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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 Tag: A Youth Ministry That Works

Sabbatical 2018

Matthew Overton

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I haven't written in a while because I have been on a sabbatical around the U.S. and in the U.K. Mainly I am relaxing with family and writing here and there as well as exploring new places and old places that feel like home. But, part of what I have also been doing is meeting with some folks from different institutions who are interested in Christian Social Enterprise and the work that I have been doing with my team in Washington.

Over the coming weeks I plan on writing a number of posts about those conversations and some growing thoughts that I have been having. Below I am going to list the folks that I am meeting with and lay out some of what I plan on posting about in relation to them. There will also be a couple of guest posts that I have requested.

1. Dave Odom- Dave is the director of the Duke's Faith and Leadership initiatives at Duke University. That initiative is funded by the Lilly Endowment. Dave's main job, as I understand it, is to help improve institutional leadership of every kind in the North American church. He is really good at listening and grabbing ahold of what is at work in new developments in the American church.

2. Abigail Visco Rusert- Abigail is the Director for the Institute for Youth Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is heavily involved with new youth ministry projects at the seminary.

3. Jonny Baker- Jonny was/is a big figure in the Emerging Church movement in the U.K. He is currently directing the training program for the Church Missionary Society that is training pioneering leaders in the U.K. I am rarely excited to meet with someone. I started reading Jonny's blogs and looking at his stuff related to Proost back in 2002 and am always impressed with his work.

4. Greg Jones- Greg is kind of leadership guru. He has lead Duke Divinity and most recently was the Executive Vice President and Provost of Baylor University. He is helping to coach me in how to build this crazy thing that I have started.

5. Steve Chalke- Steve is the head of one of the largest non-profits (Oasis) in the United Kingdom. He is an amazing speaker and author. I think he is the Rob Bell of the U.K. (love it or hate it is up to you) and many American Christians have no idea who he is. I want to explore with him how he has kept so many missional ministries connected to a local church.

6. Church of Scotland- I hope to meet with some folks from the "Go For It" initiative about their work. I love the Church of Scotland having worked in Scotland doing missionary work for a brief time. I would love to help them with unleashing the idea of social enterprise in the Church of Scotland.

7. Homeboy Industries- This opportunity hasn't been set up yet, but I am trying to meet up with someone from their business end of operations to understand how they have strung together their organization. It would be amazing to get a chance to speak with them. I also have never been to Homeboy despite having Father Boyle come and speak at our church. I am hoping to get a feel not just for the business side of things, but for the atmosphere of the place. We will see!

8. Matryoshka Haus- I don't even know how to describe this community except to say that it is a co-working space in that sustains itself by designing tools for non-profits to better measure the impact of their ministries. They are also really good with design thinking in the startup process. I am hopeful that I can help them in some small way to think theologically (as a practitioner) about how they design their tools.

 

Hopefully, something in this mix interests you! It's been exciting so far. I almost (ALMOST) can't wait to get back to work!

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.

The Goodness of Equal Exchange...

Matthew Overton

One of the blessings of doing ministry through social enterprise is that an ethically performed exchange of goods and services places the "giver" and the recipient on equal footing. I received this note from a customer a few weeks ago and was elated to receive it. We had provided a high quality and prompt service. In this case the customer was overjoyed to have snow removed from their driveway after a solid snow storm and ice storm. I was able to spend several hours working with my students which was relational time well spent. We talked about life, a bit about faith, and a good amount about hard work. I get to do ministry, the customer has a service provided that also impacts their local community, the student grows and develops in faith and life. It is an equal exchange.

This way of doing things seems so much more preferable to the unequal exchanges in many of our charitable works in our community. In many of those systems, Group A has all the power, dollars, and say-so and often does something "good" that the recipient doesn't even want or necessarily need. The recipient is often further incentivized to keep their mouth shut because they don't want to appear rude to the giver and they may be able to make use of SOME part of what the giver is peddling. But, the exchange is always unequal. One party controls the whole situation. I think many of us know this is how we do charity work and it makes the giver feel wonderful, but often steals dignity from the recipient. It is unhealthy and the same unequal exchange can be seen in other areas of the church's life as well.

In our church ministries, youth and adult, we often disempower those we serve unintentionally. One group has all the cards. They are the minister, or the discipler, or something else. There is very little mutuality. The recipient is often supposed to sit and receive what is being taught.  This, not surprisingly, can create environments where people don't feel motivated to pursue their faith for themselves. They become dependent on the model or the individual providing the spiritual good and services (for lack of a better term). We can do better.

