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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: Kenda Dean

Un-Famous at Seattle Pacific University

Matthew Overton


A few weeks ago I was able to attend a gathering at Seattle Pacific University called UnFamous. It was a gathering of institutional leaders (seminaries, colleges, foundations), social enterprise practitioners, and other folks with varying degrees of interest in whether or not the church can serve as an effective vehicle/partner for social enterprise from a faith based perspective. It was a good use of time.

The gathering was something I had instigated because a local trust, the Murdock Trust, had offered out loud in front of me to host such a gathering. I called them up a while later and asked if they were serious about that offering. When they said they were, I acknowledged that I was not such a person to lead that gathering, but that I knew people who were and the ball started rolling. The ball eventually stopped in Seattle with a gathering of about 55 folks.

There were three main components to the gathering. Key partners listened to the overall conversations going on and gave plenary sessions (20-25 minutes) on what they were digesting. Practitioners of social enterprise delivered 10 minute Ted Talks about their particular expressions of social enterprise in the church. There were also break out groups on the last day where we tried to decide what the action points for this kind of movement needed to be going forward.

There are several things you should know about this gathering:

1.) It was one of the first of its kind and it signals that the conversation about social enterprise in the church is starting to gain traction. I do not recall a time I felt less isolated as a faith based practitioner of social enterprise than at this gathering. There are many Christian ministries that gather around helping people talk about faith and work, there are not a lot actually combining the two. This kind of work is well off the maps of many faith based institutions…and it shouldn’t be.

2.) It was diverse. We had a good representation of race, gender, socio-economic status. This produced respectful but intense conversations about a whole variety of topics. Some people in the room disagreed about the nature of reconciliation. There was some tension between various minority groups with one another. There were thick discussions about access to capital for minorities and divergent contexts when it comes to churches thinking about social enterprise. We even delved into reparations late one evening. Yet, despite all that difference (and I am sure there was much conversation that I was rightfully not privy to as a white dude) those conversations were done well, I think, in the spirit of the gospel. No one was treated as enemy, but truths were told. Good work was done.

3.) Secondary Diversity- There was also a clear sense of diversity in terms of economics and even defining social enterprise. A number of folks disagreed about what to call this kind of faith based work. Some called it “redemptive entrepreneurship”. Others called it, “Christian social enterprise”. Some folks felt that they didn’t want any sort of separate Christian terminology applied to social entrepreneurship at all. They simply felt that Christians need to simply engage the good work that God is doing in the world and that as long as it is good, why should we put our separate label on it. I share some of these same suspicions, but not all of them. We also had differing senses about what social enterprise even means. Is it for-profit, non-profit, etc? Must it be overtly social justice oriented or simply seeking the betterment of all with a justice bent?

4.) It was fruitful- As I mentioned earlier, people that do the work that I do often feel pretty isolated in their work. For the past 5 years I have often felt that while I knew others were out there doing similar work, I didn’t know exactly where they were. Many times I initiated conversations with various economic networks and foundations in the church, and even donors, and I found them to be confused by what I was talking about. The idea that you could do ministry and business as the same vehicle was foreign to them. So, while the diversity of the gathering produced some tension and loving conflict and while it felt a little all over the place at times, it did manage to connect previously isolated networks. This was liberating and exciting. It was thrilling to see the diverse expressions of social enterprise within the church.

5.) It was preliminary- To me, it felt like we need more of these gatherings. I think we need 5 or 6 of these a year around the United States for the next 5 years. I am not sure that mass gatherings (500-6,000) are what is needed in this kind of space. We need gatherings that feel more intimate and contextual/regional. I would think that we need to maintain a high degree of diversity, but we might need to gather around more focused ministry goals or regional areas where collaboration might lead to leveraged impact. We would especially need a greater number of true investors at these gathering and folks inside and outside the church. True leveraged impact through cooperative collaboration will not be possible without that kind of cross-pollination. Some of those important focus points.

5.) It reminded me how unique the Forge ministry is- One of the things that surprised me at this gathering and that continues to surprise me is that there are not many people who have intentionally combined ecclesial work with economics the way that I have through the Forge. I remain convinced that what I have done seems obvious and that there must be folks out there doing this similarly to us, but I haven’t found them yet. It’s also the fact that we are embedded inside a church (though we are a separate 501c3) that also makes us unique. This is not to say that our work is better or unique in that nature of the work itself. There are many teen job programs that at least have some foot in the marketplace. But, the context, intentionality, and focused theological reflection on our work are particularly unique so far.

