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The Famine Blog

Summer is Time for Considering Change


By Shawn Kiger

I often use summertime as a chance to evaluate how the school year went and what changes might need to be made for the next school year. This summer that task seems a little scarier.

I just finished up my fourth year as youth minister at my current church. The last couple years our numbers have dropped for our afterschool ministry at the same time our numbers have gone up for our Thursday evening Bible study. There seems to be lots of reasons for this, but mainly there are just more options for afterschool activities at the schools. Our youth also really enjoy our Bible studies we do in homes. So I’m considering stopping our afterschool ministry that has operated very successfully for many years but has experienced decline in the last couple.

Stopping something at church is usually very difficult. Parents have come to count on this program, volunteers have worked it into their busy schedules, and youth just don’t like change (it throws them off sometimes when I set the tables up in a different configuration)! There are many questions I am wresting with:

  • How do you judge when it’s time to stop something so that you can start something new?
  • How much am I willing to risk on the something new?
  • What is that something new?
  • What are the gaps in our ministry now that the something new needs to fill?
  • Will stopping this just make people mad?
  • How do I communicate the change and the reasons for the change?
  • Where can I fit in something new in my busy family life?

Those are just a handful of the questions running through my head. I don’t have answers to all of those questions but I am glad I have the summer to work on them. The summer is going to give me the opportunity to talk with parents, youth ministry volunteers and other staff members. During our mission trips I will have lots of opportunities to talk to our youth and to hear their thoughts and share their needs. I’ll have conversations with other youth ministers from other churches to get their thoughts. I’ll take time to listen to parents. I’ll talk through it with my pastor.

Any kind of change is hard, but without taking the time to evaluate what you are doing you risk being stagnant and less effective. I know this blog post has lots of questions and not many answers. Sorry about that; but I do hope it will encourage you to evaluate your own ministry. Or maybe you are just happy you don’t have to make major changes like me!

Prioritizing Relationships Over Flash



By Bobby Benavides 

One of the key pieces of many youth ministries is event planning. Youth workers are often trying to figure out how to create a program that will draw in the crowd and, potentially, grow the group. We pour our time and energy into the environment, program, playlist, social media tags, the perfect Instagram image, and much more. We hope all of this is what our kids will remember.

And they might remember the event, at least for a little while. They will remember the activities and messy games. They will remember the great music. We hope they will remember the message we tried to convey before the nerf war begins, but we know we have to keep the illustrations on point, so those are perfectly planned too.

Great job!

However, what if we poured just as much energy into giving our students our personal connection, like we pour into our program planning?

Please, follow me on this: I’m not saying planning events is wrong, nor am I saying holding special programs needs to stop. Every element of student ministry is vital.

Yet, the most important piece of student ministry is you (well, it’s Jesus, of course – but teenagers often experience Jesus through you). You will most often be what the students remember. The time they had with you sharing your failures and successes. Discussing your faith journey, and encouraging them in theirs, is so valuable and essential for their future connection with Christ and the church. Yet we tend to push those to the side as we focus on planning the next big thing, whatever that may be.

For many of you, your budget and time is limited as it is. You hear of complex and impressive programs other churches host and you can only dream of having enough volunteers to hold a 2-hour special event, let alone an all-nighter. So, for you, what better way to leave a lasting impression than being connected with your students deeply, so they find more value in you, than your event.

It can be nice to plan cool events and trips. Strobe lights and fog machines aren’t inherently evil. But those bells and whistles aren’t what change lives. Jesus most often changes lives in the context of relationships. So we need to be even more intentional about our discipling relationships with our kids than we are with the planning of our EXTREME NERF WAR MESSY GAME OLYMP-EXTRAVAGANZA (not a real event, but could be?).

The future of your students’ spiritual growth depends on your relationships with them, not the playlist you picked.

Focus on relationships. Focus on discipleship. Take the time to pour into the lives of the students you have, and plan well, so more students can enter into your life for closer and deeper relationships.

First Fruits


By Brian Mateer

I tend to experience God in the mundane or seemingly ordinary events of life, nature and relationships. It’s as if God gives me a single snapshot or image for me to hold onto and ponder for days, weeks or even months. From this simple image, I experience God revealing truths to me in mysterious and wonderful ways. Many of these ordinary, yet extraordinary, experiences happen when I am in a foreign land.

