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The Famine Blog

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.

Familiar vs. Fascination



By Luke Lang

It was the summer before my senior year. I was at a camp in Buffalo Gap, Texas. I had gone to the same camp for years.

It was all so very familiar. Camp was important. It was where I got my yearly God fix.

I repeated the same cycle every year.

I waited until the last night (because I wanted to have fun the first few nights before I got all spiritual). I would go down to the front of the open air tabernacle when the invitation was given.

There was always a middleman to take me to Jesus, usually a middle-aged pastor who would pray with me as he swatted mosquitos. I made promises. I said I was sorry.

It was all so very familiar. I felt fired up, I was excited, I had reconnected with Jesus. It was awesome! I had been to the mountaintop.

Then, we would go home and real life was still there… waiting for us.

It was all so very familiar.

That fire would last until about the first week of school and then it would unceremoniously fizzle. Promises made were slowly forgotten.

The problem was that I treated Jesus like a camp girlfriend. We had a great week and it was exciting. But, at the end of the week, he went his way and I went mine. I promised to write. And he said he already had. The only thing I took home was dirty laundry and an understandable aversion to sloppy joes.

But, the summer before my senior year, everything changed. Familiar became fascination.

I took Jesus home with me.

I realized that Jesus wasn’t content being a camp buddy. One of my leaders challenged me and gave me permission to take Jesus home.

Sometimes that’s all it takes. It changed everything for me, the realization that my relationship with God was meant to be a constant thing and not a camp thing.

I was fascinated. I fell in love. That love has grown.

Now, many years later, I’ve gone to so many camps and I’ve consumed more sloppy joes than I can count. I’ve seen the same cycle repeated by lots of kids.

It’s all so very familiar.

There’s only one way to break the cycle: Familiar MUST become fascination. A holy fascination that fuels a fire that won’t fizzle. We have to give kids permission to take God home with them. That means we let them know that they don’t need a middleman. They can do business with God by themselves.

That can happen at camp but it can also be duplicated at home or school. It’s all so very fascinating. It turns out, if we give people permission to ask for and do Jesus stuff, they will do it.

That’s scary because we want to control, we want to count. We want to be the middleman, the person up front who takes them to Jesus. We aren’t doing them any favors with that mindset. We are setting them up for the camp cycle.

But it’s not about who gets the credit, it’s about who gets the glory!

We must teach our kids that doing business with God is something they can do in their bedroom when the excitement of camp settles down. That is the most important life skill we can team teach.

They will be fascinated. They will fall in love. The cycle will be broken. Familiar is defanged.

Nothing will ever be the same.

My Calling is Changing and Staying the Same



By Brian Mateer

Almost two years ago I felt God calling me into full-time mission service through the church.  I had been serving as a full-time youth leader at a church for 13 years.  Deciding to move was a difficult decision.  The move meant I would be leaving extended family, friends, our home church and community and youth ministry.  I knew I was following God’s plan for my life but the transition was hard.

The first year at my new church was exciting, scary, and incredibly busy learning new people and navigating a new context in ministry.  Additionally, our family was adjusting to a new life in a different city and state and all the challenges a move brings.

At the beginning of my second year our church hosted my good friend and his youth group for a mission week in our city.  I was able to spend time with his group, participate with them in some of the mission projects, and share with them during small group time.  It was a wonderful week being able to step back into the youth ministry world.

After reflecting on my week with the visiting youth group I remembered how much I love youth ministry.  I didn’t know how much I missed working with teenagers.  I recognized in a new ministry role I am still wired to work with young people.  I even feel I am a better person when I have regular interactions with youth.

Consequently, I have been seeking ways to be involved with youth in our church and community.  I am challenged to create opportunities for intergenerational missions and I have invited teenagers to serve along with me in roles that make decisions about missions at our church.

God revealed to me I hadn’t left youth ministry.  Youth ministry takes place during my weekly interactions with teenagers.  I’m called by God to a new role and I’m also created by God to be a minister to youth.   I’ll always be in youth ministry.

How are you leaning into your calling today? How is your calling changing over time (if at all)?

Don’t Shy Away


dont-shy-away-30-hour-famineBy Brad Hauge

Lord, have mercy. What a heartbreaking, confusing, tragic week.

Typically for me, and probably for many of you, youth ministry in the summer is known for many things: Mission trips, water games, weeks at camp, time off, and dreaming, hoping, and praying about the coming school year’s ministry. Summer is also a great time for planning fall calendars and the teaching content that’ll be presented during our Sunday or mid-week gatherings when school is back in session.

