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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 Innovations

Graduation Day...Awesome!

Matthew Overton

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Every year as I do ministry there are certain days that I look forward to and certain days that are stressful, but well worth every ounce of effort. Last Sunday was a bit of both. The student job skills/life skills ministry that I created had it's annual meal and certification. It's a day when our mentors and students (Blacksmiths and Apprentices as we call them) come together to feast, share, and celebrate all the fruit that we have seen in our program. We started with 23 students and finished with 20.  It was an amazing process as usual. Let me share a few of the highlights.

-One student shared that their mentor, who has been one of our best youth leaders at our church, is an amazing human being. They shared openly that they have never had healthy adults in their lives and that they were really grateful for their mentor. This student will be coming on our youth service trip at our church this year for the first time.

-Another shared that their mentor seemed like a mirror 20 years into the future and that they were grateful that they could learn from their mistakes in career and money.

-A student with difficulty in social interaction shared that they have done a lot of technology programs before, but that in our drone program they realized that they have never treated their instructors as people. They have treated them as things that were there to give them something.  I was floored.

-An adult shared how they blew it this year. They admitted that when they started as a Blacksmith in our program they treated like a program rather than an opportunity for human relationship. They think they drove their student off. I don't agree, but it was amazing to see a grown adult in our world own a mistake for a change in front of teenagers.

-A student, who came into our program making sure we knew they were an atheist, was deeply thankful that their mentor challenged them to look at their HIGHLY materialistic goals and ask the question, "Why?" over and over again. They are starting to see that self-actualization and achievement that does not take one's neighbor into account can be pretty empty.

-One student shared that they have never realized that they could accomplish goals before. She described her mentor/blacksmith as someone who is an excellent listener. She talked about engaging her first drama performance at school because of their relationship and how she has taken the first step to cosmetology school. She has discovered that she has agency. A year ago she was massively depressed.

-Another student spoke out loud. This would have been impossible two years ago. They are reading the gospels for the first time.

-One student, who used to be very shy, spoke with great confidence and relayed how they have learned to navigate conflict for the first time and that they are a respected member of their staff at a local fast food chain. They are about to join the Army. It was a hard decision, but we made sure not to get in the way of that choice and cheered for them as we sat around the table.

-Many adults shared as well. They discovered things about teens and their experience that they hadn't known. They talked about the progress they made on their own personal goals because they were accountable to the students as well. Some of them talked about the deep respect they have for what some of their students carry day in and day out. Some talked about realizing that the context that they grew up in was vastly different than that of their students. I have felt all along that this ministry was just as much about the adults as the teens involved.

All I can say is that I felt that we were sitting around a Passover table despite the Hawaiian pizza and video game sounds coming from the mini arcade in the next room. What I saw and heard was the sound of glory. Not our glory, but God's glory. Irenaeus once said, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive." I saw the glory of people coming alive. I think Jesus was delighted with what was happening in that room on Sunday.  It has been worth every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears. It has been worth every bit of risk.

Let's create some new ways of doing youth ministry...and ministry in general.

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!

Windshield Conversations...

Matthew Overton

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I have written several posts about how one of the biggest surprises about how we have tried to do youth ministry and social enterprise at my church (other than how hard it is!) is the impact I think it is having on adults. I have felt that doing a mentoring and business based model of youth ministry has drawn out the gifts of numerous adults in my church who probably would not have had anything to do with youth ministry previously. This sense has been affirmed over the last few weeks in particular.

A few weeks back I was in a parking lot in my truck when one of my mentors called. They wanted to clarify a few things about their student and also check in on their paperwork status. While I was trying to make it into my next appointment I found myself getting the chance to do what I enjoy most: Coaching someone in how to do ministry with teenagers. But, really I was coaching them in how to do ministry with their fellow human being. We talked about listening well and about the unique personality of their particular assigned student. We talked about what to do if any particular crisis issue came up and we revisited our abuse prevention protocols. I also assured them that I was just a phone call away.

The best part about the conversation was that this adult had no business doing ministry with teenagers, and I don't mean because of relative age. I have always used older adults more than younger ones in youth ministry. Age is somewhat irrelevant. What I mean is that this particular adult, while a WONDERFUL human being, just doesn't strike you as somebody you would expect to be hanging out with a teenager. They would be one of the last sort of folks I might recruit for a number of the normal elements that make up a youth ministry. This of course is probably more of an indictment of youth ministry than it is a characterization of the individual. The fact that our models couldn't accommodate the gifts and talents of this individual is egregiously bad. When it comes to youth ministry the hand has often been saying to the foot, "I don't need you."

