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Tales of Adventure Blog

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.

 

Dave Odom and Duke: Listening as Aid to Innovation

Matthew Overton

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As I promised about a week and a half ago I am going to do some writing on key conversations that I have had along the road as I have taken my sabbatical this summer. All of these conversations relate to doing ministry in new and innovative ways and often specifically to Christian Social Enterprise, however a number of them have been around theology and principles of good leadership as well. The first key conversation that I had was with Dave Odom. And while I am going to tell you a bit about Dave, I am really writing a post on why good listening is critical for quality innovation.

Dave is the director of an organization that is connected with both Duke Divinity school and Duke University. A few years back I was told that I should speak with Dave regarding my work and he has been one of the most important conversations partners I have had. I had no idea what his institution was and really knew very little of Duke other than what state it was in, they have a great basketball team, and I had heard good things about their Divinity school. Faith and Leadership is primarily funded by the Lily Endowment in Indiana. Lilly, if you don’t know it, funds a myriad of faith projects around the United States. Chances are, if your regional Christian University or Seminary is funding a new research project or an experimental ministry initiative, there is Lilly money backing it up. My sabbatical is completely funded by Lilly through Christian Theological Seminary’s Clergy Renewal program. It is an amazing program that I only found out existed a couple of years ago. You can look into applying for it here.

Anyway, Faith and Leadership’s main job is to help develop the leaders of Christian institutions. They have done this primarily through an EXCELLENT online publication called, Faith and Leadership, but also by hosting gatherings and trainings for leaders. Faith and Leadership is one of the best places at keeping its fingers on the pulse what is happening in the American church and much of the network that I have been able to create has come from my connection and conversation with Duke and F and L. It tries to process what is happening and distill it so that other institutions and their leaders might learn from those that are practicing leadership in new or healthy ways.

Dave sees part of his role as helping a conversation about institutions and leaders move forward. He finds people doing things differently and pays attention to both what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why they are doing it.  He almost serves as a kind of coach for those who are trying to lead their institutions in new directions, but his single best trait that I think is critical for both his role and anyone engaging in innovation is that he listens well.  Everyone I talk to who knows Dave thinks the world of him and specifically his ability to listen well and digest conversations with individuals and groups and sense what is happening precisely when the group feels overwhelmed by their experience. He is really good a listening to what people are saying and making sense of it. Imagine that you are in a room with a blindfold on wrestling with an octopus that has managed to tie itself in a Gordian knot. Dave is the guy who kind of calms you down and gives you some advice on which tentacles you might pull first.

Often I think that people who do innovative work will tend to have a lot of ideas and a lot of passion, though not always. Speaking for myself I can say that I am sometimes flooded with so many ideas and run at such a pace that it is difficult for me to collect, reflect, and analyze what is happening. I often wonder how much of what I see in my ministry is real and how much of it is a kind of projected passionate hope. I long to make sure that what I am building is something that is of substance because I have seen so many ministries that are a bit like the Wizard of Oz. They sound good from the outside, but they are actually mostly a green curtain, some hydrogen, and a little person pulling levers. Dave helps those that he comes in contact with calmly and reflectively process what they are actually doing and why it might matter.

For instance, one of my conversations with Dave recently revolved around what this new role of ministry might mean for my role at my church. My great desire is NOT to leave my congregational role. I would like to find a way to remain embedded at my local Northwest church as I engage this kind of new calling. Partially this is because I remain dedicated to the idea that the ideas that I have had would not have come had I not been embedded in a local church and community and listened well to what was going on there. Specifically, I would like to continue to be a youth pastor. The question is how to structure and fund all of that! I can’t expect my church to make all of this run!  As I met with Dave in Durham, North Carolina Dave sat patiently listening to me process all of this. We filled a giant white board with the complex web of organization that I have created between church and enterprise and he gave me some advice that I simply couldn’t see. One of my jobs is going to be to actually help my congregation see that it is possible to be a different kind of minister, that they can have a minister who preaches and cares for them, but is radically engaged in the local community. Sure I need to figure out my structure and staffing going forward. It is a complex wheel with A LOT of moving parts, but Dave felt that part wasn’t actually that complicated. He had seen worse, which was strangely comforting.  What Dave saw as the most important piece of my work as a practical matter and on a personal level was that I want to do this work in a church and not as a para-church kind of ministry.  My congregation can’t see what this new ministerial role and congregational future look like.  I need to help them do this.  I am not totally sure what it looks like to complete this task, but I know that Dave is right that this is a key part of what I need to do going forward.

