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The Famine Blog

Welcoming New Parents



By Keely DeBoever

Kick-off season is upon us in the world of Youth Ministry. The chaos of summer is coming to an end, and Youth Ministry leaders barely have time to catch their breaths before the chaos of a new school year begins. One important component of the kick-off season is welcoming students—new and old; and where there are students, a parent or guardian is near by. It’s amazing how often we forget that!

As leaders, many of us live in the world of youth ministry every day. It can be easy for us to forget that the rest of the world is not as well-versed in faith-based/church-specific lingo, why faith-based programs and events are important for a student developing their faith, or adolescent culture as a whole.  If we take a beat to remind ourselves of that, we will be doing a huge favor to our church families (and to ourselves).

Here are a few tips about how to welcome these new families effectively:

1. Explain the lingo! It can feel incredibly isolating to be a part of a parent or student meeting when the leader is using what seems like another language.  The leader may feel like they are being welcoming…after all they are inviting you to be a part of something.  However, if you can’t figure out what you’re being invited to, it doesn’t do a whole lot of good.  Here is what NOT to do: We want to invite all Confirmands to come to UMYF in the COVE!  Unless you’ve been raised in the Methodist church your whole life, you may not know what any of that means…and some of it will be a blur, even if you have.  Shorthand and cool names are great, as long as you are in on their meaning!  Churches are notorious for making this mistake.  Even something like “30 Hour Famine” will need to be followed up with a clear explanation of the event!

2. Answer the WHY of Youth Ministry! Parents of youth are not looking for filler on their kids’ schedules. If anything, most of them have a hard time fitting everything in. If we don’t take time to explain why our time with their students is important, parents will relegate youth group activities to the bottom of the list (and who can blame them?). It is also not enough for us to say the “why” out loud; as Youth Leaders, we must work hard to make the most of the time we have with our students to support the claim. Honor your church families’ time well so that they see the importance of Youth Ministry without feeling over-burdened by one more thing on their calendar.

3. Educate and Support! This is one place where I failed my youth parents for a long time. I felt like I had little authority on youth because I was young and had no children of my own. Eventually, I got over myself and realized that I worked with teenagers every day and was a student of their behavior.  Often times, parents are floating in uncharted territory (especially 1st time parents of teenagers).  They are desperate for something to hold on to and we, as youth leaders, are more equipped than we realize.  Send them a life preserver from time-to-time.  Share what you know about the stages of adolescence. If you run across tools that you think would be helpful, share them. I started offering copies of driving and cell-phone contracts, handouts that shared tips for having “The Talk,” and other helpful documents at parent meetings. I would gather information from more authoritative sources to help offset that “what do I know” feeling. I was amazed at how many parents utilized those resources and were thankful to have them.  Most importantly, we must remember that we are there to minister to parents, as well as youth.

So, as you plan your calendars and get together all of the information that you will be giving out at your kick-off events, don’t forget these three things.  The majority of our students are still pretty dependent on their parents; because of this, it benefits us greatly to keep them in mind when launching into a new ministry year!

How to Keep the 30 Hour Famine Fresh



By Jen Bradbury

The first year I did the 30 Hour Famine, I was super excited about it. It was a new event to me – one I’d never participated in when I was in high school. It sounded fun, engaging, and impactful. And it was!

The second year I did the 30 Hour Famine, I was still super excited about it. Since last participating in the Famine I’d begun ministry at a new church. So even though the Famine was no longer new to me, it was new to my students, who were super excited (and also a little intimidated) by it.

The third year I did the 30 Hour Famine, I was a little less excited about it. It was still hugely impactful for my teens but it felt a little old to me.

The fourth year I did the 30 Hour Famine, I was even less excited about it. By then, I knew how to run a Famine. The problem is, it just felt tired to me. I feared that after multiple years of doing it, my students were also growing tired of it. How, I wondered, do you keep the same event – especially one as important as the Famine – from feeling stale?

Over the years, here are 7 strategies I’ve used to keep the 30 Hour Famine fresh each time.

