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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: innovative youth ministry

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,  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.


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?"

Upper Left Part #2- How to Launch a Missional Entrepreneurship

Matthew Overton

In my last post on this a few weeks ago I wrote about how the Northwest is a pretty good incubator for social entrepreneurship. I also said that I would write a follow up post on how one might go about launching a social entrepreneurship out of a church.  That would be this post.

I cannot possibly contain all the steps and hurdles that I have cleared and fallen over along the way. All I want to do here is speak to the formation of the idea and how to execute on it in the most basic terms.  My hope is that this can be a blessing to folks who are trying to figure out how to fund their own youth ministry budgets or even just fund their own jobs in some churches around the United States. More on demographics, dollars, and youth ministry in a bit.

STEP 1- Inventory Yourself

Okay, so this might be the hardest and most spiritual part of the whole process.  My sense is that a few things have to happen here.  First, you need to have done enough spiritual reflection that you know yourself.  I don't think MOST people who engage in social entrepreneurship are going to be able to build a social entrepreneurship out of something they know nothing about (like a pay as you go restaurant). You either need something you know or something that a whole bunch of people in your church community know better than you. You need to know what your own gifts, talents, and passions are as well. Do you Myers Briggs again. Reflect on your own missionary journey. What aspects of serving Jesus and the world light you up in a way that nothing else does? What thing would you be willing to sacrifice blood, sweat, and tears for?  If you don't know these things about yourself it is going to be a lost cause.  If I didn't love my idea and have some roots in it there is no way that I would be willing to wake up at 4 a.m. to work on it and smell like old grass and manure when I go to my church job. You better know the field and be willing to go to the cross for it.

STEP 2- Embed Yourself-

You will also need to be embedded somewhere for a while.  I don't necessarily mean geographically, but that probably will be important. Essentially we are talking about good missional principles here. In order for us to sense God's call to engage a particular group of people or neighborhood or issue we are going to need to sit with it for a while. Like a GOOD missionary we will need to reflect on the issue, know the people, know their longings, and know the place that we are about to interact with before we can even get an inkling as to what God might be calling us to do in that place. You want to make sure that you love the place/problem enough that you aren't engaging it from a place of pity, but from a place of understanding. You want to build your entrepreneurship by taking advantage of the strengths of a place rather than its weaknesses. The best kind of justice is not enacted from pity but from mutual love and  mutual exchange. Learn more about this concept here.

STEP 3- Build a Team-

Anyone with half a brain can tell you that in the era of wikinomics, you don't have all the information you need in you or in your church. And you never will.  You are going to need to put together a group of folks who have the skills you need to get this idea off the ground. My team was filled with small business owners and folks who were interested in mentoring teenagers.  I needed folks who understood business. But, I also created a whole web of folks electronically that I could go to for key conversations. I had non-profit folks. I had folks who worked in justice in the third world. I had folks who knew the local school districts and people in them.  The strangest questions will come up along the way and you are going to need strange answers. Make sure you build a team first.

STEP 4- Formulate a Vision Together-

Your Team is never going to be able to move forward with a new idea if they aren't on the same page. They need to share your passion and heart and it is going to take a while to help them do this. We are still working on ours over a year into starting.  Your startup needs to answer five basic questions before it will go.

     1. What is the clear picture of our future together? (Vision)

     2.  Why do we exist? (Mission/Purpose)

     3.  What will we do to accomplish that? (Program)

     4.  What won't we compromise over? (Values)

     5.  How will we measure success? (Metrics)

These question will be critical because without them, your team won't know if they are doing their job and won't have a sense of where they are headed or how they should be heading there! This process serves as a phenomenal filter that helps you decide what you do and don't want to do as an entrepreneurship. Certain things will fit with your organization and certain things won't. Certain people will fit on your team and certain people won't. You won't know how to make those choices without doing this work. It may take a long while and it won't totally ever be finished. IT IS WORTH EVERY MINUTE YOU SPEND ON IT.

STEP 5- Have a Meeting with Law and Tax Folks

At some point you are going to need to have a sit down with some legal and tax folks. They are going to keep you legal and also help you think about how to structure your organization in the ways that are most helpful for you to create change quickly and effectively. Social impact is great, but it will never be as effective if you are wrangling with state labor laws you weren't aware of!  These folks might be a part of your core team or maybe not. A human resources person might not be bad either. They helped me create an employee handbook and understand a bunch about employees and benefits.

STEP 6- Pitch It To Your Church

At some point you are going to have to sell your church on this thing. It probably will come way earlier in the process than this. Here is how this step works:

     A.  Bring your head of staff in the loop early if you have one. You need this person in the loop and it might be the most important pitch you make!

