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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.

 

Filtering by Category: Mentoring

Utmost and Teen Athletics: Leveraging Impact

Matthew Overton

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This last Spring, a friend of mine for about 8 years had a unique window of opportunity open up in their life. They no longer wanted to teach at a school that they were working at due to the unhealthy leadership culture that they had experienced and needed to move on. For 20 years they had been dreaming of an alternative kind of sports league where low income students were no longer priced out of sport, where teens were taught character and ethics rather than individual aggrandizement, and where student could be engaged with healthy Christian witness and the gospel itself.

The problem at the time was that I was scheduled to go on sabbatical in just six weeks. We had a few conversations (probably too few!) and I met with my board. In just 4 weeks we raised 40K in funds (eventually 55k) and built a class-A weight and strength training facility in the back of one of our church buildings. We chose to do weights because although we wanted to work with sports teams, there was no way to build a sustainable sports model without hundreds of thousands in investment or donors. I also needed to be able to replace my friends teaching salary in a very short period of time.

We are 10 weeks into the program starting and we have 62 students participating. We have also replaced our program directors former salary in that time.

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Every time I tell this story, I get lots of questions so let me just do this in bullets.

  1. Who is your coach/how did you find this person?- Our director/head coach at Utmost Athletics is a former D-1 softball coach. He is seminary trained but decided that full time ministry was not for him…and yet that is what he is now doing just through different means. He was tired on the unhealth of D-1 sports and so he stepped away from that. He is well versed in strength training and has connections to the D-1 strength training community.

  2. How does this connect with your overall Forge program/youth ministry?- Well, both models require adult student mentorship and engage life skills coaching. Instead of working for our landscape company or another job in the community, these students pay a fee to participate in a healthy sliding scale strength program. They are allowed to get it at low cost in exchange for participation in life development.

  3. What donor/church/grant support is required to make this run?- Basically none. We needed capital to get started, but it is already self sustaining. We may need donors or grants to expand to other chapters a few years down the line, but right now the revenue that the program generates makes it self-sustaining. The unspoken beauty of this is that all students pay something.

  4. What sets this apart from other weight or fitness programs?- Several things. The first is coaching ratio. All the high schoolers have a 1-4 or 1-5 coaching ratio which is much better than they would get in a normal high school gym. The program is also different because of its atmosphere. It is HIGHLY encouraging and functions as a team. People greet one another (required), they ask a life question, they cheer each other on, and develop community over occasional meals. It also is the opposite of other weight programs in the sense that it’s emphasis is on slow and healthy development of strength rather than machismo. While there are “max days” and lots of cheering, the atmosphere is not about “more, more, more”. You might consider it the opposite of the mental image cross fit. Technique is HEAVILY emphasized. Last, they talk alot about character development. Each session coaches more than the body. It is designed to coach the heart and soul as well.

  5. Who are the students?- They are from all kinds of backgrounds. We wanted a program with mixed socio economics because at the Forge (the umbrella organization) we feel that students need to cross pollinate more frequently across economic zones. We also know that to have programs that are sustainable you need programs that tap into the broad spectrum of economics. We have a significant number of college age young adults as well as high school students. We also have a small but growing crop of middle schoolers who focus on other exercises.

  6. What is your role in this program?- My role is to provide theological reflection on the program and development support. The Forge takes care of all grant writing tasks, donor communication, strategic planning, and book keeping. This way, our program director is free to focus on what he is good at and we have massively increased the startup efficiencies of a new ministry.

  7. Is it all honey and gravy or have their been challenges?- There are massive challenges! The main one has been alignment. Although the program director and I knew each other fairly well, we did not have a lot of time to make sure we were talking about the same things when we agreed to partner. Basic questions about the gospel and mentoring are still getting sorted out. We are having to spend loads of time in a room with others to make sure that we have programmatic alignment. We are also working through decisions about whether all weight students MUST participate in the overall program or whether a certain percentage can just be “customers” who might enter the ministry side at a later time. Second, we are struggling to figure out how to properly train the coaches as both mentors and as coaches. It’s a lot to ask given that they are in the gym 3 times a week for 1.25 hours. That is a BIG volunteer time commitment.

  8. Why Did you Do This?- Over the last year or so I have been reading a lot about the concept of leveraged impact in the social enterprise world. Stanford has been leading the way in this kind of work. Read some of their stuff here. My sense was that I could spend years growing the core ministry of the Forge, or I could leverage our way to greater impact by partnering creatively with other like minded non-profits. Utmost Athletics was one of those non-profits. We made the leap this fall from about 25 students to 75 students. While I am not remotely all about numbers I do want to leverage greater ministry impact and increase the efficient startup of redemptive enterprises. I also did this because I was acutely aware of the need/potential of youth sports. It is both a huge outreach area as well as a massive economic engine. It’s also pretty much an idol. Don’t believe me? Read this.

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.

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!

Glimpses of Glory #1

Matthew Overton

 For the record.  Our truck is not nearly as shiny as this one.

For the record.  Our truck is not nearly as shiny as this one.