Last, here is the link to the “Ted” style talk that I delivered.

See you at the next gathering!!!

How do I Fund My Philanthropic/Social Enterprise Idea?

Matthew Overton


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!

Youth Philanthropy Academy-Part 2 A Sunday Morning Revolution

Matthew Overton


So, as I had mentioned in an earlier post about a week ago I went to Princeton to help consult on what it would look like to implement a philanthropic initiative in the local church.  Princeton is utilizing a model provided by the non-profit, "Giving Point" in Atlanta, GA.  They are trying to see how a similar model might work in the local church.  The plan is to provide a week long academy experience that will help students with philanthropic ideas to execute on their vision.  I would like to explain what this looks like in my church.  The initiative below represents what I would call my second innovation in our youth ministry. The whole thing could go down in flames, but it is looking really promising. See what you think!?

About a year ago I decided that I was fed up with Sunday School as I knew it for our high school students. I had tried everything. We had done curriculums on justice. That was okay.  We tried organizing small groups, but the consistency of the student and leader attendance was low.  We had some luck with Confirmation and with Sexuality courses, but it was fleeting.  I was tired of helping students to think and live missionally only through doing a work service trip once a year. I started to wonder if we couldn't engage students more powerfully by empowering them to enact Kingdom justice instead of just learning about it.  So we started what we call, "The Project".

First, we gathered the students around learning and conversation.  I told the students that the objective was for them to develop an idea to serve the larger community and that in order to do it, we would need them to actively participate and lead.  We began reading excerpts of Robert Lupton's, "Toxic Charity" and watched the video series, "Poverty Inc."  Both of these look at how the church's ham fisted attempts at helping our neighbor have often done more harm than good.  In particular we focused in on Lupton's 6 principles of compassionate service.

Next, we looked in depth at the various charities in our communities to see if any of their missions grabbed the students' attention or hearts.  We also wanted to see if there were ways that we could adequately serve these organizations.  At this point we had about 8-12 students in the room (out of about 35 high schoolers at our church).  What we found is that while our students liked some of the organizations, often those organizations often did not have service opportunities that aligned with the schedules of our students or numbers.  We estimated that we would get 20-25 students to show up for a service project and most groups couldn't handle that number. Even if they could they could only do so occasionally and our students didn't want to do "hit and run" ministry. The kind  where we show up, work, and take off.

From there the students decided that since outside organizations didn't seem to fit our mission that we should look specifically at things that the church was already engaged in.  In the end they decided that they wanted to focus on our neighborhood middle school that we know as "Mac".  This process of learning and thinking took about 4 months and when summer hit we were forced to take a break simply due to our summer schedule at the church.

When the Fall came around we re-launched the whole thing with a video clip home to parents and a couple of emails.  We made scripture a priority and began each session with about 15 minutes of bible study related to mission and justice.  Then we dove in to an agenda.  Here is when things took off. I am just going to list these in bullet points.

1. Once students knew they were actually going to DO something and be in charge, they started to show up. 9:00 a.m. suddenly didn't seem so early. We now average about 18-20 students per week.

2. Adults got interested. I simply invited them to come and watch what we were doing. Pretty soon I was going out of town and they were helping to facilitate. We went from 1-2 showing up sporadically to 4 committed adults with another 2-3 engaged around the edges.  One of them just wandered in one Sunday because he had heard about what we were doing. Another one just hangs around before class starts because he is so interested.  We keep asking the question, "Who do we need in the room?" My goal is currently for the class to stop being a high school Sunday School and instead become "The Project". I see a place where adults and students work together to seek out God's justice.  I want this class to discern the missional calling for the WHOLE church and not just the youth group.  I think teenagers can do it with enough focus, prayer, and some adult encouragement.  My suspicion is that adults will continue to want to be a part of that.

3.  We did outreach. We have had the local school Community Coordinator in to speak with the students so that they can start to get a grasp on what is really going on at the school.  They plan to have others in the class over the next few weeks. Principals, counselors, and teachers.  It's kind of a weekly design thinking brainstorm.

