A Culture of Belonging
Christian Leadership Alliance President and CEO Tami Heim recently interviewed Newt Crenshaw, President and CEO of Young Life.
Newt Crenshaw brings extensive experience and faithful commitment to his role at Young Life, leading a global ministry with a presence in over 100 countries.
Crenshaw is committed to Young Life’s 80-year mission of reaching young people with the gospel and teaching them to grow in their faith. He is focused on diversifying the mission of Young Life at all levels and creating a culture of belonging, while continuing the global growth of the organization. This includes the strategic priority of developing healthy staff and leaders within the mission and enabling them to innovate as they reach young people and encourage them in their faith journeys.
Before his work with Young Life, Crenshaw was a senior executive with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, where he was able to grow business, empower employees, and expand the company’s reach overseas. He also served on Young Life’s Board of Trustees and, along with his wife, Susan, helped establish Young Life ministry in Kobe, Japan.
Newt and Susan live in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and have four adult children and two granddaughters. He will be featured as a keynote speaker during The Outcomes Conference 2022 in Louisville, Kentucky, April 26-28.
You’re seeking to create a “culture of belonging” at Young Life. Can you share about that?
We believe the love of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ compels us to care about and befriend every young person. We also see God’s kingdom as beautifully diverse, like his creation, calling us to all kinds of communities in the U.S. and around the world. By focusing on a culture of belonging, we can attract, develop and retain staff, volunteers, leaders and stakeholders who reflect those communities and the young people who live in them. In doing so, we will - in the power of the Holy Spirit - be more effective ministers of the gospel and ambassadors for Jesus to all whom he brings us.
Based on your experience, are there some transferable principles for creating healthy cultures of belonging?
First, this type of culture shaping needs to be owned and modeled at the top of the organization. Secondly, it requires a posture of humility and ongoing invitation and listening to those who are different or who have felt on the margins of the organization. For Christian organizations, it is imperative that the initiative is grounded in Scripture and linked to the central purpose of the entity. Finally, I would say that getting an outside perspective/assessment can be helpful, especially as the organization defines the tangible activities, outcomes and impact that is to be achieved.
What most excites you about the global work of Young Life today?
I am excited to see how God is moving in different countries and cultures to build his kingdom here on earth. We are also blessed and amazed at how our God calls his people and gifts them in such remarkable and tangible ways. It feels like we are getting a front row seat to the fulfillment of Acts 1:8, as we operate in the power of the Holy Spirit as witnesses to the transforming love of Jesus Christ in young peoples’ lives, and also in their families, their neighborhoods, barrios, communities, villages, cities and even countries. Truly, we are joining our Triune God in his work.
How does a desire for “belonging” in young people relate to Young Life’s efforts to communicate Christ’s love for them?
We recognize that young people generally “belong” before they believe...
Based on very good work by Dr. Kara Powell and her colleagues at the Fuller Youth Institute, we know that young people are asking basic questions around identity, purpose and belonging. This is true for those who seem to be far from the Lord Jesus, for those who are searching and near his kingdom, and for those who have decided to follow Jesus and find their identity and purpose in him. We recognize that young people generally “belong” before they believe, and we proclaim to all of them that there is room at the Lord’s table for them, and therefore, within Young Life. We believe that by providing answers centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ, we can naturally share how Young Life’s mission community provides a place of belonging and belief for all kinds of young people.
What are some key challenges for leading a Christian nonprofit today? Opportunities?
Major challenges that many leaders face include: appropriately responding to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; navigating increasingly secular and theologically apathetic societies in the West, while staying attuned to God’s movement in other countries around the world; seeing, centering, and caring for those who have often been on the margins and overlooked; working with and inspiring donors and partners who want to see tangible outcomes and meaningful societal impact; caring for frontline staff and volunteers whose lives are impacted by all of the above and the layered trauma they encounter sometimes on a weekly basis.
As one of our retired leaders was known for saying about ministry in hard times: “It presses you up against the Lord Jesus!” We need the Lord – his love, his leading, his provision, his comfort, and his presence by the Spirit in our own lives – if we expect to minister effectively to those who are hurting and lost.
What encouragement would you share with other ministry leaders?
I have been learning from one of my spiritual mentors to experience God’s unfailing love in my own life, and not only be asking “what can I do next?” or “how can I serve?” We all want to be joyful servants of his, but joy comes from experiencing our Savior’s redeeming, pursuing love for us. Jesus has been making this clear to me as I have meditated on John 15:9-11 over the past months.
Learn more at younglife.org
Newt Crenshaw will be a keynote speaker at The Outcomes Conference 2022, April 26-28, Louisville, KY. (Register today!)
See inspiring video stories from Young Life on CLATV - WATCH