Forgiveness is difficult work for anyone at any age. Letting go of the hurt and anger we feel when someone wounds us is challenging. And forgiveness is uniquely difficult for preteens, since it’s during this stage when they develop fierce loyalties to friends and they’re testing newly discovered (and still awkward) social skills. Preteens try on and discard ways of relating like clothing in a mall dressing room. Inevitably, one friend will offend another and the end result is hurt and confusion. The upside is this dynamic creates ever-present opportunities for kids to practice forgiveness.
Preteens are also characterized by black-and-white thinking and a keen sense of justice. When preteens feel a situation is wrong or unfair, they’re quick to grow indignant. This lesson is designed to remind preteens that even when they’ve been wounded or hurt, God urges them to take the next step. They can forgive when they’ve been wronged because they’ve been forgiven by God, who’s been wronged infinitely more.
To help your preteens better understand forgiveness, here’s a quick and easy Bible study that you can use anytime.
SAY: Sometimes we can get tired of forgiving the same thing over and over and over. In Matthew 18, Jesus’ followers were trying to figure out when they could quit forgiving someone who did the same bad thing over and over.
ASK: Tell about a time you felt like the disciples because you had to keep forgiving someone for the same thing over and over.
SAY: One way Jesus responded to his friends was to teach them in parables or by using a simple spiritual lesson with a point. There are three main people in this parable Jesus told. There’s a king, the first man who owed the king a lot of money—millions of dollars—and the second man who owed the first man a day’s worth of pay.
Have kids form three groups, and give each group a Bible. Assign the following sections of Scripture to each group.
Group 1: Matthew 18:23-27
Group 2: Matthew 18:28-31
Group 3: Matthew 18:32-34
Allow time for groups to read their passages.
SAY: Think about what happened in your passage of Scripture. Then with your group pretend that it’s later that evening, after all the action in the parable is over. The first debtor in the parable is exchanging text messages with a friend, trying to describe his eventful day.
Distribute paper and pencils. Instruct groups to discuss what kinds of text messages the debtor would send and then write them on the paper.
Give groups 10 minutes to work. Once time is up, have a representative from each group tell about its text messages in chronological order.
Have kids discuss the following questions in their groups.
• What surprised you about what happened in Jesus’ parable?
• Explain whether you think the king was right in what he did to the man who wouldn’t forgive the other man’s debt.
• Tell about a time you needed to forgive someone but didn’t.
Read aloud Matthew 18:35, and then have the entire group discuss these questions.
• Explain what you think the Bible passage means when it says to “forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
• Why do you think it matters to God whether you forgive someone from your heart or not?
SAY: God wants us to forgive others—even people who do bad things to us over and over—because God forgives us over and over. It doesn’t matter how much we think someone who did bad things to us owes us. Forgiving those things will never come close to how much or how many times God forgives us.
This activity was taken from the book 13 Most Important Bible Lessons for Kids About Loving Each Other. This lesson book focuses on kid-sized theology that really cements the fundamentals of faith into kids’ hearts and heads. Children’s ministry leaders are looking for an effective way to teach upper-elementary kids the foundational truths of the Christian faith, and this is it!
How do you help your kids understand forgiveness? Let us know using the comment section below!