1. Focus on a different region of the world each year. To help teens understand hunger is a global issue, each time you participate in the Famine, focus on a different region of the world. Study that region. Play a trivia game about it. Show a movie featuring that part of the world. If possible, invite someone from that region to come do a Q&A.

2. Find different ways to communicate the scale of global hunger. Part of the beauty of the 30 Hour Famine is how it exposes students to the extent of global hunger. Each year, help teens visualize this issue differently. Some of my favorite ways of doing this have been

  • Extinguishing candles or dropping rocks in a jar (the sound is haunting). Each represent a certain amount of children who die from hunger-related diseases each day.
  • Creating a mural of handprints or a pot of crosses made out of pipe cleaners. Each represents a certain amount of people who are hungry everyday.

The scale of global hunger makes it hard to comprehend. Creatively representing the problem’s scale makes a meaningless statistic real for students and your congregation, since most of these things can later be displayed in worship to draw even more awareness to the issue.

3. Investigate different Scripture passages. The Bible has a LOT to say about justice and serving others. Yet, the only passage we use at the Famine is the separation of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. Instead of revisiting the same passage every year, mix it up. Here are a few of my favorite passages to explore during the Famine:

  • Isaiah 58: True Fasting
  • John 6: Jesus as the bread of life
  • Matthew 14:13-21: Jesus feeds the 5000
  • Luke 14:15-24: The parable of the great banquet
  • James 1:19-27: True religion
  • James 2:14-26: Faith & deeds

4. Do a different service project each year. Doing the same service project can help you cultivate relationships. But it can also start to feel predictable. So change it up every once in a while. Alternate between two projects. Or every third year, do something different.

5. Invite students to share their experience in different ways. One year, invite students to share their testimony in worship. The next, create a video of your event featuring student testimonies and share it in worship or on social media. Another year, have students post live updates to your congregation’s social media accounts. Another year, print pictures and have students create a display showcasing your event.

6. Break the fast differently. Eat different foods at your break the fast meal (when possible, eat foods from the region you’ve been learning about). Some years, conclude with worship and communion. Other years, finish with a party. Some years, invite participants’ families to join you. Other years, open your celebration up to your entire congregation.    

7. Utilize student coordinators. Nothing can breathe new energy into a tired event faster than a student’s energy and passion. Each year during the Famine, keep your eyes open for a student who’s particularly engaged. Invite that student to work with you to coordinate next year’s Famine.

By tweaking your Famine in minor ways each year, you can keep it fresh and help ensure students will take away something different each year. That way they (and you!) will remain eager to participate in the Famine year after year.

Biking for World Hunger



16-year-old Noah Sorensen felt compelled to do something tangible about hungry children. And he found a way to connect something he’s good at – riding a bicycle – to the need he wanted to impact. In Noah’s own words:

I am passionate about solving world hunger, and I want to use my talents to make an impact. I don’t have the resources or the knowledge to go overseas and teach hygiene and agriculture, but I can bike like crazy!

This summer, Noah is riding his bike 5000 miles across the US in an attempt to raise $15,000. He started in Portland, rode down the west coast to LA, then headed east. We asked Noah if we could share one of his recent blog posts, from days 23 – 26 of his ride. These are his unedited words:


I survived Nebraska.

That should be a sticker or something, that cyclists can put on their helmet or panniers after going through Nebraska. They had “I survived the loneliest road in America” pamphlets and stickers and such for people who traversed Nevada in their cars, and biking across Nebraska is far more difficult than driving across Nevada. Someone work on that.

Nebraska is hot. And humid. Though it was on average 10-12 degrees cooler than Nevada, the degree of humidity made it so much less bearable. Not to mention, the roads are long, straight and full of the same old nothing. The towns are deceivingly small. When approaching the towns from 5-10 miles away, they all look like they could potentially have a rest stop, gas station, or at least somewhere to hide away in the shade. Most are accompanied by huge grain silos and processing plants. From a bit away, they look somewhat like large buildings, but as you get closer, you realize they hold far fewer people than an office building. Several towns had populations of less than 400.

I have been learning some good lessons throughout the past few days.