I recently had another one of these experiences of God on a vision trip to Kenya. On my first Sunday in the county, our group attended a worship service and an offering was taken by people dropping money in a basket located at the front of the church. Close to the end of the offering a little old woman came forward with a plastic bag. In the plastic bag were three eggs, which she had harvested from her chickens that morning. Surprisingly, the pastor proceeded to auction the eggs off to the highest bidder and the money raised was placed in the offering plate.

A week later I found myself in a different church for another service. Once again an offering was received in a similar manner, but this time someone had brought five two-liter bottles filled with milk. I knew what was going to happen next…the auction.

One of the members of our group leaned over to our interpreter and asked, “What are they doing?”

“Someone has a cow and it is just beginning to produce milk,” she said. “This is the offering of first fruits from the book of Leviticus.”

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the Lord so it will be accepted on your behalf. (Leviticus 23: 9-11)

The 30 Hour Famine is an opportunity for youth leaders to bring this verse to life. The Famine is much more than fundraising, and provides a chance to wave our offerings before the Lord for them to be accepted and used for God’s glory. We are commanded to give the first fruits of our harvest. The first fruits of ourselves, our gifts, our blessings and our resources.

Give your first fruits. Do the Famine.

Finding Faith Apart from Youth Ministry: 
Seeking God with a Co-Dependent Faith


By Sara Clarke

This year some of the teenagers we serve will walk away from church. Studies have shown this often happens, lighting a fire in the church to minister to teens so that if, or when, they decide to walk away, they will have the foundation and faith to find their way back.

Working in youth ministry, we love and support middle school teens so they feel accepted and that they belong. We love and support high school teens so they know we’re here and we support them. We pour years of ourselves into these teens hoping that when they graduate from high school, they will have some semblance of a personal relationship with God to keep them connected to the church, even in their new and independent world apart from home.

This is something I was a major advocate for in the church I served. Let teens deconstruct their faith in a safe and supportive environment so that they can rebuild it as their own. That way their faith will have a deeper and lasting impact when their life transitions and changes.

But what about us? What happens if we–the youth workers–find ourselves disconnected from our faith? Would we be able to find our way back? In an effort to be transparent and a little vulnerable, I’ll share that I’m struggling to find my faith apart from the church I once served. Recently, a phenomenal opportunity for my family led me to this time of transition where I’m no longer working as a full-time youth director. I’m living in a new city, trying to figure out my new role as a stay-at-home mom, and am trying to connect in a local church. Talk about a life change!

For the past couple months my spiritual life has been parched and I’ve felt disconnected from God. I’ve had to do a little soul-searching to reflect on where I am in my relationship with God and what my spiritual life is going to look like apart from youth ministry. What I’ve come to realize is that for the past several years I’ve allowed my faith to become so consumed by the ministry I served that it became dependent on it. Studying the Bible and spending time with God doesn’t come as “naturally” when I don’t have a retreat to plan or a lesson to prepare.

My faith has been stuck in a co-dependent relationship with youth ministry, and I both created and enabled that relationship.

Looking back over the years, I realize I didn’t take the proper time to focus on my own relationship with God apart from the ministry I served. I built my faith around the very things I advised my teens to avoid. Now that I’m no longer working in youth ministry, I have to tear down the facades I once thought were genuine, deep faith, and reconnect with God one on one.

Some of you may need to do the same. As the final days of school approach and your summer ministry kicks into high gear, I encourage you to pause and ask yourself the following:

What am I doing daily to focus on my personal faith, worship, and relationship with God?

Am I connecting with God regularly outside the ministry I serve?

Are my spiritual practices motivated by a ministry to-do list and/or audience? 

Be in prayer about your answers. If change is needed, make it a priority to focus on those changes. Don’t allow your faith to be consumed by your ministry to the point it depends on an experience, a person or group, a place or program, or even a tradition or denomination. God is so much more than the sum of these things.

