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The Famine Blog

The Priority of Soul Care



By Alex Ruzanic

I have a theory – in today’s culture our time is as important a commodity as money. Therefore how we spend our time speaks loudly about what and who we treasure. As youth workers we have a unique opportunity and tremendous responsibility to model a wise stewardship of our time for the students we care for and minister to. This MUST include something that I’m willing to bet many of us struggle with on a regular basis: SOUL CARE.

It doesn’t matter if you are a volunteer or paid staff, ordained or lay, full or part-time – the example you set for your students in this area can have an enormous impact on how they learn to incorporate soul care and by extension, self-care, into their everyday lives. If we want to buck the trends and see our young people still engaged in their faith 10 years down the road we MUST help them learn the importance of creating a regimen within their crammed schedules to slow down and experience God in the depths of their souls.

So I have a few questions: what are you doing today to take care of your soul? Are you substituting doing ministry for real interactions with the Holy Spirit? Do you expend the same effort on your relationship with God that you do with your significant other or best friend? Do you desire to experience the Holy Spirit in real and tangible ways?

From the creation story it is evident that we are designed to be in relationship with God. God pursues us and never stops. However the pace that we are living at in 2016 is not how I believe we were designed to live. Working 55+ hours a week, running errands in our “free” time, schlepping from event to event and taking care of life’s mundane tasks keep us busier than we should be. We have perfected the smartphone relationship – where we mistake characters in text message for meaningful interaction and reading scripture on an app for a spiritual connection. When we do this we are depriving ourselves of being connected to the One who made us and desires our presence each day. Don’t get me wrong, technology CAN be a great thing for us and for our students, but it cannot be the only thing. We must develop strategies to personally invest in our own souls in ways that will meet the longing that exists in all of us to be one with our Creator.

Properly caring for your soul is all about living in a place of abundance and not deprivation. Some ways to do this are carving out dedicated time, reading, having conversations, sitting in silence, praying in new ways, resting, and most importantly engaging in God’s presence to hear his Spirit speaking into your soul which is at the core of your spiritual life. When we don’t slow down and nurture our souls we grow dry, tired and frustrated. There is not a one size fits all solution – everyone has different needs and different constraints on their time. What a single person can do versus what a married person with multiple children can do is different and both are okay. Whether you meet with someone one on one take time out to pray and sit in solitude, or try a directed prayer time – if you stick to it the trajectory of your spirit life WILL change. When you invite God into your soul in new ways things will happen, that you can count on.

I encourage to you find a spiritual director or a mentor. This should be someone a bit further down the path than you are and who is at a place where you desire to be as well.  A place of peace and true joy. Search for someone who exudes authenticity in their journey with God – remember nobody’s road is free of struggle but how they deal with the hard times is what should draw you to them. Be honest and ask them to help you in this process, it’s that simple. There is no magic or science, don’t make it harder than it has to be.

Spending time to allow your soul feel to rested and restored so that God can transform you will also transform your students and ministry.  When you care for yourself you will be equipped to care for others in healthier and deeper ways. You will find renewed energy to get through tough times and soar in good times. The first step is always the hardest – we can always find ways to avoid self-care because it can be intimidating to open ourselves up to God in ways that make us feel vulnerable. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to find a way to enter this journey, to begin a process of SOUL CARE in your life.

The Meaning of Fruitfulness



By Russ Polsgrove

When the Senior Pastor at my church asks us to turn to a passage in a meeting, we sometimes interrupt him.

“Let me guess….John 15?!?”

Because we talk about that passage ALL THE TIME in our church. It’s on the walls, our website, even the concrete floor underneath the stage has that passage written on it. It’s a reminder of what our church cares about, and how we’re called to live in our community. Jesus is talking to his disciples in this chapter, and issues a command in verse 5.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing…

As much as we love that passage, it’s easy to misread it. And youth workers are notorious mis-readers of this passage. Because there IS a command in there, but it’s not what we remember it to be.

We think the command is to be fruitful. Fruitfulness can be defined in lots of different ways. A teenage girl who’s been involved in youth ministry for four years finally coming to faith is fruit. A student confessing to you he’s kicked a destructive habit is fruit. A group of middle schoolers who voluntarily give their time to serve at the downtown food pantry is fruit.

