Category Archives: Trust

Potemkin Villages (ANECDOTE)

Potemkin VillagePrince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin-Tavricheski (Potemkin |pəˈtemkin| for short) was a Russian military leader and personal favorite (and possibly secret husband) of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia from 1762-1796.  He was intelligent and daring, and as a young man, he won many victories fighting the Turkish forces of the Ottoman Empire.


After defeating the Ottoman Empire in Crimea and what is now known as Southern Ukraine, Potemkin became the governor of the region.  The area had been devastated by the war, and Potemkin struggled to rebuild it and bring in Russian settlers.  Before he could make sufficient progress, the Ottoman Empire threatened war again.  Empress Catherine wanted to impress her allies and gain their support during the upcoming war, so she engaged upon a six-month trip to the area with her court and ambassadors from many other countries.


Potemkin was embarrassed to show the true condition of what was now known as “New Russia,” so he had his men build “mobile villages” and set them up along the banks of the Dnieper River as Catherine traveled it by barge.  As soon as the empress arrived with all her powerful friends, Potemkin’s men would emerge in the sham village dressed as peasants.  When the barge left, they would disassemble the village and quickly move it downstream overnight.  They would then rebuild the village in preparation for her visit the next day and repeat the process as before.  This risky ruse paid off, but Potemkin’s men were exhausted.  Worse, they had now seen the true character of their leader and knew what lengths he would go to in order to keep up appearances.


Have you ever built a Potemkin Village to impress your boss or senior leaders?  Ever made things look better than they really were to hide your lack of progress or impact?  Ever put on a show to save face or avoid the consequences of having leaders see the true situation?


There are several problems with erecting Potemkin Villages:

  • We will waste time, money and skill creating the illusion of success when we should be working on our problems.
  • Leaders above us will have a distorted picture of what is really happening in the organization.
  • Because the leaders won’t know the problems we are having, they won’t be able to help us solve them.
  • Leaders will make decisions about the organization based on what they think is true, and these new initiatives and commitments will often strain our resources and staff even further.
  • Because we have pretended that things are going well, we won’t be able to ask for the resources we really need to fix the problems.
  • Our staff will become exhausted and disengaged as they regularly build “fake villages” that they know do nothing to help improve their situation.
  • We will lose the trust of our staff as they see us misrepresent reality to the leadership of the organization.

The longer we pretend that the problem doesn’t exist, the longer we participate in keeping it alive.  If we truly want things to get better, we have to get honest.  We have to have the courage to accept the consequences for the way things are so that we can get the help we need to make them better.


Let’s spend less time building fake villages and more time building the Kingdom.

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Filed under culture, Honesty, Transparency, Trust, Vulnerability

Counter-Culture (EXERCISE)

Silo MentalityTime

25 min



Participants will engage in an exercise to examine four negative cultural norms at the organization and four positive replacements.  They will be asked to explore how they feel in the midst of each one and to commit to adopt the positive cultural behaviors.



  • 8 sheets of posterboard
  • Thick marker
  • Masking tape (1 roll)
  • Printouts (1 per participant) of the following two documents. Both documents can be found on the website on the Lesson and Material Downloads page..
    • EXERICSE – Counter-Culture – Problems and Solutions.docx
    • EXERCISE – Counter Culture – Wide Range of Emotions.pptx



  • Print copies of the two documents for all participants.
  • Tape a very large circle with masking tape in the middle of the open floor of the teaching area.  It should be large enough so everyone will be able to stand in the circle together.
  • Create eight large signs on posterboard by labeling each one with a different cultural element from the list below:
    • Distrust
    • Silo Mentality
    • Polishing Our Rough Edges
    • Over-commitment
    • Trusting Others
    • Collaboration
    • Being Vulnerable & Transparent
    • Ruthless Prioritization
    • Ask 8 volunteers to each take one posterboard and line up along two different walls – the four positive cultural elements (Trusting Others, Collaboration, Being Vulnerable & Transparent and Ruthless Prioritization) on one wall and the four negative cultural elements (Distrust, Silo Mentality, Polishing Our Rough Edges, Over-commitment) on the opposite wall.



