For Youth Workers Post

What Do You Expect?

Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for December 9–15, 2013.


“During a stewardship drive at my church, I came to a life-altering realization: My kids aren’t actually ‘my’ kids at all. God has no grandchildren. We’re all God’s children, so ‘my’ children are actually God’s children that I’m given the privilege and responsibility to steward. So I need to avoid the temptation to create a little mini-me out of any of them. On the other hand, Jesus used some pretty harsh parables to talk about stewards who did a lousy job with what God entrusted to them (see, for example, the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14–32).

“While I shouldn’t try to relive all of my successes or to avoid all of my failures through my children, I can and should try to help them navigate the waters of childhood and adolescence in such a way that they benefit from my wisdom and experience, some of which has come through heartache and difficulties—which doesn’t mean they’ll always like it.” —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 children ranging in age from 4 to 22.





  • Parents Just Don’t Understand—Or Do They?” is a fun poke at parental confusion from The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
  • A fun way to begin the session might be to use the Will Smith’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” Be sure to watch the video before the session as the language and sexuality references may be too explicit for some groups. If you stop the video after the first minute or so, you should be OK.



[NOTE: In this session, “Checking In” will likely take more time than usual. Don’t skip past it too quickly. The scripture passage will pack more punch if this part is done well.]

Ask group members the question below, and have someone record their answers on newsprint.
       What are some of the expectations parents have for their kids?

When the group can think of no other responses to the question above, ask the question below; and again, have someone record the responses.
       What expectations do other authority figures have of you? (People may think of teachers, coaches, bosses, college admissions officers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, pastors, youth leaders.)

When the list feels complete, invite the group to look at the first expectation on the list. Ask:
       Is this expectation achievable?

If group members determine that it is achievable, use a marker of a different color to place a small check to the side of the item. If it’s a completely ridiculous expectation, strike it out. If it could be achieved with a tweak or two, change it accordingly and place a check beside it. Continue through the list asking the same question: “Is this expectation achievable?”

Then go through the list again, asking of each item:
       Is this expectation reasonable? (In other words, will meeting this expectation make you a better person or make the world a better place?)

If the group decides the expectation is reasonable, use a marker of a different color to place a second small check to the side of the item. If not, strike through it or change the wording to make it reasonable.



Scripture: Hebrews 12:4–11

The Bible clearly indicates that we will face expectations that will be difficult and that the consequences of not meeting those expectations will often be unpleasant. The Bible also speaks two other truths:

  • Parents who love their children are supposed to discipline them.
  • God disciplines us out of love for us.

A natural part of adolescence is to push the boundaries a bit, including the rules that have always been in place in our lives. Almost all of us are subject to rules that we dislike and rules that are ridiculous. Learning which rules to simply follow and which are worth bucking can be a difficult balance.

The truth is that every person we meet has certain expectations of us; and most of the time, we gladly comply. Other drivers expect that we will stop when the light is red. Store clerks expect us to pay for merchandise before we walk out the door with it. Parents, as well as teachers, coaches, bosses, girlfriends or boyfriends, expect a whole lot from us that usually doesn’t bother us. Honestly, we have expectations of them too, most of which are reasonable.

The trick is to cull through the expectations that are achievable and those that aren’t, those that are reasonable and those that aren’t—all the while recognizing that the unreasonable and/or unachievable ones represent a small fraction of the overall expectations.

The real question is this: What does God expect from me? In many cases, we may find that our parents’ (teachers’, coaches’) expectations for us are pretty close to what God wants from us.



Close the session with the prayer below (or with one of your own), inviting group members to respond by saying “Amen.”

“Heavenly Father, please help us to discern which of the expectations others have of us are reasonable and achievable; and help us to receive those that are for our own good as a gift from you. We realize we have a unique opportunity to stretch our parents’ expectations and an equally incredible opportunity to learn from them and the other adults you have placed in our lives. Thank you for their influence and their desire to shepherd our spiritual growth. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.”



  • If some truly unreasonable expectations arose in the discussion, encourage the group member(s) who voiced those expectations to seek the help of a trusted adult. Prayerfully consider intervening to see if the expectations can be clarified or mitigated.
  • Encourage each member of the group to develop a top-ten list of expectations their parents or other adults have of them. The list should include expectations that are both reasonable and achievable. Ask group members to pray daily for the next week, asking God to help them live up to those expectations.
  • If group members want to go deeper with this topic, they could make a list of expectations they have of other people that others continually fail to live up to or that cause them anxiety. Then encourage them to use the same litmus tests: Are their expectations of others achievable and reasonable? If not, how can they be changed. If so, suggest that they pray for the same grace God gives all of us when we fail to reach divine expectations.
—from devozine In the Habit (November/December 2013). Copyright © 2013 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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