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The Famine Blog

Leading Events Without Losing Your Mind



By Meg Nelson

Whether it’s the 30 Hour Famine or any event, it’s easy to go a little bonkers when you’re at the helm for hours on end.  Self-care is crucial to leading successful events; something often overlooked.

The heart of the matter – Taking care of your heart, body & soul

As new mom I’ve learned a new level of meaning for the term “hangry.”  I’m reevaluating these new rhythms of life to ensure I’m fueled for my roles as wife, mom, and ministry leader.  Sometimes I wonder how I might have been able to better respond to challenges during past events if I had taken better care of myself.

Call out prayer warriors. You might already have the event on your church prayer list, but seek out some people who can dedicate time to pray for you specifically.

Rearrange some of your daily schedules in the days leading up to and following an event, creating room for yourself to rest and reflect.  Add some times with people who may give you encouragement, but avoid extra appointments and projects if possible.

Properly fuel your body.  There was a time where I brought Diet Mountain Dew, Goldfish, and Twizzlers for an all-nighter.  With all the “on the go” foods that surround us in ministry, seek out options that are protein filled and include good carbs to avoid a crash.  If you’re leading a 30 Hour Famine, consider not fasting at the same time your students are (fast for 30 hours earlier that week, so you can still stand in solidarity with your students).  I was honest with my students about the fact that I had nutrition shakes in my coffee mug, and would have a granola bar on my breaks.  It was for everyone’s best interest that I stay fueled up, and they supported this choice.  You need to be at your best to respond to anything that comes up.  If you aren’t eating well, you might not be at your best when your community needs you to be.

Schedule Breaks for yourself.  This can be tricky, but be creative to make windows of time where you can take 10 minutes occasionally to pause, pray, and take inventory of how things are going.  When we do, it allows us the chance to consider the way God is at work in what’s taking place.

Event Planning 101

The following tips seem like common sense, but have significant implications for reducing stress.  They can help you keep things in perspective as you look for how God is working.

The sooner you start prep, the better. It seems obvious, but is easier said than done.  So many things that seem more urgent creep in.  Even if it’s just one small piece of planning at a time, you’ll be in better shape as the week of the event approaches to handle any new monkey wrenches that come your way.

Use pre-existing resources. There’s no need to recreate the wheel if you don’t have the means to make it happen.  Talk to other youth workers about sharing resources.  When it comes to the 30 Hour Famine, they provide great materials! Even though my groups typically didn’t use the whole program, the Scripture passages provided were our guide for the weekend.  The Internet can be a helpful tool.  Just be sure any resources you use are clearly stated as being free resources for the taking.

Widen your team. I had some parents and team members sit me down at my last church to let me know that while our 30 Hour Famine events were going fine, they believed it could be so much better.  They were right.  They helped me reach out to more people in our church to get new faces and new energy into this long time tradition.  We sought out our Sunday School teachers from other age groups, deacons, and “retired” youth volunteers.  No matter the role, it was amazing what happened when we got more of the church community to rally around our event!

Investing in our physical and spiritual health prepares us to respond to whatever may arise.

Taking practical steps to lighten the workload allows us to be more present to witness how God’s Spirit is moving.

Blessed event planning everyone!

Ministry and the Art of Saying No



By Andrew Esqueda

I am a self-admitted hyper extrovert. I am also a youth minister who suffers from severe FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), and according to Buzzfeed, I suffer from “debilitating FOMO.” It is debilitating to the point that it inhibits my existence. Now, on a social spectrum this really isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it’s something that my wife and friends often joke about. I want to be at the party, and the life of it; I want to say yes to every invite and invite everyone; I want to be there, here, and everywhere. I like people, I tend to think that people like me, and I get energy from fostering current relationships and building new ones.

This is also something that makes me pretty good at my job. As a youth minister, meeting new students, parents and congregants, is just simple and easy for me. I don’t have to prepare for any of it—it just kinda happens.