One of the lynch pin values that has emerged for me around Christian Social Enterprise and innovation in general is that if the church ever wishes to honor its gospel calling to love its neighbor and participate in God’s Kingdom activity, we are going to have to develop our listening skills. I sense that one of the reasons that the churches in our nation have failed to address so many social issues that require love and help is that they have not adequately listened to their neighbors. Sometimes we avoid listening on purpose. To listen well is to engage with a problem and that is scary. Other times we have listened to God’s call, but not necessarily to the unspoken wants and hopes of those we seek to serve. We don’t know what they need or value. We don’t know what they long for. There are times where we also have not listened to the critique or advice of those that are our partners in Kingdom work. One of the key things that matters in innovative Kingdom work is listening to the criticisms of those around you. The only way that your model works is to test it and the only way to test something well is to be able to admit where it falters and fails. Too often we shield ourselves from the critical voices around us who actually might make us better.

My great fear in doing the work that I am doing (practicing social enterprise, writing about innovation, and coaching others on how to launch businesses in their own contexts) is that ultimately what might happen is that this becomes the next vehicle to “quality” ministry. But, if that vehicle is not paired with adequate listening in our contexts and loving reflection toward our neighbors then we will simply be launching a thousand innovative ships with massive holes in their hulls.

Sabbatical 2018

Matthew Overton

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I haven't written in a while because I have been on a sabbatical around the U.S. and in the U.K. Mainly I am relaxing with family and writing here and there as well as exploring new places and old places that feel like home. But, part of what I have also been doing is meeting with some folks from different institutions who are interested in Christian Social Enterprise and the work that I have been doing with my team in Washington.

Over the coming weeks I plan on writing a number of posts about those conversations and some growing thoughts that I have been having. Below I am going to list the folks that I am meeting with and lay out some of what I plan on posting about in relation to them. There will also be a couple of guest posts that I have requested.

1. Dave Odom- Dave is the director of the Duke's Faith and Leadership initiatives at Duke University. That initiative is funded by the Lilly Endowment. Dave's main job, as I understand it, is to help improve institutional leadership of every kind in the North American church. He is really good at listening and grabbing ahold of what is at work in new developments in the American church.

2. Abigail Visco Rusert- Abigail is the Director for the Institute for Youth Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is heavily involved with new youth ministry projects at the seminary.

3. Jonny Baker- Jonny was/is a big figure in the Emerging Church movement in the U.K. He is currently directing the training program for the Church Missionary Society that is training pioneering leaders in the U.K. I am rarely excited to meet with someone. I started reading Jonny's blogs and looking at his stuff related to Proost back in 2002 and am always impressed with his work.

4. Greg Jones- Greg is kind of leadership guru. He has lead Duke Divinity and most recently was the Executive Vice President and Provost of Baylor University. He is helping to coach me in how to build this crazy thing that I have started.

5. Steve Chalke- Steve is the head of one of the largest non-profits (Oasis) in the United Kingdom. He is an amazing speaker and author. I think he is the Rob Bell of the U.K. (love it or hate it is up to you) and many American Christians have no idea who he is. I want to explore with him how he has kept so many missional ministries connected to a local church.

6. Church of Scotland- I hope to meet with some folks from the "Go For It" initiative about their work. I love the Church of Scotland having worked in Scotland doing missionary work for a brief time. I would love to help them with unleashing the idea of social enterprise in the Church of Scotland.

7. Homeboy Industries- This opportunity hasn't been set up yet, but I am trying to meet up with someone from their business end of operations to understand how they have strung together their organization. It would be amazing to get a chance to speak with them. I also have never been to Homeboy despite having Father Boyle come and speak at our church. I am hoping to get a feel not just for the business side of things, but for the atmosphere of the place. We will see!