And then this experience with this one adult seemed to repeat itself another three times in the next week.

What had happened in part was that in the 4th year of our program we doubled in size. We now have 23 students in the program and that has meant pulling from a wider crop of adults from our church and beyond for the first time. During the first three years we mostly had adults that had a good deal of experience with teens from our ministry community. They entered the program with a certain sense of confidence and veterancy in what they were doing. But, this year is requiring more encouragement, coaching, and listening. And it's a ton of fun. In many ways, I feel like I am doing exactly what I ought to be doing most of the time.

When we built the initial landscaping company, one of the things we talked about was "windshield time". We meant that while we were driving around we wanted to take advantage of conversations that would happen along the road with students. But, as it turns out adults need windshield time too. They want to help students. They want to do ministry. But, they just need somebody as a kind of reflective backstop. It's funny at times because I am coaching people who are nearly twice my age. In a lot of ways their nervousness reminds me of my experiences of doing hospital chaplaincy in my early 20's. I remember vividly feeling like I didn't know what to say, what to do, or whether I was going to really screw somebody up through ignorance and the sugary additive of good intentions. It's not a fun feeling, but it is a necessary stage of ministry.

This is what my adult mentors are learning.

1. Most of life's problems are not solvable by human beings. They are knots that are just too hard to untangle. This is partially why relationship with God is so powerful. God does the work we cannot. And while that can make us feel futile at times as servants of our neighbors it's also kind of a relief to know that we don't have to solve problems.

2. Ministry and service to one's neighbor always involve getting involved in someone's mess. When you really engage ministry you find out how most of our forms of service are actually designed to keep us distant from the recipient. We serve at arm's length in most contexts. it's safer that way. Real face to face ministry in which you actually have to just listen and walk with somebody through their crap is often messy. You are invited into the story of a neighbor and that is inherently risky. It might cost you some sleep, some money, time, and probably part of your heart.

3. You don't know your neighbor or their experience until you know them. When you engage ministry you quickly find that you don't have clue about other people's experiences. Most of what we live on in life are assumptions about others from a safe distance. Ministry has a way of disrupting our stereotypes and assumptions about people from the outside because it invites you into the inside of their lives. You end up in conversations, homes, and at tables that teach us just how ignorant we are. It's embarrassing and awkward, but it's good work and it is never finished. You are never done learning about the folks to which you minister.

4. Good listening is the best skill you have. People often get frustrated with how church folk and others will offer all kinds of platitudes to people in crisis ("God doesn't give you more than you can handle."). Often they do this because platitudes actually kind of work...when you keep your distance from your neighbor. They make you feel that you have helped your neighbor when in fact they mostly have just reinforced your distance from them. It's only actual ministry that exposes them for what they are: manure. Actual ministry, wading into the life of my neighbor reveals that reflective listening is the best, and often the only, balm we have. Good listening and good questions are the first tool in a pretty limited actual ministry tool bag.

In any event, these conversations have been fun. It's nice to be doing what you are supposed to be doing. It's nice to invite others into the holy mess that God invited me into some years ago.

Innovators Guest Post #7- Starting an Innovative Youth Ministry from Scratch

Matthew Overton

As a youth leader, have you ever thought or dreamed about starting up a youth ministry from scratch?  Maybe that represents a personal nightmare scenario, but for some youth workers it is a an experience that they have always wanted to try on for size.  Chris Cummings, who is our guest poster today is doing just that through a church plant in Tennessee.  Chris has been reading the posts on Youth Ministry Innovators for some time and gave me a call a couple of weeks ago.  Chris is in his most preliminary missionary stages of entering a new gospel environment. He is just beginning to discern what God might be calling him to do or not do in his new context.  Here is what he has to say.

"Hi, I’m Chris and I’m a Youth Pastor. 

I wanted to share about the new adventure that I am on, that I am not sure of the destination or even the journey to get there.  

Five weeks ago, I started at a new church plant in south Nashville, www.thevillagenashville.com.  The church launched in Jan, but I was just hired mid August to start the youth ministry from scratch.