May I humbly propose that right now, at this current time, during our current summer, this typical planning simply isn’t enough. In addition to planning this fall’s retreat weekends and kickoff extravaganzas, I believe we need to commit to creating space to talk about the complex realities surrounding the teens in our ministries. We know they’re already having these conversations online and in the halls of their schools, so it should be our mandate to provide a safe place to have these conversations in a way that oozes the love and grace of Christ. Not only do our students deserve a space for this, but through my experience I’ve learned they are craving it.

What might that look like? Well, it would look like committing to include topics like these as you plan your teaching calendar:

  • Race and the history–and present–of racism.
  • Privilege.
  • Sexuality and gender identity.
  • Doubt
  • Violence in the Old Testament; giving space to wrestle with its ugliness and how Jesus does (and does not) represent those stories.
  • Depression and suicide, taking care to equip students with practical ways to either get professional help for themselves or to help their friends in crisis.
  • The role of women in Scripture and what is and is not true of their roles in ministry.
  • Wealth, power, the American Dream, and the kingdom of God.

Daunting? Of course. Necessary? I think so. Creating space for discussions such as these is tricky, and we need to do so responsibly and with integrity. So as you plan your teaching calendars, make sure to take time to:

  • Talk with your pastor and include him or her in these discussions.
  • Include volunteer leaders in as much of the planning as possible.
  • Work hard to have people on your team that hold different viewpoints, and model what it means to disagree well.
  • Educate yourself. Read. Listen. Watch. Discuss. Listen some more.
  • Read theology that resonates with you easily. Read theology that pushes you. Read.
  • Choose to bring light to the dark spaces those in your group are experiencing. And realize that to do that, you first must know, or ask, where those dark spaces are.
  • Be a curator of stories and create ways to share them. Stories your youth aren’t exposed to on a daily basis in the halls of their school or the faces around their dinner tables.
  • Make sure your youth know (and that you know!) that God’s kingdom doesn’t have borders or status requirements, or race or aptitude tests, or personality requirements.

We know all too well that teenagers (and adults) are leaving the Way of Jesus due to (often) unexplored tensions concerning the honest questions they’ve been led to believe are off limits to talk about in church. Again, the teens in your group are talking about these things with their peers, Google, and Reddit. May we do the hard work of educating and equipping ourselves on the hard topics so that we can help create helpful discussions that equip our kids, all while helping them to understand that God isn’t afraid of these topics or questions. Because he isn’t. May we use our summer to be bold, to be brave, and to be not afraid.

What About the Other Days?


By Dan Berggren, 30 Hour Famine staff


Slide1A “first” day.

School. New job. Marriage. Dating. Internship. The beginning of a new year. Jumping off the high dive. Baby. Accepting Jesus. They are filled with joy, apprehension, terror, excitement, nervousness and hope (to say the least).

“Firsts” are filled with so many emotions and they make you, me, us feel alive. We tell stories about them. We document them in FB, Twitter and Instagram. We blog about them.  Here’s what I know about firsts: there aren’t very many of them. That’s both sad and a good thing. It would be exhausting to live through firsts every single day. Somehow, and mostly after-the-fact, I wish I had more firsts, but too many leave me exhausted, not exhilarated.

What do we do with the other days? “Others.” It doesn’t even have the same ring to it as “firsts.” They matter though, right? When I’m working on the Famine team, there are days when I experience firsts and there are other days. Just like all of us. There are times when I wonder about my passion on those days. Am I making a difference in the world? Am I doing my best for God today? On the other days, I need to be better about seeing and seeking God’s love and how I share that with the people around me.

Last year I challenged myself to genuinely compliment someone every day. I had it on the to do list on my whiteboard. (I did okay, surprisingly, as it’s not as easy as I thought it would be). The intentionality of responding to God’s love in the world around me…helps me get through the important other days.

I imagine that your summer is filled with firsts and others. Whether today is a first or other, I want to encourage you. THANK YOU for all that you do to impact the lives of your students and the world’s hungry for good. I’m profoundly grateful for what you do to fundraise on behalf of the hungry of our world. THANK YOU!




By Tash McGill


Slide1I never get sick of plane take-offs and landings. The view from 30,000ft isn’t bad either, but ascending and descending, those transitional movements through vertical and horizontal space is intoxicating. I like this view of the world when I usually spend so much time with my feet on the ground. I like that I can be simultaneously moving further away and closer to something. I like take-off so much that I sometimes find myself looking forward to terrible airline coffee because it reminds me I’m in transition to someplace new.

