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Legacy Award Presented for Four Decades of NextGen Ministry

National leaders at the 2024 NextGen Leader's Conference presented a special award to honor Jeff Grenell for his 40 years of ministry to children, youth, and NextGen leaders.
The week of March 11, nearly 1,500 NextGen leaders from across the United States gathered to receive training, resources, and encouragement at the Assemblies of God’s NextGen Leaders Conference in Orlando, Florida.

The conference’s second biennial gathering included several master classes and general sessions, all with the purpose of empowering NextGen leaders to continue strong in their call to make disciples of the next generation for Christ.

During the conference’s closing session, a special award was given by National Youth Ministries Director Josh Wellborn and Chief Ministries and Resources Officer Jay Mooney to honor the ministry of Jeff Grenell.

Grenell has been in ministry to NextGen students for 40 years, starting as a youth leader, his first official position, in 1984 while attending Evangel University.

After graduation, Grenell and his late wife Jane served in Indiana as youth pastors for four years before being called to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1988 where they served for an additional 11 years. During their time in Michigan at Grand Rapids First AG, Grenell led the student ministries and travelled extensively as a youth specialist.

In the summer of 2000, Grenell and his family planted a first-of-its-kind “youth church” in Michigan. The church specifically targeted youth and young adults on Sunday mornings.

From there, Grenell served at North Central University in Minneapolis for 17 years, holding several positions at the university including professor, university relations director, director of Academic Partnerships, and building and overseeing The Institute for NextGen (iNG) ministry department. While in Minneapolis, Grenell also founded ythology, an organization that offers coaching, training, events, camps, and conventions to raise up children, youth, and young adult leaders.

In 2021, Grenell remarried. He and his wife, Jessica, united their ministry callings to continue NextGen work in Dallas with ythology.

When asked about his longevity in NextGen ministry, Grenell stated, “I don’t think you age out of youth ministry. It’s not about age, it’s about relationship.”

Grenell’s passion for the next generation has birthed a desire for the sustainability of youth ministry, if the Lord tarries. His strategic emphasis for sustainability includes raising up quality, healthy youth leaders for the future of the church.

Over the past four decades, Grenell has touched countless lives and his impact on past, current, and future generations is the reason he was selected for the Legacy Award.

While presenting the award, Wellborn told Grenell that his influence in the Michigan AG district, Wellborn’s home district, was huge.

Steve Svoboda, director of strategic partnerships for CALLED, who has known Grenell for many years, says that Grenell’s commitment to the Word of God, and his relationship with teenagers, is what has stuck with him the most.

“You do ministry with your life, you love students so deeply and passionately, and you encourage many with your love for the Word,” Svoboda told Grenell.

Grenell says that over his four decades in NextGen ministry, the most important lesson he has learned, and now teaches others, is that relationship is foremost.

"Too often, youth and children’s leaders want the mic and the platform and the social footprint, but they don’t want the relationship with young people. But, you cannot pastor merely with a mic, you cannot pastor simply from a platform — we pastor young people in relationship to them,” he states.

Another tip Grenell offers NextGen leaders is to develop a missiology of ministry. And one of the most important elements of that missiology is context. As NextGen leaders, Grenell urges young leaders to remain current with students. That is accomplished by understanding and immigrating into the context, the world, of their students.

“Sit with them, listen to them, ask questions, really find out who they are. Good youth leaders know the names of their students. Great youth leaders know the stories of their students,” he advises.

Finally, Grenell encourages NextGen leaders by asking them a foundational question: “When is the last time you cried for a teenager?” He challenges young leaders to try and think of the last time they were truly broken for the world today’s children and youth live in. This type of empathy, he states, has a great impact on the lives of youth.

Grenell noted that this empathy is what should drive NextGen leaders to their knees in prayer and, ultimately, bring longevity in their work.

“I want the amount of time I spend with teenagers to match the amount of time I spend praying for them,” he says. “If I’m not praying for my students and the ministry I’m in, there is a high probability I’ll be looking for another opportunity soon. Longevity is driven by empathy and prayer for the people and the place God has put us.”

The Grenells’ ministry, ythology, offers a variety of resources to both parents and NextGen leaders, including a weekly podcast and blog, events, NextGen weekend events, and leadership and life coaching.

“If we can resource NextGen leaders,” he states, “and we can help them get through their first few years, then we can help mature them in their calling and not be victim to the turnover rates found in NextGen ministry.”

Grenell offers this encouragement: “Really, the more time you spend with teenagers, getting beyond their names and knowing their stories, the longer you will be in youth ministry. And this proximity and longevity is where great impacts are made for the kingdom of God.”

Ashley B. Grant

Ashley B. Grant has a master's degree in Human Services Marriage and Family Counseling from Liberty University and is a credentialed Christian counselor through the American Association of Christian Counselors. Grant also holds certifications in crisis pregnancy counseling and advanced life coaching. Ashley is a fourth generation Assemblies of God preacher’s kid and has one daughter and three sons.