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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 that works

"Ecto 1"- The Most Humbling Joyous Help I Have Ever Received.

Matthew Overton

This is what I like to refer to as "Ecto 1". It reminds me of the Ghostbusters rig in the movie except rather than keeping the spirit containment unit in the basement of the building, we just mounted it on our truck.  It's also my SECOND pickup truck. I don't know how this happened. I grew up two blocks from the Pacific Ocean in surfing country. And while I was born in Virginia, I was not born in pickup country. Some people have called it "Dorothy" from the movie Twister. Others say it looks like a Portland food cart version of a Breaking Bad episode.  To me, Ecto 1 is a sign of everything that is awesome about social enterprise and the church. It is a symbol of friendship, fellowship, and shared passions.

Ecto 1 is simply a watering truck on a converted F-250 pickup truck.

About 9 months ago our Downtown Business Association recruited Mowtown to water their downtown flower baskets.  They hang them every year in the downtown area in order to beautify the local business district. They had a truck, with a built in watering apparatus, and all we needed to do was supply the workers and a bid.  They had also worked with teens and young adults to water the baskets previously.  So, we leapt at the opportunity. But, that's when things got a bit more complicated.

For various reasons, our local city didn't want Mowtown to rent the truck. They also didn't want to sell us their old 1970's Dodge Pickup. And this is where things got awesome.

Several of my team members stepped in.  First, they went out and looked for pickup trucks. They went to local auctions and online. Eventually they found  a truck they liked and when they told the owner what we were up to he knocked the price down substantially. But, that is where the real work began.

This is Dave. Dave is a retired airline pilot/Rube Goldberg truck mechanic. Dave is awesome. Be like Dave.

This is Dave. Dave is a retired airline pilot/Rube Goldberg truck mechanic. Dave is awesome. Be like Dave.

These guys spent hours thinking about the best designs. They purchased a tank and mounted on an aluminum reinforced palate so that when the watering season is over we can pull the tank right out of the truck. I consulted with friends who are engineers about pickup size, and water shifting, and baffles. Next they put in a pump, mounted a light on top, consulted with the city about stripping the old truck for watering tools. They fixed up the actual truck which needed some significant work. It had holes in the pickup bed and needed a new bumper.

All along I had to proceed in faith in this because I know nothing about cars. I can change oil, tires, spark plugs, batteries, and filters, but I don't. Ever. I loathe working on cars. I know how to do some things, but I don't really "get" cars.  But, because these guys on my team care about students and about this idea that we all have been working on they laid out for this idea in terms of money, time, and passion.

A few weeks ago I went over to one of their houses to borrow their dump truck (yes they have one at home) and there was Ecto-1. I couldn't believe it. I honestly felt like crying the next day in worship because I was so thankful for friends like these. I know they enjoyed doing it, but I don't like when people help me out usually. I am pretty independent. It was humbling to say the least.

My point in all of this is simply to say the social enterprise requires a bunch of risk and trust. It also requires community. As much as I have wanted to test a model that proves to someone else that they could do this on their own too, I have had to realize that this is a group process. It takes way more than just my passion to get something like this off the ground. It takes the gifts of others too. I continue to learn that lesson in spades.

But, this is why the church matters. The church is a bucket of ages, stages of life, gifts, talents, treasures, and passion like no other that I know. It has a built in ethic to lay one's life down for the sake of the world. As I continue to argue and believe, it is one of the best vehicles I know to engage social enterprise.

This morning at 4 a.m. an 18 year old student and a hard working American who emigrated from Central America are out watering baskets in our downtown. We are helping them economically, they are forging unusual community together, our downtown is being beautified, we are making some profit, and my church community is more engaged than it was a year ago. It's the best missional idea I have ever had.

If Christian Social Enterprise is wrong, I don't want to be right.

The Princeton Youth Forum and G.K. Chesterton

Matthew Overton

This past week I headed back to Princeton, New Jersey for the Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry.  Mostly I went because the forums are always a good thing to be a part of, but this year I was also invited to come and share about my experiences with social entrepreneurship and the church.  The forums definitely had a flavor of trying new things in ministry.  This was great because there are so many conferences that specialize in techniques that they often fall short of helping folks innovate and adapt to the "new" realities that seem to have planted themselves like a dagger in the heart of American youth ministry as we have known it.  We need more spaces where people can think about innovation and risky experiments!

One of the quotes that has inspired me as I have been working on my Mowtown/Columbia Teen Enterprises project is something that G.K. Chesterton wrote.  He said, "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly."  What Chesterton meant was that many experiments and failures precede the final product in any endeavor.  The point is not to shoot for the final product from the get go.  The goal is to set a destination that is worthwhile or that serves the good and then fail repeztedly until you get there. Do some poor versions of what you are trying to do first. They aren't failures. They are first steps.  If you don't believe me go back and read this post about my first day out mowing. Disaster.  But the key to good failure is first finding the worthwhile destination you want to get to. This is where the forums needed to emphasize just a bit more that missional entrepreneurship needs to take its time.

I plan to write more on this later, but coming up with a missional innovation is a lot like doing quality mission work or community development.  You can't just think of an idea that YOU think people really need and you certainly shouldn't be thinking of an idea that you think is going to make you lots of money.  I have no problem with profit, but it has to be built on foundational thinking, prayer, and reflection on how to bless the world.  A good missionary moves into a locale and the first thing they do is listen and watch.  Only over time might a missionary or a community developer begin to even have an inkling about what their particular vocation might be in that community.  The community developer, if they are worth their salt, doesn't just swoop into a neighborhood in an urban area and fire up their latest redemptive project. Generally they inhabit (or incarnate) a neighborhood for quite some time.  So, while I want people to go out and start doing things poorly, my hope is that they don't just start doing random things.  My hope is that we can spend a ton of time teaching people how to discern their call to an intentional purpose in a place that they have been rooted in for a while.  I think one of the challenges of social entrepreneurship and youth ministry is that to be done well, it will need to confront the horrific attrition rates of youth ministers.  If you can't stay in a church long enough to actually learn about a context, then the kind of innovations you might experiment with are likely to be pretty destructive.

So, I encourage you to risk and fail repeatedly. Set yourself up for some pretty poor experiments. And fail quickly. Don't wait until all your ducks are in a row or until you know it will work. The church and God's Kingdom need your failures desperately so that we might adapt to the changes happening all around us. However, make sure the course trajectory you set is guided properly first.  Is what you are doing what the community needs? Have you listened well to the other or are they just an object of your mission?  That part might take some time. But anything that is worthwhile does. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly, but we have to take the time to discern whether it is worth doing, first.  Once you suspect your course is true, the sting of failure doesn't hurt so bad anyway.

Bootstrapping, Cheat Codes, and Missional Entrepreneurship

Matthew Overton


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!

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.



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?