Some people think of summer as the destination, like a reward for a hard year’s work but I think it’s a transitional season. It’s the marker between school years, when family and community memories are made. Summer is a change in routine from the rest of the year, which may offer a different perspective for a couple of months but is still just as busy, if not more so than any other part of the year. Running extra activities and programs as well as planning for the year to come.

Everyone knows that transitions are not usually easy but they are essential. Where I’m from, youth ministry stops over summer, with the exception of a beach mission trip. We even take a break from church services during the peak of the summer months, which coincide with public holidays. Maybe that is why summer seems like such a transitional time, a chance to get above the clouds and view things from above. Which is probably why I’m thinking about it now, at 30,000ft.

From up here in the clouds, I can see the broader currents shifting the harbor that seemed still like glass when I drove past it on my way to the airport. Up here, I can see the storm cloud out to the west, being pushed inland from the mountain range it formed over. In transition, I see how the landscape is shifting.

Enjoy the change in the view. Even if the view is still busy, fast-paced and with changing faces and circumstances – savor the chance to see things differently.

By the time you get to the end of summer, students you’ve known for years will have grown another foot, moved into new grades at school or left school altogether. Transitions. You may even be thinking about transitions of your own. Change is constant, but change can be as good as a holiday. It’s when we resist transition and change that it can start to feel like swimming upstream.



Regaining Your Focus


focus-30-hour-famineBy John Sorrell

A while back I was sitting in a mall waiting for a friend, and decided to do some people watching. I was drawn to this lady walking toward a fountain intensely texting. I have no idea who she was writing, but I am thankful that I was not on the receiving end the textual onslaught she was laying down. What intrigued me was that she was walking straight toward this large fountain in the middle of the mall. I had to see whether she was going to notice it or not. I had to see if she was going to walk right into this fountain in the middle of a mall on a Tuesday afternoon.

She kept walking toward the fountain and furiously texting. At the last step, you know the step right before she would have half kicked the side and been off balance enough to take the splash, she noticed the water, and–bending forward while planting her feet kind of like a jack knife–she saved herself from the dive.  I was disappointed and quickly had to hide that I was watching every step while she looked around trying to see if there were any witnesses.

Then she gained composure and turned toward me to walk around the water display. That was when I saw her shirt and couldn’t help from truly laughing out loud. In huge writing across the front of her shirt was one word, “Focus!” The irony was amazing. It may be simplistic, but if you think about it the implications are immense.

We all can get focused on certain things at the wrong time. Hey, even a few of us have been that girl or guy who have walked into a sign, glass door or fountain because we were focused on our devices, or something else much more minor than where our focus should be.

This summer I’ve had an opportunity to be on sabbatical for several weeks. This has been a unique opportunity to re-focus on why I do what I do. I’m reflecting on the “why” behind my love for things like mission trips, camps, hangout times with teenagers and everything else that comes with summer (things I’m missing this summer!). The reasons we do student ministry vary in their complexity and intersect in their simplicity. My hope and encouragement is that you are able stop and refocus, if needed.

If you find yourself distracted, for whatever reason, and losing steam or feeling wiped out, take some time and refocus on why you do this. If you have been so focused on the logistics and haven’t had time to pray over how God is going to move, refocus your time and your prayers. Maybe it’s the opposite and you’ve prayed and prayed and need to focus on the details and preparation more this time around. It could be some quality time with your family or personal reflection time to help recognize areas of our life that need more attention.

Let’s make sure we are working to focus on the important things, instead of just wearing the t-shirt.

Who Will We Be in a Year?



By Emily Capes


Every action we make affects others.

One action.

Positive or negative.

It’s pretty mind blowing if you think about it!

I’ve been serving at a new church this year and it’s been a harder transition for me then I have ever experienced. Their previous youth minister was with them for eight years. It seems like they don’t want changes. It feels like they are trying to keep me and other adults at a distance. Don’t want to answer questions. Many inside jokes. Great youth. Just…aloof.

Anyone else ever feel this way?

I’ve been wondering how my actions and words will affect them? Who will we be in another year?

Also, how do I invite these teenagers to realize the impact of their actions as well?

Honestly, I’m still working on all of this.

I don’t have it all figured out.

I’m following my gut. I’m inviting current and new adults into authentic relationship with our youth. I’m attempting to listen well, pray for their families, notice their hope, try to see them as a child of God and of course, to laugh with them.

I’m also realizing that I am learning. New ways to try to do youth ministry. I’ve gone to new ministry sites that have absolutely blessed me! I’m attempting to learn more about their community and culture. Learning so much.

