4 Lessons from Hamilton

Steve Anderson
May 25th, 2021

We suffered many losses over the past 15 months – graduations, reunions, church gatherings, and socialization. With all this heartache, it’s good to stop and appreciate the one thing we all gained.

Access to Hamilton!

Hamilton, the award-winning, mind-blowing, smile-inducing reinvention of our Founding Fathers was made available for all of us through the generosity of a $6.99 membership to Disney+.

I remember hearing about Hamilton a few years ago. Historical musicals are not on my list of top five genres. I didn’t think much about, but it popped up on my screen one evening while searching for something to watch. 

Ten minutes in, I was hooked. I haven’t stopped raving about it. The untethered creativity, the genre-crossing music, the symbolic stagecraft, the astounding choreography, the gifted storytelling–it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It was genius from start to finish.

I began to wonder, “How did Lin-Manuel Miranda come up with an idea like this?” How does someone conceive of a musical about the Founding Fathers, featuring a mostly minority cast, and hip-hop music? What principles could I steal for my youth ministry?

I think we can learn a great deal from Hamilton. Here are a few ideas for us to consider.

Break Every Box

Hamilton is a genre-bending marvel. No formulas were followed, no preconceived boxes left unbroken.

After leading the same youth ministry for 20 years, I have become the Master of the Tweak.  I make small adjustments to something and call it “creativity.” That’s okay, but it also leads to becoming stale. Doing the same old thing, even if it’s slightly different, is still the same old thing.

Instead of tweaking things, what if we reexamined everything we do with no-holds-barred imagination? What if we reexamine our gatherings, small groups, outreach, teaching style, art and media, teams and roles? What if we threw all the pieces of our ministry on the table and assembled a new species no one has ever seen before?

There is no better time to re-invent ourselves than after 15 months of having to do everything differently anyway. Throw it all on the table, grind it down, and see what dreams emerge from the dust.

Make the Old New

It’s remarkable how relevant Alexander Hamilton’s story is-issues like immigration, race, moral indiscretions, leadership, the power of words, family, political dueling. But it’s also 250 years old, which makes it a challenge to bring it into contemporary conversations. That’s where Hamilton shines. The story needed a fresh coat of paint and a new soundtrack. When properly clothed, the relevance hit us like the bullet from Burr’s gun.

The same is true for Scripture. Are there themes of the Bible that we’ve missed? Has our storytelling grown old? Are we teaching worn-out clichés and illustrations from a lifetime in evangelical subculture? Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun,” but he didn’t mean we can’t tell the stories in new ways. Imagine how innovative Jesus’ teaching must have seemed to the teachers of his day. Why not allow unbridled creativity to reign in ours as well? If we want students to encounter God, who is creative through and through, why not be as creative as we can?

Be Intentional about Everything

Nothing in Hamilton is wasted – the set, the choreography, the costumes. There is subtle meaning behind it all (Check out 22 AMAZING DETAILS That Make HAMILTON Even Better!) When was the last time we looked at our youth space in this way? Our communication? Our events? 

Every space, every program, everything we say and do, can impart meaning. Let’s pack our ministries with intentionality, whether it’s how we decorate the youth room, the language we use when giving announcements, or the time we give for silence during our gatherings. There are unlimited opportunities to help our students encounter God in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Discover Untapped Collaboration

Hamilton was the passion project of Lin-Manuel Miranda, but he had incredible talent around him. He invited others into his process to make a world-changing piece of art.

Who are the creatives who can help us make a new recipe for the future? What talent lies dormant in our volunteers and students? Who are the artists, dreamers, entrepreneurs, and right-brained thinkers out there? We need to invite them into the process of reimagining what church can be.

This past fall, we let our student leadership team use these principles to dream their way into something new for our student ministry. With everything in flux in the midst of the pandemic, we invited them to figure out how to keep their peers engaged and build community. Their idea was brilliant. They divided our whole student population into “Houses” (like Harry Potter) and leveraged those relationships for impromptu get-togethers and momentum-inducing moments. It was a win through and through.

Hamilton was a game-changer. The world has a new genre, and we have principles that can remake the way we do youth ministry. Watch Hamilton again. As you do, consider the creative possibilities it reveals. Let’s break the boxes and imagine what’s possible. Don’t throw away your shot!

Steve Anderson

Steve Anderson is Pastor of Student Ministries Mountain View Community Church in Frederick, Maryland and a co-host of the Youth Ministry Sherpas podcast.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.