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The Famine Blog

Just Give Up



By Travis Hill

As I sit here, 7 days out from summer camp, many of you know what’s going on in my life. Phone calls, texts, emails, camp payments, transportation contracts, registrations, reminders, parent meetings, “Can my 15 year old girl bring a bikini?”, and more.

This is just summer camp.

The constant barrage of issues that arise daily at work are only tacked onto the issues arising at home. And honestly, I am overwhelmed. I pride myself in being pretty spot on when it comes to work/life balance; but this time of year, that’s thrown entirely out of whack. During those long days, the frustrations I feel from lack of parent involvement, the 13th email I have replied to today telling someone the exact same thing I wrote in an email earlier this week, the lists, MinistrySafe trainings and more, I must remember that I am not the center of it all.

I must rely on others. I must push myself out of the way to let others grow and lead. I must set aside my own pride so that people can become movers and shakers. I am but one person, not the be-all-end-all of the student ministry I call mine. How can we be true agents of change without changing ourselves, without changing the ways that we interact in groups, leadership circles, and with our peers?

I know you are busy, so this is short. So to you (and me), exceptionally busy youth worker with too much to do and too little time to do it: give it up. Give up the fight, the fight of your self. And give into the temptation to give some of this away. There are parents and leaders and even students who are willing to help you in this process. Give them the authority, leadership, and power to do incredible things.

Psalm 91:1

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

Taking Care of Self and Family During the Summer



By Jake Kircher

With summer upon us, you are no doubt in the midst of finalizing your summer ministry schedule. Between Vacation Bible School programs, camps, mission trips and other fun outings summer can be a very fulfilling and fun time as we connect with the teens in our ministries. But that also means that this season can have times where there is extra burden on our families.

Over my fifteen years in ministry, I’ve learned (unfortunately the hard way some years) to make sure I am keeping my family in mind when planning the summer schedule. This has only gotten more important as our family has grown.  Here are a handful of the tips and tricks I have picked up along the way:

1. When it comes to vacation time, TAKE IT! Early in my career, even when I was single, I almost fought against taking any vacations. I was part time in my ministry position with a small volunteer team, so me being away usually meant youth group being canceled. My Messiah Complex said that if I canceled youth group, it would mean some kids didn’t get to hear about Jesus that week, and that was just unacceptable.

I came to realize, after hitting a massive burnout that almost left my then new marriage in shambles, that I just couldn’t keep up that kind of pace and that it was crucial for me to make sure I had vacation time to rejuvenate my own soul, which only benefitted my ministry. Whatever your church (or other job!) gives you for vacation time (and if you don’t have any, that’s a whole other issue…), take it, enjoy it and know that by doing so you are investing in your teens.

2. Save some of your creative energy for your significant relationships. From dating to marriage, my significant other has had numerous times in my career where she has told me she was feeling neglected and jealous in comparison to my ministry. I’d spend hours researching and planning super fun outings or events that would give teens a great time but when it came to my family, it was the same old same old. Or, more frankly, my friends and family simply came second. I’d hear about some cool concert coming to our area and I’d immediately think it would be a cool ministry event, rather than going with friends or family.

Make sure that this summer you plan a few outings and fun things just for you to enjoy with your friends or family. Not only is it good for you to enjoy things outside of church and ministry time, your friends and family will greatly appreciate the effort as well.

3. As your family grows, be prepared to reevaluate your summer schedule. Specifically, those of you who are in the young family stage of life, it is so important to understand that season for what it is and be prepared to change your expectations for your ministry schedule as needed. There is tremendous pressure on our spouses when we’re gone for extended periods of time; and it’s important to understand that parenthood can bring other challenges in to the mix. For many of you, it may not be realistic to do as much as you did in the summer prior to having kids. For me, I ran two different mission trips each summer prior to having kids; and when our son was born, I knew I had to scale back to only one trip since we don’t have any extended family in the area. Whatever your situation may be, it’s important that you talk to rour spouse and be open to scaling back or doing what’s needed to make sure your family is taken care of in the midst of a busy summer schedule.

It can be hard to prioritize our personal lives at times amidst the demands of ministry. But in the long run, investing in our spouses, kids, friendships, and ultimately ourselves, will make for more effective and healthier ministry as we model Sabbath and balance to the teens we work with.

Four Cheers for Summer



By Sean Garner

Easter marks the splash — like a rock in the water — starting ripples that expand into what will come. Like a shadow moving slowly across the ground it stretches toward us. Your ministry ebbs, flows, shrinks and grows in different ways than at other times of the year in the post-Easter youth ministry world. And, then, like a light switch getting tripped: summer time!

