About YL
Our Values

Ministry can be hard, so there is immense value in connecting with people who share your heart for children and teens. We come alongside and encourage ministry leaders in the ups and downs of ministry. We also value a family-based approach to ministry because we recognize the power and influence of parents. Young people are served well when they experience caring, life-giving relationships with a variety of adults, so we provide ongoing support for these adults–church leaders, volunteers and parents.


We are practical theologians–meaning we think with you about how Christ-centered leaders can share faith with children and teenagers. Relevant and immediately applicable to your specific ministry context, our services support your role as ministry leader. As a leader, you are a crucial tool in the hands of God. Let us help you be more focused, intentional and effective in order to stay in ministry for as long as God wants you there.


We build bridges. For 38 years, we taught at both a Lutheran and a Baptist Seminary. Our events bring people from 30+ denominations. We appreciate denominations, honor them, and recognize their reality. So, we aren’t non-denominational;  we are intentionally multi-denominational. We center on the core issues of the Gospel to ensure that our training is focused on you, the next generation, Jesus, and the Church.


The world looks different since YL began in 1967. Culture has changed, families are more complex and adolescence is more complicated than ever. But these remain constant: 1) the need for quality, Christ-centered, trained leaders, 2) the need for faithful parents equipped for the difficult task of parenting, and 3) the need for churches to have a clear strategy to reach the next generation with the Good News about Jesus.  We exist to educate, equip and encourage these 3 circles of influence with a variety of services.

Our Mission

Transforming the lives of the next generation
through Christ-centered, equipped
leaders, parents and churches.

We provide services for:

  • Leaders — pastors, directors, volunteers, etc. in children’s and youth ministry
  • Churches — includes staff, committees and congregation
  • Parents — of children through emerging adulthood
  • Students — middle school and high school
  • Leaders
  • Churches
  • Parents
  • Students
Leaders Trained Each Year
Certification Grads This Year
Churches Involved Each Year
Students Impacted at Camp Each Year
Our Team

Eric Iverson, Excutive Director

Eric IversonEric comes to us as a proud native of South Minneapolis where he spent most of his life.  Returning to the Twin Cities after spending the past few years ministering and studying in Louisville, KY, his extensive resume includes over twenty-five years in ministry where he developed a deep commitment to life in service to the local church and those who are called to gospel ministry, especially in the urban church. God gave Eric the opportunity to serve in both public and parochial schools doing everything from bus driver to social studies teacher and History Day coordinator on both sides of the river.

Eric spent over 10 years at Park Avenue UMC fulfilling roles from summer staff, volunteer and rounding out his time there as Youth Director.  Para-church is where he spent the majority of his efforts including Urban Ventures, Real Resources, Transform Minnesota, CCDA and Ministry Architects.  Eric also has a history of working for organizations focused on Youth – Youth Frontiers, Youth Works, Youth Specialties and Urban Youth Workers Institute.  He will undoubtedly be able to hit the ground running upon his arrival!

Above all, Eric is the husband (15 yrs) to Judy, father of Hope (12) and Isaiah (9). With God’s grace, he learns every day about grace, love and leadership from his family.  Eric and Judy (a youth ministry veteran herself) are excited about this opportunity to serve the church through the work of Youth Leadership.  They are excited to leverage their unique set of gifts to watch children, youth and families become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.  |contact Eric

Tony Ducklow, Director of Creative Programming

Tony DucklowTony Ducklow is a ministry entrepreneur based out of Minneapolis. As Director of Creative Programming, he helps train youth leaders and direct Summer Festival Camp–a four-day summer retreat experience focused on sharing Jesus with teenagers. Tony also runs Excited Hippo Creative a youth ministry event and rental company, DJ’s weddings, freelances web designs and co-manages Lock and Key Escape rooms.  When he’s not entrepreneuring, Tony loves playing batman themed video games, traveling with his wife, and volunteering at his church. |contact Tony

