Acts 11 Lesson: Early Church Growth & Change

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Free Sunday School LessonsThis children’s Bible lesson continues the study of the Book of Acts. The lesson is about Peter explaining God’s hand in the conversion of Gentiles.  The lesson focuses on how change brought growth for the Church. Kids need to know that God can be trusted in times of change. The original setting for this lesson plan was older elementary Sunday School. Feel free to modify it for younger students and modified for Children’s Church.

Bible Story: The Early Church Grows
Scripture: Acts 11
Target Age Group: Age 9 – 11 (U.S. 3rd – 5th Grade)
Learning Context: Sunday School
Target Time Frame: 60 minutes
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Supply List: CD player for memory verse, butcher paper with phrases of the verse on it and tape to place the phrases on different walls in classroom, Bibles, paper, pens, dress up clothes and map showing areas from passage of Scripture.
Learning Goal: Students will learn that when change occurs God can be trusted because He always brings good from it.
Learning Indicator: Students who participate in a writing assignment will be able to identify the changes they have experienced and reflect on how God is using that change for good in their life.  Students will demonstrate their understanding of the Bible lesson by answering review questions.
Learning Activity #1: For children arriving who enjoy dress up direct them to the supply of dress up clothes.  This activity is an active way for students to ‘change’ clothes.
Learning Activity #2: Create a writing activity to encourage children to reflect on changes they have faced.  As they identify the changes they have experienced they can journal how they felt about the changes.  After they journal about the way they felt have them think about how God is using (or has used) the changes in their lives.  They can end by writing a prayer to God about what they discovered and ask Him to help them to trust Him no matter what change comes in their life.
Learning Activity #3: As the students find their seats (to prepare for the Bible Lesson) and are settled in announce that you are going to make some seat changes.  Direct students to their new assigned seats.  For the students who only sit by their close friends this change may bring disappointment. That is the point of this activity. Make another change by saying today we are not going to use chairs and will sit on the floor. (If you normally sit on the floor sit in chairs)  Other ideas might be to have your lesson outside on the ground under a tree.  Most of us don’t like change and we are disappointed when things are different than we are used to.  At the end of the lesson ask the students how they felt about the ‘changes’.  Some may have enjoyed the changes while some may not.  Whether we liked the changes or not God’s Word was still taught to us this morning.  The comforts we are accustomed to may have changed but our need to hear and understand His Word did not.
Test: Review Questions
Memory Verse: Acts 11:18 “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”
Memory Verse Activity: Play a game like musical chairs only the students walk around the room near the phrases.  When the music stops the groups standing at each phrase say it as the verse is recited.

Bible Lesson:  Gentile conversions bring change and the Church experiences growth.