I have been in youth ministry for over 10 years now, but I have never started one from scratch.  As I started to pray and dream about what God wanted this to look like, I knew that it couldn’t and shouldn’t look like just another youth ministry.  The mission of the church is to connect people who have left the church or have never connected to the church to make disciples who make disciples. 

If you are going to target people who have either left the church or have never been connected to one, it is pretty obvious that just doing the same ol’ thing isn’t going to cut it.

And here is where I find myself, in an amazingly missional and active church, without a building; planted in the middle of a fast growing area, hoping to reach as many teens and families as possible for the sake of the Kingdom.

As I have been working through what this is going to look like, I have come down to a couple things that I think God always uses to help guide us, which Frederick Buechner said so well: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”

1. DEEP HUNGER - What are the needs of the community?

In order to know this, we need to be go where people are and become great listeners.  We need to listen to the spoken needs and also the unspoken ones they might not know to express.  Asking questions like “What needs to be set right again?”  “Where is there brokenness?”  “What are the places that need a Band-Aid while also figuring out what system is causing the wounds?”

We hope to spend this fall and into the winter as listeners.

2.  DEEP GLADNESS - What are the gifts of our church?

We hope to spend the next few months gathering our group of teens and leaders, helping them discover their gifts, and then practicing them and looking at how they might meet the needs of our community.

What if we, the church, are gifted in each of our contexts to specifically meet needs in our community?  What if it is exactly as this intersection of deep hunger and deep gladness that we find our vision, purpose, and direction?

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor 12:7)

So this is where I am, we are, on a new adventure of seeking where God is at work and joining in for the redemption of our community and world.

BUT...

I can’t seem to shake everything that I have always known as youth ministry.  Youth Group, small groups, mission trips, fun nights, etc.  And I know that none of these are inherently bad, but I don’t want them to be the goal or even focus.

How do I lean into the intersection of deep hunger and deep gladness, while also creating a space for teens to grow as disciples that make disciples?

This is the question I am asking myself all the time, and it is the one guiding our choices.  What would you do?"

Rejection, Conflict, Social Entrepreneurship and You....

Matthew Overton

One of the main things that I am learning as I engage social entrepreneurship is how to deal with rejection on a regular basis.  For the last 10 years in particular I have worked in an institution ( the church) that is relatively static.  Most churches, at least the ones I have worked in, are fairly stable affairs.  There might be staff conflict or a budget crisis every so often, but generally WHAT the church does stays pretty stable.  Don't get me wrong, if you have a domineering head of staff who shoots down all your ideas, you can certainly experience rejection in the church.  Most frequently I have experienced it through the pain of folks that I care about within the life of a church choosing to go elsewhere. And of course there are many ministers/pastors that have subtly and not so subtly simply been asked to move on.  But, rejections come much more frequently, I think, doing entrepreneurial work.

As I have been building my lawn business I have learned to thicken my skin a bit.    Here are some ways that comes up.

1. Dealing with Conflict-You often have to have uncomfortable conversations with your customers.  This can be really tricky when you customer also attends your church.  As I have thought about the church and social entrepreneurship I have realized that for most ministers/youth workers to engage this way of doing ministry will require them to be pretty adept at resolving conflict.  Sometimes this can be hard. Especially if your congregant isn't good with conflict.

2.  Dealing with Rejection- As pastor, my call is at least in part, to ALL the sheep. You are supposed to remain at peace with people. If someone leaves your church it feels like a big loss.  In business it happens every day.  Sometimes people are picky. Sometimes you make mistakes that they just won't put up with. Sometimes the customer thinks they can get a great deal elsewhere. Sometimes they are sure they know what they are talking about and are sure you don't.  You really don't have that much control.  I have had to learn to just accept the rejections as they come.

3.  What Am I Worth?- One of the new features of rejection that I am learning in the marketplace is that not all rejection is bad. In fact, some of it is quite good!  I have had to learn the lesson that I need to set a price point that causes people to reject me. If I set my prices too low, I can't make my program for teenagers run.  So, I have to be prepared to charge what I think is right even if it is beyond what some people can pay. Again this is difficult if you are working with some of your church members. It's hard because they want to support your program, but they have NO CLUE about what you need to cover the basic costs of your business. The principle is pretty simple. If you are winning every bid that you put out there, you are probably bidding too low.