Number one– never toast bagels with a cook stove. They don’t taste right.

Number two– don’t take into account the advice of a local any more than the advice of someone else on the road. Local Nebraskans will warn you about the “huge hills” ahead. I had several even stop on the side of the road and cheer me on up some of the hills. They aren’t that big. They really aren’t. There are alot, but they’re all less than half a mile long. Everyone here has also told me the wind will always be in my favor. That’s not even close to true. I haven’t had a headwind for more than five minutes since Denver. I have been pushing into a constant NE wind for several days now. It doesn’t look like it will subside anytime soon either.

Number three– there are a ton of things I can’t control, I just need to go with whatever happens. Heat, wind, flat tires, humidity, hills, humidity, rain, wind, humidity, you get the point. I can’t control these things. They happem, they persist, but in the end, I’ll make it through. No matter what ends up happening, I always make it through the day.

I’ve been in four different states since I last posted. Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa -I even passed another time zone border. In just a few days, I’ll be back on eastern time, and even closer to home.

From cope to McCook was about 140 miles. I tried my best to take it easy and slow, but I ended up totally killing myself. I was so anxious to be done with the day I pushed through the last two hours or so. It wasn’t a terrific idea. The next day, I was slammed by wind, and utter fatigue from the previous day, and I only made it halfway to Hastings. I meant to do that in one day, but ended up taking two full days to get to Hastings, where I then took an unplanned day off to let myself recuperate and prepare for the hiller next few days. After Hastings it was one easy day to Lincoln, and one more easy day to the beautiful campground I’m currently at in Iowa. It hasn’t been bad so far, but I’ve got a 125 mile day to des Moines, and then another 130+ day to Iowa city. I think I’ll take a day off in Iowa city, depending on how I feel.

I have met some really cool people along the way. While in Kansas, I stopped in one town. It turned out the subway I was stopped at is where several of the church folk hang out after church and get lunch. I was greeted warmly, and had great conversation with a bunch of terrific people. I ended up modifying my route to McCook, because Google maps was trying to take me on some roads that everyone there deemed unridable. That was pretty awesome, because I had just missed the church service that I was trying to make it to. Secondly, I met a man in Holdrege that was absolutely selfless and generous. His mom was somehow friends with my great aunt whom I had spent the previous night with. I ended up staying with him, and getting a nice shower, a bed to sleep in, and all the food I could ever need. This was another one of those crazy God things that is just too crazy to call a coincidence. The last person I met was just today. I arrived at the campground at about seven in the evening. I was getting ready to pay for my camping, but didn’t have a ten. Since the camp office was right there, I figured they would have change for a twenty, so I walked over to ask. The camp manager has overheard me talking about my trip to some other fellow campers. Rather impressed with what I was doing, he offered me free camping, and directed me to the showers and electricity. After I had explored a while, I was stopped again when he came around with his truck. Apparently, there had been a cabin reserved, and then canceled just today. It had been completely paid for, but there was no one in it. He offered me a beautiful view of the lake, with AC, a microwave, refrigerator, couch, and two beds. All for free. This is the only thing allowing me to write this right now. It’s really one of the kindest things someone has done for me while I’ve been traveling. It’s definitely a blessing.

There’s so much more I’d love to write, but I can’t tell you all everything that happens. I’ve gotta make this trip somewhat for me. Lots of stuff happens. Just letting you all know I’m still alive, and doing well. Thanks for the never ending support.


If you’d like to read more from Noah, you can check out his progress on his blog.
If you’d like to support Noah, click here.

Aren’t teenagers awesome?

Finding Rest In the Midst of Mess



By Marty Estes

I unlocked the door of my office and had to push a little harder than usual to get it to open. As I turned on the light I shook my head as I could barely see the carpet underneath a pile of dodgeballs, boxes of candy, posterboard, rope lights, and a random box of assorted goodies that included multiple cans of Lysol spray, Frisbees, a bolt of orange fabric, and Gold Bond powder. I used my foot to sweep some of the mess out of the way and into a singular pile off to the side and walked to my desk, and settled down in my chair. If my floor was messy, my desk was the scene of a catastrophe: Mountain Dew cans, my BB-8 bobblehead, and office supplies competed for space with post-it reminders, a screwdriver, legal pads, my Bible, and forms, forms, forms. All of this screamed at me with one loud voice:

Welcome back from summer!

