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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: Risk

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.

Stripping the Ship: Calling A vs. Calling B

Matthew Overton

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Sometime ago I sat with a colleague who was concerned that as we build a different model of our youth ministry that we were neglecting too much of our existing ministry. We discussed that we were doing a bit less communication and that things were more rushed in general. To be honest, he was right.

In order to build a jobs based youth ministry on the side of our standard youth ministry we had been starving our existing ministry a bit. I told him he was right and that we were taking a calculated risk in order to reach out to a section of the community that we would never otherwise reach.  I appreciated my friend's concern for both our jobs and for my longevity (he was partly worried that I might burn out).

The thing I learned about innovation and change a few years back is that it is impossible to implement any change without sacrificing something. Usually one of the difficulties is that part of what you will have to sacrifice is part of your current picture of success. In order to change anything you are going to have to do a portion of what you currently do well...a little less well. I have come to believe that if we can't/won't take that risk, than any kind of innovation is impossible.

I have begun to refer to this process as "Stripping the Ship". If you have tracked this blog at all you will find that I tend to use nautical imagery to describe the journey I am on and the model I am pursuing. Stripping the ship refers to the intentional process of stripping down your existing model of ministry to its barest components that you regard as essential in order to free up as much capacity as possible to explore your secondary and nascent idea or model.

Sailors throughout history, for various reasons, have had to toss things overboard in order to lighten their load. The might need speed, there could be an emergency on board, or the conditions of the see and the conditions of their boat and its load do not mach well. Generally these objects overboard are referred to as flotsam, jetsam, and lagan. People do this same sort of thingall the time when they move from a larger home into a smaller home. They go through the process of sorting and tossing. There is almost always pain, grief, and satisfaction in this process. And part of this process is really helpful because it helps us define what is really important in our ministries and lives. Some things we don't get rid of entirely, we just get more efficient at them. These days I often find that I have found small ways and spaces of time to get things done that used to take me twice as long.

Stripping the ship often feels scary. You often wonder when you are going to throw some sacred object overboard that is the final straw for someone. You wonder if you are really just sinking your ship rather than stripping it down to make it lighter and faster. What ultimately makes the process worthwhile is if the ministry that you accomplish as a result seems more life giving and honoring to the Kingdom of God than what you were doing before. The difficulty though is that you won't know that until you actually test it all out for a substantial amount of time.  That is always scary.

As I have worked through this process I am learning a few simple things that I have helped me think and pray my way through this process.

1. Ask Lots of Questions and Invite Review- Try to ask your co-workers, leaders, personnel team, parents, students, etc. etc. periodic questions about whether or not they think you are still doing a good job at your primary calling/function. Their voice matters. You don't have to ask it that directly. There are loads of questions that you might ask to gauge how things are going.

2. Be Patient- You may not have had enough time to build up the rapport that you need to take the risk you want to take. Ask  yourself: "How much leadership capital do I have?" You might estimate internally or with others how many months you can sail like this before you need to restock the ship in some way.

3. Be Suspicious...of yourself- Remember that you might not be able to be honest with yourself about how things are going because you could have become so attached to the new ministry idea that you are pursuing.

4. Take an Emotional Review- Pay attention to your emotional sense of how you are doing. As much as you know that taking this risk will be scary, you should pay attention to when you feel like you are cheating calling A to serve calling B. I often use the Ignatian Examen as a way to figure out what the Spirit is telling me about how I am feeling. It is not always good to sacrifice your current picture of success to get to a new one. We should not idolize innovation or risk.

5. Catalogue Your Stories- As you go about your new ministry make mental note of every time that you encounter the fruit off this new way of doing things. Chances are that you are going to need that story to help other see what is happening. They may want to push or pull you back to the old way of doing things. I often tell a story of one of our students in our programs that we have built and ask them whether we should be pouring more resources into those outsider kids or into our church kids? I don't do that smugly (that would be unwise). I invite them into the tension that I feel every day. I am genuinely asking, "Jesus, who do you want me to minister to?" Often, they don't fully emotionally agree, but it always makes them stop and think about our priorities as a body. It also has a funny way of inviting them on the adventure when you do it right.