My point is that we need to find ways to even our exchanges a bit more. We need ministries and spaces where giver and recipient are on more equal footing.  Our social enterprise (The Columbia Future Forge and Mowtown Teen Lawn Care) empowers students who are involved, robs little dignity from the person buying the services, and brings adults (as mentors or crew bosses) and students together as co-workers rather than as givers and receivers. It's pretty cool.

Last, one of the best things about engaging economics and faith is that I am discovering that to provide a good or service that is high quality and prompt is a kind of service. It blesses the customer when they pull in their driveway.  That is important ministry and one that the church needs to validate more frequently. Ministry and Business need not be two seperate categories all the time.

"Soft Skills", Jobs Programs, and Human Beings Fully Alive

Matthew Overton

A few weeks ago I received three calls in the same week from different folks who had read or heard about The Columbia Future Forge program and Mowtown Teen Lawn Care.  One of them had found a brochure on his desk when he took his new job. Another wasn't even sure how he knew about us, but he did....which was odd.  But, all of them were interested in us because our program was offering something that the schools are not. And it isn't vocational skills.

Our programs do offer vocational skills. The Forge, which offers trainings and mentoring, trains kids in professionalism, goal setting, personal finance, and a personality/gifts assessment. The object is to impart some useful professional and life skills. Many of our schools do little of this. I am not the Junior Mike Rowe and I don't believe that trades are necessarily the future. In fact, I worry that many of our trades will be gone in the next 50 years due to automation. But, we do need more of them in schools.  Schools are slowly starting to re-gather themselves from the college craze. They are starting to talk about bringing trade skills and professional training again which is great because many students don't want the college ideal that has been foisted on them.  But, even though I agree that there is a skills gap and too much college craze, that isn't why we created our program.

You can have all the professionalism you want. You can manage your money like Warren Buffet. You can have the greatest goals in the world. You can know exactly what jobs you might be good at and have the skills for them. And you can still be...a really crappy human being.

The people who called me were interested in this last bit.  The human being bit. The idea that you could teach human skills and job skills at the same time. The idea that students don't need another program. They need a human being to mentor them. That sounded worthwhile to them.

Even if our schools can get back to some vocational training and life skills training they will not be able to teach us how to be full human beings.  We need another human to do that. At least that is what the incarnation seems to argue for. Traditionally those "human being" skills are what we might call "soft skills". They are the hardest to teach.  I was recently reading a post by Seth Godin on this. It's superb and it's a 5 minute read. He argues that soft skills are what make most companies endure, innovate, and flourish. You can teach the other skills, but soft skills are what allow for innovation and a lack of them can destroy company culture. Soft skills, human skills, are almost never taught and are one of the most essential features of good employees, good co-workers, and good family members. They also happen to be at the heart of the gospel.

So, when a student came up to me a few weeks ago asking about our program I felt confused by some of his questions.  He was dancing around something but I couldn't tell what. He was asking questions related to college, the military, and our mentors.  It finally dawned on me that his expectation was that we were either trying to get him into college or trying to get him a job.  What I had to explain was that while we would be delighted if he went to college or into the military (his current goal), we were more interested in who he was going to be when he got there. We don't need more soldiers and we don't really need more debt saddled college grads. We have enough of those. What we need is people who have a sense of who they are and what life is about when they get to those kinds of places. We want the most fully developed human beings serving in our military and we want a fully alive compassionate and rational human being studying physics in our collegiate laboratories. Our objective is human beings flourishing AS human beings wherever God has them. Period.  

Seth Godin is right. They aren't "soft skills". They are essential skills for life in the individual and in any organization or society. Our ecclesial job is not to crank out successful people, or nice people, or even religious people. That smacks of a factory. If that is the best we can do we might as well automate everything now. Our job is to do the redemptive ditch digging of forging fully alive human beings, full bearers of the image of God. That is work worth doing. As Irenaeus was reported to have said, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive." In that case, Soli Deo Gloria.

Why Social Entrepreneurship in Youth Ministry #3- Gracious Accountability and High Growth Environments

Matthew Overton

One of the things that has always been difficult for me being a minister is figuring out when to be nice, understanding, and gracious and when to be direct.  I think because the church is an institution that often represents people's highest ideals, their expectations of the institutions and the ministers that serve there are much higher.  And to a large degree this is justifiable. Scripture itself sets a pretty high bar for the leaders of God's people.

