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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: Youth Ministry Innovation

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.



Stripping the Ship: Calling A vs. Calling B

Matthew Overton

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Sometime ago I sat with a colleague who was concerned that as we build a different model of our youth ministry that we were neglecting too much of our existing ministry. We discussed that we were doing a bit less communication and that things were more rushed in general. To be honest, he was right.

In order to build a jobs based youth ministry on the side of our standard youth ministry we had been starving our existing ministry a bit. I told him he was right and that we were taking a calculated risk in order to reach out to a section of the community that we would never otherwise reach.  I appreciated my friend's concern for both our jobs and for my longevity (he was partly worried that I might burn out).

The thing I learned about innovation and change a few years back is that it is impossible to implement any change without sacrificing something. Usually one of the difficulties is that part of what you will have to sacrifice is part of your current picture of success. In order to change anything you are going to have to do a portion of what you currently do well...a little less well. I have come to believe that if we can't/won't take that risk, than any kind of innovation is impossible.

I have begun to refer to this process as "Stripping the Ship". If you have tracked this blog at all you will find that I tend to use nautical imagery to describe the journey I am on and the model I am pursuing. Stripping the ship refers to the intentional process of stripping down your existing model of ministry to its barest components that you regard as essential in order to free up as much capacity as possible to explore your secondary and nascent idea or model.

Sailors throughout history, for various reasons, have had to toss things overboard in order to lighten their load. The might need speed, there could be an emergency on board, or the conditions of the see and the conditions of their boat and its load do not mach well. Generally these objects overboard are referred to as flotsam, jetsam, and lagan. People do this same sort of thingall the time when they move from a larger home into a smaller home. They go through the process of sorting and tossing. There is almost always pain, grief, and satisfaction in this process. And part of this process is really helpful because it helps us define what is really important in our ministries and lives. Some things we don't get rid of entirely, we just get more efficient at them. These days I often find that I have found small ways and spaces of time to get things done that used to take me twice as long.

Stripping the ship often feels scary. You often wonder when you are going to throw some sacred object overboard that is the final straw for someone. You wonder if you are really just sinking your ship rather than stripping it down to make it lighter and faster. What ultimately makes the process worthwhile is if the ministry that you accomplish as a result seems more life giving and honoring to the Kingdom of God than what you were doing before. The difficulty though is that you won't know that until you actually test it all out for a substantial amount of time.  That is always scary.

As I have worked through this process I am learning a few simple things that I have helped me think and pray my way through this process.

1. Ask Lots of Questions and Invite Review- Try to ask your co-workers, leaders, personnel team, parents, students, etc. etc. periodic questions about whether or not they think you are still doing a good job at your primary calling/function. Their voice matters. You don't have to ask it that directly. There are loads of questions that you might ask to gauge how things are going.

2. Be Patient- You may not have had enough time to build up the rapport that you need to take the risk you want to take. Ask  yourself: "How much leadership capital do I have?" You might estimate internally or with others how many months you can sail like this before you need to restock the ship in some way.

3. Be Suspicious...of yourself- Remember that you might not be able to be honest with yourself about how things are going because you could have become so attached to the new ministry idea that you are pursuing.

4. Take an Emotional Review- Pay attention to your emotional sense of how you are doing. As much as you know that taking this risk will be scary, you should pay attention to when you feel like you are cheating calling A to serve calling B. I often use the Ignatian Examen as a way to figure out what the Spirit is telling me about how I am feeling. It is not always good to sacrifice your current picture of success to get to a new one. We should not idolize innovation or risk.

5. Catalogue Your Stories- As you go about your new ministry make mental note of every time that you encounter the fruit off this new way of doing things. Chances are that you are going to need that story to help other see what is happening. They may want to push or pull you back to the old way of doing things. I often tell a story of one of our students in our programs that we have built and ask them whether we should be pouring more resources into those outsider kids or into our church kids? I don't do that smugly (that would be unwise). I invite them into the tension that I feel every day. I am genuinely asking, "Jesus, who do you want me to minister to?" Often, they don't fully emotionally agree, but it always makes them stop and think about our priorities as a body. It also has a funny way of inviting them on the adventure when you do it right.

Blessings on your risks and innovations.

May you carefully strip your ship, so that in a streamline and sleek state, God might enable you to sail into new oceans, dangers, and Kingdom possibilities! Pray for wisdom often and be careful you don't throw anything overboard that is essential to the gospel or to your ability to stay afloat!