For Youth Workers Post


Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for October 12–18, 2015.


“Some great life lessons can be learned through sports, which is why so many great coaches have written books and become motivational speakers. People resonate with the lessons they read and hear, and they apply the lessons to different aspects of their lives. Sometimes applying sports to life is a good idea, but we would do well to approach sports’ lessons with a critical eye. We may learn lessons that help us in business, but actually do us spiritual damage.” —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 many 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 his amazing wife, Christine, and the father of five fantastic children, ranging in age from 6 to 24.



  • A terrific song you could play as group members arrive: “Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds.


Invite each person to tell about the sports metaphor or lesson from this week’s devozine meditations that was most helpful, enlightening, or interesting. Ask a volunteer to record the answers on newsprint. Be sure you have read this week’s devos and the suggested scripture references in case some of the group members haven’t read them or get stuck. Try to get every person to talk about at least one; feel free to go around the room more than once. When group members can’t think of any other lessons or metaphors from devozine, ask the questions below and have the scribe continue to record answers on the chart paper.
       What are sports metaphors do you remember from scripture?
       What spiritual truths or life lessons that haven’t been mentioned do you think sports can teach us?


Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 (a season for everything)

Sports can offer some of the greatest metaphors for life because so much of the discipline required for success in sports can be applied to success in life. We must be careful, though, because all metaphors break down at some point. For instance, most sports are designed to have winners and losers, but God invites everyone to be a part of the life of faith, which means that we could all theoretically be winners (see John 3:17).
       If we redefined sports so that winning doesn’t require someone else to lose, how would our thinking about the spiritual parallels change?
       If we only chose group-building activities that had no losers, would that help us understand our relationships with God differently?

In addition, we want to recognize when it is important to remain on the sidelines and to let the spotlight shine on others as we cheer them on and when we need to suit up and get in the game. Hebrews 12:1 (I recommend reading this verse to the group, along with summarizing the context from Hebrews 11) offers beautiful imagery about a “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds the runners in a race to offer support and encouragement. Sometimes, we are the runners surrounded by fans; and sometimes we need to be the fans. If we decide our job isn’t important because we don’t like our role at any given time, then we have failed to grasp the importance of Ecclesiastes 3:1–8.

We need to know when to pace ourselves so that we can finish the race and when we need to kick it into high gear because time matters. Plenty of urgent language is in scripture, suggesting that we need to get ready now, for we “don’t know the time and day” of Jesus’ return (Matthew 24:42–44). On the other hand, there is a sense of needing not to be anxious in seeking wisdom—of pacing ourselves to stay in it for the long haul so we don’t give out early (Colossians 1). Sprinting in a marathon is a bad idea, but so is jogging or brisk-walking a 40-meter dash.

Ask group members to look at the chart paper and to discuss other ways in which the lessons learned in sports are not particularly helpful for deepening a life of Christian faith and discipleship. Allow people to discuss the nuances of the lessons so they can keep what is useful without assuming they have to buy every metaphor completely.


Invite the group to pray with you:

“God, thank you for providing so many ways in which we can practice our faith and grow in our relationship with you. Help us to do our best in all of our school endeavors—academics, athletics, and the arts. But most of all, help us to reflect your love, power, and grace to others as we prepare, practice, and perform in all aspects of life—at school, at church, at work, at home, and in our relationships with one another. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.”


  • If your church uses liturgical elements, especially spoken litanies such as The Lord’s Prayer or The Great Thanksgiving on days when Communion is served, bring a copy to the session and ask group members to say it as they do in a worship service (most will speak incredibly monotonously). Next, get a cheerleader or someone with a lot of school spirit to say it in a way that exemplifies what people do at local pep rallies or sporting events. (Hopefully this will involve lots of excitement. If no one bites, divide the group into two sides and have them alternately shout out, with increasing volume, “We’ve got spirit; yes we do. We’ve got spirit; how ’bout you?”) Then ask the group to compare and contrast what happened.
           Why is it socially acceptable to show emotion at a sporting event or pep rally but not at church?
           Does that seem backward? Why? Why not?
           What would the pastor think if the youth started showing the same kind of emotion in the liturgy that they do at sporting events?
  • Ask group members to continue to explore spiritual metaphors (both good and bad) that come from sports by journaling about their sporting experiences each day for a week or two. Invite discussion:
           What lessons had you been missing that have now become “aha!” moments?
           What sports lessons had you been accepting uncritically that you now want to make sure do not become part of your spiritual journey?


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

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