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The Famine Blog

Thankful for the BIG and little things

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

Nikki Myers

Turkey Time365 days in a year- that’s 8,760 hours. Within those hours are 525,600 minutes of sights, smells, actions, information, people, items, tastes, and activities that fill our life. It’s nearly impossible to account for how we spend the majority of those 31 million seconds; but this week we set aside this coming Thursday to intentionally remember and reflect on the past year. For some folks it’s a celebration of a year of good health, new experiences and strengthened relationships. For others it’s a day clouded with loss, pain, hurt or strife.

Each year I feel a tension as it becomes my turn at the table to share what I am thankful for. When you work at a non-profit and face images every day of impoverished children it’s really hard to not express your thankfulness for the abundance that we have. So, inevitably, the mood gets a little somber as I share my gratitude for the water we are drinking that flowed so easily and abundantly through our faucets. For the bounty in front of us as others struggle to provide the one meal their family will eat that day. There is no motive of guilt in it, just an awareness of the reality of my situation and the many things right in front of me that I overlook or take for granted. As I prepare for my turn at the table this year I can’t help but think of all the things that my last 8,760 hours have been comprised of. The familiar, often overlooked resources, things or people that deserve a shout out at the table.

I asked our team to see what ordinary things in life they are thankful for. Here are their responses:

Hilary – I’ve recently realized how thankful I am for water pressure. My husband and I live in an apartment built in the early 1900s, and though we love the old style building, it definitely comes with some…“quirks”. One of which is old water pipes. Every so often, we’ll have a week of very weak water pressure – which makes showers & doing dishes quite cumbersome. However, when the pressure finally kicks back in after a few days, we can’t help but do a celebratory water dance.

Katie – After nearly a year of having a puppy, I am thankful for walking the dog- in the rain or shine. I am thankful for the daily occurrence of toothbrushes and shoe laces.

David – I am thankful for the gift of music.  The ability to sit in my cube, stick on my headphones and tune out the world around me. To concentrate on the work I need to get done while listening to some great tunes.

Dan – I am thankful for coffee and Kashi. My car starting, a smile and greeting from Joan and Dylan (our front desk folks at WV), walking up stairs, a light in my office that works, hearing “good morning” from a friend, having a meaningful job, having time to read an email from your dad, listening to a heart-warming story/podcast, saying thank you and meaning it…oh and beets (mundane but awesome).

And myself– I am thankful for Google maps. I travel a lot and would spend half my life lost if it weren’t for that (mostly) trusty little app. I’m thankful for telephones and text messages which give me the ability to keep in touch with friends and family across the distance, the sound of laughter and space heaters!

This year as you think upon the big things in life you are thankful for, don’t forget those ordinary, commonplace things too.  Shake up the table vibe a little as you thrown in your gratitude for latrines, car brakes or sunscreen.

Happy Thanksgiving Famine family. We are so thankful for your partnership this last year and all those previous as we fight to bring some of those every day needs to children around the world. 

Don’t Forget the Team

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Brian Mateer

円陣を組む若者達How many disciples were there? The most common answer is twelve. This is a trick question and the answer is actually thirteen, because Matthias replaced Judas (Act 1:26). Some say 72, in reference to Luke 10:1-24; and others argue at least 120 because that was the amount of “believers” present who helped choose Matthias. The easiest answer would be “lots” of disciples.

Recently, I have been thinking about who the ministry of Jesus was really for. The answer to the question seems to be rather obvious. Of course Jesus’ ministry is for everyone, but most particularly I have been reflecting on the various layers of who Jesus’ ministry reaches. Jesus’ ministry is for us, for the people of all times, for the people living during the time of Jesus as well as the disciples.

We know Jesus preached to large crowds, he feed the 5000 with a small offering of bread and fish, taught numerous people in the Temple of Jerusalem, had many followers and “lots” of disciples. It seems no matter how large the number of people, Jesus always took the opportunity to teach his inner circle, the twelve disciples. This is discipleship.

Those of us who work within the church have a reach of varying degrees. Some of us have very large numbers of people we work with and some of us very small numbers. No matter the number, we all have a team or an “inner circle” of people whom we are in ministry with together. We may have a volunteer team of adults, a leadership team of youth or some combination of both. We as leaders need to make sure we do not miss opportunities to nurture, teach and point out Jesus to our team. Yes, our reach is and goes beyond our team, but Jesus makes it clear not to neglect our “inner circle”.