  • Pass out the two pages (“Problems and Solutions” and “Wide Range of Emotion”) to every participant.
  • Invite each participant to join in one of eight little groups, aligned behind participants holding up eight large placards.
  • Instruct participants to move around into other groups until there are about the same numbers of participants standing with each placard. (NOTE: This exercise will work even if there is only one person in each small group – the one holding the placard – but will also work with 100 people.)
  • Ask the group behind the “Distrust” sign to read together and aloud the description of “Distrust.”
  • After that reading, call upon anyone in the room to call out the feelings/emotions that they experience when they encounter this cultural problem in their organization. (Remind the participants to look at the graphical list of Feelings in their hands to help them identify any feelings they experience.)
  • After this, have the group behind the corresponding counter-cultural placard (“Trusting Others” in this case) read aloud and together the description of  “Trusting Others.”
  • Then have both groups dealing with the Distrust/Trusting Others issue walk into the large circle in the middle of the room, holding their signs high so everyone can see them.
  • When those participants are in the circle in the middle of the room, the facilitator calls upon anyone in the room to call out the feelings/emotions that come to mind when they imagine this powerful counterculture of “Trusting Others” becoming a reality throughout their organization.
  • On the count of three, have everyone in the room say aloud and together “We release Distrust” and the person holding that placard goes outside of the circle and lays that placard down on the ground.   (The placard “Trusting Others” remains held aloft in the circle.)
  • After this, the same overall process is repeated for the remaining cultural problems and counter-cultural behaviors.
  • When this is completed, invite someone to pray in a short time of conversation prayer.


Source – Greg Boyer and Michael Kientz


Cultural Problems and Their Counter-Cultural Solutions


Some of our cultural problems in our organization are:

1. Distrust – Managers don’t trust staff enough to delegate to them. Staff don’t trust their managers enough to give them honest feedback. Senior leaders don’t trust staff enough to share information.  As a result, work takes longer to complete, misunderstandings abound, and, gossip and rumor often replace formal communication channels.


2. Silo Mentality – Staff are focused on doing the best job they can, but they don’t talk to their peers doing the same roles. As a result, they reinvent the wheel on a regular basis or suffer silently, not knowing how to solve problems that someone else has already solved.


3. Polishing Our Rough Edges – In a desire to look “Excellent” (which translates to “Perfect” in our culture), staff misrepresent the situation to make it look like things are better than they are. Staff overstate their strengths, skills and contributions. Field Offices put on a show for visiting leaders. Leaders do whatever it takes to ensure they get “green KRIs” (a proxy for all kinds of visible measurements) even when it requires enormous sacrifice from their staff. As a result, leaders and senior leaders don’t have a true picture of the condition of the ministry, resources aren’t allocated correctly, and problems are prolonged.


4. Over-commitment – Senior leadership regularly takes bigger bites than the staff can chew. Because we don’t know what’s most important, everything looks important, and we feel that we have to do everything. At the heart of this behavior is a pride that makes us feel like our efforts are essential to the success of the ministry and a lack of faith in God’s provision to bring about positive outcomes.  As a result, staff are exhausted, burnout and turnover are common, relationships are strained, our infrastructure is stressed, and staff lose confidence in their leaders as we regularly invest fully in initiatives that have little to no impact.


Counter-cultural corrective attitudes and behaviors are:

1. Trusting Others – Every worker at every level commits to being trustworthy by honoring commitments, being transparent, communicating frequently and strategically, and dealing with conflict in a biblical way. Leaders take risks to share information and delegate to give opportunities for workers to earn their trust.


2. Collaboration  – When people encounter a problem that they aren’t sure how to solve or initiate a project, their first thought and action is to contact their peers and find out what’s been done already. Workers regularly spend 25% or more of their time collaborating with other staff both inside and outside their office.


3. Being Vulnerable & Transparent – Everyone commits to giving an honest and realistic picture of what the current state is. Leaders and workers ask for help when they need it. Leaders honor this risk by not punishing staff for admitting mistakes or asking for help. Everyone allows their rough edges to show so that God can use them to connect us to each other (like a jigsaw puzzle).


4. Ruthless Prioritization – Senior leadership identifies a few anchors that all workers can use to make decisions about which activities get done and which ones detract us from our main focus (even if they look good and important).  Senior leaders require other leaders to justify initiatives by matching them to the anchors and hold themselves accountable to say “no” more often than they say “yes” to new initiatives. The organization regularly assesses workers’ capacity and work-life balance and makes adjustments to protect the well-being of the staff.

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Filed under Collaboration, Communication, culture, Priorities, Transparency, Trust, Vulnerability


Life of PiAudience

Teens, Adults


3 hours

The Life of Pi is the story of an Indian man, his search for God and his masculine maturity.  He experiences a tragic shipwreck, in which all his family members are eventually killed.  Afterward, he spends months at sea with a tiger, which represents the wildness of a man that needs to be controlled to achieve maturity.  Without controlling this part of their masculinity, men become destructive, abusive adults seeking selfish pursuits and pleasures that hurt those around them.



These Scriptures speak to some of the themes of the movie.

