For Youth Workers Post

The Great Divide

Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for devozine meditations for May 1–5, 2013.



“I’ve disliked single-sex situations for a long time, perhaps because of an extended amount of time touring with the Texas Boys Choir when I was a kid—a great experience overall, but one that left me even more awkward around girls than my friends were. I feel that life is more richly experienced when females and males are in community with one another. As a youth minister, I experimented with segregating guys and girls because it’s what the books and seminars were teaching at the time; but I found that both groups missed out on some important insights because of it. Also, while I don’t at all like being in charge of an all-girls group (way too much drama!), I don’t much like being in charge of an all-guys group either (way too much unchecked testosterone and acceptance of Neanderthal-like behavior).

“While definitive differences between the sexes certainly exist, we owe it to ourselves, our friends, and our future spouses and children to think through which differences are meant to be and which are culturally driven, to figure out what our biases are and where they come from, and to see others as God would have us see them.” —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.



  • newsprint
  • markers (at least three different colors)
  • (optional) construction paper, scissors, glue, and an assortment of magazines and/or newspapers with advertisements that feature people
  • Print-Friendly Version of this Session



+ Christian comedian David P. Dean talks about how men and women respond differently to his humor.



Post two sheets of newsprint, one labeled “Male” and the other “Female.” Ask group members to list some traits or stereotypes of males—their own ideas, what they’ve heard others say, or what they’ve seen or heard in music, on TV, or in the movies. They can either take turns writing on the newsprint, or they can call out words while someone records what they say. Then ask the group to list stereotypes of females. (This will be most effective if the group is not segregated according to gender.)

After the newsprint is full, the group can’t think of any more stereotypes, or everyone is ready to move on, talk a little about the differences between the sexes. Some are inherent, which means they are built in to who we are and how we’re made. Other differences stem from the messages other people have given us about what it means to be male or female. Certain traits are thought of as distinctively masculine, for example, and particular images come to mind when they think about what it means to be feminine.

Ask group members to read through the list and to choose, first, the traits they believe are absolutely hardwired into us. Circle those words or phrases. Then ask them to choose traits that culture defines as part of our constitutional make up. Circle them with a different color. Most groups will agree on a few traits in both categories but will disagree about others. Allow a little bit of dialogue to occur, but don’t get derailed into a debate. The primary point is that some of the differences young people thought were God’s design may, in fact, be culturally designed.



Scripture: Genesis 1:27, Galatians 3:27–29


Read aloud or ask volunteer to read aloud Genesis 1:27. Then read or explain in your own words the following information:

Genesis 1:27 is crystal clear. All of humanity—male and female—was created in the image of God. Something inherently divine is within every guy and girl, regardless of their differences. Furthermore, while God is referred to predominantly either with masculine pronouns and images or through gender-neutral metaphors (shepherd, redeemer, sustainer), such language is limiting. Almighty God demonstrates traits that many might consider stereotypically masculine (provider, protector) as well as characteristics that many consider stereotypically feminine (nurturer, comforter).


Ask group members to describe some of God’s traits that they feel are stereotypically masculine. Then ask if girls have these traits too. Next, ask them to describe some of God’s traits that they feel are stereotypically feminine. Then ask if guys have these traits too. Spend a few minutes exploring these characteristics. Invite the group to imagine what a guy would be like if he had no “feminine” traits and what a girl would be like with no “masculine” traits.


In Whose Image? (Optional Activity)

Give each person (or each small group of two or three people) a sheet of construction paper and a few magazines. Ask people (or group members) to spend a few moments looking through the magazine advertisements to find pictures of people who represent stereotypical masculine or feminine traits. Ask them to cut out some of the images, to paste them on the construction paper, and to identify in one or two words the message of each advertisement. Some may select only one image; others may select several. Allow a few moments for people to talk about their images in small groups or with the group at large. The overall point is to recognize how culture shapes our images of what it means to be a “real man” or a “real woman.” If time allows, encourage the group to consider whether the images are positive, negative, neutral (or if their value depends on the context).


Next, read aloud or ask volunteer to read aloud Galatians 3:27–29. Then read or explain in your own words the following information:

Even a cursory reading of Galatians 3:27–29 makes it clear that God’s grace is sufficient for all people, regardless of their sex, race, or class. However, the more we meditate on the passage, the more we realize that Jesus levels the playing field for everyone. While we should celebrate differences as beautiful, unique expressions of God’s creation, assigning more value to one person over another is not a Christ-like attitude. Jesus was breaking the taboos of his time, including both men and women among his followers, healing and teaching both. Despite all of our differences, we are all the same down deep where it matters.



Conclude the session with prayer:

“Thank you, God, for the wondrous variety of your creation. Thank you for making both females and males in your image. Help us to recognize how culture tries to shape our identities and to combat cultural stereotypes with the knowledge that in Jesus Christ, we are all the same. Make our identity subject to one thing only: becoming more like you in Jesus Christ. Amen.”



  • Students could post their construction paper creations on the walls for a few weeks as a reminder of the messages they’re getting from the culture. They could also post them as part of a larger collage to which they have added scripture passages that remind us that people are reflections of their Creator. Depending upon the quality of the final product, the collage may be placed in a higher traffic area (the narthex or fellowship hall), and the group could refer to it in the bulletin or an announcement.
  • Invite group members to write in their journals the messages about their identity that they receive throughout the next week. Every time they see an image or read or hear something that shapes gender identity, they should record the experience. At your next session, invite group members to talk about what they recorded.
—from devozine In the Habit (May/June 2013). Copyright © 2013 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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