Every action.

It goes both ways.

Can’t wait to see who we are as a group in a year!

Awakening a Hunger for God



By Matt Andrews

As youth workers, it’s our job to make kids lose their appetite!  I feel a slight pang of guilt when I think about the food hazings I’ve been a part of as a youth worker (a very slight pang).  I’ve watched kids eat bananas through pantyhose, and prayed for their immune systems while they ate gummy worms pulled from a vat of chocolate pudding by another kid’s stinky toes.  I’m even old enough to remember the “gallon challenge,” which starts in an attempt to chug a gallon of milk but always ends in (or near, or all around) a large trash can (it’s probably for the best that the gallon challenge has been deemed unsafe).

I love grossing out teenagers probably because I learned from the best.  I remember when my youth pastors (John and Lori) put on a “utensil-less meal” for us when I was in high school.  We didn’t know what would be served, but we agreed in advance to eat whatever it was with our bare hands.  When I told my mom what we were going to do at youth group that night she scowled, and that made me want to do it even more!  The meal was a ton of fun, but the highlight of the evening came after the “appetizer” (pudding or something) when Lori said dinner was jusssssssst about ready, as John emerged from the church kitchen in a muscle shirt with a dirty apron on, smashing raw hamburger meat in his armpit.  “I’ve got all the patties ready!” he proclaimed.

We get to gross them out, and we also get to awaken their hunger for God.  Working with teens is often about contradictions-maybe because they’re not supposed to act like kids anymore, but they’re not supposed to act like grownups yet, either.  It’s our job to make them lose their appetite, and also our job to help them find it.  My youth pastor, John, did make hamburgers in his armpit, but he also hauled me to Mexico for my first experience in service and ministry outside the U.S.  Because of him, I went from taking my faith quietly for granted, to being asked to talk about it publicly in another country with the help of a translator- an event I had no idea I would repeat again-and-again in adulthood.  More importantly, by taking me on that trip and investing in me, John and Lori sparked my awareness of a hunger I didn’t know I had.  It took some time for my teenage brain to interpret, but eventually I understood that it was time to stop relying on adults to feed me spirituality, and time for me to take some of that responsibility on myself.

30 Hour Famine is a fantastic opportunity for your group to focus on the hunger of others- but also on their own spiritual hunger.  The next time (or the first time) you hold a Famine event, don’t miss the chance to engage in yet another great contradiction: addressing their spiritual hunger at the same time you’re depriving them of food!

5 Tips for Surviving Summer


By Chris Luper

surviving-summerLeaning into the pinnacle of summer, how is it with your soul? It’s a question I seem to find myself asking on a daily basis during this time of year: “How is it with my soul?” If your youth ministry is anything like the one I serve, the busyness of summer makes the “holiday season” – Thanksgiving and Christmas – look like a vacation.

Over the course of this summer, I’ll find myself attending at least one conference, a high school mission trip, a middle school mission trip, and a week long beach retreat for 6th – 12th graders. Of course, this is not even taking into account the week-to-week interaction I will have with students. Add my personal life on top of this (family vacations, yard work, etc.), being a full-time daddy of a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, as well as devoting time to my beautiful and amazing wife. Talk about the potential for burnout!

If you read no further into this post, hear these words: Thank you for everything that you’re doing to build up the Kingdom of God. I know from experience that you are pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into the lives of your students and so I say “Thank you!”

I’m very fortunate in my ministry setting to get to interact with lots of other student ministers. Having come to that point in my career where I’m no longer the youngest one in the room, I’m always happy to share some of the wisdom that I’ve accrued. So here’s my advice for your summer: Healthy ministry only occurs when you are healthy; but how do you accomplish this? Hear are my top five ways to survive a youth ministry summer:

1. No matter how busy you are, take time for a Personal Sabbath. Take time weekly to rest and recharge and if you can, squeeze in some kind of vacation.

2. No matter how busy you are, take time for a Spiritual Sabbath. As you pour your love for Christ into others all summer long, you have to take time to fill your own cup. Take the time to pray and worship for yourself.

3. Commit to an accountability group. We all need people in our lives that can A) relate to the season of life we are in and B) provide relevant advice based off of their own experiences.

4. Remember that summer means HUGE movie blockbusters. Treat yourself to at least one movie this summer.

5. Don’t forget why you do what you do. Spend some time just hanging out with your students this summer. You’ll be amazed at the amount of discipleship that will occur through relational ministry.

Have a great summer and remember, you are a valued and important child of God!