The Deploy program at Grace Theological Seminary is unique, combining the most crucial elements of online education with in-person learning. This church-based theological education allows pastors to continue in their current ministry context while receiving solid education and valuable one-on-one mentorship from a trusted local leader.
The goal of Deploy was to develop leaders and help them to achieve more in less time. It’s working too, as evidenced by the first Charis Fellowship graduate, Pastor Nick Mazza. He was just honored as Momentum Ministry Partner’s Youth Pastor of the Year!
We sat down with Nick to find out more about his story and how Deploy helped prepare him for the challenges of youth ministry.
How did you get started in youth ministry?
As a college student, I worked as a student ministries intern at Marysville Grace Brethren Church for two summers. In July 2019 I moved to Bellefontaine, OH, where I immediately jumped in to help provide some vision for their student ministry. After graduating from Deploy in 2020, I was brought on as a pastor.
Did you always want to be a youth pastor?
I had planned on becoming a high school math teacher and football coach. But it was right before I left for college that the Lord began to reveal to me a passion for ministry. From the very beginning, I have felt led to student ministry.
While at college I became involved with the small group leadership at my campus church, taking on new levels of leadership. Between that and my summer internships at Marysville Grace, the Lord was growing my love for people and passion for ministry!
What excites you about youth ministry with this generation?
As I reflect on the needs of students, I realize that what they want and need is genuine love. They desire for people to show them love and show up in their times of need. Honestly, it’s exactly what our Savior did with everyone He came in contact with. He showed genuine love, seeking to serve them and not Himself (Matthew 20:28).
It can be very easy for youth pastors and youth leaders to become discouraged by the many challenges of interacting with students. But what excites me about ministry with this generation is the simplicity of the call to love. Jesus modeled it perfectly and empowered His disciples to change the world. I believe we can do the same with this generation because they value loyalty. If we can harness that loyalty and point it toward Jesus, they will be an unstoppable force for the Gospel.
You were awarded Youth Pastor of the Year at Momentum. What was it like hearing your name called and receiving this honor?
When Eric Miller, Executive Director of Ministry Operations, announced my name, I was truly shocked. After the initial shock, I was overcome with thankfulness. I was thankful for the team around me every week. My leaders love Jesus so much and pour their hearts into our students. They pray with and for them. They show up at games and performances. I have such an awesome team around me that I truly feel undeserving of the award because the student ministry at BGC is not great because of me. It’s great because of the people who pray, support, and love this ministry. Though I feel undeserving, I am honored to be given the award. I was overcome with emotion for quite a while afterward.
To be honest, a lot has happened in our ministry context over the past year. Receiving this award caused me to be encouraged by the Lord.
Part of the criteria to determine a winner is having specialized ministries that promote leadership development, discipleship, and spiritual disciplines. Could you share with us some of the unique things you do in youth ministry?
First off, we try and go big every week. We want to do things with excellence because we believe this is what God has called us to as a church. So, our snacks are unique and big every week. Our games are unique and big every week. And our worship team, mostly students, goes big every week. We want the students to see and experience things they have never seen before.
Another big belief we have is being agile and experimental in the things we do. We have modernized an old Henry Holsinger quote to describe our approach. “Conservative in theology, but experimental in methodology.” We believe in this because we don’t want to ever stray away from the Word of God and the Gospel, but we are willing to do big and crazy things for people to be drawn into the Lord!
Lastly, a unique approach we utilize is that I don’t teach for thirty minutes every week. I lead a discussion-based study because I believe students learn by experience and the sharing of ideas. This allows students to take more ownership of their faith. We have seen our students engaged at a more personal level.
Did receiving the award convince your students that they should shower you with mugs or t-shirts?
I’m not sure it convinced my students that I know what I am talking about. They know I love them and want them to know Jesus, and that’s great with me.
When and why did you decide to attend Deploy?
I decided to attend Deploy as I started planning for my youth pastor residency at Marysville Grace Church. I knew I wanted to attend Grace, and I was looking for an online option that I knew Grace had. However, when I found out about this new Deploy program which was all about competency-based learning, I got super excited. Being in school for 18 years and figuring out some way to get an A was fine, but at times I did not feel I got to display what I already knew.
With church-based theological education, I knew we would be thinking differently about how to assess students beyond the typical test. When I was presented with the potential of Deploy, I got very excited because it was no longer just about A’s or B’s. It was about showing that I can actually do a skill. This seemed perfect when considering pastoral education because the work of a pastor is about being able to love and lead in many different situations.
What was your Deploy experience like? What made it a beneficial experience?
Deploy was amazing. I had such a great time learning and growing throughout my experience. I loved the courses and the material I learned (all of which I found to be helpful), and I really enjoyed the time with my mentors! It was nice to learn information, take what I was learning and apply it to my life, and then see my mentors affirm that application.
What would you say to other busy youth pastors considering more education?
I am often reminded of the popular idea that all of us should strive to be life-long learners. I think that is something we say we believe. We certainly want our students to believe it. But we must practice humility and accept our need for continuing education. We should never stray from the truth of the Word of God, but we can always be willing to change our methodology in reaching and teaching the next generation of disciples.
Would you like to learn more about the Deploy program? You can pursue a theological education without pausing ministry. Learn more about this unique program and discover how you can be equipped for ministry leadership in the Church today.