But, my experience of this on the ground is that this higher level of expectation often leads, in practice, to an environment that is often too polite and indirect. Many churches and their leaders are often shackled by having to be "nice" all the time.  There is often a sense working with church volunteers that if you aren't nice to them and indirect all the time then you aren't being gracious. Or to put it another way, the more direct you are the more unkind you seem.  I think many women deal with something similar to this on a day to day basis. Women often pay a penalty socially for being assertive and direct. This kind of dynamic is crippling to both leader and organization.

The result of this kind of unspoken code of nice is that it produces church environments that tend to be kind at all costs and are also heavily conflict avoidant. This leads to all sorts of problems that we don't need to go into here, but this culture bleeds into youth ministry.  The youth group, because it is essentially a free service put on by a church and because it tends to be numbers driven, forces youth ministers to try to attract and hold onto students.  To do so, the youth worker must make difficult decisions about how direct they can be with students. Head pastors deal with the same issues. You don't want to lose a student or their family, so many youth workers tend to be pretty cautious with feedback. Second, most youth workers are pretty kind and recognize that overly direct feedback can crush certain students.  This tends to produce an environment that is low in terms of expectation and accountability. This isn't as true in some of the other spheres that teens inhabit.

The dynamic is very different, for instance, than the way that a coach might deal with an athlete. The difference in that environment is that the student has paid for that activity, and probably has paid a premium.  So when a coach is direct with a student on the pool deck or a music teacher is direct following a botched rehearsal the student is less likely to run off and avoid further growth. Mom and Dad won't let them avoid practice for three weeks. Youth group on the other hand is often voluntary. They paid for the music program and their folks will tell them they have to stick it out.

All of this leads to youth ministry as a space that is exceedingly loving and gracious, but also to one that can produce little spiritual growth in the students that are a part of that ministry.  The environment tends to be low on challenge and low on accountability.  And while I would agree that our churches often need to be refuges from some of the awful feedback that students might be getting in their lives from parents, coaches, teachers etc., I don' think that is ALL that we can be.  And this is where social entrepreneurship comes in.

One of the advantages I have learned with students by creating an entrepreneurship is that it is an environment where direct feedback is critical.  If I am not direct with my students on the job, we don't get work done.  The jobs program I have created allows us to speak directly with students about what they need to do. It allows us to dive more quickly into conversations about character and accountability.  Students don't pay for our program, but what they do know is that if they don't show up on time or put in the requisite effort they won't get paid or won't have a job anymore.  Youth groups almost never have anything like this.  And to be honest, as much as I long for the Kingdom that is to come, that sink or swim work environment is what our world is actually like. It DOES make demands of us. It is a performance based culture. We cannot fully avoid that reality and need to lovingly prepare students for it. 

But, here is the beauty of a jobs based youth ministry. It allows your church to offer a salty kind of grace.  Social entrepreneurship creates a space in a youth ministry that allows the church to offer direct critical feedback over real time problems in a way that is an alternative to the destructive feedback that some students receive in our communities. We affirm their self worth, the indelible image of God, while telling them they need to improve in a certain area of life. Through direct feedback they become less blind to their own unique strengths and weaknesses. If we do this kind of work lovingly it is amazingly affirming work.  Compliments seem less artificial in this kind of environment. Students know they earned them. Grace seems more...well...gracious.

When you are in an environment that is always nice and you make a mistake you come to EXPECT niceness at every turn. In an accountable environment, when you screw up, you expect to get feedback and maybe even fired. When that expectation of immediate judgement is violated with a kind of "gracious feedback" it is a wonderfully disruptive experience. You expected judgement and you received honest love.  There is a fine line after all between grace and enabling.

Imagine for a moment if in the story of the Prodigal Son that the younger brother had returned home anticipating, even expecting, a feast and a fattened calf. I think many people expect just such a greeting at our churches.  The son would have been petulant to have not received it.  But, because the younger son expected judgement and accountability, it offered the father an opportunity to provide a kind of disruptive grace.  I would suggest that we needs wings of our ministries where high accountability is the expectation so that when students make mistakes and are greeted with calm, but honest and loving critical feedback, they can experience that same gracious disruption. Small scale social entrepreneurships create that kind of environment. 

