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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: Socioeconomic Reconciliation

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!

The Church has a Role in America and it Might Look Like This...

Matthew Overton

This is a video from my friend Nate Phillips on a small entrepreneurial revival happening in his hometown. Their story is the story of 1,000 other communities.  A story of industry that sputtered out and the subsequent economic and social struggles that have resulted.  While we tend to focus on social entrepreneurship as it relates to youth ministry in this blog, this is a video worth watching for anyone in the church. You can immediately see why entrepreneurship can be Kingdom work. The web of redemptive relationships and the cascading  effect of small positive economic dominoes here is encouraging. At first, it might not seem like there is direct social entrepreneurship going on here, but there is no way to not see how this is redemption work. American culture and the American church were built for just this sort of work!

Why Social Entrepreneurship #1- Socioeconomic Reconciliation

Matthew Overton


The other day, I was on the phone with a buddy of mine who is doing youth ministry in inner city Baltimore.  One of the reasons that I have always loved this guy is that he never shies away from uncomfortable questions. He had read a few of the articles and blog posts about this youth ministry plus jobs stuff that we have been doing and had some questions. The conversation was great and got me thinking about posting more about why we are doing what we are doing at my church. So, I plan in the coming weeks and months to do about 10-15 posts on the "why" of what we are doing so that folks can get a broader sense of why youth ministry through the vehicle of social entrepreneurship matters.

Today will be on how we might be able to accomplish socioeconomic reconciliation through social entrepreneurship.

About 4 years ago now I was on a youth trip driving down the highway in a human death trap known as a 15 passenger van. As always, I was doing my best to eavesdrop on the conversations happening on the bench seats to my rear. This is always a tricky exercise since the music is usually blasting at about a billion decibels through partially blown speakers. What I overheard struck me at the time and is part of what influenced me to do what I am doing.

On my first bench seat were several students that you might call solid achievers. They come from relatively stable homes and have a clear college trajectory.  As I listened to their conversation it was filled with anxiety  and loads of talk about their class rankings, potential colleges, and A.P. test scores. Most of the conversation was a sort of flimsy teenage facade of confidence.

On the second bench seat were three young men from a working class town about 10 miles north of our church. These students were mostly digesting Vines and making jokes despite the requests that students not use them in the vans. To say working class is a bit unfair because in several cases, their families struggled to work at all. One lived in a trailer with no running water. The other lived with a grandma. Mom and Dad had never been in the picture and after winning a small sum in the lottery (20k) granddad had taken off with his girlfriend. Grandma was left with a mortgage, her physically taxing work the disabled, and her own physical health struggles.  The third kid's home life vacillated between volatile and stable with people in and out of work.

What hit me right between the ears was that for all intents and purposes I had two youth groups.  One was doing quite well for itself and the other was in a wrestling match with the world.  Like other youth workers I knew, I was asking, "How do I bring these two groups from radically different worlds together?"

There is no question in my mind that we are dealing with a major socio-economic gap in our country.  I can accept the fact that people may argue for dramatically different political solutions to the problem, but no one can deny the gap. I can see it in my students, in the "working class" neighborhood I live in, and in the neighborhoods around our church community. They once they struggle to get by.

The truth is that most of what constitutes American Youth Ministry was designed for upper middle class kids who had loads of time on their hands.  When you don't fit that category its tough to see why youth group or faith even speak to your world. My sense was that we needed something different to bring these two groups together. I was searching for a practical need that both groups had in common. My answer was work.

     The "successful" kids on my bench seat needed jobs. Many of them have no idea how to work. Please don't read this as a "lazy millennials" rant either. It isn't. Many of these students are hard workers, but they lack certain work skills that I think used to be learned along the way. They go off and get a 4 year degree at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars (probably in debt) and then attempt to leap into the world having never worked around other adults in a professional capacity. Many of them are simply too busy to get jobs anymore. They have loads of activities that are designed to prepare them for the next 4 years of life rather than the next 40. Lots of them are conflict avoidant. They struggle to receive any direct critiques from an adult about what they do. They struggle to problem solve and often don't know how to adapt when given an open ended question or task to complete. But when your list of activities have precluded any form of personal autonomy, you struggle to know how to improvise creative solutions to problems. They also are terrified of making mistakes. They have often grown up with a sense that one mistake will derail the whole college success train. You could state this the opposite way by saying they are risk averse. Jobs tend to be the place that a lot of this is learned. They need environments where they can learn adults skills around adults instead of learning extracurricular skills around other teenagers.

Meanwhile, my second bench of students have much more wherewithal when it comes to the world. They still have bikes that they ride around their neighborhoods. They got in fights as kids and made some mischief. A couple of years ago, one of my students got really mad at his family. He was so pissed that he skateboarded across the I-205 bridge into Portland and managed to navigate multiple bus lines to get down to his Aunt's in MckMinville. There is no chance that my high performing students could have done that! It's over 45 miles away! My first bench students would have needed to form a collaborative team project for a grade to have the chutzpah to pull that off! And in all likelihood their parents would have called the school to shut the experience down! I digress.

The point is that the second bench students have a ton of skills that my wealthier kids need. What they don't have is some of the interpersonal skills, the connections, and the consistency. My second bench kids are likely to show up to an interview with a death metal t-shirt on. Or they might have the best looking shirt they can muster, but be sporting a three day man-child "moustache" or enough eye makeup to shock a clown.  They might not know not to talk back to a supervisor. In their world, you better be able to dish back out what you just got verbally served.  They are used to the rhythm of walking out rather than solving problems. Often they don't even get an interview with a local job because they are pegged the moment they walk through the door.  They also often don't know how to maintain consistency. Nothing in their life has been. They struggle with transportation. They struggle with their phone being on and then off because of finances. How do you communicate consistently with a supervisor when your phone is always down. These are just a few of the issues.

The one experience that I saw that seemed to bring them together (though I am not naive about the gulf between the classes) was our summer work service camps.  My sense was that a common purpose that was for a higher good and that put them on a relatively level playing field seemed to help them converse and interact. At least they could talk about what they had to accomplish together. They don't even get to do that at school anymore! Most of them are on completely separate academic tracks! They need, for different reasons, coaching on professionalism, conflict management, personal goal setting, discovering what they actually enjoy and are good at, and managing their money.  All of this comes up in connection with the work place.  And this is where my faith comes in with gusto.

In my mind, there is no more important ministry that we are engaged in than the ministry of reconciliation. We are invited to do this healing work around issues of economics, race, gender, and social relationships. The very identity of the church community is centered around the story of a God who wanted nothing more than to draw humanity back to himself. One of my great goals in this ministry is simply to help kids see themselves as inextricably connected to one another. I want them to sense that they need to learn from each other. My high end and low end kids have so much to offer each other! One groups is tough and adaptable. They don't get upset when things don't work's the norm. The other group assumes as a birthright that they can accomplish what they set out to do. That the world is theirs to move and dream and achieve in. I need my low end kids to imbibe a little of that hope filled Kool-Aid of possibility. Each of these groups has the chance to redeem part of the image of God in the other. They have a chance to expose and heal certain gaps of humanity in the perspective of the other. Maybe work can bring them together for long enough for those lessons to be learned.

My sense is simply that work MIGHT be an important vehicle to bridge our growing class gap.  The standard model of youth group won't do it and we have too many programs in our communities that are geared toward only one socioeconomic class of student. Our kids are stratified in terms of neighborhoods, academics, and sports. What if we could bring them together through social entrepreneurships that do business and serve the good of our communities? My sense is that there are a multitude of life giving gospel conversations in those interactions around justice, money, politics, and privilege that would spring up.

Am I on crazy pills?