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The Famine Blog

Stepping Into Awkward But Essential Reconciliation

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

reconciliation

By Erin Betlej

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embracing the Many Sides of Parents

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

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By Sara Clark

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

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

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

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

You get the idea.

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

“The Helpful Parent”

“The Opinionated Parent”

“The Trying-To-Do-It-All Parent”

“The Apathetic Parent”

“The Invested Parent”

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

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

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

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

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

It would look like relational ministry.

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

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

Rest is Best

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

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By Kevin Alton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Familiar vs. Fascination

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

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By Luke Lang

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

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

I repeated the same cycle every year.

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

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

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

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

It was all so very familiar.

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

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

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

I took Jesus home with me.

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

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

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

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

It’s all so very familiar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing will ever be the same.

My Calling is Changing and Staying the Same

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

calling-staying-same

By Brian Mateer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Shy Away

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About the Other Days?

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Dan Berggren, 30 Hour Famine staff

 

Slide1A “first” day.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Transitions

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Tash McGill

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Regaining Your Focus

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

focus-30-hour-famineBy John Sorrell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Will We Be in a Year?

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

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By Emily Capes

Ripples

Every action we make affects others.

One action.

Positive or negative.

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

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

Anyone else ever feel this way?

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

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

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

I don’t have it all figured out.

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

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

Every action.

It goes both ways.

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