4. We gave them roles. Together the students helped develop certain key officer roles that help the meetings go forward each week. They elected their peers and those peers set the agenda, manage the budget, take notes, do grunt work, and work the problem that is in front of us. The moment we elected officers I moved myself from the front of the room to the side and eventually to the back. They are in charge. Each week they learn important lessons about leading a group.  It's great. We didn't want it too formal and serious (since this is a youth ministry venture) so we developed better titles for each of their roles.

     A. Czar (This explains the hat above. I bought these for our fearless leaders!)

     B.  Vice Czar

     C.  Secretaries of Defense (Takes notes)

     D.  KGB (Adults that supervise and offer input as needed)

      E.  Queen of Coin (Treasurer)

      F.  The Peasants

5. We Threw Mud at the Wall. Once we had the location of our mission and started to look at the issues they were facing we told the students to Dream Big. We challenged them to answer the question, "How would you solve this host of problems if I gave you $100,000?"  I happen to believe that $100,000 is a very achievable number. The stuff they came up with was amazing! They tackled distribution problems, looked at solar solutions, and have even considered buying a laundro-mat and combine it with a tutoring center. I am telling you, this is the best stuff I have ever heard of and it is impressive to watch this.


Princeton's Youth and Philanthropy Academy- Part 1

Matthew Overton

This past week I was invited to attend a gathering at Princeton Theological Seminary for a really forward thinking initiative called the 'Youth and Philanthropy Academy'. Over the next couple of days I am going to do a few posts about that  "Y.P.A." initiative.  This first one will take a look at what the experience looked like and the next couple will look at some of its implications for  youth ministry at my local church.

YPA is a pilot program through Princeton Theological that is designed to help foster Kingdom thinking  and Kingdom action in students. Students are going to be encouraged to develop and execute on philanthropic ideas in their communities.    

The idea has come through a partnership with an organization called, "Giving Point".  Giving Point, which is centered in Atlanta, Georgia does this exact kind of work with teenagers from around the United States.  Their social media platform has over 10,000 teen followers. The most motivated of these are given coaching and adult help so that those students can bring their philanthropic ideas to life.  But, the burden of passion and forward movement always rests with the student. In this way, Giving Point encourages teens as empowered agents of change rather than as passive recipients of adult initiative.  Princeton is trying to see if they can create a version of that kind of program through the seminary.    

The basic plan is to bring about 15 students to Princeton for a week long summer session.  At this YPA experience, students will connect their ideas to their faith and come up with a plan to execute on that plan while collaborating with other students.  Here is what the overall framework will look like:

1. A student will apply to go to YPA.

2. Once selected they will fly to Princeton for the  Youth and Philanthropy Academy week.

3. At the camp they will receive coaching on how to communicate the idea they are passionate about persuasively and develop a year long plan on executing the idea.

4. From there they will be tasked with going back to their local church and assembling a group of teenagers and adults (maybe from within and from outside of the church) to help with the project.  These folks serve as participants and mentors along the way.

5.  Princeton will also provide some kind of funding incentive plan for the students. They are still working out how this might work. But, they might get $500 from Princeton if they can raise $500 of funds on their own.

6.  Last, if they are successful in executing on that year long plan and assembling that team of adults they will then be invited back to a kind of gala dinner in which they would pitch their idea to groups of folks who would fund the initiatives.  They are describing this as a kind of grace filled "Shark Tank".

Each day at the academy students will be given a group session, opportunities to work collaboratively, individual speech coaching, and time for reflection so that they can process what they are learning as well as what God might be saying through their experience.  All I can say at this point was that it was a really cool experience and that it is one of the most innovative things I have ever heard of in youth ministry. The group of people in attendance was from a pretty diverse set of backgrounds and Giving Point sent a couple of their representatives and two high school students who are actively working on projects. The students were amazing. I was blown away. There have been many students over the years that have impressed me. I have never met a student that has truly floored me. These two did. They had both high social intellegence and intellectual intelligence.  It was amazing. I plan on trying to send one or two of our students this Summer if we can.  More on how this impacts my local ministry in my next post.


On Good Ideas and Where They Come From....