4. "It's Just Business"- The other part you have to get used to is that some folks just won't get the vision of what you are doing.  Sometimes it will be people in the church. My church has been great about this whole program! But, I think it might be a hard fight in other places.  I have often found that I have to tell customers that just because we are a landscaping company that works with teens and young adults doesn't mean they are going to get a basement deal.  If I played that game we would be broke and it would be a lose lose.  I can guarantee that the customer would expect great work even at a low price and when they didn't get it, they probably would just never call again. We try to do excellent work at a fair price. But, at the end of the day I have had to learn that for many customers, regardless of the nobility of our mission, this is "just business".

5.  Avoidance- I have learned in ministry that most people don't like conflict and that some will do anything to avoid conflict.  I have learned (and am learning) to deal with it head on.  Business/social entrepreneurship runs at a pace where avoidance simply will not work. If someone is frustrated or dissatisfied, you have to make the phone call...NOW!  If you don't your business and your reputation will suffer very quickly. The axiom in business is that the best time to take advantage of an opportunity is yesterday or now. I have begun to see conflict as an opportunity.

6. It's Not Me, It's You- One of my friends in ministry told me early in my career that as a pastor you have to remember that 80% of what people bring to you as your problem (or the church's problem) is really just their problem or hang up getting projected onto you or the institution.  This has been a hugely helpful principle in the church and beyond. It allows you to not take things personally and not to become a victim to unreasonable expectations by others.

The main thing that I am learning is just to silence that pastor voice inside me that says rejection is bad or that I messed something up. It is just part of engaging ministry in the realm of business. As my Dad would say, "It just goes with the territory."

True Grit: Why Jobs Based Youth Ministry Matters

Matthew Overton

This morning I read an article by Angela Duckworth (here). She is a psychologist who has done some research on why millennials struggle in the work place.  I have read bits and pieces of her work before and for full disclosure I have not read her full book.  Essentially Duckworth finds that students who have more "grit" seem to go much further in life than those who do not. They accomplish more of what they set out to.  Her research seems to indicate that the older a person gets the more grit they acquire. What it doesn't seem to be able to confirm or deny is whether millennials are any less gritty than their forebearers were at the same age...at least on the grit scale she developed. There are other studies she alludes to that seem to say that millennials aren't any less gritty though she can't test it on her scale.  Her main point is that they lack grit because they simply have not had enough life experience to develop passion and perseverance.

I agree with Duckworth in a couple of different areas.  One, I agree that none of this is the "fault" of millennials.  I get really sick of people defining the struggles that some millennials face in moralistic terms. Whatever millennials are and are not was never in their control when the shaping of their personalities happened.  If boomers want to blame millennials for anything they probably need to look squarely in the mirror.  Teens and young adults, whether millennials or gen Z, are simply the reflection of the adult world around them.  Second, I also agree that age does in fact increase our grittieness. This makes sense and her research backs it up. But, I think her study misses some other key research.  Namely that it isn't just a lack of gritty experiences that causes millennials to crumple.  It's aslo what they have been forced to focus on. Achievement.

In January 2010 there was a small article in Psychology Today looking at why it is that anxiety and depression rates have increased so significantly. It's end conclusion is that millennials and kids today don't get to play freely enough as children.  I think this is very true.  But llater in that article it describes a pivotal dynamic in that many students have been led to focus on externalities. They have been taught and have digested the narrative that the primary goal of their life is to find success.  The problem is that in order to be successful, you have to control things external to yourself.  You might have to achieve at school, work, or sports, etc.  The reality is that those external spheres only give us so much control. Luck/Chance is a major factor in how you do in those venues, though we are loathe to admit this as bootstrapping Americans. We like to think that we achieved everything on our own merit. This is why we struggle with understanding things like systemic racism, economic inequality, and unmerited grace.  Sometimes things just don't work out and it isn't always our fault. Sometimes things do work out and it wasn't all because of us.  Read the Psamls. People don't always get what they deserve. You can't control it. And that is scary.