In a way, social entrepreneurship can help grace be salty and powerful again. Students are empowered to work on real time problems related to the entrepreneurship (say for example, a food cart that benefits a charity) in situations that demand higher accountability. It leads to greater empowerment and fosters growth. A lot of times I think our current youth ministries are light on empowerment and therefore are environments that have low accountability. That leads to stagnation. Let's build some ministries that are both full of grace and growth. I think that would be pretty innovative.

 

"We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat"

Matthew Overton

One of the things that I keep learning as I do this ministry as social entrepreneurship thing is that it often seems like feast or famine.  Some days it seems to me like forever since new business has come through the door and other days it gets really stressful simply because there is too much business and not enough time. 1 step forward two steps back.  In my case, I work a 60 hour a week job and then have to figure out how to coordinate a separate social entrepreneurship (a landscaping company) on the side.  The difficulty is that until we either get enough business or a large enough grant I can't provide enough hours to sustain the employee that I would want.  It's a constant tension.  Yesterday was a case in point.

This past weekend we had done our first training for the non-profit wing of what we do.  We do 5 trainings a year that focus on work and life.  Students attend these trainings and are assigned a personal mentor after the 2nd training. Our aim was to have 12 students in the room. We got to 8 with another two waiting in the wings. I was frustrated a bit because I had sent out multiple communications to the local school districts in the area, but hadn't really gotten any solid bites. People forwarded the information to other people, who forwarded it to other people, who then sent it onward into electronic scholastic purgatory (it has flames, Ticonderoga pencils, and too much standardized testing). I expected that this kind of information passing would be the case. School employees are just swamped.  But, all in all the training went really well and we had a bunch of new students show up. It was pretty exciting despite not reaching our targeted goal. And the number  of students was just about right for our group of mentors.  So, in some ways it felt like bit of famine, but it was manageable and that felt pretty good.

Well, when I rolled into the office yesterday I received three emails in short succession from various school counselors and career advisers. All of them were asking for more information or for a special meeting with some of their students. Another student from our church then asked if she could join the program. She had missed all the communication I had sent out. I got off my my email and the first thing I thought was, "We're gonna need a bigger boat."

The whole dilemma in our program is how fast you can scale.  We want to strike a balance between profit and just enough grants to keep us going. We want to balance having students get work experience and having enough time for relationships and coaching.  We want a good number of students so that our program feels worth while, but we also need to balance that with the proper number of high quality mentors so that we are getting at the real work we set out to do.  It's a hard balance to strike.

So, I had started the day with contented disappointment and finished with, "I need more mentors." I had this sense that this is how the disciples must have felt when they pulled the nets in from the sea teeming with fish. Half the crew (the crazy entrepreneurial ones) thought that this was the best damn day they had ever had on the water! The other half (the details people) felt that this was not the sort of abundance anyone could handle. I have often wondered if they had a sense of the kind of harvest that Jesus was really pointing to.  Because in actual practice the harvest of people that he refers to is a bit of a mixed bag. Sure it's lots of fish, but the mass of teeming humanity is often hurting, angry, and broken. Getting them in the boat is one thing, but getting them to shore without sinking your whole operation is another.  The harvest that Jesus' actual way of living brings is just as scary as it is joyful. It points to the grunt work of helping to reshape and forge human beings and anyone with half a brain and any experience with people should find that a bit daunting.

But,  this is just how it goes in this new world that I am inhabiting. Abundance comes, but it creates new adaptive problems.  They are exciting and terrifying all at the same time.  It's tricky and I am trying to avoid being gobbled up. One of my favorite prayers used to hang on a placard in my brother's room growing up. It had an anchor and some waves and it said, "Oh Lord, the sea is so big and my boat is so small." I have this inkling (or maybe it's a sinking feeling) that the more we open our doors through missional work, the more we will discover the vast needs that are out there. It's overwhelming.  We're gonna need a bigger boat.

Diamonds and Stones: Adventures in Missional Entrepreneurship

Matthew Overton

Let me tell you what happened to me yesterday. I bet you will laugh.

