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The Famine Blog

Awakening a Hunger for God



By Matt Andrews

As youth workers, it’s our job to make kids lose their appetite!  I feel a slight pang of guilt when I think about the food hazings I’ve been a part of as a youth worker (a very slight pang).  I’ve watched kids eat bananas through pantyhose, and prayed for their immune systems while they ate gummy worms pulled from a vat of chocolate pudding by another kid’s stinky toes.  I’m even old enough to remember the “gallon challenge,” which starts in an attempt to chug a gallon of milk but always ends in (or near, or all around) a large trash can (it’s probably for the best that the gallon challenge has been deemed unsafe).

I love grossing out teenagers probably because I learned from the best.  I remember when my youth pastors (John and Lori) put on a “utensil-less meal” for us when I was in high school.  We didn’t know what would be served, but we agreed in advance to eat whatever it was with our bare hands.  When I told my mom what we were going to do at youth group that night she scowled, and that made me want to do it even more!  The meal was a ton of fun, but the highlight of the evening came after the “appetizer” (pudding or something) when Lori said dinner was jusssssssst about ready, as John emerged from the church kitchen in a muscle shirt with a dirty apron on, smashing raw hamburger meat in his armpit.  “I’ve got all the patties ready!” he proclaimed.

We get to gross them out, and we also get to awaken their hunger for God.  Working with teens is often about contradictions-maybe because they’re not supposed to act like kids anymore, but they’re not supposed to act like grownups yet, either.  It’s our job to make them lose their appetite, and also our job to help them find it.  My youth pastor, John, did make hamburgers in his armpit, but he also hauled me to Mexico for my first experience in service and ministry outside the U.S.  Because of him, I went from taking my faith quietly for granted, to being asked to talk about it publicly in another country with the help of a translator- an event I had no idea I would repeat again-and-again in adulthood.  More importantly, by taking me on that trip and investing in me, John and Lori sparked my awareness of a hunger I didn’t know I had.  It took some time for my teenage brain to interpret, but eventually I understood that it was time to stop relying on adults to feed me spirituality, and time for me to take some of that responsibility on myself.

30 Hour Famine is a fantastic opportunity for your group to focus on the hunger of others- but also on their own spiritual hunger.  The next time (or the first time) you hold a Famine event, don’t miss the chance to engage in yet another great contradiction: addressing their spiritual hunger at the same time you’re depriving them of food!

5 Tips for Surviving Summer


By Chris Luper

surviving-summerLeaning into the pinnacle of summer, how is it with your soul? It’s a question I seem to find myself asking on a daily basis during this time of year: “How is it with my soul?” If your youth ministry is anything like the one I serve, the busyness of summer makes the “holiday season” – Thanksgiving and Christmas – look like a vacation.

Over the course of this summer, I’ll find myself attending at least one conference, a high school mission trip, a middle school mission trip, and a week long beach retreat for 6th – 12th graders. Of course, this is not even taking into account the week-to-week interaction I will have with students. Add my personal life on top of this (family vacations, yard work, etc.), being a full-time daddy of a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, as well as devoting time to my beautiful and amazing wife. Talk about the potential for burnout!

If you read no further into this post, hear these words: Thank you for everything that you’re doing to build up the Kingdom of God. I know from experience that you are pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into the lives of your students and so I say “Thank you!”

I’m very fortunate in my ministry setting to get to interact with lots of other student ministers. Having come to that point in my career where I’m no longer the youngest one in the room, I’m always happy to share some of the wisdom that I’ve accrued. So here’s my advice for your summer: Healthy ministry only occurs when you are healthy; but how do you accomplish this? Hear are my top five ways to survive a youth ministry summer:

1. No matter how busy you are, take time for a Personal Sabbath. Take time weekly to rest and recharge and if you can, squeeze in some kind of vacation.

2. No matter how busy you are, take time for a Spiritual Sabbath. As you pour your love for Christ into others all summer long, you have to take time to fill your own cup. Take the time to pray and worship for yourself.

3. Commit to an accountability group. We all need people in our lives that can A) relate to the season of life we are in and B) provide relevant advice based off of their own experiences.

