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The Famine Blog

A View from the Senior Pastor’s Desk


By Matt Wilks

It happened when I least expected it or planned for it. I remember stating quite clearly from behind a microphone numerous times throughout my tenure as a youth pastor that I would never, ever be a senior pastor. On youth pastor retreats, I used to make fun of them and I had no desire to ever be one of them.

People in the church would ask me when I was going to grow up and move into a real job or simply ask the innocent question of, “When will you use your gifts in the whole church?” Most times there was no maliciousness with the questions, just simply a question of wonder as they saw me both mature and get older in my leadership and physical age.

I became an Interim Senior Pastor for a four-year period of time and learned some lessons from being in the Senior Pastor Desk.

There were so many things I learned in my role as the lead pastor I wish I would have known as a youth pastor. The reality is I would have had a very different relationship with my senior pastors then the relationships that I had with them. I made so many incorrect assumptions about the role of a senior pastor that I wish I could have changed.

As a youth worker, if you could provide these few things to your senior pastor not only will your relationship become stronger, but also the church in return will become an effective bride of Christ.

Lesson #1: Relationship

In youth ministry, we are blessed with so many relationships. Relationships with our volunteers, relationships with our students and relationships in the networks and conference circles we walk in. A huge part of youth ministry is a pursuit of relationships. One of the biggest realizations I had as I became the senior pastor was that almost every relationship a senior pastor has is not a relationship of choice.

Every other ministry in the church allows the individual to recruit their own team where as the senior pastor you have so many relationships in which you do not get to choose the people you work with. I found myself lonely at times where I didn’t have people who I could walk with.

The other aspect of relationship is that instantly the staff’s perception of me changed. They were acting very similar to how I had by simply working in their areas doing what they got paid to do.

It is important as a member on a ministry staff for you to develop a trusting and honest relationship with your senior pastor.  Allow him to find safety in his relationship with you and to be real with you.

Lesson #2: Support

In the culture in which we live, there are many things we say we support. We support sports teams when they are doing really well, but lose interest when they are rebuilding. We support causes until the cause becomes too expensive or time consuming for us.

It is one thing to say to your senior pastor that you support him and another thing to actually show support in action. As I sat in the senior pastor’s desk wrestling through what bills should get paid when we didn’t have enough money or how we would do the initiative God was leading us to do, I needed to have resources beyond what I had on my own.

One of the greatest gifts you can bless your senior pastor with is the gift of the resources you have at your disposal in your ministry. Regularly ask your senior pastor what frustrations he has in regards to ministry and see if your ministry has the resources to take it off his plate. Bless him by sharing your resources so in return down the road, he can bless you by sharing his resources.

Lesson #3: Honor

Honor is defined simply as having high respect for someone and this needs to be how you view your senior pastor. A senior pastor will never be perfect, but he has been called by God to lead the church and will be judged by God for what he did with that responsibility.

Over my years as a youth pastor, I believed I honored my senior pastor, but there were times and conversations I entered into where I wasn’t honoring the man God had chosen for His church. People would ask me my opinions about things as a youth pastor and I would devalue the leadership of the senior pastor by not throwing my support behind him.

Honor your senior pastor by always sharing with him personally about the struggles you might have in his leadership. Just like you long to have your senior pastor support you, support him first so he knows you are in his backcourt. The reality is that a senior pastor often feels like someone is coming over his shoulder ready to attack him.

What do you wish your Senior Pastor would learn from sitting in your desk?

The Bearded Lunch Lady


By Jeff Lowry

Youth ministry is hard. Lets just be real for a minute. It’s hard and at times it sucks the life out of you. Not always, thankfully; but sometimes. At least for me. But it doesn’t have to. Over my 25 years of youth ministry, to borrow a phase from some insurance company’s commercial, I’ve learned a thing or two about a thing or two.

One of those things I’ve learned is that you really need to connect with students in their natural habitat—the school campus. That takes on a lot of different faces, such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes and other on-campus Christian clubs. Most of us have done something like that in the past, and sometimes they worked and other times it was about the pizza or popsicles.

But what if there was another way to connect on campus that wasn’t a club; that wasn’t limited to the 20 or 30 kids who came, but instead gave you access to the entire student body.

