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The Famine Blog

Sending or Receiving?



By Shawn Kiger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



By Amanda Leavitt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding My Worth When Attendance is Dropping Like a Rock


By Keely DeBoever

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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







The Right Kind of Uncomfortable



By Tash McGill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Bend But We Do Not Break



By Brian Mateer

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

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

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

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

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

Remember who you ARE and who you WERE



By Luke Lang

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Hungry for Transformation



By Erin Betlej

It was toward the end of our 30 Hour Famine and two of my youth were debating whether or not to have a piece of fruit and cracker at our last juice break. They were so close to completing the 30 hours with only water. I overheard one of their friends tell them, “If you need it then do it. It’s not like you not eating right now is keeping a child from going hungry somewhere else.”

She was right. My youth going without a piece of fruit and a cracker would not directly save the life of a child somewhere. Their fasting doesn’t immediately save anyone from hunger or poverty. What it does do, however, is create a connection between my youth and children and youth who live in poverty everyday around the world and in their backyard. It develops empathy and understanding. It deepens their sense of community.

In our affluent area my youth rarely want for anything material. But they do hunger. They hunger for a deeper connection with God. When they choose to participate in the 30 Hour Famine they are much more aware that it is their spiritual hunger that connects them with those who hunger physically. They see that those in poverty are not much different than them. Both dream. Both want to be accepted for who they are and want the capacity to accept others where they are. Both want a space for honest dialogue with one another.

That’s the beauty of 30 Hour Famine. It creates a place for that conversation and connection to begin. It develops community.

As we approach Pentecost, I wonder if Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit because He didn’t want to miss this. He did not want to miss the kingdom of God coming to fruition on earth. He didn’t want to miss being in relationship. He didn’t want to miss an opportunity to know someone. He didn’t want to miss an opportunity to live life with someone. He didn’t want to miss a group of teenagers being a catalyst for change. To sit down with them to bear witness to their stories and to dream. To dream what God’s church can be like and should be like. To sit and cry and grieve over the way people treat one another.

Going hungry for transformation. I wonder if that’s what Pentecost really means?

Fearing the Famine: How not participating is starving your ministry



By Sara Clark

“Students loving God and fighting hunger.” What’s to fear about that? That’s what our ministries are supposed to be all about –seeing our love for God radically transform our lives, and positively impact the lives of those around us. This sounds a lot like what Jesus did in his ministry. More than that, it’s what Jesus told us to do:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.-John 15:12 (NRSV)

I hear stories of the amazing ways youth are showing their love by feeding the hungry and advocating for the oppressed after experiencing the 30 Hour Famine. I have to ask myself why, in my four years as a Youth Director, I have not participated in this event.

It’s not that I don’t know about 30 Hour Famine, because I participated with my youth group in high school. We did an amped-up version where we decided to “go big” and do a multi-church 40 Hour Famine. Call us overachievers, but we committed to start fasting that day during school. Throughout the weekend we learned about world hunger, and stayed busy with different service projects.

I still remember the moment we completed the canned-food scavenger hunt. We were making our way back to the church, when we came to a stoplight. There he was, a homeless man, sitting with his cardboard sign asking for help. I decided to jump out of the car and hand him some cans of food. He politely thanked me, and I turned and got back in the car.

In the following weeks, I wondered if that was really what Jesus meant when he commanded us to love. I mean, did that man even have access to a can opener? Did I even look him in the eye or think to ask him his name? The straight answer is no.

I guess that’s why I fear the Famine. I fear that inevitably, teens will focus solely on the need, and overlook the person in need.

Unfortunately, I’ve allowed this fear to feed the ignorance of my teens, and I’ve starved them of knowing about a growing world issue that affects their very own classmates. You see, it’s not just about spending 30 hours without food. It’s about giving teens the chance to care; the chance to be a part of the solution. Because in order to care about the need, we have to first care about the person in need. Like Jesus said, it starts with love.

For me and the ministry I lead, it’s time to take the Famine off the shelf and dig in.

Ending Well: Breaking your Famine Fast



By Kevin Alton

After years of participating in the annual 30 Hour Famine, the most often discussed Famine how-to I’ve encountered among youth workers is the conclusion. What’s the best way to honor the gravity of the subject matter at hand and the commitment of those present? It was only 30 hours, but the intention to go without for any stretch of time is pretty foreign to most teenagers, unless they happen to have a robust practice of Lent. To break the fast, I’ve seen meager meals of rice to overloaded steak dinners and everything in between. I wanted offer 3 quick tips for breaking your group’s fast if you’ve been on the bubble about how to bring things to a close.