Blessings on your risks and innovations.

May you carefully strip your ship, so that in a streamline and sleek state, God might enable you to sail into new oceans, dangers, and Kingdom possibilities! Pray for wisdom often and be careful you don't throw anything overboard that is essential to the gospel or to your ability to stay afloat!

"Ecto 1"- The Most Humbling Joyous Help I Have Ever Received.

Matthew Overton

This is what I like to refer to as "Ecto 1". It reminds me of the Ghostbusters rig in the movie except rather than keeping the spirit containment unit in the basement of the building, we just mounted it on our truck.  It's also my SECOND pickup truck. I don't know how this happened. I grew up two blocks from the Pacific Ocean in surfing country. And while I was born in Virginia, I was not born in pickup country. Some people have called it "Dorothy" from the movie Twister. Others say it looks like a Portland food cart version of a Breaking Bad episode.  To me, Ecto 1 is a sign of everything that is awesome about social enterprise and the church. It is a symbol of friendship, fellowship, and shared passions.

Ecto 1 is simply a watering truck on a converted F-250 pickup truck.

About 9 months ago our Downtown Business Association recruited Mowtown to water their downtown flower baskets.  They hang them every year in the downtown area in order to beautify the local business district. They had a truck, with a built in watering apparatus, and all we needed to do was supply the workers and a bid.  They had also worked with teens and young adults to water the baskets previously.  So, we leapt at the opportunity. But, that's when things got a bit more complicated.

For various reasons, our local city didn't want Mowtown to rent the truck. They also didn't want to sell us their old 1970's Dodge Pickup. And this is where things got awesome.

Several of my team members stepped in.  First, they went out and looked for pickup trucks. They went to local auctions and online. Eventually they found  a truck they liked and when they told the owner what we were up to he knocked the price down substantially. But, that is where the real work began.

 This is Dave. Dave is a retired airline pilot/Rube Goldberg truck mechanic. Dave is awesome. Be like Dave.

This is Dave. Dave is a retired airline pilot/Rube Goldberg truck mechanic. Dave is awesome. Be like Dave.

These guys spent hours thinking about the best designs. They purchased a tank and mounted on an aluminum reinforced palate so that when the watering season is over we can pull the tank right out of the truck. I consulted with friends who are engineers about pickup size, and water shifting, and baffles. Next they put in a pump, mounted a light on top, consulted with the city about stripping the old truck for watering tools. They fixed up the actual truck which needed some significant work. It had holes in the pickup bed and needed a new bumper.

All along I had to proceed in faith in this because I know nothing about cars. I can change oil, tires, spark plugs, batteries, and filters, but I don't. Ever. I loathe working on cars. I know how to do some things, but I don't really "get" cars.  But, because these guys on my team care about students and about this idea that we all have been working on they laid out for this idea in terms of money, time, and passion.

A few weeks ago I went over to one of their houses to borrow their dump truck (yes they have one at home) and there was Ecto-1. I couldn't believe it. I honestly felt like crying the next day in worship because I was so thankful for friends like these. I know they enjoyed doing it, but I don't like when people help me out usually. I am pretty independent. It was humbling to say the least.

My point in all of this is simply to say the social enterprise requires a bunch of risk and trust. It also requires community. As much as I have wanted to test a model that proves to someone else that they could do this on their own too, I have had to realize that this is a group process. It takes way more than just my passion to get something like this off the ground. It takes the gifts of others too. I continue to learn that lesson in spades.

But, this is why the church matters. The church is a bucket of ages, stages of life, gifts, talents, treasures, and passion like no other that I know. It has a built in ethic to lay one's life down for the sake of the world. As I continue to argue and believe, it is one of the best vehicles I know to engage social enterprise.

This morning at 4 a.m. an 18 year old student and a hard working American who emigrated from Central America are out watering baskets in our downtown. We are helping them economically, they are forging unusual community together, our downtown is being beautified, we are making some profit, and my church community is more engaged than it was a year ago. It's the best missional idea I have ever had.

If Christian Social Enterprise is wrong, I don't want to be right.