I’m still processing through my thoughts and reactions to the 30 Hour Famine. At present, I feel like it was neither exactly what I had hoped nor exactly what I had feared. On the positive side, I was able to speak with several students and get to know them better than I did before. This is always a huge win in my book, since I think that relationships are the basis for, well, life. We also had plenty of fun and good times as we chatted, played video games, learned card games and otherwise just enjoyed one another’s company.
The spiritual aspects of the event, however, were completely lost on the students. At least, I feel like they were. I’ve done youth ministry long enough to know that most likely one or two students picked up on a couple of things. This is the most disappointing aspect of the event for me. I attempted to set a rhythm of prayer every couple hours. The idea was we would gather, share a little, pray, and spend a few moments just being with God. This didn’t work out. Perhaps I was too idealistic in my expectations (always a possibility). Perhaps the students just completely weren’t into it. Perhaps God had other plans. Whatever the reason, the students didn’t pray, didn’t express a desire to pray, and these times ended up being me and one or two of the other leaders praying for a couple minutes until we released the students back to their “festivities.”
So, the famine succeeded in raising some money (though less than I might have hoped) and in allowing all of us some time to just raise awareness, have fun together, hang out, and otherwise be a community. It, unfortunately, lacked the spiritual emphasis for which I had hoped. It is times like this when I wonder if rethinking youth ministry, trying to do things differently, is really worth it. I could run this youth ministry as a typical evangelical youth ministry, and we would have easily triple the number of students we have now, in just a couple months. We’d have high energy events. I might even pick up a few “Jesus Freak” students who are “on fire for Jesus.” Yet I know, that at least in my experience, such things don’t work. They are shallow. Still, it’s difficult to run a youth ministry differently. Perhaps I need to let me thoughts coagulate for a day or two and devote a post to this topic.
A few weeks ago I made a post about the 30 Hour Famine and some of the reasons students in my youth ministry planned on coming, or not coming, to it. Many of you responded with a variety of thoughts and suggestions on how to proceed. The overwhelming majority suggested that I not cancel the famine. As a result of the encouragement and advice I received here, we’re still doing the famine.
A variety of things have happened over the past several weeks. Interestingly enough, most of the students who wanted it to be all about fun have decided not to participate this year. I didn’t encourage them not to participate. Apparently last year wasn’t as exciting as they had hoped, and so they don’t want to risk this year being lame as well. At least, that’s my understanding at present. With a couple of the students I think there are some other issues that I want to track down, but as a generalization the above works. As a result of this, most of those attending are actually interested in more than just having a good time. With that in mind, and because it’s going to be a fairly small group this year, we are going to run a low-key event. We’ll spend some time in prayer every two hours, so that we have a general rhythm to the event. Beyond that, I want the event to feel more like spending the weekend at a friend’s house. Intimate, fun, but not exactly a huge party. I’d be open to suggestions and ideas, though I’ve pretty much put together the itinerary already.
Ultimately I hope this weekend turns out to be a time where we can get to know each other better, have some fun, pray for one another, for the children that our church sponsors in Haiti, for children around the world, and hopefully connect with Jesus. We’ll see how it goes, and next Sunday or Monday I’ll make a final update.
My youth ministry has been planning for the 30 hour famine for a few months now. The Famine takes place on Feb. 22nd and 23rd. You can find out more about exactly what the 30 Hour Famine is by clicking here.
I’ve always liked the concept behind the 30 Hour Famine. Getting students to step outside of their own desires and go without food for 30 hours. I like the idea that students can put aside their normal consumeristic americanism and find a pitifully small, but still actually there, bit of solidarity with those who do not even have enough food to eat. I participated in the Famine as a student, had a great time with it, and learned a bit about various important issues each year (world hunger, poverty, spiritual disciplines like fasting, praying for others, and a few other things).
Last night I passed around a sign up so we could start to get an idea of how many students were actually going to show up. The first question that a student asked was, “What are we going to be doing?” I gave a brief outline of some of what we’d be doing. Before I could finish another student piped up, “I’m not coming. Last year I didn’t really enjoy myself.” I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was, but I was honestly amazed. My little idealistic world, where there was actually something American Youth Ministry students could do that didn’t have to focus solely on them was shattered. Several other students spoke up at that point and said that they wanted to know what we’d be doing, because if they weren’t going to have fun, why go without food for 30 Hours? I explained to them that the Famine wasn’t really about having fun. I mentioned that the point was to experience a little of what other people go through. Yeah, we’d have some fun in the process, and hopefully learn about ourselves and one another, but that wasn’t the point.
To be fair, two or three of the students did acknowledge that as the point, and looked somewhat appalled at the idea that their peers were only in it for the games. So, I have a question for the readers of my blog: how do I respond to this? I’ve half a mind to just cancel the entire thing. I think that would adequately drive home the point that our youth ministry is not about having fun. It might be drastic enough to actually bore through the apathy and lethargy of some of the students and give them a bit of a wakeup call. But, it doesn’t accomplish anything remotely close to helping impoverished people. Given, it’s only a single year and in the long run it might help these students to help more people…but still. It also might be a bit too drastic. I don’t think simply teaching on loving others is going to be enough.
So what would you all do in a situation like this? Those of you who are parents, how would you like to see a youth pastor respond? Those of you who are youth pastors, what would you do? Those of you who are neither of those two, what are your thoughts?