As you start to think and prepare for your 30 Hour Famine with the hope of impacting students, your church, your community and beyond–remember to keep your team in mind. The materials and structure of the 30 Hour Famine are designed in such a way to provide opportunities for student leaders, parents, volunteers and church support. You will lead others on a spiritual, educational and experiential journey during the 30 hours of the famine but you also will have the opportunity to really disciple within your inner circle.

Reach out, but don’t forget to reach in.

Teaching Empathy

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Paul Martin

1925fI’ve noticed something about working with teenagers. No matter how many amazing experiences I plan for them–retreats, mission trips, events, lock-ins–they have an amazing resilience to life change. It still confounds me that the most passionate students at the Saturday night bonfire, who couldn’t speak without bursting into tears, seem to fall back into the same rut after just a short time. There’s no doubt they felt something then, but after a couple of weeks or months, that feeling wears away. They go back to their lives and eventually lose that feeling.

I’m not sure that can be changed. I’m not sure it even needs to be. What I do know is that if I let the slow drift back to normal rest there, without connecting that moment to others, I miss something vital.

What I’m talking about is empathy. Empathy drives us to reach out to the hurt and needy. It allows us to connect with someone who is in need without minimizing their suffering. This connection that many people naturally use tends to be in the developmental stages in teens. Neurology confirms what parents (and youth workers) have known for ages. Teenagers have a hard time making long-range decisions. We now know that it isn’t entirely their fault.

All of the events I plan for young people have a great way of showing teens how to sympathize with others. They can look at someone’s situation and see for themselves the differences. The more extreme those differences are, they easier it is for them to see. That’s why mission projects are so helpful. But empathy teaches something deeper. It reaches into the prefrontal cortex and tries to make an emotional connection, not just a situational one.

Brené Brown has a great, short video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw&noredirect=1) on the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy, according to her, minimizes a person’s pain, while empathy finds something inside us that connects to that pain. Youth ministries have such a great opportunity in 30 Hour Famine to help adolescents exercise their empathy muscle.

Teenagers notoriously miss feelings. They overplay and underplay them at whim without any awareness of their affect on others. It seems like every opportunity we give them will have a guaranteed amount of tears. In teaching empathy, we have the opportunity to help them connect their feelings with the people around them as well as those in another part of the world. We can guide them through their feelings with other people, not just acknowledging their feelings for them.

Brown talks in the video about the obstacles for empathy. As we apply people’s feelings to ourselves and connect, we want to make a silver lining. The silver lining disconnects us form our feelings. It’s a type of self-protection. Judgment is another obstacle. It distances us from other people through feelings of superiority. Both of these reactions are a false sense of control. Let’s face it: strong feelings make us feel out of control. Silver linings and judgment make us feel like we some control over those feelings. By minimizing the feelings others provoke in us, we trade compassion for control. In teaching empathy we help students disrupt these two reactions to suffering.

My favorite line from the video is, “Empathy is a vulnerable choice.” That’s the opportunity I see in 30 Hour Famine. We can take that opportunity for helping others and teach our students to make a choice. We can do this in many ways. We can ask the obvious questions about how it feels to be homeless or hungry for long periods of time. That’s easy, right? You will likely get feelings of being lonely, invisible, unloved, unwanted, or uncared for. We can take these responses and make them local by asking Have any of you ever felt like that? or Do you think there are people here who feel like this? Linking these questions helps us link our feelings for others to ourselves.

When we teach empathy, we really teach connection. Empathy helps us discover what we have in common with each other. Empathy is connecting with others without running from away and then taking a stance of vulnerability. Every student ministry I know of values this kind of connection. It’s what we hope for in every meeting and every event. Hopefully, awareness of that empathy can help us to make connections that last.

Remembering the Saints in Your Life

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Emily Capes

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Hebrews 12:1-3

EscrituraOn a recent Sunday (November 2) my church observed All Saints Sunday. We took a few minutes to remember the people who have passed away in the past year by speaking their names and ringing a bell for each person. We were also invited to come forward to the altar and light a candle to remember anyone that is a saint in our lives. It is one of my favorite Sundays, because it invites me to remember.

Our pastor shared a story during his sermon about Rev. Fred Rogers, the gentleman who hosted the Mr. Rogers TV show. He was also ordained as a Presbyterian Minister. Mr. Rogers was invited to speak on many different occasions to people who have accomplished a lot in their lives – he spoke at the White House as well as at college commencements. During his talks, Fred Rogers often gave people a minute to write down names of people who helped them become who they are today. It allowed people to remember who went out of their way to sacrifice, support and encourage them over the years.

