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The Famine Blog

Unadulterated Enthusiasm


By Amanda Leavitt

Every year I lead our music and skits for Vacation Bible School. But, this year my view from the front during VBS changed my view of almost everything around me for the foreseeable future. Before VBS this year I had never considered the actual meaning of the word “unadulterated.” Have you? VBS this year got me thinking that the fact that this word exists is a symptom of one of the worst parts of growing up. When something is un-adult-erated it’s in its purest, undiluted, and essential form. There’s “unadulterated enthusiasm” and “unadulterated beauty” and “unadulterated” foods, and my very favorite, “absolute unadulterated nonsense.” But, the word “unadulterated” points to something I think is unfortunate about growing up, adults are so restricted that this word popped into our language to describe wonderful/pure/free things as the opposite of adultness.  

I have the very best view of VBS if you ask me. I am up on the stage so I can see all the kids’ faces during the music and the skits and offering time.

What I see, especially in the first few rows where we have preschool and kindergarten, is what can only be called “unadulterated enthusiasm”, and all through the day they have unadulterated fun. The first few days the older kids are too concerned with being cool to let loose; but by the end of VBS they too are usually engrossed in fun and become unadulteratedly enthusiastic. But sadly, the older kids have been adulterated.

And so, you see what I mean, that word “unaldulterated” is evidence of the worst part of growing up. We lose the joy of flinging our bodies all over the place dancing, the joy of throwing our bodies into a freezing cold sprinkler, the joy of covering ourselves in mud, and mostly, the joy of being ourselves. What is amazing about the smallest kids at VBS is that they are not “dancing like no one is watching”… they are dancing like everyone is watching because they don’t even know what looking ridiculous is yet and they want everyone to see their amazing moves. 

After the first day of VBS I realized there is something I am missing in my life. Even as a youth minister I have been adulterated. It’s impractical to get muddy, it’s distracting to dance with all my heart, it’s cold to be wet, and at the end of the day, what will people think of me if I live an unadulterated life? I don’t want to look ridiculous. It’s clear I have been adulterated. Even when doing these things that are my job it requires some mental preparation to unadulterate myself. 

At some point as kids we all start striving to be adults and then once we are, we try to conform kids into adultness. But this word “unadulterated” points to big things we lose when we get “adulterated.” It’s not just that we mature or even that we become impure because we experience the realities of sin in adulthood, we also lose wonder and joy and inhibition. We become practical and subdued and self-conscious and clean (not pure though). Sometimes in youth ministry we are compelled to keep things safe* and help students become well behaved Christians and, in that process, if we are not careful, we lose kids that seem somewhat nonsensical, ridiculous, and unfocused. I don’t mean they stop coming to our churches, I mean we “develop” (adulterate) them into sensible, reasonable, and focused individuals. We lose them. And I just wonder, what absolute unadulterated ministry the nonsensical, ridiculous, and unfocused students could think up and the kinds of people they might reach with the love of Christ that my adulterated moderateness just could not even conceive or invent?  

The best youth pastor I ever met taught this golden nugget of wisdom: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Jesus, Matthew 18:3) There is a lot in this instruction that points to the pitfalls and potential for our frame of mind as adults. One thing is clear though as I watch the kids at VBS, I personally have been adulterated. All I could feel every morning at VBS was this: “Oh my goodness, I wish I was 5!”  I am longing to be unadulterated. I want to be so comfortable in the skin God gave me that I do my life with God like everyone is watching, and that I won’t stop just because they might see me. I want to be unmoved by appearing foolish for doing what God calls me to. I want to play in the mud, throw myself in cold water, and dance with all my might. I want to leave the problems of yesterday in their place and walk forward forgiven, free, and unafraid; then forgiving and freeing everywhere I go. 

If Jesus said it, it’s what we should be doing. So then, I have some questions for you to think through to help you get there: Where are you adulterated? Where has your wonder and joy been removed by your concern for what someone else might think? Where have your wonder and joy been tainted by resentment and unforgiveness? Where have you become inhibited because you are more concerned with looking clean and together than actually having a pure heart at ease? In what ways are you tempted to adulterate the students in your ministry? How might you change the way you relate to and teach the students under your care if building unadulterated adults became one of your ministry values?
What would it take for you to be an unadulterated believer? It’s worth considering. It’s a gift Jesus has for you.  

