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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

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!


On Good Ideas and Where They Come From....

Matthew Overton

So I have watched Steve Johnson's videos on where good ideas come from a number of times.  The Ted Talk one is the best and it is here.  I find his talks fascinating not just because of their specific content, but mostly because they have caused me to go back and analyze where my own innovations in ministry have come from.  Of late, I have been working on a new experiment in youth ministry that is based on jobs/work.  Some friends of mine call it, "A Youth Ministry that Works."  The goal is to essentially teach discipleship alongside of jobs training.  My experience teaches me that when ministry is done in this fashion it tends to lead to more life on life conversation.  I happen to think this is a really good idea for about a million reasons that I won't get into here.

As I have watched his TED talk I was most fascinated by the notion that most folks with a good idea tend to think that it happens all at once, when in fact it is the final trajectory of a multitude of experiences.  It would be more like the lead page to a book where an author thinks through with deep thankfulness, all the people who helped the book come to fruition.  This part of the TED Talk got me thinking that it might be good for me to sit down and map out where my own innovation had come from.  It was amazing.  It ended up being a deep prayer exercise of thanksgiving, but I was also blown away about how different life events and conversation have shaped me over the years.  Here is a very abbreviated version of what I came up with in my journal entry.

1. Dozens of Mission Projects, Working with my Dad to Fix Stuff Growing Up, and Working as a Custodian- Physical labor led me to value work and the conversations that happen when we work. No way I would be doing this if not for these experiences.

2. The Economic Downturn and my Dad's Chronic Unemployment- In my mid to late teen years my Dad lost a number of jobs.  I saw what a lack of work and purpose can do to a human being.  We also lost our home in high school and then I lost another during the downturn in 2006-2010.  I value the gift of work more than ever and I understand why parents are reluctant to send their kids to youth groups for fun, games, and Jesus. They are terrified about the future. Who has time for fun, games, and nice when they are terrified?

3.  My New House- When I moved to Washington Anne and I had to cobble together a home loan and ultimately bought the most beater and dilapidated thing we could find because we knew we could afford it.  With the help of friends and some paid contractors we gutted the house and re-did it.  It was here that I began (illegally) hiring some of my "fringe" students to help out. I started to think, "This is just like doing a mission trip. Why can't we do this all the time? Why do I get in better conversations about real life here than we ever do at Youth Group?"

4. Mark Yaconelli's Compassion Prayer Retreat- I can't say enough about this retreat. Best thing I have EVER done in ministry. But the two quotes that nailed me from that retreat were when Mark asked me, "How come you got into ministry? Was it so you could tell kids about Jesus and have them learn about Christianity or so that those kids could help bring those kids come alive and be more loving people?"  This question stopped me dead on a morning run two days later. What was Christianity really about?  The second was the Iranaeus quote, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive."  I started to think about what in my ministry was the most life giving.  I wanted to do what needed to be done, but also what brought me LIFE!

5. Conversations- This is where the idea really caught a head of steam.  It sort of ties in with Steven Johnson's idea of the cafe. Sadly, I have no cafe of colleagues to hang out with. But, after I had assembled a small team of folks from my church to secretly work on this project (I wasn't sure what the church would think!), I started to call colleagues in ministry to see what they thought.  It seemed like every time I talked to a parent, youth worker, seminary professor, friend, or pastor about this idea their own light bulbs went off. It was crazy! Many acknowledged secret tensions they felt about youth group, quietly confessing that they don't want to send their own kids.  I talked with the most diverse group of folks I could get my hands on. Everyone was ecstatic about the idea and thought it was worth pursuing. They had other stories to add about why they thought it was a good idea. Or they would share about a work experience that had changed them as a young adult.  I have never heard the voice of God more clearly saying, "You need to do this." Never.

There are a bunch more things I could list (a lot of them would be books). I really want to map it out on a Prezi or storyboard it. But for now, this has been a really useful exercise.  Doing something is so important.  All the stuff I did along the way is like a tool box to me now.  It has been the concert of my experiences that has caused me to change my youth ministry tune.  It has been too imitative for too long. I felt like a bad Beatles cover band at Disneyland just trying to sustain what had come before so that I didn't lose my job and a second home. I finally got tired after the 10,000th rendition of "Let it Be".  What is needed is something that is as improvizationally sweaty and collaborative as jazz music and as playful as Zydeco music.  That is why I am trying to gather together other youth workers who are doing youth ministry in innovative ways.  I wonder what youth ministry/ministry would look like if folks could prayerfully mine the concert of their own experience to see what is life giving and then look to see what God might birth in their ministries!

0-9 is Not a Great Record

Matthew Overton

I was recently meeting up with an old friend of mine from ministry who is on staff at a California UC school.  He does campus ministry down there.  I was explaining to him some of the issues that I see our students facing when they leave our ministry and how I felt that teaching them about faith and life and how those two intersect was critical.  He relayed to me that the single biggest problem he sees at his school is that it is filled with over achieving students who are anxiety riddled.  And then he dropped the bomb.

This year of the 9 students graduating from his ministry from a UC, precisely "0" got job offers out the door.  He expressed that these were not students who slacked. They did everything that they were asked and worked extremely hard to achieve.  Neither were they in majors that one might expect a graduate to struggle in leaving school and looking for work. Say, Art or Sociology.  Nope these kids were mostly in the hard sciences and technologies.  His own sense was that many of them didn't know how to get out and look for a job and that they especially didn't know what to do when rejected for one.

I don't happen to think Millenials are lazy or immature or anything else.  I don't regard some of their struggles in the work place as moral failings.  Mostly they are just the product of the environment in which they were raised.  But, I wonder how well these nine students would have done if they had worked a few jobs or had some professional training.  Could they problem solve independently a bit better? Would they be able to deal with failure if they had faced rejection earlier in life?  Would they understand what the 2-3 generations in the work place are looking for better if they had been around them as teenagers?  I can't help but wonder this.

This is part of the reason I have started my jobs program for teens.  My sense is that I learned the best life lessons about work, people, and myself in the 3 jobs I had before I left high school and the 3 I had before I left college. I learned tons about what I wanted to be and what I didn't want to be.  I learned in several of them what I was good at and where I was doomed when I engaged certain kinds of tasks.  Not many of my students get those experiences any more.

I guess I just feel like 0-9 isn't a good average from a UC school. I know, it's anecdotal.  But, I don't want my students that leave my church to go 0-9. I want them to be prepared both for this life and the next.