Memorial Day weekend and its partner, Labor Day weekend, are twins that stand guard over a frenetic stretch of picnics, vacations, concerts, camps and mission trips that can radically change lives. Like children that charge out of a school bus on the last day of school, church people (especially teenagers) pour out into the world with the hope of bringing change (through mission, ministry and more) and are consistently surprised when THEY are the ones who are changed.

Here are four summer cheers to encourage you along the way.

Find the TIME: While they try to sell us on Daylight Savings Time, we know that the clock really changes during the summer. When the days lengthen – the world changes. Each day at a camp, on mission trips or at a Christian music festival can equal to a month of sporadic ministry at your church or youth ministry. Time with your team and the teens you serve multiply during the summer.

A summer challenge for you: Open your regular calendar to an expansion of experience during the summer. Don’t be afraid to throw away your watch and settle in for longer days of ministry.

Find your Focus: Like fasting and other spiritual disciplines, the adventures of summer offer a unique focus to your ministry and to you. Suddenly (in the midst of these events) you are more aware of WHAT God is doing, the people you serve are more receptive WHEN God moves, and everyone can see HOW God moves. The brighter sun brings short-term opportunities of focus to everyone as they soak up every moment.

A summer challenge for youRevel in the unique focus you receive during the summer, don’t be afraid to put your spiritual “antenna” up and hear what God is saying. Then write it down so you don’t forget it.

Find your FAMINE: As we head out into the world, expanding our horizons guided by our GPS, the problems of the world show up where the map ends. Blown tires on vans, sunburnt skin, tired nights on uncomfortable floors, sparse electric outlets, limited food and a life outdoors where insects reign make the idea of poverty become a reality. In addition, we often add opportunities to serve those truly in need. To people who live in such comfort and ease, this finally matches the stories we share at the 30 Hour Famine.

A summer challenge for you: Make the connection to the Famine during the summer. Don’t be afraid to be a mirror – reflecting their eyes back once again to the poorest of the poor.

Find your FAMILY: Summer provides the unique opportunity to allow for life-long memories with spouses, children and extended family that will carry them through the rest of the year. Life in ministry is not meant to be a death sentence, and you are in many ways accountable to God for serving others AND your family — not either/or. People matter to God; and…um…you are a “people.”

A summer challenge for you: In the midst of all your summer plans, prioritize your family above all. No excuses, no delays. Let God provide simple moments of love for you. Pull your calendar out NOW and make those plans.

May your sunburn hurt, your insect bites itch, your muscles be sore and your heart be opened this summer through all God does in and through you.

Breaking Free of Being a Spectator-Leader


Breaking Free

By Brien Bell

The last few weeks at my church’s middle school youth program, I’ve found myself in an odd position.

It’s nearing the end of the school year. Our weekly meetings will be ending for the summer the middle of next month. Our eighth graders are getting ready to move on, and a new group of kids will join us for our end-of-term and summer events.

In all this, I’ve felt like a bit of an outsider looking in, and I can’t put a precise finger on why.

I’ve fallen into a kind of volunteer voyeurism, where I’m more interested in watching what’s going on around me than actually being a part of it. The games aren’t a fun outlet. The songs aren’t a means to refocus. The messages aren’t clicking like they had earlier in the year. I’m no longer a leader – I’m an observer. And the youth I mentor didn’t come to spend time with that version of me. And that’s when I start feeling like I’m just taking up space.

It’s not the first time I’ve felt this way as a youth mentor. Usually it happens during stressful periods – whether factors at home or within the group itself – and gradually fades as things calm down. Sometimes, however, the feeling festers, and I’m left in a malaise wondering whether my efforts would be better spent pursuing God’s will in other endeavors.

Then I’m reminded of a teenager’s capacity for love, especially for people they don’t know or even have anything in common with. Or I’ll be in awe of the wisdom of a 7th grader whose thoughts on something ring so true. And I’ll see the patience and grace of my fellow leaders, and remind myself that I work with some truly fantastic people who love what they do, even in the tribulations of life.

And I’m encouraged by Hebrews 12, a challenge to those feeling worn-down, exhausted, stressed, and ready to give up. I’m reminded that I’m “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,” to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” – even when it’s long, and winding, and filled with bumps. When we truly set our eyes upon Christ, then doubt and fear and are swept away in the truth of the matter: God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do. He’s already run that race for us, and He’s extended an invitation to run alongside Him.