I wish I had made it a priority to spend time with God one on one when I worked in the church, because now that I’m not, I have to relearn how. For now I’m deconstructing my co-dependent faith so that one day I can rebuild it. It will take time. In fact, it depends on time; time with God. And that’s exactly where we need to start.

To the Worn-Out Youth Worker: Don’t Give Up


By Jeff Lowry

Psst! Hey you! Yeah you! I want to take a minute to share something with you: Don’t give up. That’s right, don’t give up on youth ministry. I know you may have thought about it, because most of us have. I get it, youth ministry is hard. Most senior pastors, deacons and elders would probably disagree, but that’s another blog altogether.

This one is for you, the unsung heroes of the church world. You may never share a stage with a Duffy Robbins or a Doug Fields, but listen up: You Are Important. One more time, you are important. You are fulfilling a calling God placed on you, that only you can fulfill. Don’t forget that.

I know you are just wrapping up a difficult school year and you might be considering throwing in the towel. Don’t. We’ve all been there, just waiting for the school year to be done so that we could use a logical break to step away. Many of us have. But don’t. Because many of those who stepped away regretted it.

Or maybe you have had a difficult scenario play out in your ministry: lies, deceit and all kinds of nasty have been a daily thing for you. Some of it coming from the staff and leadership you serve with, some of it from students and parents who you thought loved you. And you want to hang it all up. Don’t. Leave a toxic environment, sure, but don’t quit on your calling.

God called you to this. God believes in you. God has given you abilities that most will never understand. The patience for the kid who tries your patience every chance they get. The love for that student who seems unlovable to the rest of the world. The ability to function on three hours sleep for an entire weekend retreat. The stomach for pizza and Mountain Dew at one in the morning while a group of students wrestle with a truth. The ability to wake up instantly when a 3am distress phone call or text comes in from a student or parent.

These things are why you can’t quit. Those faces around you, that’s why you can’t quit. Those teenagers that came to mind as each of those scenarios was laid out is why you can’t quit. Because there is work to do: that’s why you can’t quit. You are a Youth Worker, that’s the closest thing the church world has to a superhero! So pull up your stretchy superhero suit, tie on your cape and stay in the fight!

The Honest Truth About Our 30 Hour Famine Failure


By Amanda Leavitt

I have a confession to make: If the 30 Hour Famine were graded, my youth group would have received a big fat F. Not like, a just below a D kind of F, but the kind of F that never showed up for class nor did any assignments (even the extra credit assignments offered as penance), kind of F.

No one signed up for our first scheduled Famine. So, I took an availability survey. I rescheduled it. Then, two students agreed to come for half of it, and two more students agreed to come for all of it (they are brothers), and then none of them fundraised. I even made it easy by introducing the awesome online donation platform. So, I am going to reschedule it… again. Because, it’s worth it.

God-willing, God will direct me to a creative alternative to help my students engage with 30 Hour Famine, and we will find a time when a better portion of our youth ministry can make it out, and they hopefully will be more inspired to urge folks to give to feed hungry children. I am currently scratching my head a little bit over this.

People are very busy, fundraising is scary, and truth be told, sometimes I am not very creative. Is this you? Is anyone else in this boat? I would not usually confess this failure, right here, on the 30 Hour Famine’s own blog; but I know you are out there too, taking on the posture of “The Thinker,” maybe staring out your window, saying to yourself “This matters! How can I make this happen?” For some of us it’s the 30 Hour Famine, for others there may be something else you hope to inspire your students to experience.

Psalm 60. It’s a gem. It includes a nice section about how God will throw His shoe at ancient Israel’s enemy, Edom. I so appreciate that sentiment. Ever get so frustrated you just want to chuck your shoe at someone? I’ll make another confession: I have had that impulse.

At the end of Psalm 60 David requests that God “Give us help against those who hate us.” Then he admits, “For the help of man is worth nothing. With God’s help we will do well. And He will break under His feet those who fight against us.” When I read Psalm 60 – my brain conjures several enemies in my life that I’ve struggled to deal with, some painfully difficult people, but then also some regular ministry obstacles popped into my mind, like scheduling, which often actually feels like an enemy just as intimidating as an enemy in the flesh. So, I loved this word picture that Psalm 60 ends with, because there are our enemies before us and then God’s feet come right down from heaven and smash what intimidates us as he walks right over them. Scheduling, fundraising, a lack of creativity—whatever our “enemies” are, God just has to walk in, and what opposes us will be broken and “we will do well.”

