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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

Transformation, Transmogrification, or Transfiguration?

Matthew Overton

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One of the things that has happened over the 5 years we have been running our Forge program is that we have gradually gathered around some values that matter to us. Values are often something people tend to confuse with ideals. Many people in the churches that I have worked in have tended to think of values as something along the lines of aspirations. They think about their church or organization and think about what they would like it to be one day. Values aren’t that.

Values are ideas and ethics that already exist within your organization. They are reflexive tendencies that shape the way you shape your programs and relationships within your community/organization. Along with your mission and vision, when clear, values tend to shape what you and your fellow supporters see as inside and outside the scope of who you are. They aren’t so much who you are or what you do, as they are the way you do what you do together. And I don’t think you can just sit down and write them down one day. They tend to emerge from the life of an organization/ministry over time. They emerge from actually doing what you do. I tend to find that we have tripped over a value when we make statements like, “That isn’t who we want to be.” Or, “That feels more like the way we want to go about doing this work.”

Well, it feels like in the last 1.5 years some clear values have started to emerge for our Forge ministry. We have lived enough life together to begin to name some of those values. Perhaps the most key value for us is that we believe that all human transformation happens at the pace of human relationships.

Our ministry has realized over time that our community has plenty of programs. We have lots and lots of places that kids can get services for different kinds of things. We have lots of places in our community where people can get better at things (sports, music, tech, etc.) And while programs do a lot of good, students are often left with the sense that they are a commodity in someone else’s self actualization. What I mean is that each coach, teacher, and minister wants to know that what they do each day as they get out of bed matters. I want to know that my youth ministry matters. The unfortunate side effect of this desire for me to feel like I have meaning is that it creates a temptation to want to make an impact on things and people. This can often reduce teenagers to cogs in our own personal quest for meaning. This is why a music teacher is offended when a kid in my church chooses in my chooses a humanitarian aid trip over music camp and questions her commitment to music. This is why a swim coach lets an athlete know, the moment they get out of the pool (after swimming a record time) that it wasn’t nearly their best. Christians are not (ideally) in the program business or even in the get to heaven business. At our core, we are in the rescue and transformation business.

When I think of why God exists in human relationship with people it is all about a giant, eons long, painstaking, and long suffering RESCUE OPERATION. The whole project of God on our behalf is an effort on the part of God to rescue and restore us. It is not about getting us to somewhere and apparently it isn’t about getting us right or perfect. If that were the case, none of us would be welcome in this project. So, what is it about? It’s about a God who wants to rescue us from ourselves.

So, the question then becomes how are humans rescued? How is it that we come to be changed and shaped? And what does it look like for us to imitate the shape and form of that rescue operation in our own ministries?

Well, I think Christian ministries can take 3 forms.

  1. Transmogrification Ministries

  2. Transformation Ministries

  3. Transfiguration Ministries

The first form of ministry that often happens in many places in our world, not least of which is the church, is transmogrification. My oldest child reads Calvin and Hobbes on a regular basis and one of my favorite cartoons is when Calvin makes a “Transmogrifier” out of a cardboard box. I had always thought it was a made up kid word until I looked it up. It turns out to be transmogrified means to be transformed, but in a kind of humorous, ridiculous, or bizarre way.

Many of our ministries, because they desire to make an impact, can turn people into odd Christian caricatures. They function as bizarre transmogrifiers. You have seen folks like this. People whose ministries or programs so desperately want to demonstrate transformation that they almost force it on people. The people become walking televangelists for this or that. They become so awkward that you begin to wonder if they believe their own story of transformation, or whether is it simply a kind of incantational mantra meant to hypnotize. Transmogrification is the sort of ministry where a quality ministry ideal goes into the machine and something along the lines of a Chinese knockoff product comes out. See below. It looks like what you wanted, but it really isn’t.

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Many Christian ministries produce people like this. Partially this happens because their ministry ideals are so desperately high. Partially this happens because they believe that their ministries exist to “produce” people at all…sometimes even on a mass scale. These are not the ministries we want to create.