If you’re like me, you spent your summer doing ministry. Ministry like that involves VBS, mission projects, fun nights, camp, and more time out of the office than in. It’s incredibly awesome to get to participate with Jesus in the calling of hanging out with teenagers for the glory of God. It’s also incredibly tiring, and things can pile up quickly if we’re not careful. One or two weeks out of the office turns into a monster of garbage, to-do’s, and misplaced intentions that saps our souls and gets us atrociously off-kilter as we get ready to step into one of the critical times for youth ministry.

It can be overwhelming when we look at all we have to do, and all we haven’t done; but the most important thing in that office, or youth room, or closet is not the mess. It’s not the stack of papers. It’s not the overflowing trashcan or the lost and found pile you just can’t seem to get rid of. The most important thing is you.

And while the church board or custodian may be breathing down your neck to swing back into things, to clean up your mess, and to dot every “I” and cross every “T”, you and I need to understand that our relationship with Jesus is the most important thing, and that He cares more about you than all the details. He cares about us so much that He calls us to restore our own soul so that we can participate in the restoration of others.  You’re not alone in this. Right now, across our nation, weary youth workers are recovering from summer and diving right back in to fall. How are you doing, really?

I don’t know how you’ve done it in the past, but let me share some easy ways you can recalibrate and restore yourself so you can enter into this next season of ministry in a way that both honors God and your calling and allows you to rest a little.

1. Make a list.

Very spiritual, I know; but seriously: you need to make a list. Make a list of everything you need to do, and everything you want to do, and begin to prioritize those things. Got an event coming up? List it! Need to spend time with your spouse and kids after being on an “every other week gone” schedule during summer? List it! Need to stop eating so many donuts? List it!

Why list it? Because ideas stay ephemeral until they are out of our head and in the open. Making a list doesn’t solve these issues, but it does mark the beginning. Make a list and stick to it. Cross things off so you can see your progress. As you make a dent in the things you need to do, you’ll see it and feel better about yourself and get energy to accomplish the goals ahead.

2. Spend time with Jesus.

You’ve spent all summer pouring into lives all around you. You drove teenagers all over the place. You stayed up late counseling.

You probably even neglected your own spiritual health. Real youth workers do it, and if we are honest with ourselves, there are times, maybe not just this summer, where we have neglected spiritual disciplines simply because they got lost in the shuffle of what had to be done.

Leader, you need time with Jesus to be effective!

I know you’ve heard that so many times because I’VE heard that so many times, but it’s true. The impact you will have on those you’ve been called to shepherd will only be as great as Jesus’ impact in your own personal life. When you neglect time with Him, you’re neglecting yourself, which negatively impacts everything you are a part of. It might be hard, but carve out that time and spend time with Him! You’ll be glad you did!

3. Do something you love.

Whether it’s hunting, board gaming, reading, sitting on the deck in the evening with a cup of coffee and watching the sunset: you need to make time for you. Find what gives you life and immerse yourself in it! It’s not wrong to have hobbies. We should enjoy them for what they are and take time away from our jobs, offices, and calling occasionally in order to recharge.

For me, it’s board gaming. I love games like Settlers of Catan, Mysterium, King of Tokyo, and others; and thankfully, my family does as well. So I get the added bonus of spending time with the people I love who love me. Speaking of family…

4. Rediscover your family (and friends).

For many families, summer is the hardest part of the year, because ministry often beckons us away on camps, retreats, events, and more. It can be easy to get so caught up in our roles as ministers that we forget to minister to our own families (and friends, particularly for you single youth workers). As you recuperate, your family may need to recuperate as well. I can’t tell you how important it is that you lean into your family after being so busy. Your children need you, your spouse needs you, your extended family needs you as well. In almost 15 years of ministry I have seen men and women win others to Christ but lose their family in the process. This should not be! Make sure to be present with your family. Put your phone or tablet away when you enter the house. Don’t let work follow you home if possible. Allow your home to be your “Fortress of Solitude” as you recover. Your family will be thankful you did.

