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The Famine Blog

Missions Trips for Small Churches


By Elizabeth Murray

Just a few days ago I returned from a weeklong mission trip to Honduras with seven youth from United Methodist churches in South Carolina. We travel through a mission organization called HOI, which is based in Olancho, Honduras. This is the fourth annual trip for this group, and the third time I have participated.  Selfishly, I enjoy this trip because I go as the interpreter for the group, and I travel “home” to Latin America—my favorite region of the world.  I will continuously advocate for all Christians, not just youth, to put their faith in action by serving others through mission. Through this experience, I have seen the youth and young adults on this trip open themselves up to what God and the world has to say to them.

But here’s the really cool thing: the seven youth on this trip were not all from the same church. They were all from smaller churches who would have had a hard time pulling off their own missions trip on their own.

If you’re in a small or medium size church, like I am, you may feel like a mission trip is impossible for you. I would feel like way, too, if I were planning a trip for only my youth group. Mission trips sometimes feel like they are only for mega-churches with lots of resources, connections, and money, right? Wrong!

Why shouldn’t youth in smaller churches be afforded the opportunity to attend a mission trip even if the whole church does not participate? This trip that we take with HOI allows youth from any size church, from any town in South Carolina to have access to the opportunity to an international mission trip geared towards youth and young adults. The trip is open for anyone from 16-22 years old who is affiliated with the United Methodist Church in South Carolina. But you can easily translate this mission model to your local context. You could gather a group of local churches in your area to create a trip together. If you are a part of a larger denomination or network, you can open it up even wider than your local community. You can open the opportunity up to a larger community besides youth, as well. I have attended intergenerational mission trips before, and God moves in unbelievable ways across generations in those particular contexts. If you don’t think you or your group is quite ready for an international trip, there are plenty of opportunities to serve in our own country or even in your own state. Partner together to serve God! Amazing things happen when we work together for the Kingdom of God!


Summer Service in Our (Global) Neighborhood


By Ross Carper

One of the best things about summer is that for many of our teenagers, life slows down (at least a little bit). And maybe that’s true only on the weeks when they aren’t working a bunch or spending time at the camps, mission trips, and retreats we focus on so much as youth workers during this season.

These low-key weeks can lead to some fun service opportunities that are a bit more chill than putting off a giant 30 Hour Famine event. But they certainly come from the same heart to join God in his love for the people of all nations. This year (aside from raising money to address the severe food crisis in East Africa) our church has found a way to love our global neighbors through a fun, intergenerational activity: Summer English Club!

We are blessed to have our church located just a few blocks from an apartment complex that houses dozens of former refugee families. These people have fled from some of the most difficult conflicts in the world, and with help from World Relief, they have landed right in our little city, just up the hill from our church. We’ve gotten to know many of these families through our long-term work in the neighborhood elementary school, particularly through 1-on-1 mentoring and after-school activities for kids who are English language learners.

But for summer, we’ve landed on a sweet, relaxed event each Wednesday. For a couple hours, we get to hang out at the apartments and bless kids and families as we are blessed ourselves. The first hour is reading buddies: volunteers (teenage youth group kids through retired adults) spread out a blanket on the grass and just read books to and with kids, helping keep English language development and reading skills on track over the summer. At some point toward the end of the hour, a woman in our church recruits a few helpers to put together a lunch of PB&J, fruit, and other healthy options. She is a local doctor, and she knows many low-income kids are undernourished in the summertime without the benefit of a school lunch every day.

After lunch it’s circle time, led by a woman named Mary: usually a fun and simple name game for everyone to mutually participate in. For the kids, it’s a way to practice English and public speaking. Mary is a community member who lives nearby and, while she isn’t a member of our church, she has gotten quite involved in the mentoring and English club activities we help lead at the school. She is now one of the main leaders of Summer English Club. (Hint: whether you work with children, students, or adults at your church, remember that inviting “outsiders” to serve side-by-side toward a common godly purpose is great outreach: what an awesome way to make friendships and connections outside the walls of your church.)

Finally, it’s what summer was made for: Play! Our middle school and high school youth group students are ready with the equipment and energy needed to get a great game of soccer going for the older kids, and maybe some “duck, duck, goose” for the littler ones. Keeping it simple is key: let the focus be on fun and connection rather than explaining complicated rules.

The beauty is in the simplicity and intergenerational nature of this summer activity: just about anyone can show up to help with English Club–even young families with their own kids who could also use some reading practice!