Since we have so little control over the external it increases our anxiety when things go wrong. Setbacks are more depressing.  The more we try to achieve externally, the more we sense our lack of real control and our anxiety and depression go up.  The argument based on the research is that previous generations had more of a sense that their primary task in life was to shape (at least in part) their inner self.  The task of young adult was to become a well rounded human being. When my students hear "well rounded" they think about their menu of external achievements rather than about who they are as a person.  The difficulty is that we have a lot more control over this internal world than we do over the external one. We have much more power and say over who we are as human beings than what we do as human doings.  Therefore, we have less anxiety when we perceive that our main task in life is to figure out, "Who do I want to be as a human being?" rather than, "What do I want to achieve as a human being?"  I think we have pushed millennials to focus too much on their external world rather than their internal one.

So, as I look at Duckworth and the research by Twenge in the Psychology Today article, I tend to think that teens and young adults need two things. First, they need to work on developing their whole person.  In my case this has come primarily through my Christian faith life and certain practices of self awareness (think: Meyers Briggs and ancient prayer practices). Second, they need risky real world experiences that help them to develop grit. All of this relates exactly to the program that we have created in my local community and church.

Our jobs based program is designed to help provide experiences that involve accountability and an openness to failure. We believe that letting our students fail at things is a good thing.  We want to teach our students problem solving and a willingness to risk.  I think one of the key grit producing experiences that many of our millennials regularly miss out on is a job.  A teen job is just the sort of place where we learn the kinds of lessons that seem to be lacking for SOME millennials. Let me recount some of my experiences on the jobs I had in elementary school, high school, and college.

- While babysitting I experienced the rage of a less than sober Dad who came home from the USC vs. Notre Dame football game early. He chewed me out and fired me because the house wasn't as clean as he had hoped. Mostly he was mad his team lost. His wife later called and apologized. (Age 12)

- I learned about risk when my brother was driving too recklessly in our van while delivering newspapers and hit a bicyclist. It was partially the biker's fault and he was okay, but I learned about the power one had in a vehicle. (Age 10)

- I had doors slammed in my face by customers who didn't want to pay their newspaper subscription fees. (Age 10)

- I had to quit a warehouse job as a college student that I desperately needed because I couldn't load boxes on a conveyor belt fast enough. I just couldn't read the serial numbers quickly. I am bad with numbers. I couldn't believe I couldn't do it. I knew they would probably fire me and so I had to quit. The place was filled with odd ducks and cast offs who could do the work and I couldn't! I was smart!? (Age 20)

- I was chewed out by an L.A. county judge because I had not set up her classroom properly at our church. She later came back and apologized in one of the most genuine ways I have ever seen. She asked my forgiveness. It was a powerfully good lesson in Christian humility. (Age 15)

-I listened to Ramon the groundskeeper at my local tennis club tell me in Spanish about his descent into alcoholism after his son was shot in the face during a drive by shooting. After the loss of their son, his wife slipped into a massive depression and he drank a six pack before bed every night for 4 years just so that he could sleep. He later came to faith and he and his wife found hope again. I had to deal with anger as I watched people from my community treat him like dirt around our tennis club. Meanwhile tennis pros that supervised my sister and I were acting like children and ruining marriages for sport. (Age 19)

-I had to settle an open dispute between adults twice my age after they were yelling and shouting in front of a group of teens on a mission trip. I had to call out their behavior as childish and unnaceptable. It was one of the scariest moments of my life trying to be firm with an older adult. One of them had been a helicopter machine gunner in Vietnam. He later apologized for his behavior. (Age 20)

These probably represent about 1/10th of the experiences that I learned on the job.  These moments, and a hundred others, are crystal clear for me.  I cannot begin to account for how powerful it was for me to learn so many lessons.  What made it so doubly impactful was to combine those lessons with the stories of faith that I heard each Sunday about hope, injustice, suffering, joy, etc.  The medium of my Christian faith provided a kind of narrative for reflection that helped give meaning to the lived work experience.  Faith was the central cord that knit the tapestry of work experiences together.  Faith helped me answer the internal questions and the work experiences helped me to ask and answer the external questions of what I wanted to do. They also helped my answer the internal questions of who I did and DID NOT want to be as a human being.

Many of our students do not have jobs anymore and they miss out on the chance to observe adults.  We talk often in our churches about the importance of allowing students and adults to co-mingle inter-generationally. Too often we relegate our teens to silos where they are surrounded only by those their own age.  Many of us in the church have started to try and figure out how to provide inter-generational interactions to combat this siloing effect in our culture.  However, I have come to believe that allowing our teens experiences with excellent adult mentors isn't all that they need! They need negative examples too!  