I recently started a brand new position at a church in an suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. In this community we are the only church. There are two elementary/junior high schools and one high school. For whatever reason, there has never been a successful presence on those campuses by our church or any of the neighboring community’s churches. To just start a Christian club of some sort was going to be a big struggle. I had reached out to people at those schools whom I believed to be connectors at the schools and received no response.

So I began to pray about how I might crack that shell of campus ministry in a new town. Being a sort of missionary youth pastor, I was encouraged by my pastor to try to volunteer at the schools. Brilliant! How do I do that? What could I do? I didn’t know! Being in a new capacity in a new town, ministering to everything from birth to 24 years old, I did the only thing I could do—ask the church lady who knows everything and everyone who to talk to!

I reached out to both of the elementary/junior high schools and the high school with my offer to help in any way they could use help. I explained in detail who I was, were I was from and the reason I wanted to serve those age groups. And I waited for email responses. One of the elementary schools jumped on my offer. They fingerprinted me and got FBI clearance for the school district. Then I was given carte blanche for how I wanted to volunteer. So I figured, youth ministry equals food, so naturally, lunch duty! I became the lunch lady at the school!

Y’all, it is by far the coolest moment of my week, hanging out in the cafeteria and the playground with several hundred kids, most of whom think I am a legend because of my long beard. But the best part of volunteering is seeing some of my church’s students at lunch. They greet me and then get to share with their friends who I am and where I’m from. But more than that, I love to hear them start conversations that end with, “well you should come to my church and see!”

I’ve never quite thought of ministry like this being effective. I always thought it had to be a great message and time in worship, and those things are great. But the truth is, this is working way better to reach out to the entire population of this one school. As far as the other elementary school and high school, they have yet to get back to me. Oh well: their loss for now (but hopefully not for long). I need to spend lunch with my tribe. You should really try it if you can. You might be surprised.

Get in the Game: A playbook for connecting with youth and their hobbies


By Sara Clarke

It’s that time of year when “pumpkin spice something” is everywhere, school is in full swing, and everyone looks forward to cooler weather. I love the fall season, but as a youth director I also dread it because it inevitably meant the youth I served were consumed with practices, games, and Homecoming. For years there has been an unspoken–and in some ministries a spoken–tension between youth group and extra curricular activities. Most ministries experience seasonal attendance dips depending on the culture and the teens’ interests.

In the church I served football season ruled all. I struggled to plan fall retreats and seasonal youth group events that would “fit” everyone’s busy fall schedules. There was always a big game or practice that couldn’t be missed, a weekend team building retreat or competition, or the time set aside for Sunday night youth group was “the only time” youth had to catch up on homework and relax. I fought this battle for years. No matter what I did differently or how creative I was with scheduling or planning, I fumbled. I was never going to win this game of catering to everyone’s wants and schedules, so I eventually shifted my focus and let go of the former traditions that no longer worked in our ministry.

Continuing to do things that way had perpetuated a disconnection between me and a large majority of the teens I served. I had to come up with a new game plan. Rather than fight the losing battle and complaining about low attendance, I found ways to connect with the youth through the hobbies that were quickly becoming a large part of their identities. That’s what we strive to do, right? We minister to teens and walk beside them as their spiritual and individual identities take shape. It doesn’t always have to be during a big youth event or retreat. We can connect with them where they are and show we care and support them, even when it’s not at church.

Below is a “playbook” I created to connect with the sports culture I served. These ideas are here for you to use if they work in your ministry context, and if not, hopefully they will help spark ideas on how you can connect with the teens you serve during their seasons of busy schedules and activities.

POWER PLAY- Intentional Prayer

Be in prayer for your teens throughout their practices/games/competitions. Prayer can be one of the most powerful ways we support the teens we serve.

  • Encourage your youth to pray for and/or with their teammates and coaches.
  • Challenge them to pray before practices/games for God to work through them; not just pray for a win.
  • Text youth a quick prayer before the game.
  • Walk and pray over the fields/courts/buses.
  • Pray for their coaches/leaders by name.
  • Post a game day Bible verse or prayer on social media.

DOUBLE TEAM- Connecting with Coaches

These adults are also making a huge impact in teen’s lives, so why not reach out and lend a supportive or helping hand? 

  • Introduce yourself to the coach. Tell them who you are and that you’d love to support them in any way they may need.
  • Send card/email of appreciation and encouragement for what they do. If you hear a teen talk about the impact of a game or experience, share that with them.
  • Ask if you can volunteer in any way on game days or during events.