  • Psalm 34:4-7 (God delivers us from all our fears)



o  Copy of the movie

o  Equipment for showing the movie (TV, DVD player, LCD projector, Speakers, Screen…)

o  Question Sheet (attached)

o  Popcorn and drinks (optional)


o  Print out copies of the question sheet for each individual or group.

o  Set up everything for viewing the movie.  (Be sure to test it all out to make sure that the movie plays well and that the sound can be heard by everyone.)

o  Prepare snacks. (optional)



Watch the movie.  Then on your own, with a mentor or with a group, answer the questions on the Question Sheet.


Question Sheet


  1. Who did each of the animals on the boat (i.e., the hyena, the orangutan, the zebra and the tiger) represent?
  2. Why do you think it was important for Pi to associate people with animals in his story?
  3. What part of Pi’s personality or identity did the tiger represent?
  4. Why didn’t Pi let the tiger die when he had a chance to let it drown?
  5. What did Pi mean (metaphorically) when he said that the tiger couldn’t be tamed, but it could be trained?
  6. Why was it important for Pi to face the tiger (metaphorically)?
  7. What did the island represent?
  8. Why was it important for Pi to leave the island?
  9. Why was Pi so sad when the tiger left him without a goodbye?

10. Where do you think the “tiger” went (metaphorically)?

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Filed under Adversity, faith, Hardship, Masculinity, Movie, Religion, Trust

Walk On Water – WOW! (LESSON)


30 minutes



This lesson teaches that we can do great things if we will trust God.  Peter was able to walk on water as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, but when he looked around at his circumstances, he lost his faith and began to sink.



  • Matthew 14:22-33



  • The following supporting materials can be found at www.teachingthem.comon the Lesson and Material Downloads page.
    • “Walk On Water – WOW Water Walker Stickers” (These are stickers you will give to the kids to wear after the lesson if they commit to being “Water Walkers.”  10 stickers print on each page.)
  • Avery Shipping Labels (5163) or full-page sticker paper (1 page per every 10 kids)
  • Something to represent a boat (that will hold 12 kids)
  • Spray bottles filled with water (4-6)
  • Blue fabric (6-8 ft – kids will wave it to represent a stormy sea)
  • Something to simulate strong wind (4-6 items – you could use fans, heavy pieces of plastic or anything else to “fan” the apostles in the boat)
  • Oars (4-6 – or something that looks like oars)
  • Small buckets (4-6 – for the apostles to bail water out of their boat)
  • Sheet of tin (1 – to shake and make a thunder sound)
  • Costume for Jesus character – recommend a long piece of fabric with a hole cut in the middle for his head to fit through.  Add a belt around the waist and maybe a sash to drape over one shoulder and under one arm.
  • Notecards for script (2)
  • Scissors
  • OPTIONAL – Spotlight or strong flashlight (to shine on Jesus as He walks on water)
  • Bible


  • Write these lines for Peter and Jesus to say on separate notecards:
    • Jesus: It’s all right.  I am here!  Don’t be afraid.
    • Peter: Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on the water.
    • Jesus: All right…come.
    • Peter: Save me, Lord!
    • Jesus: You don’t have much faith.  Why did you doubt me?
    • Peter: You really are the Son of God!
  • Select your volunteer to play Jesus, and explain what you want him to do.  Dress him in his costume, and have him wait off-stage or out of sight.  Give him the notecard with his lines on them.
  • Select your volunteer to play Peter, and explain what you want him to do.  Give him the notecard with his lines on them.
  • Print out the Water Walker stickers and cut them into individual stickers.
  • Practice the script.



Use the following script, or modify to suit your needs:

  • “One day, Jesus fed 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and some fish.”
  • “Afterward, He wanted to spend some time praying, so He told the apostles to get into a boat and cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.”
  • “So, the disciples got into the boat.” (Ask for volunteers to come help with the following tasks:
    • 12 volunteers to represent the apostles (make sure one of them is the person you selected for Peter) and get into whatever you are using to represent a boat – Hand a few of them the oars.
    • 4-6 volunteers to stand outside the boat with the spray bottles
    • 4-6 more volunteers to man the fans or other wind-making instruments outside the boat 
    • 2 or more volunteers to hold the blue fabric at either end  and stand in front of the boat
    • 1 volunteer to man the lights and flick them on and off when you give the words
    • 1 volunteer to shake the sheet of tin to make a thunder sound
    • 1 volunteer to hold the spotlight or flashlight and be ready to shine it on Jesus

Ask all volunteers to act out what you say as you tell the story.)