What can a dump truck, snow, and bricks teach us about Christian ministry? Something maybe.

Some weeks ago I brought my girls with me to complete a large landscaping job in which we were building a stone retaining wall.  The job was finished and there were about 150 extra bricks that needed to be loaded into a large dump truck and hauled back to Home Depot. When my girls and I got to the top of the ridge in our neigborhood we found that while it had not snowed at our house, it had snowed a couple of inches up there! It was also a good deal colder. As a good Dad, I of course had not anticipated this and brought no work gloves for my girls, 5 and 8 or for me.

Over the next couple of hours I patiently helped them help me load each brick onto pallets in the truck. I stood up on the back end looking down at them as they handed up each brick covered in snow. I felt badly looking at their pink little hands, but I also knew that this was a really good character building experience for them. At one point a couple of older boys bicycled by with gloves on. My oldest could hear them complaining about how cold it was and that they needed to stop and warm up. At one point she looked up and said, "You know at school, the boys always talk about girls being 'fancy'. Sometimes I think boys can by pretty 'fancy' too." I couldn't help but laugh. While my girls were cold, they were learning the borders and testing the margins of their mental and physical toughness through work. All children need to do this. We talked about sometimes needing to focus on the task at hand when things get difficult, that when things get difficult you sometimes have to just keep moving forward until the job is done. I believe these things. But, it was their in their looking up during and after the work that I was most struck.

One of the hopes in pursuing Kingdom work (and specifically youth work) through the vehicle of social enterprise is that as we pursue it we think reflectively about the theology that does or does not undergird what we are doing. In the past I have tried to write on theological frameworks for Christian Social Enterprise and the other day I ran into one of these ideas while in church. There was a connection point between the experience with that dump truck and what I was hearing.

At least part of what we are doing in youth ministry through social enterprise is giving students glimpses of glory.

     In his lecture/sermon on "The Weight of Glory", C.S. Lewis draws an analogy to children and parent while he is trying to define glory as "fame or good report". Lewis is careful to say that glory, on the human side at least, is actually our need for the recognition of God. What we often pursue is fame or good report from our fellow human beings as some kind of substitute for this divine embrace. But, his point is that we are wired to seek recognition from God. A kind of divine approval and blessing.

     All of us long to hear from some final authority the words that we see in Matthew 25, "Well done good and faithful servant." In Matthew 3 we also find that the Son of God, after being baptized receives praise from on high. "And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." Again in Matthew 17 we see in the Transfiguration that the Father again is well pleased with the Son.  The point of all this, and its one that I think I agree with, is that as human beings we long to receive the praise of God. Shoot, apparently even God needs the praise of God! We are in some sense wired for it. But, the trick is that in order for us to believe in that God who delights in us and hope for its future day of fullness, we need to experiences glimpses of glory here and now. That is to say that it is often human beings, our neighbors and perhaps most importantly our parents, who provide that foretaste as we live this side of God's Kingdom. We need somebody, sometimes anybody to tell us, "Well done, I am proud of you!"

     Lewis says that in this way we are rather like children. Anyone that has children can verify that there is nothing they long for more than to earn (honest and genuine!) praise from their parents. They long to hear that they have worked hard and done well.  This is what I ran into with my own girls.  At several stages of the work, while they hardly complained, they did seek out my approval. They clearly wanted to know that they were doing a good job at the task at hand. This dynamic continued after the fact as well. Tucking one of them in at night I told them that I was proud that they had worked so hard and toughed it out.  They wanted to hear what every human being wants to hear from some higher authority, "Well done you hard worker! You are doing great! Keep at it! I am proud of you! I often try to offer them this praise apart from the tasks they perform, but I also want them to be able to honestly assess when they have worked hard and done well. And all of this of course is exactly what Lewis is driving at. We are all looking up in some sense. I think Lewis is exactly right about this impulse to receive glory from the one who made us and it is an important theological pillar that supports all the intergenerational ministry and youth ministry that my church is working on. We are engaged in Christian Social Enterprise through mentoring because it gives us an opportunity to add an adult, or perhaps the first adult, to the lives of local teenagers that need to catch a glimpse of glory.

    Part of what we do when we do ministry is we provide glimpses or foretastes, or inivitations to glory, for those that we work with. We have an opportunity to help people believe and hope that somebody out there is interested in them precisely where they are. One of the reasons that we have created a program around intergenerational mentoring is because we believe that our mentors have much more to offer our students than professional experience. They have much more to offer than years of wisdom. Part of what they have to offer is a glimpse of the glory of God that we all long to hear and know in fullness one day. The voice that says to us, "Well done child! I am proud of you! How did you walk that road!?" In short, what we are providing is foretastes of glory, hints of divine love and approval. We are offering human beings opportunities to be caught in the tonal warmth and magnetic light of God's voice and gaze.

At the end of the day, the world is full of people with technical skills. It is full of people with soft skills. It does not have enough people with the ability to offer these divine glimpses.

My hope is that our program can continue to offer that.