First, my Thursdays begin with landscaping. This might mean I need to make a run to the dump to empty out a trailer, but it always means I have to load our equipment and hook up the trailer. It is usually a fairly smooth process. I have gotten it down at this point and over the years I have gotten really good with loading and backing trailers primarily because of all the youth ministry trips I have led. Anyway, this morning was no different. I loaded the equipment, made sure everything was secure, made sure I had our landscaping crew box and binder, and checked the chains and electrical connection. Next I pulled out onto the driveway and closed up all the gates to my side yard and then was off. It was very typical. I headed down Highway 14 and when I hit some traffic I pulled off onto the old highway. I love driving the old highway anyway. It is really bumpy, but you feel like you are stepping back in time just a bit. You get to see what old Vancouver looks like, freight trains go by, and there is an eclectic mix of housing. Anyway, I got done with the drive, pulled into the church and prepared to hand off the keys to my crew amidst the pouring rain. And this is where my day began to unfold a little differently than I had anticipated.

As I lifted the keys to my crew guy he is looking outside and says, "Well that's pretty fun." I assumed that he was referring to the weather. We have 3 major storms coming in this weekend and he had just moved here from Northern California. The gray and the consistent rain can grind on you a little bit especially when you are doing outdoor work. And so I turned my head and made some kind remark about getting used to the weather up here (which of course was really code for: "Sorry man, but you are going to have to suck it up out there today.") but when I looked at out my landscaping trailer it seemed a little off. Off was the operative word because my trailer was missing it's entire back gate. Gone. Pins still in their holes.

The trailer should have looked something like this. You'll notice that it has a properly attached gate.

Even if the trailer had looked like the one below, it would have been better by a slight margin. Because at least if it had looked like this second it would have meant that I simply had towed the trailer while dragging the gate for a few miles. Embarrassing, but intact.

But, nope. My trailer was missing the entire gate. With its license plate. I was gobsmacked. I still can't figure out exactly how THE WHOLE THING FELL OFF! So I quickly loaded my crew mate into my rig and we headed back down the old highway (now free of all forms of relaxing nostalgia) to recover my trailer tailgate. Oh and I bounced a $400 blower out the back as well. Phenomenal.

Eventually we recovered the gate and thankfully no one had driven over it or wrecked their car. But, in the 15 minutes in between my blissful ignorance and the recovery mission someone had stolen the blower off of the road. Joy.

And this was how my entrepreneurial day began.

One of the things I have learned in doing this social/missional entrepreneurship is that things just don't go the way you plan them. EVER. It can be pretty frustrating. I had to get the first problem solved, cancel an appointment for my day job, and then gather myself for my day in the office.

A key mantra that I grew up hearing my Dad say was, "Some days are diamonds and some days are stones." Usually it was said after something had gone wrong. Maybe he had a rough day at work where something just didn't work out the way he planned it.  But, that phrase has a critical truth to it when you engage social entrepreneurship or missional entrepreneurship. It is not for the faint of heart. It has a lot of ups and downs. I am learning to stay calm, keep moving forward, and trusting in God. I can never be sure, but I still feel confident that this project represents a calling in my life. A very unexpected one.

And so part of my day was a stone. I was stressed and anxious.  But an hour later I got another phone call. It was unexpected. Someone had nominated our landscaping jobs program for a Traditioned Innovation award through Duke Divinity School's Faith and Leadership publication. They called to let me know that not only had we been nominated, but that we had won! Better yet, it was a $10,000 award grant! I almost wept.

We have been fighting as an organization to build up enough capital to cover some equipment, but what we really need is margin for the right employee to be working at bids and projects for more hours. This gift represents a huge opening for us. I have been working for a gift like this for over a year now and mostly I had grown content with the fact that building this enterprise was going to take a long time. It just felt like we hadn't made a ton of progress lately.  We can use the gift for equipment, but it will allow us to channel more of our revenue toward funding our employees to expand the business. Our hope is that eventually we can get to a place where we can take on some clients who are unable to mow their lawns and afford lawn care. We hope to take care of their properties at no cost or reduced cost.  As we do those sorts of things, we can hire more students. This was one serious diamond in my day! I was so ecstatic and stressed at the same time I gave myself a massive headache.

The point is that some days doing entrepreneurial stuff it feels like my rear end just fell off somewhere back there along the way. And you always feel like you are driving the slightly bumpy back roads.  But, if you wait patiently, trust, and pray a small victory or a moment of clarity comes along. Both the diamonds and the stones teach you things. They both have value. Both can make you want to cry. It's just a matter of sifting.