ACTION PLAY-Being Present

It means a lot to youth and parents when you show up! It’s unrealistic to make every game, but try to attend at least one a season, spreading it throughout the year so you don’t get overwhelmed. 

  • Attend. You don’t have to stay the whole time, but make an appearance when you can.
  • Wear your support. I served two rival schools in my high school ministry and fused a red and purple t-shirt together to wear to the games and show my support for both teams. It was a HUGE hit!
  • Volunteer. Think chaperone, concession sales or ticket booths, helping unload band equipment, etc. Offer your help before, during, or after events where there may be a need.
  • Take pictures at the events to post on social media. You may not be able to see all your youth while there, but they’ll “like” seeing your posts.
  • Text post game words of encouragement or ask about how things went if you weren’t able to be there.

TEAM BUILDING- Connect with the Community

If there is a cultural trend that reaches beyond the walls of the schools and into the community, use it as an outreach opportunity to connect with the local community. 

  • Create relationships with surrounding churches and youth groups to partner and host post game events. The fall is a great time to have community bon fires!
  • Host pre-game tailgating events like a cookout. You can host them in your church parking lot or reach out to the local schools to see if you can host something on-site before a game. You may be able to work with businesses in the area to host a pre-game food truck event.
  • Show your appreciation to the volunteers and teachers by providing dinner or snacks for those that are working a game/event.
  • Volunteer to provide snacks or feed a team/club a meal before an event.
  • Pass out free water bottles or popsicles to those walking to an outdoor event. The community I served used the church parking lot for additional game day parking because we were located across the street from the high school. I created labels to go on the giveaway items that included the church worship services and youth group hours.
  • Invite youth that aren’t involved in the particular sport or club to help out with outreach efforts.

PUMP UP THE CROWD- Connecting with Parents

You may not be able to connect and talk to the youth during an event, but you can connect with the parents.

  • Make the rounds by walking the crowds to spot and say hello to youth parents. I started doing this at football games and some of the parents would invite me to sit with them. This was a great opportunity to connect with them and build youth-parent relationships.
  • Don’t be afraid to text parents words of support and encouragement before or after a game. You may not get face-to face time with all the parents, but you can still show your support with a quick “great game tonight” text.
  • Visit the concession stands. Often you will find parents and family members volunteering in these areas. Stopping by to say hello is an easy thing to do when buying nachos.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about how to connect with teens during their busy sports seasons. Sports may not be “the thing” that competes for your teens’ attention, but think about what does and how you can engage with them and their passions. I’m no longer serving the church where fall football season ruled, but can tell you the youth and parents still tell me how much it meant when I came to their games, texted them “great job tonight”, or wore a silly dual-colored t-shirt sporting both team colors. They knew I cared about them, even while they were away from youth group. In some ways, I think this impacted them and meant more than any program or retreat I could have planned. So this fall, stop worrying about your losses, and get back in the game!

A Backyard Mission Opportunity


By Chris Luper

Missions… I think it’s a word that most Christians try to identify with in today’s world. Living in a world where we so often talk about “Kingdom Building,” sharing the love of Christ with others becomes a part of our everyday narrative. Just think about some of those iconic Scripture passages used in youth ministry that focus around the idea of good works:

  • Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV) – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
  • 1 Timothy 4:12 (ESV) – Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

Both passages center around the idea of sharing one’s faith in Christ with the world.

Recently at my church, we have been gearing up to help with hurricane relief in Florida. Our church participates in one to two international mission trips per year, as well as countless local and domestic trips. Seeing the devastation of this year’s hurricane season, many of our seasoned missions folks are recalling the stories of the countless trips they made to Louisiana following Katrina. Now they’re preparing for monthly trips to Florida.

Our student ministry participates in the typical mission opportunities. Once a month we serve at a local soup kitchen and each summer we offer students a weeklong mission experience. Students are encouraged to participate in the larger missions of the church, but like many of you know, their lives often seem dictated not only by academics, but also by the plethora of extra curricular activities they participate in.

This is where I will unashamedly plug 30 Hour Famine. Most of the students that participate in our student ministry have never had to experience true hunger, not the craving for a snack between meals, but truly being on the brink of starvation. Through 30 Hour Famine, our students experience one day without food, but on a deeper level, they learn the truth about global hunger and are challenged to make a difference.