Although my social prowess is often a huge asset it is equally my biggest downfall; this is where the real debilitating part comes in. I have an aversion to saying “no.” It’s not just a dislike, but more like an allergy. My friends that are gluten intolerant or allergic to dairy or nuts have a physiological reaction to the introduction of those foods into their bodies—in layman’s terms, their bodies just get wrecked when they encounter those foods. That’s how I feel when I am faced with the decision to say “no.”

Here’s the double-edged sword though: when I say “yes,” there’s no cessation of the debilitation. My so-called allergic reaction to saying “no” doesn’t cease after I’ve said “yes.” In my own life, it’s so easy to think of saying “yes” to the many opportunities, events, relationships, committees and boards, as the epi-pen to my allergy, when in fact it is simply the exacerbation of it. Ministers in general, and youth ministers in particular (even more so if you’re part-time or a volunteer), are often taken advantage of and, in turn, we often take advantage of our own well being, the well being of our families, of our mental and spiritual stability, and of our whole selves as created beings.

You hear people say things like this all the time. It’s so much easier said than done. My goal this year is to practice the art of saying “no.” As a youth minister I understand the over-programmed nature of the life of a teen; I understand that it is not healthy, that it is debilitating. It’s time that those ministering to these students start setting better examples.

I wholeheartedly believe that students will thrive when they have time to simply “be,” but for some reason we don’t believe that same thing about our youth ministries or ourselves. So, maybe this is the year: maybe this is the year where I, and we decide it’s time to give ourselves permission to say “no,” to simply be, and to watch ourselves, our families, our minds, our hearts, and our ministries thrive.

The Power of Partnership



By Andrea Sawtelle

Several years ago, my husband announced at youth group that he had decided to train for a half-marathon as his New Year’s resolution. Normally, I would have applauded that endeavor. However, he also announced that I would be training and running with him. At first, I told him there was no way I was signing up to run with him. It was way too big of a task and the amount of energy and work that would need to go into training…I just wasn’t interested. Nevertheless, after a little persuasion, I said yes, we dragged a friend into our plan, and the three of us trained and completed that half marathon 5 months later. There is power in partnering together.

When it comes to completing a task that seems too much to pull off ourselves, our tendency can be to just not do it. The 30 Hour Famine can be one of those tasks. We look at the amount of time it takes to run the event, the planning, the preparation, the long hours, and we think, “there’s no way I can do that.” What I’ve learned over the past 10 years of participating in the Famine is that there is power in partnership. We are better together.

For the past several years, we have partnered with another local church in the area to run our 30 Hour Famine event. Here are just a few of the benefits.

Partnering Provides New Ideas: It’s easy for us to do things the same way we have always done them. When we partner with another youth pastor or leader, our pool of ideas increases. We are able to generate new concepts and create life changing elements within our event that we may not have thought about on our own.

Partnering Creates Excitement: Our teenagers are crazy busy all the time. Sometimes we plan events and only have a handful of people show up. When we bring two youth ministries together, a sense of excitement takes over. Whether there are 10 or 100 present, there is a sense of excitement as new friendships are established, experiences are shared together, and memories are created.

Partnering Relieves Stress: Let’s be honest, running major events alone can be exhausting. When you enter into a partnership, responsibilities are shared and the stress load is lessened. As you divide the tasks out, there is a greater chance of leaders being able to focus on areas where they feel more gifted to lead.

Partnership Allows For Participation: Smaller churches often lack the resources to do an event like the Famine well. Whether it’s money, adult volunteers, or building space, sharing resources allow for smaller churches to participate and reminds larger churches of the call to share what they have been given. In the end, each feels like they have contributed in a significant way.

Partnering Has a Greater Impact: Whether you are raising funds for the Famine, inviting teenagers who don’t know Christ to be a part of your event, or aiming to help people understand God’s mission for the church, we are more impactful when we come together. Sharing our resources, our stories, and our time has the potential to impact God’s Kingdom in ways we could have never imagined on our own.

The task of running an event like the Famine can be overwhelming if you go at it alone. You may even be tempted to not do it at all. Don’t fall into that mindset. Develop a partnership and choose to be better together. You never know the kind of kingdom impact you may have.