Matthew Overton

So I have watched Steve Johnson's videos on where good ideas come from a number of times.  The Ted Talk one is the best and it is here.  I find his talks fascinating not just because of their specific content, but mostly because they have caused me to go back and analyze where my own innovations in ministry have come from.  Of late, I have been working on a new experiment in youth ministry that is based on jobs/work.  Some friends of mine call it, "A Youth Ministry that Works."  The goal is to essentially teach discipleship alongside of jobs training.  My experience teaches me that when ministry is done in this fashion it tends to lead to more life on life conversation.  I happen to think this is a really good idea for about a million reasons that I won't get into here.

As I have watched his TED talk I was most fascinated by the notion that most folks with a good idea tend to think that it happens all at once, when in fact it is the final trajectory of a multitude of experiences.  It would be more like the lead page to a book where an author thinks through with deep thankfulness, all the people who helped the book come to fruition.  This part of the TED Talk got me thinking that it might be good for me to sit down and map out where my own innovation had come from.  It was amazing.  It ended up being a deep prayer exercise of thanksgiving, but I was also blown away about how different life events and conversation have shaped me over the years.  Here is a very abbreviated version of what I came up with in my journal entry.

1. Dozens of Mission Projects, Working with my Dad to Fix Stuff Growing Up, and Working as a Custodian- Physical labor led me to value work and the conversations that happen when we work. No way I would be doing this if not for these experiences.

2. The Economic Downturn and my Dad's Chronic Unemployment- In my mid to late teen years my Dad lost a number of jobs.  I saw what a lack of work and purpose can do to a human being.  We also lost our home in high school and then I lost another during the downturn in 2006-2010.  I value the gift of work more than ever and I understand why parents are reluctant to send their kids to youth groups for fun, games, and Jesus. They are terrified about the future. Who has time for fun, games, and nice when they are terrified?

3.  My New House- When I moved to Washington Anne and I had to cobble together a home loan and ultimately bought the most beater and dilapidated thing we could find because we knew we could afford it.  With the help of friends and some paid contractors we gutted the house and re-did it.  It was here that I began (illegally) hiring some of my "fringe" students to help out. I started to think, "This is just like doing a mission trip. Why can't we do this all the time? Why do I get in better conversations about real life here than we ever do at Youth Group?"

4. Mark Yaconelli's Compassion Prayer Retreat- I can't say enough about this retreat. Best thing I have EVER done in ministry. But the two quotes that nailed me from that retreat were when Mark asked me, "How come you got into ministry? Was it so you could tell kids about Jesus and have them learn about Christianity or so that those kids could help bring those kids come alive and be more loving people?"  This question stopped me dead on a morning run two days later. What was Christianity really about?  The second was the Iranaeus quote, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive."  I started to think about what in my ministry was the most life giving.  I wanted to do what needed to be done, but also what brought me LIFE!

5. Conversations- This is where the idea really caught a head of steam.  It sort of ties in with Steven Johnson's idea of the cafe. Sadly, I have no cafe of colleagues to hang out with. But, after I had assembled a small team of folks from my church to secretly work on this project (I wasn't sure what the church would think!), I started to call colleagues in ministry to see what they thought.  It seemed like every time I talked to a parent, youth worker, seminary professor, friend, or pastor about this idea their own light bulbs went off. It was crazy! Many acknowledged secret tensions they felt about youth group, quietly confessing that they don't want to send their own kids.  I talked with the most diverse group of folks I could get my hands on. Everyone was ecstatic about the idea and thought it was worth pursuing. They had other stories to add about why they thought it was a good idea. Or they would share about a work experience that had changed them as a young adult.  I have never heard the voice of God more clearly saying, "You need to do this." Never.

There are a bunch more things I could list (a lot of them would be books). I really want to map it out on a Prezi or storyboard it. But for now, this has been a really useful exercise.  Doing something is so important.  All the stuff I did along the way is like a tool box to me now.  It has been the concert of my experiences that has caused me to change my youth ministry tune.  It has been too imitative for too long. I felt like a bad Beatles cover band at Disneyland just trying to sustain what had come before so that I didn't lose my job and a second home. I finally got tired after the 10,000th rendition of "Let it Be".  What is needed is something that is as improvizationally sweaty and collaborative as jazz music and as playful as Zydeco music.  That is why I am trying to gather together other youth workers who are doing youth ministry in innovative ways.  I wonder what youth ministry/ministry would look like if folks could prayerfully mine the concert of their own experience to see what is life giving and then look to see what God might birth in their ministries!