A second healthier version of Christian ministry is working for positive human transformation. This is the kind of work that takes hours and hours of relational time. It is the sort of ministry that is patient, loving, and long suffering. It does not exist to make me feel better or more charitable. It does not exist to give one a sense of accomplishment or meaning. It exists to benefit the other person. It does not treat them as an object to be transformed. It honors their agency and autonomy. I don’t believe these relationships are truly co-equal, but they should be highly mutual. In good transformational ministry both parties are transformed!

This sort of transformation requires another human being to engage. To push this back into the realm of the obviously theological, this is why God enters into the world. Human transformation cannot be accomplished, apparently, without flesh on flesh. Sacrifices must be made in order for transformation to happen. Somebody somewhere is going to have to give something up and lay something (probably themselves) down for the sake of the other. Blood. Sweat. Tears. They are going to have to enter into our suffering rather than simply offering empathy and sympathy.

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The simple truth (and it’s become one of our Forge values) is that human transformation requires human relationship. It’s not a program or a machine. This is why God must break into the world. We cannot expect human beings to pray a prayer or take a class and see transformation. We cannot expect to see a neighborhood or community transformed only because a rec center was built. Until human beings are willing to invest in human beings true transformation will never happen. It is long, slow, grinding work that is NEVER finished. No human being ever reaches a finish line because we are never completed creations of God.

But, the true jazz of human work and the gospel is transfiguration work. Transfiguration implies a kind of exalting or lifting up. One might say that transformational work leads to transfiguration. Transfigurational ministry happens when the countenance and spirit of a person to is lifted to a new summit. It’s byproducts are hope and joy. Utimately, gospel work is about transfiguration. It’s about painstaking transformations, slow positive human erosions and constructions supported by the scaffolding and spires of dozens of caring human beings, that eventually elevate another person to LIFE. Irenaeus was once purported to have said that “the glory of God was a human being fully alive.” Transfiguration is when we see someone come to life and the radiance and resonance of that moment is profound. So, how do we go about transfigurational ministry?

We don’t.

My experience in ministry tells me that transfiguration happens through God alone. Heck, I am not even sure I am really capable of transformation! I know we can’t produce transfiguration. But, the divine moment when you look at a student or human and recognize that something is completely transformed, is beyond our creative capacities. It is the exclusive product of divine action. It is wonderfully beyond our control and measurement. It emerges from unexpected places and unexpected moments and shocks us. It violates our sense of what we once thought was possible. Transformation is uncommon because it takes so much work, time, and energy. Transfiguration is miraculous because it is impossible until it happens.

In the ministries I run, we value doing the right ministry, the right way, at the right pace. We think that transformation is often something that happens over years and perhaps even over generations. It is work that is difficult and requires mutual relationship. It is not possible without the Spirit. It does not produce a Christian caricature, but the real McCoy that only God can see and draw out of each one of us. Every once in a while we see a true transfiguration and we give thanks and plod on.

It’s a wonderful calling.



Utmost and Teen Athletics: Leveraging Impact

Matthew Overton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Graduation Day...Awesome!

Matthew Overton

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Every year as I do ministry there are certain days that I look forward to and certain days that are stressful, but well worth every ounce of effort. Last Sunday was a bit of both. The student job skills/life skills ministry that I created had it's annual meal and certification. It's a day when our mentors and students (Blacksmiths and Apprentices as we call them) come together to feast, share, and celebrate all the fruit that we have seen in our program. We started with 23 students and finished with 20.  It was an amazing process as usual. Let me share a few of the highlights.

-One student shared that their mentor, who has been one of our best youth leaders at our church, is an amazing human being. They shared openly that they have never had healthy adults in their lives and that they were really grateful for their mentor. This student will be coming on our youth service trip at our church this year for the first time.

-Another shared that their mentor seemed like a mirror 20 years into the future and that they were grateful that they could learn from their mistakes in career and money.

-A student with difficulty in social interaction shared that they have done a lot of technology programs before, but that in our drone program they realized that they have never treated their instructors as people. They have treated them as things that were there to give them something.  I was floored.

