Longevity in YTH Ministry
(This is the latest article in the AG News on ythology and our thoughts on longevity in YTH ministry)
What would it be like if gray hair became more common in youth leadership – if Baby Boomers and GenXs weren’t exceptions? What would happen if younger youth leaders — Millennials and GenZs — had youth mentors available to them rather than having to resort to learning by trial and error?
Jeff Grenell, founder of ythology, a youth ministry organization, and part-time instructor at North Central University (NCU) in Minneapolis, has been involved in youth ministry for more than 35 years. It began when he graduated from Evangel College (now university) in 1985, and he and his wife, Jane, began their life together as youth ministers in Indiana.
As their ministry experience increased over the years, the Grenells did something somewhat unusual – they continued in youth ministry rather than pursuing a senior pastorate or other church leadership position. The reason is fairly simple: God called them to be in youth leadership.
After serving as youth pastor at various churches, including 11 years at First Assembly of God in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jeff accepted a position to teach youth ministry at NCU in 2005. While teaching full time at NCU, Grenell continued in youth leadership across the country as a mentor and coach, while still ministering to youth.
In 2015, Grenell stepped down from serving at NCU, and he and Jane launched a new ministry called, ythology.
“One of the main reasons I began ythology was because there were very few veterans in youth ministry,” Grenell states. “So a major part of what I’m doing is inspiring longevity in youth ministry. Unless the Lord directs you, there’s no reason to get out of youth work. We just simply have to reinvent ourselves at every stage. Besides, the family has been disintegrating in America — youth ministry should be leading the way to model healthy family to this generation.”
Jeff explains that oftentimes it’s not the calling that changes, but growing self-doubt that disables youth leaders.
“As a youth leader gets older, he or she may start to question themselves,” Grenell observes. “Are they relevant? Can they relate to the younger generation? Is it time for someone younger to lead?”
Grenell says that one of the biggest misconceptions in youth ministry is that there is an age-out process.
“I believe students need youth leaders who are willing to run the course of life — rookies similar in age, big brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, fathers and mothers, and also grandfathers and grandmothers who can model family and who understand stages of development,” he says.
Now 57 years old, Grenell urges youth leaders to remain in the role God called them to unless He directs them otherwise.
“It takes effort,” Grenell says. “But I simply reinvent myself every few years. I do that through research — Ted.com, youth magazines, blogs, social media, YouTube, staying current with teen music, and living in the teen world as much as possible. I love to interview students everywhere I go and that is an education in itself.”
“I have known Jeff Grenell for many years,” says Jeff Deyo, a Worship Arts faculty member at NCU and well-known Christian recording artist, “and honestly, as wildly passionate as I am about the next generation, I can’t think of anyone who is more committed to fighting for the youth of this nation than he is.”
Anti-human trafficking and humanitarian components are also a part of ythology. Grenell explains that he knows that youth are at risk throughout the United States to sex trafficking — noting that even his own daughter was approached by a trafficker a few years ago. And the compassion focus of ythology comes through his experience with Convoy of Hope. He is currently a representative for its FeedONE program, which feeds tens of thousands of young people and children globally on a daily basis.
In 2015, Jane, his ministry partner and love of his life, passed away due to cancer. Jeff says nothing has impacted his ministry more than Jane. He adds that many people knew her, so that has given him the opportunity to speak to leaders and their spouses simultaneously.
“Marriage is such a critical part of ministry,” he explains. “When it is healthy, the ministry is healthy.”
Now with an empty household, as two of his children are adults and married with four grandchildren, and his youngest is finishing up college, Jeff focuses on coaching leaders and reaching youth through ythology.
“The response by youth leaders has been amazing,” Grenell says. “The rookies really want that experienced leadership around them. I sense nothing but respect from the young men and women who are leading youth ministry across the nation.”
As far as youth being receptive, Grenell says his age isn’t a barrier. Through his interactions with youth across the nation, he’s gotten a clear view of their current culture.
“I see a rise in the diversity ethic, an increase in theology, intentionality toward campus access, a desire for the supernatural, and a lot of confusion with identity and the sexual revolution,” he says.
But his popularity with youth might best be determined by his summer calendar – it’s nothing but one youth camp and event after another. “I think I might be home 10 or 12 days all summer long,” Grenell laughs.
“Everywhere he goes, he is effectively pouring into youth leaders and and youth alike,” Deyo says. “Yet he is not only encouraging them, he is succinctly empowering them to see themselves as God sees them and then to live in such a manner.”
In 2018, Grenell rejoined the staff at NCU. During the school year he teaches youth ministry on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, does weekly youth ministry coaching with eight or nine churches across the country, and then every weekend he’s in a different church or event somewhere in the world.
“The idea is to raise up a generation of youth leaders committed to the culture and the church,” Grenell states. “I want people to see that it takes work, research, and proximity to impact a generation.”