Fruit is good, but it’s not the command. The command is to “remain in me,” and fruitfulness spills from that.

Too often, youth workers have too much to do. On top of the Wednesday-Sunday grind, there are trips to plan, parents to counsel, and basketball games to attend. We do all this because we love it; but all this work is an effort to produce fruit. We do this work because we hope a light will turn on in more teenagers’ heads so they will be participants in the kingdom of God. Even if we don’t count baptism numbers or conversions, the metric by which we judge ourselves is fruitfulness in our ministries.

But Jesus doesn’t ask for us to strive towards fruitfulness. He asks us to do one simple thing.

Remain in me.

We are not commanded to bear fruit. We are commanded to remain in Christ. The command is to cultivate relationship with Jesus, so that any fruit that grows is borne out of that relationship. Out of the overflow of our “remaining” is where the best fruit springs forth. Jesus simply asks us to stay connected to him.

This means reading scripture for our own sake, and not to prepare a lesson. This means travel to the lake on our own time, and not just to take our group on a weekend retreat. This means praying from the comfort of your own couch, rather than blessing the pizza that came before worship. This means making space for silence, for reflection, for honest conversation with God about your hopes and dreams and failures. The saddest irony about youth workers is we all got in this work because of an encounter we had with Jesus, then we often neglect further encounters with Jesus in order to facilitate those encounters for the students we serve.

This isn’t new. Many of you have read a post like this before, or thought about this before, and the grind is just too much for you to stop and consider what to do. So pull out your calendar right now, identify a time this week for you to knock off, turn your phone on silent, and just remain.

This isn’t a request from Jesus. It’s a command.

Our Role In Drawing Out The Fish and Loaves From Our Students



By Bobby Benavides

The Feeding of the Five Thousand has always been a great teaching tool about God’s provision.

We’ve all heard the story many times from John 6 of the young boy coming with his tiny lunch, and Jesus using what was given to feed a multitude of people. Such a small amount of food, but God was able to multiply it to provide sustenance for the large crowd of five thousand plus.

The story is definitely one that demonstrates Christ’s great power and love for His people.

Yet, I think there’s something we can gain from the story that provides guidance and encouragement for our role as youth workers and mentors.

After seeing the large crowd, Jesus asked his disciples how the people were going to eat. Then we find this interaction:

[Jesus] asked this only to test [Philip], for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there).

I think by asking his disciples, but having a plan in place, Jesus shows a sense of humor (at least for me). But the important piece we have to acknowledge is, “He himself knew what he was intending to do.” That means Jesus knew exactly by what means he was going to provide a meal for the entire group of people. He was waiting for the right time to reveal his plan of action.

Jesus knew he was going to use a young boy the entire time. He knew he was going to multiply a small lunch into something greater, and it would make an impact on the lives of many.

What does this have to do with our role as leaders and mentors in the lives of our students?

Look who pointed out the kid’s lunch! It wasn’t Jesus, but one of his disciples, Andrew! Andrew saw what the kid had and brought it to Jesus’ attention. Although Jesus already knew what the kid was carrying, he wanted Andrew to share it with him.

Not only that, but I believe the boy needed Andrew to show him that he had something worthwhile to offer. No matter how small the lunch was, it was still worth something and Jesus could use it to influence a community of people.

The role of the youth leader is to help our young people discover what they have. We are to help them discover what kind of lunch they are holding and help them offer it to Christ in order for him to use it for his glory.

Jesus knows what our kids hold inside. Sometimes we can also see what gifts they have. Perhaps if we went to Jesus with the gifts we see in our kids, and allow him to do the work, we might see more young people rising to leadership and service within the church because they discover that they have something to offer!

What if our young people had more Andrews in their lives? What if they had more people pointing out their lunches and offering them up to Jesus? What if more youth were told that even the smallest gift can be used by God to change a community?

5,000+ people were fed that day from a young boy’s lunch. Andrew showed the community that a boy could provide something that could keep them going. Christ used what Andrew revealed and the gift of the boy, to open the eyes of a large group, and demonstrate his power in their lives.