After he told the story of Mr. Rogers, our Pastor invited us to remember as well. He gave us two minutes to write down as many people, dead or alive, who impacted our lives and helped us become who we are today. I started my list with the people who have passed away already. As I wrote down both of my grandmothers, one of my swim instructors, members of the church I served in another part of the country, I teared up a little remembering the words, the touch or the actions that let me know just how loved I am.

Then I started listing the people who are alive and have impacted, or are still impacting me. I didn’t have enough time to finish the list. The list is next to me as I am writing this, and I am blown away at the people who are on this list. Friends, ministers, family, running partners, class members, adults who took Disciple Bible Study with me, people I no longer talk to now, my fiancé and all of the youth that allow me to walk with them, even just a little.

I am going to be married in less than two months. I have been blown away by how the preparation for a wedding is completely a community process. So many friends have surrounded my fiancé and me; and even people we don’t know are offering to support us in ways we didn’t even know we needed! It is completely humbling and gloriously beautiful.

Have you stopped to think about the saints who go before you? Take two minutes.

No really. Go find a piece of paper and a pen. And now take two minutes to write down as many people you can remember who have helped you to end up where you are today.

Give thanks for them.

 

A Youth Worker’s Reflection on Thankfulness

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Shawn Kiger

PrintSometimes as a youth worker I get discouraged. I wonder if what I do makes a difference. After a small group with high school guys, I wonder if they have learned anything from their years of being in youth group. Did God really know what he was doing when he called me into youth ministry?

I’m sure we have all felt that way at some point; but as we start to draw near to Thanksgiving, I think it’s important to take a few minutes and remember all the things we’re thankful for about this calling we have of working with teenagers. So here are a few things I am thankful for:

  • I am thankful that I get to work with an age group that believes anything is possible and feels free to dream big.  Sure, turning our Sanctuary into a full-time homeless shelter and putting a pool into the fellowship hall would be a difficult task and a little unrealistic, but I love that they can dream!
  • I am thankful that hanging out playing basketball with a teenager counts as work.
  • I am thankful for the many volunteers who give up their time to love teenagers.
  • I am thankful that I work in a church that values family and gives me the flexibility to go to a pre-school field trip with my daughter.
  • I am thankful for the long-term relationships that started when they were teenagers and have continued into adulthood.
  • I love to see a student begin to own his or her own faith and am thankful for every time I’ve been given the gift of seeing that.
  • I am thankful that I work in a church that values my input in all aspects of the church, not just the youth ministry.
  • I am thankful that my job enables me to travel and meet people through mission trips that I would not normally get to meet.
  • I enjoy being around my tribe of other youth workers at training events and conferences.

This is just a short list of some of the things I’m thankful for. There are many more. This job and calling can be difficult and frustrating. Sixth grade boys can be loud and annoying, and I wonder at times if all the hard work is worth it.

Our calling can also be a thankless job. We pour our lives into students, and they rarely have the maturity to thank us. So, if no one has thanked you for what you do recently, allow me to do so: Thank you for sharing your faith and walking alongside students during the most important age of their faith development.

I encourage you to take a few moments to think about all of the good things about this role. It sure makes me thankful that God chose me to be in youth ministry! What are you thankful for?

Dancing with Self-Doubt

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

Морская волна

By Rocky Supinger

I spent last Sunday morning before church at our community farmer’s market, and not at Sunday School. It was a strategic move suggested by my Head of Staff aimed at observing what’s going on out there while we’re all in here.

It didn’t take long for me to begin doubting what I was doing. Not the idea, but me. I was dressed for church, not the market. I didn’t know anyone there. I was gawking. The temptation to ditch it and make for my usual Sunday routine was strong (This, I’m certain, is how people feel when they come to church for the first time).

I’m 38, and it seems I’m no closer to overcoming this kind of self-doubt and uncertainty than when I was 12. The fairy tale that one day I’ll grow out of it and tackle every new challenge with confidence is fading in favor of a story about taking small steps every day (like blog posts).

If we wait until we’re completely sure of ourselves to take meaningful action, we will never do it. Self-doubt will probably be with us our entire lives. No matter how many times we succeed, each new venture is a chance to fail, and I can see the failure much more vividly than I can see the success.