Goose Pimples



By Joel Dunn

When was the last time you were truly inspired? I mean in like a “Wow…I have goose pimples” kind of way? (Yes, goose pimples.)

I ask that question a lot in ministry because I know I tend to always be pointing people to inspiration; but I rarely take time personally to be inspired. Going into a 30 Hour Famine is inspiring, but can be draining with all of the prep work involved. I will promise this though: at the end of your 30 Hour Famine you will truly experience something inspirational with your group.

But before your 30 Hour Famine I want to invite you (not challenge you, because you already have enough challenges on your plate) to go visit somewhere new. Seek inspiration by going somewhere you haven’t been before: like a new restaurant, or an art gallery, or a hipster coffee shop, or a mountain trail, or laser tag (without students!).

It is amazing what visiting a different part of your city or state can do for one’s soul as preparation before a 30 Hour Famine. It is a reminder that inspiration is constantly around us. So Go Explore! Be inspired! And remind yourself what Goose Pimples (ok, goose bumps, for those of you who insist on that) feel like.

Vision: Do You See What I See?



By Mike Cunningham

Vision Leaks. Like a leaky faucet. It’s a slow drip: and when you focus on the drops hitting the ground, it can quickly lead to insanity. When is someone going to shut that off? Can someone please fix it? I cannot take it anymore!

Okay, I am being a little overdramatic, but not by much. Getting others to catch a vision and then motivating them to live it out is difficult. I read something the other day about vision and leadership and the author made the point that, as leaders, we need to get comfortable with sounding like a broken record. The former disc jockey in me thought to myself, “That sounds awful.” Why would I want to torture anyone with that noise.

The truth is when we get to a point of sounding like a broken record in our vision casting, it’s about the same time that people are just beginning to understand the vision. Vision takes time, it takes grace, it takes stepping into the unknown. Vision is simply, “The ability to see what could be, followed by the conviction that it should be.”

Our youth group has so many talented kids with so much potential to change our city. Here is what we are going to do to bring that to reality.

My family dynamic is messed up, but if we learn to love each other firs,t it could change everythin;g and here’s what must take place to make that happen.

My marriage could be so much healthier if I began to make it more about my spouse than myself. I have to make some changes.

As leaders, we tend to see the vision and we are convicted to do something about it. But what about our students? What about the people we lead week in and week out? What if they have trouble seeing what you see? What if they lack conviction — not because they are less passionate than us, but because they cannot see what we see yet.

One of our main responsibilities is to help raise the awareness of what God is already doing in our midst. God is already up to something and it’s our role to help our students see that and respond. The reality is it’s hard for us to raise other people’s awareness levels if we lack awareness in our own life.

How would you answer this question: “What is God currently inviting me to do and what am I doing about it?” If you cannot answer that question, you lack awareness.

30 Hour Famine is a vision. Go hungry to help hungry kids. That’s simple and practical. It helps us and our students see the most basic of human needs. It raises our awareness. It helps us see a picture of what could be. All we need to ask ourselves is, “Do we have the conviction that things shouldn’t be the way they are?” Could we help hungry kids get food? Absolutely. Should we help hungry kids get food? How you respond is connected to vision.

Nurturing (and Keeping) Volunteers



By Britt Martin

When I first started in youth ministry in rural Georgia as a college student, the last thing that was on my mind was small groups. The associate pastor continually stressed the importance “getting more adults involved in youth ministry.” In my young (and in hindsight, egotistical) mind, this meant that I should bring more adults into the room to hear my awesome lessons. “They’d probably get a lot out of hearing me, too,” I’d reason with myself.

It never made sense to me why I couldn’t keep volunteers in the room long term. They all seemed to stick around for a few weeks and then find something better to do. I’m sure you are much more humble, down to earth, and in tune to the rhythms of people than I was back in the day; but here are some things I’ve learned about keeping adult volunteers plugged in to youth ministry:

Everyone wants to be wanted. Chances are, a valuable adult volunteer with a real life, family, job, and responsibilities doesn’t want to sit in the back of the room every week and hear an awesome lesson taught to some teens. (I wish someone had told me that). Give your volunteers a job to do. Heck, give them a job description: the more specific the better. Maybe even take a chance to meet up with them for some formal or informal training. They’ll know you need them and you mean business. Give them a reason to show up.