-An adult shared how they blew it this year. They admitted that when they started as a Blacksmith in our program they treated like a program rather than an opportunity for human relationship. They think they drove their student off. I don't agree, but it was amazing to see a grown adult in our world own a mistake for a change in front of teenagers.

-A student, who came into our program making sure we knew they were an atheist, was deeply thankful that their mentor challenged them to look at their HIGHLY materialistic goals and ask the question, "Why?" over and over again. They are starting to see that self-actualization and achievement that does not take one's neighbor into account can be pretty empty.

-One student shared that they have never realized that they could accomplish goals before. She described her mentor/blacksmith as someone who is an excellent listener. She talked about engaging her first drama performance at school because of their relationship and how she has taken the first step to cosmetology school. She has discovered that she has agency. A year ago she was massively depressed.

-Another student spoke out loud. This would have been impossible two years ago. They are reading the gospels for the first time.

-One student, who used to be very shy, spoke with great confidence and relayed how they have learned to navigate conflict for the first time and that they are a respected member of their staff at a local fast food chain. They are about to join the Army. It was a hard decision, but we made sure not to get in the way of that choice and cheered for them as we sat around the table.

-Many adults shared as well. They discovered things about teens and their experience that they hadn't known. They talked about the progress they made on their own personal goals because they were accountable to the students as well. Some of them talked about the deep respect they have for what some of their students carry day in and day out. Some talked about realizing that the context that they grew up in was vastly different than that of their students. I have felt all along that this ministry was just as much about the adults as the teens involved.

All I can say is that I felt that we were sitting around a Passover table despite the Hawaiian pizza and video game sounds coming from the mini arcade in the next room. What I saw and heard was the sound of glory. Not our glory, but God's glory. Irenaeus once said, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive." I saw the glory of people coming alive. I think Jesus was delighted with what was happening in that room on Sunday.  It has been worth every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears. It has been worth every bit of risk.

Let's create some new ways of doing youth ministry...and ministry in general.

Accompanying Young Adults by Engaging Economics

Matthew Overton

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I have written a good bit about side effects in doing ministry through social enterprise. I think risking doing anything innovatively causes all sorts of new things to bubble to the surface of an organization or relationship. You often thing you are doing one thing, but you are really doing another.

One of the unintended side effects, or unexpected outcomes of this experiment has been what it has done amongst the young adults in my church. We wanted to help teens and we are. But, while our landscaping company employs teens and helps launch them to more permanent jobs it has actually had unexpected economic benefits for local young adults.  Let me throw out some small vignettes:

1. Employee #1- We were able to talk through a difficult season of life while they were working for us. They hadn't graduated from college for some difficult reasons. They couldn't find an job and they were dealing with a significant amount of depression. We helped initiate a conversation about these hurdles and helped them address them with their family. They are now in more permanent employment after 2 separate stints with us. They were not the best landscaper for us (and they would freely admit that), but we were willing to tolerate some inefficiency for the sake of ministry opportunity. It was the right decision.

2. Employee #2- This employee learned hard lessons with us. We housed them at our church after they worked with Mowtown Teen Lawn Care and we got them a benefited custodial job. The problem was that they just weren't ready to take on responsibility. After 3 failed attempts and coaching by multiple adults we had to let them go. It was hard. We may have been pushing them to a level of responsibility that they were not ready for that soon. But, 1.5 years later they have a full time job doing construction and wandered back through our doors to let us know during our college dinner at Christmas.

3. Employee #3- This person just needed some extra hours. They have some big dreams for themselves, but not necessarily a helpful framework on how to get there. They were dedicated to their faith and that spawned a load of windshield conversations about theology and how the Bible is put together. It was a fascinating relationship in inviting somebody into deeper thought about the Christian tradition. Eventually they moved onto another job.