Even though our propensity toward the word “missions” in the church calls us to go, 30 Hour Famine provides all students with the opportunity to do missions. No matter your setting, consider participating in 30 Hour Famine this fall (or scheduling it now for next spring). Your student’s eyes will be opened to the global impact they can make from your very own church yard.

30 Hour Famine as Service Learning


By Beth Ruzanic

So often we look at ministry as a series of individual events – even if they are held loosely together by a theme for the semester or the year. Some events may be annual or monthly or even weekly while others may be “special” events that aren’t repeated. I’m not criticizing this paradigm, but I wonder if we could do better by our students if we were fiercely intentional with our planning throughout the year. Intentional planning based on the vision and mission of your ministry (if you don’t have vision and mission statements get some STAT) will help guide your students along the path that you believe God has put before you. A quote from Tony Campolo helped shape my early ministry philosophy and continues to today. “The age of youth was not meant for pleasure, but for heroic service!” Okay, great, now what? I had a lot of work to do!

I started by researching the benefits of acts of service in young people and I came across the concept of service learning. Service learning happens when we combine educational concepts with acts of service to provide a learning experience that also meets societal needs. More and more school districts are including service learning requirements for graduation and it is a cornerstone of the National Honor Society program. Benefits of service learning include: leadership development, diversity awareness and positive community outcomes. In addition the educational concepts taught as a part of service learning seemed to be retained at a higher level than ones that were taught on their own.

As people who minister to students we are one link in a long chain of adults that help to educate kids and grow them into people ready to launch into the world. Therefore combining the biblical concepts we want students to learn with acts of service seems like it would be an effective ministry tool. The 30 Hour Famine fits in perfectly with this philosophy because it combines teachings about the heart of Jesus for the poor and marginalized with fasting and serving others. It is the trifecta of service learning! Service learning opportunities can’t be few and far between if they are going to be effective, so I suggest that you build regular service events into your calendar and make them the cornerstone of what you do with students. Not just a mission trip in the summer or a weekend during the year but regularly scheduled (once a month is a good place to start) events that give you the chance to teach your students, in word and deed, who we are called to be in a hurting world. I have seen over and over that if given the opportunity, students will rise to the occasion and their lives will indeed be beacons of heroic service. If you try it, I hope you will too.

Don’t Sweat The Petty Things and Don’t Pet The Sweaty Things


By Joel Dunn

So there you are, your 30 Hour Famine is right around the corner. You built your cardboard city, you received all of the donations, the four bounce houses arrived, you had all of your students bring two brand new friends to this event, the DJ you hired is dropping some sick beats [yo], you have at least six… no, seven Excel worksheets explaining the analytics as to why this is going to be the best event/mission outreach/overnighter/conversion night in the history of your Youth Ministry career. And on top of that, your church board said to you directly, “We are so thankful for your heart that you have for youth ministry. We have raised your youth budget, we gave you a significant raise, we got you a new youth van, a Coca Cola Freestyle soda dispenser for your office, and you never have to do another lock-in as long as you are at this church.”

Well… maybe you accomplished a couple of those things before your group’s 30 Hour Famine or maybe you were like me when I hosted my first Famine. I wanted it to be bigger than life and grander than grand can be; but then real life got in the way. I had students in crisis, I had a church budget meeting saying we were not doing well and that we were going to have to make cutbacks, and on top of that I had to sell my Coca Cola Freestyle machine*. [*jk] I wanted to be overly prepared for any scenario that could be thrown at me during these 30 hours; but the problem with that was that I forgot about the heart of the event. I turned hanging out with hungry teenagers for 30 hours into a program spectacle that made them more tired and even more hungry!

After my first 30 Hour Famine I asked my student leadership team, “What can we do better next time? How can we make it even bigger?”. One of my 7th grade boys responded with this, “I wish we had more time to just hang out and more time to pray. The games were fun but I wanted to pray more for the people we were raising these funds for. To be honest I just wanted to hang out with everyone and maybe play a board game or two and do some scripture reading.”

That was one of the best answers I have ever heard in my life! A 7th grade boy asking for downtime. Asking me and the rest of the team to just be in the moment, to pray, and to make Christ the center of this event… and not the programming. So I want to encourage you that no matter how big or small your 30 Hour Famine is… remember to be present with your students. Don’t sweat the programming side (don’t stretch yourself too thin trying to over-create program). Your students are going to be stoked at the 30 Hour Famine because YOU are there and present. Keep reminding yourself how good Jesus is. Have an amazing 30 hours!

