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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: family ministry

Failure, False Facades, and Youth Ministry Innovations....

Matthew Overton

I was reading an article in the Atlantic the other day (you can read it here). It was written by a Mom who is struggling watching her child lose her love of learning.  The diagnosis is that the loss of love for learning that she was witnessing was essentially a byproduct of that child's loss of the willingness to fail and risk. The teen sensed the need to perform, achieve, and succeed to meet up with her parents' desires/fears.  I have argued that this plagues many of the students that I work with.  Many of them walk around with this notion that they "are" this or that. They "are" an artist or they "are" an A student.  These identities are not really learned as much as they are bequeathed by their parents in an effort to be encouraging.  I find myself doing this all the time with students and my own children. Ultimately these identities become this millstone around their necks.  They have to maintain this image of themselves that they have been told over and over, at all costs.

It's a bit like going to the studio sets at Universal Studios.  If you have ever been there you will know what I mean. Universal has this wonderful way of building these fake neighborhoods and cityscapes that look remarkably real. It's crazy! Especially when you are a child! What is so weird about it is how authentic it all looks. Check out the picture below of a New York City street.

The problem that is so creepy is that a closer glance quickly reveals how messed up it all really is. Things have kind of an awkward and claustrophobic feel to them. It's really real...but it isn't.  All you end up with, factually, is an empty lifeless neighborhood of facades. And this is what some of our students (particularly in the higher achieving groups) sense about their world. They know that they might NOT actually be a great artist or awesome scholar. So, they become terrified of taking any risks in order that those facades can won't come crumbling down. They want to make sure that they achieve and don't disappoint their parents.

So, as we think about innovation in youth ministry we need to keep this trend in mind. A number of people and places are talking about making room for doubt in youth ministry.  But, one of the main doubts that teenagers have is not just about who God is, or if God is, but about who THEY are and who THEY are becoming.  We need to create spaces for self-doubt and the not-yet formed teenager.  We need to make sure that we have corners of our ministry that allow students to fail.  The main problem there of course is that will mean developing ministries that allow students to engage in projects in a hands on sort of way.  They will need to be able to have ownership over things. Maybe worship, music, student leadership, or some kind of missional endeavor.  We have to allow them the joy of attempting and falling short.  The joy of "being in the arena" amidst all the grit, terror, and struggle.

Part of the reason that I think a jobs based youth ministry might work and why I think social/missional entrepreneurship is so critical to the North American Church is that it opens up just these sorts of horizons to us. Social Entrepreneurship allows for small scale missional endeavors of all kinds to take place in our world! They are just the sorts of endeavors that require hands on work!  Jobs allow teens to fail in all sorts of small and correctable ways.  They need have to learn to problem solve and risk. They have a chance to observe lots of different kinds of adults, and that is critical to them deciding who they want to become and don't want to become.  Jobs based Youth Ministry is going to need to have adult feedback loops who also help mentor them and help them process their mistakes rather than avoiding them. 

I continue to believe we need new experiments (lots!) in the area of ministering to teenagers. Whatever those experiments are, they need to allow students to problem solve and fail. My hope is that as social entrepreneurship becomes a necessity in order for the American church to maintain its Kingdom work in the world, that youth ministry will begin to be populated with more and more niche ministries that value just these sorts of virtues.

Youth Philanthropy Academy-Part 2 A Sunday Morning Revolution

Matthew Overton


So, as I had mentioned in an earlier post about a week ago I went to Princeton to help consult on what it would look like to implement a philanthropic initiative in the local church.  Princeton is utilizing a model provided by the non-profit, "Giving Point" in Atlanta, GA.  They are trying to see how a similar model might work in the local church.  The plan is to provide a week long academy experience that will help students with philanthropic ideas to execute on their vision.  I would like to explain what this looks like in my church.  The initiative below represents what I would call my second innovation in our youth ministry. The whole thing could go down in flames, but it is looking really promising. See what you think!?

About a year ago I decided that I was fed up with Sunday School as I knew it for our high school students. I had tried everything. We had done curriculums on justice. That was okay.  We tried organizing small groups, but the consistency of the student and leader attendance was low.  We had some luck with Confirmation and with Sexuality courses, but it was fleeting.  I was tired of helping students to think and live missionally only through doing a work service trip once a year. I started to wonder if we couldn't engage students more powerfully by empowering them to enact Kingdom justice instead of just learning about it.  So we started what we call, "The Project".

First, we gathered the students around learning and conversation.  I told the students that the objective was for them to develop an idea to serve the larger community and that in order to do it, we would need them to actively participate and lead.  We began reading excerpts of Robert Lupton's, "Toxic Charity" and watched the video series, "Poverty Inc."  Both of these look at how the church's ham fisted attempts at helping our neighbor have often done more harm than good.  In particular we focused in on Lupton's 6 principles of compassionate service.

Next, we looked in depth at the various charities in our communities to see if any of their missions grabbed the students' attention or hearts.  We also wanted to see if there were ways that we could adequately serve these organizations.  At this point we had about 8-12 students in the room (out of about 35 high schoolers at our church).  What we found is that while our students liked some of the organizations, often those organizations often did not have service opportunities that aligned with the schedules of our students or numbers.  We estimated that we would get 20-25 students to show up for a service project and most groups couldn't handle that number. Even if they could they could only do so occasionally and our students didn't want to do "hit and run" ministry. The kind  where we show up, work, and take off.

