Tyler: How long have you been working in ministry?
Ben: I taught my first Bible study in 3rd grade on the Applegate main stage. I opened up Ezekiel 37, the chapter on dry bones. I read the story and sat down. All the other elementary school kids were like “What does that even mean?” But I feel like it’s the best Bible study I ever gave, because I just gave the Scriptures and didn’t muddy it up with my comments. When I was 16, I taught a whole Bible study with my friends in Southern California, which was when I knew I wanted to go into ministry. I became a pastor at 18 and now here we are.
Tyler: Is Hope Generation your full-time job?
Ben: Actually, I’m employed by Applegate. When people pay me for speaking or buy anything from Hope Generation, like my books and CDs, it all goes back into funding Hope Gen.
(Hope Generation Store)
Tyler: Do you have a degree for what you’re doing?
Ben: No, I got a 2.0 GPA in high school. I didn’t go to my senior year of high school and I wouldn’t have if I could’ve gone back. I hated academics, but I fell in love with reading when I turned 18 and became a pastor. I’m a huge advocate of going to college if that’s what you need to do. I don’t want a doctor working on me who doesn’t have a degree. But I am also a HUGE advocate of reading. Read. You don’t need a degree… Follow your curiosity. When a person follows their curiosity, their passion, their dream, they go way further and live Zoe. They have an over and above kind of life.
Kristina: Do you structure your time?
Ben: Yes, I set a timer. I make sure that I spend 4 hours a day reading and writing and about 10-11 hours a week teaching. I have to time [my reading and writing] otherwise I won’t do them. I’ll just do them when I feel like doing it and most of the time I don’t feel like it. My deeper desire knows, “A writer hates to write, but a writer loves to have written.” At the end of the day, I hate it if I haven’t written anything. I don’t like the process of writing; very few great writers did. What they did, though, was force themselves to stay in the chair. I’ve found that if you have a self-regiment, you can get a lot done.
Tyler: Have you ever felt an overwhelming weight from your call? If so, how did you work through that feeling?
Ben: Oh yeah! But when you have a dream you’re willing to do anything. When you find your dream you want to put in the hours. Your shallow desire says, “Let this cup pass from my lips (Matt. 26:39, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42).” Your deeper desire says, “Your will be done, God (Matt. 26:39, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42). You put this on my heart. I know what I need to do: Pour water on the fire of my fears and throw gasoline on the on the passions of my dreams.”
Tyler: What avenue have you found brings you the most success in your ministry?
Ben: I’m terrible at counseling. I don’t counsel, because I don’t bring fruit. I’m not gifted at it. I don’t do weddings or funerals anymore, either. [I stopped when] I realized the Bible doesn’t call us to be human octopi. I try to do 18 things, but I can’t do it all unless I turn into an octopus. Saying yes to one thing gives you the power to say no to other things. But until you learn how to say yes to what you believe in, you’ll never be able to say no to everything else. When I know that writing and speaking is where I have fruit, that’s what I’m gonna do. That means I don’t counsel, but I will preach 11x a week. I won’t do weddings, but I will keep writing articles. That’s just what I was born to do. It’s what I’m passionate about and what I love. This life is so short and it’s gonna be hard, you might as well do something you love.
Kristina: Do you feel like you could’ve done without the weddings and funerals or did they help you learn what you really wanted to do?
Ben: I’m a big believer in trial by error. Part of it is I had to try those things and see if it worked for me. Part of it was I felt guilt tripped into certain things by my own expectations or other people saying, “This is what you are supposed to do.” Sometimes you have to learn the hard way to find out what you love.
Kristina: Do you think you can have a combination of gifts or dreams that don’t seem to go hand in hand?
Ben: Yes! There’s a guy I know who is a great teacher, worship leader, basketball player, was a 2 sport athlete in college, and is great with kids. His one thing is being great at a lot of things. Some people are just great at many things. Does that help?
Tyler: It does help, because I have a passion for so many different things that I often don’t know how God is going to work all those things into my life.
Ben: I don’t really share this with a lot of people, but movies changed my life. I used to ask God why I couldn’t be an actor, but God showed me when I was 17 that I would do my love of film and T.V. with my craft. Then, when I was on T.V. at 29, I realized God combined [those two dreams of mine.] It’s cool how the Lord has a way of taking several dreams and blending them. I bet you’re gonna find how God combines your dreams to be complementary, not contradictory.
Tyler: Where do you see many ministry workers go wrong?
Ben: I’m very optimistic and unity oriented. There’s about 41,000 denominations among about 2.18 billion Christians and Jesus prayed in John 17 “Father, make them all one (v.21).” I’m careful not to point out the things I don’t agree with in other people, because I know there are things I do they won’t agree with. I don’t want to major in the minors. I want to focus on areas where we can get on the same page. So I guess, in a roundabout way, I don’t like division. I think where I’ve gone wrong and where people can go wrong is when we start dividing against each other, because ‘a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (Matt. 12:25, Mark 3:24-25).’ I don’t like when we’re known more for what we’re against than what we are for. That becomes problematic. When we’re known more for what we think about issues than how we love people. That’s where we’ve missed [the point]. I think that unity and love are key. Jesus said, “You’ll be known as my disciples by how much you love each other.” Not, “You’ll be known as my disciples by your theology.” I think division is where we go wrong.
Tyler: How do you handle situations where division does come in?
