To challenge pupils to consider the power of the words they speak – to hurt or to help others.
Proverbs 10:18; 11:13; 16:28; 18:8; 26:20 – don’t gossip
James 3:1-12 – the power of the tongue
You will need:
- A tube of toothpaste
- A place
- A banana
- Large cards to show Persian proverb and words from the book of Proverbs (See Preparation and Content below)
- A CD of music and appropriate equipment to play it on.
• Prepare large cards in advance, showing words as follows (quotations from Proverbs are taken from the Good News Bible)
Card 1 – ‘An arrow that has left the box never returns’ – a Persian proverb
Card 2 – ‘A man who hides his hatred is a liar. Anyone who spreads gossip is a fool.’ – Proverbs 10:18
Card 3 – ‘No one who gossips can be trusted with a secret, but you can put confidence in someone who is trustworthy’ – Proverbs 11:13
Card 4 – ‘Gossip is spread by wicked people; they stir up trouble and break up friendships’ – Proverbs 16:28
Card 5 – ‘Gossip is so tasty – how we love to swallow it’ – Proverbs 18:8
Card 6 – ‘Without wood, a fire goes out; without gossip, quarrelling stops’ – Proverbs 26:20
• Work out in advance a thirty second excerpt of music which will act as a timer in the introductory activity. Set up your equipment for playing the music before the assembly begins and check that it works as you intend.
- Ask for two volunteers. Ask one volunteer to squirt some toothpaste onto the plate. Ask the other volunteer to unpeel the banana.
- Then tell them they have thirty seconds to put the toothpaste back in the tube and to seal up the banana with the sellotape. Play an excerpt from a music CD to time them.
- At the end of the thirty seconds, show the audience how they’ve got on. After a round of applause, ask them to return to their seats.
- Comment that really, that was an impossible task. Then display Card 1 showing the Persian proverb: ‘An arrow that has left the bow never returns.’
- Explain that just like the squeezed-out toothpaste, a peeled banana and an arrow that has left the bow, so it is with words, once we’ve said them, we can’t take them back.
Words can hurt
Tell the following funny story to make the serious point about how words can hurt, and the need to think about the effect of our words on others:
There was once a lady on a train with her baby. A man came into the same compartment. He looked at the baby and said, ‘That is the ugliest baby I have ever seen!’ and he started to laugh uncontrollably. He got off the train at the next station. Another man got on and came and sat in the same compartment. There, he found the lady who was obviously very upset. He tried to get her to say what the matter was, but she couldn’t speak because she was crying so much. So, at the next station, he leapt out of the carriage, ran to a shop, and managed to get back just as the train was pulling out. ‘There, there,’ he said, ‘please don’t cry. Here, I’ve bought you a drink and some tissues. And look, I’ve even bought a banana for your monkey!’
Those were not the right words!
Small but powerful
- The Bible says that the tongue – that small part of us which plays such a powerful role in producing our words – is a bit like the rudder of a big ship: relatively small but very influential. Or, it is like a little spark in a forest that can cause a huge fire (see James 3:4-6)!
- You can use your tongue to discourage others. Demonstrate this by suddenly saying something insulting to someone on the front row. (Try to pick someone who looks as if they won’t be hurt by your ‘insult’ and make sure that the audience understands you are joking!)
- You can also use your tongue to encourage (eg: ‘You know, I think you were really good when you did that!’). It costs nothing to use our words to build someone else up – instead of ourselves!
If you’ve ever had any gossip spread about you, you’ll know how hurtful it can be. The Bible has some particularly useful things to say about gossip in a book of wise sayings called The Book of Proverbs. See if you can see the wisdom in these words:
- Display Card 2: ‘Anyone who spreads gossip is a fool.’ Ask: Is this true?
- Display Card 3: ‘No one who gossips can be trusted.’ Ask: Is this true? Comment that if it is, then so is the first proverb. People who can’t be trusted end up not having many friends. God warns us against gossip because he wants us to have friends!
- Display Card 4: ‘Gossip is spread by wicked people; they stir up trouble and break up friendships.’ Ask: Can you think of an occasion when that has happened?
- Display Card 5: ‘Gossip is so tasty – how we love to swallow it!’ Ask: Is this true? Begin to tell a bit of ‘juicy’ imaginary gossip. Then stop abruptly and draw pupils’ attention to how carefully people are listening all of a sudden!
- Display Card 6: ‘Without wood, a fire goes out; without gossip, quarrelling stops.’ Ask: Why not put that to the test?
Three important questions
1. A group of people called the Quakers are renowned for not saying much at all, especially in their church services. But they have a rule of thumb about the way they try to use words when speaking about someone else. They ask themselves these questions before they speak:
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it necessary?
2. Challenge pupils to see if they can follow this ‘rule’ today: to remember – before they speak – to ask themselves those three questions.
1. Say that you have spoken enough!
2. Conclude with a few moments of quiet. Explain that you want pupils to use this time to think about the way they have used words in the past, and how they are going to speak, today.