Web Page Updates

Hey everyone, Not a Mega Church? has no dropped the wordpress.com portion of the site and is now just simply http://www.notamegachurch.com.

From now on, I will be posting new updates and will be slowly rolling out new things to the page.  It’s a very exciting time for me and this blog, so stay tuned.

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Lessons Learned from Outside Teachers

This fall, we began a series on Sex and Dating.  It is not the first time we have talked about this topic but it was the first time in over 2 years that we have done that.  One of the reasons we didn’t talk about it for a bit was because I did the teaching the last time and it was a very awkward time.  I know that is a lame excuse, but it definitely caused me to think twice about teaching it again.

So this year, we decided to bring in a local Christian non-profit come in and teach about it.  They came in and taught for 2 weeks (1 group for the high school students and 1 group for the middle school students).  Although I was grateful that they taught about this subject, it did not go exactly as planned.  Because of this, I thought of many things I that I did wrong during this process.  So, I figured I would pass on my lessons learned on in case anyone is getting ready to bring in an outside person to share to your youth.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Meet with the teacher beforehand and share what you hope to accomplish during their teaching time. Although I did meet with our teacher beforehand, I did not let them know the make-up of our youth program.  Not all youth groups are similar in students that attend, so had they been better prepared for the type of students we have, they might have tweeked their overall presentation a bit.
  2. Make sure you know exactly what they are going to share. You don’t want to be thrown any curveballs during the presentation as they may share something completely outlandish.
  3. Be prepared to follow up afterwards.  When you teach on anything, it is always good to have a follow up strategy.  This is even more important when you teach on such an important subject or an outside teacher comes in to share.  One of the best things Katie, my Associate, did after one of our meetings was she grabbed a bunch of girls immediately after the presentation was over and began to process with them what was said and how they were feeling.  You may not need to do something like that, but following up in the next week would be a great start.
  4. Do a thorough evaluation afterwards. Oftentimes organizations will give you an evaluation to fill out.  However, I have found that most of them are pretty generic.  This particular group’s evaluation was very generic.  Therefore, instead of writing out an evaluation, I went and met with the person who presented and gave them a verbal one.  I have found that when you write up something, people may misconstrue your comments.  So, if you have some harder things to say on an evaluation, it is better to talk it over with them rather than write it.  Speak the truth in love, but definitely speak the truth.

In the past we have had a variety of outside teachers come in and share and overall I highly recommend them.  Working at a non-mega Church, it can get overwhelming and you can drain yourself too much doing multiple teachings every single week.  So, if someone else can come and share competently with your youth, why wouldn’t you take the night off?  But, just great as it can be to have a night off, it can be a lot of work as well if not done right.

Have you had similar experiences and learnings?  Post them so we can all know how to do a better job on the front end so that we don’t have as much to do after they share.

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Learning from each other

The other day I had a great conversation with Katie, my Staff Associate, and Rick Beckwith, the VP of Field Initiatives for Young Life.  Rick, Katie and I have been friends for years and we had a great discussion about Young Life, the Church and how we can be reaching students better.  Now, I have blogged before about partnering with other churches and ministries – something I think is a must do.  But, out of this conversation, I had a different thought about partnering with others.

As we talked about youth ministry and leadership, I began to think about why other youth ministers do certain things and how we can inspire each other to follow a good example.  When I was an Intern at my first Church, one of my first training assignments was to go interview 3 other youth ministers and learn from them.  I was to ask them a lot of basic questions as to what they do and why they do it.  As I was reflecting on this time, it made me curious as to how many youth minsters, myself included, take time to learn from and with other youth ministers.  By this, I mean, how often am I meeting with other youth ministers now to process ministry and see how they are doing effective ministry (or, even as Rick said, “Sometimes we learn as much or more from seeing what folks DON’T DO RIGHT”).

To me, this is more than just meeting with other youth ministers regularly to discuss life and ministry.  This was taking it a step further.  I didn’t want to just talk about ministry, I wanted to experience ministry with someone else.  Therefore, I challenged Katie and myself to “shadow” another youth minister and basically see what they do, why they do it and learn from them as I hang with them.  I have an email into a few people to try to coordinate a time I can shadow them for an afternoon and evening.

Have you ever done something like this before?  How did it go?  When did you last shadow someone else?  Shadowing someone else is probably one of many different ways we can learn from each other.  What are those other ways?  Share them so that others can try.


  1. Think through how you learn best from others?  Is it by talking with another person, reading blogs or shadowing others?
  2. When you’ve picked out a way to learn that works best for you, take a minute to coordinate a time for you to do that.