 *Safety is good. Find creative and smart ways to keep students safe. The ability to assess risk and apply boundaries is a good function of growing up.

Planning for More Than 30 Hours


By Kim Collins

Throughout the many years I served in youth ministry, I planned a buffet of youth events from Sunday evening gatherings, worship services, mission trips, and fundraisers to just hanging out for coffee and conversation. I certainly made some mistakes along the way that always taught me a great deal of what works, what doesn’t, and how to plan (or not plan) for future events. I always enjoyed planning our 30 Hour Famine event because it was a collaboration with other youth ministers in my area for one large, community event that brought together youth (and their leaders) from various churches, schools, and neighborhoods. I also enjoyed the pre-planning very much; this is critical for an extra meaningful Famine event.

Once you receive your kit, pray over the materials inside the box. Pray for those who will receive as well as those who will give. Pray for the planning of the event from the most minute detail to the largest. Then, open your box and take care to look at ALL the materials, not just the sign-up/fundraising packets. Sometimes, especially when you have experience in planning, it’s easy to skip through some of the information, and think, “I got this.” Stop and look at everything! And this is where you might want to take a breath and say, “Wow, this is going to be the most awesome event!” Have a little dream and vision session. Then it’s time to get busy. 

Education is a vital key to planning: so educate, educate, educate. Educate yourself, educate your students and leaders, and educate your church. Education starts with the resources you’re given for the pre-Famine events. Gather your leaders and plan not only for the 30 Hours but for the time prior. Make a plan to spend several weeks before the Famine to discuss hunger and poverty with your group. Don’t just hang posters of the when, where, and why, but make it a season of mission. My students and I LOVED and were most impacted by the videos provided by World Vision; they are very powerful and help to provide personal stories of children and families who are being helped through this mission. I encourage you that as you’re watching the videos, take a look at your students’ expressions and see how they are impacted. Plan a time of discussion; challenge them to take these families home with them and continue to think about them, and to pray for them. This can be a game changer for how your students prepare for and participate in the Famine as these stories stick long after the event and can greatly affect the ways in which students continue to serve in this mission and others. 

I have experienced times when former students have recalled their Famine experience, and they seem to always refer back to the videos with comments like, “I remember the little boy who….” or “the little girl that…”; it has made a difference in their lives long term. Other great resources to use in addition to the videos are a Bible Study, planning a hunger and poverty simulation, displaying the Famine posters throughout the church, and developing other ways in which your students can be involved in sharing about the Famine and getting others involved.   

Whatever you do, make use of ALL the resources available to you; be creative, have fun, and remember that you and your students are sharing the love of Christ, and He is using you to make a difference in our world!

Noticing What God Wants You to Notice


By Shawn Kiger

A few weeks ago, on our mission trip to Haiti, I was reminded that God often shows up in ways we do not expect or plan for. I like to plan out mission trips as much as I can. I like to make sure we have directions to every place we are going and know how long it will take to get to each place. I double check with the agencies to make sure they are prepared for us. I like to be organized so that the trip will run as smoothly as possible. But on mission trips to locations like Haiti I often have to give up some of that control, and when I do I’m amazed at what God will do.

Part of our work in Haiti was children’s ministry. Basically we ran a mini VBS for kids at the church we were working with. We would have a scripture lesson and a skit to explain the lesson. We sang songs both in English and Creole. Then we would go outside and play with the kids. We played soccer, threw around a Frisbee, jump rope, and lots of other kid games. 