At the end of a Wednesday up at the apartment complex, everyone involved is a bit tired out, but is also feeling that glow that comes from enjoying good gifts from God: connecting with people, engaging our minds, eating healthy foods, and simply playing. That’s summer service in the neighborhood, and it’s all for the sake of sharing God’s love with these beautiful families who have experienced extreme poverty, injustice, and strife in the lands of their birth and in the refugee camps where they lived before.

The End of My Rope


By Anonymous

April 30th, 3:30 pm I arrived at church to start my Sunday night routine. It is a typical Sunday afternoon so the first thing I do is get the kids ministry check in system up and running and prep the kids ministry area for that night’s service. Kids will start arriving in about an hour. Now it is time to focus on the student ministry. It is now 4 pm and the next 45 minutes is filled with loading songs and games into our media presentation software, printing off notes for the message, printing off small group questions and turning on the Xboxes. Now it is 4:45 and it is time to meet and greet parents and students downstairs. At 5 pm our kids ministry starts and I’ve got 30 minutes till our youth service starts, let’s get some supper, head upstairs and chat with some students.

I see a volunteer as I head upstairs…

“Hey Dave, how are you tonight?”

“Doing good Josh. Hey just wanted to let you know that Jim and Sarah won’t be able to make it tonight, I know that they were handling their small groups this week but they had something come up and couldn’t make it tonight.”

“Ok Dave, thanks for the heads up, we will make it work. See you upstairs in a few.”

Oh man, now what am I going to do? My main small group leaders for High School are not going to be here tonight, and they didn’t even contact me to let me know. Well, we will just have to make it work tonight.

“Hey Josh, the computer in the youth room just froze up and we are not sure how to get it going again.”

“K, service starts in about 10 minutes I think we can get it up and going before we start.”

Computer starts, software loads, service ready to roll…I stand up to open up with our game and my heart sinks down into my feet…8 kids show up tonight. 8 of the 35 that we should have. In fact my adult volunteers outnumber the students. The youth service continues on as planned and we finish the night with small groups. Already defeated and discouraged I have a conversation with one of my most faithful high school students that just crushes the rest of my spirit.

“Hey Josh, listen I’m just not sure if I am going to keep coming man. I know you need me here but if I am the only high school student here I just don’t want to be around all these middle schoolers by myself.”

“Trust me Aaron, I know how you feel but don’t bail on me yet. We can get this thing turned around. I just know we can.”

The drive home that night was lonely, not because I was alone in my car, but because I felt like everyone had abandoned me. I felt alone because nobody seemed to care about the time I spent prepping for the youth service. I felt alone because my students seemed disinterested. I felt alone because I just didn’t think my small group leaders were getting it. I felt tired, abandoned, frustrated, discouraged and angry. At this point in the spring, with summer looming one month away, I wasn’t even excited about summer. Thinking about the fundraisers coming up, about camps (one youth and one kids), about VBS, about the time off everyone else gets to take and how crazy busy I was going to be, I wasn’t excited; I dreaded what the next three months held for me. I was ready to give up and quit! I felt like I was sinking into a deep hole in the ground and honestly I didn’t want to do anything about it. Just let me fall in and let me be.

After voicing my frustrations and asking for prayer to some people, I had a few people reach out to me who just wanted to talk and share some advice. They help me realize that I was beginning to start down a really unhealthy road. I was going to become a statistic if some things didn’t change.

The first thing that needed to change was my personal time of worship. My devotions had become dry and routine. I was focused on just doing my devotions to get them done and out of the way instead of spending time with God. I was not spending quality time in personal worship and this needed to change in a big way. One passage that I read during this time hit me hard and brought me to my knees before God. It was Psalm 62:5 and it says, “Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him.” I had forgotten to take my rest in God. My soul longed to worship God and all I was doing was checking a box. So I began to change my devotions. I started worshiping God on a deep personal level instead of just seeing how many chapters of the Bible I could consume in twenty to thirty minutes. I still have a reading plan that I follow, but when something in scripture hits me to my core, I stop right there and focus on what God is speaking to me through that scripture. I’ve started to listen to a worship playlist of music as I read. “Here’s my heart” by Lauren Daigle, “Oceans” by Hillsong and “Simplicity” by Rend Collective have brought me to my knees weeping before God more times than I would care to admit over the past two months. Another new thing I’ve added to my personal time of worship, finding a way each day to use my gifts and talents to worship God. God has given those to me to bring glory and honor to Him. I should be using them in return to worship Him.

