Ben Pritchett is a good guy. He loves his family. He goes to church. He watches “So You Think You Can Dance.” He’s also a regular at Taboo Gentlemen’s Club in Anaheim, California. This fact alone is not particularly newsworthy as it does nothing to distinguish Pritchett from the legions of highway patrolmen, Chili’s managers, and forklift operators in north Orange County who fit the same description. What’s different about Ben Pritchett is that he has his Bible with him tonight. What’s different about Ben is that he’s a youth pastor.
Typically, this is where the Ted Haggard references and “Weinergate” jokes would begin, but this is not your typical story of clerical indiscretion. Ben Pritchett doesn’t go to Taboo because he’s “into that kind of thing.” He goes to work. He goes with permission from his wife and the blessings of his church’s elder board.
Pritchett’s presence at the strip club on this particular evening is part of a ministry focus that he terms “radical relevancy.” Within the parameters of this initiative, student ministry professionals have license to experiment with all manner of vice in an effort to reach America’s jaded and over-stimulated “Youtube Generation” for the Lord.
After a young woman who calls herself Chastity finishes providing Pritchett with his 3rd lap dance (aka “immersion experience”) of the evening, the 27 year-old father of four offers some insight as to why his unconventional approach is necessary.
“It used to be that all a youth pastor needed to connect with teens was a pair of cargo shorts and a soul patch. Maybe some Ben Folds glasses. Not anymore. Not when parents are as cool as they are these days. Moms and dads have Facebook accounts. They’re hosting post-prom keg parties. They’re listening to Cee Lo Green. And if parents are that hip, how’s a Christian Education major like me supposed to stay edgy yet approachable? I’ll tell you how – booby bars.”
Pritchett, a 4th generation youth pastor, goes on to say that he first attempted to bridge the generation gap through more traditional means before resorting to his current “shock and awe” approach.
“Listen, broskie, I did it all,” says Pritchett, motioning to his “I Heart Liberty City” T-Shirt to add emphasis to his point. “I was dropping S-bombs and ‘tard’ in casual conversation. I was re-tweeting Texts From Last Night during church. I was watching hours of Spike TV every night. It wasn’t enough. I mean, honestly, how many Lonely Island lyrics can one person memorize?”
Apparently not enough. Citing the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to “become all things to all people” Pritchett began engaging in what he calls “testimony enhancement” exercises. It started with Four Loko’s and Judd Apatow director’s cuts, progressed rapidly to experimentation with low grade narcotics, and eventually landed him at Taboo, where he can regularly be found dumping trash bags full of offering-plate subsidized singles onto the heads of cosmetically enhanced teen runaways.
Pritchett says it’s too early to tell if his time at Taboo is having an impact on the kids, but initial signs are positive.
“The guys in my Tuesday night small group have all responded really well to my ‘tales of T&A,’’ says Pritchett as he polishes off another Michelob Ultra. “They’re engaged. They ask questions. They stay afterward to discuss it in greater detail. It’s been really cool to see.”
He also brushes off any implications that his nonchalant engagement with skin bars might be having a negative effect on his students by making morally questionable behavior seem cool or somehow sanctifying.
“It’s like my first boss at the West Orange KFC told me: it doesn’t matter where you get your appetite, as long as you eat at home. That’s something that I think is so important for the youth of today to understand.”