Preteen Ministry Lesson on Joy

As preteen leaders, we need to demonstrate and teach that only a relationship with Jesus brings us real joy.

This free lesson uses a clip from Disney’s summer hit, “Inside Out”. Students will enjoy seeing the connection between the movie character “Joy” and James 1:2-3.

The lesson also includes a fun opening game and a great small group discussion.

On a personal note, this past weekend I led a half-track on preteen ministry at the Kidmin Conference in Chicago.

It was really cool connecting with preteen leaders from around the country. I really do get a lot of joy out of that!

I also got a chance to explore Chicago a little bit. One of the things I did was visit the Skydeck (see pic below), which is one of the tallest structures in the western hemisphere (over 1,700 feet). Awesome 🙂

Hope you have a great week!

Nick Diliberto, the Preteen Ministry Guy


Preteen Ministry Lesson on Joy


Bible Verse: James 1:2-3, Psalm 16:11, Psalm 21:5-7, 1Thessalonians 3:9

Bottom line: A relationship with Jesus brings us real joy.


Opening Game:

  • Bags of hard candy individually wrapped (not chocolate)
  • Plastic bags for each group of 4-5 preteens to put candy in
  • A note card with game directions on it
  • A leader prepared to play a part in the game


Small Groups:

  • Dry erase board and marker
  • Paper and pen/pencil for preteens


To set up, put candy all around the room. Hide it wherever you can before your students arrive.

As leaders are arriving ask one of them to leave the class right before the game starts. Give them the prepared game directions card to give you when they return.


Ok so (say the name of the leader who left the room) was supposed to run this game but they had to step out for a few minutes. They did tell me the directions for the game, so I am going to explain it to you.

I need equal teams of 4-5 preteens each. (Have students get into teams and give each team an empty bag to put candy in.)

There’s candy hidden throughout this room. You will have 30 seconds per person to run around and gather as much of the candy as you can, bring it back to your team, and put it in your candy bag. The team with the most candy will win the game and will be able to keep everyone’s candy.

Give a count down and say go. Each team sends out one member at a time who has 30 seconds to find as much candy as they can. Once everyone on each team has had a turn, have teams count up the candy they have in their bag and tell you the number of pieces they collected.

Make sure you write down each number so as not to make a mistake.

Have the leader that left return now.

Ok so I have the final results, and the team that collected the most candy who gets to keep all the candy is (announce the team).


Make a huge spectacle of the winning team. Gather all the other teams’ candy and be ready to give to the winners.

Put all the candy into their bag, and as you are awarding it to them have the leader that just retuned interrupt you.

Returning leader will say:

Wait, wait, something isn’t right here. We really need to talk before you give them the candy.

Have the leader pull you aside, talk quietly, and hand you the index card with the correct directions for the game. Look very upset and a little scared.

Then come back.


Well, it seems there has been a mistake. The directions of the game were to collect as much candy as you could, but you were only allowed to collect chocolate candy. So unfortunately none of you collected just chocolate candy and therefore there is no winner.

I am so sorry but that’s just how it is.

You can all have a seat now and we will get to the lesson of the day.

(We will review the game later in the lesson)


What is Joy?

Well the definition of joy according to Webster’s Dictionary is:

The emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires

Another way to put it is:

It’s what we feel when we get what we want.

So by this definition we should work as hard as we can to get the stuff that, once we get it, will give us joy.

What happens when we want something new?

According to this definition, we will no longer have joy, and we will have to work to get the new thing so we can feel joy again.

See, I really don’t think this is what God intended joy to be. I think that God intended joy to be something that we feel when we are at peace. True joy is something that only God can give us.

There has been a lot of talk about what joy looks like since the movie Inside Out came out.

See even if you don’t realize it, you all are beginning to think for yourselves. You are growing up and looking at things differently than younger kids do.

Today we are going to talk about what JOY is and where can we truly find it.

Who has seen the movie Inside Out? Awesome, some of you have.

Here is quick rundown of the movie for those that haven’t seen it.

There is Riley, an 11 year old girl, who moves across the country with her parents. Riley has always had a driving emotion in her life, and that is Joy. Now there are other emotions there to help her, but Joy has been the one really guiding Riley and allowing all her memories to be filled with joy. The problem comes when Riley moves. Joy gets lost and can’t help Riley like she used to. Riley begins to be lead by some of the other emotions – Anger, Fear, Disgust and Sadness.

I want to start by watching a clip from the movie.

Play the following clip

So this is really funny, I mean, watching other emotions trying to act like joy doesn’t really work out, does it? It does bring me to the first idea I want to discuss today.

But before we do that, I need four volunteers to come up front who are willing to act out some emotions for us. The four of you will each have an emotion that you will have to act out as funny and as over the top as you can. The scene is a family eating dinner together.

Have the four volunteers come up front and give each of them a note card with an emotion written on it and which member of the family they are. Have them sit down in chairs like they are at a dinner table and begin.

  1. Sad: Mom
  2. Joy: Yourself J
  3. Angry: Little Brother or Sister
  4. Afraid: Dad

Let them just go with it for a little while and after a few minutes stop them and see if the rest of the class can guess what emotion and what member of the family they were.


Great job everyone. That was very funny, but it makes me think about how we can sometimes try and make up our emotions. This leads us to our first point:

  1. Joy is not an emotion that can be forced, fabricated, or faked, and is not dependent on your circumstances.

In the play everyone was over the top with their emotions, and it may have felt like this is normal. It really isn’t. For some of you things always seem to be going good. You have a good home and food and clothes. But there is a time coming in your life that things will seem to be really bad. In fact, for you preteens it will seem like the end of the world.  I know this because Jesus actually tells us this.