The second thing that needed to change was my personal time off. I cannot tell you how many days off I’ve taken over the past year, but I know I could probably count them all on one or two hands. There always is something that needs to be done, and if you’re like me, being a Student Pastor also means that you’re the IT guy, Web page guy, graphic designer, the wifi guy, the media guy, the sound guy, and the guy who knows how to transfer music to everyone’s iPhone. I’ve realized that some weeks it all isn’t going to get done and that is OK. There are major priorities that I make sure get done every week and when there is time for the other stuff, I then tackle those other projects. For me the major priorities are specifically youth and kid ministry related. Connecting to students every week is a priority. Making sure I have prepared my message every week is priority. Connecting with my adult volunteers is a priority. My middle school small group of guys is a priority. My day off is a priority. Sometimes I have to leave the office and hide in town so I am not distracted by other projects (or people) to focus on my priorities and that is OK. I am making sure that I am getting the proper time off that I need to stay rested and refreshed.

The third thing is something that I still need to do: I need to take some time away from everyone to refocus on my place in ministry. I need to get alone with God and have a serious conversation with Him about where I’ve been in ministry, where I am in ministry and where I am headed in ministry. What mistakes have I made? How can I avoid them? How can I be more effective in ministry? Am I doing ministry my way or His way? Am I doing the ministry He wants me to be doing? How do I use these newly discovered passions that I have in ministry? And, where is that smell coming from in my office? (Probably the unclaimed dirty socks from camp) But I need to let God show me how He wants to use me and where He wants to use me. I need to get that passion back in my life that I had 15 years ago when I started student ministry. I know that God has something for me, I have to just get with Him and have this conversation. That meeting with God is already scheduled for a few days at the end of summer as I sit down to plan this up coming school year.

Anybody can lose focus in ministry, anyone can get frustrated at students, with volunteers or parents, anyone can quit because you’ve had a night where everything has gone wrong, but is that what God wants from us? My encouragement to you, one follower of Christ to another, is this: Make sure your having a personal time of worship everyday, make sure you’re getting your days off to rest and refresh, and take some time to have tough conversations with God about your ministry. If you feel like you’re at the end of your rope like I was, find someone that you can talk to about how you’re feeling. Find some people who will pray for you. Find someone who you can pour your heart out to and who will hold you accountable to make the necessary changes in your life. The worst thing you can do is keep it bottled up inside. First and foremost, like Psalm 62: 5 says, you need to find your rest in God. Your soul is longing to rest in Him so find Him and rest.

Getting S T R E T C H E D


By Jen Bradbury

Marcus was the only high school senior on our recent mission trip. An introverted student with a sense of humor, Marcus seldom spoke in our discussions. So when I saw “door-to-door evangelism” on mission trip our schedule, I feared it might break Marcus.

I also worried it might break our adult leaders.

You see, we’re Lutheran. As Lutherans, door-to-door evangelism is not one of our regular spiritual practices, nor really, is any form of evangelism.

I knew door-to-door evangelism would make our team uncomfortable. Yet, I also believe evangelism is an important part of discipleship. In fact, my research for The Jesus Gap on the Christology of high school teens showed that students who talk about their faith (like you do when you’re evangelizing) have a better understanding of Jesus than students who don’t.

Knowing this, when I was planning for our trip and our local contact asked if we’d be comfortable with door-to-door evangelism, I said, “Comfortable? Definitely not. But we’ll do it.” I hoped the experience would stretch my team out of their comfort zone and force them to articulate their beliefs about Jesus.

So, as part of our trip preparation, my team wrote out their faith stories and practiced sharing them with one another. Then they brought copies of their testimony with them on our mission trip.

When it came time to evangelize, students grabbed their faith testimonies. With fear and trembling, they set off into the community in small groups that were so small no one could hide.

They hesitantly banged on doors, introduced themselves to people, and shared their faith stories. In some cases, they answered questions and offered to pray with people.

As groups returned, I sat there, nervous to hear about their experiences.

That’s when Marcus walked in, ON FIRE.

It turns out, introverted Marcus LOVED door-to-door evangelism.

Not only did he LOVE it, but he talked during it, openly sharing his faith with the people he met, something he’d never done during the four years he spent actively involved in our youth ministry.

