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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: Business as Mission

Turf Grass, Economic Specialization, Christian Social Enterprise, and Kingdom Work

Matthew Overton

This past Sunday I was asked to share with my congregation for the first time about my social enterprise. There are many people at church that know that we run a landscaping company and also a number who know that we also do mentoring and life skills coaching. But, many of those people didn't understand the whole picture of both Mowtown Teen Lawn Care and The Columbia Future Forge until this Sunday. I had been reluctant to share about the project until I knew it was viable and because I don't like talking about myself in front of people generally.

What was interesting was that after the service a gentleman came up to me to offer his help. He was totally excited. He let me know that he had 35 years in of a career in turf management and that his forte was teaching landscape courses in how to manage various kinds of grasses for home lawns and even golf courses. He offered to teach my workers, when we were ready, on how to manage turf better.  It was a remarkable conversation on a number of levels.

During the presentation to the church, one of the things that I highlighted was the idea that Social Enterprise allows the church to mobilize a whole bunch of acquired professional expertise. It actually allows us to use the gifts and talents of many of our congregants in ways we had never conceived of. I have said many times that one of the things that social enterprise has taught me is that there are a whole bunch of people in our churches who are struggling to connect their unique gifts and honed skills with Kingdom work. We only generally allow them to do this within a really narrow bandwidth of roles:

-Can they speak?

-Can they play music?

-Do they have accounting skills?

-Are they good with children and youth?

-Do they have leadership gifts?

If you look at that list it is pretty short (and I am sure I have missed a bunch), but it is also incredibly non-specific. This is what struck me as I reflected on a conversation with a guy with "35 years of turf grass experience". Our modern economy, however, is highly specific.

Part of what social enterprise offers the American church is the ability to engage specific gifts. In economics there is a concept called economic specialization. Essentially it argues that each economy (I think this would apply to individuals as well) must specialize over time in order to increase its efficiency. One country might become really good at making cars while another will have to focus on more agrarian advances. The idea is that if they don't make those choices they will be out competed by those that do. Some specialize because of certain resources they have while others because of certain human resource capabilities or global location.  A country or individual then can use the excess of that one specialized item to trade for other things.

Over time this trend toward efficiency and specialization has radically changed our economy. This is why for instance that someone cannot expect to have an easy career road with a generic degree or no college/tech degree at all. The modern economy has specialized to such a degree that general skills are less and less rewarded. There are some significant downsides to this of course, but it is simply a reality.

I remember being struck at my university when I started in my forestry major that we had about 60 freshman in our program and they offered 15 different focus areas for the major within the college of science! How could you have 15 narrow tracks for just 60 people?!  It's this kind of specificity that presents a problem for churches. While I had thought about the ways that social enterprise can mobilize gifts, the problem of economic specialization had never dawned on my until this past Sunday when an individual with a highly specific set of gifts suddenly engaged with me.

Churches, because they have been asked to be stewards of our whole culture have often had to remain non-specialized institutions.  We are responsible for every stage of life! Just look at the average seminary education. I had to take History, Exegesis, Pastoral Care and Counseling, 2 languages, Theology, Polity, Worship, etc. etc. etc. There were so many areas we had to cover for such a broad role that by the time I had finished seminary I had only been able to actually take 2 specific courses on individual books of the Bible. That seems highly counter intuitive to me for someone training to be a minister. Each one of those areas is a focus area in and of itself. But, because the church is expected to be and do so many things we had to take just a little bit of everything.  The biblical texts don't really help us in some ways either.

Typically when Christians think about giftings and talents, we tend to think non-specifically as well. When one thinks of Paul in 1st Corinthians 12 we are thinking about a Body of Christ image that in Paul's mind contains 100-200 parts that are nameable. Well, even the most basic modern assessment would regard such a metaphor for anatomy as highly simplistic. The human body contains 206-270 bones alone depending on life stage. We haven't even touched on the complexity of each system within the body from muscles, to hormones, to digestion, etc.!

The church is geared to thinking of the Body of Christ the same way. We look out in our church for gifts of leadership, finance, hospitality, etc. but we fail to realize that the people in our pews and chairs are actually HIGHLY specialized subsets of each of those groups. We need ministries that can actually mobilize those highly specified gifts.

I think part of what Christian Social Enterprise forces/allows the church to do is create very specific missional ministries that require highly specific sets of skills. This is a good thing. To be sure, it's a bit of a guess as to what ministry might mobilize best the unique people in our churches.  But, I am unclear as to what other way a man in my church with 35 years of turf grass experience would be able to stand up and say, "Here I am Lord, send me", than with the specific ministry that I accidentally created. The nature of social enterprise and the necessity to compete in the actual marketplace with the built in effeciencies of that market forces the creation of specific ministries that require specific gifts. The end result of that is an opportunity to engage the Body of Christ in meaningful Kindgom work in ways that we never could have controlled or conceived. I think that is pretty cool.

"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.

A Fish Out of Water...