1. Maybe you should do nothing at all.

Simply releasing your youth to their homes is sometimes the best thing you can do. They’ll be pretty tired by the end of your event. An attempt to wring one last ounce of meaning from any given event often does more to pet the ego of the youthworker than it does to instill any new insight in the mind of a youth. If you’ve followed the basic game plan of the 30 Hour Famine, you’ve already done well, good and faithful servant. Take ‘er easy. If this is you, find (or create) a non-chaotic moment for final reflection on the experience and close in prayer.

2. Do nothing to excess.

An overblown meal at the end can undermine the experience your group has just journeyed through. 30 hours without food is just barely long enough to begin to open their eyes to the suffering and hunger happening in abundance around the world. If you throw them back immediately into the familiar context of all you can eat they’ll forget what they’ve learned before they even hit the door.

Conversely, excessive simplicity can trivialize the direness of actual poverty. Eating one poor meal before hitting McDonalds on the way home won’t be a memorable life experience. The 30 Hour Famine is meant to raise awareness, not experience. Your goal isn’t to have kids coming away saying, “I know what it’s like to be hungry.” You simply want them to be motivated to find means to provide for others.

3. Consider communion.

My absolute favorite way to end a 30 Hour Famine is by sharing in communion. I love the way it brings together our physical and spiritual needs being so simply and perfectly met. If this is the direction you go, you’ll want to check within your context about appropriate ways to do so.

Best of all, there’s not a wrong way to end a 30 Hour Famine. Know your group and work with your adult leaders to decide what’s best for you.

The Hard Work of Bringing Good News



By Brad Hauge

There’s this incredible scene in The Gospel of Luke where Jesus delivers his first public sermon in his hometown of Nazareth. Having just come back from the wilderness where he dealt with extreme hunger and temptation, Jesus stood before those gathered at the synagogue where he chose to read the words of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll that was handed to him and preached,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

After realizing that he had their attention and that every eye in the place was still fixed upon him, he added his own mic drop to the words of Isaiah, saying, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke goes on to write of how well Jesus’ words were received and how amazed and excited those gathered at the synagogue were by these powerfully hope-filled statements. Amazed and excited for a few moments, that is.

Jesus continued his teaching and told his now-adoring crowd some hard truths about what he’s up to and how his reign probably won’t go as they expected or desired. There’s much that could be said of this exchange, but just know that in the blink of an eye the crowd’s reaction went from amazement and awe, to conspiring to throw Jesus off of a cliff to his death!

Jesus began his public ministry by telling the world he has come, today, to bring good news to the poor. How cool is that? And how cool is it that, today, we can be a part of that work through the 30 Hour Famine? Advocacy for the least of these around the world, monies raised to battle unnecessary hunger through both emergency food rations and long-term development, and awareness raised around the globe for hunger-related issues is indeed good news.

It is good, and right, to sit back in awe and amazement of the Jesus-centered work we can be a part of today. But, the hard truth, the sort of thing that may make us want to throw Jesus off a cliff, is that raising money and awareness through 30 Hour Famine isn’t the fullness of what it can mean to bring good news to the poor.

Jesus made it clear with the words of his sermon that he came to bring good news to the poor, but he also made it clear with his actions that he would live his life among the poor. His good news didn’t come from an arm’s length or from the other side of the world—it came from shared stories, communal meals, and eye contact.

In his book, The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne describes a survey in which those who identified as “strong followers of Jesus” responded to some questions about bringing good news to the poor. 80% of those who responded said yes, Jesus spent time with the poor. However, when asked later in the survey if they regularly spent time with poor, less than 2% of folks responded affirmatively. Less than 2% of those who call themselves strong followers of Jesus knew those who were poor. Shane goes on to state that he had “come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.”

Do you and the teens in your ministry know the poor? We have to ask ourselves this difficult question because it’s difficult to bring good news to the poor if we don’t even know their names.

  • Do we serve food at the homeless shelter but fail to learn the names and stories of those who are hungry?
  • Do we pray often for those in our communities who are struggling to make ends meet without actually meeting with them to see if we can be bearers of good news to their situation?
  • Do we donate to worthy causes but fail to show the hurting neighbors in our backyard that they are also worthy children of God?

This work is, admittedly, harder than 30 hours of fasting and fundraising. This work demands vulnerability, trust, and an expectation of awkwardness. But, if we trust in the life and words of Jesus, it will be good news to those who most need it.

Let me make myself abundantly clear: I love the work and mission of World Vision and the 30 Hour Famine. It is, undoubtedly, bringing good news to the poor. I just think Jesus would include a little mic drop to say something like, “If you aren’t also living life among the poor in your neighborhood and bringing good news to those whose names you now know and whose stories you now share, you aren’t experiencing the full measure of life as you could be. Today.”

May we see this hard truth, even in the midst of celebrating so many beautiful Famine-related stories, not as a reason to push Jesus off a cliff, but as inspiration.