As leaders in churches, we should not expect this self-doubt to go away. It’s true: you’re not the best-suited person to organize that new outreach experiment, and there are a bunch of ways you could screw it up. But you are a person who can do it. You can ask that new visitor to coffee. You can learn that new song for worship.

You can (stay with me here) invite a teenager or two to accompany you in some meaningful work. You can do these things and doubt your ability to do them at the same time. You don’t have to conquer the doubt first.

You can dance with it instead.

Less Church, Please!

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Chris McKenna

SOver the past month, you’ve probably read a few 30 Hour Famine blog posts written by individuals who visited World Vision Ecuador in September. I had the amazing privilege of being a part of that trip; and even though I’ve been home for just over a month, I’m still somewhat wrecked inside. Meaning, I was given this amazing gift, and I’m still not sure exactly what God wants me to do with it!

I’ve participated in many international mission trips with students over the past twelve years, and we always preach heavily on the difficulties of re-entry. For anyone who has had a mountaintop mission experience, you know what I’m talking about. We tell students to prepare themselves for the “valley of real life” that is waiting for them – complete with family and friends who won’t understand the experience, and a way of life that might seem trivial and trite.

But, this time, it was me! I’m just not sure how to digest all of what God showed me.

So, I will continue to wrestle and wonder. But in the meantime, my Ecuadorian experience has helped me see that although I’ve done a decent job preaching about the developing world, but I’ve pretty lousy job preparing my kids for first world issues they see daily. Meaning, I’ve shown them hundreds of videos about world hunger, slavery, disease and malnutrition. And, they should be aware of these brutal realities. But, on any particular Monday, how will my 7th graders apply those videos to the first world issues they see in their middle school hallways?

And, I think World Vision has pointed me towards part of the answer.

World Vision’s approach to community transformation is community-centric. This means that different communities have different needs; and instead of World Vision dictating the steps to transformation, they instead sit down with community leaders, young and old, and ask, “What things bother you about life in your town?” For one community, the primary issue was violence in the home. For another, it was infant mortality. For another it was drugs; and yet another, environmental degradation. Each of these issues had a unique response from World Vision in partnership with the community.

This led me to ask myself: When was the last time I asked my students, “What things bother you about life in your community/school/town/neighborhood?” The truth is, I’ve never asked them that question. Do I want them to care about the global food crisis? Absolutely. But the reality is that a 12-year old is more likely to make significant change at school, at home, or somewhere local. So, here are some questions and thoughts I’ve been wrestling with:

  • If the student ministry of our church ceased to exist, would any of the schools or the community even notice?
  • Why haven’t I had breakfast with the local principals to ask each of them what issues are most prevalent in their schools?
  • Instead of always asking kids to get involved at church volunteering in the nursery, why not encourage and even train certain students to get involved in student council so they influence school decisions from a Christian perspective?
  • Instead of complaining about sports schedules, why not teach and mentor my talented athletes into being Christ-like leaders on their sports teams?

All of this has me wondering if should do less ministry at church and more ministry in the community. Crazy talk? Who knows: maybe I’ll work my way out of a job. But it feels like I’m on the scent of something. And if any of you have great things you’re doing to partner with schools or your community, I’d love to hear more.

 

Don’t Shy Away from the Big Question (part 2)

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

by Ross Carper

Note from the Famine team:
Yesterday, Famine leader Ross Carper wrote about the importance of being ready for Big Questions (BQ) that come up when working with teenagers—complex questions that don’t have easy answers. Ross suggested that BQs often come up during an experience like the 30 Hour Famine, since teenagers are in a place where they’re thinking more deeply about tough issues. Yesterday’s blog post suggested the first two of six responses to BQs. Here are Ross’s remaining four suggested responses:

  1. Don’t treat the BQ as a solely intellectual question. Given that my own dealings with this topic began in an academic setting, this has definitely been my biggest mistake. I’m working on it, though. It’s often better to just “mourn with those who mourn” and deeply recognize the darkness in our world than to launch into a sterile, rehearsed explanation of why it’s there. In fact, many students are dealing with this question because of a personal pain they are experiencing, not just because of the general existence of evil.
  2. Don’t claim there is only one catch-all answer to the BQ. The technical term is theodicy. Giving a theodicy is what we do when we provide God’s reason for allowing evil. Gnome-dialog-question.svgOne of the most popular is the Free Will theodicy: in a nutshell, bad stuff happens because God has good reasons to give us free will, and we’re seeing the bad results of that free will. There is powerful conversation to be had in this area—conversation that invokes the broad scriptural narrative and where we currently stand in it (you know: creation, the fall, the resulting brokenness, the ongoing redemption of all things through Christ, and the fact that we’re not yet at the end of the story, when all tears will be wiped away). This is good stuff to explore in conversation, for sure; mentioning free will and perhaps some other theodicies can be an appropriate part of the conversation. But there needn’t be only one answer to the BQ: remember that God is big enough to have a variety of reasons, many of which we may not understand, ever. So it’s not our job to make every tragedy in our world fit within our favorite theodicy. Some theodicies are kind of messed up, too, and they get mixed in with weird bumper-sticker theology, like I mentioned above… nope, it’s not okay to respond to the BQ with “Well, we wouldn’t be able to recognize the good without also experiencing the bad.” Here’s a much better (and actually far more biblical) answer: “I honestly don’t know why God allows that to happen.”
  3. Don’t just grab a Bible verse willy-nilly. Look into the context and narrative. Of course, there are some great passages from scripture that deal with the BQ. Two of my favorites are John 9 (when Jesus blows a popular theodicy of the day—evil as sin punishment—out of the water), and the book of Job—the oldest book in the Bible, which shows through the narrative that there are some of God’s reasons for allowing evil that we should never expect to understand. But if we’re not careful, sometimes students will think we’re trying to use the Bible as a band-aid. If their doubt has some depth to it, it’s not as easy as telling them to memorize something from Philippians 4 and get on with their lives. The last thing we want to do is have students lump scripture in with those all-too-cheesy slogans. So let’s make sure we don’t use it that way.
  4. Don’t succumb to hopelessness. Be a part of the answer. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of suffering in our world, especially as we are trying to square that reality up with the beauty we also experience—and the God we’re trying to follow. And as we deepen the conversation by admitting that we don’t have all the answers, apathy can sometimes set in, and we can begin to shrug off our responsibility to fight these tragedies. Find ways to turn the conversation toward how we are invited to be a part of the answer to the problem of evil. With both prayer and action, we get to live our lives as a protest against death in all its forms. We get to join God in his redemptive work. If our questions are concerned with whether God is doing enough to protect the innocent, we need to be sure we’re actively engaged on their behalf as well.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to walk alongside students who are dealing with the BQ, especially when we’re able to respond with love together, rather than just ponder big ideas. We may not know all possible answers to the BQ, but we do know the answer to hunger. Spoiler alert: it’s food. As participants in the 30 Hour Famine, God’s love compels us to respond in a big way, empowering whole communities to become more food secure. This is our bright hope in the midst of questions and doubts.

Don’t Shy Away from the Big Question (part 1)

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

by Ross Carper

It’s going to come up. Or at least it should—every once in a while. When you’re doing the 30 Hour Famine or some other justice-oriented ministry experience with students, there’s going to be a time when what I call the Big Question arises.

The BQ: “Wait… if God is so loving and so powerful, why does he allow horrors like extreme hunger in the first place?”

It might come from a quizzical student, just beginning to look outside herself for the first time. It might come from a volunteer leader, heartbroken in a new way as your team engages in a fight against tragic circumstances. It might come from a voice in the back of your own head. Wait… I’m the leader here. Should I be dealing with that question, and the big ol’ lump of doubt that comes with it?

Here’s what I’m not going to do: provide a neat’n’tidy blog-post answer to a question that people of faith have wrestled with for thousands of years. But, as youth workers, we do need to be thoughtfully prepared for it… so this post will be kind of long. I’m passionate about this because dealing with the BQ for myself, and by default preparing for such conversations, has been a big part of my own story.

Gnome-dialog-question.svgA decade ago, I finished a degree in philosophy at a secular university. My emphasis was in philosophy of religion, with a year-long thesis project on the problem of evil—specifically studying the ways thinkers use the horrors of our world as evidence against God’s existence, and whether there are any good responses to these arguments (basically, I studied the BQ). We had a small but excellent department, and those of us who were philosophy majors (including the woman who has since become my wife) developed great friendships with our professors—half of whom were atheists, and half of whom were Christian theists. As a fairly new disciple myself, this was a challenging and stimulating environment. On Tuesday nights at Rudy’s downtown, this vibrant community would meet for philosophical discourse over the best pizza in Bellingham. Good times.

