Release the Feast… and Give Parents a Real Place at the Table


Ross Carper

iStock_000001978549SmallConfession time: during this busy season leading up our 30 Hour Famine event, I’m one of those busy middle school youth directors who can let my strategic goals about parents fall by the wayside. This time of year, I can even get to the point where I’m mostly interested in the following things about our students’ parents: (1) do they drop off and pick up their kids on time, and (2) do they help or hinder students’ involvement in our 30HF event and fundraising season?

When I’m in this mindset, the time I do spend with parents can get winnowed down to simply responding to ever-present questions or criticisms: opinions about Famine season’s crazy-huge emphasis on seeking global justice… questions about whether fasting is even safe for 13 year olds… phone calls about the fitting all this Famine stuff into those unyielding soccer schedules. Other than that, I’m just trying to communicate event details. Yikes.

OK, confession time over. The first step to change is admitting failure. Check.

A good next step is dreaming about how things with parents could be different. We all know that parent partnering is crucial to helping our students develop a deep, transformative Christian faith (we’ve been beat over the head with this, thanks to Orange and Sticky Faith and other youth ministry thinkers). So, how do we get there when it comes to 30 Hour Famine?

This year, it has helped to sit down with Alicia (also on staff with our middle school ministry), take a step back, and consider the bigger picture. As it turns out, our conversation meandered its way around to a goal that has nothing to do with Famine events or money. We simply want as many of our families as possible to sit down for a few minutes and talk about Jesus, money, and generosity. We want to spur on a student/parent discussion about how faith compels us to be sacrificially giving and advocating for those affected by hunger, poverty, and injustice. And we want this conversation to be radically open—a talk that peels back the curtain, showing students that generosity in the face of injustice is a lifelong challenge.

For example, when I was growing up, I didn’t know anything about the ways my parents approached giving, except watching them toss pre-written checks in the collection plate at church. But poverty-specific giving? I had no clue. It wasn’t until I was in college that I overheard them talking about a certain amount of their paychecks each month they have automatically diverted into an account specifically devoted to their favorite poverty-fighting organization.

How cool would it have been if I had found out about this as a middle schooler? What if my parents had sat down with me and pulled out their account statements, using numbers as a jumping off point in a conversation about how and why they prioritize giving to feed the hungry (instead of buying me the newest video game console), and how that has been hard and/or rewarding for them over the years. I know for a fact that I would not have forgotten that conversation. Just accidentally overhearing them once in college has stuck with me.

So, tonight we’re having a big spaghetti dinner with students and parents, and we’re hoping to feed a crowd. It’s our “30 Days Till 30 Hour Famine” kickoff party, and yes, we’ll be fielding lots of frequently asked questions and communicating lots of event and fundraising details. But for one portion of the evening, we’ll send the students to their normal Tuesday night Life Groups and keep the parents for an adult conversation. We’ll cast vision and provide tools for one specific goal: helping parents have one good talk with their kids about Jesus, poverty, and generosity. We’re praying this can have a lasting impact, helping students translate our Famine season into lifelong Kingdom habits. That could feed some crowds well into the future.