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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: Christian Social Enterprise

The Matryoshka Haus: A Community of Innovation

Matthew Overton

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About a year ago I was made aware of a group of folks working on solving social problems together as a human network. The place was called Matryoshka. If you don't know what a Matryoshka is, its a Russian nesting doll. On two different legs of my trip to the U.K. I was able to meet with folks from Matryoshka to better understand who they are and what they are doing. Let's start with the basics.

Matryoshka is a community that began with the work of a woman named Shannon Hopkins. Creatively working in the U.K. she created a pub initiative that helped fight human trafficking and a creative arts project called, "Doxology". She learned she had a knack for this kind of social impact work and that she was adept at gathering others who were interested in this kind of work as well. Overt time a community began to develop of people who were skilled at collaboratively working on engaging social problems in area.

Today, Matryoshka is housed in its own space in the Canary wharf area of London. They have a co-working space that includes folks inside and outside Matryoshka's direct network. Many of these folks are engaged with Christian faith, but others are not. That characteristic is not considered a necessity to solving pressing issues. What is clear to me is that their faith does inform both the work that they do and the way that they gather in intentional community. Matryoshka uses this co-working model to sustain part of its operations, but the majority of their sustainability comes from what they produce.

Matryoshka has begun to develop tools to help non-profits create solutions to intractable social problems and to figure out how to better measure the impact of their work. They sell these tools to organizations throughout the U.K. and the U.S. as well.

There are a number of organizations that are designing tools to help faith based organizations ideate and innovate, but what makes Matryoshka unique is that the people that design their tools are people who are on the ground and have experience practicing social innovation. They are actually engaged in the work on the ground.

Many folks who are beginning to design tools in the U.S. have not themselves actually built any social change organizations or enterprises. It is far more likely that they are able to design tools because they have the time to do so (afforded by their institution) and access to larger institutional funding. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I often wish that practitioners of innovation were the ones designing tools rather than exclusively research institutions or large ministry companies. My own sense is that if practitioners were at least more heavily involved in the design process and testing process that significantly different tools and ideation processes might be developed.

My hope is that research institutions will begin to creatively partner with those that are doing the innovation work to generate ideas and gatherings that might help other individuals do similar kinds of work more effectively. Social innovators who are on the ground take a ton of risk and invest loads of blood, sweat, and tears in their work and they should have a seat at the table to share their expertise when they can. They not only have a clearer sense of what is possible, but also are the embodiement of the passion and ethos that is required to make this kind of work happen. That spirit, or elan, is not something that is reproducible and I am not sure that it is possible to do this kind of work without it. Last, its worth noting that in Matryoshka's early days it was Christian institutions that pulled funding away from their trafficking initiative because it overemphasized social justice. It is important to understand that many Christian practitioners of social innovation are seeking to avoid the church and have often been burned by it. One of the reasons that I think involving and funding practitioners matters is that generally speaking Christian companies and learning institutions are generally not very good at finding, reaching, and involving these sorts of outsiders.

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For Youth Ministry Innovators, the hope is that we can begin to utilize some of the tools that Matryoshka has designed as we work with churches and youth ministries that are seeking to impact their localized communities through the work of their churches. I also hope we can be a helpful conversation partner with Matryoshka to help them reflect theologically on the work that they are doing.

Regardless of what happens, they are doing amazing Kingdom work.  They work collaboratively on problems that each of them faces, they have common gatherings and meals together, and they have a well developed sense of their values:

-They believe that social innovation is a tangible expression of God's Kingdom.

-All people are designed to do good work.

-Hospitality is critical and their community is shaped by the radical welcome of God in Christ.

-Christian Social Innovation is a particular kind of innovation that is guided by the life and work of Jesus.

-The process of innovation involves critical discernment, imagintion, creation, and inspiring future expressions of Kingdom work in others.

Matryoshka is a fabulous organization and one of the most unique expressions of the gospel that I have ever seen. We hope to continue to partner with them in some way moving forward.

 

How do I Fund My Philanthropic/Social Enterprise Idea?

Matthew Overton

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Fairly frequently these days, people from different places will reach out to me as they are trying to launch their local social enterprise or missional idea. Some people want to make profit as a for profit. Some people are simply launching a charity. Others want to generate net profit, but run as a non profit simply by directing their profits back into the mission of the overall organization. What many of them struggle with is trying to raise the initial funds to get started.

When I began my landscaping company and my non profit I had no idea where the money would come from. I didn't even know how much money I would need. What I did know was that our mission was worth doing and that I was called to do this work. I have learned a lot in the last few years on how to get up and running. Over the past 3 years I have raised about 125k in funding for my organization and I have done that while working a full time job and doing my enterprise on the side.Here is how you might get started.

1.) Your Personal Funds- I know you don't have any, but bear with me. When I started my own enterprise I had to put up about 5k of my own funds. Later I invested much more than that. Your funds matter because unless you are willing to risk for this enterprise you are starting you may not have an idea that is worth pursuing in earnest. Second, when you risk, others believe that their risk might be worth while. You cannot expect others to sacrifice what they have earned if you are not willing to do so yourself. Watch it here though! You do not want to be the only one risking for your idea and if you have means you do not want to fund your idea to the point that it becomes to reliant upon you or your funding stream. That kind of dependency can lead your organization and mission to fold if you step out of the frame or if your personal funding picture should change in some significant way.