Partnering With Other Churches for 30 Hour Famine


By Kim Collins

Mmmm…can you smell it?  It’s the smell of fresh paper as you open your box of materials and begin planning your next 30 Hour Famine Event.  New brochures, flyers, posters, and fundraising packets all shiny and new…Oh my!!  Not to mention the videos and Event Guide.  It’s an exciting time in a Youth Minister’s life…and a little scary.  It’s exciting as you introduce or re-introduce your students to the needs of many who face hunger and poverty, and, the realization that together, we can make a difference in combating hunger and poverty.

It can be scary when you think about planning and all the details.  Generally, at this point in the planning, I’m reminded that I need a little help from my friends, and hopefully we have done a little pre-planning, or at least had some conversations about it.  Yes, I am capable of planning it myself; however, it’s much more fun the more people you have on-board, AND it provides an opportunity for others to use gifts they have that I do not.

One of the greatest gifts I was given in my many, many years in youth ministry was the gift of other youth ministers.  Through joining various Youth Ministry networks (one was a year long Youth Minister’s Cohort, one was a local, face-to-face and ecumenical group, and a few online networks), we were able to be in ministry with one another, our students, and our churches.  It was not about comparing our groups, but collaborating with one another for growing God’s Kingdom.  Were we all the same size, or had the same amount of experience?  No!  It wasn’t about the number of students and volunteers, it wasn’t about the latest and greatest program, who had the most education, attended the most conferences, or knew this person or that person.  And this is what made it great!  It was about a group of people who love God and sharing God’s love to students.  It was a group of people celebrating our joys, standing together through our sorrows, and It was about ministering TOGETHER.  Through planning events together like 30-Hour Famine and sharing ideas we discovered one another’s gifts, and discovered some of our own that we did not know we had.

Over the years, after some of these special events, I often heard comments like “that was such a neat idea” or “how did you come up with that idea?”  Some were my own: however, a lot were from friends who shared ideas and experiences that allowed opportunities to make it fit different group needs.  It was also great when we gathered with other churches for an evening of food, fellowship and a friendly game of dodge ball or kick ball!

My biggest tip to any youth minister is to find other youth workers to walk the journey with you.  Don’t compare yourself to what others are doing…just be who God called you to be to the youth and families you serve!

Give it Away!


By Marty Estes

“I don’t know if I can do this…”

I was looking into the eyes of a 15-year-old boy, moments before he was supposed to walk on stage and open our Wednesday night student worship service with a welcome and announcements. His response was understandable. I’d only asked him to do it 30 minutes earlier, and he had never been on stage before; but I reassured him as best I could.

“Sure you can! You’ll do great! I trust you.”

So, how did he do? Not great. He clung to the microphone stand like it was his lifeline in the midst of raging floodwaters. He basically read our announcements off the screen. He stumbled offstage and had a good laugh at himself along with the rest of our students. But, he did it. And this week he will do it again. Next week he’ll do it again. And again, and again, as long as he is willing to serve.

15 years into ministry, I’m relearning something that I once heard, long ago, when I was serving as a volunteer in a local church, something that was said in a class I took on youth ministry as I was finishing up my time in college: “Youth ministry happens when youth minister.” It was catchy. Pithy. Inspiring. I’d love to tell you that my time in ministry over the last decade and a half has been categorized by that statement, but I’d be lying to you. Mostly, my call to ministry has been defined by a consolidation of power at the top, and if most student ministries were honest, they would have to report the same.

That’s why I have a mandate for us today, brothers and sisters. A call to arms, if you will. Much like the great theologians Red Hot Chili Peppers once sang, give it away, give it away, give it away now! Give your power away. Give your leadership away. Give control away to students who are more than capable to pick up the mantle of leadership, even if they don’t know it, and watch as future leaders of the church are called out.

Currently, we have students leading in our weekly gatherings doing everything from announcements to leading small groups, leading in praise band to leading the game time. They serve on Sundays in our children’s ministry worship time. They work throughout the church as ushers and serve in mission ministries. There comes a point in time where faith moves from things we know and believe to things we do BECAUSE we believe. Student ministry is a key time for that.