5. Understand that it’s not all going to get done immediately.

Lastly, this is one of the most important parts. You’re only one person. Admit it. You only have so much time and energy. You will NOT get it all fixed, put back together, and shined up in one day. Maybe not in one week. Maybe not in a month. Guess what? There’s grace for that! This is not an excuse to be lazy but a reason to celebrate. We are messy individuals saved by the grace of God, and we still make mistakes. Don’t make the mistake of working so hard to make sure everything’s perfect that you never recover from your summer pace and burn yourself out. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Allow yourself grace for the journey and work at it in light of everything else in this list, and give yourself the rest you deserve.

That’s right, you deserve it. Good job this summer, fellow youth worker. Now, go get some rest.

Good Samaritan Politics


By Amanda Leavitt


At our midweek senior high Bible study recently, just before we focused on the story of the Good Samaritan, some students who cannot vote yet began spouting diatribes about the upcoming election. I quickly put the kibosh on it, reminding my students of our calling to love and respect people. Funny timing then, as we switched gears to watching a bunch of video vignettes about the meaning of being a Good Samaritan. The last one caught my attention because it ended by describing that the Samaritan in the story was someone that the prevailing culture hated, and that God loves those that culture hates, and that Jesus loved those that no one else would, and that Christians ought to be loving and caring for those who the predominate culture despises.

It felt God ordained that we heard this just then, and it struck me that in an election the cultures we find ourselves within are tied closely to the political party we camp in. So, finding those that our own culture hates may be the easiest in the midst of an election. Opportunities to practice Good Samaritan-like behavior are in front of us everywhere, when more than half of the people we encounter likely disagree virulently with our own perspective.

Every four years in the US, the start of the school year is blip in a cacophony of the noise around the national presidential race and the patriotic cheers for the summer Olympics. This election year the noise is even louder as the violence in our own country seems to rise, and anger and fear surround so many volatile situations. It seems that in this presidential election, as with many in the past, people believe that the president we elect will cure our nation of the ills that bring anxiety into our lives. Many believe that somehow if we elect the right one, they will protect us from reality of the hidden nature of the future and the unpredictability of the actions of other people. As a Christian I accept as truth that all people are sinful and that makes the reality mentioned in my last sentence all the more worrisome because unpredictable sinful people can do terrible things. This is the reality we live in; and no president or Olympic champion can actually protect us from that reality no matter how much they’d like to say they can, even if they try their hardest. This is an uncomfortable truth.

It is the truth we try to hide from as we defend the person we believe is best to lead our nation. It is the truth that rises up around us. It is a truth our teenagers are grappling with as they are bombarded with the opinions and perceptions of their parents, teachers, peers, and media of all forms. I hear my students arguing with another about the one they believe will actually be able to fix our nation’s problems. I am amazed how people insult one another as they insult the political candidate they disagree with, how the most “Christian” people I know turn savage when a friend confides that they might vote for the opposition. I am sure you’ve seen it: they become like scared cats, hair standing on end, cringing, almost shaking.

We are sending our students into a politically charged school year. Their opportunity to be witnesses of the way God loves abound. We have a grand opportunity to help students think this through in our youth ministries. It is only August, the volume is only going to get louder through November. Our students also have the platform to speak into Who is actually the cure for the uncertainty, fear, and anxiety that plague the hearts of the people in our nation right now. They have the platform to breathe peace, joy, love, and Kingdom hope into ugly situations. It is a challenging calling, but the beauty of the Good Samaritan’s behavior has spoken boldly without words for over 2000 years. Lord, let us rise to the challenge and bring others to do the same.

Helping College Students Try On Faith Ownership


by Eric Woods


I’m not much for trying on clothes. I’m happy to be the guy who buys his jeans online and returns the ones by mail that don’t fit.

