For Youth Workers Post


Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for devozine meditations for May 20–26, 2013.



“Two friends of mine were high school sweethearts, married each other, and moved from a couple of states away to join our church a year ago. They were talking the other day about how much they hear about bullying in the news. She said, ‘I don’t understand why things have changed so much. We didn’t have to deal with bullies when we were growing up.’ She was absolutely sincere in her belief, but her husband looked at her incredulously and replied, ‘That’s because we were the bullies!’” —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 great deal of youth ministry curricula. His most recent book is It Happens: True Tales from the Trenches of Youth Ministry. Most important, he is the husband of Christine Penner, Children’s Minister at First United Methodist Church in Dickson, Tennessee, and the father of five children ranging in age from four to twenty-one.



  • Before the session, read the entire Joseph narrative (Genesis 37–50). Be prepared to fill in the missing portions of the story with a brief summary of what happened for those who don’t know or haven’t read the full story.
  • Bibles
  • newsprint
  • markers
  • Print-Friendly Version of this Session



  • A good video to begin the session contains the text of “Hero” by Superchick, along with extra background information about the two boys who killed twelve other students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
  • The “I Choose” video would be good to use toward the end of the session.



Start with a quick anonymous poll. Ask group members to close their eyes, to keep their heads down, and to raise their hands to answer yes to the following questions. After each question, record the number of hands raised.

          Have you ever been physically bullied at school, at home, or in your neighborhood?
          Have you ever been verbally or emotionally bullied?
          Have you ever been bullied online?
          Have you ever had a close friend who was bullied in one of those ways?
          Have you ever bullied someone else in one of those ways?

Chances are pretty good that most people will have some experience with bullying. Report to the group the results of the poll. Do the total numbers surprise them?



Scripture: Genesis 37:3–11, 18–20, 26–27, 34–35; 44:1–4


Ask volunteers to read aloud the scripture passages. Fill in the blanks in the story as needed.

Joseph’s brothers were awful to him. They would have killed him if the oldest hadn’t intervened.

On the other hand, from the brothers’ perspective, Joseph’s arrogance was pretty obnoxious. He told them early on that he was more important than they were. Not only that, but their dad wasn’t particularly subtle about which son he loved the most. Hopefully, we wouldn’t be as extreme with our response; yet, if we’re honest, we can see why the brothers weren’t happy with Joseph.

Post a sheet of newsprint. Ask: “What are some of the factors that cause people to bully other people?” Record the group’s responses. Be sure to include the fact that many, if not most, bullies have been bullied by other people at some point in their lives.

Invite the group to consider the list of reasons people are bullies. Discuss:
          None of the reasons make it OK to bully others. Does knowing what is going on under the surface make it easier to see bullies not as evil creatures, but as children of God who are broken and hurting?
          How does knowing the reason for bullying change your response to bullies?
          How many of the causes of bullying have happened in your lives? Could they lead you into becoming a bully?

Over the past five years, the high school where I teach has conducted student surveys on a variety of issues. More than fifty percent of the high school students report that bullying is a problem. Fewer than fifteen percent of the teachers have noticed incidents of bullying. So the question is: Why the difference? Are kids sneaky about the way they bully? Does bullying typically occur when adults aren’t watching? Or are we so desensitized to emotional and verbal bullying that we don’t notice it when it’s right in front of our faces?

We should also learn from the Joseph narrative that the bullying continues. Jacob and Joseph demoralized the brothers. The brothers sold Joseph and broke Jacob’s heart. Years later, Joseph was in power and made the brothers jump through several hoops, even framing the youngest brother for theft—were his actions perhaps a little more bullying?

Truthfully, most of us don’t fit neatly into one category or the other. We’ve felt bullied at times. We’ve also been the bullies. We don’t typically think of ourselves as bullies until we’re called out on it.



Bring group members together. Close the session with this prayer:

“God, we know that you love all of us, both bullies and those who are bullied. We also know that you don’t want us to bully one another. Help us to treat one another with the respect and dignity that you deserve, recognizing that whatever we do to “the least of these,” we do to you. Help us to forgive those who do not treat us well and to be a shining light in a dark culture. We love you. Thank you for all you do for us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”



  • Invite group members to make a list of people they have been mean to at some point in their lives, whether or not they were provoked. Encourage them to pray for the people on their list every morning and evening for the next week. If after doing so, they feel moved to make amends, ask them to talk with you at the next session to determine the best course of action.
  • Move to Stand” is one of a number of regional anti-bullying campaigns that mobilize young people to learn more about not only how to resist bullying but also how to become active peacemakers. Consider plugging into a local or regional effort, or invite group members to start their own.
—from devozine In the Habit (May/June 2013). Copyright © 2013 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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