On our first day of children’s ministry one of our team noticed a little boy hiding in the bushes. Despite the language barrier they tried to talk to him to see what was going on. It seemed he wanted to tell us something but was very embarrassed.  Through one of our translators we learned that he had a problem with his leg and he wanted to see if we could help. He lifted his pants leg to reveal a large open wound cyst near his ankle. We had a nurse with us on our team and I had her take a look. She confirmed what we all thought, he needed to see a doctor very soon. We talked to the pastor of the church and he did not know the boy or his family. The pastor talked to the boy for a while and suggested he come back tomorrow with his mother. 

The next afternoon we arrived back to the church, and to our delight the boy was there again, hiding in the bushes; and this time his mother was with him. The pastor and our interpreters spoke with the mother and we learned that she had taken him to the doctor, but the doctor wanted to remove his leg. What started out as a small scratch got infected and became life threatening. The mother did not have the money for surgery and of course, did not want her son to lose his leg. The pastor suggested a different doctor, and we gave her some money for transportation and the doctor’s visit. 

The next day we arrived back to the church for our final day of ministry with the children and the mother said she saw the doctor and set up another appointment the next week to see what they could do. After we got home we found out that they could save the boys leg, but he would have to have surgery and the mother could not afford the $400 that it was going to cost. We were able to send $500 to the mother; and the last we heard, the boy was at the hospital. Communication is slow in Haiti so we are anxiously waiting to hear how the surgery went.

This was never part of the plan for our mission trip. In the many months of planning our trip I never thought we would encounter a little boy that needed our help to save his leg and possibly his life. But I often reminded our team to keep their eyes and hearts open to what God is doing. I’m so thankful that one of our young people did just that by noticing the little boy in the bushes. They didn’t ignore him but showed great love and concern for him.  

While I still think it’s important to be well-planned and organized for mission trips, I also know that God works in the unplanned times as well. Our job is to try to notice where God is at work and join in that work. When we do that we may just be able to save a little boy’s life! 

Now What? Coming Home from the Mountain Top


By Meg Nelson

My first years in youth ministry, I confess I had little to no strategy for how to keep students engaged upon returning from big events. I would try to include topics from retreats, missions, or camp in weekly activities, but none of that seemed to carry much weight. When I began serving with the local Young Life area (ministering primarily to teens who weren’t connected to a church community) I learned some important tips for keeping up momentum from our camp weeks by following the lead of my team members. Here are a few things that we’ve found to work well.  

Intentionally planned hang-outs the week after the big event

After spending days together in community sharing special experiences, the return home can feel like a letdown. Offering pre-planned outings with group members can help the transition home. Having leaders available for meals, movie nights, or other casual gatherings can keep the community connections made at your event strong upon returning.  

Schedule an official event reunion that includes families

The post-camp cook-out is always a special event for our Young Life area. Inviting whole families helps parents and siblings catch a glimpse of the special bond that students experience at camp. We bring parents in for a living room session to see the extended version of the camp video scrapbook, which includes highlights from the camp speaker. Parents get to see the insane amount of fun we had, but also get to hear a bit of the message the students received. With the teens, we try to have one last “cabin time” to reflect on what the camp week meant to them.  

Prepare leaders to follow up individually with students

Some of this starts during the event. Ensuring that there are leaders who are connected to students to see how their experience is going during the event is even more effective when that connection continues upon returning home. Finding a devotional book to go through together, a YouVersion Bible App devotional, or a section of Scripture to reflect on together over a few weeks can support the momentum of spiritual growth that began at a special event. Sometimes the conversations are simple texts sharing highlights from devotionals, or prayer requests. Even simple follow-up can have a lasting impact.  

Sharing memories with the whole church

After a disastrously long post-retreat re-cap at a church, I realized that there had to be a more creative and effective way to share the highlights of the event. Asking students a few specific questions in a post-event survey allowed us to infuse short quotes with the video/photo montage, including everyone regardless of availability on a specific day. It also helped students to think about how the retreat impacted them. They could have questions as light as “What’s your favorite memory from the event?” to something deeper, “What did God teach you on your trip?” This helps students own what was meaningful about their experience, and to ensure that the entire church gets to be part of what God is doing through the events we offer our students.  

What will work best in your context?  