But my sister-in-law? She’s a different story. She is fanatical about trying on clothes before she buys them and making sure they fit just right. Rumor has it that, as a child, she’d try on a dozen pairs of pajamas at the store, and then—because you wear them lying down—would lie down in the dressing room in each pair, tossing, turning and squirming to make sure they were going to be comfortable for sleeping.

And, as I think about the 20-something million students heading back to college in the next few weeks (or heading there for the first time), I find that image stuck in my mind. As a campus minister, serving on a state university campus for more than a decade, I had a front-row seat for the kinds of spiritual tossing, turning and squirming that many students go through as they try on their faith… sometimes, really, for the first time.

The four (or five or six) years of college that an increasing number of young adults experience, needs to be the time when they are allowed, even encouraged, to try on their faith, see how it fits, and ultimately gain a firm sense of ownership.

Let them squirm.

The college years at both Christian and public schools can be an uncomfortable time. The protective and familiar faith grid of parents, youth pastors, and the “home church” now stands at arm’s length. Competing viewpoints from peers and professors can threaten to unseat long-held beliefs and presumptions, and college students find that what was a comfortable faith back home, may be not so comfortable anymore.

That’s ok. Let them squirm. Expect them to wrestle with what they believe, and let it be ok. Resist the urge to step in and check the fit for them. Instead, commit yourself to praying for the college students you care most about, and make sure they know you’re available as a sounding board…a safe place for tossing and turning.

Hold the mirror.

College is also a time of self-reflection, a chance for young adults to step back and ask themselves if they like what they’re becoming. As pastors, youth pastors and parents, our job is to hold the mirror, not provide an ongoing commentary about the trends we don’t like.

I’ve made it my mission to affirm what I can affirm, and on the flip side, to simply be there to help students see themselves clearly. I find they are much more likely to abandon bad habits or steer clear of trouble if they identify it themselves. It’s a skill they need to practice now.

Make sure they own it.

At the end of the day, or the college career, we want to have young adults who are so comfortable walking around in their faith, that they can’t imagine moving on to the next phase without it.

More than a few times, I’ve had graduating college seniors—yes, they do eventually graduate—tell me that when they came to college, they thought they knew what they believed, but now they really do. After being allowed the space to try it on for themselves, and walk around in it for a few years, they have left their college years with a faith they truly own, and one they will hang on to for a lifetime…like a comfortable pair of pajamas.

Jump With Us From a Facebook Page to a Group


By Mark Oestreicher


We’re making a strategic jump, and we’re really hoping you’ll jump with us!

Facebook sure has implications – good and not-so-good – for youth ministry, right? In some ways, its existence has made it easier to stay connected to current and former youth group members, and to get a glimpse into their lives. On the other hand, it can quickly become a seduction or a shackle.

We’ve been super pleased by the size and health of the Facebook page for the 30 Hour Famine. With 37,000 ‘likes,’ it’s a massive group, which is encouraging. But the more we work to communicate with Famine leaders, the more we are finding the limitations to this Facebook page. One of the biggest challenges is that Facebook recently changed their algorithm for pages, only allowing them to show up on the timelines of a tiny percentage of those who theoretically follow that page; unless the sponsor of the page pays Facebook to promote posts.

And, honestly, while we have nothing against Facebook, we’d rather use 30 Hour Famine funds to help hungry children.

Facebook pages are also somewhat restrictive in their use (for instance: 30 Hour Famine leaders can comment on a post there, but they can’t post something themselves). But Facebook groups don’t have these restrictions. And since you opt-in to a group, you’ll be able to both engage more with the content there, as well as see more of it in your timeline.

For those reasons and others, we’re taking a big risk (hey, great ministry always includes big risks, right?). We’re moving from a Facebook page to a Facebook group.

BUT: we can’t simply move you. And we can’t convert the page to a group.

Instead: we need you to jump with us. In this case, that simply means clicking over to the new closed group for the 30 Hour Famine and asking to join. You can do that in about 2 seconds (assuming you have a Facebook account!) by clicking here and then click “Join”. That’s it. Easy peasy. NOTE: we’ll be shutting down the current 30 Hour Famine Facebook page at the end of September: so please make this change now!

