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The Famine Blog

The Importance of Feedback


By Brad Hauge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



A Little Honesty About Burnout



By Erin Betlej

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Last Supper” Before Summer


By Danny Kwon

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

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

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

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

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

24 Years of Bill


Dan Berggren, 30 Hour Famine Staff

This last week, I was blown away. Why I was will surprise you.

God moments. Mountaintop moments. I want more of those…moments. Don’t you? Often, it’s those experiences that shape our lives and provide us with the stories we tell friends and family. Sometimes the 30 Hour Famine can have God moments or mountaintop moments. We should treasure them. What about the rest of the…moments? Do they matter and can they matter as much?

This past week, I was asked to attend the “#ThanksBill” party celebrating 24 years of Bill Henneberg (First Mennonite Brethren of Wichita, KS) leading junior high ministry and doing the 30 Hour Famine for all 24 years. We added up their total donations raised and how many children around the world were fed and impacted and it was staggering. Simply incredible.

I’ve been thinking about the event since and what deeply impacted me was the faithfulness of Bill. Many people got up and talked about how he changed their life for the better, by simply being in their life. Simple acts of kindness for 24 years. I’m sure there were plenty of God and mountaintop moments, but it was his ministry of presence that will be my lasting memory of the event. By engaging with them, he asked them to be a part of a journey with him and with Jesus. Bill’s faithfulness changed the lives of so many in Wichita through his ministry as well as around the world through the 30 Hour Famine. I was blown away by the God-used impact of Bill’s presence because of God’s presence in his own life.

What, in your journey, takes you to a place where you are “blown away?”

Thank you Bill. Thank you to all of you in youth ministry. Thank you for your presence in the lives of so many for Jesus. I’m blown away.

Summer is Time for Considering Change


By Shawn Kiger

I often use summertime as a chance to evaluate how the school year went and what changes might need to be made for the next school year. This summer that task seems a little scarier.

I just finished up my fourth year as youth minister at my current church. The last couple years our numbers have dropped for our afterschool ministry at the same time our numbers have gone up for our Thursday evening Bible study. There seems to be lots of reasons for this, but mainly there are just more options for afterschool activities at the schools. Our youth also really enjoy our Bible studies we do in homes. So I’m considering stopping our afterschool ministry that has operated very successfully for many years but has experienced decline in the last couple.

Stopping something at church is usually very difficult. Parents have come to count on this program, volunteers have worked it into their busy schedules, and youth just don’t like change (it throws them off sometimes when I set the tables up in a different configuration)! There are many questions I am wresting with:

  • How do you judge when it’s time to stop something so that you can start something new?
  • How much am I willing to risk on the something new?
  • What is that something new?
  • What are the gaps in our ministry now that the something new needs to fill?
  • Will stopping this just make people mad?
  • How do I communicate the change and the reasons for the change?
  • Where can I fit in something new in my busy family life?

Those are just a handful of the questions running through my head. I don’t have answers to all of those questions but I am glad I have the summer to work on them. The summer is going to give me the opportunity to talk with parents, youth ministry volunteers and other staff members. During our mission trips I will have lots of opportunities to talk to our youth and to hear their thoughts and share their needs. I’ll have conversations with other youth ministers from other churches to get their thoughts. I’ll take time to listen to parents. I’ll talk through it with my pastor.

Any kind of change is hard, but without taking the time to evaluate what you are doing you risk being stagnant and less effective. I know this blog post has lots of questions and not many answers. Sorry about that; but I do hope it will encourage you to evaluate your own ministry. Or maybe you are just happy you don’t have to make major changes like me!

Prioritizing Relationships Over Flash



By Bobby Benavides 

One of the key pieces of many youth ministries is event planning. Youth workers are often trying to figure out how to create a program that will draw in the crowd and, potentially, grow the group. We pour our time and energy into the environment, program, playlist, social media tags, the perfect Instagram image, and much more. We hope all of this is what our kids will remember.

And they might remember the event, at least for a little while. They will remember the activities and messy games. They will remember the great music. We hope they will remember the message we tried to convey before the nerf war begins, but we know we have to keep the illustrations on point, so those are perfectly planned too.

Great job!

However, what if we poured just as much energy into giving our students our personal connection, like we pour into our program planning?

Please, follow me on this: I’m not saying planning events is wrong, nor am I saying holding special programs needs to stop. Every element of student ministry is vital.

Yet, the most important piece of student ministry is you (well, it’s Jesus, of course – but teenagers often experience Jesus through you). You will most often be what the students remember. The time they had with you sharing your failures and successes. Discussing your faith journey, and encouraging them in theirs, is so valuable and essential for their future connection with Christ and the church. Yet we tend to push those to the side as we focus on planning the next big thing, whatever that may be.

For many of you, your budget and time is limited as it is. You hear of complex and impressive programs other churches host and you can only dream of having enough volunteers to hold a 2-hour special event, let alone an all-nighter. So, for you, what better way to leave a lasting impression than being connected with your students deeply, so they find more value in you, than your event.