Every group and every event will be different. These are some ways to help your group keep the momentum going when your group returns from mountain top experiences. Not only that, but these ideas can help share the work God is doing with others such a family, friends, and your church community. What have been some successful ways your group does follow-up for big events? 

Four Cheers for Summer


By Sean Garner

Late Spring in youth ministry rushes past with a cacophony of summer planning, diminishing attendance, graduation parties and school-year program wrap ups. 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 you: Revel 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 before the summer is suddenly over.

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.

Leading With Empathy


By Bobby Benavides

One of the hardest parts of leading young people, at times, is interacting with parents. This is particularly true of parents who value your work, yet question you and why you’re doing what you are doing.

30 Hour Famine is, of course, a great experience for so many young people. For a large portion of the event their worldview will be shifted and they will be encouraged to serve beyond themselves. You will celebrate those wins. You will announce them in church that Sunday. You may even be able to share these encouraging stories with leaders of the church.

Then you get that email or phone call, asking why your students were not allowed to have cell phones or why they were being made uncomfortable by learning so much about struggling families in foreign countries. They will wonder why they weren’t playing games all night. You’ll certainly have a parent question you about the safety of kids not eating for 30 hours.

The truth is, you may get these emails or calls before the event, but some will come after the fact.

So, how do you respond?

It is so easy to pass judgment, even share your frustration with other youth leaders. Those parents are “just not getting it.” Trust me, I’ve been there.

I have also been put in check by the Spirit when I began to feel that way, most of the time after I posted something or made the phone call. 

I came to realize that many of these parents never had these opportunities. Many of these parents were not educated about the issues facing children and families in other countries. They never had a youth pastor who took the time to inform them about starvation, death, poor economies, corrupt governments, and so on. So much of their questioning comes came from a sincere place of wanting to know more (and wanting to be sure to protect their kids from harm). 

I had to humble myself and begin to have empathy for them. Just as I have empathy for the students in my group, knowing they may be experiencing something brand new to them. See the parallel? Many parents are experiencing specific parenting issues for the first time also.

Yes, it is frustrating when we get the questions. Yes, it feels like our leadership is being questioned. But we need to be humble. We need to be wise. We need to be patient.

We may be called to serve and lead the students, but God has also called us to love the parents and, at times, lead and serve them as well.

We need to lead with empathy. 

Confessions of a Lousy Parent Volunteer


By Kevin Alton

As someone with over 2 decades of local church ministry experience and countless contributions to youth and children’s ministry curriculum and literature, I feel I am uniquely qualified to make this statement:

I am a terrible youth ministry volunteer and an even worse youth parent. In a certain way of looking at it, you could say I excel at being terrible.

What’s really weird about it is that I remember putting up with people like me when I was the youth minister. I couldn’t stand me, back then. How could I be so inattentive and forgetful? Didn’t I care?

I left full-time church ministry about 4 years ago. My own children have now reached youth ministry age and I, at least in my head and heart, have every intention of being a faithful and dedicated youth ministry volunteer. Yet despite my relative expertise in youth ministry, I’ve noticed that some odd things have crept in to my behavior. See if you recognize any of these classics:

  • I don’t know the dates for the mission trip next month, nor what it costs, even though I’m going.
  • I’m not going to be at youth group Sunday night, but I’m going to forget to tell our youth minister until at least Sunday afternoon.
  • I would like for my son to be allowed to attend the trip he is a year too young to attend.
  • The youth leadership meeting was when?

I share this because whether you’re organizing a 30 Hour Famine event or just an average youth gathering, you’re almost certainly going to run into at least one of me among your adults. There are a few things that I wish me then had understood more clearly about me now:

Our church’s youth ministry isn’t my first priority.

That sounds cold and awful, but it’s a logical reality. I work full-time, I am a full-time student, and I work an additional 20 hours a week for my school as a graduate assistant. I am a parent, which trumps all of that. I am a spouse. All of those things necessarily come before I spend any mental energy on anything beyond our home and daily life. This doesn’t mean I don’t care, but if I seem unfocused it’s probably because something else has required my focus.

I’m tired.