Let’s read James 1:2-3

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.

Though joy cannot be forced, it can be experienced in difficult situations. When we follow Jesus we are going to run into difficult times. These are going to be times when joy seems to be nowhere around you. This is normal, and we need to understand that there are times when we might not feel joyful.

These are the times that we are to turn towards God and ask for help and give Him control over the situation. He always knows what we need, and letting Him have control will always bring us the joy we need.

This brings me to our second point

  1. Joy is possible when we know our purpose.

The world tells us that happiness comes from things. Things like friends, grades, sports, money, boyfriends or girlfriends. But all of these things can’t truly make us happy. They don’t last forever, and they don’t give us a sense of purpose.

What do I mean by “sense of purpose?”  Allow for a few answers.

Great answers. A sense of purpose means having a reason for living. So if our sense of purpose is friends, what happens when we move to another state and leave all our friends? I guess our purpose is over right?  WRONG!

Let’s read what it says in the Bible:

Open up to Psalm 16:11

You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of Your presence and the pleasures of living with You forever.

God, not things or people, gives us our purpose. The purpose He gives us brings us true joy. In the candy game in the beginning of class you all thought the purpose of the game was to get as much candy as possible. Then the winning team won and was just about to get all the candy. How did that feel? Awesome, right?

But what happened when the real directions for the game were revealed? You had all the candy taken away and no one won the game. How did that feel? Not good, right? We didn’t know the real purpose, and it brought us some joy for a moment and then things changed and the joy went away.

God never changes, and so the joy He wants for us never changes. So joy is only possible when we know our purpose.

Pass out some of the candy to the entire class to have a piece.

So the last point I want to end with before we head to small groups is our bottom line for the day:

3: Bottom Line: A relationship with Jesus brings us real joy.

I want us to all say that out loud and together because it may be one of the greatest things we can ever learn.

Have the class start repeating this. Tell them to say it again, say it again, say it again.

Just when they are getting tried of saying it have them say it again.

Awesome, right? A relationship with Jesus brings us real joy.

There are some in here that have accepted Jesus’ gift and accepted Him into their hearts and have experienced the joy that comes from that. Some of you may not know what I am talking about or have never heard this before.

If you want to have a relationship with Jesus please come see one of the leaders today, and we would love to talk with you about how you do this. This will change your entire world, and we want to be there to help you.

For everyone in this class, saved and not yet saved, what is keeping you from fully experiencing God’s joy? See, it is one thing to take the first steps. That’s the easy part. But it is the next step, living for Him, that gets harder.

You are going to break down what things are keeping you from Him in your small groups today. But before you go I want to pray for us.

Close in prayer.


In your small groups today really try and break down some of the barriers that may be keeping your preteens from seeing God’s joy. Here are some things that can keep preteens from a joyful heart: Friends, worldviews, peer pressure, bullies, appearance, etc.

We are going to play a fun game of Pictionary today but with a twist.

I am going to start to do all the drawing of the pictures and you will have to write down what you think I am drawing. Whichever one of you guesses the right answers get a point. Highest points at the end of game wins.

Use a dry erase board and draw each of the following pictures:

  1. A video game of some sort: (Pac Man seems to be an easy one to do)
  2. A group of friends
  3. Money
  4. Sports trophies
  5. A cell phone

Great job everyone, and can anyone tell me what all these things have in common?

They are all things that bring us joy. And as much joy they bring you in the moment, they can distract you from the real joy God intends for us.

  1. What in your life keeps you from the joy of Jesus in your life?
  2. Does living for Jesus ever get hard? Why?
  3. What can you do to help each other during times when we are letting other emotions lead us?
  4. Where can we turn to when we are feeling we have no joy in our lives?

There are so many things in this world that tell us how we should act and be and live. But all of them have a flaw: they are not from the Lord.

I want everyone to look up this verse, and let’s read it together.

Psalms 21:5-7

His glory is great in your salvation. You lay honor and majesty on him. For you make him most blessed forever. You make him glad with joy in your presence. For the king trusts in Yahweh. Through the loving kindness of the Most High, he shall not be moved.

In a world where celebrity, success, and money are glorified, it is easy to lose focus on what brings real joy. Put simply, this verse says victories are good, glory is great, and splendor and majesty are their results, but joy comes when we spend time in God’s presence.

Let’s read one final verse:

 1 Thessalonians 3:9 says this:

How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence.

Without Jesus we cannot enter God’s presence, so the joy we have for Him and with Him is more than anything we deserve.

I want each of you to come up with a way you are going to let God into your life more and how that will bring you joy.

(Preteens will need some help with this; it is ok if they cannot come up with something original or out of the box. The simple church answers work here, it is more about how this will bring them joy.)

If anyone would like to share please do so now. (Have something personal to share with them that you as a leader are going to do and how it will bring you joy)

Once everyone that wants to share does, close out the prayer.


Liked this lesson? View this preteen ministry…

Youth Group Lesson on God’s Love

8 Responses to “Preteen Ministry Lesson on Joy

  • wow,Great its such a blessing to be able to read this … Im a missionary in mexico im 17 and going to be a team leader in our churchs camp and we were given the fruits of the spirits as our lesson and mine is joy and i was looking for something more modern not religuos 😉 ,so this is great .. Thanks !!

  • Love this but the lesson you send to download is different than the one here. Its a different one on joy. Thank you for sharing this

  • Kim Snodgrass
    5 years ago

    This is going to very helpful with our camp for at risk kids this year.
    We are trying to teach how happiness and joy are different.
    We were looking for something just like this.
    Thank you

  • Rachel Beth
    3 years ago

    This is really really good!

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