For Youth Workers Post


Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for devozine meditations for September 30–October 6, 2013.


“Conflict is an absolute must in good storytelling. Every protagonist needs a good antagonist to move along the plot and to interest the reader or audience. Unfortunately, many of us—and not just drama queens—feel the need to create conflict situations in our real lives. Most of us instinctively look for ways to overcome other people and situations, which is absolutely not what God has in mind. However, that instinct becomes a positive force in our lives when we battle only truly destructive powers and principalities rather than morally good or even morally neutral people or institutions.” –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. 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 4 to 21.


  • Bibles (preferably several different versions, including the New Revised Standard Version and the King James Version)
  • pens
  • paper
  • copies of the closing prayer
  • Print-Friendly Version of this session



  • A kind of silly little opener features Robin Williams trying to demonstrate the idea of conflict using the two-headed monster on Sesame Street.
  • Another fun introduction to rivalry comes from Adam Sandler’s classroom antics in The Waterboy.


Ask each person in turn to answer these questions:
       What is your favorite story? (People may name a short story, a book, a TV episode, a movie.)
       In that story, what was the central conflict? (99.9999% of them will have one)

Ask group members to imagine, silently, someone who comes to mind when you use the term “drama queen.” Make it clear that the term is not gender specific; both males and females may be drama queens, regardless of their degree of femininity or masculinity. Be more specific if the term is unfamiliar. “Drama queen” is used to describe people who are so drawn to conflict that if they can’t find conflict to be a part of, they create it themselves. Ask group members not to mention any names, but simply to imagine a person who is a drama queen and to think about how he or she creates drama through conflict.

Then ask people to consider silently what things they have done that are similar to what a drama queen does. Read aloud “Making the Connection” before launching into the Bible study.


Scripture: Ephesians 6:11–18

Many studies of Ephesians 6:11–18, from children’s Vacation Bible School to youth retreats to adult Sunday school classes, focus on the various elements of the metaphorical armor. The passage is used to emphasize the importance of Bible study, prayer, and other aspects of the Christian faith. In our zeal to describe the armor, though, we often glance over verse 12, which clearly states that we are not putting on armor in preparation for battling one another. The struggle is not against flesh and blood.

Ask group members to read Ephesians 6:12 and to identify the conflict. With whom and what do Christians struggle? In the NRSV, they are

  • rulers
  • authorities
  • cosmic powers of this present darkness
  • spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places

Suggest that group members read a few different translations of scripture and write down how some of the terms are translated. I’m a huge fan of the terms “principalities” and “powers” in the King James Version (KJV) because they emphasize that we appropriately fight against unjust systems and structures more than we struggle against people.

Invite group members to brainstorm and to come up with a list of what might be included within each of the four entities we struggle against.

Some people may get stuck thinking about specific people or roles (kings, presidents, CEOs, crime bosses, and so on). While these may be legitimate ideas in the brainstorming process, encourage group members to think beyond individuals. Suggest that they consider systems, structures, or ideologies. Prompt with economic terms such as socialism or capitalism; sociological terms such as the bell curve, which compares people to one another; and politically charged concepts such as abortion, gun control, or immigration policies.

Continue to push until group members begin to think of policies and norms that are part of not only their everyday activities but also their circle of influence. For instance, while many of them may be in no position to affect the macroeconomic policies of their country, most of them can immediately begin attacking the social caste system in their school lunchroom. Instead of drifting to their comfort zones and eating only with their friends, every student in the room has the power to befriend a new person or group at some time during the week. If doing so cuts into their social status, then they are attacking a “principality” that is worth fighting.

Try to get the group to identify at least three such principalities that are worth setting up as rivals to a Christian lifestyle. Encourage each person to make a commitment to attacking one of those rivals in a specific, measurable way over the next week. Have group members write down their commitment on two pieces of paper: one for them to keep and one that will stay with you.

Make this “homework” assignment for the week ahead: Encourage everyone is to read his or her commitment each morning and to search actively for ways to carry it out during the day. Explain that, as a leader, your commitment will be to intercede for each of them every morning, praying for the success of their commitments. Let the group know that during your check-in time at the next session, you will return the commitment cards and ask them to discuss these questions:
       How did you keep your commitments?
       What about God was disclosed to you during the week?


Invite group members to pray together, saying:

“Lord, thank you for giving us so much freedom. May we bind ourselves to the commitments we have made so that we may participate in your liberating work in the world around us. Help us to see clearly how you want us to act this week, and give us courage to follow your leading. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.”


  • Invite group members who were drawn to struggle against the same rival principality or power to get together in small groups. Ask them to see if together they can affect change in ways beyond what they could do individually. Maybe they can, in some way, change the culture of their school or community.
  • This I Believe” is an international organization engaging people in writing and sharing essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives.” Many of the essays speak to the underlying desire of people to unite with one another rather than to engage in conflict as rivals. Encourage group members to read some of the essays and even to submit their own.
—from devozine In the Habit (September/October 2013). Copyright © 2013 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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