For Youth Workers Post


Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for devozine meditations for June 17–23, 2013.



“There is always more to do at work. I could always spend more time with my wife and kids. There’s always more to read in Scripture. I have more books to write, more music to hear, more mountains to climb, more movies to watch, more naps to take.

“Sometimes, when I’m efficient at work, I’m proud of using my time well. Sometimes, I’m proud of slacking off on my responsibilities so that I can free up time to hang out with my wife and kids. Sometimes, I feel guilty that I don’t put more time in; at other times, I recognize that no matter how badly I want to, I can’t cram more hours in the day.

“The truth is that I’m going to slack up on something. The question ‘Am I a slacker?’ becomes ‘What am I going to be a slacker about?’” —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 4 to 21.





  • Move Me Quotes” offers some great quotes regarding work ethic. Consider covering the wall with quotes for the youth to read as they enter the room and/or printing out the list of quotes, cutting it into strips, and giving one quote to each person to keep.
  • Wikipedia offers a funny and interesting entry on the term slacker, tracing its origin beyond Principal Strickland’s Back to the Future quote to more than two hundred years ago.



Welcome group members as they arrive, and encourage them to read the quotes you have posted on the walls. (Or if you choose to cut up the list of quotes, give each person a quote as he or she enters the room. Encourage group members to walk around the room and to read one another’s quotes. Depending on their interest level, you could encourage them to trade quotes so they take home a quote they like.)

Post two sheets of newsprint. Invite group members to list on one sheet of newsprint the areas of life in which they don’t give solid effort most of the time, areas in which they think of themselves (or others think of them) as slackers. Then ask them to list on the other sheet of newsprint areas of life in which they give a good effort most of the time. Chances are that some items will show up on both lists because different people slack off in different ways.



Scripture: Matthew 20:1–16; Luke 15:11–32

Invite the group to read Matthew 20:1–16, Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard.

One of the traits that each new generation seems to have in increasing abundance is a sense of entitlement. We assume that because we were born in relative freedom and plenty, we somehow deserve it. One of the reasons Americans have accrued so much debt is because they aren’t willing to wait until they have worked for twenty or thirty years to be able to afford the lifestyle of their parents (who, incidentally, worked a great deal longer to be able to afford what they have).

If we were the latecomers to the vineyard in the parable, most of us would be grateful to have received more than our fair share of the wages. And most of us would probably grumble a bit if we were the early birds but received no more than the latecomers. The questions are these:
       In what parts of our lives are we willing to be early birds, even if we do more than our fair share of the work?
       In what parts of our lives are we coming in late and hoping we still receive some of the spoils?

Few people are slackers in every aspect of their lives. Most slack off only in the areas they don’t care about, but they’ll muster up the energy in areas they are passionate about (a girlfriend or boyfriend, a hobby, partying).
       What do the areas of life in which we put our energy and in which we slack off say about what is important to us?

Ask group members to read Luke 15:11–32. If they are familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son, quickly summarize the earlier verses; then focus on verses 25–30.

While not true across the board, many young people who are active in the church probably identify more readily with the older brother than with the younger. Certainly, when we come face-to-face with our sin and recognize how much Jesus sacrificed to pay the price for our sin, we cannot help but be grateful that God’s love for us is like the father’s response to the prodigal.

On the other hand, we do a lot right. And when others seem to get away with squandering their time, talents, money, education, relationships, and freedoms, we find ourselves more than a little irritated with them for slacking off on their responsibilities.
       What does our judgmental attitude say about our hearts?
       When we are doing what we are supposed to and others are slacking off, how can we be Christ-like witnesses?

We may be like the angry older brother in the Prodigal Son parable because we feel as if we have to shoulder all of the responsibilities. The next minute, we may be like the vineyard worker who had to work only an hour and still received a full day’s pay. And we may not see a problem. The truth is that our measuring sticks are ridiculous. Not one of us comes close to measuring up, yet all of us are declared righteous because of Jesus Christ.



Conclude the session with this prayer:

“God, we know that sometimes you want us to swing into action. Help us to act when we are supposed to. We also know that sometimes you want us to stop the busyness in our lives and to be still. Help us slack off when we are supposed to. Help us to do what needs to be done in our lives with perseverance and joy and also to say “Stop” when our lives are too cluttered with activity. Please help us to make godly choices about how we utilize our time. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.”



This is a common buzz phrase among speakers, writers, and consultants concerned with time and/or money management: “Show me your calendar and your checkbook; I’ll show you what’s important in your life.” Invite group members to spend the next two weeks keeping track of how they spend their time and money. Then encourage them to talk with a trusted adult about their priorities.

—from devozine In the Habit (May/June 2013). Copyright © 2013 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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