It can be nice to plan cool events and trips. Strobe lights and fog machines aren’t inherently evil. But those bells and whistles aren’t what change lives. Jesus most often changes lives in the context of relationships. So we need to be even more intentional about our discipling relationships with our kids than we are with the planning of our EXTREME NERF WAR MESSY GAME OLYMP-EXTRAVAGANZA (not a real event, but could be?).

The future of your students’ spiritual growth depends on your relationships with them, not the playlist you picked.

Focus on relationships. Focus on discipleship. Take the time to pour into the lives of the students you have, and plan well, so more students can enter into your life for closer and deeper relationships.

First Fruits


By Brian Mateer

I tend to experience God in the mundane or seemingly ordinary events of life, nature and relationships. It’s as if God gives me a single snapshot or image for me to hold onto and ponder for days, weeks or even months. From this simple image, I experience God revealing truths to me in mysterious and wonderful ways. Many of these ordinary, yet extraordinary, experiences happen when I am in a foreign land.

I recently had another one of these experiences of God on a vision trip to Kenya. On my first Sunday in the county, our group attended a worship service and an offering was taken by people dropping money in a basket located at the front of the church. Close to the end of the offering a little old woman came forward with a plastic bag. In the plastic bag were three eggs, which she had harvested from her chickens that morning. Surprisingly, the pastor proceeded to auction the eggs off to the highest bidder and the money raised was placed in the offering plate.

A week later I found myself in a different church for another service. Once again an offering was received in a similar manner, but this time someone had brought five two-liter bottles filled with milk. I knew what was going to happen next…the auction.

One of the members of our group leaned over to our interpreter and asked, “What are they doing?”

“Someone has a cow and it is just beginning to produce milk,” she said. “This is the offering of first fruits from the book of Leviticus.”

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the Lord so it will be accepted on your behalf. (Leviticus 23: 9-11)

The 30 Hour Famine is an opportunity for youth leaders to bring this verse to life. The Famine is much more than fundraising, and provides a chance to wave our offerings before the Lord for them to be accepted and used for God’s glory. We are commanded to give the first fruits of our harvest. The first fruits of ourselves, our gifts, our blessings and our resources.

Give your first fruits. Do the Famine.

Finding Faith Apart from Youth Ministry: 
Seeking God with a Co-Dependent Faith


By Sara Clarke

This year some of the teenagers we serve will walk away from church. Studies have shown this often happens, lighting a fire in the church to minister to teens so that if, or when, they decide to walk away, they will have the foundation and faith to find their way back.

Working in youth ministry, we love and support middle school teens so they feel accepted and that they belong. We love and support high school teens so they know we’re here and we support them. We pour years of ourselves into these teens hoping that when they graduate from high school, they will have some semblance of a personal relationship with God to keep them connected to the church, even in their new and independent world apart from home.

This is something I was a major advocate for in the church I served. Let teens deconstruct their faith in a safe and supportive environment so that they can rebuild it as their own. That way their faith will have a deeper and lasting impact when their life transitions and changes.

But what about us? What happens if we–the youth workers–find ourselves disconnected from our faith? Would we be able to find our way back? In an effort to be transparent and a little vulnerable, I’ll share that I’m struggling to find my faith apart from the church I once served. Recently, a phenomenal opportunity for my family led me to this time of transition where I’m no longer working as a full-time youth director. I’m living in a new city, trying to figure out my new role as a stay-at-home mom, and am trying to connect in a local church. Talk about a life change!

For the past couple months my spiritual life has been parched and I’ve felt disconnected from God. I’ve had to do a little soul-searching to reflect on where I am in my relationship with God and what my spiritual life is going to look like apart from youth ministry. What I’ve come to realize is that for the past several years I’ve allowed my faith to become so consumed by the ministry I served that it became dependent on it. Studying the Bible and spending time with God doesn’t come as “naturally” when I don’t have a retreat to plan or a lesson to prepare.

My faith has been stuck in a co-dependent relationship with youth ministry, and I both created and enabled that relationship.

Looking back over the years, I realize I didn’t take the proper time to focus on my own relationship with God apart from the ministry I served. I built my faith around the very things I advised my teens to avoid. Now that I’m no longer working in youth ministry, I have to tear down the facades I once thought were genuine, deep faith, and reconnect with God one on one.

Some of you may need to do the same. As the final days of school approach and your summer ministry kicks into high gear, I encourage you to pause and ask yourself the following:

What am I doing daily to focus on my personal faith, worship, and relationship with God?

Am I connecting with God regularly outside the ministry I serve?

Are my spiritual practices motivated by a ministry to-do list and/or audience? 

Be in prayer about your answers. If change is needed, make it a priority to focus on those changes. Don’t allow your faith to be consumed by your ministry to the point it depends on an experience, a person or group, a place or program, or even a tradition or denomination. God is so much more than the sum of these things.

I wish I had made it a priority to spend time with God one on one when I worked in the church, because now that I’m not, I have to relearn how. For now I’m deconstructing my co-dependent faith so that one day I can rebuild it. It will take time. In fact, it depends on time; time with God. And that’s exactly where we need to start.

