Author Archives: joelnewton
2014 was my first full year working outside the church since I was 18 years old. It sounds crazy but for the past 16 years I have held some kind of job within a local church or Christian institution. That streak ended in 2014 when I transitioned to lead Edgewater Collective.
I grew up thinking the only way I could truly serve God was to be working in a church or overseas in missions. Working in a local church was a higher calling, or so I thought.
I went to Taylor University and chose the Christian Education major with dreams of becoming a lifetime youth pastor. After college I continued my education at Denver Seminary for a Master’s Degree in youth ministry to cement this decision to invest in the spiritual development of teenagers.
But after serving in four different churches, I felt God calling me away from the church. Though the nonprofit I started is not a faith-based organization, I knew God had prepared me for this role. I sold all my “church” books and jumped into this new career. I soon realized that many of the skills I learned inside the church prepared me to work in education advocacy and community building.
As I dove into learning about public education and building relationships with various community stakeholders, I soon realized that God has uniquely designed me for this role. I came alive in a way that I never experienced working in a church. I also noticed that though this work was outside the four walls of a church, it could still be a “sacred” role.
Our family has also thrived as “normal” church attenders. For the first time in our marriage, Hillary and I were able to pick where to attend church. We could enter relationships and community life without the expectations that come with being the pastor’s family. Hillary has found a role in prayer ministry that would not have come as the pastor’s wife. Our girls have experienced worship in a more charismatic setting and experienced a different kind of relationship with the Lord.
Now my experience is obviously not normative. There are pastors I know who were created to work in a church. But there are also pastors who continue to suffer away in their church leadership role because they can’t see themselves working outside the church. Sadly, they are missing the role that they were created for.
I’ve definitely found that there is no such thing as a sacred or secular job. Every job can be sacred if we view our work as a way of serving God and others. Each job in my journey was very important in helping me learn the skills I use today as I lead Edgewater Collective.
I’m excited for what 2015 has in store for our work and our family!
I can still vividly remember my preteen and middle school years. I remember going with my mom to buy special clothes for gym class complete with the awkward jock strap. All of us in the middle school gym class had the required white shirts and red shorts. One of the girls in our class developed much quicker than the rest of the girls and bore the brunt of the jokes and laughs from the boys. We were all awkward with our own development, but this girl was the recipient of all our jokes because she developed quickest.
In a few months our oldest daughter Anna will turn 10 and officially venture into the preteen/tween years. We were blindsided by her entrance into puberty and couldn’t figure out why she would break down crying at the most random things and soon after act out in a temper tantrum.
Just yesterday she broke down crying in gym class and her gym teacher tried to console her. He asked her why she was crying and Anna exclaimed, “I don’t know why I’m crying!”
Anna has entered puberty.
I have a Master’s Degree in Youth and Family and years of experience working with teenagers, yet none of this can really prepare me for our own daughters becoming teenagers.
I entered puberty early and benefited from being six feet tall in middle school. It’s different for girls. Just like the girl in my gym class who was made fun of by the boys, it’s harder for girls who develop early.
Once again I am presented with the ultimate test of parenting.
Confidence or fear.
I can be fearful of what could happen to my daughter or have confidence in her ability to have perseverance and courage with whatever comes her way.
Whether I choose confidence or fear, Anna will be able to see my emotions and will probably respond the same way I do.
As a father, I must continue to make my relationship with my daughters a priority especially during the awkward and sometimes traumatic years of puberty.
I must choose confidence.
A year ago today, I was packing up my office at Mountair Christian Church and stepping out in faith into the unknown. I felt God calling me out of pastoral ministry and into leading Edgewater Collective full-time. We left behind a regular paycheck to jump into fundraising for my salary and we jumped without a lot of committed pledges.
Now one year later, I am filled with gratitude for what this last year has brought our family and Edgewater Collective.
I am thankful for my various work experiences which prepared me to lead Edgewater Collective. I often wondered what God was up to over the last twelve years but it all makes sense now. All these varied experiences prepared me to lead a nonprofit organization.
I am thankful for the over 70 donors who have contributed to Edgewater Collective’s success this year. Without you I would not be able to devote my full-time energy to help kids succeed from cradle to career. Your generosity is making a big difference in our community.
I’m thankful to CityUnite for taking a chance on a guy with a dream for city transformation and investing in our success. Your grant has really sustained us this year and your support for me personally is amazing.
I am thankful for my amazing board members who help lead our organization and whose advice and feedback is priceless. You each bring important knowledge and expertise to our work and I am thankful for your investment in our work.
I am thankful for our Community Partners who have joined this collective impact work and continue to do great work in our community.
I am thankful for the teachers and staff who work in our local schools. The roadblocks to success that they help children overcome are huge yet they keep on pouring their hearts into students.