     B.  You need to know whether your church understands why social entrepreneurship needs to happen in the American church. They may not even realize that the church as we know it is dying under their feet. What you are pitching might sound like a trip to Mars. That isn't their fault, but it is your job to solve.  I understood intuitively why social entrepreneurship needed to happen in the American church, but I had to explain it to my board of elders.  Thankfully, I am really good at explaining macro concepts in clear and concise ways.

     C. You are going to need a business plan of two years. I had NEVER even seen a business plan before I borrowed one and adapted it. It was hard, but I did it with the help (build a team!) of my brother in law.

     D.  You will also need an F.A.Q. document. Mine asked and answered 40 questions. You will need to anticipate the fear this will strike in your church. People might wonder if you are leaving. They might wonder if this is just a money making scheme. They might wonder if you are going to blow up their beloved youth group. The will wonder how much of your time and their money is this going to cost them.  (Don't freak out though, they might also wonder how they can jump on board!)  Anticipate the fear based questions and don't react. Welcome those questions. They are going to help you refine your idea even further and will help you increase your social impact. These people in that room are going to share this idea! So, it is critical that you nail this pitch because they are going to be your early ambassadors. You need not just their blessing, but their buy in. If they can't see the vision this thing will blow up in your face down the road.  Heck, maybe invite one of them onto your team!?

STEP 7- Pray and Buckle Up

This thing is going to be a crazy ride of ups and downs. Remember when I mentioned finding something that is worth your blood, sweat, and tears? It will be filled with that, so you better steel yourself.  Prayer under-girds all of this. I pray for the right leaders to show up. I pray for ways forward. I pray that the social mission stays in front of me. I pray that God helps me find financial solutions that I can't see yet. I pray that my equipment doesn't break. I pray that I will be ready to shut this thing down if my wife and family decided they hate it. I pray that God spreads this vision like wild fire throughout the American church so that we can engage the world where God wants us to. And I pray that as it spreads that God helps us to do it with integrity and transparency. There is a lot of potential danger in business plus church.

I pray that God blesses you as you dream and launch. This enterprise has been the greatest blessing in my 16 years of ministry. I have never felt more like an evangelist. It is exhaustingly good news. May you and I proclaim it in ways that do the most good for God's Kingdom.



Father Boyle on Staggering Backwards into Something...

Matthew Overton

Father Boyle has been an inspiration to the ministry we are working on at our church and I am thrilled that somehow we have secured him to come and speak here next fall. I have no idea how that has happened!  I was struck this morning by reading this article in Duke Divinity's Faith and Leadership publication. Whenever I read about Boyle I am usually struck by a few things he says, but this quote made me smile because it encapsulates the feeling I have had over and over again over the last year and a half.  The feeling of "How did this happen?" "Maybe this is a good idea?!" Is this really real ministry?! and "God, I am terrified because I don't know where this is going."  Here is what he said about how Homeboy Industries "happened":

"A lot of times, people ask, “How did you ever think this up?” And the truth is, nobody would have thunk this up. I certainly didn’t. But you evolve, and you walk backwards into things, and the next thing you know, “Oh my God, here we are. How did that happen? How did we get to a place like this?” It’s like what E.L. Doctorow said about writing a novel. You’re on a country road, there are no lights, it’s a moonless night, and you can only go as far as your headlights take you. And then you get there, and then you can only go as far as your headlights will take you again. And that’s kind of like the story of Homeboy."

That is how I feel all the time lately. I feel like this stuff that we are working on fell out of the sky on top of me and I can't decide whether I should run from it or go after it some days.  It is nuts. Last week someone called who had been reading my posts and said that he was trying to build his own teen mentoring program around fishing Pike out of the Snake River. The government will pay to have the fish removed. The connection was obvious. Adult fishermen/women fishing with teens, doing faith and life together. I was so floored that I didn't know what to do for the next hour after our conversation.

I think this kind of sense of "accidental" discovery is at the heart of all good missionary work and at the heart of social entrepreneurship/missional entrepreneurship. You inhabit a place and people and hopefully listen well and eventually God pushes you into the places there where the gospel can be good news to God's people.  I feel like I lived in a place for 6 years, started to get an inkling of what God MIGHT be telling me about how to be good news here, and then "staggered backwards" into something that I did not expect.  It has brought together strands of my life and ministry that I never would have bundled on their own and it would take me 3 hours to explain the terrifying beauty of it all.  It is so humbling to get to do this work.  I can't wait for the chance to get to watch God bless more students through this ministry.

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?