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Lesson Prep

Background Scripture (read 2-3 times during the week)

Acts 4:32-37; 6:1-8:3

Story Summary

In the previous stories we learned about how the group of disciples that were with Jesus before he died received the Holy Spirit and began preaching about Jesus in Jerusalem, how the early church grew by thousands and thousands of people very quickly, and how the religious leaders in Jerusalem persecuted the disciples by threatening them, putting them in prison, and whipping them. But all the while, the disciples kept preaching about Jesus.

In this story, we learn about a man named Stephen. We will focus on his service as one of the first deacons and on his death as the first martyr in the church.

Stephen as a Deacon

The early church was growing quickly and they were happy to share everything they had with each other (see Acts 4:32-37). Widows (women who were living on their own) were especially poor in those days, because their society was based on men working, owning land, and providing for their wives and children. If a woman didn't have a man to provide for her, she was often poor and needed a lot of help. So the early church began taking special care of widows and apparently had already set up a program where they made sure the widows had food each day to eat.

The problem was that there were divisions among the church. Some Jews were following Greek customs and traditions and some were following strict Jewish customs. Unfortunately, the group that was following strict Jewish customs was getting more food than the ones who were following Greek customs. Those who were passing out the food weren't being fair to the Greek background widows.

The 12 disciples that were the leaders of the early church were getting overwhelmed by all this and they felt like they were being distracted from their main purposes: prayer and preaching. So they decided to appoint 7 men who would take over the daily distribution of food - some of them would be from the Jewish background group and some would be from the Greek background group so everything would be fair. Stephen was one of those 7, and he was probably the leader of the 7. This allowed for the church to take care of everyone, but still focus on preaching and teaching the word. "So God’s word spread. The number of believers in Jerusalem grew quickly." (Acts 6:7)

This story is where we get the word "deacon" from. In Acts 6:2, the Greek word for "wait on tables" or "serve" is diakoneō, which is where the English word "deacon" was derived.

Stephen is Stoned for Preaching About Jesus

Not only was Stephen one of the first deacons, but he was also used by God to teach others and do miraculous signs in the name of Jesus. But he was also persecuted like the other early believers were. Some Jews from around the region began hearing about his teaching and his miraculous signs and began to spread lies about him to get him in trouble. They eventually got him arrested and brought to the Jewish council (called the Sanhedrin - the same group of people who condemned Jesus to death and who persecuted Peter and John) for questioning. 

And just like Peter and John, Stephen decided to be bold and preach about Jesus to the people who arrested him. His speech in Acts 7:2-53 is basically a summary of the majority of the Old Testament and how Jesus was the prophet foretold by Moses and David. Here was another disciple, accusing the Sanhedrin again of being responsible for putting God's promised Messiah to death. 

This made them so furious that they immediately drug him out of the city and threw stones at him until he was dead. One of the Jewish leaders was named Saul, and he stood by holding the coats of the men who were stoning Stephen. We will learn more about him in the coming weeks.

The Church is Scattered

This event set off harsh persecution for all the Christians in Jerusalem. They ended up scattering throughout Judea (the old Southern Kingdom) and Samaria (where the Northern Kingdom used to be). Remember Acts 1:8?

What You Will Need

Resource Sheets

Stephen is Stoned Coloring Sheet

This coloring sheet depicts Stephen being stoned because he was a follower of Jesus. If this is not appropriate for your class, consider using the "Stephen Feeds the Widows" coloring sheet.

Stephen Feeds the Widows Coloring Sheet

This coloring sheet depicts Stephen serving and feeding the widows of the early church

Lesson

1. Warm Up

get your kids talking and engaged

Have you ever been to a restaurant where there was a waiter? What would you do if the waiter brought everyone else's food except yours?

Today, we're going to learn about a problem the early church was having in how they were giving out food to those that needed it. And we're going to meet a man named Stephen who helped solve that problem!

2. Teach the Story

teach a holistic story

(Note: portions of this story may be intense for some children, especially the younger ones. Use your discretion for which parts of the story to focus on. We have provided two coloring sheets for each part of the story so you can focus exclusively on Stephen's role as a deacon if you do not want to focus on Stephen's death)

Read story from a Children's storybook Bible for younger children.

For older children, read the story from an age-appropriate Children's storybook Bible or read directly from the Bible.

3. Bible Mastery

give them basic Bible skills

Scripture for Kids to Read Aloud: Acts 6:1-7; 7:54-8:3

4. Comprehension Questions

make sure they understand the story

First, ask the children if they have any questions about the story. What to do if you don't know the answer?