4. Employee #4- This young adult was also dedicated in their faith and was thinking about going to Bible college. Most of our conversations had to do with money. It was difficult to figure out how to try to point out the financial impracticality of someone else's dream. This is especially true when you know them, but not super well. They eventually went off to Bible college but quickly realized that the education wouldn't produce the financial runway they needed to pay off their debt. They moved back, got a more permanent job, and now live in our church's young adult house. We continue to maintain ministry and conversation with them about life, theology, and money. They are taking full advantage of this experience by paying down their debt which is possibly because of the reduced rent of our young adult housing.

5. Employee #5- This employee was working for a for profit organization that was paying them illegally under the table in a field that they were interested in pursuing. They had graduated from a university, but were just stuck on what to do next and barely barely scraping by. We have employed them now in two ways in our organization. They worked for the landscaping operation as a crew boss and also in admin. support for our non-profit operation. This allowed them a host of experiences that would build their resume. We also worked heavily with them on conflict avoidance which was the main thing that allowed them to linger so long in their previous job on poverty wages in an unhealthy environment. We still coach them on the next steps in their journey and they are starting some exciting chapters trying to figure out how to fund what they love to do most! They are a fabulous mentor for our students.

Employee #6- This individual found us online and as it turned out they had been served by our church 10 years ago when we were on a mission trip. They are a single parent and are trying to find sound economic footing and build a life for themselves. They had previous landscaping experience and we may see them as the future owner operator of Mowtown which would be an an amazing opportunity to bless them. They also live in our young adult house which allows us to create community with them.

Employee #7- This former student of our youth ministry finished college and cannot get a job in their particular field: Advertising using analytics. So, I offered to allow them to build their resume by helping us build our online profile. We have a lot to learn and they can teach us while building their portfolio.  They were happy to do so. My hope is that this work provides them some initial free lance work to build their resume so that they can find the job that they are looking for. Further, I think it helps foster the sense in them that what they are working on in their career can be ministry. They can find ways to benefit God's Kingdom while doing good work.  It also provides another opportunity for feedback and coaching as they transition through their young adult years.

Even as I type all of this I am floored. I want to make it clear that this has been a messy process and many of these stories, like all of ours, are still in process. There have been a lot of road blocks here and periods where I wasn't sure we were being very helpful. But, what I see is that engaging the economics of our world has enabled us to lengthen the meaningfulness of our church's ministry to young adults. It shows them that we care about their actual lives. It also shows them that God cares about their actual lives. Here and now.

I had wondered for a number of years how, given the lengthening of adolescence, we could accompany our young adults effectively in the next chapter of their lives. As it turns out we have been doing it for the last 4 years, but we just stumbled into it by initially trying to minister to teens more effectively and prepare them for adulthood. Most of our ministry really has just been coaching and accompaniment.

I continue to be amazed at how God honors experiments. The Spirit is often the one who takes us from the place that we think we are going into places we would not or could not have tread previously. My hope is that we as ministers and youth ministers continue to risk and experiment so that we end up in those unexpected gospel places!

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.

Innovators Guest Post #8- "Go Fish" and Rev. Matt McNelly

Matthew Overton

About a year ago, I received a call from Matt McNelly who pastors at 1st Presbyterian Church in Pullman, Wa. Matt called to let me know that he had been reading about some of the ministry I was doing through my online postings here and some other articles that had come out. He was considering launching his own social enterprise based ministry and also considering going to the Hatchathon at Princeton.  I have been asking Matt to work up a post on his ministry that is built around fishing and the Rule of St. Benedict for some time. In the end I shot him some interview questions to give us a flavor of how he is doing youth work.  This is a really cool ministry and one that is both risky and innovative. Very cool!

Name: Rev. Matthew McNelly

Church: Pullman Presbyterian Church

Position at Church: Senior Pastor and Captain of the F/V Suzy Q

Number of Years at the Church: 11

Name of Social Enterprise: "Go Fish"

1. What do you call this new ministry and how did it get started?

Our new ministry here at Pullman Presbyterian Church is called “Go Fish!” The basic idea of the ministry is that we use a program sponsored by the State of Washington called the Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Program as a vehicle for doing youth ministry. This program, which runs from May 1 through August 31, pays anglers from $5 to $8 a fish to catch and remove approximately 10%-20% of the Pikeminnow population each summer.