Work is an important medium because teens need to observe some of the adult train wrecks that inhabit their world too! In fact how will they know how to savor and internalize the ways and habits of healthy adults if they haven't had the chance to juxtapose those good example with unhealthy ones?! One of the reasons that I came to appreciate my best mentors in life was because I also knew a host of not so great adults.  I think this is critically important.  My own jobs based ministry program is trying to emphasize mentoring. But, what we often miss is that our students don't just need GOOD examples of adults to observe.  They need terrible examples as well.  Our kids need a spectrum of adult observation that extends beyond parent, teachers, coaches, and pastors. I am not going to go find terrible adults for my program, but I hope my students go get jobs that expose them to lots of different sorts of people.  Too much of teen mentoring is steeped in adult fear. We want to keep our kids safe so we only allow them into spaces with adults who have it together (or appear to).  We need to risk allowing them the freedom to see more examples.

And this is where we can link back to the Psychology Today article.  The main argument of the author Peter Gray is that lack of play as children is a key factor in the spiking rates of anxiety and depression in young adults. Well, what makes free play so healthy is that it allows things like risk, autonomy, and problem solving. In other words it gives a childlike version of adult work! Work provides all of these things.  It may sound weird, but play is the work of children and work is the play of adults! Free play is actually practice for adulthood in many ways.

So, in the end, students do need more experiences to build grit.  I happen to believe that they can get those through work. But, they are not just lacking in gritty experiences. We need to combine grit producing experiences with processes that help them engage in internal self development and reflection. That development (and not just grittyness) will help them not to buckle as they enter adulthood.  I continue to believe that combining faith and jobs is a powerful way to go about shaping our students.  It is a superb medium for development of life and faith. I wonder if others of you experienced something similar in your life. If you did, I would love to hear about it.

Young Entrepreneurs and the Church: Guest Innovator Post #4

Matthew Overton

Meghan Easley is the Project Coordinator at the Fuller Theological Seminary Youth Ministry Institute.  She is also a graduate student at U.S.C working on a Masters Degree in Social Entrepreneurship. She has agreed to offer her perspective on social entrepreneurship/impact investing and the church. She also reflects on why the church needs to incorporate this way of thinking about it's missional identity in order to reach young adults who desperately want to impact their world...and remain a part of the church they have loved.

I write from a myriad of perspectives, to a myriad of audiences. I'm the 24 year old you desperately want in your pews and engaged in your ministries. I am the graduate level student of theology, social entrepreneurship, and young people. I have my fingers on the pulse of the academic side of church, impact and young people, and breathe it in everyday as a young adult that all of my professors are writing and lecturing about. I'm the fly on the wall, engaged in two worlds oftentimes disconnected but looking for a bridge.

 

While we're mostly a group of dreamers with unrealistic visions for how early adulthood is supposed to unfold, my generation of young people are desiring to make a difference. Both Millennials and women are entering the global workforce in larger numbers than ever before, and within a few decades, baby boomers will transfer $30-40 trillion of their wealth to this new generation. With the majority of wealth control in the hands of young adults and women, and their commitment to jobs that are focused around creating value, the marketplace can't help but stop and listen to the growing noise in this arena. Few can deny that young people are eager to make a difference, and the church would be foolish not to stop and pay attention.

 

There is the undeniable fact that the church has long been a place of community, spiritual formation, and support for people. I grew up in the church, and have many wonderful memories of the bonds of true community I found there. The spiritual growth I experienced is truly something church does well and reminds me of each week. But as a young person looking to discover a career and a calling, the church has largely abandoned me. Less than a year into a degree I thought would lead me to a pastoral staff role, I realized I did not feel called to dedicate my life in a predetermined course of ministry. I began studies at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California Soon after, which revealed new sides of myself that tied my desires for social impact in with a marketplace-driven formula. This has changed everything for me, and I know I am only one among many in the younger generation that is seeking after impact with creative and sustainable manifestations. 

 

Yet my church continues to be a place for my heart. I am engaged in activities of service where I can support the spiritual development of my peers or youth, I can paint a sidewalk for a service day and I can usher on a Sunday service greeting team. Is there a place for me to wrestle with my desire to live a meaningful life, faith and work?