8. Matryoshka Haus- I don't even know how to describe this community except to say that it is a co-working space in that sustains itself by designing tools for non-profits to better measure the impact of their ministries. They are also really good with design thinking in the startup process. I am hopeful that I can help them in some small way to think theologically (as a practitioner) about how they design their tools.

 

Hopefully, something in this mix interests you! It's been exciting so far. I almost (ALMOST) can't wait to get back to work!

Graduation Day...Awesome!

Matthew Overton

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Every year as I do ministry there are certain days that I look forward to and certain days that are stressful, but well worth every ounce of effort. Last Sunday was a bit of both. The student job skills/life skills ministry that I created had it's annual meal and certification. It's a day when our mentors and students (Blacksmiths and Apprentices as we call them) come together to feast, share, and celebrate all the fruit that we have seen in our program. We started with 23 students and finished with 20.  It was an amazing process as usual. Let me share a few of the highlights.

-One student shared that their mentor, who has been one of our best youth leaders at our church, is an amazing human being. They shared openly that they have never had healthy adults in their lives and that they were really grateful for their mentor. This student will be coming on our youth service trip at our church this year for the first time.

-Another shared that their mentor seemed like a mirror 20 years into the future and that they were grateful that they could learn from their mistakes in career and money.

-A student with difficulty in social interaction shared that they have done a lot of technology programs before, but that in our drone program they realized that they have never treated their instructors as people. They have treated them as things that were there to give them something.  I was floored.

-An adult shared how they blew it this year. They admitted that when they started as a Blacksmith in our program they treated like a program rather than an opportunity for human relationship. They think they drove their student off. I don't agree, but it was amazing to see a grown adult in our world own a mistake for a change in front of teenagers.

-A student, who came into our program making sure we knew they were an atheist, was deeply thankful that their mentor challenged them to look at their HIGHLY materialistic goals and ask the question, "Why?" over and over again. They are starting to see that self-actualization and achievement that does not take one's neighbor into account can be pretty empty.

-One student shared that they have never realized that they could accomplish goals before. She described her mentor/blacksmith as someone who is an excellent listener. She talked about engaging her first drama performance at school because of their relationship and how she has taken the first step to cosmetology school. She has discovered that she has agency. A year ago she was massively depressed.

-Another student spoke out loud. This would have been impossible two years ago. They are reading the gospels for the first time.

-One student, who used to be very shy, spoke with great confidence and relayed how they have learned to navigate conflict for the first time and that they are a respected member of their staff at a local fast food chain. They are about to join the Army. It was a hard decision, but we made sure not to get in the way of that choice and cheered for them as we sat around the table.

-Many adults shared as well. They discovered things about teens and their experience that they hadn't known. They talked about the progress they made on their own personal goals because they were accountable to the students as well. Some of them talked about the deep respect they have for what some of their students carry day in and day out. Some talked about realizing that the context that they grew up in was vastly different than that of their students. I have felt all along that this ministry was just as much about the adults as the teens involved.

All I can say is that I felt that we were sitting around a Passover table despite the Hawaiian pizza and video game sounds coming from the mini arcade in the next room. What I saw and heard was the sound of glory. Not our glory, but God's glory. Irenaeus once said, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive." I saw the glory of people coming alive. I think Jesus was delighted with what was happening in that room on Sunday.  It has been worth every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears. It has been worth every bit of risk.

Let's create some new ways of doing youth ministry...and ministry in general.

Stripping the Ship: Calling A vs. Calling B

Matthew Overton

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Sometime ago I sat with a colleague who was concerned that as we build a different model of our youth ministry that we were neglecting too much of our existing ministry. We discussed that we were doing a bit less communication and that things were more rushed in general. To be honest, he was right.

In order to build a jobs based youth ministry on the side of our standard youth ministry we had been starving our existing ministry a bit. I told him he was right and that we were taking a calculated risk in order to reach out to a section of the community that we would never otherwise reach.  I appreciated my friend's concern for both our jobs and for my longevity (he was partly worried that I might burn out).