Small groups have a BIG impact. A great way to keep volunteers plugged in is by implementing small groups. Even if there’s only a hand full of students in your group at the moment, every student can benefit from another adult relationship in his or her life.

One easy way to begin to think about employing small groups is to shorten your lesson a bit , write a couple discussion questions, and break out into groups after the lesson to discuss more in depth. Break the groups into guys and girls, and even split up ages if necessary. This gives adults a long-term relational role in the lives of your students. I’ve had more people fall in love with youth ministry through leading a small group than any other way. They invest in the lives of the kids and they keep coming back.

Say thank you. Next to not feeling needed, I’ve had more volunteers leave our team over the years because they didn’t feel appreciated. Today, at our church, we invest a significant portion of our ministry budget into our volunteers. Whether it’s training or appreciation, you can never invest too much into your volunteers.  We do everything from big thank-yous (like a volunteer appreciation dinner where we give them gifts and let students serve them) to small thank-yous (like making sure we take the Keurig and some awesome coffee just for them on retreats).

ASK! This one was the toughest one for me. I remember always going to my pastor and complaining about not being able to find volunteers. I’d created job descriptions. I had a good plan. I couldn’t wait to appreciate them and tell them thank you, but I couldn’t find any people!  I’d put it in the bulletin. I’d made announcements from the pulpit. I’d done it all. Here’s the secret sauce to recruiting volunteers. People want to be asked. It can be a scary or feel presumptuous to step up and declare that you are qualified to work with teenagers. Many people won’t respond to announcement-style recruitment (and often if they do, they’re not who you want). If you see someone that you feel would be a good fit with your youth ministry, ask him or her directly. It sounds so simple because it is.

Use these as guidelines and before you know it you’ll have an incredible volunteer team building awesome relational momentum in your ministry.

Getting Past Church Language



By Kathy Jackson

Yesterday, I made a decision to write a blog entry for the 30 Hour Famine. When I started praying about what I had to offer, God presented me with several things. Being human, I forgot several of the things he offered me.  I discovered that I am going to have to write things down so that I can remember what he has shown me.

So, tonight while sitting at our family dinner my “adopted” son and our German exchange student were talking about their day at school. Our son was telling a story about how sad he thought it was that some students in his group were in a discussion about some things that he thought should just be common knowledge to everyone. The question came up in this group “who chopped down the cherry tree?” (Even though we know this is a false part of history, everyone knows the answer). Every other student in his group said “Abe Lincoln”. He was shocked! He knew that story was attributed to George Washington.  The other students were sure of their answer because Lincoln was known as “Honest Abe.”  They thought the quote “I cannot tell a lie” was Lincoln’s also. He just didn’t understand how these students didn’t know this—wasn’t it common knowledge?

As we continued our conversation I wondered if we as youth leaders allow misconceptions of our faith to continue unnoticed. Do our students really understand our “church” language? Do they really understand God’s grace? What about mercy? And do they really understand Jesus’ call to love one another? We use these words and think they are common knowledge in our church and youth groups. But do they really understand?  Unfortunately, in many schools today, our students are taught to memorize and take a test. Is this what we are expecting our students to do? Memorize and not practice?

How do we show our students that God’s love, mercy, and grace are ours? I believe one way is living in community during mission trips. When living out our lives with our students in community, we can show this to them in all places.  We must be intentional in pointing out where we see it, offer it, use it.  We must also ask our students to do the same. As we come together at the end of the day, we always ask “Where did you see God today?” or “How did God use you today?”, or “Did you see God’s Love, mercy, or grace in someone else, today” If we are constantly asking and confirming in our student’s what they see and what we see in our everyday lives, it becomes second nature for them to recognize that God’s love, grace, and mercy are at work all the time.