We know we’re not going to have 37,000 people in that new group. But we’re hoping that something one-tenth of that size will actually be better and more helpful.

So: wanna jump with us?







Stepping Into Awkward But Essential Reconciliation



By Erin Betlej

A few months ago I completed a coaching cohort through The Youth Cartel with my bearded friend, Mark Oestreicher. One of the objectives of the cohort was to walk away with a set of professional vocational values. With a recent pastoral change, I’ve had cause to pull them out and look them over again. One of them caught my eye:

I hunger for the church to use her voice to bear witness to the beauty and the mess in the world. Seeing the world as a mess is not enough; there must be active reconciliation. I believe with frustration as the catalyst, the church is God’s tool to enact this reconciliation through lasting compassion and justice in the world. For the church to use her voice, it means that I must use my voice with confidence in who God created me to be.

Well, shoot. It’s no wonder I have simultaneously wanted to yell out while at the same time be silent with my grief over the violence and hatred active in the world. It’s drawing out a response in me from the very core of who I am.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a worship service to lament our brokenness, and cling to our love. The service was the result of a vision held by two local church communities — one black and one white (neither of which I serve or participate in). As the community gathered together in one space, you could feel the atmosphere change. We were on holy ground. The first steps of reconciliation were happening right before my eyes. And yet I sat weeping in my seat, watching the combined choir sing. As I saw this particular group of people, obviously not satisfied with status quo, I began to scribble questions all over my bulletin:

  • Why does it take a tragedy for different races to build a bridge and come together to worship?
  • Why isn’t this normal?
  • We are making disciples, but what are we actually transforming with them?
  • How broken are we that people have to die before we look like the Kingdom of God?
  • If we are experiencing the same emotions (fear, confusion, sadness, helplessness), why can’t we talk about it with one another?
  • How do I lead my youth?
  • What would conversations about these issues with my youth even look like?
  • What is my role in this brokenness? How have I contributed to the systemic issues?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. My heart grieves because I want to know the answers, yet also know the hard road that authentic transformation actually is for me personally and us communally.

But I do know this with confidence: simply acknowledging and grieving over the mess of the world is not enough. We must be active, with our youth, with our congregations, and with our communities, to model and seek out reconciliation. Create space for conversation even if you fumble through it. Use your rumblings of discontent to take appropriate risks and continue to develop the Kingdom of God. Hope is present in lament. Let’s be salt and light in the midst of the violence.

Embracing the Many Sides of Parents



By Sara Clark

For years I’ve heard horror stories from other youth ministry professionals about their experiences with disengaged, opinionated, and even challenging parents. For some reason, many involved in youth ministry have acquired an “us versus them” mentality when it comes to working with parents.

“It’s a battle of control—what trips we take and when we take them.”

“It’s a battle of priorities—the mandatory sports practice or youth retreat.”

“It’s a battle of endless reminders—seasonal/monthly/weekly posts on social media, websites, postcards/flyers, emails, and even individual day-of texts.”

You get the idea.

We’ve even started categorizing parents into different groups to help us navigate future interactions. As soon as a new youth enters the program, we quickly assess their parent/guardian, and mentally file them away until the next encounter. I’m sure many of you do this, and don’t even realize it. Some of your categories may look something like:

“The Helpful Parent”

“The Opinionated Parent”

“The Trying-To-Do-It-All Parent”

“The Apathetic Parent”

“The Invested Parent”

In my years as a Youth Director I have seen many different sides of the parents I serve, and I am even guilty of generically categorizing them into some of these groups. I’ve had the “frustrated parent” in my office who thinks that I should be doing things differently. I’ve also had the “vulnerable parent” crying on my shoulder asking for help and support. Parents can be tough to navigate, just like their teens.

Now I’m a pretty emotionally in-tune person, so I take every interaction I have with another person to heart. This means that sometimes I’m quick to take offense or feel that what I’m doing in my ministry isn’t good enough when a parent passionately voices a concern or suggestion. But I’ve learned there is so much more to parents than the brief encounters that often lead to my categorized “parent filing system”.