Trista Marriott, Office Assistant

Trista MarriottTrista Marriott is new to youth ministry, starting as a volunteer in the Youth Leadership office in 2015. As she possesses a love of data, she has taken on the position of Office Assistant where she provides administrative support and helps update the database management system here at Youth Leadership. Trista is an avid watcher of cooking shows, but has yet to duplicate their skills in the kitchen, but not from lack of trying. |contact Trista

Amy McGrew, Director of Training

Amy McGrewOver 20 years ago, Amy McGrew embarked on a life-long commitment to invest in students and their leaders. She’s been on staff in small to mega churches—in children’s, middle school, high school and college-age ministries. She has her M.A. in Youth Ministry from Asbury Theological Seminary. As the Director of Training at Youth Leadership, Amy plans and implements training events, conferences and their online certification program. In addition, she also works with InterServe Ministries at White Bear Lake UMC as the Interim Director of Youth. In her free time she serves on the Ministry Team at Venite Ministries in Minneapolis as a Spiritual Director providing opportunties to notice and respond to God’s invitations in the midst of everyday life. Amy is an avid reader and traveler, and a fan of hammocks, sheep and Korean television shows. |contact Amy

Tiger McLuen, Associate

Tiger McLuenWith 40+ years of ministry experience including being on church staff, an instructor of youth ministry in a variety of academic settings as well as a national speaker and consultant, Tiger McLuen has a unique perspective on changes in ministry, cultures, families and churches. Tiger was the President of Youth Leadership for 28 years, and the author of a couple of books and some articles – but mostly he’s a leader who loves being in a room full of people who care about transforming the lives of the next generation. Youth Leadership’s mission is to transform the lives of students through equipped, Christ-centered leaders, parents and churches. | contact Tiger

Carolyn Soper, Bookkeeper

Carolyn SoperWith 10+ years of experience working in accounting and the financial fields, Carolyn Soper took on the role as bookkeeper here at Youth Leadership. With her love of numbers, she is responsible for overseeing the day to day financial activity at Youth Leadership. Carolyn has volunteered for Youth Leadership many times over the years and loves their mission of training up individuals to minister to today’s youth. She also works at Cooper High School. She spends most of her spare time attending her three teenage son’s music and sporting events with her husband Mike. Her claim to fame is that she completed the 3 day, 60 mile Susan G. Komen walk. |contact Carolyn

Greg Speck, Associate

Greg SpeckBorn raised in California, Greg Speck is an avid San Francisco 49ers, Giants, Golden State Warriors and San Jose Sharks fan. Please feel free to send him any autographed items from any of these teams. Years ago, he graduated from Bethel University with a major in Sociology and minors in Social Work and Biblical and Theological studies. After graduating he started working with teenagers and has done that ever since. He’s been a caseworker for emotionally disturbed and delinquent teens, a youth pastor, a Youth Specialist for Moody Bible Institute, President of Youth Ministries International, and led groups of teenagers on mission trips all across Europe for over 20 years. He thinks he has the best job in the world–traveling around the world speaking to teenagers and families. As a communicator and youth specialist, he reads and respond to every note personally. |contact Greg

Youth Leadership Governing BoardGoverning Board Members

Elizabeth Odegaard, Board Chair | Field Development Specialist at Thrivent Financial
Lori Brown | General Council at Portico Benefit Services
Catherine Decker | Director, Human Resources at Outsell Corporation
Chris Hilberg | Senior Corporate Council at Best Buy
Gene Ferrell | Business Analyst Lead at U.S. Bank
Melani Howard | Business Transformation Manager – Customer Facing at 3M
Brian Norsman | Pastor of Children, Youth and Family Ministry at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church
Kim Olstad | Facilitator and Congregational Event Team Leader at St. Paul Interfaith Network

Our Story

Youth Leadership Founded


As the founding director, Ken Wright (1967-1970) with Phil McDonald and others got together with this crazy idea of training and equipping men and women for a career in youth ministry. Desiring to offer accredited training to Young Life staff, they had a vision for an organization who would partner with a seminary. Pulling together business, political and religious leaders, Youth Leadership was created. With forged alliances with Bethel and Luther Seminaries, a Master’s Degree program with a concentration in youth ministry was created — the first accredited youth ministry program in the United States.