We can either watch the race pass us by, or we can stop being a spectator, blow past life’s barricades, and run toward our students. They might be on the sidelines, like I’ve felt lately, but maybe they’ll see you running and decide they’d rather run, too.

Sending or Receiving?



By Shawn Kiger

Last week during a training event I attended, the presenter said that the church is really good at attracting but bad at sending. I have been thinking about that quote since then, and I think it is spot on.

Youth ministry is the same way. We spend lots of time thinking up ways to attract new students. What will get them in the door? 

We also spend a lot of time figuring out how to keep them. How do we follow up when they visit the first time? What do we do if they miss a few weeks? Will they come back and can I get them to bring a friend?

Don’t get me wrong, all of these things are really important. We need to be reaching out to youth who are not involved in a church. We need to think about how we can grow. But is it the most important thing?

What if I put in as much or more time into sending as I do attracting? Maybe I should be more concerned with sending my students out into the world to make a difference in Christ’s name. Instead of wondering if our youth group time was fun enough that they will want to come back next week, maybe I should be wondering if our time together was transforming in a way that they will live it out this week.

What would our youth ministries and churches look like if we were sending them out to make a difference and not worrying if they were going to come back next week? I don’t have an answer to all of those questions, but I do think it’s worth considering what sending out would look like in our churches. Maybe if we did it well enough, we would not have to worry about our ministries being attractive enough.

Terrorists, Dr. Kevorkian, and Other Ways to End Things



By Amanda Leavitt

An associate of mine loves to suggest that we “blow up” or “kill” certain older, sick, and dying ministry models. I have considered calling him a “ministry terrorist.”

I’d rather we lead these ministries into a quiet coma where they die unnoticed. I have considered calling myself “a ministry Kevorkian.” I’d be comfortable euthanizing our old, sick, and dying ministry models, and then replacing them with new ones totally unnoticed. Too bad people always notice.

One picture is a violent end while the other a peaceful deliberate exit. The intentions of both are complete termination. Both, often well intended by the ones who have arranged them, are destructive, and leave behind wounded survivors, bitter over what was taken from them.

In a conversation with some high school students about the paradoxical connections between prayer, suffering, and death, I gained perspective from one insightful student’s thoughts: “Sometimes people respond to death as though it is the worst possible thing, but it isn’t.” She was talking about the loss of people, but I think it applies generally to our expectations of life.

And while the end of anything, no matter how it leaves us, will be followed by mourning for some, the Christian reality of death is resurrection, new life, glory, and the presence of God. Perhaps that’s why my one associate finds so much joy in the thought of “killing” certain ministries, because in these “deaths“ lie the potential for new life and something gloriously filled with the presence of God.

I have become fascinated with the concept of “re- visioning.” It is a less icky mind-picture than the carnage involved in “blowing things up” or “euthanizing” them. “Re-visioning” is instead a willingness to accept that all things end while at the same time dreaming of the glorious, God filled, lively experiences to come.

The 30 Hour Famine has been going on for years. The stories written on this blog are a testament to the amazing life yielded as we “re-vision” with our ministry teams and students. In life as believers we all reflect at times and see what is aging in our lives and ministries. We are of course allowed to mourn the losses as they come, but we ought to keep in the habit of “re-visioning.” In this way God’s promises become reliable assurances to us when things age and begin to die off.

Whether you are a youth pastor, a youth leader, a parent, or a student reading here today, how are you patterning your life to allow God to “re-vision” with you through the life cycles; in your personal life? In your family life? In your walk with Him? In ministry? With your friends or coworkers? In your habits? In your hopes and dreams?

As you intentionally consider this question, meditate on these scriptures:

John 12:24
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Psalm 30:5
Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.

Finding My Worth When Attendance is Dropping Like a Rock


By Keely DeBoever

Slide1I can honestly say that I have never been very good at the numbers game when it comes to youth ministry. Maybe when I first started, I may have thought to myself, ”Is there new trick can I try to get teenagers to come back?” But, almost instantly, that felt a little too political for me, like I was trying to get their vote. I never understood the concept of “courting” certain students so that they would come, when I had plenty of other students who seemed to make the choice without any special treatment.

Due to my unwillingness to play this game, I have had to deal with more than a few “why aren’t they coming” conversations. I can even remember a conversation when I was told that “more volleyball and pizza” should do the trick! Once, one of my students picked up on the pressure I was receiving; and in that moment she ministered to me, saying “Don’t they know that our group is growing up! All they care about is if we are growing out.” She was referring to spiritual growth over numerical growth. Through her words I knew that I was doing what I was called to do.

