Using Jonathan McKee’s book Bystanders to engage young people in meaningful conversation.
Here are four topical discussions—with scripture and discussion questions—about faith, integrity, bullying, and the all-too-familiar phenomenon of just “standing by” and doing nothing.
Opening questions about the book:
- Why is this book titled Bystanders?
- What was your favorite part of this book?
- Did the music being played throughout the book have any significance? Do you feel like music impacts our thoughts and feelings in the moment?
- Which character in the book did you identify with the most? Why?
- What did you like about this character?
- Was there anything this character did that you disagreed with? Explain.
- Do you think this character could have done something different in the days, weeks, or months before the shooting to help prevent it?
- What does that look like in your world—is there something you might need to adjust in the way you treat others?
TOPIC 1: Authentic Faith
- Which characters in the book go to church? Are these people any different than the others?
- Which characters in the book seem to have an authentic faith in Jesus? Explain.
- What are some of the reasons Kari is so frustrated by her sister Kristen throughout the book?
- On Monday night, instead of doing her typical “Vogue U-turn… Kristen walked over to Kari’s desk and started thumbing through her Mexico paperwork.” (page 76) Kristen began asking sincere questions about the trip. Why?
- How did Kari respond? (page 77) Was she right to respond this way?
- How did Kari feel after responding that way?
- What do you think of Megan?
- What did Michael find so admirable and compelling about Megan? (page 208-212)
Read I Peter 2:12
Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. (NLT)
- What does this verse tell us to do? What does that look like in your world?
- What reason does he give us for “living properly” among our unbelieving neighbors?
- Who is watching you?
- Why does Michael say, “And if your church was full of Megan’s, I’d go”?
- How would our world be different if most church people actually lived out their faith authentically like Megan?
- Would you like to have a faith like that?
- How can you live out your faith authentically?
TOPIC 2: Integrity
- Why did Kari cheat? (page 61)
- Was she wrong? Explain.
- Does she think this a big deal? Do you?
- Does it turn out to be a big deal?
- Why do you think Michael was so critical of Kari? (page 63)
- Was he right? Explain.
The Bible speaks about honesty and integrity throughout. A prime example is Psalms 101. Here’s just the beginning of that passage:
I will sing of your love and justice, Lord.
I will praise you with songs.
2 I will be careful to live a blameless life—
when will you come to help me?
I will lead a life of integrity
in my own home.
3 I will refuse to look at
anything vile and vulgar… (NLT)
In this passage, written by David, he writes all about how we live our lives day to day.
- What kind of life does verse 2 say he should be “careful to live”? What does “blameless” mean?
- Michael confronts Kari for being condescending and a hypocrite. Were his accusations correct?
- How do you think Kari took the accusations… at first… then eventually? (page 185)
- What are some situations where you are tempted to be dishonest or cheat?
- What are some of the potential consequences of this?
- How can we “be careful to live” a blameless life… in other words, what does this situation look like in your world?
TOPIC 3: Bullies and the Bullied
- Does your school have anyone like Luke? Does your school have anyone like Brett?
- Why do you think Luke picks on those weaker than him?
- Are the “nameless friends” in Luke’s car just as guilty? (page 18-19) Explain.
- Brett saw the locker room as a particularly vulnerable time because “no adults, no large crowd to blend into, no baggy street clothes to hide behind.” (page 54) Are there any vulnerable or dangerous places in your world? Where?
- What do you think pushed Brett past the tipping point?
- The masked Brett eventually runs into Blake and Deeby in the hallway. Blake was in Luke’s car in the beginning (page 24), picking on Brett with Luke in P.E. class (page 52)… he was obviously one of the key offenders who had made Brett so miserable each day. How did Blake respond when he realized the gunman was Brett? (page 199) Why the change?
- Was this justice? Was it right?
- Brett opened up and shared a little about his past during his final moments in the standoff with Investigator John Grove and Clint (page 237-239). He shared people throwing stuff at him, hanging him by his underwear in P.E., starting a ‘Kill Brett Club’ (which is actually a true event that happened to the author when he was in middle school, The Bullying Breakthrough), and constant harassment from almost all his classmates. Does that justify or even explain Brett’s actions that day?
- What should the “Bretts” of the world do in his situation… besides a vengeful spree of violence?
- Where is the line between self-defense and violence?
- How does God call us to respond when we’ve been wronged again and again? (Read Matthew 6:14-15) Does this mean don’t defend ourselves?
- Who is truly responsible for this massacre? Brett? Luke? Bystanders? All of the above?
TOPIC 4: Bystanders or Bullies
- Describe a time when you saw someone being ridiculed. How did you respond?
- When Brett was pushed in the mud in gym class, from Michael’s perspective the author wrote, “None of them particularly liked what they saw, but it wasn’t their fight.” (page 52) Do you think Michael, Cordell and Nick were right to think this way?
- Why didn’t anyone help Brett?
- Should a bystander have intervened? What could they have actually done?
- When people began ridiculing Brett after English class for the mud on his neck, Kari went from observing, to joining in and laughing. (page 62) At this point… was she still a bystander, or had she crossed over to “bully”? Explain.
- After laughing and making comments about him, the author doesn’t end the description of Kari. He says, “As Kari walked along the hallway, she noticed Brett still in front of him. Abandoned. Alone. She checked her phone for Snaps.” Explain.
- What does Brett specifically confront Nick about? (page 182) Why does he call him a “true bystander”?
- What did Brett mean when he told Nick, “You never know—this whole thing… maybe it could have been avoided.” Do you think Brett was being honest?
- How much power do you think a bystander truly has?
- What sobering thought did Michael specifically have about all the times he watched Luke, Blake and all those guys slapping Brett around? (page 246)
- Why do you think Michael apologized to Brett in their one moment together in the closet? (page 241)
Read Philippians 2:3-5
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
- What might it look like in your world to “think of others as better than yourselves”? How about setting aside your interests and taking an interest in others?
- Why do you think Michael compared helping Brett to helping his own cousin… the least of the Brethren? (Matthew 25:40)
- Honestly, why is it difficult to care for people like Brett or Michael’s cousin… not once, but again and again?
- Who is someone you can befriend this week? What could that actually look like?
If you enjoyed this discussion, you may also enjoy Jonathan’s The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenagers, another fiction book with scripture and discussion questions after each chapter.
Or take a peek at Jonathan’s other books on his Amazon Author Page HERE.