  • “The disciples sailed away from the shore and were 3-4 miles out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee when a huge storm rolled in!” (Have your apostles row with their oars.)
  • “It was dark – the moon and stars were behind the clouds – but lightning lit up the sky!” (Signal your lightning and thunder sound effects people to get to work.)
  • “The wind was howling!” (Signal your fan people to switch them on or to start waving their wind-making objects.)
  • “Water sprayed over the sides of the boat and drenched the apostles!” (Signal spray bottle volunteers to let the disciples have it!)
  • “The apostles were afraid that they might sink, so they used buckets to try and bail water out of the boat!” (Signal apostles in the boat to use the buckets you left inside it to pretend to bail water over the side.)
  • “Hours went by, and the apostles grew very tired.”
  • “About 3 o’clock in the morning, things got worse!”
  • “A ghost came walking across the water straight at them!” (Have volunteer playing Jesus begin to walk across the “water” toward the boat.  Signal your spotlight person to shine the light on him.)
  • “They screamed in terror!”  (If the apostles don’t scream, say,A-hem, I said that the apostles SCREAMED in terror!”)
  • “Then, something totally incredible happened!” (Have your helpers say the following lines from their note cards.
    • Jesus: “It’s all right.  I am here!  Don’t be afraid.”
    • Peter: “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on the water.”
    • Jesus: “All right…come.”
  • “Peter went over the side of the boat and started walking on the water toward Jesus!”  (Have Peter character act this out.)
  • “But then, he took his eyes off Jesus and looked around.” (Have Peter character act this out.)
  • “He saw the high waves!  He noticed the howling wind!”
  • “He became terrified and began to sink under the water!” (Have Peter character act this out by falling to his/her knees and crying out, “Save me, Lord!”)
  • “Jesus reached out His hand and grabbed Peter.” (Have characters act this out.  Then have Jesus say, “You don’t have much faith.  Why did you doubt me?”
  • “Jesus and Peter climbed back into the boat, and immediately, the wind stopped.” (Have characters act this out.)
  • “Then the disciples worshipped Jesus.”  (Have disciples bow down to Jesus in the boat.  Have Peter character say, “You really are the Son of God!”  Then, ask your volunteers to turn off/lay down their props and return to their seats.)
  • “Peter walked on water!  Can you believe that?”
  • “But then he began to sink.”
  • “Tell me…why did Peter start to sink into the water?”  (Expected response: He took his eyes off Jesus.)
  • “That’s right.  He took his eyes of Jesus.  He looked around at all the scary stuff around him, and he began to think, ‘I’m in big trouble.  A person can’t walk on water!  That’s impossible!  I must have been crazy thinking I could have walked on water!’”
  • “Of course, Peter was right, but he forgot one very important thing…all things are possible with God!”
  • “God can walk on water, and He can give Peter the power to walk on water.”
  • “God can do anything, and He can help us with any problem.”
  • “I’m learning that whenever I have a problem, I should give it to Jesus.”
  • “Anytime that I feel like I’m sinking under all my problems, I need to give them to Jesus.”
  • “As long as I keep my eyes on Him, He helps me with my problems.”
  • “But if I start to focus on the scary things that are happening around me, I’ll start to sink again.”
  • “Now you may think Peter looked pretty silly when he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink under water, but I don’t.”
  • “I admire Peter for having the courage to get out of the boat.”
  • “Peter was a Water Walker!”
  • “You know what all the other guys were?  They were Boat Huggers!”
  • “While Peter walked on the water, they hugged the boat in fear.”
  • “Jesus told Peter that he only had a little faith, but he had a lot more than the Boat Huggers.”
  • “A Water Walker trusts in God.”
  • “A Water Walker does the scary things that God wants him to do.”
  • “A Water Walker gets out of the boat to get closer to Jesus.”
  • “I’ve known a lot of Boat Huggers.  They are too afraid to get out of the boat and do what God wants them to do.”
  • “Touch your neighbor and say, ‘You’ve got to get out of the boat!’”
  • “I think Boat Huggers make Jesus sad.”
  • “He wants to help them do things that no one else has done, but they don’t trust Him enough to get out of the boat.”
  • “If you want to get closer to Jesus, you’re going to have to get out of the boat and walk on some water.”
  • “How many of you want to be closer to Jesus?” (Listen for response.)
  •  “Well, then you’ve got to get out of the boat!”
  • “Do any of you want to be Water Walkers for Jesus?” (Listen for response.)
  • “Turn around and touch your neighbor and tell them, ‘I’m a Water Walker!’”
  • “If you think you want to trust Jesus and be a Water Walker for Him, raise your hand!” (Try to encourage everyone to raise their hand. Ask your volunteers from earlier to come up and get a few stickers each to share with everyone else in the room.)
  • “The sticker lets everyone know that you are a Water Walker – a person who is willing to trust Jesus and do the scary things that will get you closer to Him.”  (As the kids are putting on their stickers, teach them the Rhyme Time for this lesson to reinforce the teaching point. Repeat it several times to improve retention.)


Rhyme Time

When the storms of life are really scary,

And my problems seem to double,

I pray to God and trust in Him,

And Jesus helps me with my trouble!