Matthew Overton

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to judge a graduate level social enterprise competition at Seattle Pacific University here in the Pacific Northwest.  The contest was a group based contest in which students pitched a social enterprise to an audience of business people with the idea of getting funding to launch. Each group begins with a quick 7 minuted pitch on their idea, their team, their impact, and their needed funding.  They are then evaluated through individual conversation with the judges.  It was a phenomenal experience and it was wonderful to be invited, though I did feel out of place at times being a judge of such a contest.

Most of the people in the room were true blue business folks. Some had worked for Disney and Microsoft. The woman next to me had left a lucrative tech career to found her own social enterprise creating special L.E.D. lights for children wanting to read during the night hours so that literacy rates would go up.  When it came time to introduce myself, part of me wanted to chuckle. I was the only person in the room who was in full time ordained ministry as far as I could tell. My social enterprise felt remarkably humble and my business experience felt absent.

I own a small landscaping company that employs about 6 people in my local community. It is paired with another mentoring program that imparts life skills and faith principles to a total of 12 teens from our area. We are unique in that we are building this model not apart from a church, but largely connected to one even though we are independent in terms of our legal structures. At times I only understood about 60% of the terminology being thrown around the room as I have no formal business training. My business is run off of my awareness of human nature, my experience of my father's businesses as a child, and a passion to make an impact.

But, this is my third social enterprise gathering that I have gone to and about the 5th venue that I have been to where I have discussed the intersection of faith and business. I am learning some important things I think about this world.

1. Passion- When we went around and asked each group about their particular idea or product, one of the first questions that I asked them was, "Tell me why you are passionate about this?" Launching any venture (social enterprise or not) is going to require some suffering and a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears. What struck me was how few of them had prepared for that question. I regard passion for the idea at stake as critical.  Suffering is a central part of the Christian story and several of the students gave me remarkably corporate answers. One said, "Well I have worked in several non-profits and now I would like to start my own." There were two students in particular who had immediate connection to their idea and it was clear that they had some real drive to actually tackle the problem. Now I know that these were hypothetical projects, but I think that any church or school that is teaching entrepreneurship needs to be teaching its students some kind of spiritual formation process for discerning what it is they are willing to struggle for before they go launching something. Otherwise social enterprise will become just another career path. If the Christian story gives something to enterprise it's the notion of finding something so beloved that it is worth dying for. Christian Social Enterprise needs to connect to that story and harness that sort of passion for the good.

2. Graduate Students and Every Day Folks are Key- In several of the programs I have attneded I have been exposed to theology students, business undergrads, and everyday folks trying to launch. My experience has been that graduate students with life under their belts are best. Theology folks have tended to be very idealistic about their ideas and about human nature in the marketplace. The undergrads don't feel the sufficient fear of having to move out into the real world just yet. It's the everyday folks and the grad students seem to be most ready to launch. The everyday folks have had the time and lived experience to discern what their passions are. The grad students are at the last possible stage of education (more or less) and know they have to launch. Many of them also have had some career exposure prior to their degree. I was impressed at Seattle Pacific that their ideas seemed big, but doable. I think if we want to engage theological reflection with the business world, schools that have theology departments and graduate business departments will be key. Of course, they will need to work together and that may be quite a challenge.

3. Let's Not Forget the Ordinary- One of the things that has floored me at these kinds of competitions is that people always have these massive ideas about what to launch. Everything must massively scale! Everything must have massive impact! Everything must disrupt whole industries!  I have heard ideas for upcycling coffee grounds, recycling used diapers by the thousands of tons, solar projects for churches, etc. etc. etc. One of the things that I think gets missed in all of this desire to do good and "innovate" is just injecting the good into existing ordinary marketplaces. There is a very thin line between ME wanting to impact on a big scale and a kind narcissism and that is worth keeping in mind. We cannot underestimate our culture's love of humanistic self actualization.  The simplicity of the landscaping company that we run is that we have broken into an existing ordinary marketplace by offering customers an augmented service. All we do is excellent landscaping and make a social impact while we do it. I often hear frustration from the folks that host these events that not many of the folks that attend them actually launch! I think perhaps if we coached people on just disrupting ordinary local industries they might do so. Find something you are good at and offer it to the public with greater social value and people will prefer to buy your services over your competitor as long as the service is excellent and you can show them the impact in some way.

4. Be Patient and Consider the Good- One of my concerns for social enterprise programs is that they don't take the time to teach about the importance of time and immersion.  Too many of these programs are concerned with launching or creating a great idea!  The problem with that is that many people who innovate, tend to innovate in an area that they have immersed themselves in for some time. Either in a particular community or in a particular field of interest. Their innovation tends to be around the edges of some place that they have been embedded. To me, to focus on embedding is to live out the doctrine of the Incarnation.  When our primary goal is ideating and producing, it will tend to produce ideas that we are not fully connected to and that probably will not be as effective at serving the common good. We need to work on ideas that we know and care about in places that we know and care about. We need to fully consider the good of the idea we are working on rather than just whether it is a "good idea". I think that we can improve on this at most of our Christian social incubators and accelerators.

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.

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.