The thing I learned about innovation and change a few years back is that it is impossible to implement any change without sacrificing something. Usually one of the difficulties is that part of what you will have to sacrifice is part of your current picture of success. In order to change anything you are going to have to do a portion of what you currently do well...a little less well. I have come to believe that if we can't/won't take that risk, than any kind of innovation is impossible.

I have begun to refer to this process as "Stripping the Ship". If you have tracked this blog at all you will find that I tend to use nautical imagery to describe the journey I am on and the model I am pursuing. Stripping the ship refers to the intentional process of stripping down your existing model of ministry to its barest components that you regard as essential in order to free up as much capacity as possible to explore your secondary and nascent idea or model.

Sailors throughout history, for various reasons, have had to toss things overboard in order to lighten their load. The might need speed, there could be an emergency on board, or the conditions of the see and the conditions of their boat and its load do not mach well. Generally these objects overboard are referred to as flotsam, jetsam, and lagan. People do this same sort of thingall the time when they move from a larger home into a smaller home. They go through the process of sorting and tossing. There is almost always pain, grief, and satisfaction in this process. And part of this process is really helpful because it helps us define what is really important in our ministries and lives. Some things we don't get rid of entirely, we just get more efficient at them. These days I often find that I have found small ways and spaces of time to get things done that used to take me twice as long.

Stripping the ship often feels scary. You often wonder when you are going to throw some sacred object overboard that is the final straw for someone. You wonder if you are really just sinking your ship rather than stripping it down to make it lighter and faster. What ultimately makes the process worthwhile is if the ministry that you accomplish as a result seems more life giving and honoring to the Kingdom of God than what you were doing before. The difficulty though is that you won't know that until you actually test it all out for a substantial amount of time.  That is always scary.

As I have worked through this process I am learning a few simple things that I have helped me think and pray my way through this process.

1. Ask Lots of Questions and Invite Review- Try to ask your co-workers, leaders, personnel team, parents, students, etc. etc. periodic questions about whether or not they think you are still doing a good job at your primary calling/function. Their voice matters. You don't have to ask it that directly. There are loads of questions that you might ask to gauge how things are going.

2. Be Patient- You may not have had enough time to build up the rapport that you need to take the risk you want to take. Ask  yourself: "How much leadership capital do I have?" You might estimate internally or with others how many months you can sail like this before you need to restock the ship in some way.

3. Be Suspicious...of yourself- Remember that you might not be able to be honest with yourself about how things are going because you could have become so attached to the new ministry idea that you are pursuing.

4. Take an Emotional Review- Pay attention to your emotional sense of how you are doing. As much as you know that taking this risk will be scary, you should pay attention to when you feel like you are cheating calling A to serve calling B. I often use the Ignatian Examen as a way to figure out what the Spirit is telling me about how I am feeling. It is not always good to sacrifice your current picture of success to get to a new one. We should not idolize innovation or risk.

5. Catalogue Your Stories- As you go about your new ministry make mental note of every time that you encounter the fruit off this new way of doing things. Chances are that you are going to need that story to help other see what is happening. They may want to push or pull you back to the old way of doing things. I often tell a story of one of our students in our programs that we have built and ask them whether we should be pouring more resources into those outsider kids or into our church kids? I don't do that smugly (that would be unwise). I invite them into the tension that I feel every day. I am genuinely asking, "Jesus, who do you want me to minister to?" Often, they don't fully emotionally agree, but it always makes them stop and think about our priorities as a body. It also has a funny way of inviting them on the adventure when you do it right.

Blessings on your risks and innovations.

May you carefully strip your ship, so that in a streamline and sleek state, God might enable you to sail into new oceans, dangers, and Kingdom possibilities! Pray for wisdom often and be careful you don't throw anything overboard that is essential to the gospel or to your ability to stay afloat!

Gen Z and Barna: Our Game is on Point!