You see, that frustrated parent didn’t come into my office telling me how things need to change to make me feel inadequate. They came into my office because their kid loves being a part of the ministry here at my church, and at the time they had a need that was not being met. That same parent also talked about how much their youth ministry had shaped their life, and all of their many suggestions was their way of saying, “I want the same for my kids.”

So as the summer months begin to wind down and you look to the fall, let’s take a moment to consider what our ministries could look like if we were to look beyond the brief face-to-face encounters we have with parents. What if we were to engage with parents on a deeper level in order to uncover who they are and what they need?

It would probably look a lot like what we try to do with their teens every week.

It would look like relational ministry.

Let’s not forget that parents are human beings trying to navigate the extremely complex road of raising teenagers full-time. We all know that as kids become teenagers, their wants/needs/motivations/moods constantly change, and the way they are parented must also change. And like those of us in ministry trying to keep up with quickly changing trends and culture, it’s a learn-as-you-go journey. So let’s give our parents a little more grace.

Parents have needs, and we all know that adults aren’t always the best at communicating what those needs are, or what they look like. So affirm your parents and the hard work they are doing! Support them. Listen to them. And when the time comes, embrace the different encounters you have, so that you can serve alongside them as we continue to love and encourage the teens in our lives.

Rest is Best



By Kevin Alton

It’s possible to participate in a 30 Hour Famine without getting a group together, but the community aspect really helps make it meaningful. Most church groups I’ve encountered treat it a bit like a lock-in. The overnight model not only functions as accountability—you can’t cheat and eat if there are people in sleeping bags on either side of you—but it holds up the solidarity of the thing. We are doing this together.

But with that lock-in-ness comes a familiar tangle: the kids who want to stay up all night.

This, my friends, is no good. Shut that mess down. Here’s the thing: the only thing that matters about waking up at an overnight church event—whether a single night or a weeklong mission trip—is what time you went to bed. It’s fine to stay up all night for a regular lock-in. Adults and youth alike go home feeling gross and a little sick inside; they spend about 35 minutes thinking, “Maybe I’ll just stay up,” then pass out on the couch til 4pm. It’s like a circadian rhythm that only emerges semi-annually. That rhythm doesn’t work for a 30 Hour Famine.

There’s obviously more going on in your body at a 30 Hour Famine than the potential for lack of sleep. There’s the lack of food, but what the lack of food does to temperament is important to consider. Observe this formula:

Get-along Ability – Food = Less Get-along Ability

It’s pretty straightforward, but look what happens when you also take away sleep:

(Get-along Ability – Food) – Sleep = Even Less Get-along Ability

You can’t argue with that math. There’s a 3-dimensional model where I could show you what happens when you multiply that last result by 5 to 30 youth, but I think you get the picture. Rest is equally (if not more so) important for the adults! Sure, coffee is technically not cheating, but getting jacked up on caffeine because you didn’t sleep puts your general wellbeing and your group dynamic at risk.

So here are 3 quick things to help everybody get to hour 30 without losing friends:

1. Establish an actual bedtime. And honor it. A lot of events operate under a de facto (it sure would be nice if) Lights Out: 11pm. Know your group, and start them toward bed in time to get the lights off when you want them off.

2. Explain why rest is important. Youth are still missing brain parts, but if you tell them a thing that seems obvious to adults, they pick it up quicker. And if your older youth are modeling respect for rest, it’ll eventually click with the younger youth. Mostly.

3. Rest isn’t just for overnight. This gets overlooked sometimes in planning, but don’t set a schedule that wears your group out. Let them have an extra 30 minutes or an hour to sleep in the morning. It’s not like you’re having to deal with breakfast. Add a few breaks between activities to just chill. And don’t put them out the sun for 4 hours on a service project late in the afternoon of day 2. Service projects can be a fun addition to the 30 Hour Famine program, but consider your group’s diminishing civility when planning one.

Don’t forget that rest can be reflective, too, and that’s a big part of the awareness participating in a 30 Hour Famine can provide.