My last confession is that I have never prayed about scheduling or my students’ fundraising energy or efforts because they seem trivial on the surface; like my own problem to solve. But, as you know, sometimes these small “enemies” wreak big havoc. I have not asked God to come into these battles and deal with these “enemies”. With the image of God’s big feet and big shoes in my mind, I am going to start praying.

Maybe as you’re reading you identify with me… I want to invite you to invite God to walk into these regular everyday battles over seemingly insignificant things like time; motivation; confidence; whatever stands in your path. Which non-people opponents currently have you scratching your head or frustrated, wanting to throw shoes? Get God in on the battle. God’s feet are way bigger than yours. God’s shoes are bigger too.

Summer is about Relationships More Than Programs


By Chris Luper

Whenever I’m around church workers (be it paid staff persons or volunteer staff), there seems to be one reoccurring theme: “Once we get through __________ event, things should slow down for a little bit.” Just like our lives have the propensity to become busier and busier, the programmatic life of the church seems to be no different. In my current ministry setting, we’re always looking ahead to what’s next, sometimes to events over a year in the future.

Understanding the lifecycle of youth ministry (six or seven years in most churches) seems to support this sort of panicked approach – “I only have seven years to teach the students I work with a lifetime of Christian faith skills, knowledge, and more.”

For several years now, though, I’ve begun to reflect on whether this is how we should be doing ministry. As I think many of you would agree, we’re living in a post-Christian world, so what are we—the Church—offering to our students that they can’t find anywhere else? The obvious answer is Jesus – any church kid could guess that; but still, what does that look like? How do we share Jesus with students, when they don’t even know they need Jesus?

I think the solution boils down to relational ministry. How can students begin to experience God through the relationships we share with them? We must be willing to model the love of Christ in our lives. This means we have to be willing to meet students where they are. In the politically charged climate we live in, where the word “Christian” often seems to carry a negative connotation, we have to offer unconditional love to our students. This relational style of ministry leads students directly down a path of discipleship.

What better time than the beginning of summer to reevaluate just how relational your ministry can be. Whether you meet consistently all summer or take a break from your regular meeting schedule, make time to pour into your students on a personal level. Sometimes this looks like a cup of coffee, while other times it can be a day of fun – bowling, ultimate Frisbee, and more. The payoff will be immeasurable though, as your students will begin to see you not just as a friend and leader, but rather as a mentor. When the world seems to be closing in around them, students will look to you for guidance built upon the trust of your relationship.

As school winds down in my ministry setting, we have seen the value of these relationships come to fruition. This year in our local high school, three teenagers have committed suicide, none of which attended our student ministry, but some were closely connected to other students in our ministry. Having recently moved to the area, I’m still working to deepen my personal relationships with students, but I have been amazed at how other volunteers have poured into the lives of those affected. It’s the value of relational ministry that has helped our students find a comforting place to mourn and cry, a safe place to share anger and frustration over loss, and a nurturing place to help begin the healing process.

I pray that as you enter into the summer and look for that next big event to come and go so you can find time to slow down, that you first examine the relationships that are forming your ministry. Let the love of Jesus Christ flow out of you, that students might find peace and hope.

Carry the Bucket with You


By Keely DeBoever

One of the most overlooked elements of cultivating meaningful experiences for our students and congregations is finding ways to help keep those experiences alive long after the event has ended.  We tend to focus all our time and energy on the weeks leading up to the event and the event itself, and then collapse into a pile when it’s all over.  No one can fault us for giving into the exhaustion; however, once we are rested and recovered from the event, we need to remember the important task of follow-up so that we can maximize the outcome of the experience.  We need to provide opportunities for our students to remember their experiences and continue to grow into the lessons they learned.

For the seven years that I served my previous church, we took our students on a hiking trip every summer.  At the end of each weeklong experience our Staff Counselor would close our time together with a story about man hired to paint the white blazes on the Appalachian Trail.