Matthew Overton

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Last week someone in my feed had posted some released results about Barna's research on Gen Z, the next generation after the much fretted over (an maligned) millennials. I also found a nice article here.  I don't put a ton of stock in Barna's research. It's not that I think it's bad, its mostly that I think people often don't know how to properly evaluate what it is saying and not saying. So, we tend to apply it in improper ways. Whenever I read something in my feed about teen trends I always take it with what I call a "New York Grain of Salt." By that I mean, I go ahead and assume that whatever horrible teen trend I am supposed to be scared about is probably happening at a couple of New York private schools and Laguna Beach and therefore the Altlantic or the New York Times has chosen to freak out over it. Stay calm, people!

But, what was encouraging to read in the Barna research (and there wasn't a ton that was encouraging) was particularly the 5th item in their list.  About how to disciple this generation it says:

"As we saw above, Gen Z are incredibly career-driven and success-oriented. Achievement is big for Gen Z, both to their sense of self and for their ultimate goals, particularly their education, career and achieving financial independence. Barna believes this emphasis on career presents an opportunity for the church to engage in what could be called “vocational discipleship.” This means teaching young people about the integration of faith and occupation, helping them to better understand the concept of calling and emphasizing the meaning and theological significance of work (not just their potential for professional or financial success). Not every church member has children, but almost every church has a children’s ministry. Almost every church member has a job, but very few churches have a faith and work ministry. The church has an opportunity to reach this next generation of teenagers through integrating career, work and calling into their discipleship efforts."

I have been arguing for some time that if we want to engage students or adults in meaningful ways, we will need to engage their real day to day life and specifically their economic picture. The gospel of Jesus Christ makes the most sound when it is lived on the ground and when it engages with the day to day. We live in one of the most humanistic generations ever and we need to understand that people are fascinated with their own humanity. They are interested heavily in the human side of Christ as well. There are loads of problems with this practically and theologically, but it is what is happening and we can't change that.

If we understand two things about Gen Z and our youth ministries it needs to be these:

1. They are pragmatic. Therefore our ministries need to be practical.

2. They are hands on. If they can't shape what you are doing as a ministry it will be a barrier.

3. They are career driven. You better speak to their economic future because they have inherited the fear of their parents.

If we are going to effectively engage this generation of teenagers, then we are going to need to build experiments in ministry that seek to combine real life/career impact with gospel teaching. The beauty of the gospel is that it challenges huge aspects of how they pursue their careers and callings. It invites people to ask "why" they value what they value. It asks them what impact their careers will make on others. Will making a living actually help others enjoy living?

What we are finding in the experiments that we had done in ministry is that when we engage their career side and life side, we find that they are interested in the questions of meaning too. We find that they are longing for learning about life in ways that their schools cannot engage the way that our ministry can. These students are in the wake of a massive economic downturn and are floating in an age of multiple uncertainties. It should not be shocking to us that they are concerned with the immediate things in front of them rather than the more transcendent aspects of the gospel.  We need to meet them there.

So, for once I agree with Barna's take on their data! And it was great to know that we were 4 years ahead of the trend!

How do I Fund My Philanthropic/Social Enterprise Idea?

Matthew Overton

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Fairly frequently these days, people from different places will reach out to me as they are trying to launch their local social enterprise or missional idea. Some people want to make profit as a for profit. Some people are simply launching a charity. Others want to generate net profit, but run as a non profit simply by directing their profits back into the mission of the overall organization. What many of them struggle with is trying to raise the initial funds to get started.

When I began my landscaping company and my non profit I had no idea where the money would come from. I didn't even know how much money I would need. What I did know was that our mission was worth doing and that I was called to do this work. I have learned a lot in the last few years on how to get up and running. Over the past 3 years I have raised about 125k in funding for my organization and I have done that while working a full time job and doing my enterprise on the side.Here is how you might get started.

1.) Your Personal Funds- I know you don't have any, but bear with me. When I started my own enterprise I had to put up about 5k of my own funds. Later I invested much more than that. Your funds matter because unless you are willing to risk for this enterprise you are starting you may not have an idea that is worth pursuing in earnest. Second, when you risk, others believe that their risk might be worth while. You cannot expect others to sacrifice what they have earned if you are not willing to do so yourself. Watch it here though! You do not want to be the only one risking for your idea and if you have means you do not want to fund your idea to the point that it becomes to reliant upon you or your funding stream. That kind of dependency can lead your organization and mission to fold if you step out of the frame or if your personal funding picture should change in some significant way.