This one I think I managed to keep an eye on pretty well as a youth leader, but it’s easy to forget that life has worn out your volunteers before the first minute they spend helping you. You’re at work. They’ve been to work already, checked in with the fam, and are now spending precious free time with you. It’s impossible to over-convey your gratitude for that gift.

I’m going to let you down.

I really don’t know when the mission trip is. I tried to find it yesterday when scheduling a dentist appointment. I am committed to go. I’m not looking forward to asking again because of the number of times I’ve already asked. It should be on my calendar. I thought it was on my calendar. Granted, none of that technically lets my youth minister down, but it certainly helps her feel like the letdown is just around the corner. It’s not on purpose. Just being human over here.

I really do care.

Really. It’s going to be imperfect, but my heart is with you. You’re looking out for my children. Don’t give up on me. 

30 Hour Famine: A Four Year Journey (part 2)


Bob Ferretti

(Click here to read Bob’s observation from his first two 30 Hour Famine events)

Year 3 of 4

Success breeds success. At the end of the previous 30 Hour Famine we identified a small group of teens that we targeted to be part of our 30 Hour Famine teen team. We started meeting in December to put the event together. Each team member was assigned a video and we worked together to develop their witness talk. We still set a very high fundraising goal (and a challenge) but the event was more about the experience than it was about fundraising.

Throughout our regular youth ministry meetings, we touched on the Famine and the impact our fundraising makes. We championed the work the group has done—the difference we were making. It’s a powerful statement to be able to say to a group of teens that 25 children are eating this year because of the work they did.

The materials that the World Vision 30 Hour Famine team created again provided the structure for the Famine event for us. As our group continued to grow—now over 45 participants—the materials, while helpful, were not perfect for our group. Our four tribes had 11-12 members and each of the games became harder to play. It made for some fun but there was a definite cost paid—the teams were just too large and less cohesive.

We still hit our fundraising goal (knocked it out of the park actually). And the teen team really brought the experience ‘home.’ They owned it. It was a beautiful thing.

Learning from year three:

  • The materials that World Vision provides are just a guide. A wonderful guide, but just a guide. It is not the Bible.
  • The impact that you make with the fundraising does more to raise funds than offering to shave your head (although that does work too).
  • “Small” tribes of 12 are way too big.
  • Building prayer opportunities into the time together is invaluable.
  • Remembering that we are trying to develop teen leaders should never be lost. Allow the teens to lead (and help develop them along the way).

Year 4 of 4

I’m still in recovery mode and I am sure additional insights will develop over the next few weeks and months. But before some of the ‘good stuff’ is forgotten I thought I’d write it down.

This year I did something I don’t do too easily. I admitted that I don’t know everything. I reached out for help. I contacted some of the top teams doing the Famine and spoke to youth pastors and youth ministers around the country. I was particularly interested in how some larger groups structured the 30 Hour Famine in their churches. I learned that some are middle school groups and have a whole set of different challenges than mine.

I did get some great advice from some youth pastors and youth ministers about things I could try this year. Some things not ‘in the book.’ The suggestions ranged from having a worship band be part of the experience to renting inflatable sumo-suits. We kept what worked in the past—especially having the teen leadership—but we made some fundamental changes. Our team met and decided on the following changes.

Tribes of 6 – 8 teens. Each tribe had a teen team member.

  • We decided on a theme that we would carry through all of our talks—a deep focus on the Syrian Refugee Crisis.
  • We invited a motivational speaker from our church. We shared the Famine materials, videos, and theme with him and gave him free reign. Since he’s someone I trust I wasn’t worried. I was as surprised and inspired when he spoke as the teens were.
  • We invited someone who works with refugee families right here in the New Jersey. Our goal was to bring it “home.” It did.
  • Instead of going out to an all-you-can-eat buffet we did a potluck supper with the families. Our reasoning was that many of our teens were not able to eat at the buffet due to peanut and gluten allergies.

