Top 10 ways to stay hip and relevant

Top 10 ways to stay hip and relevant

The number one question I get asked by people young and old is, “Ben, how do you stay so hip and relevant?”  People look at me and watch me in action and they can not believe a man in his early 40’s is so cool and has such a bead on the youth culture.  Just to prove it, I downloaded Rebecca Black’s song from iTunes way back, when there were less than  1,000,000 hits on youtube.

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The easiest way to be just 6 months behind the most popular music:


Part of being a good youth worker is understanding the world our students live in.

A major part of their world is music.  If your kids are anything like mine they would swear that they hate pop music.  They like some weird indie music that no one has heard of.  But the truth is that the most popular music out there is music that they know, it is music that both instructs and reflects their lives, and even more importantly, it is the music that plays the sound track of their adolescence.

I think understanding pop culture and having your hand on the pulse of the music that is shaping their story is one of the easiest ways to connect with students and draw out their stories.  As I get older, I almost gave up completely on trying to keep up.  It is just too hard and takes too much time.  And plus I would lie to myself and say that students only need adults to love them.  But part of loving them, is understanding the world in which they inhabit.

Don't let being old and uncool be an excuse for not being aware of pop culture.

It is true that being old and being naturally not cool, can be two death nails in being a youth worker.  But it doesn't have to be.  I have written before the 10 easy ways to stay hip and relevant.  This is a list that all of us can do and do well and takes minimal time and effort.

Also, I know that there are huge advocates for ditching the pop music scene and swim in the Christian Music scene.  While there are plenty of good reasons for this, one reason to understand pop music and to capitalize on ints influence is to use pop music to be the soundtrack of their youth ministry lives as well.  I defend this argument is advocating the important place for pop music and dance parties as part of the youth ministry diet.

With all that being said, pop music is powerful and it is important for us as youth workers to be up with what is out there.  There are plenty of resources, plenty of ways to keep an eye on the charts.  But I have finally landed on the best resource out there, the one that cuts through all the clutter and single-handedly makes clear what truly is pop music, the music that all our students are aware of, know the words to, and are the sound track of their lives.  By using this resource we can take that same music and make it the sound track of their youth ministry lives as well!

So what is this resource you speak of?

Ok, are you ready?  Don't judge me, it is Kidz Bop! Don't try playing the latest Kidz Bop for your students, but you can use their play list to at least be aware of what is out there.  Then let the conversations, music video lessons, and party remixes begin!

Good luck cultural crusaders!

What resources do you use to stay hip and relevant?  Us old guys need all the help we can get!

PS: It was almost 6 months to the day when Justin Bieber released the youtube video at the top of the page which launched Carly Rae Jepsen's career to when Kidz Bop 22 was released.

a great ministry practice made better

Is Zac Efron still relevant? No matter how great your ministry is now, or how hip and with it you are today, in just a matter of months, everything will seem so dated.  I had a moment like this recently when I noticed I still have an “I love Zac Efron” sticker in my office.  That joke was so cool 4 years ago. Sad.

In the same way, some of the practices of youth ministry that have proven to be really effective are becoming dinosaurs in this current age of student ministry.  If left to myself I would still be mailing out flyers with amazing clip art, singing my guts out to the Shine, and building community by having students play the human knot.  (although, I still love that game)

Thankfully, I have had the privilege of being around really amazing, young, and fresh youth workers who love me and speak into me and my ministry.  Even though I am old enough to be their youth pastor, and even was for a couple of them, They are the ones who are the future of student ministry and the ones who inspire me.   They are still un-jaded in their passion to love students and are un-cynical in the ways they actually expect students to meet Jesus and be transformed.  I have learned that these young guns are the ones that I need to be around, listening to their heart’s and practices in ministry.  I need to continue to weigh my current practices against theirs, and what I am finding is that more often than not, my practices are left wanting.

A welcomed wake up call:

A little over a year ago, I did just that.  One of the young guys that mentor me in student ministry is an amazing youth pastor from Modesto, CA. Erik Anderson is easily one of the greatest up and coming youth pastors I know.  He has a solid ministry that seems to balance perfectly; big fun and spiritual depth, as well as balancing a complex program with depth of relationship.  (You read about him here first)

Anyway, a little over a year ago I was bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t connect with parents as easily as I had before because our budget froze and we could not longer do our monthly mailings.  Erik proceeded to bring me into the 21st century and told me about email.  What Erik does, and I assume many of you do, is send regular emails to your parents to inform them about what is going on in your ministry.  Erik sends them out weekly, and as a good student, I followed suit.  For the last six months I have sent out weekly emails to parents and have saved thousands of dollars on stamps.

A great ministry practice:

Sending out weekly emails to parents has been the single most transforming thing I have ever done in student ministry.  With this one simple act, I have an opportunity to:

  • Inform parents on what is happening in our ministry
  • Inform parents about upcoming trips and events
  • Inform parents about the topics and lessons that will be discussed each week.
  • Share highlights of what God is doing in and through our ministry.
  • Remind parents that our church even has a student ministry
  • Keep the lines of communication continually open between parents and me.

A great practice, made even better:

All of this is so good and rich.  But, as I have been reading Reggie Joiner’s book, Think Orange, I continue to get my views of ministry challenged.  And like other areas of my ministry, the weekly emails have gotten a fresh look.  And while I thought I was doing a great job, I have realized that this great ministry practice could be made even better.

In one section Joiner says:

“If you think yellow (that is only thinking about church stuff), You promote what you want parents to know about your programs. When you think orange (that is thinking that combines the church, yellow, and the family, red), You focus on what you want parents to do at home.

I was so excited to learn about this new tool called email that I went right to work using it.  And the truth is that I have used it effectively to promote what I wanted parents to know about all the great programs I have planned for their children.  And now I get to go back to the drawing board and continue to tweak my ministry so that I can continue to be an effective youth worker.  The system is already in place with the emails.  Now all I need to do is change the focus.  Instead of me and my programs being the focus, I can use this tool to encourage and equip parents to continue the spiritual formation at home.

I am so thankful for my colleagues who speak into my life, especially the young ones.  I am thankful for authors who challenge me to think deeply and to do ministry better.  I am thankful that youth ministry is a continually changing target and requires youth workers who are life long learners.  And I am thankful that the vast majority of youth workers I have the pleasure of working alongside are life long learners who are driven, sharp, funny, and deep!

Come to the Orange Conference with me:

I mentioned in my last blog that I have been invited to blog about my experience at the upcoming Orange Conference.  If you are interested in wrestling with how to Think Orange and partner more closely with parents, then please consider coming to this conference.  If you sign up this week you will get $30 off.  And if you don’t mind going over/under, we could room together and save some money that way too :)

Thank you fellow youth workers for encouraging me to stay at it in this every changing ministry landscape and for spurring me on to richer and deeper ministry!