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Filed under faith, Fear, Jesus, Lesson, Peter, Trust

Let Go and Let God (LESSON)



15 minutes



This lesson teaches that faith is about letting go of our problems and letting God handle them.  It uses the story about Jesus feeding the 5,000 and highlights the faith of the little boy who was willing to give everything he had so that Jesus could work a miracle.



  • John 6:1-13



  • Vanilla wafers and goldfish crackers (enough for everyone to get some)
  • Baskets to put the wafers and crackers in (12 baskets)
  • Bible


  • Distribute the vanilla wafers and goldfish crackers among the twelve baskets and have them ready to distribute.  You might want to arrange to have volunteers ready to pass them out before you begin teaching.
  • Put markers in the Bible in the place where you want your volunteers to read the Scriptures for the lesson.
  • Practice the script.



  • “I’m going to tell you a story about over 5,000 hungry people.”
  • “Let’s read about it.”  (Have volunteer read John 6:1-4.)
  • “But that doesn’t tell us how many people were there.  Let’s jump ahead a little.”  (Have volunteer read John 6:10.)
  • “So, there were 5,000 men.  That’s just the men.”
  • “We know from one of the other Gospel writers (Matthew 14:21) that there were even more people than that, because it says there were 5,000 men besides the women and children.”
  • “I bet that most of the men brought their wives and children, too.”
  • “If every man brought his wife and even just one child, there would have been fifteen thousand people!  That’s a lot of hungry!”
  • “Let’s keep reading.”  (Have volunteer read John 6:5-6.)
  • You see, Jesus already knew what He was going to do, but He wanted to test them to see if their faith had grown from seeing Him do all the miracles He did.”
  • “And what did Philip say?” (Have volunteer read Philip’s response from John 6:7.)
  • “BZZZZZZZZZTTTTT!!!   Wrong answer!  Everyone say it with me, ‘BZZZZZZZTTTTT!!!!’”
  • “Philip failed the test.  He didn’t have any faith that Jesus could feed the people.”
  • “But let’s see what Andrew does.”  (Have volunteer read John 6:8-9.)
  • “Andrew brought Jesus a young boy with a lunch sack, which contained five, small loaves of bread and two fishes.”
  • “Andrew didn’t bring much, but he brought Jesus something.”
  • “DING! DING! DING!  Right answer!  Everyone say it with me, ‘DING! DING! DING!’”
  • “Believe it or not, even though Andrew still didn’t have enough faith to understand what Jesus could do, he was the one who passed the test.”
  • “Philip brought Jesus nothing but doubt, but Andrew brought what he could find.”
  • “He brought Jesus something, and when you’re talking about faith, something is always better than nothing.”
  • “Touch your neighbor and say, ‘Something is better than nothing!’”
  • “And what did Jesus do with that ‘something?’”
  • “Well, first He organized everyone into groups and had them sit down.”  (Organize participants into groups, and have them sit on the floor.)
  • “Then He took the loaves and blessed the food. ‘God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food.’”  (As you say this, hold up one of the baskets of wafers and crackers.)
  • “Then, He fed just a few of those people, right?” (Expected response: “No…” As you ask this question, have some volunteers begin to pass out the baskets of Goldfish and Vanilla Wafers to groups of kids.  They should continue until every group has a basket.)
  • “No? Well, He fed the hungriest people, right?” (Expected response: “No…”)
  • “No?  Well, He fed all the men, right?” (Expected response: “No…”)
  • “No?  Well, maybe He fed just the women and children, right?” (Expected response: “No…”)
  • “No?  Well, who did He feed?” (Expected response: “Everybody!”)
  • “Everybody?  You mean He fed every single person?  That’s amazing!”
  • “Well, surely He told them to only have one serving each so that the food would last, right?” (Expected response: “No…”)
  • “No?  How much did He feed them?”  (Have volunteer read John 6:11.)
  • “He gave them as much as they wanted?  That’s crazy!  We’re talking maybe 15,000 people at an all-you-can-eat buffet!  That’s a ton of food!”
  • “But wait, it gets even better!”  (Have volunteer read John 6:12-13.)
  • “They gathered twelve doggy bags (or baskets)!”
  • “Why do you think there were twelve baskets left over?”  (Expected response: “There were 12 Apostles.”  They may need some help making this connection.)
  • “Exactly! That was one for each of the Apostles!”
  • “I think Jesus was being funny.”
  • “He was teasing them, because they hadn’t believed that He could feed all those people, so He gave each of them their own personal reminder!”
  • “Now, Philip failed the test.  Andrew passed the test (but just barely).  But the boy did better than both of them.  He got an A+!”
  • “Can anyone tell me why?”  (Expected response: “Because he gave everything he had.”)
  • “Right!  He gave his entire lunch!”
  • “When it comes to faith, something is better than nothing but everything is better than something!”
  • “Touch your neighbor and say, ‘Everything is better than something!’”
  • “Think about that!  He had to be just as hungry as everyone else there.”
  • “Jesus had been teaching and healing all day, and it was now late in the afternoon.”
  • “I’m sure the boy had to make a tough decision – keep his lunch and fill his grumbling belly or give it away and take the risk that he might go hungry.”
  • “Faith always requires us to take a risk.”
  • “Faith is the moment something leaves our hands and goes into God’s hands.”
  • “We don’t know what God is going to do.  He almost never tells us ahead of time.”
  • “But we’ve got to trust that God will do something good and maybe something even better than we expect.”
  • “The boy didn’t know what Jesus was going to do with his lunch.”
    “There is no way he could have known. This had never happened before!”
  • “But that was the test!  Did the boy trust Jesus enough to let Him handle the problem?”
  • “God sometimes allows problems in our lives because He wants to know if we will trust Him by putting things into His hands.”
  • “To pass the test, we’ve got to let go of our problems and let God handle them.”
  • “Jump up and yell, ‘I’m gonna LET GO and LET GOD!!’”
  • “Yell it again, ‘I’m gonna LET GO and LET GOD!!’”
  • “Awesome!  That is what faith is all about!”
  • “Let’s all work at having faith in God like the boy in the story.”  (You may want to say the Rhyme Time below several times to reinforce the teaching point.)