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Teaching the Truth

I recently took a class from Dr. Michael Horton at Reformed Theological Seminary called “Ministry in the Post-Modern Context”.  During the class, Dr. Horton told us of an interesting stat.  He said that students who were raised up in an Evangelical church were very likely to abandon their faith by the time they are sophomores in college.  Naturally, I was blown away by that stat because that doesn’t seem very logical.  Why is that?  What makes someone who went to church regularly and really enjoyed it abandon their faith and not feel that Christ isn’t important to them and that Church is worth going to anymore?

It was a fascinating class in which it made me ponder so much about how I am reaching students for Christ for the long haul.  If this is the truly the case and Dr. Horton is right (which I have no reason to not believe him) that a growing number of believers are leaving the faith during their college years, we, as Youth Pastors have a huge problem on our hands.  Of course this is not all our responsibility, but as overseers of the youth program, we have to play a part in transitioning these youth into adulthood.  How can we bridge the gap between the teenage years and adulthood?  I believe that it comes down to a simple change in focus.

What are we to do?

I believe that a critical step that we need to do in helping students stay strong in Christ for the long haul is to teach the Truth of who God is.  Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Duh Tom, I do that”.  But, take a moment and think about your last meeting.  What was the most memorable part of it?  Was it the wild and crazy game you played, the creative and awesome video you showed, the funny skit guys who dressed up like cavemen OR was it the Truth of Christ?  Unfortunately for me, I have an easier time remember the crazy thing we did during our time together rather than the Truth of Christ that was revealed.

Students are not dumb.  They know that when they come to Church, people are going to talk about God and Christ.  So why, then, do we feel the need to play so many games and feel that we need to entertain them so much?  It is a very delicate balance because we want our group to be attractive to everyone while at the same time present the truth of Christ consistently.  I struggle with it constantly as I so desperately want our students to know the Truth but how do I present the Truth to students who are inundated in an MTV world where images come at them so fast?

One thing that sticks out to me is that it appears that we can get so caught up with making Christ attractive that we lose the fact that the truth of Christ is attractive enough.  It is almost like we have to come up with an angel to make Christ attractive to wild teenagers.  When we do this, I believe we miss the point that Christ is already attractive enough, we just have to share about him. Does that mean we have to stop being creative?  No, but the Truth should drive our creativeness, not vise-versa.  Do not get so caught up with the presentation and miss the content of whom you are presenting.

Christ says in John 8:31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  In this day and age, we can get so caught up with creative ways to share the gospel with our fancy PowerPoint slides, movie clips and dramatic performances (and believe me, I have done all those things).  It almost seems that we are trying to copy what MTV and the rest of the world is doing, but in a “Christian” way.  But, is that the right way?  Shouldn’t Christ and the truth found in Him dictate how we teach?  Do we have to go to such extremes if just knowing and understanding the truth will set us all free?

Effectively teaching students the Truth

Now, if you know me, you will know that I am not a Youth Pastor who gets up at the beginning of his meeting, opens my Bible and does an exegetical study.  I appreciate those who do that, but that is not how I am wired.  I love having fun with the youth and trying to find ways to create an exciting and attractive program.  But, Dr. Horton’s stat and subsequent challenge got me thinking of different ways we can be presenting the Truth of Christ so that students can have a committed, long term relationship with Him.

  1. Use the different learning styles. In order to be effective in teaching the truth, we have to be aware of the different learning styles of youth.  There are multiple learning styles: audio, visual, and kinesthetic.  Don’t get tied into just presenting Christ in one way.
  2. Repetition. The Truth of Christ is unchanging, so teach on who he is.  Andy Stanley has a great book, “The Seven Checkpoints” about this and gives some great insight on how repetition constantly reinforces important topics.
  3. Engage and help them Discover. Teaching the Truth about God doesn’t mean you stand up and preach until you are blue in the face and that their ears and minds are ready to explode.  Engage them and discuss the subject with them.  Throughout your message, ask questions so that they can discover the Truth rather be told what the Truth is.
  4. Strategically plan out our Meetings. What is it that we are teaching the students during our meetings together on Sunday?  Are we teaching them that Christ is all fun and just a little scripture?  Or, are we teaching that in all situations, Christ is present and relevant?
  5. Create a Educational Flow from Childhood to Adulthood. Coordinate with your Children’s Ministry, Christian Education and Adult Education Director(s) about the Truths of God you should communicated at each level/stage of their life.
  6. Follow up/through. Continue to earn the right and build relationships with students during the week.  Help them process the information you all discuss on Sunday mornings or at small group by following up with them throughout the week.
  7. Involve Parents. This is especially helpful if you have Christian parents.  Parents are the ultimate spiritual heads of their children.  But, too often, parents believe it is the Church’s job to teach their children about God. The church is just a small part of presenting Christ.  The bulk of the work has to come from the parents.  So, let parents know what you are discussing so that they can know and follow up throughout the week with their children.
  8. Set up Mentorships. This is to integrate the generations in your Church.  It is important to partner up the adults with youth so that the younger generation can learn from the older generation and their experiences.

