Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

 

805 Columbia Ridge Dr
Vancouver, WA, 98664
United States

51811 seattle 0202_2.jpg

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 that Works

Windshield Conversations...

Matthew Overton

Forge 2018.jpg

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?"

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.

Bootstrapping, Cheat Codes, and Missional Entrepreneurship

Matthew Overton

Game-Genie-SNES.jpg

We are at this tricky spot as a venture where we don't quite have enough hours/funds to pay a full time employee, but we almost need one in order to keep up with business and to continue to help business expand.  I have been running this landscaping company while working a full time job with a high burnout rate for the last year.  It hasn't been easy.

So a few weeks ago I phoned and met with a couple of friends to talk about how we might fund this project further.  I had to figure out whether I needed for profit investment or non profit grant funding and how to get it.  It was urgent because I have a sense that if I have to work the current model for another 2 years let's say, I might just implode.  It is high energy. The basic answer I got back from my friends was that I need to work my model until it runs smoothly and shines.  Whether for profit or non profit, no one really wants to fund an experimental venture.  They want to come in when there is significant proof of viability.  They told me that I would have to bootstrap until my model sang.

This was a hard word to receive in some ways. Bootstrapping your venture when you are 24 is one thing. Doing it when you are 36, have two kids, and are already working a job that is 60 hours/week is another.  Most mornings I am up at about 4:15 working on writing or the business. I often finish the day with a few emails or bids for jobs to customers.  If I could eat Ramen and work on this stuff in an apartment 12 years ago it would have been a bit easier I think.  But, in a lot of ways the answer I received about funding was something I already knew.  There are no shortcuts in starting a good business.

When I was 11 my good friend J.P. got a new device for his Nintendo called the Game Genie. It was this crazy thing that allowed you to plug in cheat codes to any game that you had. You could add lives, weapons, etc. etc. etc. until Kingdom come.  It described itself as a "Video Game Enhancer". It was anything but.  What I quickly learned was that short cutting the game did two things.  First, I tired of all the games quickly. Since there was no challenge they made the video games boring in a hurry. You never had to earn anything through game play. Second, the more I cheated the worse I became at the games. I loved playing sports games on my Nintendo, but what I discovered was that after using the Game Genie I was worse at those games. My friends would beat me when we played once I had used the Genie. I had gotten sloppy and learned bad habits because I had been using shortcuts.  This lesson is true for any startup social entrepreneurship.

If I had started with a 100K grant instead of 15K of my own money, this whole venture would have been hopeless. Part of the success of what I am doing IS the fact that I have had to learn it all myself. I had to learn to use the tools, how to walk into a local business and sell my idea, learn how to fix my equipment, learn how to make jobs more efficient, learn what the life skills trainings look like and so on. And most importantly, I have had to learn exactly what the work is that my employees are doing. If I hadn't done all those reeking filthy runs to the dump with wet leaves and rotten grass myself how would I know what to pay my crews?  I also wouldn't have had the relational time with our first 5-6 students to feel out what we need to be training them on in terms of life and faith.  What are their strength points that need to be honed further? What are the weak points that need to be addressed?  The point is that every little bit of learning as you bootstrap is exactly what you need. I think the best sorts of things in life are built one bloody step at a time.  It is the recipe for all things good.

My hope is that we will either get enough business that I can bring someone on full time or that we can get some small funding in the near future.  Yet, as much as I want to move onto that second phase where I can hand chunks of this business off, I also can see why understanding my operation and working my operation without any cheat codes or short cuts really matters. I am prayerfully gauging whether it might just be critical for me to bootstrap this thing for a bit longer. For now, I had better get outside and pray while I am swapping the wheels on my Honda lawn mower. The drive system isn't engaging and I have no idea why. Did I mention that I am not REALLY mechanical?

 

Blessings on your innovations, risks, and adventures! May you follow the Kingdom as it unfolds before you!

Jonny Baker on Grief, Newness, and Missional Entrepreneurship

Matthew Overton

 

"There is a growing consensus that business as usual in youth ministry won’t do, that things have got somewhat stuck. I actually get rather excited when things get stuck because it tends to generate energy - energy that comes from frustration, from anger, from passion, from grief, from saying enough is enough. When things are ticking along this doesn’t seem to happen in the same way. If we have the courage to lean in to this frustration it can generate energy for change, for newness to come."

A friend put me onto a post from Jonny Baker on Premier Youth Work.  I have followed Jonny Baker's work in the church in the U.K. for about the last 10 years and his stuff is highly innovative and amazingly creative.  In many ways, the church in the U.K. is miles ahead of us in North American in terms of how they are creating.  The post is excellent and it eventually works its way around to social entrepreneurship, or missional entrepreneurship, and youth ministry specifically.  It's pretty cool stuff.  I also really appreciate the notion that it is our frustration and grief that leads us to act beyond the existing frameworks of youth ministry.  The grief that led me forward was the economic downturn and a housing crisis that lead to a creative purchase and a re-model. Oh yeah, and here is the post. Also here is the link to the conference that Jonny Baker helps. That link is here.  Are we frustrated and grieved enough yet to make any changes to the way we are doing ministry with teens inside and outside the church?

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

Matthew Overton

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

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

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

-I researched the differences online.

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

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

-I spoke with an attorney.

-I read a couple of books.

-I prayed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So to put it succinctly: I went for profit.

God bless and keep innovating!

 

A Year Up

Matthew Overton

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

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

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

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