Ben: This is the deal. We have two choices when people do things where they’re creating division: 1) React or 2) Respond. Say someone is stubborn to hate me. I’ll be stubborn right back to love them. They say, “You can’t make me stop disagreeing with you.” I respond, “You can’t make me stop loving you.” That’s why the Bible says, “…overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).” That’s the only way to solve these problems. When Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr came on the scene and loved their enemies, they changed the world. Romans 12:18, “As much as it’s up to you make peace with all men.” It doesn’t say everyone is going to take it. If there’s division I say, “Well, that’s your choice. I can’t control it, but what I can control is my response and whether I react or respond.” Make peace like a sandwich. [You can and should] make it and offer it, but it’s up to others whether they take it or not. But it’s still there.
Tyler: On a similar note, how do you deliver difficult truth with love, grace, and tact?
Ben: That’s easy for me because I talk about hope. Paul said in Romans 15:4 he wrote the Bible so we might have hope. If you walk away from the Bible with less hope, it’s a giant exercise in missing the point. Paul said, “Faith, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13).” That’s it. When I speak, my calling is not to be judgemental or be degrading. I went through a season of that. Like hardcore “Jesus is not your homeboy” kind of thing and I had to go through that, too. That was part of the journey. But since I was 16, I’ve always had hope in my messages. It’s my calling to talk about hope. I have so much content bursting out of my head. In 100 lifetimes I could not talk about all the things I want to with hope. Talking about hope is itself a loving topic.
Tyler: What advice would you give someone pursuing their dreams?
Ben: Ask a question and you’ll appear a fool for five minutes and be wise for life. Don’t ask a question and you’ll appear wise for five minutes and be a fool for life. When Jesus was 12 at the temple, those around him were not just amazed at his answers. They were amazed at his questions. Jesus asked questions. What I would say to my 19 year old self is: Faith can move mountains, but don’t be surprised if God hands you a shovel. Follow your heart, but take your brain with you. Reach for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground. Pray for the super, but do the natural and you’ll get supernatural. Don’t wait for opportunity to turn up; start turning up your sleeves. Put in the work. There are three things in life (work, love, prayer) that if you do, you won’t be off track. C.H. Spurgeon said, “Focus on your ability. God will take care of you opportunity.” Our generation wants to arrive without taking the trip. You focus on what you can do and let God take care of what you can’t do.
Tyler: Do you have any books you recommend?
Ben: Oh yeah! Tell me the subject though…
Tyler: I guess, as far as ministry..
Ben: Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton is gold. He was a Catholic who inspired Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Any book by C.S. Lewis. I’ve read pretty much all his books. Except Space Trilogy, because I didn’t understand what it was saying. A book by C.S. Lewis I really like is called George MacDonald who was one of the most profound influencers of my life. George MacDonald was the only person who did what I’m trying to do. I want to be a fantasy writer and a speaker. MacDonald was a fantasy writer and a pastor. He’s the most underrated character in history. He wrote a book called The Princess and the Goblin, which has to do with a magic ring. Does that ring any bells? Tolkien loved MacDonald and now we have Lord of the Rings. C.S. Lewis, in his book about George MacDonald, takes snippets from him and says things like, “When you worry you’re fetching tomorrow with your thoughts and thereby redoubling your vexation.” George MacDonald also said, “Man finds it hard to get, because he does not want the best. God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, but man would not take it.” Totally switching gears, In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day. I just read it. It was really good. Outliers is the book that changed my life more than any other non-fiction book. That has the 10,000 hours rule.
Tyler: What are you top five favorite books?
Ben: Out of any genre?
Ben: Oh goodness! Okay, I’m just gonna go off the top [of my head], because I can’t do it. I can’t pick five… A Star Wars novel called Traitor. I don’t know how Matthew Stover does it. That book changed my life. I had my heart broken at 19 and didn’t want to get out of bed. Traitor was all about this warrior, a jedi, whose Han and Leah’s son. He’s in a torture chamber and he learns.. There’s this line in the book, are you ready for this? I use it all the time. “Pain either has the power to break you or it is the power that makes you unbreakable. What it is depends on who you are.” That’s what the book is about, embracing pain. That’s why I can do the 10,000 hours. I used to throw up then get in my car and come teach, but that embrace the pain concept for me is why it’s, besides the Bible, number one. Number two, Lord of the Rings. Number three…There’s more Star Wars novels, but I’ll move on from those… I’ll go with The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. Fourth, would be… uh.. It’s gonna hit me later like, “You should have said that!” But fourth would be.. Outliers. That should be way up higher actually. It changed my life. Five would be… in no particular order… Five, besides the Bible, would be the Harry Potter series. People had controversy over the first movie because it had to do with wizards, but if you’re gonna get rid of Harry Potter you gotta get rid of Lord of the Rings and you gotta get rid of Narnia, because they all do that, too. But then, once the seventh book came out, people realized it’s a morality tale. Very binary of light versus darkness. The message is on friendship, bravery, courage, just all the classic unwritten laws of heaven. Because of those books I think J.K. Rowling is the greatest writer alive…and I read for a living. It’s like Narnia; it’s layers. Even the names she’s using have Greek mythological history or Greco-Roman backdrop. It’s crazy. She’ll throw a line into book one and ten years down the line in book seven that is one of the integral parts of the plot. She’s a genius! I’m jealous of her!