2.) Friend Funds- No matter what you do, you are probably going to need to raise funds from those around you. They might be friends or they might be folks that come out of the woodwork as they hear about your ideas. They might also be folks on your board or team that you have assembled. I have been struck at how often folks have emerged with dollars when they have heard about what we are doing. I have also had to learn to make a pitch and ask. This has been a difficult task for me as I don't love talking about money and cannot stand asking for it, but if the mission is good, I will do what I have to in order to forward it. Again, this is a great test for the quality of your idea. If folks aren't interested in funding it then it might not have what it takes to move forward.

3. Grants- You will definitely have to mine local foundation and granting agencies. Just do some Google research and talk, talk, talk to folks about what you are up to. There are loads of sources of funding that your network of folks knows about that you don't. For profits can sometimes get loans from foundations or important advice from them about funding. They can also connect you with people who know the industry that you are about to launch into. Don't underestimate the value of such advice and connection points!!!! Just don't expect those foundations to perpetually fund your dream. They often want to see if you have a plan and have what it takes to hang around for a few years on your own. Their funding will only last a couple of years, so they want to know that you can sustain yourself without their perpetual help.

4. Awards-  Along the way I have won three awards for our work with Mowtown and the Forge. Periodically you just come across these things. Some of the awards are small (1-3k), but some might be larger (5-20k). I also won these awards as a for profit.  I had to pay taxes on those awards, but it was still very much worth it.  They are a nice boost to your bottom line and another sign that you might be headed in the right direction.

5. Denominational SourcesI work in the church world, so I have some connections through institutional networks. I found funding though my local region as well as through a national source that is seeking to launch new ministries around the nation. Sometimes these gifts will require various forms of reporting and accountability that might seem bureaucratic, but there is no source of revenue that has no accountability or strings attached to it.

6. Private Investment- Admittedly, this is the area that I know the least about. My enterprise was built with my own money and a few awards. I was able to do this because my particular industry (lawn care and landscaping) has a fairly low barrier to entry. But, if your idea is larger or more expensive to get off the ground you might need to take out a loan or seek out investors who are going to want return on their cash investment. It's possible that they may take a lower rate of return than is normal based on the fact that your project is socially engaged.

All I can say is that this is going to be a lot of work.  Don't expect anyone to make this thing happen for you. It's going to take some sweat to make this work! I mean that in terms of sweat of your brow as well as anxious sweating it out as you figure out how to fund the next turn in the road. Blessings as you dream and launch!

Accompanying Young Adults by Engaging Economics

Matthew Overton

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I have written a good bit about side effects in doing ministry through social enterprise. I think risking doing anything innovatively causes all sorts of new things to bubble to the surface of an organization or relationship. You often thing you are doing one thing, but you are really doing another.

One of the unintended side effects, or unexpected outcomes of this experiment has been what it has done amongst the young adults in my church. We wanted to help teens and we are. But, while our landscaping company employs teens and helps launch them to more permanent jobs it has actually had unexpected economic benefits for local young adults.  Let me throw out some small vignettes:

1. Employee #1- We were able to talk through a difficult season of life while they were working for us. They hadn't graduated from college for some difficult reasons. They couldn't find an job and they were dealing with a significant amount of depression. We helped initiate a conversation about these hurdles and helped them address them with their family. They are now in more permanent employment after 2 separate stints with us. They were not the best landscaper for us (and they would freely admit that), but we were willing to tolerate some inefficiency for the sake of ministry opportunity. It was the right decision.

2. Employee #2- This employee learned hard lessons with us. We housed them at our church after they worked with Mowtown Teen Lawn Care and we got them a benefited custodial job. The problem was that they just weren't ready to take on responsibility. After 3 failed attempts and coaching by multiple adults we had to let them go. It was hard. We may have been pushing them to a level of responsibility that they were not ready for that soon. But, 1.5 years later they have a full time job doing construction and wandered back through our doors to let us know during our college dinner at Christmas.

