For Youth Workers Post


Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for February 2–8, 2015.


“I still remember my high school English teacher asking us to pick a song we could bring in on a record or tape (wow, that dates me!) and to write out the lyrics on a transparency (there it goes again!). We listened to the songs in class; and each student broke down the song by message and form, focusing on imagery, figurative language, and poetic devices. It was by far my favorite project in all of my English classes to that point, and it changed the way I listened to music: I appreciate the lyrics more now. Since then, I have done similar projects with young people in ministry environments; some of them have mentioned that it has changed the way they listen to music. They tune in to the words and wrestle with whether or not they agree or disagree with the messages. Considering the multitude of messages with which they are inundated and the degree of influence music has in most of their lives, this may be one of the most powerful experiences you can provide.” —Will


Will PennerWill Penner has been in ministry with young people for more than two decades in Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, in 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.


Prep Work: A week or two before you lead this session, tell the group what you plan to do. Ask them to bring in their favorite song, along with a copy of the lyrics and the scriptures that complement the lyrics. You can always choose one of your own favorite songs or use one of the ones mentioned in the weekend article in devozine. It will be most powerful, however, if the youth bring songs that they like.

  • Song files: Have group members bring in the song files (ideally a non-pirated copy; this is a good teaching moment, as well), either on an electronic device they can hook up to speakers or on a CD they can play.
  • Lyrics: Have group members send the lyrics to you in an email or as an email attachment so that you can put them onto a projected screen or print them out and photocopy them. The youth will be able to analyze the lyrics better if they can read along as they listen.
  • Good speakers with a 1/8” cable to plug into iPods, cell phones, or other auxiliary ports, since this is how most of the youth will house their songs. Even if you have a small group, the speaker on the phone itself simply is not loud enough to provide a powerful group experience.
  • A CD player would probably also be good in case anyone brings in a song using that medium.
  • A computer, a projector, and a screen would be nice if you can get lyrics early enough to project them.
  • Photocopies of the lyrics would be another option if you are unable to project them digitally.
  • One other option for lyrics (if the others don’t work) is to help the youth navigate to a particular lyric site using smart phones or tablets so that they can follow along as you play each of the songs. The downside of this option is that you’ll likely waste a lot of time waiting for everyone to get to the right page.
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This whole session is plugged in!


As group members are arriving, try out all sound issues so that you don’t spent a lot of unnecessary time making the transition from one song to the next.

When everyone is present, bring the group together for a quick Pow-Wow or High-Low check-in, inviting each person to tell about a low point (Pow) and a high point (Wow) from the past week for which they are grateful.


Scripture: Acts 17:22–31

In this passage, the apostle Paul is proclaiming the gospel to people in Athens, Greece, which was the most culturally diverse city in the world. He had obviously spent time reading some of their poets (in essence, quoting song lyrics) and noticing cultural influences through which he could point to the truth of Jesus.

Our world is full of songwriters who are modern philosopher-poets. Some of them eloquently express the difficulties of humanity, some express the joys of life, and some ask deep questions and embrace the mystery of life.

Let group members know that each person’s song will be played. Explain: “Before your song is played, you may introduce it or mention specifics for which you want the group to listen. We’ll pass out or project the lyrics so that everyone can follow along as we play the song. When the song is over, the person who brought it may talk a little about it; then we’ll read a related scripture passage and have some open discussion about the song. When we finish discussing one song, we’ll move to the next one.


When the group has listened to and discussed each person’s song, invite group members into a time of prayer:

“God, thank you for showing up all over the place. Even in our secular music, we find evidence of your greatness, of people’s yearning to understand, and of passionate desire for a relationship with you. Your messages of truth are all around us; give us eyes to see and ears to hear them. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.”


  • If group members like this activity, repeat it periodically, using different songs. You could also invite one student each week to bring in a song, lyrics, and scripture that can be used at the beginning of a small group time each week.
  • Another way to take this further is to begin a community journal, in which students write each week about truths they have heard expressed through songs, movies, books, and conversations.

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

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