Rhyme Time

When we practice letting go,

God will help our faith to grow.


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Filed under Apostles, faith, Problem solving, test, Trust

The Mafia Game (GAME)


Children, Teens, Adults



20-30 minutes

This game shows the negative impact of distrust and lack of role-clarity on collaboration within a team.  Participants are assigned a secret role to play (Mafia, Police, Doctor or Townspeople), and “good” and “evil” try to eliminate each other. It is based on a game originally invented by psychology student Dimitry Davidoff in Russia in1986.  (A variation for young children is described at the end.)



If you would like to connect this game to a biblical lesson, you can choose from the following (depending on what point you would like to make):

  • Psalm 133 (It is good for God’s people to live together in peace.)
  • Proverbs 3:29 (Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you.)
  • Proverbs 12:22 (The Lord detests lying lips but delights in the trustworthy.)
  • 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (One body but many parts)



o  Deck(s) of playing cards – one deck for every 8 to 12 people (If your group is larger than 12 people, you will need two decks.  If it’s larger than 24, you will need three, and so on…  However, if you have a total of people that is bigger than 12 but too small for two groups, you can just play with one large group.)

o  Flipchart or whiteboard and markers (optional)

o  Prizes for the winners (optional)


o  Take out the following playing cards from each deck:

o  2 Aces – representing the Mafia

o  2 Kings – representing the Police

o  1 Queen – represents the Doctor

o  Enough number cards for the rest of the people in each group (For example, if you have a group of 8, you will have 2 Aces, 2 Kings, 1 Queen and 3 number cards.  If you have a group of 12, you will have 2 Aces, 2 Kings, 1 Queen and 7 number cards.)

o  Shuffle the cards up for each deck, but keep the decks separate from each other.


Use the following script (or modify to suit your needs):

  • “We are going to play The Mafia Game.”
  • “First, I need to divide you into groups.”  (Divide the participants into groups of 8-12 people each, and have each group sit in a circle, facing each other.)
  • “Everyone in your group is part of a town.”
  • “There are both good people and bad people in your town.”
  • “During the game, we will have both day and night in your town.”
  • “Each day and night together are a round of play.”
  • “I have a deck of cards for each group, and in this deck are four kinds of cards – Aces, Kings, Queens and number cards.  I’ve taken all the extra cards out.”
  • “I am going to come to you and ask you to draw one card from the deck.”
  • “You can look at your card, but please do not let anyone else see what you drew.”
  • “The card you draw will determine which role you play in the game.”
  • “There are four roles.”  (You may want to write these roles on a flipchart or whiteboard so that participants don’t forget what the cards mean.)
  • “If you draw an Ace, you are part of the Mafia.  Your goal is to eliminate the Townspeople, the Police and the Doctor during the night.”
  • “If you draw a King, you are part of the Police.  Your goal is to figure out who the Mafia are and to persuade the Townspeople to eliminate them during the day.  You probably will want to keep your identity a secret so that the Mafia doesn’t get rid of you first!”
  • “If you draw a Queen, you are a Doctor.  Your goal is to protect people from the Mafia during the night.  Each night, you can choose one person to protect – it can even be yourself!”
  • “If you draw a number card (no matter what number), you are one of the Townspeople.  Your goal is to eliminate the Mafia during the day.”
  • “I am the Narrator, and I’ll be giving you instructions.”
  • “We will have both days and nights in each round.”
  • “During the night, everyone will close their eyes and put their heads down.”
  • “I will give the Mafia, Police and Doctor roles the opportunity to wake up at night and do their work.”
  • “The Townspeople will stay asleep all night.”
  • “When I say it is day, everyone will lift their heads and open their eyes.”
  • “During the day, everyone can pretend to be a Townsperson, because no one will know what your real role is.”
  • “Everyone will get a chance to try to convince each other who to eliminate.”
  • “If you are eliminated, you will have to leave the circle without telling your identity, but you will be allowed to watch the rest of the game with your eyes open.”
  • “Does anyone have any questions about how the game is played?”  (Answer any questions.  Then, have each person draw one card from the deck(s).  Remind them to keep their card and their role a secret.)
  • “Let’s play! Please do what I tell you when I tell you, and be sure that no one hears you if you are doing your work at night!”