The original Board of Directors was comprised of the Presidents of all five Minnesota Seminaries. Al Quie, Stanley Hubbard and Judge Miles Lord were also early board members. One of the key instructors in the early program was Dick Lowey.

Young Life Emphasis
Dave Phillips (1970-1975) retired as Vice President of Development for Young Life to serve as Director of Youth Leadership. With strong connections and solid leadership, he strengthened and expanded relationships as well as the youth ministry program.


The YL Office moved into the Minnesota Church Center at 122 West Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. Over the years, the office moved inside the building from 2nd floor to basement to 3rd floor to 5th floor.

Church Emphasis


Having been on staff with Young Life and a graduate of the Youth Leadership program, Gary Downing (1975-1984) was well equipped for the role of Director. He broadened the vision from almost exclusively Young Life staff to church-based youth ministry while establishing the program as one with strong credibility and vitality.

The statewide training for youth ministers started in this period and provided an annual conference and some teleconferences at sites across the state. Tiger McLuen hosted the teleconference in Duluth.

Cindy Shepherd began her tenure on staff at Youth Leadership in 1972. During this period, Roland Martinson began teaching at Luther Seminary and joined the Governing Board. Rollie became a key advocate for the Youth Leadership and Luther Seminary partnership.

Restructuring Youth Leadership

Mark Wickstrom (1984-1985) a graduate of the YL program who helped teach courses, had a strong vision for possibilities as Director of YL, but felt called to return to parish ministry.


Cindy Shepherd (1985-1988) had years of experience with YL when she became the Director. She restructured the board and articulated the need for the kind of program YL offered to seminaries and business leaders.


In 1984-85, Youth Leadership expanded its training services to include a wide variety of professional training seminars, workshops, and support consultation to individual congregations. These half-day and one-day seminars offered professional ministry leaders further training in youth and family ministry. Local and national speakers focus on a wide variety of topics relevant to today’s youth worker. These remain a core offering of Youth Leadership (expanding to include children’s ministry in 2016).

Leadership Change

A graduate of the Youth Leadership program, Tiger McLuen (1988-2017) was the President of Youth Leadership for almost three decades. Before Youth Leadership, Tiger was teaching part-time at the College of St. Scholastica while in full-time youth ministry. He is a nationally known speaker, author of various articles and books, but mostly he’s a leader who loves being in a room full of people who care about transforming the lives of the next generation.

Dr. YaDeau was chair of the Governing Board at this time. John Potts as hired soon after Tiger started and helped develop the student services model that was the hallmark of our program at Bethel and Luther Seminaries. This included the distinctives of the YL program:

  • Each student had an individual mentor for two years. They met monthly.
  • Both seminary programs joined together for a fall community building retreat.
  • Each campus had hosted weekly lunches on campus.
  • Mid-winter students participated in a rest and renewal retreat.
  • The second year of the program including paid attendance and airfare to the National Youth Workers Convention.
  • Every students was put in an eighteen month paid internship.


In 1990, Youth Leadership began offering Guest Speaking to groups of youth leaders and students all over the country. This continues as a core offering of Youth Leadership. For example, it’s documented that in the year 1999, YL guest speakers spoke to over 10,000 young people. Speaking at churches, conferences and conventions sparked the initial conversations that led to the creation of the Association of Youth Ministry Educators as well as the ELCA Youth Ministry Network and ELCA Youth Ministry Extravaganza.

Training Expanded
In 1992, professional training seminars expanded to include not just paid leaders but volunteer youth leaders as well by offering Saturday morning training sessions for volunteers three times a year. These were often done in partnership with other organizations and denominations. In 1996 and 2003, YL brought in nationally know speaker, Mike Yaconelli, for our biggest events up to this point.

In 1993, Youth Leadership began the annual Youth Ministry Institute, This intensive, one-week educational opportunity was for professional youth workers and committed volunteers. Accredited by Bethel and Luther Seminaries, the Institute could be taken as a continuing education experience or as a course for graduate credit, and was offered once a year in both St. Paul and in San Diego.