Door-to-door evangelism forced Marcus to speak. In the process, he discovered he actually LIKED talking to people about his faith and that he was pretty good at it. People responded to his testimony. That night, Marcus shared more during our team’s discussion than I’d ever heard him share.

As Marcus talked, he spoke his faith into being. He not only learned about his gifts, but he also learned about his God.

This is, I think, one of the reasons why mission trips are so formative.

They stretch us WAY out of our comfort zones.

They expose us to people and practices WAY outside our faith traditions.

Because they do, they force us to depend on God in new ways.

That dependency leads to real life encounters with God that change people, just as they did Marcus.

Stumbling Into a Great Service Project for 30 Hour Famine


By John Sorrell

When we started the 30 Hour Famine at my last church in Singapore, we began looking for service project ideas for the students to do on Saturday morning. We searched for the typical service projects, like a soup kitchen and food pantry. Then, one of our church members connected us with a service project at the YMCA. This YMCA organized volunteers to clean elderly peoples’ homes in a neighborhood block area. The homes were actually super tiny 200-300 square foot studio apartments.

We signed up to help. Before we arrived, we were only given a few instructions. We were told to bring rubber gloves, general cleaning supplies and trash bags. We were also warned to be ready to move large amounts of trash in case they were hoarders. We definitely didn’t know what we were getting into or if we would even be able to do what we volunteered to do.

On our Famine day, we showed up with forty students ready to divide and conquer, or at least as much as we could twenty hours into fasting! We formed cleaning teams, divided up the cleaning supplies and entered the apartments.

The homes were not at all what we expected. Most of the elderly people lived extremely simply. They had a small table, a radio (maybe a TV), a bed, and a dorm room sized fridge. Most of the residents didn’t have dishes for us to do, because they only owned a few and used them for each meal. They lived life with much less than any of our students could have imagined.

We began cleaning, and quickly realized that most of our students had never deep cleaned before. They had no idea how to thoroughly clean windows, disinfect a bathroom or prep a mop bucket to mop floors. They didn’t know to change mop water between cleaning the kitchen and bathroom or how to mop in such a way that doesn’t trap you in the corner. Some of the elderly residents worked up enough strength to show our students how to clean, which was a neat sight watching them pass down lifelong skills to our students.

We encouraged the students to ask the residents to share stories. Students sat and talked with the residents and learned real life stories of Singapore history and life lessons. Some of the elderly even offer us drinks from their small fridges as a way to say thank you.

The first year we stepped into this new service project with uncertainty. We had no clue what we were getting ourselves into. Our students were understandably nervous knocking on a stranger’s door to ask if they could clean their house. But, it quickly became our youth group’s favorite service project. Some students even joined a team with the YMCA to continue cleaning regularly.

I am thankful we stepped out into what seemed like a random service project that first year, because I continue to see how much it blessed not only the elderly, but our group as they expanded their perspective of the world in new ways. I continue to be amazed that many times you go to help someone and in return you find they have given you more than you did them. Each year, our students would be challenged by the humble gifts of a cold drink or snack the elderly offered and the stories they shared. Students walked away from these apartments more grateful and thankful for what they have. And, they polished their cleaning skills!

I think there is a certain beauty in going to help those in need. It can’t always be controlled or clear-cut, but the impact it has on students is usually profound. I hope you too have the opportunity to step into some new and challenging service projects in your coming famine (or before). In the midst of the uncertainty I think you’ll find it’s worth it.

Drawing Parents Close


By Emily Robbins

One of the things I struggle with is when someone doesn’t like me, or I believe that someone doesn’t like me, then it’s easier for me to avoid them. I have done this with friends, youth, parents of youth and co-workers over the years. I am not proud of it. As I pull away from them – they believe that I don’t want much to do with them. Which can cause even more trouble with our relationship.

It’s been interesting for me because I normally involve as many parents into leadership within my youth ministry as possible. But at my current church that hasn’t been a part of the culture. There are incredible young adults that lead small groups and go on mission trips and help with retreats. Parents sometimes make or provide food but not much more than that.

So many of the parents are surprised when I express an interest in getting to know them. There are some that flat out have said no.

For almost two years, I have been intentionally drawing others close, especially parents that seem to not like me.

It isn’t always easy.

Anyone else have a few parents of youth that seem to not like what you do, say or provide for their teen?

I have been serving with my current church for 1½ years and I feel like I am still getting to know the church family, my youth and their parents. I asked every family to invite me over for dinner or for a game night when I first started at this church and many of them have. But many of them have not. And of course it is some of the families that have not invited me over that I am having trouble connecting with and ministering to.

