I grew up near the ocean in Southern California. In fact, I grew up so close to it that you could smell it and late at night in my room I could hear the seals barking on the buoy just off the coast. And because of that proximity I have spent a decent amount of time around ships and boats. One of the things about being on a boat is that it is one of those spaces where safety is paramount and when an order is given by the captain, you follow it! On a boat there is no time to argue who is in charge. There is the captain and maybe a mate, but everyone on that boat knows there role. And generally everyone is both needed and utilized.
When you consider a traditional sailing ship you have to think about a hive of activity. There are people on the command deck of course, but there are also dozens of others who are handling sail and rigging. Others keeping an eye on the ocean itself. There might be someone sounding for depth. Below deck even more activity is going on! People are working the bilge, attending to chores, and perhaps tending food in a galley. It would have been quite a place! What is clear is that on a sailing ship (and any ship really) everyone has a critical role to play in terms of what is going on. Dilettantes are dangerous to the whole enterprise and if you don't want to have a function you are probably encouraged to stay on shore. This is strikingly different from our churches.
One of the things that doing social entrepreneurship has brought to my attention over the past 3 years is the fact that the Christian church in North America does not function this way. Most of our ministries exist as the whole of God's mission can be piloted by just a few. We have loads of people in our churches who have loads to offer God's mission, but have no way to properly engage that. In our churches it would seem that the only gifts that matter at times are gifts related to speaking, teaching, music, and management. In other words, we function as though the bridge of the ship is the only place where meaningful work can happen. If you can't fit on that crowded bridge then it can (and often does) appear that your gifts aren't really that useful to God.
Part of the problem is that the church as a kind of a vehicle has certain functions that are non-negotiables. It has to do certain things like worship. The church as a vehicle is only ever be able to empower so many gifts. What social entrepreneurship does for both our adults and students (and the church) is that it radically opens up the playing field in terms of where the church can go to accomplish God's mission. While our attempts to engage our communities missionally have often ended in things like BBQ's at parks and Harvest parties, social entrepreneurship allows us entrance anywhere because it engages the main artery of American life: the marketplace. We no longer need to create semi-churchy experiences to reach out. Entrepreneurship simply allows us to wade into the world. Whether I like it or not, as a good missionary in my culture I cannot deny that the market infuses everything in America. If I want to mobilize the all the gifts of my students and my adults then I am going to have to engage the area of our culture that can utilize every gift.
The youth ministry opportunity here is exponential.
First, we have adults who are retiring who have loads of experience. Many businesses are starting to rehire their Boomers as consultants for their younger employees so that they can pass on what they have learned about leadership over the years. Some have called the era that we live in the era of the "silver tsunami". It is the era when thousands of Boomers are going gray and are looking to retire and travel. But, what about when they aren't traveling? Don't they still long for something deeper to give their life to? I think so. In fact, my suspicion is that this longing for something to passion for is even more acute at this stage of life. Is there a place for them in our ministries? Social entrepreneurs refer to this group as people looking for an "encore". Sure traveling is great, but everyone who is about to retire and everyone who is entering the latter stages of life wonders about their legacy. What have they done? Is the world better because of them? Have I faithfully lived God's call on my life? Social entrepreneurship can offer them an opportunity for an encore that utilizes their unique gifts and gives them a chance to pass them on. And that is where our teens come in.
If we are serious about intergenerational youth ministry then we need to thoughtfully consider social entrepreneurship. It offers a ministry playing field in which adults and teens can work on the same playing field as co-equals. That is huge. Adults with thousands of gifts are no longer ONLY being asked to be present and clean up the Cheetos after the ice breaker. They are no longer involved in youth ministry to only guide students down the Roman Road or to some obscure theological destination that they aren't entirely sure they understand. Social Entrepreneurship offers adult leaders the chance to apply faith in real time to actual mission and to do it in a space in which the students can be fully engaged. If adults and students are running a charitable laundromat, then every student there is going to have to have a role. It's just like the sailing ship or like building a house on a mission trip. There is no space for dilettantes on a mission trip. In social entrepreneurship, both adults and students have something to talk about and engage with and that is the best kind of organic relationship we could ask for across generations.
Third, youth need guides in discovering their gifts. If we think about the biblical story of Samuel and Eli, Samuel desperately needs Eli to help him interpret the voice of God. Samuel has a gift, but it has not been discovered or honed. Many of our youth and our young adults (did I mention that this might even fit ministry to young adults better!?) need these kinds of guides. They need folks who can help them identify and hone the gifts that they have. But, there is only so much of that that can come up over a cup of coffee. It's real life situations that give the mentor the best opportunity to discover new facets of the person that they mentor and it's real life situations that allow the one receiving mentorship to actually discover and develop their God given gifts and talents.
The point of all this is that we need to expand the command bridge of our ships or maybe at least build some new Kingdom vessels that offer greater leadership capacity for youth, young adults, and adults than a traditional church model can provide. Social entrepreneurship can provide tens of thousands of combinations that engage the marketplace and individual followers of Christ with meaningful Kingdom work that requires all of their giftedness and passion. I can't think of a better way for us to enter into salty conversation and salty witness that engages every member and age of the Body of Christ than the open seas of the marketplace. The advent of missional theology drew us from the docks to the harbor. I think it's time we dragged all generations and gifts together out to the open ocean.