The Northern Pikeminnow is a native fish of the Columbia and Snake River systems that aggressively feeds on juvenile salmon and steelhead. When the dams were installed on these rivers it created the perfect environment for the Pikeminnow populations (previously known as the Squawfish) to explode in numbers. State biologists report the Northern Pikeminnow consumes millions of salmon smolts a year, significantly reducing returning salmon populations. So essentially the youth involved in our program become piscine bounty hunters.

Go Fish! equips kids between the ages of 10-15 years old with everything necessary to participate in this fishery. Through a combination of grants and generosity from church families we were able to purchase fishing rods and reels, tackle, lifejackets, boating electronics, and most importantly; a 24ft pontoon boat we dubbed the “Suzy Q” (named after one of our supporters). Twice a week during the summer months myself and other mature Christian adult volunteers from the congregation take kids out on the “Suzy Q” for day-long fishing trips on the Snake River in search of Northern Pikeminnow. Whatever regulation size Pikeminnows the students catch they turn in to the check station and receive the monetary reward.

 

2. What made you or your church decide to do this?

My wife and I both serve on staff as pastors of our church and it became apparent that the leadership of the church needed to reduce personnel costs. Because we are located in a college town, all of our programming for the year happens when Washington State University is in session. Taking into consideration that our summers are so low-key I volunteered to move from full-time to ¾ time, only working one day a week at the church when school was out of session in the summer. With my schedule suddenly opened up and needing to earn a little extra cash I had decided to try this bounty-fishing program myself.

Then it hit me. I could take kids from the church fishing WITH me on this crazy adventure! The idea of Go Fish! Ministries took off. Instead of structured, time-limited weekly programming with our youth, we are inviting them to do faith and life out on the river in the pursuit of fish.

The “theme” verse for this endeavor comes from Matthew 4:19, “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” What if in following Jesus to fish for people we are being invited to get back in the boat and fish…for fish?

 

3. What is the overall goal of what you are doing and do you feel you are accomplishing that so far?

The goal of our program simply put is to get kids “hooked on Jesus.” We want youth captured by Christ’s love and become His disciples; and then become fishers of people themselves. We accomplish that through a multi-faceted approach. We don’t simply want to tell kids about the grace and love of Jesus, we want them to receive and experience it through relationship mature Christian adults. The fishing activity is simply a framework for the hours of conversation and incarnational witness as adults and youth do life together. As followers of Jesus how do we deal with disappointment? Success? Conflict? Adversity? If you have ever spent time fishing, you know that there are countless opportunities to navigate all these scenarios!

To help guide our communal life we actually look to the Rule of St. Benedict. There are so many parallels between living in a monastic community and being part of the crew of a boat. In both situations order is necessary for the safety and well-being of the members of the community. Particularly on a boat, safety is paramount. And like a monastic community there is a hierarchy in place to keep order and the members all on task. A boat is not a democracy; the captain is in charge. Period. The role of the Father or Mother of an intentional faith community operates in much the same way. We seek to have two adults on the boat at a time for the maximum of 5 kids per day. Throughout the day we have times of prayer and scripture reading, a simplified form of praying “The Hours.”

This summer of 2016 was a pilot season for the program. We took out kids 3 separate days and the initial results are very promising. The kids who went on our fishing trips had an overwhelming positive response. We caught a lot of fish (only 3 keeper money fish) and the kids were engaged. There is great anticipation for this coming summer when we will offer fishing trips twice a week for 8 weeks.

4. Risk is a part of gospel faithfulness and a necessary part of doing anything missional. Where have you seen God’s faithfulness in this journey and where have you had to radically trust God?