How do you invite parents to get to know you better?

How about these ideas:

  • Invite them to go to coffee with you
  • Call them up to chat
  • Send them an email
  • Challenge them
  • Ask them to chaperone an event or a trip

What else?

Recently I have done all of the above, even asking two of the parents to chaperone on a trip with me. Both trips went so well! I was not sure if I was going to regret having them as a chaperone but what we learned is that all of us have more in common than we expected. And it has allowed me to get to know some of the parents in a way that I truly didn’t expect.

I realize that drawing others close is a risk. It can also not work out well. But I believe that I am called to be in ministry with all of my youth and their families to the best of my ability. So I do attempt to reach out to all of them even the ones I want to avoid.

If they don’t respond, at some point “shake the dust off your feet” and move on. But do try. Take the risk. You never know who might become your friend.

Four Cs of Ministry Planning


By Ryan Schaible

Summer events are in full swing, but the next school year is not too far away. Advanced planning comes with so many benefits – it helps you define your vision and purpose for ministry, utilize your resources more effectively, and even earns you a lot of credibility.

As you look ahead at the year to come, what is your approach to planning? There are many factors in ministry we cannot control, but you CAN control a lot of what goes on your calendar. In a time when so many of our students are already over-burdened with their schedules, we MUST be intentional about how we think about the precious, yet limited, time we have with students. As you begin planning for the year ahead, I would like to offer you the FOUR C’S of ministry planning.

What will you CONTINUE?

Know your context; know what is most effective for your ministry. As you intentionally continue doing certain things, it will help you solidify your ministry vision and purpose. Having traditions and “go to” events can also serve as mile-markers in a student’s life and faith – something they look forward to year after year because it has an impact on their lives.

What will you CHANGE?

Some events are great in theory, but do not necessarily come together exactly as we planned. Sometimes our methods grow stale and need a breath of fresh air. Changes do not always have to be dramatic: small adjustments might be all that is needed to add to your effectiveness.

What will you CUT?

This might be the hardest question to ask ourselves (and our teams). People invest a lot of their time, energy, and emotion into ministry work, so deciding to CUT something from the calendar can be difficult to do – especially when an event is POPULAR (note that “popular” and “effective” are not always the same thing). What is just “filler” on the calendar (and in your headspace) but does not really propel forward your vision and purpose for ministry? Cut it! Use the time you had been spending on ineffective things on the things that truly make a difference.

What will you CREATE?

I intentionally save this question for last. As hard as it is to CUT something from the calendar, it is WAY TOO EASY to add new things. Every week we get a new email, flyer, or phone call about an event, conference, or outreach opportunity. Mix the cornucopia of event ideas with our heartfelt desire to see life change in our students, and you CAN end up with an over-booked calendar.

INNOVATION and CREATIVITY should drive us as ministry leaders. Find the right balance for your context. If there is a blindspot in your ministry, find a way to fix that. Expand beyond new events into new roles, new methods, and new priorities to fulfill your ministry’s particular mission.

Save yourself from the stress of throwing an event together at the last minute. Start planning for the next school year now. Invite your whole team into the process, too. Like so many other aspects of our Christian faith, these four questions are best answered in community. Only you (and God) know the right answers for your particular ministry and context, but I DO know the benefits of long-range planning. Now is the time to start asking the right questions and pursuing the answers!

The Importance of Feedback


By Brad Hauge

Feedback is often spoken about as a necessary evil in many circles, including mine. Necessary, because it can serve as a catalyst for positive change and growth. Evil, because it can hurt my feelings. I often say that the only people that call my office desk phone are those trying to sell me on their latest and greatest fundraising ploy or parents that are mad at me for something. I don’t like to answer my office phone.

Some of us avoid honest feedback because we pour our heart and soul into the ministry and finding out that it isn’t working like you had hoped sucks. Some of us avoid honest feedback because we know we’re coasting and realize we might be called out on our laziness. There are many reasons why those of us in ministry often hide from feedback, but most of them stem from a desire for self-preservation and comfort as opposed to making sure our ministry is making a difference in the lives of teenagers and the Kingdom.

Kids graduate and new ones arrive. Trends change. Parents rotate in and out. Contexts rarely stay the same for more than a year or two, and in order to feel confidant that your ministry is meeting the spiritual needs of your current context, feedback is crucial.