May we help our young people discover their gifts. May we lift their gifts up to Jesus and allow him to use them for his glory.

Leading Events Without Losing Your Mind



By Meg Nelson

Whether it’s the 30 Hour Famine or any event, it’s easy to go a little bonkers when you’re at the helm for hours on end.  Self-care is crucial to leading successful events; something often overlooked.

The heart of the matter – Taking care of your heart, body & soul

As new mom I’ve learned a new level of meaning for the term “hangry.”  I’m reevaluating these new rhythms of life to ensure I’m fueled for my roles as wife, mom, and ministry leader.  Sometimes I wonder how I might have been able to better respond to challenges during past events if I had taken better care of myself.

Call out prayer warriors. You might already have the event on your church prayer list, but seek out some people who can dedicate time to pray for you specifically.

Rearrange some of your daily schedules in the days leading up to and following an event, creating room for yourself to rest and reflect.  Add some times with people who may give you encouragement, but avoid extra appointments and projects if possible.

Properly fuel your body.  There was a time where I brought Diet Mountain Dew, Goldfish, and Twizzlers for an all-nighter.  With all the “on the go” foods that surround us in ministry, seek out options that are protein filled and include good carbs to avoid a crash.  If you’re leading a 30 Hour Famine, consider not fasting at the same time your students are (fast for 30 hours earlier that week, so you can still stand in solidarity with your students).  I was honest with my students about the fact that I had nutrition shakes in my coffee mug, and would have a granola bar on my breaks.  It was for everyone’s best interest that I stay fueled up, and they supported this choice.  You need to be at your best to respond to anything that comes up.  If you aren’t eating well, you might not be at your best when your community needs you to be.

Schedule Breaks for yourself.  This can be tricky, but be creative to make windows of time where you can take 10 minutes occasionally to pause, pray, and take inventory of how things are going.  When we do, it allows us the chance to consider the way God is at work in what’s taking place.

Event Planning 101

The following tips seem like common sense, but have significant implications for reducing stress.  They can help you keep things in perspective as you look for how God is working.

The sooner you start prep, the better. It seems obvious, but is easier said than done.  So many things that seem more urgent creep in.  Even if it’s just one small piece of planning at a time, you’ll be in better shape as the week of the event approaches to handle any new monkey wrenches that come your way.

Use pre-existing resources. There’s no need to recreate the wheel if you don’t have the means to make it happen.  Talk to other youth workers about sharing resources.  When it comes to the 30 Hour Famine, they provide great materials! Even though my groups typically didn’t use the whole program, the Scripture passages provided were our guide for the weekend.  The Internet can be a helpful tool.  Just be sure any resources you use are clearly stated as being free resources for the taking.

Widen your team. I had some parents and team members sit me down at my last church to let me know that while our 30 Hour Famine events were going fine, they believed it could be so much better.  They were right.  They helped me reach out to more people in our church to get new faces and new energy into this long time tradition.  We sought out our Sunday School teachers from other age groups, deacons, and “retired” youth volunteers.  No matter the role, it was amazing what happened when we got more of the church community to rally around our event!

Investing in our physical and spiritual health prepares us to respond to whatever may arise.

Taking practical steps to lighten the workload allows us to be more present to witness how God’s Spirit is moving.

Blessed event planning everyone!

Ministry and the Art of Saying No



By Andrew Esqueda

I am a self-admitted hyper extrovert. I am also a youth minister who suffers from severe FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), and according to Buzzfeed, I suffer from “debilitating FOMO.” It is debilitating to the point that it inhibits my existence. Now, on a social spectrum this really isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it’s something that my wife and friends often joke about. I want to be at the party, and the life of it; I want to say yes to every invite and invite everyone; I want to be there, here, and everywhere. I like people, I tend to think that people like me, and I get energy from fostering current relationships and building new ones.

This is also something that makes me pretty good at my job. As a youth minister, meeting new students, parents and congregants, is just simple and easy for me. I don’t have to prepare for any of it—it just kinda happens.

