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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: Princeton Theological Seminary

Un-Famous at Seattle Pacific University

Matthew Overton

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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!!!

"Ecto 1"- The Most Humbling Joyous Help I Have Ever Received.

Matthew Overton

This is what I like to refer to as "Ecto 1". It reminds me of the Ghostbusters rig in the movie except rather than keeping the spirit containment unit in the basement of the building, we just mounted it on our truck.  It's also my SECOND pickup truck. I don't know how this happened. I grew up two blocks from the Pacific Ocean in surfing country. And while I was born in Virginia, I was not born in pickup country. Some people have called it "Dorothy" from the movie Twister. Others say it looks like a Portland food cart version of a Breaking Bad episode.  To me, Ecto 1 is a sign of everything that is awesome about social enterprise and the church. It is a symbol of friendship, fellowship, and shared passions.

Ecto 1 is simply a watering truck on a converted F-250 pickup truck.

About 9 months ago our Downtown Business Association recruited Mowtown to water their downtown flower baskets.  They hang them every year in the downtown area in order to beautify the local business district. They had a truck, with a built in watering apparatus, and all we needed to do was supply the workers and a bid.  They had also worked with teens and young adults to water the baskets previously.  So, we leapt at the opportunity. But, that's when things got a bit more complicated.

For various reasons, our local city didn't want Mowtown to rent the truck. They also didn't want to sell us their old 1970's Dodge Pickup. And this is where things got awesome.

Several of my team members stepped in.  First, they went out and looked for pickup trucks. They went to local auctions and online. Eventually they found  a truck they liked and when they told the owner what we were up to he knocked the price down substantially. But, that is where the real work began.

This is Dave. Dave is a retired airline pilot/Rube Goldberg truck mechanic. Dave is awesome. Be like Dave.

This is Dave. Dave is a retired airline pilot/Rube Goldberg truck mechanic. Dave is awesome. Be like Dave.

These guys spent hours thinking about the best designs. They purchased a tank and mounted on an aluminum reinforced palate so that when the watering season is over we can pull the tank right out of the truck. I consulted with friends who are engineers about pickup size, and water shifting, and baffles. Next they put in a pump, mounted a light on top, consulted with the city about stripping the old truck for watering tools. They fixed up the actual truck which needed some significant work. It had holes in the pickup bed and needed a new bumper.

All along I had to proceed in faith in this because I know nothing about cars. I can change oil, tires, spark plugs, batteries, and filters, but I don't. Ever. I loathe working on cars. I know how to do some things, but I don't really "get" cars.  But, because these guys on my team care about students and about this idea that we all have been working on they laid out for this idea in terms of money, time, and passion.

A few weeks ago I went over to one of their houses to borrow their dump truck (yes they have one at home) and there was Ecto-1. I couldn't believe it. I honestly felt like crying the next day in worship because I was so thankful for friends like these. I know they enjoyed doing it, but I don't like when people help me out usually. I am pretty independent. It was humbling to say the least.

My point in all of this is simply to say the social enterprise requires a bunch of risk and trust. It also requires community. As much as I have wanted to test a model that proves to someone else that they could do this on their own too, I have had to realize that this is a group process. It takes way more than just my passion to get something like this off the ground. It takes the gifts of others too. I continue to learn that lesson in spades.

But, this is why the church matters. The church is a bucket of ages, stages of life, gifts, talents, treasures, and passion like no other that I know. It has a built in ethic to lay one's life down for the sake of the world. As I continue to argue and believe, it is one of the best vehicles I know to engage social enterprise.

This morning at 4 a.m. an 18 year old student and a hard working American who emigrated from Central America are out watering baskets in our downtown. We are helping them economically, they are forging unusual community together, our downtown is being beautified, we are making some profit, and my church community is more engaged than it was a year ago. It's the best missional idea I have ever had.

If Christian Social Enterprise is wrong, I don't want to be right.

The Princeton Youth Forum and G.K. Chesterton

Matthew Overton

This past week I headed back to Princeton, New Jersey for the Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry.  Mostly I went because the forums are always a good thing to be a part of, but this year I was also invited to come and share about my experiences with social entrepreneurship and the church.  The forums definitely had a flavor of trying new things in ministry.  This was great because there are so many conferences that specialize in techniques that they often fall short of helping folks innovate and adapt to the "new" realities that seem to have planted themselves like a dagger in the heart of American youth ministry as we have known it.  We need more spaces where people can think about innovation and risky experiments!

One of the quotes that has inspired me as I have been working on my Mowtown/Columbia Teen Enterprises project is something that G.K. Chesterton wrote.  He said, "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly."  What Chesterton meant was that many experiments and failures precede the final product in any endeavor.  The point is not to shoot for the final product from the get go.  The goal is to set a destination that is worthwhile or that serves the good and then fail repeztedly until you get there. Do some poor versions of what you are trying to do first. They aren't failures. They are first steps.  If you don't believe me go back and read this post about my first day out mowing. Disaster.  But the key to good failure is first finding the worthwhile destination you want to get to. This is where the forums needed to emphasize just a bit more that missional entrepreneurship needs to take its time.

I plan to write more on this later, but coming up with a missional innovation is a lot like doing quality mission work or community development.  You can't just think of an idea that YOU think people really need and you certainly shouldn't be thinking of an idea that you think is going to make you lots of money.  I have no problem with profit, but it has to be built on foundational thinking, prayer, and reflection on how to bless the world.  A good missionary moves into a locale and the first thing they do is listen and watch.  Only over time might a missionary or a community developer begin to even have an inkling about what their particular vocation might be in that community.  The community developer, if they are worth their salt, doesn't just swoop into a neighborhood in an urban area and fire up their latest redemptive project. Generally they inhabit (or incarnate) a neighborhood for quite some time.  So, while I want people to go out and start doing things poorly, my hope is that they don't just start doing random things.  My hope is that we can spend a ton of time teaching people how to discern their call to an intentional purpose in a place that they have been rooted in for a while.  I think one of the challenges of social entrepreneurship and youth ministry is that to be done well, it will need to confront the horrific attrition rates of youth ministers.  If you can't stay in a church long enough to actually learn about a context, then the kind of innovations you might experiment with are likely to be pretty destructive.

So, I encourage you to risk and fail repeatedly. Set yourself up for some pretty poor experiments. And fail quickly. Don't wait until all your ducks are in a row or until you know it will work. The church and God's Kingdom need your failures desperately so that we might adapt to the changes happening all around us. However, make sure the course trajectory you set is guided properly first.  Is what you are doing what the community needs? Have you listened well to the other or are they just an object of your mission?  That part might take some time. But anything that is worthwhile does. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly, but we have to take the time to discern whether it is worth doing, first.  Once you suspect your course is true, the sting of failure doesn't hurt so bad anyway.

Youth Philanthropy Academy-Part 2 A Sunday Morning Revolution

Matthew Overton

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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.

 

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- https://www.mygivingpoint.org/

B.      Joshua’s Closet, which is an example of a Giving Point Project- http://joshuasclosetinternational.org/

C.      Princeton’s Institute for Youth Ministry’s new project called the Youth Philanthropy Academy: http://iym.ptsem.edu/youth-philanthropy-academy/