Many of us have finally gotten to a place in our ministries where we can honestly say that numbers are not all that they are cracked up to be. But, deep down we can’t help but feel a sense of PANIC when the numbers begin to drop. So, how do we feel a sense of security in our calling, when the world seems to be measuring us by a different standard?


First, you need to understand your ministry context. I have found that over the years, I was able to learn the ebb and flow of my students and families. I know that my numbers are going to drop off in the Spring (I’m pretty sure this is not unique to my context). The weather gets nicer, school pressures increase, and I happen to be in a church where people are always on the go. Knowing this helps me mentally prepare for the dreaded spring plummet. I also try to get calendar information from my students’ parents so that I can be aware and prevent overlap with scouting trips, young life events, etc.

You’re never going to be able to make it perfect…but knowing when the big things are can help you plan for success, and not totally blame yourself for a low week when you know the reason behind it. If you haven’t been in your context that long, look for the people who have and ask for help with this. Being aware of the natural flow of ministry in your context can help you prepare for the inevitable dips in attendance and take comfort in knowing that it isn’t personal!


We have a strong tendency, as human beings, to focus on our immediate surroundings and that which we can see. When the attendance drops unexpectedly, we may have a strong urge to go into self-preservation mode, laughing awkwardly as we grasp for scenarios that might explain the present situation. We may even be tempted to ask, “Where is everybody tonight?” as we try to make sense of our disappointing reality. Those four words can be incredibly damaging to the spirit of belonging that so many of us work hard to cultivate in our groups. We may as well have said, “You who are here don’t matter much, since I’m only focused on those who aren’t here!” That feeling of failure that you may be experiencing when you look out to empty chairs, is probably also bubbling up in your students as they wonder if everyone is hanging out somewhere without them. Resist the urge to comment on your own disappointment and look at the drop in numbers as a way to connect on a deeper level with the ones who are there. Sometimes a smaller crowd can be just what those students needed!


We’ve probably all heard the saying that “people make plans and God laughs.” As youth workers, we know this to be true in so many cases. If you are going to be successful at the second point above, flexibility will be necessary. You simply cannot do the same program with six students that you had planned for twenty. You scrap things on the fly and you allow the students who are there to help drive the direction of the program. This is the moment when you rely on the relationships that you have built with your students to inform what will happen next. The Holy Spirit is a powerful thing. When we cling too tightly to our plans for success, we don’t leave room for the spirit to push us in a different (and, often better) direction.

As youth leaders, our worth should never really be determined by the attendance at all—whether our numbers are up or down. Our worth should be found in the knowledge that we are created in the image of God and that we are to bear HIS image to the world…even if to only one person at a time.







The Right Kind of Uncomfortable



By Tash McGill

Uncomfortable is ok. But you should make sure it’s the right kind of discomfort.

Remember that feeling when you do something again, you promised yourself you wouldn’t repeat? The habit you wanted to break or the situation you didn’t want to be in. Or when you’re trying to change the culture of your youth ministry by trying something new: that feeling where your gut aches, your head swims and your heart sinks.

It’s also a familiar feeling. So in a strange way, it’s kind of safe because, well – better the Devil you know, right? It’s the feeling of comfortable discomfort that feels bearable and manageable in comparison to the great unknown of Different.

The first time we try a different way of being ourselves or in our youth ministry, it doesn’t come easy.

Different doesn’t always feel better straight away. It’s easy to imagine that if you change the negative self-talk in your head or drop that habit or change that program you’ll immediately feel better and things will be better. But more often than not, doing things differently feels just as uncomfortable as before, with a little bit of fear thrown in.

So how do you forge ahead? How to do trade one sense of discomfort for another? You have to lift your eyes to the bigger picture for a second and realize that through the discomfort of doing things differently, things can become better. And that can be better than before.

Better, healthier, stronger is never a destination – it’s a journey through the discomfort of doing things differently. Of making the unknown familiar and letting the familiar become the best of who we are in every capacity.

The first time you try a different approach; to an argument with someone you love, a youth ministry gathering or ditching a bad habit – your gut might still ache and your heart might still feel heavy. But don’t focus on the feeling, focus on why you feel that way.

Beating yourself up for repeating the same old thing can turn to cheering yourself on for launching into brave new ways of being. And discomfort will pass, instead of being the feeling you’re most familiar with.

