Written by Mike Sheley

Junior High Youth Group Lesson on Imperfectly Following Jesus

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In the crazy world of a junior higher where change is normal, sometimes they can hear stories of following Jesus and think it should be some perfect process that no one has messed up along the way.

This lesson points out a familiar follower of Jesus and how he stumbled in striving to live like Jesus, reminding us all that this journey is a process were we are always under construction.

Bible Texts

Ephesians 4:15

(Key moments in Peter’s life)

Matthew 14:22-31; 16:13-27; 26:33-46, 58, 69-75;

Luke 24:1-12

John 1:40-42; 21:1-25

Acts 2:14-41

(Assign students to read some of the key parts of these passages. That list of verses comes at the end of this lesson. You can just print these out, cut them apart, and hand them out for students to use as bookmarks in print Bibles or as a reminder of what to look up in their digital Bibles.)

Opening Activity: Line Up!

Divide your group into two groups.

We are going to have two challenges that are both races. One should be simple. The other will require more creativity.

For the first one, when I say, “Go.”, you need to line your group up in order of height from shortest to tallest. First group done will be our winner. “Go!”

(acknowledge the winning group)

Now for the second challenge. I warned you that this one requires more creativity. Imagine that we are going to build a human mini roller coaster. To build it quickly, your heads and hands will form the supports for the track. We want to see which group can build the most creative and life-like support system for a roller coaster in the next 2 minutes. You will line up again, but this time in a circle or oval. The track must connect back to the beginning. You can use your hands and head as the supports. We’ll imagine the actual track and coaster part. Ready? Go!

(Judge the coasters at the end of 3 minutes. A good track should have some inclines and some good dips and curves. Name your winner.)

Believe it or not, there is a point to what we just did! Today, we are looking at the life of Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples. When we talk about following Jesus, I believe that often we talk about it and think about it like the first game. The more we follow Jesus, the closer we get to living like him. It’s a gradual incline where we are always moving upwards like you were in your height.

However, with that kind of thinking, when troubles or unexpected things come our way, we are surprised and confused at why our idea of following Jesus isn’t matching up to what we had in mind.

I believe we need to shift our thinking. We can do this by looking at the life of one of Jesus most well-known followers: Peter. Maybe by studying his life, we can see a more realistic picture of what we should expect.

To do that today, we’re going to jump around through a variety of passages in the Bible. We have to do this because his life story is not told chronologically by itself in any one book.

So, volunteers, please get ready to read. Here we go!

(Because of the amount of verses, you may end up giving more than one to each student to read. We’re keeping these to one verse each and summarizing the context. Like always, we encourage giving a “teaser” to challenge the students to go back and read the chapter or even whole book where these are found to get the rest of the story.)

Read John 1:42.

After being introduced to Jesus by his little brother Andrew, Simon is told that (at some point in the future) his name will be changing to Peter (Rock). This may sound crazy to you, but this is actually a compliment. So even before Peter is following Jesus, while his name is still Simon, he is on a good point. Jesus clearly has big plans for him.

Read Matthew 14:29.

The short version of the long story here is that the disciples were in a boat in a storm late at night. Jesus is walking past them . . . that’s right . . . walking on the water! They are scared at first. But Peter (Simon) tells Jesus that if it’s really him and he asks him to, that Peter will step out of the boat and walk on the water to Jesus!

It was Jesus and he told Peter to come . . . so Peter did! He WALKED ON WATER! Crazy big good moment for Peter! No one’s ever done that before!

Read Matthew 14:30.

But then . . . Peter started to sink in water – almost drowning until Jesus saved him. Hmmm…Peter went from having so much faith and courage that he left his boat in the middle of the storm and didn’t just try, but actually was walking on water towards Jesus!

He became terrified at the wind and waves of the storm and went from walking on water to sinking in water . . . crying out to Jesus to rescue him . . . which Jesus did and then they both got in the boat.

This was a low moment for Peter. Peter – “the rock” – went from being a skipping stone to a sinking boulder. This was a low moment for him.

(On a dry erase board, draw a horizontal line and start to draw these points above and below the line, like dots on a timeline, but above the line when it is good and below when it is bad. Plan ahead of time to know how much space you’ll need to fit all these points on the board. If you draw one for each key verse here, there should be 18 points.)

Read Matthew 16:16.

After the disciples had shared with Jesus what the popular opinion was of him – in other words, the different people that the crowds thought Jesus was, Peter gives the “perfect answer” when Jesus asked them who they believed he was.

“You are the Messiah.” We could do a whole study on this. But know for today that this means “anointed one.” Jesus is the perfect prophet, priest and king long ago predicted by God throughout the Old Testament. Peter believed that’s who he was and he was right!

Great good moment for him here.

Read Matthew 16:22.

Here, Peter told Jesus that what Jesus was saying was wrong, that he would never have to suffer.

Definite low point . . . but an even lower one follows when we see Jesus’ response.

Read Matthew 16:23.

He gets called “Satan” by Jesus, a stumbling block, because he has limited human concerns. He doesn’t see things the way God wants him to see the bigger picture.

So…like I said…an even lower point. It’s never good when Jesus says you are acting like the Devil.

Read Matthew 26:33.

Once Peter wraps his mind around what just happened, he declares that he will never fall away from Jesus, no matter what happens.

This bold declaration would have been a high moment in his journey of following Jesus. Way to go!

Read Matthew 26:37-38.

And then . . . to make things even better . . . he is invited as one of only three disciples to join Jesus for a special time of prayer. Wow!

A definite high point on his journey. It doesn’t get much better than praying with the Son of God!