But, let’s be real. It’s easy to do it all ourselves. There’s lots of reasons why we should do it ourselves, honestly. Students can be notoriously flighty and non-committal. They can mess up, say things they shouldn’t, and otherwise “ruin” a segment of our program. They can even sometimes end up doing it BETTER than us, but we may not be ready to admit that yet. For those reasons, and many others, it’s easier to just keep it all to ourselves. When we do this, however, we are missing a huge blessing, and denying Kingdom work and Kingdom growth in the lives of our students!

Now, I’m not saying you should simply turn your Wednesday or Sunday program over to your students completely, and just allow them to do whatever they want. What I AM suggesting, though, is that you take a long look at your programming and identify the places where students could take the reigns and lead, and then let them off the leash. Are they going to fail? YES. Are they going to be awkward? YES. But, what you might just find is that they succeed in ways you never imagined, and your ministry will be all the better for it.

Plan, Flex, and Visit


By Becky Gilbert

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, I was a young seminary student called into youth ministry.  Thinking back to the many days I spent in the classroom, listening intently to older and wiser professors giving practical concrete advice about ministry, I can remember hearing things like plan, plan and over plan and then plan again, be flexible, never take your youth to a venue you or someone you trust have not visited. Even 20+ years later, I still hear these things in my mind from time to time. While I learned many other things, these things stick in my mind. I also recollect thinking, to myself, Wow, this is such common sense stuff; who wouldn’t have a back-up plan or realize that youth ministry requires flexibility, and I would NEVER take youth to a venue I had not visited.

Haha. I am laughing because: youth ministry.

Most of us who enter ministry do so with the best of intentions; but budgets are tight, time is even tighter. And the next thing we know we are heading off on a mission trip scheduled to stay all week in a church that may or may not have been infested with roaches.

It started with an idea that my friend Sheri and I had been praying over. We were both serving small churches that were looking for ways for our youth group to serve others through a summer mission trip. We heard of a church, in a town in the Midwest that was inviting volunteers to lead Backyard Bible Clubs in apartment complexes near their church.  My friend and I were excited about this opportunity, the town was only a few hours from us, both of our youth groups were excited about working with children, so we accepted the invitation. The church that invited us already had a group staying in their building so we had to find somewhere to stay. The youth leaders gave us names of area churches that might be open to housing a group. So, we called around and found one who said, yes, we love to host groups! The facility was described to us in detail and it sounded awesome. Sheri and I planned to go out to the church and look around so we would know what we needed to bring with us and where we were staying inside the church. However, life got in the way and we were not able to make the trip. No worries, we thought, it’s a church–how bad could it be?

When we pulled up in the church van several of the youth said, “This is where we are staying?” With that look that says, are you kidding me, right now? I have to admit, the outside of the church did not match the description.  Sheri and I may have given some words of encouragement and asked the group to stay in the van with the other adults while we went to find our hosts. Our hosts were very gracious; but as they took us further and further into the church to show us where we would stay I began to get a very uneasy feeling. They showed us three or four bathrooms that were out of order. The showers that they said we could use were dirty and only worked sometimes. When we mentioned that we were told that they had showers the hosts said, “Yeah they always tell people that.”  As we turned on the light in the room where we were supposed to sleep, the sound of scurrying feet was very obvious. The roaches and rats were both running for cover. There were so many bugs in the kitchen that we were afraid to leave our food in there. We thanked the hosts and walked back to the vans both of us trying to figure out what to do next. We had several conversations trying to figure out where to go, but we stayed there overnight because we had no other choice. Two of the adults on the trip went to a store and got some cleaning supplies and bug spray. The church had this old bowling alley in the basement and the youth were so excited about bowling that they did not seem to mind the other stuff. We were thankful that the youth were busy with the bowling and unaware of the high stress level for Sheri and I as the other adult leaders were very upset about having to stay in the church. I am pretty sure neither Sheri or I slept that night.

The next morning, we went to our Backyard Bible Club and had a great morning!  Lunch was provided by the church that invited us to lead the club. And as we spoke with the church leaders at lunch about our living situation, they shared with us that one of the other churches had to cancel so they had room for us to stay.

After our day was over, we returned to the other church, thanked them for their hospitality and went to the other church.  We ended up having a great week!

Some of you might be reading this nodding along and saying yep, been there, made the t-shirt. Some of you are newer to this and haven’t lead trips and activities as a youth pastor, leader or volunteer. Plan, plan, over plan and plan again. Visit your venues and be flexible.

