For Youth Workers Post


Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for devozine meditations for May 19–25, 2014.


“I know many of you pick and choose curricular components that fit your particular setting, time frame, audience, and personal proclivities. But before skipping down to the Bible study portion, I encourage you to take a look at the ‘Plugged In’ video, to go through the whole ‘Checking In’ process, and to use at least the first suggestion in ‘Taking It Further.’ This is a topic that, if treated as trite, may open up wounds that get infected rather than healing. As with any curriculum, you should prayerfully work within your context; but this is one in which variants need to be approached with thought. Please do not tackle this subject unless you’re ready and able to walk with kids all the way through their healing steps.” —Will


Will PennerWill Penner has been in ministry with young people for more than two decades in Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, public and private schools, and as a popular speaker at youth retreats, camps, and conferences. He has served as the editor of both leading professional journals of youth ministry and has authored or edited a number of youth ministry curricula and books, the latest of which is It Happens: True Tales from the Trenches of Youth Ministry. But most important, he is the husband of his amazing wife, Christine, and the father of five children ranging in age from five to twenty-two.



  • ‘Gravity’ Abusive Relationship PSA” will set the right kind of stage for this discussion. After showing the video, be sure to point out that boys are also victims of abuse, that peers abuse one another, that adults abuse kids, and that victims often don’t even recognize abuse until they see it through someone else’s eyes or get completely out of an abusive relationship.
  • Check the statistics at “Statistic Brain” from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  • The “Just for Teens” website provides helpful information about “Six Types of Abuse” and a quiz “How Healthy Is My Relationship?


Show the video “‘Gravity’Abusive Relationship PSA.”

Then say, “About one in four of the girls in this room have been or will be physically or sexually abused by someone she is dating. Furthermore, she will more than likely continue to date him afterward. If we add to that the number of both boys and girls who have been abused by a parent, grandparent, older sibling, teacher, coach, or schoolyard bully, closer to half of the people in the room will have first-hand experience; and almost all of us are close to someone who has been or is currently being abused. This is an incredibly hard topic to talk about, and we cannot fix anything in an hour or two. But we can begin a conversation that may lead to healing if we will be open to it and honest.”

Ask each person to write down a few details about the abuse that came most prominently to mind as the session began. People may choose to write about a specific event or about a person. The abuse may have happened to them or to a friend. Be sure group members know that they will not be asked to share what they have written. However, having specific people or instances in mind will be important as the group delves into scripture and the subsequent discussion.


Scripture: Matthew 13:1–23

The parable of the sower is one of the richest parables to be found in scripture because it is one of the few that Jesus explains to his disciples. He frequently teaches through parables, using short narratives to develop analogies and to explain spiritual truths. Much of the time, people are confused by what he says. In Matthew 13, he tells his disciples the deeper meanings behind a parable he has told the crowd.

The parable of the sower and its explanation are about how people respond to hearing the gospel. Some respond quickly but their faith does not last, others don’t pay any attention at all, some are openly antagonistic, and others receive the message and flourish. The ideas in the parable hold true in many other areas of life. For instance: Some people become our friends quickly; but in adversity, they turn out to be fair weather friends. Other people are neutral to our attempts at friendship. Some may make fun of us or talk about us behind out back. But with some people, friendships deepens; and we can lean on them in times of need.

Some of the people in our lives have soil that is so rocky and shallow that nothing of substance can grow there. Despite their talk about caring, when push comes to shove (sometimes literally), their roots aren’t deep enough to shelter us. Some people have grown up among weeds and thorns that choke the life out of them and others who get close enough.

Jesus doesn’t advocate hatred or anger in such situations. He simply asks us to spread enough seed so that some finds ground suitable for bearing fruit. If a friend is abusive, instead of agonizing over what I could do differently to make him or her behave better, my energies would be better spent on developing other friendships. The same principle holds true with boyfriends and girlfriends. My grandfather’s admonition that “there are always more fish in the sea” feels a bit cliché; but it is true, nonetheless. The best move is often to “shake off the dust from your feet” (Matthew 10:14) on the way out of the relationship—which is easier said than done, to be sure, but usually the right move.

More difficult are situations in which the abuser is a family member. Separating a young person from a parent, sibling, or another abusive family member is painful but sometimes necessary to allow the young person to move on and begin to heal.

Many of us, if not victims of abuse, have relationships that are more draining than invigorating. We have family members, friends, boyfriends or girlfriends from whom we feel alienated. We may not like the way they talk to or about us. Sometimes we don’t know where we stand with them. Even if most of our relationships are fairly strong, we may see other people we care about in difficult relationships.

Invite discussion:
       What are different kinds of abuse? (See the “Just for Teens” website for more information)
       What about relationships makes calling them abusive difficult?
       What are the pros and cons of calling a relationship abusive?
       What are some options for dealing with abusive situations?
       What are some ways to help a friend who seems to be in an abusive relationship?
       Which ways do we tend to employ? Which are most effective for the long-term health of the relationship and for our own wellbeing?

Be sure to encourage the group to explore these questions, rather than glossing over them.

As time runs out or when the discussion hits a lull, let the group know of resources available to them. With whom can they talk about their high-maintenance, energy-draining, or more serious abusive relationships? Remember that you want to balance confidentiality with appropriate intervention. If you suspect child abuse, you are required by law to report it to a state agency such as the Department of Family Services or the state agency concerned with child welfare. Of course, you want to avoid getting in over your head. Helping the young person get in touch with a caseworker, counselor, or social worker who has expertise in the field is ideal. Regardless of the issues students are facing, make sure they agree to discuss them with you or another trusted adult in the next couple of days.


Invite group members to pray together:

 “Lord, thank you for loving us, for bearing the brunt of all of our stupid decisions, meanness, and hatred. Help us to recognize abuse in our lives and in the lives of others. Lead us to pour our energies into relationships that are good and positive. Please put people in our lives who will help us through difficult times, and show us how to help others. Save us from resentment and bitterness and help us to follow Jesus’ example, searching for justice for the oppressed, forgiving oppressors, and emulating your love and grace. Amen.”


  • If anyone is ready to invite the group leader, other adults, or even their peers to participate in walking through the abuse they wrote down at the beginning of the session, encourage them to do so. If they are not ready, help them to dispose of the paper in a way that makes them feel safe.
  • Al-Anon, Alateen, Co-Dependents Anonymous, and other self-help groups talk about “detaching with love.” The idea is to balance love with emotional detachment that keep us from being pulled down by the destructive choices of other people. Have available information about these groups in your area.
  •” raises awareness about intimate partner violence. The website includes information (the statistics are staggering!) and ways to get help for unhealthy or abusive relationships.
  • Prevent Child Abuse” provides material and training for people who are interested in actively preventing child abuse. The organization could provide direction for mobilizing a movement within a congregation or community.
—from devozine In the Habit (May/June 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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