We Bend But We Do Not Break



By Brian Mateer

I recently returned from a trip to Northern Haiti where my church has been active in ministry for over 34 years. Currently, our church is involved in clean water initiatives, education, health care and micro lending to rural Haitian women. On this trip, we were checking in with several of our microcredit communities to encourage, distribute new loans and to learn more about the businesses of the loan recipients.

I was particularly interested in visiting the community of Don Don. On a previous trip to this community in October 2015, we had learned of a terrible bus accident where 26 people were killed and many more were injured while returning from a wholesale market. Three of the women involved with our loan program were killed and 10 were seriously injured. As you might expect the meeting was very somber and sad.

As we arrived at the church where our conversations would take place, much to my surprise, we were greeted with singing and dancing. We were given gifts of coconuts, bananas, and locally grown, harvested, dried and roasted coffee. The joy was contagious as I began to clap and dance along with the women. This was a big contrast to the gathering we had previously with the same women just 6 months earlier.

Several members of our group asked our translator to tell us the words they were signing. He replied, “We are the people of Don Don. We are like bamboo. We bend but we do not break. We can be cut down, but we will grow back strong.”

These words echoed through my mind through remainder of our time in Haiti, and since I have returned home. They have been an inspiration for me and have reminded me of the strength and resiliency we have to muster sometimes. I was reminded of the family of believers, near and far, where the only appropriate response is to pray for one another. Once again, I was reminded of the connectedness Christians have across oceans, borders and cultures.

Remember who you ARE and who you WERE



By Luke Lang

Youth ministry is hard.
I’ve been doing it for thirty years and it really hasn’t gotten any easier.
(encouraging, huh?)
There are still times that I just stink.
There are days when I feel like a complete failure.
There are Wednesday nights when I just want to drop the mic, walk away and get a “real” job.
True story, bro.

But I move on, I don’t give up.
Here’s the secret to showing up when you don’t want to…
I’m only really able to keep going because…I REMEMBER.
I think that a good memory is an essential survival skill if you are working with students.
Youth ministry is hard. (If it were easy, your senior pastor would be doing it.)
But, we have a powerful completely free resource at our disposal (in addition to the Holy Spirit).
It is our memory.

Remember who you ARE and who you WERE.
Remember who you ARE!
You ARE a completely loved, ridiculously unique child-friend of God.
That isn’t up for discussion or congregational vote.
Nothing or nobody can change that.
It doesn’t depend on your performance.
That is who you ARE.

There will be long days when you have to remember that over and over.
There will be testing days when who you ARE is under assault.
When people try to define you by what you DO, Remember who you ARE!
When it seems like you are giving everything and nothing is happening,
Remember who you ARE!
After a meeting with a supervisor where you are told that you need to get your “numbers” up, Remember who you ARE!
When a homeschool parent questions your faith because you said the word fart in a message, Remember who you ARE!
When you start to compare yourself to another leader who has obvious skills and success,
Remember who you ARE!
When your students do something stupid and selfish and you have to pick up the pieces,
Remember who you ARE!
When your world is rocked by the hurt of living on a broken planet,
Remember who you ARE!

AND, Remember who you WERE.
Look at your students and remember.
What were you like when you were their age?
Remember being thirteen? Sixteen?
What were your dreams, hopes, fears, doubts, insecurities?
What made your heart pound and your palms sweat?
What made you laugh out loud?
Remember who you WERE!
Remember all the confusion, doubt, anger, joy and excitement.
Remember who you WERE!
Remember the pain and the promise.
Remember when you knew everything.
Remember who you WERE!
Remember how far you have come.
Then look at your students who are acting like…well…students!
They are pushing you to the limit.
They can be such punks, all the while their parents are convinced they are perfect.
Frustrating, right?
Remember who you WERE!
Chances are that you were once a total punk too. You did stupid and selfish things.
Somebody probably over looked all that and loved you anyway.
Remember who you WERE!
You will eventually encounter a student who IS who you WERE.
That isn’t an accident.
It’s a setup by the God who is crazy about both of you.
In order to really help who they ARE you will have to remember who you WERE.
We don’t want to live in the past, but sometimes a honest memory is the key to making a difference in the now.

Youth ministry is hard, there are going to be rough days.
But, you can make it.
Your memory is a powerful superpower to get you through the hard times.
Your memory is magic.
Take some time and remember.
Remember who you ARE.
Remember who you WERE.