The first day that he was hired, he was able to cover 10 miles of the trail.  His boss was so impressed that he had covered such a great distance and he couldn’t wait to see how far he would get the next day.  His second day on the job, he covered only 6 miles.  His boss was underwhelmed, but chalked it up to the fact that he must have been tired from the day before.  His third day on the job, he covered even less territory.  On his fifth day, he covered just 1 mile.  By this time, his boss was losing faith in his ability to fulfill the requirements of his job and called him in to discuss the issue.  The man’s boss asked why he covered so much territory on the first day, and so little by the end of the week? The man responded that the further he got down the path, the further he had to return to his bucket each time to get more paint on his brush.

This same story was told year after year, and many of the same students heard it over and over…yet, it never lost its relevance.  So often, we rely on the big moments to sustain us so that we must keep coming back to them to fill us up.  As leaders with youth, we should be setting the example and providing opportunities for students to “top off” their spiritual fuel tanks, rather than waiting for them to be on “E” before filling their tanks.

So, how can we do this?  When it comes to 30 Hour Famine, there are many ways to keep the mission in front of your students throughout the year.

HIGHLIGHT VIDEO: If you have worked with youth for any amount of time, you are no doubt familiar with the Highlight Video.  We have all been guilty of showing the highlight video at the end of the event or on Sunday morning after the event for the congregation, then never viewing it again.  Students love these videos, because they get to see themselves on the screen and be reminded of the memorable things that happened throughout the event.  I’m not saying we should show these videos every week, but we should be intentional about picking a time (maybe a few months after your Famine event) when you can show this video again and maybe have some of your students share about their experience.  This reminds those that participated in the event about all they learned and experienced, and may also create new experiences for those that did not participate or are thinking participating in the next one.

GAMES/ACTIVITIES: The 30 Hour Famine Resources come with many different game/activity ideas.  If you are like me, you don’t use all the suggested ideas as a part of the event itself…because of your context, scheduling, etc.  This means, you may have a couple of left-over activities that can be utilized later in the year, perhaps as a part of your regular programming to help keep the spirit of 30 Hour Famine alive.  If you do use absolutely all of the resources for the Famine event, then pick the one that went over best and find a way to re-create it later.

YEAR-LONG/SEASON FUNDRAISING IDEAS: You know your context better than anyone else.  Figure out what your students care about and then find a way to make that work towards your fundraising goals!  Do you have a group that loves to go out for coffee, ice cream, or dinner before or after youth group? Encourage them to pool their change each week toward your 30 Hour Famine Funds.  Make Famine your focus for Advent or Lent. If you have someone creative in your congregation; this would be a fantastic opportunity to have them create an Advent/Lent Calendar with information or growth challenges related to the Famine, as well as challenges for ways your students could give a little each day.

No matter what you do, just make sure you do not let your 30 Hour Famine event be a one-and-done experience.  There are a ton of resources available online to help you keep the Famine in front of your students all year long.  It is our job to make the most of those opportunities so that we can help our students carry their buckets with them wherever they go!

The Valley of the Shadow of Spring


By Marty Estes

It’s that time of year again, the time when winter clothes are put away, when school begins to wrap up, and inevitably—for most youth ministries—the slump begins. Students are increasingly busy with sports, the end of school, and well, it’s just too darn pretty outside! Many of those that seemed to be committed attenders suddenly are gone every other week fulfilling their roles on the field, the track, or just enjoying ice cream with their friends. Attendance dwindles, and if we aren’t careful, anxiety goes up…what’s a youth worker to do?

In almost 15 years of ministry I’ve seen it happen time and time again, as sure as the tide; but it doesn’t stop me from despairing each and every year as the “Spring Slump” comes creeping on again. But, one thing that long term youth work has allowed me to understand is that there are two perspectives I can choose from when the slump comes: first, the perspective that says “it’s temporary, summer will come and pass, school will begin again, and vibrancy will return.” Second, there’s the “OH KNOW, THE SKY IS FALLING”, Chicken Little-esque school of thought that is actually more dangerous than it appears. Why is it dangerous? Many youth workers, faced with the prospects of falling attendance and failing participation turn to gimmicky events, give aways, games and more that may create a flash for a moment, but actually harm your ministry in the long run.

