Suggestions for Using Questions from the Pickle Jar in a Youth Group Setting
Hey youth leader. I applaud you for your dedication to and passion for youth. You’ve probably heard a saying that goes something like this: “For meaning and learning to take place, a significant relationship first has to be established.” In your role as youth leader, you have a tremendous opportunity to shape and influence these adults-in-the-making who are looking to you for answers and understanding.
One of the areas where they are looking for guidance is that scary stadium of sex and relationships, two topics at the core of their instant messaging and private thoughts. I’ve written this book as a solo flight for teens, but I think you can spend a couple of evenings on the topic of sex and relationships with the bulk of the content happening in the privacy of your teens’ bedrooms with the book. Because you have given them the book, and because you have communicated to your teens that sex and relationships is a great topic—not to be hidden or whispered about red-faced—you will have thrown them a tremendous lifeline. The reality is you have teens in your youth group who are confused about masturbation, who are ashamed (and excited) about their porn consumption, or who have serious questions about their boyfriends and girlfriends, questions they may not be able to ask teachers or parents.
What follows are some suggestions about what I would do were I a youth leader who has ordered a stack of shiny books called Questions from the Pickle Jar. I would spend two sessions on this topic with the book serving as the glue between the sessions. Session 1 acts as an introduction to the book, while session 2 assumes kids have read the book (or at least the parts they feel apply to them) and allows opportunities to explore the topics a bit deeper.
1. The video. First do the normal stuff you do at the beginning of youth night—announcements, devotions, whatever—then play the video that introduces the book. The video gets right into the topics of masturbation, virginity, and guy-girl relationships, so you will have kids’ attention from the time that video starts up. You know your group best, so if you feel an introduction is in order, or if you want to send a letter to parents ahead of time notifying them that you are delving into the world of sex and relationships, make that call.
2. After the video. This is a critical point during session 1. I highly recommend that you read Questions from the Pickle Jar before this session so you can frame your presentation appropriately. When the video ends and the attention shifts back to you, students will be looking for your lead. You can go in a number of directions here. You might ask students what they thought of the video. Or start off with a story about how you learned about sex for the first time. If you have a relaxed relationship with your students, you might ask them to talk about their parents’ attempts to teach them sex education. You might ask them to brainstorm where kids in general get their information about sex and relationships. Ask questions such as these:
- How does a guy know how to treat a girl when he starts going out with her? TV, songs, observing friends?
- How does a girl know how physical she is going to get with a boy?
- When does a guy tell his parents he has a girlfriend?
- At what point does a girl allow a boyfriend to come to her house to meet her parents?
The emphasis of these questions should be on how kids get this information. Depending on the size of your group, you might split kids into smaller groups for this brainstorming session, or you may do it as one big group with you assuming the role of guide. If your group is multi-aged—say grades 9-12—you might want to split kids into four age-specific groups with youth leaders taking the lead in each group.
3. Introduce the book. The title Questions from the Pickle Jar (as you will have seen from the video), comes from my experience as a high school physical education and health teacher—I put a big pickle jar at the front of the classroom and tell my students they can ask me any question they want about sex and relationships. All they have to do is write it down and stick it through the slot I’ve hammered in the lid. The rules are simple: questions are anonymous, and I answer every single one of them. Students may ask me every question under the sun—beyond my imagination—and I tell them they can use slang language if they like (or if that is all they knew), but I answer in anatomically correct and respectful language. If they want to know what a phrase such as “busted her cherry” means because they have heard it in the locker room, I will tell them, and then address the derogatory nature of that question. The pickle jar sessions in my health classes go on for days and you can hear a pin drop in the room. Tell your kids this book is like having their very own pickle jar. It attempts to answer many of their questions about sex and relationships in a fun and readable way.
4. Hand out the book. But be sure you have a plan first. You might want to read the introduction together, in which I talk about my first girlfriend, Charlotte; about how Adam and Eve probably enjoyed great sex after God created them; and about why sex is a beautiful, God-created work of art. If you’re not going to read the introduction together, you might want to entice their reading by telling them there’s a whole chapter on masturbation and another on porn and another on how you can tell when a guy or girl likes you. You may want to create a handout for the book so kids know where to go for all the real burning questions.