I have learned so much in the last 20 years about traveling with groups and planning mission and other trips. How could the story of my ministry almost-fail have been different if I had followed the advice that I had been given?

Plan, plan, over-plan and plan again. No thought had been given to Plan B. It never occurred to us to have extra money for a hotel, just in case.  Thinking about cleaning the place we were staying before we ‘moved in’ was not on our radar. Calling the church the day before to check in and be sure no major changes had taken place in the church or to check that showers and bathrooms were still in working order – nope, didn’t do it. Plan your trip and all that you want to do but plan for the unexpected things too.

Visit your venue. If it is at all possible, go to the place you will stay and see it. If you are going out of town, state or country, work with a reputable ministry group that can help you with local logistics.

Most of all BE FLEXIBLE! No matter how much we plan sometimes things change and we have to go with it. Remember that the youth we are leading are looking to us to lead the trip but they are also watching how we handle the changes.

Cultivating Student Leaders When Your Schedule is Tight


By Meg Nelson

We all hope to see our students thrive. What that looks like will be different for each student and for each ministry we serve in. One place I served had “student leader development” as a specific item on the part-time job description. I assumed that meant I was expected to eventually create a student leadership team and develop separate programming for student leaders. This came with highpoints and low points. Despite good intentions behind all the things we did together, I wonder if it was all truly the best format for cultivating a sense of servant leadership in these students. Our schedules are already so tight, and families are already so busy. If we take a good look; there’s likely plenty of existing opportunities within our communities where we can guide our students into discovering their leadership gifts. Perhaps you can use your 30 Hour Famine event as a launching point for an emphasis on cultivating student leaders! This post shares three areas to consider when it comes to cultivating student leadership without necessarily creating new programming.

Focus on themes of leadership within your student ministry teaching times. 

Some students are well on their way in their personal leadership development, while others still have some more maturing to do before being able to take on certain leadership roles. All our students can benefit from learning about Christ-focused leadership. All have God-given potential for leadership. If they aren’t given chances to learn about the topic, how can they discover that potential? Servant leadership could be a great theme to focus on in the weeks surrounding your 30 Hour Famine event! No need to create a separate group and schedule yet another event on the calendar to fit it in, when you can use the tools you already have in place in your ministry to provide a space to discuss leading like Jesus with your students.

Help regular attendees find ways to lead within the student ministry.

Instead of trying to create extra projects, start with using opportunities to serve that already exist. These can be done alongside other adult volunteers to start. Then, as students become proficient in leading these areas, they can then help newer/younger students grow into these servant leadership roles as well. Consider inviting certain students to join in on planning meetings with adult volunteers, giving them a voice and ownership in the ministry. Examples include: being a greeter at the door, running any tech needs, leading games, behind the scenes set-up, giving announcements, sharing a testimony, facilitating a small group discussion time, leading in worship music, and any ideas you can think of! There are ways for students to discover their leadership potential already waiting for them within their student ministry, even for some of those students who have some more growing to do. Perhaps consider planning and execution of your 30 Hour Famine event as a good place to start doing this!

Utilize ministry groups in your community to connect students with service roles.

Your community has its own set of unique ministry opportunities beyond the student ministry that can be great avenues to help our students develop their leadership gifts. I was fortunate enough to serve at a church where including students in the broader ministry of the church came naturally. Worship, missions, men’s, women’s, children’s, even the building and grounds team had students as members of those ministries. That might not be the case where you serve. It might take a few conversations to help facilitate the process, but it’s a process that will have life-long implications as we raise up a generation of students who graduate already connected to church life beyond our student ministries. This helps ensure we see students graduate who have started to discover where their passions and faith collide. Looking for a venue to start this process? Find ways for various ministry team leaders to get involved in your 30 Hour Famine event so they can connect with students – building relationships that may turn into ministry partnership!

Keep up the great work!

If you have the time, ideas, and resources to provide a separate student leadership program, that’s awesome! I know some great youth workers who do this incredibly well. I also know the reality of part-time or volunteer leadership, a small number of attendees, as well as families already crushed by the busy schedules of work and school make something like that a little more daunting. Hopefully these tips can help all of us consider how to integrate themes of leadership and service opportunities into the already-existing rhythm of what we’re doing in ministry. What are some creative ways you are cultivating student leaders where you serve?