3. Employee #3- This person just needed some extra hours. They have some big dreams for themselves, but not necessarily a helpful framework on how to get there. They were dedicated to their faith and that spawned a load of windshield conversations about theology and how the Bible is put together. It was a fascinating relationship in inviting somebody into deeper thought about the Christian tradition. Eventually they moved onto another job.

4. Employee #4- This young adult was also dedicated in their faith and was thinking about going to Bible college. Most of our conversations had to do with money. It was difficult to figure out how to try to point out the financial impracticality of someone else's dream. This is especially true when you know them, but not super well. They eventually went off to Bible college but quickly realized that the education wouldn't produce the financial runway they needed to pay off their debt. They moved back, got a more permanent job, and now live in our church's young adult house. We continue to maintain ministry and conversation with them about life, theology, and money. They are taking full advantage of this experience by paying down their debt which is possibly because of the reduced rent of our young adult housing.

5. Employee #5- This employee was working for a for profit organization that was paying them illegally under the table in a field that they were interested in pursuing. They had graduated from a university, but were just stuck on what to do next and barely barely scraping by. We have employed them now in two ways in our organization. They worked for the landscaping operation as a crew boss and also in admin. support for our non-profit operation. This allowed them a host of experiences that would build their resume. We also worked heavily with them on conflict avoidance which was the main thing that allowed them to linger so long in their previous job on poverty wages in an unhealthy environment. We still coach them on the next steps in their journey and they are starting some exciting chapters trying to figure out how to fund what they love to do most! They are a fabulous mentor for our students.

Employee #6- This individual found us online and as it turned out they had been served by our church 10 years ago when we were on a mission trip. They are a single parent and are trying to find sound economic footing and build a life for themselves. They had previous landscaping experience and we may see them as the future owner operator of Mowtown which would be an an amazing opportunity to bless them. They also live in our young adult house which allows us to create community with them.

Employee #7- This former student of our youth ministry finished college and cannot get a job in their particular field: Advertising using analytics. So, I offered to allow them to build their resume by helping us build our online profile. We have a lot to learn and they can teach us while building their portfolio.  They were happy to do so. My hope is that this work provides them some initial free lance work to build their resume so that they can find the job that they are looking for. Further, I think it helps foster the sense in them that what they are working on in their career can be ministry. They can find ways to benefit God's Kingdom while doing good work.  It also provides another opportunity for feedback and coaching as they transition through their young adult years.

Even as I type all of this I am floored. I want to make it clear that this has been a messy process and many of these stories, like all of ours, are still in process. There have been a lot of road blocks here and periods where I wasn't sure we were being very helpful. But, what I see is that engaging the economics of our world has enabled us to lengthen the meaningfulness of our church's ministry to young adults. It shows them that we care about their actual lives. It also shows them that God cares about their actual lives. Here and now.

I had wondered for a number of years how, given the lengthening of adolescence, we could accompany our young adults effectively in the next chapter of their lives. As it turns out we have been doing it for the last 4 years, but we just stumbled into it by initially trying to minister to teens more effectively and prepare them for adulthood. Most of our ministry really has just been coaching and accompaniment.

I continue to be amazed at how God honors experiments. The Spirit is often the one who takes us from the place that we think we are going into places we would not or could not have tread previously. My hope is that we as ministers and youth ministers continue to risk and experiment so that we end up in those unexpected gospel places!

Windshield Conversations...

Matthew Overton

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I have written several posts about how one of the biggest surprises about how we have tried to do youth ministry and social enterprise at my church (other than how hard it is!) is the impact I think it is having on adults. I have felt that doing a mentoring and business based model of youth ministry has drawn out the gifts of numerous adults in my church who probably would not have had anything to do with youth ministry previously. This sense has been affirmed over the last few weeks in particular.