Final Thought

As youth move into adulthood, like Dr. Horton said, I have had the unfortunate experience of seeing too many young people fade away from Christ and the Church.  The comment, “church/Christ just isn’t for me anymore” is not an acceptable answer, especially for someone who was very committed to Christ as a teen.  Sometimes I wonder, was it me?  Did I turn him/her off from Christ with what we did in our program?  I know that is not the right mindset to have, but it I still wonder.  I believe that in order to engage someone long term for Christ, we have to begin to look at what and how we are teaching our youth.  Christ never said he was just about fun and games.  However, he did say that he was THE way, THE truth and THE life (John 14:6).  Therefore, let us not do a disservice to our youth and present Christ in just a fun, comfortable way.  Rather, let’s present him for exactly who he is and see how our youth step up and take hold of him.


  1. Do this quick exercise.  Your Senior Pastor just gave you the challenge to share about Prayer to your youth next week.  Quickly, write down how you would organize your meeting?  You have to prepare an hour time frame.
  2. Now, after you have prepared your mock meeting, answer these questions:
  • What was your overall objective for the meeting?
  • What was the 1st thing you prepared?  Was it your game, mixer or social activity OR was it the truth about Christ you were going to present?
  • Was your game tied into your teaching or was it completely separated and had no correlation?

For your next lesson, start with the Truth of Christ and then form the rest of your meeting around that. Let the Truth of Christ drive what and how we present.


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Core Leadership Values

In a vision statement you process what you want to be about as a youth program from a macro level.  Hopefully it will help guide your every move and make you a more effective ministry by giving you guidance on what you commit to and what you say no to.  A few years ago, I had a thorough evaluation done of our entire youth program by 3 experienced youth workers (volunteer and full-time) who took a hard look at our ministry.  As I debriefed with them the evaluation of our overall ministry, it was recommended to me that our Youth Leadership team (staff and volunteers combined) have a core set of values that we commit to.

The purpose of creating these was to identify values that we believe are vitally important in our ministry and commit to them.  It’s important to identify what your leadership team will be because it keeps you focused on what you view as important in your ministry.   As with all things, unless you make it clear what you are striving for as a team, no one will know for sure.  They will just be able to guess that what you are about.

At Cedar Run, we have 4 Core Leadership Values that we strive for.  They are:

  1. Prayer is our work; ministry is merely the fruit of that work.
  2. We can only take others as far as we have allowed ourselves to journey in Christ
  3. Kids remember how we made them feel, and what they saw in us – not anything we taught them up front. Therefore, it is our relationships, not our programs that truly bear fruit.
  4. Work together in unison with team members.  Be encouraging and uplifting at all time.

From my example, you can tell that we value Prayer, Personal Discipleship, Relationships and Encouragement.  What about your Youth Leadership team?  What are you about as a leadership team?  What are your goals and priorities?  Just like mission statements, there are no rhyme or reason as to what your core leadership values are.  It all depends on what you, as a leadership team, deem as important and worth striving for.


  1. Jot down some core leadership principles you want to be about as a Youth Leadership Team.
  2. When you are done, present them before your volunteer leaders and together come up with your Core Leadership Values.

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Ministry Tool Bag

On Saturday, I took the plunge.  I threw my loyalty to the side and jumped in to the wonderful world of the iPhone!  I have always loved Apple products as I have a MacBook and an iPod, but I have been with Verizon for years and most of my buddies are on the “In” network.  So, my loyalty to Verizon and even Palm (to a lesser degree) was strong, but alas, it finally took a backseat on Saturday.

Since I made my purchase, I have been busy downloading Apps for my new iPhone. Whatever I am interested in, there definitely appears to be an “App for that”!  As I have been exploring this whole new world (can you feel the excitement I have been experiencing since I bought the iPhone?) it made me think about what Apps are in my Ministry Tool Bag.  What do I carry around with me that will help me minister?

