One of the things that has been so awesome about creating a second (entrepreneurial) wing to our youth ministry is that it has answered a bunch of nagging questions for me as a minister. When I finished seminary the term "missional" was just coming into its own at the time. I was so enthtralled with missional theology that I took 3-4 courses in it. At the time Dr. Darrell Guder was teaching at my seminary and it felt awesome to learn from someone who had helped coin the term "missional", though at the time I had no idea how it would explode into the American Church. I enjoyed this new way of thinking about church so much that I would often skip out on some of my other classes to go listen to a lecture in one of his classes again. One day after a forum during a conference where I sat at the back of his seminar, Dr. Guder came up and asked me why I had come. He said that everything he had covered that day had already been covered in our classes. I can't remember what I said, but I do remember feeling that missional theology represented a new way of thinking about church that I was still getting my head wrapped around. I wanted to hear the content again and again until I could conceptualize what it would mean in a real church. It would take me several years of working in the church again to actually put it to use.
What I quickly discovered upon leaving seminary was that actually trying to live and be missional while holding down a youth ministry job is tough. I struggled to figure out how to be "out there" when there was so much "in here" to take care of. Cutting off one part of my job to create opportunities off campus felt a bit like slitting my own professional throat. I also struggled to understand what the community around my church really needed. It wasn't untill I was embedded at my current church for about 5 years that I began to see the gospel gaps in my community emerge. It was then that I started (quite accidentally) my missional initiative: A jobs based social enterprise for teenagers.
Since beginning Mowtown Teen Lawn Care and The Columbia Future Forge I have been struck by the ways in which my webs in the community have multiplied. Because of this initiative we have made connections with:
1. Career Counselors at local schools.
2. Owners of local plant nurseries.
3. Owner of a children's haircut place that wants to hire our teens.
4. CEO of Parr Lumber, one of the biggest building supply companies in the Pac Northwest.
5. People in my own church that I had never spent time with!
6. Principals and Superindendent of local schools.
7. The head of the Business Association in Downtown Vancouver.
8. An AP reporter working for a Portland University who still pings me about publishing articles in Portland!
9. About 20 youth workers (secular and religious) from around the United States and United Kingdom who have reached out after reading about what we are doing.
10. The Local Business Journal
11. People at the Local Boys and Girls Club and the YWCA.
12. We now have 3 non-profits other than our youth ministry housed in our Youth Center.
13. We have connections with 2 other landscape companies who are actively employing some of our former students.
When I sit back and look at all the missional connections that have taken place in the last 3 years it is mind boggling. This flurry of connection in my local community dwarfs any previous points of connection that I had ever had before. What makes it even better is that it is of genuine interest to a large cross section of our community. I had served on county boards before and done drug awareness seminars at my local church, but generally getting people to engage those attempts at community engagement was like pulling teeth.
I think part of the promise of missional enterprise and the local church is that it offers a ton of different ways to interact with whole sections of the community that we never would have had the chance to work with previously. I think also for many of the folks we have engaged with they have been excited to have the chance to connect with people who are positively interacting with students in their community. My sense is that they too struggle with trying to figure out how to engage beyond their own boxes and day to day responsibilities. This is the first season where I have truly felt like I am engaging my community missionally in a way that the community significantly appreciates.
All of that seems hopeful to me.