I believe that as youth leaders, we are called to live this out with our students—to embed in them a deep-seated desire to see God things in all of life not just in youth group or church on Sunday mornings.

If I Were the Senior Pastor…



By Jake Kircher

It’s not uncommon for youth workers to feel some sort of disconnect from their Senior Pastors (See Doug Franklin’s book The Disconnect). Usually there is quite a generational gap as many senior leaders could be their youth workers parent or grandparent. There might be philosophical differences, different education backgrounds, and ministry experiences that at times don’t see eye to eye. And sometimes there’s a tension between the wisdom of what’s worked for years and what’s fresh and new.

I remember when I was younger and just starting out in ministry where I would run into these issues and find myself thinking, “If I were the senior pastor, I could do so much better.” I would vent to my wife or a mentor about how I would do X differently, or not do Y at all, or how we needed to start Z. Frankly, these statements reeked of arrogance, pride, and mostly naïveté.

See, it’s easy to look at our Senior Pastors from a distance and think that their jobs aren’t that hard and that we can do better. But what we need to remember is that compared to the issues and challenges that we face in ministry, in many scenarios the challenges they face are even greater.

In a recent podcast on politics Rob Bell talked about this hierarchy of leadership. He explained that the higher up you get in an organization (cashier to shift manager to store manager to owner) the problems and challenges get more and more complex. If the lower level staff person can solve the issue, in many cases the higher ups don’t even hear about it. But when they can’t, they pass it up to their boss. And if they can’t solve the problem, they go to their boss until it’s at the top.

This same thing often happens in a church.

I was reminded of this fact over the summer as I had two weeks where I was the only pastor in the office due to vacation schedules. The first week I was flying solo we had a family lose a child. I got the terrifying privilege of counseling them and helping plan their funeral (which I had somehow avoided doing in my previous 15-years in youth ministry!). Thankfully my Senior Pastor was back in time to do the homily.

The second week I was alone we had another death. And so I fully officiated my first funeral. This time for a man who didn’t come to our church and I didn’t know at all. The family described him as someone who “didn’t really care for church and religion at all,” but then asked me to say that he was a “silent servant for Christ.”

This was just two weeks this summer and only two of the many complex challenges I faced in that span; yet it was a huge reminder of the kind of things my senior pastor deals with on a regular basis.

Yes, we as youth workers deal with complaints, but I’d be willing to bet that our senior leaders probably deal with more of them. Yes, we have teens who are dealing with major issues, but our senior pastors are dealing with adults with major issues, and just because of the stakes at hand (jobs, mortgages, declining physical health and other adult responsibilities), they are often more complex and difficult. And yes, we may have different opinions about what our churches should be doing, but you can rest assured that our opinion is only one of the many, and conflicting for that matter, opinions that our senior leaders are hearing.

So the next time you want to complain and say, “If I were the Senior Pastor…”, stop and really think about that for a moment. Seeing things from their perspective, being proactive and asking them about the biggest challenges they face, will help you gain a different respect for them and what they do. It will challenge you to not complain, but instead finish that statement by asking, “…what kind of support and encouragement would I need to do my job?” And as you respond to that question, take your answers and go and do those things for the senior leaders that you serve with.

What I Learned from Leaving Youth Ministry



By Paul Martin

Up until recently I was what some people would have called “a lifer.” As far as youth ministry was concerned I had no other ambitions in life. I wanted to retire at some point from a youth ministry role and never have any other job to claim my time. That didn’t work out the way I imagined.

At age 45, after serving teenagers and families for almost two decades, I realized it was time to tap out. There were a lot of reasons that informed that decision, but those are for another post. After leaving my time working for the church, I found myself on the other side of the curtain. I felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, while all the magic was happening, I wasn’t behind the scenes anymore.

It has been a jarring experience dropping my two daughters off for youth group instead of being there to greet them when they arrived. I found myself sending them to someone else to help them grow their faith. I had no idea what the next big event was. I confess, I was a little more than shell-shocked.