  • “It is nighttime, so everyone please go to sleep.” (Everyone puts their head down and closes their eyes.)
  • “Mafia, please wake up.” (Only the member(s) of the Mafia quietly open their eyes. As long as there is more than one Mafia member, they must unanimously choose a person to eliminate by pointing to someone in the group. The Narrator must remember the person chosen.)
  • “Mafia, please go to sleep.” (The Mafia close their eyes and place their heads down again.)
  • “Police, please wake up.” (The member(s) of the Police quietly open their eyes and point to one person, who they suspect is a member of the Mafia.  The Narrator gives a thumbs-up if they are correct and a thumbs down if they are not, but even if they are correct, the person is not eliminated.  The Townspeople have to be persuaded to eliminate the Mafia.)
  • “Police, please go to sleep.” (The member(s) of the Police close their eyes and place their heads down.)
  • “Doctor, please wake up and choose someone you would like to protect.” (The Doctor wakes up and silently points to someone they would like to protect for that day. It’s okay if he/she chooses himself/herself.)
  • “Doctor, please go to sleep.” (The Doctor closes his or her eyes and puts his/her head down.)
  • “It’s morning. Everyone please wake up.” (Everyone opens their eyes and raises their head.)



  • The Narrator announces the person who was eliminated by the Mafia. 
  • Unless the Doctor protected that person, he/she MUST quietly leave the circle.
  • This person may not speak to anyone for the remainder of the entire game, but he or she may now keep his/her eyes open to watch everything.
  • The townspeople (along with the Mafia, Police and Doctor who may pretend to be Townspeople) then nominate and vote on people who they suspect are part of the Mafia.
  • Each person nominated may make a defense and plead their case, but they cannot show their card.
  • The ONE person receiving a majority vote (which must include at least 50% or those voting) is eliminated.
  • After someone is voted off, the day is over.
  • The day may also end without any elimination if the entire group decides not to eliminate anyone.
  • The Narrator again gives the instructions for the Nighttime, and the cycle repeats.
  • The game continues until:
  1. A.    All the Mafia are eliminated (the Police, Doctor and Townspeople win!)
  2. B.    All the Townspeople (at least the ones with number cards) are eliminated (the Mafia win!)
  • Once the game is over, award prizes to the winners in each group if you would like.
  • Then, have the group sit together to discuss the following debriefing questions.  (You might want to put these on a flipchart or whiteboard.)


Debrief Questions

  • How difficult was it to collaborate when you weren’t sure whom you could trust?
  • How difficult was it to collaborate when you weren’t sure what role everyone was playing?
  • Were you ever wrong about who the Mafia members were?  What problems did that cause?
  • What types of problems does lack of trust cause in our organization?
  • What types of problems does lack of role clarity cause in our organization?
  • What are some ideas for how we could solve trust and role-clarity issues?


Variation for Children – “Predator”

Instead of Mafia members, there are “Predators,” and instead of police there are “Hunters.” Usually three separate Predators (Lion, Wolf, Bear) are chosen and instructed to “wake up” separately at night and attack someone (it’s possible that they will attack each other). Instead of using cards, you can just tap them while their heads are down (“If I tap you now, you are the Bear.”)

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Filed under Collaboration, Games that Teach, Relationships, teamwork, Training, Trust, unity

Trust God When Things Look Bad (CHALLENGE)


10-15 minutes

This Challenge is a fun visual that reminds kids to trust God even when circumstances are looking bad. There is a little bit of “magic” and a little bit of science in this lesson that gives it some “Wow!” factor. Participants will create a water-suspension trick using some simple supplies.