I am thankful for area leaders like Dave Runyon, Dan Thoemke, Jay Pathak and Jeff Johnson who have freely given me wisdom and insight on how to invest deeply in a community. And much more than that, they invested in me personally. I stand on your shoulders.
I am thankful for my wife Hillary who trusted me enough to let us jump into the unknown of leading a nonprofit. In her role as a paraprofessional at our local elementary school, Hillary offers great insight into the classroom and the needs of our schools. She is my perfect partner in this work.
And most of all, I am thankful to the Lord for walking alongside of us through this season. The Lord only knows how my faith has gone through peaks and valleys even on a hour by hour basis. But he has provided for us in ways that I know he is there and he wants this work to succeed. I can tell you multiple stories of how checks came in at the perfect time so we could pay our bills and provide for the family.
As we transition into November and the Thanksgiving season, I am filled with gratitude when I think back over the last year and how so many of you have come alongside us in our work. And I’m filled with excitement for what will happen in our work in the greater Edgewater area and how children and families will transition from surviving to thriving.
Three years Steve Jobs and his imaginative leadership left this earth.
I never met Steve Jobs but I was privileged enough to work in an Apple Retail store for two and a half years while he was leading Apple. I started just after the launch of the first iPhone and left after the launch of the iPad. These were exciting years for Apple and for us as employees.
Those years at Apple Retail were more transformative for my life and leadership than my years at seminary.
Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from my time at Apple Retail:
- Focus on a few things and do them well
- Give fearless feedback often
- Enrich lives, don’t just sell products
- Infuse values into everything that is done and refer to them often
- Hire for fit on the team, not for qualifications or knowledge
I still remember that day three years ago when I heard that Steve had passed away. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I wanted to go to the Apple Store where I used to work and mourn with my co-workers.
We mourn the passing of those whose life and actions impact our lives the most.
Thank you Steve for inspiring and challenging me to think different.
Anna has experienced multiple different cultures and races since she started school. She started preschool in southwest Littleton and most of her class was white. Then we moved to Champaign, Illinois where at least half of her class was black. Now we are in Edgewater and at least 80% of the children at her school are Latino.
Our hope is to expose our girls to the way the world will be, not the way the world is. Part of this is experiencing and building relationships with children who are different from them.
But today I realized that this battle of combating racism is a hard one.
As we were driving out of the school parking lot and experiencing lots of traffic, Anna yelled from the back seat, “It’s those darn Mexicans!”
Where did that come from? What led my daughter to say something like that?
I immediately scolded her and told her that we don’t talk that way in our family and explained why. But I was genuinely surprised that she would say something like that.
Just because our daughters are around children who are from different cultures and races, we still need to be more diligent in combating racism that so quickly creeps in. We have to be purposeful and intentional is breaking down stereotypes, helping our girls look beyond societal racism and build relationships outside their own comfort zone. I have to work on it myself.
This is the only way we can cross race boundary lines and create a world where situations like Ferguson, Missouri become more rare. But it begins in the home and talking honestly about racism.
You run like a girl. You fight like a girl.
Why do we make statements like this?
How does puberty change a girl’s confidence?
For more on Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign, click here.
As a pastor’s kid, I was immersed in Christianity from an early age. But only recently, I realized I was missing a very important part of the story.
I was missing the importance and relevance of the Resurrection.
Growing up in a religious culture, we each pick up narratives about who God is and how he interacts with the world. For better or for worse, some of these narratives are false or show just one side of the story.
Around Easter, I have tended to focus on Jesus’ death as an atonement for my sin, which it is. He took the punishment that I deserved. Too often though, if I focus on this true narrative, I view God as a judge who loves me when I obey and punishes me when I disobey.
But there is another part to the story that must be viewed in tandem with Jesus’s death. Today we celebrate it, yet for many years, I didn’t see the power in it.
In the context of Martha’s brother Lazarus dying, Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Then Jesus demonstrates his power over death by raising Lazarus from the dead.
Soon after Jesus himself dies and rises again to new life.
For too long I focused on Jesus’ death and missed the power and relevance of Jesus’ resurrection.
The narrative I missed was that Jesus’ resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit enables me to begin living life the way I was designed to live. This has amazing ramifications. It is no longer I that lives but Christ living in me. When God the Father sees me, he doesn’t see me with my sin, but he sees His Son Jesus in me. God the Father smiles when he sees me. I am his creation. We are all his creation. He takes pride in his design.
Our new church community at Mile High Vineyard puts a lot of weight on this piece of the narrative that Jesus is alive and living in us today. The Spirit that Jesus gives us speaks through believers in prayer. Prayer is no longer a one way conversation but a two way conversation where the Spirit engages with us and speaks truth.