  • What was a problem that the early church was having as it was growing so quickly? (they were having problems with the widows being treated fairly in the distribution of food, with Jewish background believers not treating the Greek background believers fairly)
  • How did the 12 disciples suggest this problem be solved? (by appointing 7 men, some Jewish and some Greek background to be in charge of the daily distribution of food)
  • What did the 12 disciples want to focus on? (praying and preaching the Word of God)
  • We named a role in the church after these 7 men. What name did we give them? (deacon, or one who serves)
  • Who was probably the leader of these 7 men? (Stephen)
  • What happened after these first deacons took over the job of distributing food? (the number of believers continue to increase)
  • In addition to being one of the first deacons, what else did Stephen do? (he also preached about Jesus and God allowed him to do miraculous signs and heal people)
  • Who wasn't happy with him about that? (the Jewish leaders in the region)
  • What did they do? (they arrested him and brought him before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council of leaders)
  • What did Stephen do when they questioned him? (he told them that they had put Jesus to death, the Messiah God had promised throughout the Old Testament)
  • How did the Jewish leaders respond to Stephen's speech? (they became very angry, drug him outside the city and threw stones at him until he died)
  • Who was there watching all of this happen? (a man named Saul)
  • What happened to the church after Stephen died? (they were attacked and they scattered throughout Judea and Samaria)

5. Faith Questions

help them apply the story to their lives and open up a conversation about faith and the gospel; close with prayer
  • In this story, we learned about a man named Stephen who served the people in his church and was faithful to share about Jesus, even though he was killed for it.
  • What can you do to serve the people in your church?
  • Would you be willing to stand up for Jesus even if you were being threatened to stop?

6. Memory Verse

hide God's Word in their heart
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 (ESV)

Reinforcement Activities

Serving Snack

Scripture They said that the widows of men who followed Greek practices were not being taken care of. They weren’t getting their fair share of food each day. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the believers together. They said, “It wouldn’t be right for us to give up teaching God’s word in order to wait on tables. Acts 6:1b-2

Supplies snack supplies, snack

  • Option 1:
    • Choose a few students to serve snack to the others. (Choose seven if your group is large enough.)
    • Stephen was one of seven men chosen to take care of the widows.
    • Have the children make sure each child is given the same amount.
  • Option 2:
    • Have the students prepare a snack and serve it to the deacons or leaders of the church.

Interview a Deacon

Scripture Brothers, choose seven of your men. They must be known as men who are wise and full of the Holy Spirit. We will turn this important work over to them. Then we can give our attention to prayer and to teaching the word.” This plan pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen. Acts 6:3-5a

Supplies a deacon

  • Interview a deacon in your church.
  • What jobs do you do in the church?
  • What types of people does the church help? (they helped widows in the early church.)
  • How do you help the people?
  • Why do we need people set aside to help others?

Ball Scatter Game

Scripture On that day the church in Jerusalem began to be attacked and treated badly. All except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Acts 8:1

Supplies soft ball or kick ball, large playing area

  • Count off all of the students.
  • Choose one person to throw the ball.
  • Make a tight circle around the person with the ball.
  • The person with the ball throws it high in the air.
  • The rest of the students scatter and get as far away as possible.
  • When the person with the ball catches it, he yells stop.
  • All of the the other students must stop and cannot move.
  • The person with the ball throws it and tries to hit one of the other students (who cannot move to try and get away from the ball)
  • The farther away you get, the better chance you have of not getting hit with the ball.

Color Scatter Experiment

Scripture On that day the church in Jerusalem began to be attacked and treated badly. All except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Acts 8:1

Supplies whole milk, dish soap, food coloring, cotton swab, dinner plate

  • Completely cover the bottom of the dinenr plate with about 1/4 inches of milk.
  • Add one drop of each of the four colors of food coloring - red, yellow, blue, and green - to the milk. Keep the drops close together in the center of the plate of milk.
  • Carefully touch the cotton swab to the middle of the milk. Be careful not to mix the colors.
  • Now place a drop of liquid dish soap on the other end of the cotton swab.
  • Place the soapy end of the cotton swab back into the middle of the milk and hold for a few seconds.
  • Add another drop of dish soap to the cotton swab and repeat.

Forgiveness Stones

Scripture Then he fell on his knees. He cried out, “Lord! Don’t hold this sin against them!” When he had said this, he died. Acts 7:60

Supplies stones, permanent markers

  • Compare what Stephen said to Jesus' words in Luke 23:34.
  • Have the students hold onto a stone as you talk about Stephen's experience.
  • At the end of the lesson, have the students write the word forgiveness onto the stones.
  • They can take the stones as a reminder to fogive others.

Let's Be Fair with Snack

Heads up! Be aware of food allergies

Scripture They said that the widows of men who followed Greek practices were not being taken care of. They weren’t getting their fair share of food each day. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the believers together. They said, “It wouldn’t be right for us to give up teaching God’s word in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers, choose seven of your men. They must be known as men who are wise and full of the Holy Spirit. We will turn this important work over to them. Acts 6:1b-3

Supplies M&Ms or other snack with pieces

  • Split children into groups of 3 or 4.
  • Give them a pile of the snack and ask them to split them fairly.

The Word Scatters

Scripture Acts 7: 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

Supplies Strip of paper with Bible verse

  • Cut the strip up into enough phrases so each participant has a part. Give the students the reference then have them talk with each other to see how they can put the verse together. They cannot switch the papers, but must talk with each other and repeat the phrases until everyone is saying the complete phrase together. Check it with the Bible for accuracy.