A few weeks back I was in a parking lot in my truck when one of my mentors called. They wanted to clarify a few things about their student and also check in on their paperwork status. While I was trying to make it into my next appointment I found myself getting the chance to do what I enjoy most: Coaching someone in how to do ministry with teenagers. But, really I was coaching them in how to do ministry with their fellow human being. We talked about listening well and about the unique personality of their particular assigned student. We talked about what to do if any particular crisis issue came up and we revisited our abuse prevention protocols. I also assured them that I was just a phone call away.

The best part about the conversation was that this adult had no business doing ministry with teenagers, and I don't mean because of relative age. I have always used older adults more than younger ones in youth ministry. Age is somewhat irrelevant. What I mean is that this particular adult, while a WONDERFUL human being, just doesn't strike you as somebody you would expect to be hanging out with a teenager. They would be one of the last sort of folks I might recruit for a number of the normal elements that make up a youth ministry. This of course is probably more of an indictment of youth ministry than it is a characterization of the individual. The fact that our models couldn't accommodate the gifts and talents of this individual is egregiously bad. When it comes to youth ministry the hand has often been saying to the foot, "I don't need you."

And then this experience with this one adult seemed to repeat itself another three times in the next week.

What had happened in part was that in the 4th year of our program we doubled in size. We now have 23 students in the program and that has meant pulling from a wider crop of adults from our church and beyond for the first time. During the first three years we mostly had adults that had a good deal of experience with teens from our ministry community. They entered the program with a certain sense of confidence and veterancy in what they were doing. But, this year is requiring more encouragement, coaching, and listening. And it's a ton of fun. In many ways, I feel like I am doing exactly what I ought to be doing most of the time.

When we built the initial landscaping company, one of the things we talked about was "windshield time". We meant that while we were driving around we wanted to take advantage of conversations that would happen along the road with students. But, as it turns out adults need windshield time too. They want to help students. They want to do ministry. But, they just need somebody as a kind of reflective backstop. It's funny at times because I am coaching people who are nearly twice my age. In a lot of ways their nervousness reminds me of my experiences of doing hospital chaplaincy in my early 20's. I remember vividly feeling like I didn't know what to say, what to do, or whether I was going to really screw somebody up through ignorance and the sugary additive of good intentions. It's not a fun feeling, but it is a necessary stage of ministry.

This is what my adult mentors are learning.

1. Most of life's problems are not solvable by human beings. They are knots that are just too hard to untangle. This is partially why relationship with God is so powerful. God does the work we cannot. And while that can make us feel futile at times as servants of our neighbors it's also kind of a relief to know that we don't have to solve problems.

2. Ministry and service to one's neighbor always involve getting involved in someone's mess. When you really engage ministry you find out how most of our forms of service are actually designed to keep us distant from the recipient. We serve at arm's length in most contexts. it's safer that way. Real face to face ministry in which you actually have to just listen and walk with somebody through their crap is often messy. You are invited into the story of a neighbor and that is inherently risky. It might cost you some sleep, some money, time, and probably part of your heart.

3. You don't know your neighbor or their experience until you know them. When you engage ministry you quickly find that you don't have clue about other people's experiences. Most of what we live on in life are assumptions about others from a safe distance. Ministry has a way of disrupting our stereotypes and assumptions about people from the outside because it invites you into the inside of their lives. You end up in conversations, homes, and at tables that teach us just how ignorant we are. It's embarrassing and awkward, but it's good work and it is never finished. You are never done learning about the folks to which you minister.

4. Good listening is the best skill you have. People often get frustrated with how church folk and others will offer all kinds of platitudes to people in crisis ("God doesn't give you more than you can handle."). Often they do this because platitudes actually kind of work...when you keep your distance from your neighbor. They make you feel that you have helped your neighbor when in fact they mostly have just reinforced your distance from them. It's only actual ministry that exposes them for what they are: manure. Actual ministry, wading into the life of my neighbor reveals that reflective listening is the best, and often the only, balm we have. Good listening and good questions are the first tool in a pretty limited actual ministry tool bag.

In any event, these conversations have been fun. It's nice to be doing what you are supposed to be doing. It's nice to invite others into the holy mess that God invited me into some years ago.