"We begin by molding our lives around the law of God. Initially, the Second Mayflower will have little to do with the civil government, but in the long run it will bear deep socio-political effects on a nation-and many other nations at that. To a world which has lost any concept of true freedom from tyranny, it will return the notion of blessed freedom and the truly good life. It will return to many an understanding of and an experience with that which is of true value, something besides the cold materialism and the ‘tranquility of servitude' embraced by modern man.
"If we prepare now, we will be ready in seventy-five years when God opens a door of opportunity for us ..."
-Kevin Swanson, The Second Mayflower1
Is it possible to rebuild America-starting in your own basement?
Generations Radio host, Pastor Kevin Swanson in Colorado, thinks so, and is trying very hard to prove it.
"Our country's future is going to be rough," he said. "Our social systems are collapsing, which means our economic system will not survive."
We have introduced this article with a quote from Swanson's book The Second Mayflower, published in 2008, to show that Swanson has been thinking seriously along these lines for years.
In January 2010 in his own home, Swanson opened his first-and so far, the only -Shepherd Center, taking in nine young men for mentoring by elders. The young men, from sixteen to twenty-four years old, study with their mentors for three days a week in Swanson's basement. They also travel to special events with Swanson and help him produce his radio show.
"Our focus is mentorship," he said, "with an aim to networking these young men into the macro-economy. But in the meantime, instead of going off to college somewhere, they remain in their families and in their home community."
But What About College?
This would seem to defy the conventional wisdom. After all, everybody has to go to college, right? A college degree is a must. Even middle-aged adults are urged to go back to college to update their skills.
What's wrong with the everybody-goes-to-college paradigm?
"Quite a bit, these days," Swanson said. "For instance, 50 percent of the 2009 graduating class is today either unemployed or working at something totally unrelated to the field they studied. And there's also a problem with the social context of college. The graduates are unlikely to grow up. They're into materialism, escapism, and irresponsibility-especially the men, much more so than the women. We see more and more of this with each successive generation. We can't just continue making the same mistakes."
But in our credential-happy society, wouldn't it be a serious handicap not to have a college diploma?
"I have no problem with anybody wanting to get a piece of paper that says he finished college," Swanson said-"but please, spend as little money on it as possible. You can get a college degree online, now, at a fraction of the cost of regular tuition.
"Here we offer mentorship. I'm not a plumber; I'm a pastor. So I'm training young men to be ministers, church elders, and fathers of families. My first ‘guinea pig,' with whom I began three-and-a-half years ago, is now twenty-two years old and is expected to make over $100,000 this year."
Without a college education? How can it be possible?
"He has learned how to be an entrepreneur," Swanson said, "and he has several successful businesses now.
"Look-college no longer offers corporate security, as it once did. You don't come out of college and get a good job, as you once did. You can't expect to spend $150,000 on tuition and be out with a $60,000 job."
With the cost of college going up and up, and the good job prospects for graduates going down and down, individual entrepreneurship is looking better and better as the way to go, Swanson said.
"True," he added, "for some of the professions, a degree will still be needed-especially if you have to get a license to practice that profession. But nowadays you can even get a law degree online. Yes, if you want to be a junior partner in a high-powered big-city law firm, they'll probably want a degree from Harvard Law School. But if you want to open your own practice in a small town, you don't need to spend a fortune on college tuition."
There's still just one Shepherd Center, "but mentorship is growing all over the place," said Swanson. "See the AME website at www.ameprogram.com. They're offering mentorships in just about any field you can imagine." AME is affiliated with Christian Home Educators of Colorado, serving some 45,000 homeschooled students across the Rocky Mountain states.
Starting Out Like Early Christians
We have spent much time on this aspect of the Shepherd Center program because we expect such a departure from the conventional higher education model to spark protests. "How are you going to earn a decent living if you don't go to college?" "If you don't get a college degree, you'll never be able to do anything but pump gas or clerk at a 7-Eleven®!" We hope we have at least planted the suggestion that "it ain't necessarily so."
But for Kevin Swanson the Shepherd Center is about much more than teaching young men how to make a living.
On the Shepherd Center website (www.theshepherdcenter.com) Swanson explains, "Our intent is to displace higher education with a Proverbs model of discipleship, or better yet, ‘a Jesus model.' Jesus refused to start a Christian college, or a seminary. But what did He do? Twelve disciples for three years ... Our hope is to renew relational living, relational education, and a God-centered life in a lost and lonely world ... Christians are now developing new forms of education or discipleship to replace the heavily institutionalized approaches used by the humanists."
"Mentorship is the best way to salvage our present economy," he told Chalcedon. "It's a bottom-up approach to rebuilding the economy.
"We're starting out small, like the early Christians started. We need a thorough rebuilding of our society from the bottom up. No president, no matter who's elected, can do this job. It has to be done from the bottom up. We don't need a carpet-cleaning for our country; we have to rebuild the foundations-which means we have to rebuild fatherhood. So I'm going to teach these young men how to be pastors, and fathers."
Swanson himself is both a pastor and a father. Now forty-seven, he has five children, all homeschooled. His son, the eldest at nineteen, now participates with him in the Shepherd Center project. His four daughters, aged nine to seventeen, also do their share.
"My girls work together to make the meals for the young men," he said. "They make the beds and take care of the housework. It's a challenge for me, being a mentor and raising my own kids at the same time, but we're all working together to make it happen.
"I want to see my mentoring result in the kind of young men who'll be fit for my girls to marry when they grow up."
When Idols Fall
Although so far the Shepherd Center only mentors men, "We invite the young ladies to sit in with us during our formal training sessions," Swanson said. "But we don't have them travel with us. We all feel very strongly that men should mentor men, and women should mentor women."
Someday, he said, he would like to see his trainees set up their own Shepherd Centers, with centers for young women, too, staffed by older women. Although it would be some years before any of that could come to pass, Swanson said, "We have to take the long view."
For instance, the church today, he said, "is weak. It doesn't have enough elders, which means it doesn't have enough fathers. If the elders don't know how to rule their own households, how will they know how to rule the house of God?" In time, he added, providing the church with a pool of real fathers, from which to select elders, will strengthen and regenerate the church.
The Shepherd Center doesn't charge fees or tuition for its services. "I believe the master of any kind of craft or calling is obliged by God to pass on his skills to the next generation," Swanson said.
"We have no other options," he said. As the nation's economy continues to flounder, as "the various indices of social decay" (crime and delinquency, out-of-wedlock births, sexual anarchy, drug abuse, etc.) continue to climb, the old answers-materialism, political power, status, and wealth-no longer suffice.
"Those idols are coming down," Swanson said, "and when they fall, you'll hear a cry go up. But without training in character, and real Biblical scholarship, we as a nation are going to fail."
"The joy of this is in building relationships, building community," he said. And on his Shepherd Center website: "Our goal is to produce humble, mighty shepherds for future homes and churches in Colorado. Leaders, yes. But not as the Gentiles produce them. Leaders as Jesus would have produced them."
1. Kevin Swanson, The Second Mayflower (Parker, CO: Generations with Vision, 2008), 248.