  • Genesis 37 to 45
  • Romans 8:28



  • Canning jar (“Mason jar”) with a screw-top lid and a removable insert – 1 per person with one extra for the group leader
  • Small piece of screening (like what covers your windows – enough to cover the top of the canning jar) – 1 per person with one extra for the group leader
  • Gallon jug of water – 1 for group
  • Piece of poster board – 3” x 3” – 1 per person
  • If you don’t want to make your own jars, you can order them for approximately $10 each from Steve Spangler Science (  It’s called the “Mysterious Water Suspension Trick.”
  • Challenge Card (The file for printing is called, “JJ – Trust God When Things Look Bad – Challenge Card (CHALLENGE),” and it can be found on the Lesson and Material Downloads page at  This can be printed in black and white on regular paper.  There are two Challenge Cards per page.)
  • Ziplock bags – gallon size – 1 per group



  • Cut the piece of screening so that it fits over the opening of the jar.  You want some overlap so that the lid will hold the screening securely to the jar.
  • Screw on the band part of the lid, but leave the removable insert out. (Only for the leader’s jar.  The participants will do their own.)
  • You might want to laminate your poster board square but only if you plan on using it multiple times.
  • Practice the trick.  Flipping the jar upside down is the most challenging part.
  • Print out the Challenge Card document.
  • Cut the Challenge Card document in half (each half is identical), and put one in each Ziplock bag (one per group).
  • Put the small pieces of screening and the pieces of poster board in each Ziplock bag.
  • Practice the script.



Use the following script (or modify to suit your needs):

  • “We’re going to do a group Challenge today.”
  • “It’s called, “Trust God When Things Look Bad” and it’s part of the Joseph’s Journey Series.”
  • “First, I’ll need to divide you into groups.”  (Divide the participants into the number of groups for which you have prepared kits.)
  • “Each group will have a Ziplock bag with a Challenge Card.”
  • “When I tell you to go, open your Ziplock bags, and read the Challenge Card.” (Allow them to read the Challenge Card.)
  • “So, who’s thinks they have a strong faith in God?”  (Listen for responses, and select the most enthusiastic participant to come up to the front.)
  • (To the participant…)  “You think you have a strong faith in God, right?” (While you are asking, pour water from the pitcher into your demonstration jar.  Don’t let them see the screening over the top.)
  • “Do you feel like you even trust God when things look bad in your life?”  (While you are asking, place the poster board square on top of the jar.)
  • “Could you trust God like Joseph did even after he was sold into slavery and then thrown into prison?”  (While you are asking, flip the jar and the poster board square upside down, and hold them over the child’s head.  Keep your hand under the poster board square so that it looks like you are supporting it.  In reality, the water droplets inside the screening and the air pressure pushing up on the poster board will hold the card in place.)
  • “I would say things are looking pretty bad for you right now.  Are you still trusting God?”  (Listen for response.)
  • “Would you trust God to keep you from getting wet if I were to pull this card away?” (Listen for response, then, with as much drama as you can muster, pull the card away.  The water will stay in the jar.  The water droplets develop surface tension inside the tiny holes in the screen.  This and the fact that if you hold the jar perfectly level, no air can get in to replace the water that leaves, will hold the water in.)
  • “Wow!  I’m impressed that you are still here!  You really do trust God when things look bad!”  (Tilt jar just a little, and some water will pour out until you level out the jar again.  Participants usually get a big kick out of their peer getting wet.)
  • “Oops.  There’s a lesson in this.”
  • “Trusting God doesn’t mean that bad things won’t ever happen.  Trusting God when things look bad means that you trust Him to get you through the bad times.”  (You can thank your volunteer and send him/her back to his/her seat.)
  • “Sometimes, things look really bad, like when I held the jar of water over his/her head.”
  • “Remember during those times to trust God.”
  • “He has the ability to do the impossible in your life (like stopping gravity), but even when He doesn’t stop the bad stuff, He can turn the bad stuff into good.”
  • “The Bible says that God will make EVERYTHING work for you if you know Him as your heavenly father.  That means good stuff and bad stuff will turn out good for you!” (Romans 8:28)
  • (After your lesson, tell the participants how the trick works.  Then, let them make their own water suspension jars and try them out.  The jars can be made by putting the screening over the glass opening of the jar and then screwing the lid (without the insert) over the screening.)
  • (When you are finished, have them answer the Debrief Questions below (also on their Challenge Cards).  The Rhyme Time is to help them recognize that God can help them forgive.)



Debriefing Questions


  1. Why do you think Joseph was able to trust God when things looked bad?
  2. Have you ever trusted God during a really difficult time in your life?  What happened?
  3. How could you trust God more during difficult times in the future?


Rhyme Time

God has a purpose, a plan and a dream;

My present struggles are more than they seem!

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Filed under Challenges, faith, Joseph, Object Lesson, Trust