(The following is a guide to help teach the lesson.)
Give Bibles to all students who did not bring one. Pray as a class before beginning the Bible Lesson.
Many of us do not like change.  When we are used to things being a certain way we find a form of comfort from routine.  When the things we are used to suddenly change we feel insecure and sometimes fearful.
What are some changes that students your age face?  (Moving, divorce, sickness, death, different school and so on.)  As believers we can always trust God when we face whatever changes come our way.  When we put our faith in Jesus, God began the process of making us more like His Son.  (Romans 8:28-29).  As we grow in our faith and allow God to make us more like Jesus we can see that He uses change for our good.  When God changes us others are able to see Jesus more clearly in our lives and they can come to know Him as their personal Savior.
The only way we can handle the twists and turns of change that happen in our lives is to walk closely with Jesus everyday.  Reading our Bibles and spending time in prayer with God allows us to respond appropriately to the changes that sometimes disrupt our lives.
As we open our Bibles who remembers last week’s lesson about Cornelius and Peter?  We learned that God had broken the barriers between Jews and Gentiles when Cornelius and all his guests believed in Jesus and received the Holy Spirit.
This exciting event that fulfilled God’s promise to include Gentiles in His plan for all people to be saved brought change to what everyone had always thought to be God’s plan.
Today we are going to see how change affected the Church.  What is the Church?  All people who have believed in Jesus.  Up until this point the only people in the Church were Jewish believers.  Word about Cornelius the Gentile along with his guests receiving the Holy Spirit spread quickly.
Let’s turn in our Bibles to Acts 11.  Read Acts 11:1-3.  What is happening in these verses?  Allow students to summarize in their own words.
How do you feel when you are criticized?  Peter was being criticized by Jewish believers because they still held their prejudicial views about Gentiles.  They were criticizing Peter because he went into the home of a Gentile and ate with him.
Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and gives us a good example of how to respond when we are criticized for obedience to God’s instructions.  Let’s read how he responded to the Jewish believers in Acts 11:4.  Peter didn’t get defensive and argumentative.  He simply began to explain to these believers exactly what God had done.  (If the lesson on Acts 10:23-48 was not taught to your students summarize Peter’s explanation.)
As Peter recounts the details of what happened he remembers something.  Read Acts 11:16.  Jesus told the disciples in John 14:26 “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.”  The Holy Spirit was reminding Peter of something that Jesus taught when He was on the earth.  By remembering Jesus’ Words it made Peter realize that what was taking place was God at work.
If we are believers we have the same Holy Spirit living in us that will teach us and remind us the thing we have learned from studying God’s Word.  Since the Holy Spirit teaches us and reminds us what we have learned, what is an important responsibility we each have to do?  (Read and study God’s Word)  If we don’t make daily reading and studying God’s Word a priority we won’t have much to remember when God wants to use us to share Jesus with others.
Read Acts 11:17.  Peter knew that he was obeying God and it was God at work in the hearts of the Gentiles.  He knew that if he tried to stop God he would have been fighting against God’s plan.
These Jewish believers had been introduced to a change in their thinking.  Remember they took God’s laws about clean and unclean further than God intended.  Just like us we don’t always understand God’s plan.  They wanted to please God and made extra rules to keep them pure and holy.  They were the ones that had made up the rule not to associate with Gentiles and considered them unclean.  Now they were faced with a major change they could either accept was from God or reject as something Peter made up.
Let’s read how they responded to change in Acts 11:18.  This is our memory verse for this lesson. What we can learn from their response is that they heard Peter, a man who was filled with the Holy Spirit explain how God saved Gentiles.  They accepted his explanation and praised God because He was allowing the Gentiles to be saved.
God’s changes always bring eternal results.  What do I mean when I say eternal results? (Allow students to use their own vocabulary to respond.  If they don’t know explain that eternal results are when people are saved and lives are changed.)  Let’s continue in the passage to see what kind of results the changes brought to the Church.
Have a map to show the areas that the believers who scattered after Stephen’s stoning.  Some believers only shared the Good News to Jews.  Let’s read Acts 11:20-21.  What eternal result happened as believers began to share the Good News with people other than the Jews?  The Lord’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
Although the new change to Jewish believers thinking may have been hard to accept, it was hard for anyone to deny that God’s hand of blessing was upon those sharing the Good News when more Gentiles were saved in Antioch.
We were first introduced to Barnabas in Acts 4:36 and Acts 9:27.  What do you remember about Barnabas?  He was an encourager.
News of many Gentile believers in Antioch reached the Jerusalem church. They sent Barnabas to visit the new believers.  Let’s read Acts 11:23-25.  Barnabas encouraged these believers remain faithful to the Lord with all their hearts.  Even more people were brought to the Lord.  The change that came when God allowed Gentiles to be saved was causing the Body of Christ, the Church to continue to grow.
As the church is growing Barnabas travels to Tarsus and brings back a man whom God changed in a mighty way.  Who remembers the name of the man who once persecuted followers of Jesus?  Saul met Jesus on his way to Damascus and was changed from a persecutor to a powerful preacher for Jesus.  Barnabas brought Saul back to Antioch and they both stayed at the Antioch church for a year teaching a large number of people.
What were the believers called at the Antioch church?  Acts 11:26 (Christians)
The Church was about to experience some more change.  As we finish this chapter we learn that a prophet named Agabus game from Jerusalem to Antioch.  The Holy Spirit spoke through Agabus and told the believers that a severe famine was going to spread over the entire Roman world (all the areas that Rome was ruling at the time).
Famine would definitely bring change to the lives of all who were affected.  What do you think you would feel like if you found out that there was going to be a famine?
This change that was coming gave the believers living in Antioch an opportunity to trust God and be used by Him to help other believers.  Let’ read what they did in Acts 11:29-30.
Ask the students how they felt about the ‘changes’ that were made earlier before the lesson started.  Whether we liked the changes or not God’s Word was still taught to us this morning.  The comforts we are accustomed to may have changed but our need to hear and understand His Word did not.
This chapter we studied today is filled with many good examples of how you and I should respond when change occurs in our lives.  If we are believers we can trust God to use the change for good.  We don’t have to be afraid of change but see it as an opportunity to grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus.  As we grow deeper we trust Him more and more and we don’t live in fear but live our lives to serve Jesus and please Him.
If you are not a believer the change you need to make in your life is to turn from your sins and believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, was buried and raised from the dead three days later.  When you place your faith in Jesus God changes you and makes you a new creation.  You will have the Holy Spirit living in your heart and He will enable you to follow the examples we learned about in today’s lesson.
Close in prayer.
Review Questions:

  1. Who criticized Peter?  (The Jewish believers)
  2. How did Peter respond? (He explained in detail what God had done)
  3. How did the Jewish believers respond?  (They had no further objections and praised God)
  4. What happened as the Good News was shared in Antioch?  (Many Gentiles were saved)
  5. Who visited the believers in Antioch? (Barnabas)
  6. Describe Barnabas. (good man, full of the Holy Spirit, and faith)
  7. Where did Barnabas go to get Saul?  (Tarsus)
  8. How long did Barnabas and Saul teach in Antioch (1 full year)
  9. What were the disciples first called in Antioch? (Christians)
  10. How did the believers respond to Agabus’ message of a coming famine?  (provided help for believers living in Judea)
  11. How will you respond to changes that happen in your life this week?

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