Although my social prowess is often a huge asset it is equally my biggest downfall; this is where the real debilitating part comes in. I have an aversion to saying “no.” It’s not just a dislike, but more like an allergy. My friends that are gluten intolerant or allergic to dairy or nuts have a physiological reaction to the introduction of those foods into their bodies—in layman’s terms, their bodies just get wrecked when they encounter those foods. That’s how I feel when I am faced with the decision to say “no.”

Here’s the double-edged sword though: when I say “yes,” there’s no cessation of the debilitation. My so-called allergic reaction to saying “no” doesn’t cease after I’ve said “yes.” In my own life, it’s so easy to think of saying “yes” to the many opportunities, events, relationships, committees and boards, as the epi-pen to my allergy, when in fact it is simply the exacerbation of it. Ministers in general, and youth ministers in particular (even more so if you’re part-time or a volunteer), are often taken advantage of and, in turn, we often take advantage of our own well being, the well being of our families, of our mental and spiritual stability, and of our whole selves as created beings.

You hear people say things like this all the time. It’s so much easier said than done. My goal this year is to practice the art of saying “no.” As a youth minister I understand the over-programmed nature of the life of a teen; I understand that it is not healthy, that it is debilitating. It’s time that those ministering to these students start setting better examples.

I wholeheartedly believe that students will thrive when they have time to simply “be,” but for some reason we don’t believe that same thing about our youth ministries or ourselves. So, maybe this is the year: maybe this is the year where I, and we decide it’s time to give ourselves permission to say “no,” to simply be, and to watch ourselves, our families, our minds, our hearts, and our ministries thrive.

The Power of Partnership



By Andrea Sawtelle

Several years ago, my husband announced at youth group that he had decided to train for a half-marathon as his New Year’s resolution. Normally, I would have applauded that endeavor. However, he also announced that I would be training and running with him. At first, I told him there was no way I was signing up to run with him. It was way too big of a task and the amount of energy and work that would need to go into training…I just wasn’t interested. Nevertheless, after a little persuasion, I said yes, we dragged a friend into our plan, and the three of us trained and completed that half marathon 5 months later. There is power in partnering together.

When it comes to completing a task that seems too much to pull off ourselves, our tendency can be to just not do it. The 30 Hour Famine can be one of those tasks. We look at the amount of time it takes to run the event, the planning, the preparation, the long hours, and we think, “there’s no way I can do that.” What I’ve learned over the past 10 years of participating in the Famine is that there is power in partnership. We are better together.

For the past several years, we have partnered with another local church in the area to run our 30 Hour Famine event. Here are just a few of the benefits.

Partnering Provides New Ideas: It’s easy for us to do things the same way we have always done them. When we partner with another youth pastor or leader, our pool of ideas increases. We are able to generate new concepts and create life changing elements within our event that we may not have thought about on our own.

Partnering Creates Excitement: Our teenagers are crazy busy all the time. Sometimes we plan events and only have a handful of people show up. When we bring two youth ministries together, a sense of excitement takes over. Whether there are 10 or 100 present, there is a sense of excitement as new friendships are established, experiences are shared together, and memories are created.

Partnering Relieves Stress: Let’s be honest, running major events alone can be exhausting. When you enter into a partnership, responsibilities are shared and the stress load is lessened. As you divide the tasks out, there is a greater chance of leaders being able to focus on areas where they feel more gifted to lead.

Partnership Allows For Participation: Smaller churches often lack the resources to do an event like the Famine well. Whether it’s money, adult volunteers, or building space, sharing resources allow for smaller churches to participate and reminds larger churches of the call to share what they have been given. In the end, each feels like they have contributed in a significant way.

Partnering Has a Greater Impact: Whether you are raising funds for the Famine, inviting teenagers who don’t know Christ to be a part of your event, or aiming to help people understand God’s mission for the church, we are more impactful when we come together. Sharing our resources, our stories, and our time has the potential to impact God’s Kingdom in ways we could have never imagined on our own.

The task of running an event like the Famine can be overwhelming if you go at it alone. You may even be tempted to not do it at all. Don’t fall into that mindset. Develop a partnership and choose to be better together. You never know the kind of kingdom impact you may have.