5. Be clear about the assignment. If they are to have the book read by next month, let them know. I would give kids at least three weeks before scheduling session 2 on sex and relationships. If you meet every week, this gives you the opportunity to take a few minutes to ask about the book and their reading of it. Remember, reading this book will be a very personal and intimate exercise for kids, so I recommend you do not have kids report back on their reading or present on the topic of masturbation or date abuse the following week. As you prepare for session 2, assume kids will have read some of the book, and even if they haven’t, move on. When they are ready, they will read this book.
6. Teaser about session 2? Gauge your own group as to whether or not this is a good idea. If you have kids you’re pretty sure won’t come to session 2 because the talk will be about sex, then don’t tell them overtly. Again, you might want to send a letter home to parents to let them know what you’re up to—after all, sex ed isn’t often a topic at youth group. You may want to let kids know you will have a pickle jar (or pickle jars) next week and they can bring questions for the pickle jar. You’ll want to tell them this clearly and remind them in the weeks between now and session 2 (these make good bulletin announcements!).
A word of advice…
Be prepared—there are always kids who will ask a question to try to trip you up. Stay cool and respectful but deal with it—the question is there for a reason and you can address the nature of the question as well. I once got a question from a boy who asked if it feels good for girls to have anal sex with a broom handle. I used the question as an opportunity to initiate a good discussion about pornography and ways sex can be degraded and warped. It’s important to stay cool and remain respectful because the truth is, you’ll never actually know what is a legit question or one meant to trip you up. Some kids will genuinely ask you questions that sound crazy. Be honest about what you know and don’t know. For example, if a student asks how Viagra works, let them know you’ll find out for them for next week or ask if anyone else knows, although this could be risky. You don’t want to misinform.
Session 2 (1-2 hours)
The purpose of session 2 is to open up the discussion in an honest, respectful, comfortable, and deeper way. Here’s how you might structure this session:
1. Design opening devotions that will center on these beautiful things God created: sex and relationships. As part of your introduction, depending on your group, you might summarize or highlight parts of the book. Consider showing the video again for kids who missed the first session or for your guests (see below). Kids will probably view the video with renewed interest now that they’ve read the book.
2. Assess the book. You can do this in smaller groups or all together, depending on the size of your youth group. This discussion will be general; you might ask questions such as these:
- What did you like about the book? What didn’t you like?
- Was there anything not in the book you would have included?
- Is there anything you would change about the book?
- Is there anything you didn’t agree with?
- If I told you the author was going to visit tonight, what would you say to him or ask him?
3. Pickle jar. If kids brought in questions, take time now to answer the questions. As a precursor, talk to students about respect for each other and the topic. Reread the comments I wrote under “A word of advice…” at the end of session 1.
4. Panel discussion. Bring in some people who are comfortable talking about sex and relationships—I recommend inviting a single guy, a single girl, a couple who has been going out for a while (college-aged?) or a young married couple, and perhaps someone who has been married for ten years. You’ll want to meet with your guests a few days before the panel discussion to prep them. Let them know they should read the book ahead of time. You may want to invite “special” guests who are willing to speak—perhaps a girl who had a controlling boyfriend or someone whose girlfriend broke up with him.
There are many ways you can structure a panel format. You could prepare your guests with questions and have them speak to the questions. You could have each panel member tell—briefly!—his or her story of dating, remaining single, whatever. You could provide them with questions ahead of time and have a moderator. Or you might want to keep things informal by asking a question and allowing anyone on the panel to answer. You might give kids an opportunity to ask questions throughout or at the end. Whatever format you use, establish ground rules at the beginning so the forum doesn’t get in the way of the topic.
5. Purity pledge (optional). You might want to provide the opportunity for kids to sign a “Purity Pledge” to remain pure until marriage or “Second Generation Virginity Pledge” to “reclaim” virginity. Not everyone will want to do this, and I include it only as an option. If you choose to do this, feel free to edit these or create your own. You might want to include this idea in your letter home to parents.
6. Close in prayer.
God bless you as you shape and lead kids.
Your friend in Christ, Ron DeBoer