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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: Mowtown Teen Lawn Care

Holy Cow! Talk about Innovation and Initiative!

Matthew Overton

Yesterday, I learned about one of the coolest initiatives I have ever heard of through Princeton Theological Seminary's youth division.  Basically, Princeton’s Institute for Youth Ministry has started a new initiative called the Youth Philanthropy Academy and they have partnered with an organization called “Giving Point”. The link is below. Giving Point tries to mobilize the gifts, talents, and passion of teens to change their world (Kingdom Work!).  Theoretically, we could develop a philanthropic idea of one of the students and then our other students could help develop it.  The program requires that adult mentoring be involved.  Here is how it works:

1.        Teens from your church submit applications to Princeton.

2.       A student is chosen based on their passion for the idea and their individual drive to achieve it.

3.       That student then goes to Princeton in July and receives intensive coaching for 1 week about how to communicate the vision of their idea and develop a 1 year plan to execute on it.

4.       They go back to their church and are required to assemble some adults to help them execute that plan.  (I love the inter generational aspect of this! Boom!)

5.       They are given $500 of seed money to execute the idea if the church matches with $500.

6.       If they make sufficient progress they are invited back to Princeton in 1 year for a dinner gathering with business folks from around the country who listen to their pitches and offer funding for the organizations.

*The Student must be a Freshman or a Sophomore

My church is considering whether we might participate in this process. We scrapped our usual Sunday morning program a little over a year ago and started working on what we call, "The Project". Essentially it is an attempt to missionally engage our community.  My suspicion is that some of you have teenagers with unbelievable ideas out there. Places where they have sensed a gospel gap that needs to be filled long before our adults have.  Mine those teens and get them to apply!!!

A.       Giving Point-

B.      Joshua’s Closet, which is an example of a Giving Point Project-

C.      Princeton’s Institute for Youth Ministry’s new project called the Youth Philanthropy Academy:

Why For-Profit? A story about research, dignity, and my neighbor.....

Matthew Overton

One of the questions that I have had to deal with as I have started my "Youth Ministry that Works" process is, "Why go for-profit?"  Many people don't have a clue as to why a minister would start a for-profit company to do social good.  The answer is a bit complicated, but I think it is worth a lengthy post.

Very early on in my process I had to decide whether or not my company would be for-profit or non-profit.  To be honest,  I didn't know much about either and what their advantages and disadvantages would be. The only for-profit experience I had was through my father who mostly worked for larger companies.  My non-profit experience had been confined to my church ministry over the last 15 years which is a different and often peculiar beast unto itself.

So I tried to engage a process of research and discernment to make my decision.  Here is what it entailed:

-I researched the differences online.

-I spoke with someone in the finance world that has worked both for-profit and non-profit entities.

-I spoke with someone who works with a major grant foundation in the Pacific Northwest and asked her thoughts.

-I spoke with an attorney.

-I read a couple of books.

-I prayed.

Here is what I think I learned.  First, I learned that each has its own benefits. I won't get into those here, but one of the major hurdles I ran into was that I wanted my enterprise to be faith based and that would immediately cut me off from most non-profit funding. Second, non-profits are expensive to start up and have tons of restrictions surrounding a board of directors etc.  They are often unsustainable models without leaning on regular charitable giving.

In the for profit model I was able to start my social enterprise for about $900 in fees for licences etc. That of course does not include my start up equipment. But, for that relatively small amount I had a business up and running, at least in name.  My non-profit folks told me that starting a non-profit is much trickier and takes a lot more time. I would also need to assemble a board.  Along the way I repeatedly heard that grant writing is a pain in the butt from a number of people who know a whole lot more about it than I do. While my small business friends do complain about how the tax system, I seem to prefer that over constantly having to ask for money. I know that many non-profits make money hand over fist (See: Goodwill). Most do not. They are reliant upon the benevolence of others and I sometimes get tired of that dynamic from working in the church. To put it into crude business terms, the church lives off of cultural subsidies in some ways.  This leads to my main conclusion.  For-profit, when done with some ethical integrity, encourages harder work and maintains the most dignity for both the giver and the recipient. Dignity.

It is my firm belief that increasingly we are starting to recognize that giving things away often robs the recipient of some of their dignity each time they receive.  One of the books that has re-shaped my thinking on the for-profit and non-profit worlds is Robert Upton's, "Toxic Charity". If you haven't read it, you should.  I think what we are starting to see that no strings attached giving robs the recipient of a little bit of their dignity each time they receive.  I suppose this makes me a bit of a capitalist, but I am okay with that. I think that we are at an intersection in our world where the Iines between the for-profit and non-profit worlds are starting to blur significantly.  You can understand this trend in 4 minutes if you watch this clip of my friend Andy Lower presenting on this topic for the Eleos Foundation.