Goose Pimples



By Joel Dunn

When was the last time you were truly inspired? I mean in like a “Wow…I have goose pimples” kind of way? (Yes, goose pimples.)

I ask that question a lot in ministry because I know I tend to always be pointing people to inspiration; but I rarely take time personally to be inspired. Going into a 30 Hour Famine is inspiring, but can be draining with all of the prep work involved. I will promise this though: at the end of your 30 Hour Famine you will truly experience something inspirational with your group.

But before your 30 Hour Famine I want to invite you (not challenge you, because you already have enough challenges on your plate) to go visit somewhere new. Seek inspiration by going somewhere you haven’t been before: like a new restaurant, or an art gallery, or a hipster coffee shop, or a mountain trail, or laser tag (without students!).

It is amazing what visiting a different part of your city or state can do for one’s soul as preparation before a 30 Hour Famine. It is a reminder that inspiration is constantly around us. So Go Explore! Be inspired! And remind yourself what Goose Pimples (ok, goose bumps, for those of you who insist on that) feel like.

Vision: Do You See What I See?



By Mike Cunningham

Vision Leaks. Like a leaky faucet. It’s a slow drip: and when you focus on the drops hitting the ground, it can quickly lead to insanity. When is someone going to shut that off? Can someone please fix it? I cannot take it anymore!

Okay, I am being a little overdramatic, but not by much. Getting others to catch a vision and then motivating them to live it out is difficult. I read something the other day about vision and leadership and the author made the point that, as leaders, we need to get comfortable with sounding like a broken record. The former disc jockey in me thought to myself, “That sounds awful.” Why would I want to torture anyone with that noise.

The truth is when we get to a point of sounding like a broken record in our vision casting, it’s about the same time that people are just beginning to understand the vision. Vision takes time, it takes grace, it takes stepping into the unknown. Vision is simply, “The ability to see what could be, followed by the conviction that it should be.”

Our youth group has so many talented kids with so much potential to change our city. Here is what we are going to do to bring that to reality.

My family dynamic is messed up, but if we learn to love each other firs,t it could change everythin;g and here’s what must take place to make that happen.

My marriage could be so much healthier if I began to make it more about my spouse than myself. I have to make some changes.

As leaders, we tend to see the vision and we are convicted to do something about it. But what about our students? What about the people we lead week in and week out? What if they have trouble seeing what you see? What if they lack conviction — not because they are less passionate than us, but because they cannot see what we see yet.

One of our main responsibilities is to help raise the awareness of what God is already doing in our midst. God is already up to something and it’s our role to help our students see that and respond. The reality is it’s hard for us to raise other people’s awareness levels if we lack awareness in our own life.

How would you answer this question: “What is God currently inviting me to do and what am I doing about it?” If you cannot answer that question, you lack awareness.

30 Hour Famine is a vision. Go hungry to help hungry kids. That’s simple and practical. It helps us and our students see the most basic of human needs. It raises our awareness. It helps us see a picture of what could be. All we need to ask ourselves is, “Do we have the conviction that things shouldn’t be the way they are?” Could we help hungry kids get food? Absolutely. Should we help hungry kids get food? How you respond is connected to vision.

Nurturing (and Keeping) Volunteers



By Britt Martin

When I first started in youth ministry in rural Georgia as a college student, the last thing that was on my mind was small groups. The associate pastor continually stressed the importance “getting more adults involved in youth ministry.” In my young (and in hindsight, egotistical) mind, this meant that I should bring more adults into the room to hear my awesome lessons. “They’d probably get a lot out of hearing me, too,” I’d reason with myself.

It never made sense to me why I couldn’t keep volunteers in the room long term. They all seemed to stick around for a few weeks and then find something better to do. I’m sure you are much more humble, down to earth, and in tune to the rhythms of people than I was back in the day; but here are some things I’ve learned about keeping adult volunteers plugged in to youth ministry:

Everyone wants to be wanted. Chances are, a valuable adult volunteer with a real life, family, job, and responsibilities doesn’t want to sit in the back of the room every week and hear an awesome lesson taught to some teens. (I wish someone had told me that). Give your volunteers a job to do. Heck, give them a job description: the more specific the better. Maybe even take a chance to meet up with them for some formal or informal training. They’ll know you need them and you mean business. Give them a reason to show up.