From there the students decided that since outside organizations didn't seem to fit our mission that we should look specifically at things that the church was already engaged in.  In the end they decided that they wanted to focus on our neighborhood middle school that we know as "Mac".  This process of learning and thinking took about 4 months and when summer hit we were forced to take a break simply due to our summer schedule at the church.

When the Fall came around we re-launched the whole thing with a video clip home to parents and a couple of emails.  We made scripture a priority and began each session with about 15 minutes of bible study related to mission and justice.  Then we dove in to an agenda.  Here is when things took off. I am just going to list these in bullet points.

1. Once students knew they were actually going to DO something and be in charge, they started to show up. 9:00 a.m. suddenly didn't seem so early. We now average about 18-20 students per week.

2. Adults got interested. I simply invited them to come and watch what we were doing. Pretty soon I was going out of town and they were helping to facilitate. We went from 1-2 showing up sporadically to 4 committed adults with another 2-3 engaged around the edges.  One of them just wandered in one Sunday because he had heard about what we were doing. Another one just hangs around before class starts because he is so interested.  We keep asking the question, "Who do we need in the room?" My goal is currently for the class to stop being a high school Sunday School and instead become "The Project". I see a place where adults and students work together to seek out God's justice.  I want this class to discern the missional calling for the WHOLE church and not just the youth group.  I think teenagers can do it with enough focus, prayer, and some adult encouragement.  My suspicion is that adults will continue to want to be a part of that.

3.  We did outreach. We have had the local school Community Coordinator in to speak with the students so that they can start to get a grasp on what is really going on at the school.  They plan to have others in the class over the next few weeks. Principals, counselors, and teachers.  It's kind of a weekly design thinking brainstorm.

4. We gave them roles. Together the students helped develop certain key officer roles that help the meetings go forward each week. They elected their peers and those peers set the agenda, manage the budget, take notes, do grunt work, and work the problem that is in front of us. The moment we elected officers I moved myself from the front of the room to the side and eventually to the back. They are in charge. Each week they learn important lessons about leading a group.  It's great. We didn't want it too formal and serious (since this is a youth ministry venture) so we developed better titles for each of their roles.

     A. Czar (This explains the hat above. I bought these for our fearless leaders!)

     B.  Vice Czar

     C.  Secretaries of Defense (Takes notes)

     D.  KGB (Adults that supervise and offer input as needed)

      E.  Queen of Coin (Treasurer)

      F.  The Peasants

5. We Threw Mud at the Wall. Once we had the location of our mission and started to look at the issues they were facing we told the students to Dream Big. We challenged them to answer the question, "How would you solve this host of problems if I gave you $100,000?"  I happen to believe that $100,000 is a very achievable number. The stuff they came up with was amazing! They tackled distribution problems, looked at solar solutions, and have even considered buying a laundro-mat and combine it with a tutoring center. I am telling you, this is the best stuff I have ever heard of and it is impressive to watch this.


The Senior Summit

Matthew Overton

Ah yes, the joy of graduation!!!!

Ah yes, the joy of graduation!!!!

One of our youth ministry innovations that is about 4 years old now is what we call the "Senior Summit".  A few years back we attended one of the Sticky Faith Cohort Sessions at Fuller Theological Seminary. One of the things we gleaned from that process was that we needed to prepare our Seniors for their next phase of life better.  If you hadn't noticed, seniors in high school get pretty anxious these days during their last year. It manifests itself in all kinds of crazy. About a month after the conference some people at my church tried to see how we could walk with our students through the crazy.

Two of my volunteers, one an amazing teacher and single mom and the other an amazing mom and a radically committed school counselor, banded together to create what we called, "The Senior Summit." Essentially the Summit is a 6 week course that helps our seniors transition to their young adult years in life and faith. We have brought in local college professors to share, former students, and had separate breakout sessions for parents (who also struggle with these transitions).  My biggest role in the whole project has really been to get out of the way.  You can read an article that our counselor wrote for Fuller's blog here.  But, it's the fruit that we are starting to see that is so impressive.

What has changed is that these two women now have connection with our post college students.  They also serve as a kind of feedback loop to me dropping occasional stories about what those students are working through. This has in turn caused me to stay more in touch with our students each year than I ever have before.  I think previously where many of our students felt like their parents, communities, and churches kind of made them walk the plank out into life, they now feel like we are rooting for them along the way.  I think it has caused some of our other adults to realize that for better or for worse, this generation of students needs a faithfulness that doesn't stop with a high school diploma.  This last week our middle schoolers wrapped up about 25 care packages to send off to our students at school.  They prayed for each one and included a note during their Wednesday night small group times.  We have received a number of calls and texts thanking us for this week and that too has provided another point of connection.

The lesson that I continue to learn in ministry is that the church's job is to remain.  We need to stand there amidst all the crazy, the abandoments, the proclamations of disbelief, and how we should have done better and simply refuse to walk away. We lovingly must let others walk away, letting them do their crazy without being afraid, or wringing our hands, or constructing factory conveyor belt like programs to maintain influence and relevancy.  There is after all nothing more real, tangible, and relevant than someone who just faithfully remains. Everybody needs a good harbor in life. One to help them re-fit. One to teach them how to sail in every kind of weather. One to receive them when they stagger back looking for a port. Two of my volunteers built one of those harbors and my church is learning how to play in it.