So, here’s what I propose: let’s all take a deep breath, prop our feet up just for a moment, and say to ourselves, “It’s going to be alright.” God is still God as the school year winds down just as he is in the fall. Numbers do not reflect the calling that you have, nor the result of the equipping you have done (I mean, unless you’re just slacking on the job!). What matters is the ministry you are doing to the teenagers that show up every week, the relationships you are building, and the efforts you make to connect those wayward teens to your ministry. Allow yourself some grace, spend time with your family, find a hobby that rejuvenates you, and continue to do the good work you’re doing! You may not notice the impact that you’re having right now; but I guarantee you are for someone.

With that said, I offer you this modern day Psalm, for when we walk through the valley of the shadow of spring.

The Lord is my shepherd,

even though I may not think I have all I need.

He lets me rest between ballgames,

he leads me into peaceful meetings.

He renews my strength.

He guides me into relationships with students

bringing glory to His name.

Even though I walk through the shadow of the valley of spring

I will not worry

For you tell me I am greater than the numbers of my Wednesday night program.

Your rod and staff comfort me (even though I want to use them to beat someone)

You prepare a feast for me

at the Taco Bell of my choosing

You honor me by anointing my head with sweat

as I rush to another ministry event.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me (because I may be too tired to pursue you)

all the days of my calendar

and I will live in the house of Lord forever. 


After Your 30 Hour Famine Event is Over: Now What?


By Eric Woods

I boarded the plane for home. It had been more than six months since I had set foot on American soil, and in my heart there was a mix of excitement—for things like fresh bagels and Pop-Tarts and seeing my mom—and apprehension. Every week during my time living and serving in that orphanage on the north coast of the Dominican Republic I had asked the same question of the members of the American mission teams who had served with us: Now what?

Actually, the question was more like, “What are you going to do or do differently because of what you experienced this week?” And now it was my turn to answer that question.

What were my wife and I, and our kids (then 4, 6 and 8 years old), going to do, or do differently, because of what we had experienced living and working in one of the poorest places in the Western Hemisphere?

This is the critical question. It’s the question that turns a “mission trip” into a lifelong mission. It’s the question that transforms a world traveler into a world changer. And it’s the question that can extend the impact of events like 30 Hour Famine long after the breakfast is shared and the checks are mailed.

Asking this question brings the mission home. It gives students, leaders and donors a chance to have a continuing impact among the poor and marginalized in your own community.

Asking this question embeds the mission in their hearts. Participants get the opportunity to see how involvement in missions is more than just checking boxes. (Mission trip? Check. Money raised? Check. Stayed up all night? Check.) It serves to connect God’s heart for his world and people with ours.

And asking this question extends the mission. Because, let’s be honest… God doesn’t just call us to be 30-hour-missionaries or 30-hour-Christians. God calls us to live a life committed to his mission. Every day.

It took me longer than that flight home to answer the question for myself.

In fact, it took me several months to realize how my time living and working with orphans in the developing world would change my life forever. Eventually I stumbled on the reality that there were thousands of children in my home state (13,000 in Michigan) living apart from their families of origin, mostly in foster care… and that there was a chronic shortage of families willing to welcome them into their homes.

We decided this was our answer. And, since 2009, our family has welcomed more than a dozen children into our home (not all at the same time!). Our biological children have been able to see firsthand how they can love and serve those in need wherever they are. And it has changed the direction of my ministry—I now serve as the pastor for about 70 kids living in a residential treatment facility.

So, Famine may be over for this year… but your mission isn’t. Take time this week to ask your students what they’re going to do or do differently because of their Famine experience. Who and how will they serve in their own community?

And, then, answer the question yourself. How has Famine changed you? What’s next?

(By the way, here’s a shameless plug: May is National Foster Care Month. It’s a great time to identify and bless families in your church or community who welcome children in need into their homes. Consider offering a night of free childcare for foster families so parents can get a much needed date night. Collect and pack diaper bags with essentials, then deliver them to your local hospitals for families bringing newborns home into foster care. Send notes of blessing and encouragement to the foster care case workers at agencies in your county.)