Small groups have a BIG impact. A great way to keep volunteers plugged in is by implementing small groups. Even if there’s only a hand full of students in your group at the moment, every student can benefit from another adult relationship in his or her life.

One easy way to begin to think about employing small groups is to shorten your lesson a bit , write a couple discussion questions, and break out into groups after the lesson to discuss more in depth. Break the groups into guys and girls, and even split up ages if necessary. This gives adults a long-term relational role in the lives of your students. I’ve had more people fall in love with youth ministry through leading a small group than any other way. They invest in the lives of the kids and they keep coming back.

Say thank you. Next to not feeling needed, I’ve had more volunteers leave our team over the years because they didn’t feel appreciated. Today, at our church, we invest a significant portion of our ministry budget into our volunteers. Whether it’s training or appreciation, you can never invest too much into your volunteers.  We do everything from big thank-yous (like a volunteer appreciation dinner where we give them gifts and let students serve them) to small thank-yous (like making sure we take the Keurig and some awesome coffee just for them on retreats).

ASK! This one was the toughest one for me. I remember always going to my pastor and complaining about not being able to find volunteers. I’d created job descriptions. I had a good plan. I couldn’t wait to appreciate them and tell them thank you, but I couldn’t find any people!  I’d put it in the bulletin. I’d made announcements from the pulpit. I’d done it all. Here’s the secret sauce to recruiting volunteers. People want to be asked. It can be a scary or feel presumptuous to step up and declare that you are qualified to work with teenagers. Many people won’t respond to announcement-style recruitment (and often if they do, they’re not who you want). If you see someone that you feel would be a good fit with your youth ministry, ask him or her directly. It sounds so simple because it is.

Use these as guidelines and before you know it you’ll have an incredible volunteer team building awesome relational momentum in your ministry.

Getting Past Church Language



By Kathy Jackson

Yesterday, I made a decision to write a blog entry for the 30 Hour Famine. When I started praying about what I had to offer, God presented me with several things. Being human, I forgot several of the things he offered me.  I discovered that I am going to have to write things down so that I can remember what he has shown me.

So, tonight while sitting at our family dinner my “adopted” son and our German exchange student were talking about their day at school. Our son was telling a story about how sad he thought it was that some students in his group were in a discussion about some things that he thought should just be common knowledge to everyone. The question came up in this group “who chopped down the cherry tree?” (Even though we know this is a false part of history, everyone knows the answer). Every other student in his group said “Abe Lincoln”. He was shocked! He knew that story was attributed to George Washington.  The other students were sure of their answer because Lincoln was known as “Honest Abe.”  They thought the quote “I cannot tell a lie” was Lincoln’s also. He just didn’t understand how these students didn’t know this—wasn’t it common knowledge?

As we continued our conversation I wondered if we as youth leaders allow misconceptions of our faith to continue unnoticed. Do our students really understand our “church” language? Do they really understand God’s grace? What about mercy? And do they really understand Jesus’ call to love one another? We use these words and think they are common knowledge in our church and youth groups. But do they really understand?  Unfortunately, in many schools today, our students are taught to memorize and take a test. Is this what we are expecting our students to do? Memorize and not practice?

How do we show our students that God’s love, mercy, and grace are ours? I believe one way is living in community during mission trips. When living out our lives with our students in community, we can show this to them in all places.  We must be intentional in pointing out where we see it, offer it, use it.  We must also ask our students to do the same. As we come together at the end of the day, we always ask “Where did you see God today?” or “How did God use you today?”, or “Did you see God’s Love, mercy, or grace in someone else, today” If we are constantly asking and confirming in our student’s what they see and what we see in our everyday lives, it becomes second nature for them to recognize that God’s love, grace, and mercy are at work all the time.

I believe that as youth leaders, we are called to live this out with our students—to embed in them a deep-seated desire to see God things in all of life not just in youth group or church on Sunday mornings.