Currently, in my ministry toolbag, I have my:

  • MacBook so that I can be connected anywhere I go and able to work on messages. This contains all my major documents and resources we use for ministry.  Whether it is a video, a Bible or youth rosters, I carry my MacBook around whenever I can.
  • Bible so that I can do my Quiet time or look through scripture for messages.  I could use my MacBook or iPhone, but sometimes I like the book form.
  • iPhone (previously my Treo) so that I can stay connected to youth and the office.
  • Spiral Notebook.  This carries my “To Dos” and Notes so I can scribble down some notes for an event or future talk if I don’t feel like pulling out the MacBook.

So, this being said, what is in your ministry tool bag?  Share your thoughts and why you have them in your bag.  It’d be great to see what others carry around and maybe we might be able to add that to our toolbag.

Also, if you have a cool iPhone app that I need to download, post it.

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More than just Praying

Our Church just finished up a 30 days of Prayer focus. The goal was for us, as individuals, to be in daily prayer with the Lord, praying for things specifically and seeing how God works in our midst because of our commitment to offer it up to Him.  Accepting the challenge, I was excited about this and wanted to see what happened.  It even reminded me of a time when I saw God work through prayer in a mighty way.

When I was the WyldLife Director for Northwest Fairfax Young Life, the volunteer leaders and I wanted to really seek the Lord and rely on Him and his provisions for our upcoming summer camp trip.  So, this one particular year, the volunteer leaders and I committed to get together each Thursday to pray during the spring and early summer for our camp trip.  We would first write on the dry/erase board our camp requests.  Then, we would pray from them and individual middle school students we really wanted to go on the trip.  When it was all said and done with, the Lord provided over 100 middle schoolers to come!  It was the largest camp trip we ever went on (and I believe the largest still) and we had a significant number of students come to know the Lord during that week!  It was a great blessing from God.

As I reflected on that camp trip, I realize that the only thing we did differently from previous years was that we strategically prayed for students and for the camp trip.  Oftentimes, in ministry, when in meetings or planning out events or curriculum, a common practice is to pray at the start.  Do you do this?  I am sure you do, but do you know why we do this? I don’t know about you, but when I pray, it is for God’s wisdom to come upon us as we make decisions so that more people may come to know Him.  As noble as this request is, should our prayer time before the Lord be more than just a thing we do before a meeting, event or a decision is to be made?

Remembering my summer camp example convicted me in how I am currently praying for the youth and the youth ministry.  I believe that if I am going to experience God’s blessings like my summer camp trip, I need to PRAY STRATEGICALLY for my ministry.   When King Solomon took over as King of Israel, the Lord gave him a chance to ask for whatever he wanted and it would be given to him.  So, in 1 Kings 3:5-14 Solomon asked for wisdom.  Why?  Because he was so young and with the responsibility he had to lead being so great, he needed God to be his wisdom and guidance.  In the same way, as Youth Pastors and Ministers, the responsibility we have to share Christ to our youth is so great, we need to be actively praying for God’s wisdom and guidance.  Why try to go at this alone?  We need to be asking God for wisdom and discernment consistently.

But, praying strategically is more than just praying for wisdom and safety for your students.  It is praying specifically for your students by name, your program for what you hope would happen and become, for your leaders (and for more leaders), and many other things on your heart.  As Christ points out in Luke 11:5-10, if we ask, seek and knock, God will provide and bless us.  So, if this is true, why wouldn’t we come before the Lord with boldness and strategically pray for our ministry.

So, how do you pray strategically?  Here are some examples:

  1. Be specific.  Write down specific things you can be praying over so that, when the Lord answers it, you will be able to identify how he is working in your ministry.  Write down students by name and pray specifically over each student.
  2. Pray for things that only God could provide and answer.  This isn’t an ultimate wish list kind of thing.  But, think through some areas that you know are beyond your reach and only God can do.
  3. After you make a list of things to pray over, organize them to pray over them throughout the week.  For example, you can pray for your existing leaders and new leaders on Sundays and Thursdays while you pray for different students in your program daily.

Again, these are just a few examples, but as I have found out many times, it can be very easy to get into a routine and pray as we always have – not that there is anything wrong with that.  But, when we do this, I believe that we can miss out on what it means to pray intentionally and see how God blesses your prayers and your heart for others and your program.  Try something new this week and refresh or create a prayer strategy so that you can see God at work.


  1. Examine your prayer strategy.  Do you have one?  Do you need to update it or change it in some way?  Look over it and update it as needed or create one.
  2. After you have created or updated your prayer strategy, have your volunteer leaders look over it and offer input to so that they feel included and a part of the process.

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