4. Remember that summer means HUGE movie blockbusters. Treat yourself to at least one movie this summer.

5. Don’t forget why you do what you do. Spend some time just hanging out with your students this summer. You’ll be amazed at the amount of discipleship that will occur through relational ministry.

Have a great summer and remember, you are a valued and important child of God!

Slurpees and Service: Making a local impact in the summer


Ross Carper 

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 9.22.27 AMIn the summer, youth workers have a lot going on. This time of year, people often congratulate Ms. or Mr. Youth Director on a job well done: what a great school year of programs, events, small groups, etc., so go enjoy your summer break! What these people don’t see is that youth worker’s blood pressure rising because of the ten fundraisers left to do for that huge upcoming camp or mission trip.

Nope, summer isn’t a restful time for us: students have more availability, so we’re ready to share more time and significantly longer experiences with them. And those things take a lot of preparation, planning, implementation, and follow-up.

Because these “biggies” (camps/trips) take up so much effort and energy (and time away from family and rest), it’s important to keep it simple and relational with the rest of the summer. With this in mind, a few years back, we started doing something we call “Slurp n’ Serve.”

Basically, we set up an opportunity to serve with our students for a couple hours at an awesome local organization, then we go get Slurpees together afterwards as we debrief, and sometimes split into small groups for a simple discussion or Bible study.

The organization we serve offers a summer day camp for elementary-age kids in the neighborhood, many of whom experience difficult family circumstances or have been recently resettled in our city from refugee camps across the world. So our students’ job is pretty basic and fun: playing with the kids, helping chaperone on trips to the public pool, leading some simple games/crafts/lessons. Our whole job is having fun with kids and trying to give them as much love, attention, and joy as we can.

Then we go drink Slurpees and talk about stuff that matters. It’s these Thursday afternoons that I really look forward to in the midst of all the big events we do in the summer. It’s simple, enjoyable, and it really connects back to our heart for serving others—which we’ve developed hugely during our mission experiences and during 30 Hour Famine season.

A few of our junior high students posing with a trunk full of canned food they collected. And their ridiculously huge Slurpees.

Humbled to Trust Again


Humbled to Trust Again

By Danny Kwon

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

I was recently humbled “big time” by God.  I guess I am saying big time, because I was being a big jerk with a bad attitude a year ago; but God showed me again that he is so much bigger than me.

Last summer, a few months before our mission trip, our church asked our youth group mission team to transport these hand chime bells to a missionary who works in the rural areas of Hungary and neighboring countries, serving the outcast and marginalized Gypsy communities. Not only that, but our Senior Pastor’s wife–who teaches music, including these hand chime bells–insisted that the youth team who were transporting these chimes also learn how to play them and to play them for the different communities we would visit on our trip.

I wasn’t thrilled about transporting three large cases in the first place. Of HAND CHIMES!  Moreover, cutting into our mission trip preparation time was also making me feel like our team’s time was not being respected, nor my time or leadership.  Moreover, I would also have to schedule a few more meetings to make up for lost mission meeting time.  However, one thing I do know about longevity in youth ministry (21 years at my church) is that when the Senior Pastor’s spouse asks (a.k.a. “tells”) you to do something, it is a not a bad idea to acquiesce to his or her wishes.

Ultimately, our youth group not only transported these hand chimes overseas, but our youth group students, making beautiful music with these instruments, were a hit in Hungary.  Many were blessed and touched by our music.  And the gospel was shared through this ministry. This was all despite my bad attitude and resistance.

Fast forward to this summer, as we prepared for a mission trip to a country in Central Asia, where open proselytizing of the gospel must be done very discreetly. I was thinking about ways to share the gospel.  Bam…God just suddenly reminded me and humbled me.  He was telling me, Remember those hand chime bells you hated and despised? They would be even more perfect on this summer’s mission trip.  

