message was as threatening to some people as it was when Jesus was alive. These people did not like what Paul did and said. Encourage the children to notice who becomes upset about Paul’s teaching and what that person does to stop him.
Read aloud Acts 16:16-34. After reading the text, ask the children to share why Peter and Silas were put in jail. What did they do? You may need to help the children make a connection between the “slave girl who had a spirit of divination” and their arrest. At the start of the story, Paul and Silas encounter a young slave woman who reads people’s fortunes in exchange for money. She makes quite a bit of money doing so, but she does not get to keep the money because she is owned by a wealthy person in town. In fact, that person uses her to make himself money. She goes out and works and he receives the money for her work.
After offering a fortune to Paul and Silas (which they did not pay her for), Paul heals her. He makes it so that she no longer can tell fortunes. Her owner is angry because Paul’s actions mean he no longer has this source of income. The owner claims Paul and Silas are causing disruptions in the marketplace and demand they are arrested. The authorities listen to him because he is wealthy and powerful. Paul and Silas are put in jail. Once the children understand why Silas and Paul are imprisoned, ask them to wonder about the fairness of this action. Were they causing a disruption that was harmful to others? Was their imprisonment fair? Why or why not?
Next, have the children recount how Paul and Silas get out of jail. What happens that causes them to be released? Note verses 25-26 tell us that they were singing and praying to God. As they did so, the ground shakes and the doors of the prison open and the chains around the prisoners break free. It’s as if their prayers and songs shook the ground, freeing them. The experience leads the jailer to believe in God and to ask Paul and Silas to come to his home to eat and teach him about Jesus.
Relating the passage to our lives
After discussing the text, tell the children that music can play an important part in our lives of faith. It may not open jail cells but it can help us learn about and connect with our faith. Prior to the lesson, gather the materials you’ll need for this activity. First, you’ll need to select a hymn to focus this activity on. If there is a hymn that is special to your congregation that the children have heard regularly, you could select that. You could also choose one that is important to you. You could even select the Doxology if your congregation sings it during worship. Whatever piece you select should be somewhat familiar to the children, have lyrics they can understand and should evoke emotion. Once you have selected your focus hymn, access an audio recording of it and a device to play it on. In addition, you’ll need paper and crayons or markers for the children to use.
During the lesson, tell the children you will be playing a hymn for them. Ask them to listen to it carefully noticing how the music makes them feel. Note that the words, the melody, and the instruments all contribute to the experience so they should focus on all of these aspects of the song. Play the hymn once. Then ask the children to share how it made them feel and why. What feelings did it stir in them? Why did they feel this way? What aspects of the song brought about these feelings?
Tell the children you will play the hymn again several times. As they listen to it, they should use markers and crayons to draw on the paper. Their drawings should show how the music makes them feel or what it makes them think of. They can show their feelings through colors or images. They may want to illustrate lyrics from the hymn or draw pictures that represent their feelings or thoughts. Play the hymn on repeat while they draw. When they have finished their drawings, ask each child to share. Highlight the variety in the responses and the aspects of the hymn that each person connected to. Encourage the children to notice the feelings they have in worship during each hymn.