God is using Michael Todd big time, but Michael has no allusions that he is the one doing it and he rightly gives the glory to God.
Todd says he has no illusions that his church’s success can be attributed to savvy marketing, great technological design or his own inspired preaching. In fact, he says his entire testimony served as a test of obedience: Was he willing to obey God even when it didn’t make sense or match his own life plans?
His involvement at his parents’ small house church began after his mother called him on the phone and informed him, “God told me you’re supposed to do something with the youth of this church.” Todd tried to politely refuse—even suggesting that maybe she had misheard God, who meant to use one of her other sons. After all, Todd had never preached or taught from the Bible. But his mom would not be swayed. The next week, Todd became the youth pastor of his parents’ church. There were only seven youth present: three of his brothers, three god brothers and god sister, and one other person. (The church itself had only 15 members.) Todd called the ministry “SO FLY,” an acronym for “Sold Out Free Life Youth.”
“I had never prepared a message or done anything like that,” Todd says. “But God told me four things before I walked in there. He said, ‘Be real. Tell on yourself. Don’t judge them. And love them first.’ And that was my instructional guide into ministry.”
Six months later, Todd says SO FLY had 150 young adults attending weekly. SO FLY had no flashy sound system or game systems. The youth group was 150 young people “literally in a room in a circle,” Todd says.
Today, he recognizes it was a spiritual phenomenon, it was real church, but at the time, he says he didn’t take it that seriously. He didn’t even study or prepare message notes; he just showed up every week planning to share what was going on in his life, talk about the Bible and try to relate to the kids. He says he focused on the four tenets God taught him before his first night of SO FLY. That meant confessing his own sins to the group at times—including pornography addiction and emotional manipulation—and sharing how Jesus personally transformed him every day. He believes that raw, uncomfortable honesty is the real reason young people responded to him.
“I think people are drawn to authenticity,” Todd says. “We have a saying around here: ‘It’s not about perfection; it’s about progression.’ So that gives people license to mess up and be like, ‘It’s my bad. I messed up, but I’m going to get better.’ And I think hearing that from somebody who holds the office of a pastor—when most pastors [project perfection]—is just refreshing to people. … How many pastors or small group leaders actually confess what they’ve done—not in an ethereal story or in an ‘I know a guy’ story? That’s how the Bible tells us we overcome. Yes, it’s by the blood of the Lamb—that’s what God did and what Jesus did on the cross—but then by the words of our testimony. And I think that’s what’s missing today.”
You will need to listen to the Podcast to learn how one of Todd’s sermons got posted on YouTube and went viral. It was certainly not Michael’s’ doing.
Michael now has a huge following on the Internet and it is interesting to read what he has to say about its use by God.
“The first thing you have to know is the internet has changed everything,” Todd says. “And [in some ways], the last thing it has touched is the church—because we want to keep our traditions. I really do believe the Great Commission is to go into all the world and make disciples, but I don’t think we could have done that in a healthy way until now, with the internet. There’s no way I could be a good father and a good husband and all this other stuff, and also go into the world and make disciples. Even if you’re [focusing] only on your house and your neighborhood, that’s still a huge undertaking. But I believe God’s given us the internet … for great good.”
Todd has chosen to obey—and God blessed his ministry beyond his wildest expectations. He spoke to Charisma about his testimony, why the next generation has latched onto his approach to preaching the gospel and how pastoral responsibilities are shifting in the internet age.
Todd never wanted to be a pastor. In fact, as a teenager, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to be a Christian. Though he grew up in a Christian home, he says he never had an authentic relationship with God until his late teenage years. Before then, he says he was primarily raised and discipled by BET and MTV. The church didn’t have answers for the problems he and his peers were going through.
“I messed up so much because I didn’t have an example,” Todd says. “The only rule we were given was, ‘Don’t have sex before you get married.’ Well, what happens when you’ve done that? What happens when the locker room introduced you to pornography? … The church has been so silent about that. In recent years, they’ve started talking about it, but even then, the church is so PG when our middle school locker rooms are R-rated and X-rated. … So what ends up happening is we’re trying to spend the rest of our lives undoing what was presented first.”
That feeling of being failed by the church as a teenager is part of why Todd says he’s so passionate about helping teenagers and young adults today. He says he wishes he’d had a relatable, young mentor like himself when he was struggling with his faith.
You can connect with Steve Strang’s Charisma Media’s podcast with Michael Todd by clicking on the link below.