The post below is a gues post from Jim McLaughlin who runs the Beacon House. Beacon is a young adult home for young men in Vancouver Wa. Vancouver has one university and one junior college, but no housing for students. Many students want to move out from mom and dad, but have no way to do so....and rents are soaring. Many churches struggle with forming a young adult ministry in their town because of the sporadic schedules of their college age young adults and because there is no way to gather them consistently. This might be a way forward. It's a pretty cool way to start a young adult ministry.
Exhausted and getting ready to enjoy a little ‘me’ time during my Christmas vacation, I got the millennial version of the bat signal—a text simply saying, “Jim there is water shooting out of the faucet at the front of the house.” Now, if there is anything an aging youth and young adult minister doesn’t want to do on his vacation it is go to work, but as the minister in charge of the young adult ministry at our church, known as the Beacon House, I had no choice. So got up and prepared to get soaked on a very chilly but slightly above freezing Monday night in January. It turned out that an outdoor faucet had been capped and the cap had burst, due to the below freezing temps the day before. The repair was fairly simple once I found a replacement cap and the water shut off valve, but I left the house thinking three things: 1) how long has this been shooting water? 2) Why did no one else call me during the day? 3) Am I about to have frostbite on my feet like Adam Sandler’s character in Mr. Deeds? (A further investigation revealed that is had indeed been shooting out during the day, but none of the residents seems to think that the noise was worth investigating. Also, I did not get frostbite.)
The Beacon House is currently the primary vehicle of our young adult ministry at our church. It is an experiment in combining ministry with residential living. Like most churches, we don’t have large bags of money lying around to try experiments. What we do have is a session (governing body of a Presbyterian church) that is willing to experiment. They allowed us this experiment in part, because we told them that it would have no cost to the church. We owned the house with no mortgage, which was an asset. Our “residents” pay rent at just slightly below fair market value, and in exchange for living in the house agree to do “ministry” in the community, live by a covenant agreement they have created and meet together weekly and with me, one on one, regularly. All of the rent money received is used for the ministry, and to take care of the house, so far at zero cost to the church (there was initial start up cost covered, which was later recouped through rents).
We decided to focus on young men, because they were the ones still around. Statistically, young men are less likely to attend, graduate, and even pursue continuing education after high school. Increasingly, they are being left behind in life, struggling to move forward in more traditional ways. Very intentionally we wanted to create a ministry that truly met these young men where they were.
Where they were, was frankly, sometimes frustrating. For the first few months, the house was a mess. No one was willing to step up and take responsibility for things. When something went wrong, most of them assumed, someone would come by to take care of it. On the surface it appeared they were exactly the caricatures of the millennial generation: clueless young adults lacking skills, experience, and motivation. As a blue collar kid from rural Pennsylvania, it was an anathema to me. When something went wrong at our house, we fixed it. There was no money to hire someone to do it; so I learned, when something goes wrong, you have to figure it out yourself. If I didn’t know it, there was always someone in a larger social circle who could. Normally, they would do it, if I would help. However, there was one thing that was made abundantly clear, if something needed done, I better take the initiative to get it done. Even if I tried and failed, there would be some teasing, then someone would show me how it was done. I learned things because I was constantly bumping into people doing things.
Coming from this background, I just expected they would know the basics of life, and what they didn’t know they would figure out. I was wrong. It was confusing and frustrating. until we realized something extraordinary: they actually didn’t know what to do. Laziness was not the problem. Lack of motivation wasn’t the problem. They were completely overwhelmed by adult life, because they hadn’t learned many of the skills, I had taken for granted. We needed a different approach.
These young men had not had the benefit of a large community helping to teach them about life. The adults in their lives were legitimately too busy, and the extended family support, the default environment in my life, was not there. What they needed was an environment where they could have permission to experiment and fail, where they could learn, and where they would be pushed towards their best selves in a loving gracious way. Rather than punish or lecture, we decided to intentionally teach and mentor them in important areas of life:
· Money management
· How to live with others
· Conflict management
· Household skills: bill paying, cleaning, cooking
· Life Coaching
· Service to the community
· Problem Solving
· Disciple making
Seven months into this experiment our residents are learning to ask the questions, ‘What is God showing me?’ and, ‘What am I going to do about it?’ They have grown, identified their individual hurdles and foibles, found employment, faced disappointments, had conflicts, and have talked through difficult choices. They have learned that they are not alone. There is a community of people who cares about them and their development, not because of what they can do for us, but because we recognize they are not someday adults, but children of God, just like us. It hasn’t all been perfect. One of our residents after personal struggle, decided a few months in, that this wasn’t for him and moved out. Obviously, we were disappointed, but, quickly decided, if we aren’t reaching out to young men, who could possibly “fail” then we weren’t really doing the ministry of Jesus Christ. As word has gotten out, we are having more and more young men interested in being a part of this ministry. It seems to have struck a chord.
I will end the way I started, with a quick story. There are two toilets in the house, one in a traditional bathroom, and the other awkwardly stuck in a mud room. Not in a stall, just sitting out on against the wall. It’s odd. The guys think it is hilarious. This toilet broke. During one of our meetings I was reminded that it wasn’t working. When they tried to flush, the handle just turned without doing anything. It’s an easy fix. I began to say I would show them how to fix it, when one of the residents stopped me and said, “Can you wait. I think I know how to fix it, and want to give it a try first.” That is our ministry in a nutshell: to move these young men from passive observers in life and faith to active participants, by walking with them, encouraging them, and giving them a place where they can take initiative, knowing they don’t have to go it alone, because there is an entire community behind them; to move them from, “Jim, we have a problem,” to “I think I know how to fix that, and I want to try it first.”