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Chasing Cool In Youth Ministry

What constitutes a cool youth pastor?  

Most youth pastors want to be cool.  Some want to wear cool clothes, buy apple computers, date and marry hot women, know all the cool sayings and handshakes, get tattoos, have edgy haircuts and glasses, learn Hebrew and Greek and own all the new technological gadgets.  I don’t necessary think this is a bad thing.  In fact I do most of the things I listed myself.  However being cool requires more than just buying all the newest and coolest stuff.  The aim of this post is to get my youth worker audience to expand their definition of what coolness is and does.

To be cool means to be interesting.

Most youth pastors by design are just more entrepreneurial and love to stick out.  Think about it….. youth pastors and student pastors are the “chosen ministers” that have to translate the Gospel to the next generation— who by the way hates church and reading their Bibles.  Youth pastors have to work extremely hard at reading and studying the Scriptures with first century eyes and addressing twenty-first century questions that teens in our communities keep asking.  Youth pastors carry a daunting task of translating and interpreting the Gospel– that is alive, coherent and compelling– to a generation that doesn’t frankly give a rip and, unfortunately is experiencing a severe case of ADD.

So as youth pastors who teach and lead youth groups how do we become interesting and not boring?  

I think the Swiss Reformed Theologian, Karl Barth was on to something when he published his article in Time magazine on Friday, May 31, 1963.  Barth stated that people must “take their Bible and take their newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from their Bible.”

A few years ago, my lead pastor and I got into a conversation about what makes a youth pastor “interesting” while he/she faithfully teaches the Scriptures and still culturally relevant.  My lead pastor spent a decade in  youth ministry so he knew the trap that many youth pastors fall into when trying to hard to be cool.  During our conversation, he made a comment that I have never forgot.  He said “to be interesting you have to be interested.”

In another words to be a “cool” and “interesting” youth pastor— one does not need to own trendy stuff, but rather needs to encounter and experience a lot of different stuff.

A youth pastor should never be formed by the world around him or her.  The youth pastor should show how the Scriptures relate and connect to the world.  Similarly to how Jesus prayed:  “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Youth pastors must first start with the Scriptures and begin to go out into culture to find illustrations, stories and metaphors that will make the stories found in Scripture connect and resonate with today’s teens.  To find stuff that makes the Scriptures comes alive– you have to be interested in exploring a lot of “cultural” stuff.   The more interested you are, the more material you will have to help you — as you translate the Scriptures from week to week to an unchurched-Biblically illiterate generation.

Interesting Stuff To Explore:

–  Magazines:  Read monthly periodicals like Esquire, Scientific Mind, The Economist, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, The Harvard Business Review, Wired, The Week and Popular Science.  Magazines are great because they are always being updated, super easy to read and provide very practical knowledge that speaks to real issues people of the world are concerned about.

–  Books:  I love the statement:  leaders are readers.  I hated to read pre-seminary.  But seminary taught me that reading allows you to access knowledge– especially if you read non-fiction.  Some of the smartest leaders I know devour books daily.  To be an informed leader you have to read or else you will become irrelevant and not be able to relate with the intellectual, logical and scientific minded students.  In your weekly schedule allow yourself a few hours to read.  

–  Travel:  Travel not only allows one to explore and be exposed to different world-views but it allows one to experience different regions of the country.  Each region has an uniqueness and a lot to offer the traveler.  Traveling accelerates your cultural intelligence and confronts your current worldview assumptions.  Look at Jesus and Paul— They were always on the move interacting with people from different lands.  The only way to really have a sense of how the world works is to see it yourself.  Cultures matter.  Most American don’t travel.  Experience other traditions, music, climate, religions, people, languages, and foods.  Travel doesn’t have to be expensive and is very educational.  Also make sure to travel lightly.

–  Hang out with non-Christians:  Non-Christians help pull you out of the Christian sub-culture.  If you think you are cool in the church ministry world, spend 5 seconds with non-Christians and you quickly realize you are NOT cool at all.  Non-Christians help youth pastors be humble and honest.  Plus hanging out with non-Christians forces you to become educated in why people don’t like church.

–  Get a hobby:  Hobbies forces you to learn about something else other than theology, the Church and youth ministry.  Hobbies help you enjoy and have fun in life. Also if you have the same hobbies as your students it will help you relate to them on a personal level and give you more street cred. So you may want to pick up basket weaving, chess, collecting stamps or building model airplanes.

–  Watch a lot of movies and TV shows:  Watch movies and TV– I cannot stress this enough.  In order to make appropriate translations you have to be familiar with what your students are watching   Teens are inundated with visual media.  Today’s modern pulpits are movie theaters and youtube.  Students are probably getting more out of watching films then they are listening to sermons.

– Music:  Don’t only listen to music you like, listen to the music your students like.  Expand your musical genre.  I am amazed at how much students know about music.  As an icebreaker, I would always ask my students what is on their playlist.  

When becoming interested I have two final recommendations:

1.  Always start with Scripture.  Scripture informs everything and allow the interesting stuff to nuance your point.

2.  Learn how to quickly archive, file and store the stuff you find, experience and encounter.  My storage of choice is Evernote.  Anything I find interesting I jot it down in evernote– which syncs to my laptop, phone and tablet so I can access anytime anywhere.



About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

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  1. Great article and good perspective.

  2. Love your thoughts and honesty here. I’ve also found that “being yourself” makes you interesting to students. I’ve seen a lot of successful youth pastors who didn’t use apple products, or wear skinny jeans, but because they were offering themselves and not trying to dress like their students and teach like Rob Bell, they had their students interest.

    • @Theresa-
      That is an amazing point. You are so right if you are yourself everything else will follow into alignment and you will automatically become interesting because you NOT trying to be somebody you are not.


  3. Jeremy, love the post. I am 27 and occasionally struggle with some of the things that you mentioned above. I have had to come to the reality that me trying to be cool will never be cool! Me being myself is the coolest that I can be. I mean this with sincerity and not pride. Seriously guys, be yourself! The Lord has made you COOL!

  4. Love this post. Chasing “cool” is just cute, it is not effective. But being up on the times and the culture and know what is happening will make you “cool” to students. My boss is 37, but students think he is the coolest person simply because he genuinely loves them and knows the culture and understands what is happening. Proving, you can be “old” and be “in” with the youth. As a team we all look into that list you made and it helps to know what is happening in out tenns lives. If we just know what they are talking about and enjoy talking to them about it, they will talk. I’m 26 but working with some of the people that I work with I know that I will have the confidence to stay in youth ministry for a while because these guys all still “cool” to our students and they have been here for 15+ years. Pretty great. Great read.

  5. I love the reasoning behind this, I really do. My struggle has been space and bodies…We don’t really have another night we can have youth for middle schoolers, or another space to facilitate them. Also, my youth group’s makeup is a bit strange, as most of our students are college age, but are not willing to step into leadership roles…yet they want to continue coming..The hardest part of me is being relevant to my students when I have middle school, high school, and college. Plus, I’m new at this…

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