 

My everyday life demands a place to wrestle with the large questions of values and vocation. I sit in class after class at business school surrounded by people longing to make a difference, live a full life, and care for the people and places that are most important to them. Most are not people of faith, but are driven by the gut-wrenching feeling that they can do something to change the world. It is admirable, and they are constantly proving they have what it takes to impact others through development and impact enterprises. But I can't help but realize their desires to help are in no way driven by a vision of God's kingdom or the goodness of his created order.

 

Why such disconnect? Why are the most passionate people about changing the world not in our churches? What is it about church that does not resonate, that causes the chasm between the impact enterprise world and the churches in our communities? My church inspires me to examine my life, my faith and the ways I am embodying the life of Christ. But, for the most part, my church does not care about how I use my career.

 

In my mind, this is a shame and is a continued nail in the coffin of the growing irrelevance of the church to emerging adults. We do not want more programs, more volunteer days, or more Sunday School classes. We want causes, we want innovation, we want spaces crafted for us to dream, reflect and do the things we are most passionate about and cannot not do with our lives. We want the intersection of should and must to carry the great weight of both our faith and our work. What happens when they don't overlap? In some cases, young people feel the pull of the Monday-Friday workweek carrying greater significance than sticking around for a weekend church service.

 

My hope is that whether you are a senior pastor, an elder, or the college or youth pastor, is to look around you at the emerging adults in your midst. Look at the passions they have, the books they are reading, and the things they post about on Instagram. These young people, the ones about to accept the biggest wealth transfer in history, will be making significant decisions about the life of the church with their wallets and how they spend their time. Their values matter. Their voices carry increasing weight, and it is to the detriment of the church not to listen to what they most value and want to spend their time doing. This is not about getting us back into your pews. This is about forming us into your communities to grow, build and dream with both young and old. This is the revolutionary concept of social entrepreneurship in the church: our communities have older generations with a lifetime of professional business experience seated next to the young people looking to make a difference in the world. It gives opportunity to tap into the gifts of the older generation along with the budding talent of emerging adults. To shape a vision for life that is not categorized into church here and my work over there, but a vision where our lives and deepest passions can bring economic and community development from within the walls of our churches.

 

Church, I am your biggest supporter, the one rallying behind you and recognizing that you have played a significant role in who I am and what I choose to pursue with my life. But if you want to keep me around, you have to prove to me that you care about my passions and the career I am seeking to develop. We have the potential for great partnership, but I need to know that you care and are willing to devote the time and resources necessary to make it happen. I propose that the untapped field of social impact is the very place for us to play and innovate together, crafting a holistic picture of transformed lives and communities.

Let the dreamers and doers in your congregation find space to delve into their deepest passions, to figure out what they must do with their one life and make it a sustainable reality.

Guest Innovator Post #3: The Beacon House

Matthew Overton

The post below is a gues post from Jim McLaughlin who runs the Beacon House. Beacon is a young adult home for young men in Vancouver Wa. Vancouver has one university and one junior college, but no housing for students. Many students want to move out from mom and dad, but have no way to do so....and rents are soaring. Many churches struggle with forming a young adult ministry in their town because of the sporadic schedules of their college age young adults and because there is no way to gather them consistently. This might be a way forward.  It's a pretty cool way to start a young adult ministry.

 

Exhausted and getting ready to enjoy a little ‘me’ time during my Christmas vacation, I got the millennial version of the bat signal—a text simply saying, “Jim there is water shooting out of the faucet at the front of the house.”  Now, if there is anything an aging youth and young adult minister doesn’t want to do on his vacation it is go to work, but as the minister in charge of the young adult ministry at our church, known as the Beacon House, I had no choice.  So got up and prepared to get soaked on a very chilly but slightly above freezing Monday night in January.  It turned out that an outdoor faucet had been capped and the cap had burst, due to the below freezing temps the day before.  The repair was fairly simple once I found a replacement cap and the water shut off valve, but I left the house thinking three things: 1) how long has this been shooting water? 2) Why did no one else call me during the day? 3) Am I about to have frostbite on my feet like Adam Sandler’s character in Mr. Deeds? (A further investigation revealed that is had indeed been shooting out during the day, but none of the residents seems to think that the noise was worth investigating.  Also, I did not get frostbite.)