2.) Friend Funds- No matter what you do, you are probably going to need to raise funds from those around you. They might be friends or they might be folks that come out of the woodwork as they hear about your ideas. They might also be folks on your board or team that you have assembled. I have been struck at how often folks have emerged with dollars when they have heard about what we are doing. I have also had to learn to make a pitch and ask. This has been a difficult task for me as I don't love talking about money and cannot stand asking for it, but if the mission is good, I will do what I have to in order to forward it. Again, this is a great test for the quality of your idea. If folks aren't interested in funding it then it might not have what it takes to move forward.

3. Grants- You will definitely have to mine local foundation and granting agencies. Just do some Google research and talk, talk, talk to folks about what you are up to. There are loads of sources of funding that your network of folks knows about that you don't. For profits can sometimes get loans from foundations or important advice from them about funding. They can also connect you with people who know the industry that you are about to launch into. Don't underestimate the value of such advice and connection points!!!! Just don't expect those foundations to perpetually fund your dream. They often want to see if you have a plan and have what it takes to hang around for a few years on your own. Their funding will only last a couple of years, so they want to know that you can sustain yourself without their perpetual help.

4. Awards-  Along the way I have won three awards for our work with Mowtown and the Forge. Periodically you just come across these things. Some of the awards are small (1-3k), but some might be larger (5-20k). I also won these awards as a for profit.  I had to pay taxes on those awards, but it was still very much worth it.  They are a nice boost to your bottom line and another sign that you might be headed in the right direction.

5. Denominational SourcesI work in the church world, so I have some connections through institutional networks. I found funding though my local region as well as through a national source that is seeking to launch new ministries around the nation. Sometimes these gifts will require various forms of reporting and accountability that might seem bureaucratic, but there is no source of revenue that has no accountability or strings attached to it.

6. Private Investment- Admittedly, this is the area that I know the least about. My enterprise was built with my own money and a few awards. I was able to do this because my particular industry (lawn care and landscaping) has a fairly low barrier to entry. But, if your idea is larger or more expensive to get off the ground you might need to take out a loan or seek out investors who are going to want return on their cash investment. It's possible that they may take a lower rate of return than is normal based on the fact that your project is socially engaged.

All I can say is that this is going to be a lot of work.  Don't expect anyone to make this thing happen for you. It's going to take some sweat to make this work! I mean that in terms of sweat of your brow as well as anxious sweating it out as you figure out how to fund the next turn in the road. Blessings as you dream and launch!

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.

Jim Bridger, The Revenant, and Room to Roam

Matthew Overton

A few months ago I wrote an article for Duke's Faith and Leadership journal on "Why I Started a Social Enterprise." I think it turned out pretty well, but one of the more frustrating aspects was the fact that it was limited to about 1,000 words. The difficulty is that whenever I sit down and think about how my journey into trying to do ministry through social enterprise started, I am floored by all the little and big factors that brought this about. One of the key features of it all has been this compelling sense that I "had to do this." I have encountered it many times along the way, but it him me pretty hard a few months back.

I was on a plan back from New York and I had purchased Michael Punke's book, "The Revenant". One of the key characters in the book is the young Jim Bridger. Bridger is of course one of the early trapper, explorer, trailblazers of American history and folk lore.  But, in the book he is a young man paddling a ferry boat post to post on the Mississippi river. Part way through the book, the author seeks to describe Bridger's "call" to go west into the frontier and it struck me. It seemed to capture everything I have felt over the last few years.

"The frontier for Bridger became an aching presence that he could feel, but could not define, a magnetic force pulling him inexorably toward something that he had heard about, but never seen. A preacher on a swaybacked mule rode Bridger's ferry one day. He asked Bridger if he knew God's mission for him in life. Without pause Bridger answered, "Go to the Rockies." The preacher was elated, urging the boy to consider missionary work with the savages. Bridger had no interest in bringing Jesus to the Indians, but the conversation stuck with him. The boy had come to believe that going west was more than just a fancy for someplace new. He came to see it as a part of his soul, a missing piece that could only be made whole on some far-off mountain or plain."

Ministry has often felt like Jim Bridger's ferry ride to me. It has been something that I have enjoyed and felt called to, but there has always been something missing. I think the problem has often been that ministry has not lent itself to enough innovation and exploration for me. There has been too much that is stayed and defined about it. Part of what social enterprise has offered me is a kind of new frontier. Many people along the way have sounded to me rather like the frontier preacher. They have wanted to do things that seem outmoded, counterproductive, awkward, and even outright hurtful in order to maintain the institution of the church.  It's not that I have no interest in carrying Jesus, it's that I am not always sure that I have liked the ways and means and even the Jesus that others have articulated for me to carry forth. These kinds of experiences have often felt stifling to me. It's one of the reasons that I haven't wanted to become a head of staff at a church.  The role doesn't allow enough risk or innovation. The articulated frameworks of the church feel a bit like a ferry ride. Post to post. Over and over again along the same route. I realized pretty quickly that was going to be difficult for me over the years. I love Jesus and the church, but I need space to do something stupid.

For me, like Bridger, freedom of movement has always been a premium. Even in my outdoors experiences I have rarely enjoyed doing the same hike twice. I need frontier space. Social Enterprise has offered that in a way that I could not have imagined. I never wanted the stress of entrepreneurship. My Dad was an entrepreneur and it never seemed to fall his way. At least part of why I went into ministry was that it was stable, if I am honest with myself. But, I have never like doing the same thing the same way, twice.

Christian Social Enterprise is for me, more than a fancy. It is as clear a mission as Bridger's, "Go to the Rockies." It is not a passing fancy or something new. It feels like a westward movement and like a puzzle piece in my soul has descended into place from out of the cosmos. It's exciting, though every once in a while I do envision the bear attack from the movie the Revenant and it gives me pause.

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.