I wanted a company structure that encouraged high accountability amongst my students for the quality of their work. I also wanted one where the customer didn't feel like they were simply giving us money.  Instead they were paying a competitive price for a service rendered with a company that was forced to compete with other similar companies. Yet, we were still engaged in a social good. In this way, the customer trades away none of their dignity and my employees feel like the company stands and falls on the quality of their output.

This idea became particularly poignant this past week as someone at my church came up to me and shared about the impact that Mowtown Teen Lawn Care was having on someone in our community who is a customer. The particular customer that we have has a home that they have a great deal of trouble maintaining. Over the years a number of neighbors had begun to pitch in on the home doing occasional clean up. Sometimes they did it out of love and sometimes they did it so their neighborhood looked more presentable.  But, over time this person at my church began to sense that their neighbor resented the help, and that because of their particular social anxiety they did not like having their neighborhood in their back yard.  They tried hiring local teenagers to do the work every once in a while, but the students lacked the right tools and their work was often sub-par. Further, since the neighbors paid the teens, the customer was still receiving a hand out in a way.  And so Mowtown got a call.

What I learned on Sunday from this person at my church was that the customer was overjoyed! They actually enjoy having teenagers in their yard because they know that they are helping those teens to grow and develop. Yet, they are doing so while paying a competitive price which takes no dignity away from them as they receive our services. They are no longer a recipient. In many ways the for profit model levels the power dynamics in a relationship. When done right I might even argue that it is the most humane solution to social issues. Both parties are making their community better while not having the image of God in them diminished.  Sadly, many of our charitable works achieve just that sort of diminshment when we are honest with ourselves. One party feels great while the other feels their struggles are only confirmed and underscored by the services rendered free of charge. Please hear that I am not against non-profits and am a firm believer in no strings attached giving when it is done short term and in crisis situations! But overall I prefer the equality of the for-profit model.

Basically what I am trying to do is take smart third world principles for doing the most social good and am applying them to the American Church and to American Youth Ministry. I have begun to wonder how often we rob both our students/congregants, and those they serve, of dignity by our subsidized model of ministry. I say that as someone who is paid by that very model. I think the current ministry model not only robs people of dignity but it produces youth ministries that tend to be low in terms of participatory opportunity and low in terms of the kind of accountability that produces spiritual growth.  But, that will be for my next post.

So to put it succinctly: I went for profit.

God bless and keep innovating!


A Year Up

Matthew Overton

A couple of years ago now I invited a friend of mine named Scott Gullick to come and speak at a retreat in Berkeley, CA. My students were down in California for their annual Work Camp doing an urban experience. We could have done it in Portland or in Seattle I suppose, but we thought it was important to get them out of their usual comfort zones.  I also happen to believe that Mark Twain was dead on when he said, "Travel is the cure for all ignorance."

Scott was asked to speak namely because I felt he was a great example of how one can combine their faith and their work/calling.  He had directed Ponderosa Lodge at Mount Hermon Christian Camps for a number of years, but I think ultimately felt like he had outgrown aspects of that setting.  Like many youth workers there comes a point when all the camp in the world can't help us shake the sense that we are killing it at doing something that simply works...okay.  He went of to Boston to get his Masters in Business with an emphasis in non-profit management.  From their he began to work for a company called "A Year Up".  A year up is a challenging program that works with urban young adults to place them in tech support for Fortune 500 companies.  You can read about them here. Essentially they want to close the opportunity gap for urban young adults.

I think Scott is a great example of what innovative youth ministry looks like and could look like.  It provides the kind of here and now salvation (rather than down the road/eternal) that the church often ignores.  It is also a rigorous program which I think is essential to youth ministry.  I happen to believe that teens/young adults crave challenge from adults who care.  The care part is essential.  There are times where I think aspects of my ministry have been much too gracious.  As a result, I think I have created environments in which some of my teenagers have been enabled to be stuck in a stage of their spirituality and daily life.

In many ways, I am actually pleased Scott is outside the boundaries of what we would usually define as "the church". In actuality I think he is doing Kingdom work every day and in that sense he is moving the true church forward.  But, my hope is that these kinds of initiatives become a significant part of the future of American Youth Ministry.  We need to stop baptizing kids only to kick them off the deck of our churches into open waters.  If we only prepare them for the next life aren't we just basically saying "go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed" (James 2:16) but doing nothing to actually help that happen?