When we started this journey we had no money, no boat, no fishing experience, and no model to draw from in launching this ministry. The entire venture has been one of risk without the possibility of reward. And there were many days when I was fishing out on the river by myself trying to get the hang of it and simply failing. And failing hard. As in, spending the whole day on the river, costing gas, time away from family, bait, and catching one $5 fish. My wife at times was starting to get very anxious because I was supposed to be making all this money catching fish and we were losing money.

But there were a number of instances when it became apparent that God and the people of our church were heavily invested. The congregation paid for me to attend the Hatch-A-Thon put on by the Princeton Institute of Youth Ministry. I was able to learn so much about how to get started with entrepreneurial ministry endeavors. I came away from that experience with a boatload of ideas (pun intended). Our Presbytery gave us a grant of $5,000 to purchase equipment for this missional initiative! A couple families from our church donated the money to purchase a used pontoon boat for $4,000. This pontoon boat has a great story behind it. The boat was used the previous season by a local fisherman in our community who made $21,000 with this boat the summer of 2015. Meeting this fisherman was also very much a “God thing.” He showed me the ropes of fishing and saved me hundreds of hours of frustration (beyond what I was already experiencing).

 

5. What kind of folks are accompanying you on this journey? Who have you had in the room helping you plan and envision where this is all headed?

We are so blessed to have a number of people supporting this endeavor. First we have men in the congregation who have volunteered their time to be on the boat ministering to the kids. Guys are taking days off of work to join kids on the river. We have the families that have donated the money towards the purchase of the boat. We have a farmer in our congregation who has donated space on his property for us to store the boat during the winter months to save money on moorage costs. We are so fortunate to have folks in marketing and advertising that are helping us put together a website, logo, and branding so we can get the word out on the ministry. And of course all the parents and congregants who have supported this ministry through their prayers.

 

6. What would you say to others who are trying to envision different ways to do youth ministry? How can they begin a process of trying something different?

Start by asking yourself what you are passionate about. What do you love to do? How might you invite youth into some endeavor you have been itching to try personally. What are the needs of your community? We have a number of kids whose parents both work but cannot afford the day camps available during the summer. Most of these kids end up wandering the local streets and or spending all day in the library on the computer. We are able to provide an opportunity to get out into creation, make some money, and encounter God’s love.

 

7.) What are some things you are learning through all of this project and what about it is life giving?

I am learning that you cannot be afraid to fail. A lot. I don’t think it was an accident that Jesus chose a group of fishermen as his first disciples. Fishing is full of disappointment and failure. And to make money at it you have to really be able to navigate the failure and continue to pursue the prize even when it is really hard. Discipleship is an exercise of the will, a decision to follow Jesus even when you don’t feel a deep connection or emotional/spiritual high.

I am an aspiring mystic and simply cannot get enough of witnessing the wonders of God’s creation. Fishing on a daily basis gets you to marvel at the genius of God’s created order. Having the chance to introduce others to this way of seeing the world is a gift. I love to fish and I love a challenge. I love to build things and this endeavor has fed all those elements of my person. Most importantly, I love Jesus and was blessed during my adolescence with significant adult mentors and spiritual fathers who left a lasting impression. I want to pass on that to the youth of our community; starting with my own four kids.

 

 

Social Enterprise: The Most Faithful Vehicle for Evangelism I Have Ever Encountered

Matthew Overton

 A little over a month ago I was invited to present The Columbia Future Forge's jobs and training program to students at one of our local high schools.  It was one of the coolest things I have ever had the chance to do and in an hour and a half I learned a ton about myself, my community, and about the American church and what social enterprise might be able to bring to that church.