To the Worn-Out Youth Worker: Don’t Give Up


By Jeff Lowry

Psst! Hey you! Yeah you! I want to take a minute to share something with you: Don’t give up. That’s right, don’t give up on youth ministry. I know you may have thought about it, because most of us have. I get it, youth ministry is hard. Most senior pastors, deacons and elders would probably disagree, but that’s another blog altogether.

This one is for you, the unsung heroes of the church world. You may never share a stage with a Duffy Robbins or a Doug Fields, but listen up: You Are Important. One more time, you are important. You are fulfilling a calling God placed on you, that only you can fulfill. Don’t forget that.

I know you are just wrapping up a difficult school year and you might be considering throwing in the towel. Don’t. We’ve all been there, just waiting for the school year to be done so that we could use a logical break to step away. Many of us have. But don’t. Because many of those who stepped away regretted it.

Or maybe you have had a difficult scenario play out in your ministry: lies, deceit and all kinds of nasty have been a daily thing for you. Some of it coming from the staff and leadership you serve with, some of it from students and parents who you thought loved you. And you want to hang it all up. Don’t. Leave a toxic environment, sure, but don’t quit on your calling.

God called you to this. God believes in you. God has given you abilities that most will never understand. The patience for the kid who tries your patience every chance they get. The love for that student who seems unlovable to the rest of the world. The ability to function on three hours sleep for an entire weekend retreat. The stomach for pizza and Mountain Dew at one in the morning while a group of students wrestle with a truth. The ability to wake up instantly when a 3am distress phone call or text comes in from a student or parent.

These things are why you can’t quit. Those faces around you, that’s why you can’t quit. Those teenagers that came to mind as each of those scenarios was laid out is why you can’t quit. Because there is work to do: that’s why you can’t quit. You are a Youth Worker, that’s the closest thing the church world has to a superhero! So pull up your stretchy superhero suit, tie on your cape and stay in the fight!

The Honest Truth About Our 30 Hour Famine Failure


By Amanda Leavitt

I have a confession to make: If the 30 Hour Famine were graded, my youth group would have received a big fat F. Not like, a just below a D kind of F, but the kind of F that never showed up for class nor did any assignments (even the extra credit assignments offered as penance), kind of F.

No one signed up for our first scheduled Famine. So, I took an availability survey. I rescheduled it. Then, two students agreed to come for half of it, and two more students agreed to come for all of it (they are brothers), and then none of them fundraised. I even made it easy by introducing the awesome online donation platform. So, I am going to reschedule it… again. Because, it’s worth it.

God-willing, God will direct me to a creative alternative to help my students engage with 30 Hour Famine, and we will find a time when a better portion of our youth ministry can make it out, and they hopefully will be more inspired to urge folks to give to feed hungry children. I am currently scratching my head a little bit over this.

People are very busy, fundraising is scary, and truth be told, sometimes I am not very creative. Is this you? Is anyone else in this boat? I would not usually confess this failure, right here, on the 30 Hour Famine’s own blog; but I know you are out there too, taking on the posture of “The Thinker,” maybe staring out your window, saying to yourself “This matters! How can I make this happen?” For some of us it’s the 30 Hour Famine, for others there may be something else you hope to inspire your students to experience.

Psalm 60. It’s a gem. It includes a nice section about how God will throw His shoe at ancient Israel’s enemy, Edom. I so appreciate that sentiment. Ever get so frustrated you just want to chuck your shoe at someone? I’ll make another confession: I have had that impulse.

At the end of Psalm 60 David requests that God “Give us help against those who hate us.” Then he admits, “For the help of man is worth nothing. With God’s help we will do well. And He will break under His feet those who fight against us.” When I read Psalm 60 – my brain conjures several enemies in my life that I’ve struggled to deal with, some painfully difficult people, but then also some regular ministry obstacles popped into my mind, like scheduling, which often actually feels like an enemy just as intimidating as an enemy in the flesh. So, I loved this word picture that Psalm 60 ends with, because there are our enemies before us and then God’s feet come right down from heaven and smash what intimidates us as he walks right over them. Scheduling, fundraising, a lack of creativity—whatever our “enemies” are, God just has to walk in, and what opposes us will be broken and “we will do well.”

My last confession is that I have never prayed about scheduling or my students’ fundraising energy or efforts because they seem trivial on the surface; like my own problem to solve. But, as you know, sometimes these small “enemies” wreak big havoc. I have not asked God to come into these battles and deal with these “enemies”. With the image of God’s big feet and big shoes in my mind, I am going to start praying.

Maybe as you’re reading you identify with me… I want to invite you to invite God to walk into these regular everyday battles over seemingly insignificant things like time; motivation; confidence; whatever stands in your path. Which non-people opponents currently have you scratching your head or frustrated, wanting to throw shoes? Get God in on the battle. God’s feet are way bigger than yours. God’s shoes are bigger too.