But God was good enough to me to let me land in safe waters. The youth ministry my daughters beg to go to – that’s right, they beg – is an amazing place, just like so many great youth ministries. They are welcomed and loved, cared for and challenged.

Here are my takeaways for learning to be a youth ministry parent.

Be That Guy (or Girl)

I remember so many times I met with parents as a youth pastor. The majority of them were great. Most parents just want to ask a question or get some help. I decided I wanted to be that kind of parent.

The first week after my daughters attended youth group, I went to the church website. I was shocked that the middle school page was completely blank. Blank, as in, there was the church header and footer with nothing in between. Not one word.

So I decided to be that guy – the type of parent that just wants some help. I emailed the youth director and gently pointed out that I couldn’t find anything on the site and was just curious about what happens in the ministry. It was great, and I learned a lot.

Don’t Be That Guy (or Girl)

I also remember some other times when parents would contact me. They were mad or frustrated, usually about something completely unrelated, and wanted to vent on someone. I decided I didn’t want to be that guy.

I realized after the fact about something happened at one of the youth meetings my daughters were in. It was a little tiff between one of my daughters and another student. Not a big thing, but pretty upsetting to my daughter.

I’ll admit, my feelings were all over the place. I could have called and vented. Instead, I chose to be patient. I waited until the next day, at a reasonable hour for youth workers, and called the director. I just wanted to make him aware of what my daughter reported and ask to see if he could help. This guy was gold. He said he actually wanted to talk to me and see what could be worked out.

Choose Your Path

What I learned in a few short months outside of youth ministry could probably fill several books. But here’s the best part of my story so far. I decided on a new role for myself as a youth ministry parent. I am a cheerleader.

I’ve seen so many amazing things happening in my family’s life because of my church’s youth ministry. We were in serious need after leaving a ministry with sore feelings, moving to another state and starting over again. My daughters really needed to feel some sense of stability and grounding. They needed to have fun and make new friends. This youth group did so much to help us. All I had to do was tell our story.

So that’s what I did. It started with a short, minute and a half conversation with the Senior Pastor. He asked me how I found the church, and I told him it was from a friend who said they had a welcoming youth group, but I also snuck in a couple of compliments while I was at it. It started something.

I’ve now written or called almost everyone on staff at the church. I’m the chief encourager. It’s a complete role shift for me. Instead of heading off problems in the ministry as the director, I can be a source of life for the leaders. I now realize there were parents like this in every ministry I served. I’m so thankful.

Thoughts About Waiting



By Brien Bell

If you’re anything like me you’re not a fan of waiting. As a culture we’re pretty bad at waiting in general. Whether it’s waiting for the clock to hit noon for lunch to being, or waiting months for the next iPhone to hit stores, or years for the next Star Wars movie, we’re really bad at waiting.

Youth ministry leadership is often a waiting game.

Sometimes it’s waiting in the challenging sense. Waiting for volunteers to sign up for an event, or waiting on parents to pick up their kids after a particularly tiring evening youth event. Waiting to see which kids have decided that it’s just not worth it to spend their time with you each week. Or waiting for that thirtieth hour of the Famine to come, not just for our own hungers but also for those we hunger in solidarity with.

Sometimes it’s waiting in the best sense. You’ve seen the stirrings of the Spirit; and now you’re waiting to find out how your students will respond. You’ve watched as the seeds of friendship have been planted between people who would seem unlikely to bond, and are waiting to watch that relationship grow.

As summer ends, I’ve found waiting to be particularly trying. It’s a time of vacation and service and not seeing my friends and students for nearly three months, aside from a pool party here or a Sunday service there. And waiting, for me, is often an anxious waiting, full of questions and doubts

Psalm 27 ends with this hopeful note, and a command:

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

It’s an encouragement that our waiting is never in vain, whatever it is that we wait for. It’s not yet winter, but one thing we wait for as fall draws near is the season of Advent – a season of anticipation, of waiting, for the Lord to make His presence known. The Psalm reminds us that our waiting isn’t just for one season.

Be strong, take heart, and wait – the Lord’s favor is good, and it’s worth that patience.