It's not that I hadn't been on a high school campus before. I have been on lots of high school and middle school campuses to meet with teachers or principals, to take lunch to a single student or multiple students, to attend an event, or even to speak at a local Christian club.  I have done all these things many times. The problem is that I have always had this nagging sense of, "What am I here for?"  It's awkward to come on campus with the gospel. I always feel a bit deceptive based on how I understand the rules of the church v. state game and I value my personal integrity. It's often been shocking to me over the years how many evangelicals will do all sorts of deceptive things to share the gospel, but are willing to pretend that they aren't deceptions. It's weird. My mom was a school teacher for many many years, my sister is, and so is my wife.  I was always taught that our faith was something that we did not jettison at the door of the school, but I was also taught that it wasn't something that we tried to shove awkwardly into a space in which it is not entirely welcome. I still feel that way. My faith is the most sacred thing I have in my life. I love the chance to share about it and yet it is something intimate. I tend to be careful about bringing intimate things out in the open too quickly. I think most boundaried people do too.  My faith is so sacred to me that there when I have been asked or required to share it awkwardly I have felt that its goodness and sacredness have been diminished. It took me a while to learn that I didn't need to do that because a campus leader or minister told me that I did.

So, when I stepped on campus a few weeks ago in the midst of a flurry of snow I anticipated that similar feeling. "Am I here to share the gospel? Am I here just for a certain kind of student? Am I welcome here?" But, in the hour in which I presented our program to students I was greeted by a different feeling. Because our social enterprise offers something of obvious value to the students on campus, they showed up in a room willingly to hear what we had to say. I was offering something that they would perceive as worthwhile.  They could feel free to reject me because I am a minister or to reject the gospel on its own merit, but when it comes to the perceived value of developing them for a full adult life we were on equal terms. I told them who I was from the get go (a minister), but they didn't care because what I was talking about actually mattered to their day to day lives and to their future.

When we finished our presentation I was floored. I had 5 of the best student conversations I have ever had when walking on a campus. I think that was because it was obvious to the students and to me that there was a perfectly valid reason that I was there. I happen to believe that being on campus just as a minister is a perfectly valid reason, but I am not sure that students always think that way.  One student had been looking for a church for a while, another was having trouble assimilating culturally and needed a job, and another wanted to go into the trades and felt confined by school.  One student came up and quietly sort of confessed that he wanted to go into the military, but that his folks didn't want him to. He asked us if when we paired him with a mentor in our program, what sort of college would they want him to go to and what kind of college stuff he would do. It took me a second to realize what he was asking and what was going on.  He was so used to his public school lifting up college as an ideal that he just assumed that was our ideal goal as well. I told him that his mentor would be interested in him developing as a human being. Period. If he wanted to talk about the military or buying his first car then that is what his mentor would talk to him about. But, the conversation didn't end with the students.

I met two career student counselors while I was there. I have no idea (and to a degree don't care) if they were people of faith. They were interested in what we were doing. We talked about college pressures and the performance culture of the modern 21st century high school. It was great. No one was guessing why I was there. My fellow team member was excited because we were presenting at his former high school. He has spent years in Tech sales and helping with youth ministry at our church and I think he was just excited to have the chance to engage youth ministry and his local community in a very different way.  Each time I am on campus or talking with teachers, superintendents, or admins, I am learning something about how our schools work and don't work. I am learning how they connect with larger district entities and with the local community. But, I am also learning where the "gospel gaps" are. I am learning where the schools need help. I am learning the pressure points at which the scope of the responsibility is way beyond their means. They feel a massive burden to meet every educational, societal, and moral need.  We have a lot to offer that problem if we can figure out how to do it.  I left that school that day over the moon and I cannot wait to be back at multiple schools next Fall with various members of our team to find the right students for our program.

My point is that doing missional entrepreneurship or social enterprise (or whatever you want to call it) has opened up a massive door for evangelism for me. I think it could for many churches. But, doing evangelism is as much about listening as it is about speaking. You can't figure out how to bring healing, hope, joy, and reconciliation if you don't know where the aches, wounds, and needs are. Social enterprise gives me a vehicle for the sustained relationships, sustained listening, eventual speaking, and intentional planned action that I have never encountered in any other model of sharing my faith. It gives us a legitimate and non-awkward reason to be on any campus. We didn't figure out how to get on campus. We didn't weasel our way to a Christian club starting. We didn't wedge ourselves into a coaching position for a sport we know nothing about so that we could share the gospel. We built a jobs and life skills program to bless students for the rest of their lives and we were INVITED on campus. That's good news for everyone and I am still floored by it.