Here are four obvious, but necessary, people groups from whome you can begin to seek out honest feedback for your ministry. Whether you meet face-to-face over coffee or create ways to gather anonymous feedback, just do it.

Current Students: While it would be easy, and moderately helpful even, to simply ask a 14 year old boy, “Did you have fun at 30 Hour Famine last weekend?” it will be important to spend time gathering more intentional feedback from time to time. If you have a student leadership team make sure to create time and space for them to process the goals and values of the ministry and speak into whether or not they see them being lived into. Give kids opportunities to journal their thoughts and responses and create discussion around their responses. Remember, most people don’t do super well in brainstorming meetings, so providing time for written responses can be a goldmine for feedback from those who might not normally give it.

Former Students: Admit it, you’ve haven’t been doing as good a job staying connected with Johnny off at college as you promised him you would. So as you prepare for this year’s Famine, or mission trip, or even fall kickoff event, use that check-in call you’ve been meaning to have with your former students to assess what works and what can be let go. Ask, “Thinking back to when you were in youth group, what do you remember as really mattering when it came to your faith? What things just seemed silly or not worth your time?” Questions like that can help you both gather feedback and check in on Johnny’s current faith. Sending out emails with questions is a good idea too as written feedback can be super helpful when you want to share specific quotes with either your current students or leaders. We even once compiled dozens of quotes into a little booklet for our leaders once as a reminder for what sort of leader traits and actions had a lasting impact on the kids they walked alongside.

Parents: By far the most intimidating of the feedback avenues you need to be exploring, but super important. If you’re up on your current youth ministry Growing-Sticky-Orange-Young-Faith literature and research you know how important it is to be partnering with parents in all things ministry. Make sure to have comment cards available at parent meetings and consider setting up “office hours” at a local coffee shop and invite parents to join you. Once we created a simple Mail Chimp survey with prompts and questions related to our student ministries to send out to all the parents. The parents were able to remain anonymous in this particular survey and the feedback we received was priceless and shaped much of how we now communicate with them.

Leaders: They are there every week, the true lifeblood of your ministry. So make sure they have a voice! Meet one on one with them regularly and don’t simply ask how their small group is going, but ask specifically if, and how, it seems like the ministry matters to the kids in their small group. Use your leader meetings, your event debriefs, and intentionally conversational space to get feedback from your most active partners in your ministry.

One of the unexpected consequences of seeking out honest feedback has been a whole lot of affirmation. Truly. For every critical response we receive, we seem to get twenty that affirm. So in case you’re still feeling a little apprehensive, just know that seeking out feedback can also be one of the most affirming things you can do for your ministry! And if doesn’t turn out to be the case… well, think of all the freedom you now have to explore new ways to do ministry!



A Little Honesty About Burnout



By Erin Betlej

Here we go. May I be authentic and transparent with you? I am burned out. Burned out on the church. Burned out on youth ministry. Honestly, this is probably the worst time of year to acknowledge this feeling as I all enter into a full summer of youth ministry travel (four week long mission experiences and two weekend retreats). My burnout is not a simple result of the long hours of ministry – and there have been many long days and weekend retreats so far this year. It is not a result of pastoral transitions. Our clergy team that began their ministry here just last July moved on at the end of April and as we await the arrival of our new clergy team, we have an interim for nine weeks. It is not a result of added ministry duties outside of my job description due to the resignation of three staff in the past nine months. I wish I could say that my feelings of burnout were due to all of those external things in combination. It isn’t. It is the result of something deeper, something more personal and internal. My burnout is because of me.

For almost a year now, a pendulum within my spirit has swung between passion and apathy. Between enthusiasm and boredom. Most days I struggled to find the motivation and would simply go through the motions of ministry. My mind is becoming stagnant (and unfortunately, parts of the youth ministry as a result). My frustration has grown as I felt forced to be satisfied with the status quo. I isolated myself from others on staff, and even some of my closest friends, and in the process stifled my ability to be creative and innovative. Burnout is real and part of youth ministry no matter how much we may love teenagers. The good news is that there is a way through it, and you can even grow from it.