The results were tremendous. Small groups mean no one gets left behind—each person is needed. Having a theme and supporting it with outside speakers helped the Famine group feel like they are an important part of a large mosaic. And, as simple as it sounds, inviting families to break the fast with us allowed the teens to shine. Even with our largest group ever (55 teens), the actual event seemed to flow so much better. That’s not to say there were no glitches; but in youth ministry, that’s the norm!

We hit our fundraising goal, and I get to keep my hair! At 52 years old that’s a precious commodity. I’ll let you know if it is worth it after viewing “Frozen” for 24 straight hours.

What’s in store for 2019? The planning has started. The team is already being identified. Our teen leader has passed on the reigns. Much like I have tried to do here, we will meet to do a full post-mortem of the 2018 30HF experience. We will determine what worked and what didn’t. We will be honest with our assessment and make changes. And we will continue to reach out to other youth pastors and youth ministers to see what we can do better.

I’m a believer in miracles—I see them all the time. Miracles of birth, miracles in nature, miracles in conversion. Our 30 Hour Famine experiences have been filled with what seemed like a never-ending supply of the miraculous. I should expect it by now, but each year I am still transported to that place of awe in the power of Christ and the way our teens become His hands and feet.

30 Hour Famine: A Four Year Journey (part 1)


Bob Ferretti

As I write, I’m 48 hours removed from the end of our 2018 30 Hour Famine and I am both still on a high and still in recovery mode. They say the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. I don’t know who “they” are but “they” are correct! (Oh, yeah, it was Jesus…) I decided it would be helpful (for me, and hopefully for you) to jot down some notes and thoughts about these last four years of Famine events, while the current experience is still so fresh in my mind.

Year 1 of 4

I’ve been running the 30 Hour Famine at our church for the past 4 years—limited to our high school aged teens. I knew conceptually what the program was but I can’t say with any honesty that I understood just how impactful it would be for the youth, the adults and for me. That didn’t stop me from proclaiming to the members of our youth group that it would be a weekend they would remember for the rest of their lives.

Throughout the beginning of the school year, I used the upcoming Famine as a recruiting tool for our youth ministry program. “If you join the youth group you get to be part of our 30 Hour Famine team.” Our high school youth program blossomed from four teens to twenty – all of them doing the 30HF.

All I can say is, thank God (and the 30 Hour Famine team at World Vision) for the Famine leader kits, the video resources, the sample agendas, etc. Without them, I would have been lost. We watched the videos and I led each discussion. We learned a ton about water, food, healthcare, education, faith and economic empowerment. We came out of the Famine ready to make a difference.

Learning from year one:

  • The 30 Hour Famine is a great recruiting tool but it really is about changing the lives of the poor and under-served in the developing world. I didn’t focus on fundraising (at all) but participation.
  • It takes more than a couple of people to pull off all that is needed to make a Famine event successful. No one wants to hear from the same person for the entire event even if it is me.
  • In our climate, the February date didn’t allow us to complete any outdoor service projects so we were limited to working indoors.

Year 2 of 4

In our second year, our program started to expand. We were able to capitalize on the great work that we started in the previous year. Our youth ministry leadership team started to grow as did the number of teens. We moved our date to April and focused on getting kids registered. With a better awareness of the reasons we actually participate in the Famine we started our fundraising early and with a vengeance. I challenged the teens to outrageous fundraising goals, committed to kissing a pig, running a 5k in a tutu and shaving my head. We were going to raise lots and lots of money.

The actual Famine event was great—the 30 or so teens had a great experience, they learned a lot, they did a lot. They hit every fundraising target that I put in front of them. But the 30 Hour Famine felt like work. They did a good job. They met their fundraising goals. They were relieved when it was over.

Learning from year two:

  • Don’t let fundraising get in the way of ministry.
  • Christ is going to work in and through you and your teens. Rejoice in that.
  • Service projects outside the church have a phenomenal impact on the community. It raises awareness of the teens to what is going on in their community and it raises the awareness of the community to what great work is going on in the church.

(Check out part 2: Bob’s learnings from years 3 and 4)

Being the Person I Need to Be


By Alex Ruzanic

I am convinced that we often don’t live into the life we were meant to live. I don’t live into the life that I am designed to live. I need to work on and be faithful to becoming the best version of myself that I can be. 