The triangle logo expressed the three aspects of the YL model and curriculum–theological, philosophical and practical. It also represented three core areas of leadership development–knowledge (know), action (do), and personal character (be).

35th Anniversary

Rollie Ken GaryKen Wright and Gary Downing returned to the Twin Cities to participated in the 35th Anniversary Celebration at the Landmark Center in St. Paul.

Coaching & Consulting
Youth Leadership began offering leadership coaching to individuals and church consulting to congregations.
Revisioning Youth Leadership


In 2005, Luther Seminary decides to oversee the youth and family ministry program and ends the partnership with Youth Leadership. Along with a changing world at Bethel Seminary, this caused a major shift at Youth Leadership. What we began to call Youth Leadership 3.0.

Youth Leadership’s mission became educating, equipping, and encouraging leaders with practical, relational and theological training.

The logo was updated, and the non-academic focus of Youth Leadership was articulated. Bekah Bye and Mike Bernard worked with Tiger on these changes.

The YL office moved to 3490 Lexington Ave N near Shoreview, MN. Over the years the office moved inside the building from sub-leasing from Youth Encounter to it’s current spot in Suite 360.

Over 600 people were part of the two year graduate program in the seminaries which became the Youth Ministry Certification Program offered locally apart from the seminaries from 2006 to 2015. Using the core curriculum from the seminary program, Youth Leadership offered a unique eighteen month certification program made up of six classes that met for three days each. Over 100 men and women from the certificate program join the rosters of YL alumni. While alumni of YL chose a variety of ministry and career paths, each student left equipped to care for young people in the name of Jesus.

Recharge Conference
Recharge was started in 2006 by a group of children’s and youth workers in the Twin Cities who recognized the need for practical, affordable, team-based training and a mid-year ministry boost. In 2012, the conference expanded to need an organization to oversee and facilitate it. Fitting our mission, it came to Youth Leadership. This one-day multi-denominational children’s and youth ministry conference aims to inspire and equip church staff and volunteers in their efforts to share their faith with the next generation.

In 2013, Recharge hosted 800+ in Minneapolis. Other cities showed interest, so in 2014 Recharge expanded to Fargo, ND and Cedar Falls, IA. During 2015 we expanded again to include Duluth, MN and Green Bay, WI.  In 2017 we moved from Cedar Falls to Cedar Rapids, IA, and are still dreaming of and pursuing other possible cities in the Midwest.

New Board & New Vision

In 2013, all new board members work together with Tiger to craft a vision and strategy for Youth Leadership which expanded beyond youth leaders to include parents and congregations. It also expanded to include children’s and family as well as youth ministry. Our mission became transforming the lives of the next generation through Christ-centered, equipped leaders, parents and churches.

Online Ministry Certification Programs

In 2015, the Youth Ministry Certification Program, including the core ministry curriculum developed in the seminaries, shifted to a one-year online program with a mentor-led cohort and introductory and capstone retreats.

We partnered with key children’s ministry leaders in developing our Children’s Ministry Certification Program, which is the first of it’s kind in the nation. The first cohort launched August 2016.

Summer Festival Camp

Summer Festival Camp came to Youth Leadership from Youth Forum in December 2016. This creatively programmed camp for middle and high school students focuses on sharing the Good News in a fun, relational environment. For a week during the summer, teens have the chance to get away from real life, hang out with people from all across the Midwest, deepen friendships, and talk about God. Every day speakers come to share inspiring and challenging stories about real life, God, and where the two intertwine. The days are packed with fun surprises of all kinds–from the music, the movies, the games, the speakers, and club.

YL Turns 50

Youth Leadership Celebrates 50 YearsYouth Leadership celebrates 50 years of transforming lives one leader, one parent, one church at time.



Eric Iverson

An eighteen month process of discussion and planning culminated in the hiring of our new Executive Director! We searched long and hard and refused to settle.  We looked for someone with local ties, someone experienced and someone with vision; most importantly, we searched for someone who is passionate about the mission and vision of Youth Leadership. We believe we have hit the mark on all of these. Please join us in a warm welcome to Eric Iverson and his entire family!