In November of last year, I spent some time with a spiritual director who listened to my journey noticing the areas where boredom crept in and highlighting when my passion shined through my face and body language. She introduced me to a poem by Rumi called The Guesthouse:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

My spiritual director encouraged me to name the feeling I woke up with each morning without judgement. Invite in the passion. Invite in the boredom. Then, ask God what that feeling may have to teach me in that day. This simple practice of awareness has not eliminated these intense feelings. Instead what it has done is create an honest dialogue of discernment between myself and God. I notice what is going on around me to stimulate that pendulum swing. And here it is: the pendulum swings depending on whether or not I’m living into the values I’ve claimed for my life and ministry. That’s what I mean when I say my burnout is because of me. I value taking risk to push the envelope of the status quo, yet I’ve allowed myself to settle. I value the sharing of stories with one another to develop deep and meaningful relationships, yet I isolated myself from the many people I call family. I value collaboration with others because that is where creativity lives, moves, and breathes, yet I chose to work alone.

My burnout comes from attempting to live and be in ministry in a way that is not authentic to the core of who God created me to be. That is a hard pill to swallow. What does it mean? Do I stay where I am or do I move on? I do not know, yet each day that I live into my values I know I am a little closer to discovering the next step to move from ‘here’ to ‘there.’

Summer is upon us. Through tear stained cheeks we’ve beamed with pride and joy through Graduate Sundays and graduations. We’ve spent countless hours tracking down payments and paperwork for mission trips. We’ve prayed, written devotions, and planned all to create experiences and opportunities for our youth to have a meaningful, life-changing encounter with God. So as you begin the hard, fun work of summer, check in with yourself honestly. Are you burned out already? Are you living into your values? Invite into your own guesthouse what you are feeling. Acknowledge it and grow from it. Be grateful for it. Ask God to help you discern where it is leading you. You and your ministry will be healthier because of it. I know I am beginning to be.

The “Last Supper” Before Summer


By Danny Kwon

As I was writing this blog post, I was reminded that June 14 (yesterday, assuming you’re reading this on June 15) is also our last meeting of the school year for the youth pastor’s network I belong to in my area. It is a great group of youth pastors, from different churches, denominations, and youth group sizes. In addition, there is a range of ages and years of experience in youth ministry in our group of youth workers. I love how we share ideas, have fellowship, and each month, one person hosts and is in charge of leading a sort of “case study” in youth ministry, which we use to discuss and pray for each other about our ministry situations and personal lives as leaders.

For this last meeting, we all decided that instead of meeting at someone’s church, we would go out to breakfast together. In our emails back and forth, we all started to call it, the “last supper” before our crazy summer schedules hit. Most of the youth groups in our network will be doing summer mission trips, numerous activities, and camps. We all bonded in our emails over this idea, that this was like a “last supper,” before our “suffering” and “death” hits us this summer. As I reflected on this underlying theme the last few days, I was planning to share with two thoughts our group as we meet for breakfast.

First, don’t forget to enjoy your summer youth activities despite how crazy it may be. I have a new, younger intern in our youth ministry. As a veteran youth worker (and parent of teenagers), I am so fixated on all the details: communicating with parents, making sure our church leadership is continually informed, making sure vans are confirmed for rental, packing lists, etc. But when I see him “not” sweat all the details, but instead, enjoying time with the students, excited for the trips and camps, looking forward to building relationships with students, and looking forward to long van rides, I am reminded that yes, there is a reason why my fellow youth workers in our network, and perhaps you, feel like it there is going to be a lot of “suffering” this summer.  We may feel some dread before the crush of it all. But my first year intern reminded me again why I am about to embark on such a crazy summer. We all do this because we love students; we do this to build relationships with them, so they can love Jesus more, and we still need to be excited that God uses these trips and camps for great purposes. I think I have forgotten that in “sweating” all the details. And I am learning from my first year youth ministry intern again why I do what I do.

Second, I would say to my young intern, it doesn’t mean we “SHOULD NOT” NOT, sweat details. I would remind myself, him, and us all, that these details are important. As youth workers, we do have this very important responsibility: that some parent is letting us take THEIR teenagers, for a day or week or whatever, and not only watch over them, but to care for them. They have released their own offspring to us, so we do have to make sure that details are covered, so we can serve and love our teenagers well. Yes, when the details are seen as part of the great “suffering” and “death” of the summer we are about to embark on, they become hindrances. But seeing that they can be used purposefully and vitally, to love our teenagers well, they take on new meaning.

I would like to encourage my fellow youth workers, sisters and brothers, newbies and veterans, to have a great youth ministry summer. In addition, remember that after the last supper, there was death, but there was also a resurrection. The hope always for us is that God is using our summers and us all to work in the lives of students, to bring the hope of the resurrection to the lives of our students.