I recently read a few books that have transformed my thoughts of who I am and how to minister to the students I work with. The first book was When Helping Hurts. I read this book a while ago but reread it to teach it to our youth and adults during a small group. It challenges us to attempt to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor. So much of what I used to do in youth ministry was just that. I was hurting kids (the book talks about the poor, but it works when I think of all teenagers). I wasn’t intentionally hurting anyone; but what I realized is that I was allowing programming to get in the way of relationships. I was focusing on youth programming and not thinking about how youth might be integrated into the life of the church. I came up with games, skits, profound talks (in my humble opinion) and teachings, incredible and outlandish fun times together that ended up getting in the way of building transformational relationships. Yes, we had fun and enjoyed the events; and these events are, at some level, transformational, because they build a foundation. But I was missing something. I realized that programming doesn’t change lives. Games, fun, and skits didn’t allow youth to begin the process of “becoming who they should be.” 

I do believe that one of the core values a youth worker should have is to help youth to develop into the “best version of themselves.” I needed to be invested in the youth in personal ways. Yes, I did go to the schools, visit after school games, plays, musicals, sporting events…so much of what I did was about building relationships. What I was missing was that I didn’t always understand the specific needs they had and more importantly what their dreams and passions were.  I was so busy programming and fixing (that sounds horrible, but I think we all do this) kids’ lives that I missed the point of just being present and caring in their lives. I helped to alleviate what was on the surface but failed to get deep and find the root to allow for true transformation. I allowed myself to think that I knew what was best and most important for the youth in my program. 

My realization was, “I am getting paid to develop a team of leaders to hang out with kids and build trust.” Then and only then was I truly able to minister and transform lives, and in turn they can transform their communities. I had been thinking that I was called to change these lives, but I realized that is what God is responsible for. God will change and transform lives. I am called to make myself, the church leadership, the families and parents available to build lasting and transformational relationships. I know we have all heard that youth ministry is incarnational; this is nothing new…but when reaching out I needed to know what the needs of the youth were. So, like any good youth pastor, I spend time trying to understand youth culture (which is a good thing). I thought I knew what the youth needed, but I was wrong. I had to ask the youth what they needed. What did they want, what were their dreams and aspirations? Whatever my youth are passionate about? What did they want to do with their lives? It didn’t matter what I thought they should do, I had to engage them in what they dreamed about.  

It has taken me time to realize I’m off balance in life (read Matthew Kelly’s book, Off Balance). I ask myself now “what is the best version of me that I can be?” and I try very hard to live into that. Conversely I ask myself how I can foster the “best version of the youth that I know.” One of the key things I love to do is to teach other adults how to be available to kids. When I am doing this I encourage leaders to ask the youth “what is the best version of you?” The power and reassurance this enables in lives of young people is incredible. I remember being young and desperately wanting to be known and loved. I desired to have someone ask me what my dreams were. If we know what youth want and desire then we can help them live into those dreams. I have seen more youth get connected to the church because they are living into the best version of themselves. When caring and committed adults spend time with kids, mentoring occurs. The adults share their lives and care for the youth. It is youth ministry at its most basic. We don’t worry as much about programming anymore (though we still program events), but we make it a core value to know our youth and their dreams and passions. 

Here is an example of one such student: I have one youth that went to a trade school to become a welder. He is now welding full time and finds great joy and peace knowing this is what he was meant to do. He loves welding. If I didn’t ask him “what is his best version of himself,” I would have missed this opportunity to encourage him down this path to head to trade school and not college. He is engaged as a young adult in our church with incredible support of other older men and women to pursue his life for God. He leads prayers, comes to Bible study, and is engaged fully in the life of the church.  

So, when you think about what the role of a youth pastor, volunteer, or parent is: it’s simple. How can you bring out the best version of the youth you are called to serve? We need to look at ourselves as missionaries reaching out in loving and caring ways to transform lives by knowing what they want and enabling them to achieve it.