So I have watched Steve Johnson's videos on where good ideas come from a number of times. The Ted Talk one is the best and it is here. I find his talks fascinating not just because of their specific content, but mostly because they have caused me to go back and analyze where my own innovations in ministry have come from. Of late, I have been working on a new experiment in youth ministry that is based on jobs/work. Some friends of mine call it, "A Youth Ministry that Works." The goal is to essentially teach discipleship alongside of jobs training. My experience teaches me that when ministry is done in this fashion it tends to lead to more life on life conversation. I happen to think this is a really good idea for about a million reasons that I won't get into here.
As I have watched his TED talk I was most fascinated by the notion that most folks with a good idea tend to think that it happens all at once, when in fact it is the final trajectory of a multitude of experiences. It would be more like the lead page to a book where an author thinks through with deep thankfulness, all the people who helped the book come to fruition. This part of the TED Talk got me thinking that it might be good for me to sit down and map out where my own innovation had come from. It was amazing. It ended up being a deep prayer exercise of thanksgiving, but I was also blown away about how different life events and conversation have shaped me over the years. Here is a very abbreviated version of what I came up with in my journal entry.
1. Dozens of Mission Projects, Working with my Dad to Fix Stuff Growing Up, and Working as a Custodian- Physical labor led me to value work and the conversations that happen when we work. No way I would be doing this if not for these experiences.
2. The Economic Downturn and my Dad's Chronic Unemployment- In my mid to late teen years my Dad lost a number of jobs. I saw what a lack of work and purpose can do to a human being. We also lost our home in high school and then I lost another during the downturn in 2006-2010. I value the gift of work more than ever and I understand why parents are reluctant to send their kids to youth groups for fun, games, and Jesus. They are terrified about the future. Who has time for fun, games, and nice when they are terrified?
3. My New House- When I moved to Washington Anne and I had to cobble together a home loan and ultimately bought the most beater and dilapidated thing we could find because we knew we could afford it. With the help of friends and some paid contractors we gutted the house and re-did it. It was here that I began (illegally) hiring some of my "fringe" students to help out. I started to think, "This is just like doing a mission trip. Why can't we do this all the time? Why do I get in better conversations about real life here than we ever do at Youth Group?"
4. Mark Yaconelli's Compassion Prayer Retreat- I can't say enough about this retreat. Best thing I have EVER done in ministry. But the two quotes that nailed me from that retreat were when Mark asked me, "How come you got into ministry? Was it so you could tell kids about Jesus and have them learn about Christianity or so that those kids could help bring those kids come alive and be more loving people?" This question stopped me dead on a morning run two days later. What was Christianity really about? The second was the Iranaeus quote, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive." I started to think about what in my ministry was the most life giving. I wanted to do what needed to be done, but also what brought me LIFE!
5. Conversations- This is where the idea really caught a head of steam. It sort of ties in with Steven Johnson's idea of the cafe. Sadly, I have no cafe of colleagues to hang out with. But, after I had assembled a small team of folks from my church to secretly work on this project (I wasn't sure what the church would think!), I started to call colleagues in ministry to see what they thought. It seemed like every time I talked to a parent, youth worker, seminary professor, friend, or pastor about this idea their own light bulbs went off. It was crazy! Many acknowledged secret tensions they felt about youth group, quietly confessing that they don't want to send their own kids. I talked with the most diverse group of folks I could get my hands on. Everyone was ecstatic about the idea and thought it was worth pursuing. They had other stories to add about why they thought it was a good idea. Or they would share about a work experience that had changed them as a young adult. I have never heard the voice of God more clearly saying, "You need to do this." Never.
There are a bunch more things I could list (a lot of them would be books). I really want to map it out on a Prezi or storyboard it. But for now, this has been a really useful exercise. Doing something is so important. All the stuff I did along the way is like a tool box to me now. It has been the concert of my experiences that has caused me to change my youth ministry tune. It has been too imitative for too long. I felt like a bad Beatles cover band at Disneyland just trying to sustain what had come before so that I didn't lose my job and a second home. I finally got tired after the 10,000th rendition of "Let it Be". What is needed is something that is as improvizationally sweaty and collaborative as jazz music and as playful as Zydeco music. That is why I am trying to gather together other youth workers who are doing youth ministry in innovative ways. I wonder what youth ministry/ministry would look like if folks could prayerfully mine the concert of their own experience to see what is life giving and then look to see what God might birth in their ministries!