And the Spirit enables us to join Jesus in rolling out his Kingdom that is breaking back into our current reality. We don’t just sit back and pray for Jesus to come quickly, we engage in Kingdom work through the Spirit’s power. This Kingdom fights injustice, brings equality, humbles pride, lifts the poor and restores our world’s original design.
Too often I’ve sat in church and wondered, “Is this all there is? Is this what Jesus died and rose again to create?” There seemed to be something missing, and I am beginning to realize that what I was missing was the Resurrection.
Jesus rose again to give us Life.
The Life we were created to live.
The Life that we can’t live on our own but only through the indwelling and filling of the Spirit.
Easter is about a death AND a resurrection AND a kingdom that is unfolding that we can participate in.
This morning, as we were getting ready for church, our eight year old daughter blew up in frustration and yelled, “Why do we have to go to church?”
Instead of responding with a quick answer, I was actually glad she asked the question. I would rather have my daughters ask good questions and learn to think for themselves.
After leaving a full-time church job a few months ago, our family hasn’t really had to attend church. Each Sunday we have a choice whether to attend or not. And our girls know that.
So why do we attend church? Even the author Donald Miller has written about his personal struggles with attending church.
This month we are focusing each week on one of our family values. This week we are focused on the value of faith and answering Anna’s question of why we need to go to church is definitely part of the conversation. Notice it is really about why we NEED to attend church instead of HAVE to attend.
So here is my attempt at how I would answer the question of why church attendance is important to our family. Read the rest of this entry
I am a parent of two daughters in a Jefferson County elementary school. My wife is a paraprofessional at that school. I substitute teach in Jefferson County Schools on occasion. The nonprofit I lead trains and mobilizes reading tutors to work with K-3rd grade students who struggle in reading.
Though I am not a Jeffco graduate myself (Go Arapahoe Warriors!), I care deeply about Jeffco Schools and want to see all 85,000 children succeed in school and in life.
Since the election of three conservative Board of Education members in November and the early resignation of Superintendent Cindy Stevenson this weekend, things are starting to get interesting.
The divisive climate of politics has become local and it is very hard to stay in the middle. The camps are forming. Either you are supportive of the new board majority or you are not. You are with the unions or you are not.
The sad part is that many of us are in the middle. We don’t think charter schools are the magic antidote for education and we support our neighborhood schools.
But we also think that education is due for some reform. Any organization or company needs to remain on the cutting edge to innovate and keep ahead of a changing culture.
I also believe in education innovation when I look at our Edgewater schools. At our three Edgewater schools, over 90% of the children receive free or reduced lunch because of poverty in their families. Yet when you compare the test scores at these three schools with three schools in southwest Littleton where we used to live, you see a big achievement gap.
This is a moral wrong. Children growing up in poverty have every right to a great education. The achievement gap should not exist yet in reality it does.
We have some great teachers and school leaders here in Edgewater but we can do better. I believe that if we can rally our community around our schools and change the education paradigm, we could see the achievement gap bridged.
Continuing to do things the way we always have done it doesn’t cut it anywhere. My daughters’ friends deserve better. Don’t lower your expectations just because we are poor. Right now a Jefferson (our local high school) graduate is on the Colorado Supreme Court, another is a Congressman and yet another is the bodyguard for Peyton Manning. With a great education, imagine where the next Jefferson High graduate might end up.
So circling back to the events of the weekend, I am frustrated on many levels with what happened. What I am most frustrated with is that the focus is now away from the 85,000 kids in our district. Union members are spreading fear and rumors. The three board members are demonized and any change they bring up is automatically thrown out. And because this new majority is silent on their agenda, then people assume the worst.
Finding common ground is possible. I’ve seen it happen in Jeffco Schools in the last month. I am part of the Choice Enrollment Steering Committee and have seen people from different education philosophies work together for 85,000 kids in the district. We sit down and listen to each other without jumping to conclusions. We have built relationships and stay focused on the task that unites us.
To each of the current Jeffco Board of Education members, I implore you to lead and focus the district on the common good of 85,000 children. To the Board majority, build bridges and start to dialogue in public about your ideas for the district. Board President Ken Witt has already started to do this by appearing on KHOW on February 11 (listen here). To the unions in Jeffco, don’t fall to the level of spreading fear and speculation. To quote the wise Yoda, ““Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
What we need right now in Jefferson County Schools is a leader.
Someone to unite our community around the common good of 85,000 children with hopes and dreams.
At this point that leader needs to be one of you sitting on the Board of Education.
Ken Witt. Julie Williams. Lesley Dahlkemper. John Newkirk. Jill Fellman.
Which one of you will step up and lead?