Read Matthew 26:40, 43, 45.

However, when Jesus finds him sleeping at a time when Jesus needed him to be praying and helping him the most, that would definitely be a low point.

Read Matthew 26:58.

But then, after Jesus is arrested, while the other disciples are nowhere to be seen, Peter follows Jesus  – at a distance.

It’s not the most bold move, but he’s still following Jesus. That’s a high point.

Read Matthew 26:70.

Denies knowing “what they are talking about” (Jesus). Low point.

Read Matthew 26:72.

When another servant was sure he was with Jesus, Peter’s response was: “I don’t know the man” (Jesus) Um…yeah…another low point.

Read Matthew 26:74.

When someone else recognized him because of his accent, that he had to be one of the people with Jesus, he respond “I don’t know the man” (Jesus)

Yes…another low point. And you could add an extra one when the rooster crowed after his third denial…just like Jesus had told him would happen.

This is one sad, downward running roller coaster!

Read Luke 24:12.

On Sunday morning after Jesus had been killed, he ran to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty – and wondered what was going on. Seeing the tomb empty – even though he doesn’t fully grasp how awesome that is – is a high moment. Yes! Going back in the right direction again.

Read John 21:7.

Here Peter recognizes Jesus after a miraculous catch of fish and jumps out of the fishing boat to swim 100 yards to shore to be with Jesus. Seeing Jesus alive again?! Definitely a high moment.

(I do understand if you want to add a low moment for the fact that they had just caught a miraculous catch of fish, so big they couldn’t even haul them in the boat, and he left the boat so that his brother and friends had to bring those fish to shore without his help.)

Read John 21:15-17.

After breakfast with Jesus, Jesus clearly shows him how big his grace is as three times Peter is asked if he loves Jesus, and then is instructed to take care of his sheep – Christians. This was a difficult discussion to have between the two of them. But realizing that Jesus can forgive you for denying him . . . and not only that . . . he wants you to be a follower serving in ministry!? Definitely a high point.

And we could keep on reading so much more about Peter, but we’ll skip ahead to one final passage that gives us an idea of where things are going from here.

Read Acts 2:41.

After preaching a bold message about Jesus, a crowd of people are convicted of their sins and 3,000 people are baptized! Definite high point.

So, that’s a lot of different verses about Peter’s life. What do we learn? It seems like Peter’s life could be compared to a roller coaster. He kept having a mix of high points and low points. It was definitely more like the second grouping we did in our activity instead of the first.

But so often we think – incorrectly – that people like Peter followed Jesus and their life kept getting better and better. That’s not the case.

But let me read one final verse for you.

Read Ephesians 4:15.

Paul writes this and uses words like “growing” and “more and more,” and “in every way”. These describe a process. We are never complete or finished. Even the process isn’t perfect. But we keep striving in all areas of our lives to live like Jesus, no matter how many downs we have.

Bottom Line: The Christian life or life spent following Jesus is not perfect. It is always under construction.

Let’s talk about this in our small groups.

Small Groups

GOAL OF SMALL GROUP

To help students understand that an imperfect life of following Jesus is a normal life of a Jesus-follower. When we understand that, we can help each other along the way and stop feeling guilty about not being perfect.

JUST FOR FUN (5 minutes)

These students need a little fun to help them relax and transition into this small group time. Don’t skip over this. It is an intentional part of building relationships and setting up your group to have a great discussion time!

Anyone here love roller coasters? Who doesn’t?

For those who like them, which is your favorite that you have been on? Anyone ride in the front car?

Is there a coaster you want to ride on but haven’t yet?

What makes these so fun?

(When you have spent about 5 minutes on this section, transition into the discussion questions.)

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS (15 minutes)

(The goal is to guide the students as they talk, to have a discussion. Get them to do most of the talking. Make sure you watch the clock and save 5 minutes at the end for the closing, even if that means you skip some questions and don’t discuss them all. )

  • When you think about the disciples, what do you usually think of?
  • How many of you were surprised to see all these points in Peter’s life side-by-side looking more like a roller coaster than a stair case?
  • What are some ways someone like you following Jesus in junior high might struggle and have your journey of following Jesus looking more like a downward coaster track?
  • What are some ways someone like you following Jesus in junior high might do well and have your journey of following Jesus looking more like the upward climb of a coaster track?
  • Peter faced obstacles like fear, peer pressure, and not seeing things from a Christian worldview that caused him to struggle. What are some obstacles you face in following Jesus in your life right now?

Closing Challenge

No one perfectly follows Jesus – not even Peter, who was one of his closest and you could say “best” followers! So don’t get frustrated or have unrealistic expectations of what life will be like as you follow Jesus. It won’t be perfect. You won’t be perfect. But if you are humble enough to realize that God is working on your like a construction zone, you’ll see yourself becoming “more and more, in every way like Christ”!

(When that time is up, close your group in prayer – or even better, ask one of the students to close in prayer.)

Bible Texts to Print for Volunteers

John 1:42

Matthew 14:29

Matthew 14:30

Matthew 16:16

Matthew 16:22

Matthew 16:23

Matthew 26:33

Matthew 26:37-38

Matthew 26:40, 43, 45

Matthew 26:58

Matthew 26:70

Matthew 26:72

Matthew 26:74

Luke 24:12

John 21:7

John 21:15-17

Acts 2:41

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BubbleMikeMike is the Middle School Pastor at Mount Pleasant Christian Church in Greenwood, Indiana, where he oversees their ministries for 5th-8th graders.  He’s been in full-time youth ministry over 16 years with most of that time focused on 5th-8th graders.