Of course: none of this makes me an expert, but dealing with the BQ directly was important to my faith as a young adult. So I devoted a year of my life to the topic. Did it result in a perfect response—that nice, comforting answer to deliver smoothly whenever the BQ comes up? Nope. In fact, what I learned most deeply is how NOT to respond to the BQ. Here are some basic “don’ts”, with a few “do’s” mixed in:

  1. Don’t sweep the BQ under the rug. You’re in the midst of your biggest event or trip of the year, and suddenly a student is deeply struggling with doubt—seriously, it’s good we’re doing this project, but why are kids needlessly dying in the first place? As leaders, our minds are in a thousand places: we’re modifying the schedule on the fly, managing volunteers, and grabbing the next set of guitar chord sheets. But as busy as things are, do not ignore this question or brush it off. You probably don’t have time for a real conversation in the moment, so schedule it on the spot. You’ll need a full 1-on-1 coffee sesh (and probably some refills) to explore this stuff together. But don’t let that student out of your sight without scheduling a meetup. One major thing we’re learning in youth ministry is this: if we don’t provide supportive communities where it’s okay to face doubts and questions as a part of one’s faith, we’re dropping the ball. Our students will not be prepared for having a grown-up faith, and as young adults they’ll probably seek to air questions and doubts outside of faith communities rather than within them—because our ministries have implicitly told them there is no place for these questions within the church. Yikes. Schedule that meeting.
  2. Don’t give easy-cheesy answers to the BQ. I know this should go without saying, but hey, we all have our not-so-great moments in conversation with students. It’s better to be silent than to overconfidently roll out a couple lines from an old apologetics book, or say stuff like “God never gives anyone more than they can handle.” The amount of suffering in this world, especially the child suffering World Vision is trying to alleviate and prevent, is more than any of us can handle. Leave the slogans and platitudes for the greeting card store. Our students are increasingly allergic to oversimplified answers, which are never a source of good theology either.

(Tomorrow we’ll give you Ross’s remaining four suggestions for dealing with BQs)

Be Cautious about Number Fixation

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

by Mark Oestreicher

Like King David counting the troops (which, if we’re reading the Bible correctly, sure didn’t have a happy response from God), youth workers and other church leaders tend to be obsessed with counting. I do not believe that numbers are useless. They are an indicator of something. We just have to be very, very careful not to quickly assume what that something is.

It kills me when I hear a youth worker (especially a young youth worker) say something like, “We have 27 in our group right now.” That kind of accuracy is usually a reflection of number obsession. When pushed on this, some will respond with, “Yeah, but each of those numbers represents a real teenagers. Numbers are a reflection of people. I really care about people.” No. You are wrong. People are not numbers. Numbers quantify people, dehumanizing them. Numbers are not a reflection of people; they’re a reflection of our own need to justify our youth ministry jobs and feel good about ourselves. Dang, I wish I could wave a magic wand and deprogram this youth worker self-image building block.

countingOften, the question of numbers is one of comparison. As in, “I have more teenagers that that church, so I must be amazing.” Or, “I have less teenagers than that church, so they must be amazing.” Or, “I have less teenagers than that church, so something must be wrong with me.” We wrongly do this math: quantity = significance.

Maybe you even do this when you read articles on this blog about other churches’ 30 Hour Famine numbers. If that’s you, know this: some of the best youth ministry (and 30 Hour Famine experiences) is taking place in small churches with small youth ministries.

Again, I am not saying that numbers have no place. If your youth group suddenly swells from 4 to 72, you should probably ask some questions about what’s going on. It could be that the Spirit is moving. Or, it could be that something is significantly wrong, like they’re only coming because you’re giving away free beer. If your numbers steadily drop over a few years, it’s probably a reflection of something. But it could be that God is winnowing the group down to a size that makes sense for your gifting and calling. Or, it could be that your group is inbred and exclusive, and that there’s no place for outsiders.

I’m thinking about this today, because I came across an old comment on an old youth ministry blog from a veteran youth worker in a new church. He was sitting at a youth ministry roundtable event, at a table of 8 youth workers. During a discussion time, this occurred:

I did get asked the numbers question by someone. “How many students do you run?”

I said, “Somewhere between 2 and 1,000. I’m not sure; I’m still new”.

I love it. Focus on being true to your calling with whatever numbers you have. After all, Jesus only had 12 disciples.