                The Beacon House is currently the primary vehicle of our young adult ministry at our church.  It is an experiment in combining ministry with residential living.  Like most churches, we don’t have large bags of money lying around to try experiments.  What we do have is a session (governing body of a Presbyterian church) that is willing to experiment.  They allowed us this experiment in part, because we told them that it would have no cost to the church.  We owned the house with no mortgage, which was an asset.  Our “residents” pay rent at just slightly below fair market value, and in exchange for living in the house agree to do “ministry” in the community, live by a covenant agreement they have created and meet together weekly and with me, one on one, regularly.  All of the rent money received is used for the ministry, and to take care of the house, so far at zero cost to the church (there was initial start up cost covered, which was later recouped through rents).

                We decided to focus on young men, because they were the ones still around.  Statistically, young men are less likely to attend, graduate, and even pursue continuing education after high school.  Increasingly, they are being left behind in life, struggling to move forward in more traditional ways.  Very intentionally we wanted to create a ministry that truly met these young men where they were.   

Where they were, was frankly, sometimes frustrating.  For the first few months, the house was a mess.  No one was willing to step up and take responsibility for things.  When something went wrong, most of them assumed, someone would come by to take care of it.  On the surface it appeared they were exactly the caricatures of the millennial generation: clueless young adults lacking skills, experience, and motivation.  As a blue collar kid from rural Pennsylvania, it was an anathema to me.  When something went wrong at our house, we fixed it.  There was no money to hire someone to do it; so I learned, when something goes wrong, you have to figure it out yourself.  If I didn’t know it, there was always someone in a larger social circle who could. Normally, they would do it, if I would help.  However, there was one thing that was made abundantly clear, if something needed done, I better take the initiative to get it done.  Even if I tried and failed, there would be some teasing, then someone would show me how it was done.  I learned things because I was constantly bumping into people doing things.

Coming from this background, I just expected they would know the basics of life, and what they didn’t know they would figure out. I was wrong.  It was confusing and frustrating. until we realized something extraordinary:  they actually didn’t know what to do.  Laziness was not the problem.  Lack of motivation wasn’t the problem.  They were completely overwhelmed by adult life, because they hadn’t learned many of the skills, I had taken for granted.  We needed a different approach. 

These young men had not had the benefit of a large community helping to teach them about life.  The adults in their lives were legitimately too busy, and the extended family support, the default environment in my life, was not there.  What they needed was an environment where they could have permission to experiment and fail, where they could learn, and where they would be pushed towards their best selves in a loving gracious way.   Rather than punish or lecture, we decided to intentionally teach and mentor them in important areas of life:

·         Money management

·         How to live with others

·         Conflict management

·         Household skills: bill paying, cleaning, cooking

·         Life Coaching

·         Service to the community

·         Problem Solving

·         Disciple making

·         Accountability

  

Seven months into this experiment our residents are learning to ask the questions, ‘What is God showing me?’ and, ‘What am I going to do about it?’  They have grown, identified their individual hurdles and foibles, found employment, faced disappointments, had conflicts, and have talked through difficult choices.  They have learned that they are not alone. There is a community of people who cares about them and their development, not because of what they can do for us, but because we recognize they are not someday adults, but children of God, just like us.  It hasn’t all been perfect. One of our residents after personal struggle, decided a few months in, that this wasn’t for him and moved out.  Obviously, we were disappointed, but, quickly decided, if we aren’t reaching out to young men, who could possibly “fail” then we weren’t really doing the ministry of Jesus Christ.  As word has gotten out, we are having more and more young men interested in being a part of this ministry.  It seems to have struck a chord. 

I will end the way I started, with a quick story.  There are two toilets in the house, one in a traditional bathroom, and the other awkwardly stuck in a mud room.  Not in a stall, just sitting out on against the wall.  It’s odd.  The guys think it is hilarious.  This toilet broke.  During one of our meetings I was reminded that it wasn’t working.  When they tried to flush, the handle just turned without doing anything.  It’s an easy fix.  I began to say I would show them how to fix it, when one of the residents stopped me and said, “Can you wait.  I think I know how to fix it, and want to give it a try first.”  That is our ministry in a nutshell:  to move these young men from passive observers in life and faith to active participants, by walking with them, encouraging them, and giving them a place where they can take initiative, knowing they don’t have to go it alone, because there is an entire community behind them; to move them from, “Jim, we have a problem,” to “I think I know how to fix that, and I want to try it first.”