For Youth Workers Post


Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for February 23–28, 2015.


“Each year, I am the keynote speaker for a confirmation retreat. The church is not the one I serve most Sundays. I have enjoyed the journey a great deal, but something especially interesting happened last year that amped it up a notch. The church is large; and many of the youth identify themselves by the schools they attend, especially the private schools. The leaders have constantly battled with their forming cliques according to school; but this year, the leaders have become even more intentional about breaking down the barriers and forcing the youth to interact with people from different schools. They ask them to avoid wearing school T-shirts and to talk about subjects unrelated to their schools. At every gathering, they lead mixer games and the adults circulate to insure that the young people move around and talk with new people. As a result, this year’s retreat was the most unified I’ve seen in more than a decade. Once they broke down their small group cliques, the youth developed one accord and began to regard one another’s interests instead of their own (Philippians 2:1–4).” —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 numerous 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 fantastic children, ranging in age from five to twenty-four.


  • newsprint or whiteboard
  • markers
  • Bibles
  • (optional) equipment needed to show videos from “Plugged In”
  • Print-Friendly Version of this session


  • The “I am 100% Original” video is part of a youth group campaign. Play it at the beginning of the session, but it may work better as a closing. Watch to 1:55 and get the full impact of the video; keep playing through the challenge slides, stopping at 2:34; or keep going to the end to demonstrate what one youth group did to help make “I Am 100% Original” a movement in their area.
  • Cliques” is an interesting short piece from a high school news crew and may be a better way to open the session.
  • For an even more sobering take, “Columbine Cliques” is a short local newscast aired soon after the Columbine massacre.


Bring group members together to discuss the cliques in their schools.
       What kinds of cliques are in the schools you attend?
       Are there cliques defined by how much money their families have? the extracurricular activities the youth participate in? the music they listen to? the clothes they wear?
Try to push group members to mention cliques that are not typical. Have someone write on newsprint or a whiteboard their responses.

Then take the conversation further by discussing these questions:
       Do we have cliques in the youth group? Do we group people based on where they go to school? who their parents are? the same distinctions as those that divide people in school?
       Do some adults in the church hang out only with certain people and avoid others?
       Do you avoid your parents’ friends? the older people in the congregation?
       Why do people tend to gravitate into groups? What do they get out of it?
       In what ways can cliques be healthy? In what ways can they be hurtful?


Scripture: James 2:1–17

In both the synagogues and some of the early churches, people sat together according to their trade and social rank. James denounces the practice in the early church as clearly as he would denounce the practice in a modern school lunchroom or auditorium—or a modern church pew, for that matter. James clearly had insight into the mind and heart of Christ. We would do well to apply the lessons of scripture to our lives, as well.

Easily said—less easily done! Little runs as counter to our social-survival instincts than to leave the relative safety of our own group to reach out to those in other groups or in no group. For many adolescents, the idea of risking one’s own social rejection feels like too great a price to pay to reach out to those in need.

Jesus was willing to suffer not only physical torment, but also social scorn. He was spat on, cursed, mocked, and humiliated in front of everyone; yet he endured it all for our sake. If we are not willing to venture beyond our comfort zones for the sake of others, can we call ourselves Christians?

James is crystal clear in his admonition of people who say one thing but do another. In essence, he tells those who claim to be followers of Jesus to put their money where their mouth is, to quit talking the talk and to start walking the walk, to put up or shut up. What is keeping us from doing the same? What do we have to fear? What can overcome our fear?

Invite group members to come up with specific steps they could take this week to break out of their comfort zones, to be clique-busters, and to help those who need it most.


Invite group members to pray:

“God, because you love us, you reached beyond heaven, your comfort zone, into a cruel and broken world. Thank you. Help us to see the people around us through your eyes and to reach out to them as you reached out to us. When you nudge our hearts toward those in need, give us strength to take action. May your kingdom come and your will be done in our lives, our families, our schools, our church, and our community. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.”


  • Encourage group members to come to the next session prepared to talk about one clique-busting thing they did during the week.
  • Consider inviting the group to plan a clique-busting campaign. They may choose a project similar to “I Am 100% Original” or something totally different.

—from devozine In the Habit (January/February 2015). Copyright © 2015 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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