Today, even after all these years in ministry, I am humbled again, to trust in God.  Last summer I was so upset and defiant.  But God knew better.  He was so much wiser.  His ways so much higher. His thoughts so much greater.  I look back today on my defiance and anger a year ago and I really thank God…that somehow he let me submit to him and his ways.  And ultimately, as a long time youth worker, I am reminded again, that it is not MY youth ministry, but it is God’s.  In addition, my ultimate job is to love students, but also to trust in God and his ways.  It’s not always easy.  But God shows me again and again that he is in full control of the youth ministry.  He is the ultimate youth worker.  And I just need to be humble and trust in him…again…and again.

6 Strategies for Connecting Parents to Your Big Events



by Jen Bradbury

Part of the “magic” of mission trips and events like the 30 Hour Famine is that they take place outside of the normal context of students’ lives. Often, they take place in a different location, away from teens’ family and friends. In so doing, they force teens to step outside their comfort zones, take risks, and in the process, learn to depend on God in new ways.

While we want teens to encounter God and learn how to depend more fully on him, there’s an inherent problem in this event “magic”: It usually doesn’t involve parents. Worse still, many parents cannot understand these spiritually formative events because they have never experienced them. As a result, even well-intentioned, caring parents can find it difficult to understand what happened during such an event.

Knowing this, here are six strategies to help bridge the gap that big events like mission trips and the Famine often create between teens and their parents.

1. Work to increase parents’ knowledge quotients before your event. Suggest books to read or movies to watch that relate to what you’re learning and doing. For mission trips, also suggest books and movies specifically related to where you’re going.

2. A week or so BEFORE your event, send parents of the participants a detailed letter. In it, explain what you’ll do during the event. Then share stories that illustrate the impact such events typically have on students. Explain what they can expect from their child after returning from the event. Include things like fatigue, heightened emotions, and lengthy silence as teens process their experience. Knowing what to expect from their teens after the event will help parents deal with the thoughts and emotions that follow.

3. Equip parents with questions. While some teens will want to give parents a detailed account of your event, others will not. To help parents of less talkative teenagers, provide them with a detailed schedule or itinerary as well as a list of questions they can ask teens.

Such questions might include:

  • What gave you joy?
  • What made you angry?
  • What confused you?
  • What injustices did you encounter?
  • Who’s one interesting person you met?
  • Who or what most impacted you?
  • What made you think?
  • What stretched you?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • When did you get annoyed?
  • When were you thankful?
  • What was your favorite day or part of the event? Why?
  • When did you encounter Jesus?
  • What’s one thing you want to do or change as a result of the experience you just had?

Encourage parents to ask teens these questions over time rather than in one sitting.

4. Share pictures. Utilize your ministry’s social media accounts to post pictures from your trip or event in real-time. Blog your way through mission trips. Seeing pictures and reading first-hand accounts of people’s experience during your event will help even those who weren’t present to relate to and understand it.

5. Host an informal gathering for parents after the event. Prior to our first international mission trip, a family offered to host a BBQ for our team the day after we returned. I jumped at the opportunity. Less than 24 hours after returning from Rwanda, our team – and their parents – gathered together. Teens hung out in their friend’s basement. Meanwhile, parents sat outside and talked. For nearly two hours, they asked the adult leaders and I questions about our experience. Doing so gave us the opportunity to talk about our trip, share our experience with parents, and relieve some of the pressure that builds between parents who want desperately to hear about their teen’s experience and teens who aren’t yet ready (or aren’t yet able) to put their experience into words for someone who didn’t experience it firsthand.

6. Host a celebration with a formal program for parents, friends, and parishioners. During the program, invite each participant to share about one aspect of the event. Also ask each participant to share how they encountered God during your event. End with a Q&A. Doing so will help parents better understand what transpired during your event and give them the ability to continue to ask good questions to help teens further process their experience.

Taking time to help bridge the gap that big events often create between teens and their parents is a worthwhile endeavor that will help translate the “magic” of such experiences into long-term faith formation.

Just Give Up



By Travis Hill

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

This is just summer camp.

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

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

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

Psalm 91:1

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

Taking Care of Self and Family During the Summer



By Jake Kircher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Cheers for Summer



By Sean Garner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Free of Being a Spectator-Leader


Breaking Free

By Brien Bell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending or Receiving?



By Shawn Kiger

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

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

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

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

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

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