If Tim Gunn Were a YM Coach

Stephanie Caro —  September 10, 2013 — 1 Comment

…he’d a been a good one.

If you don’t know who Tim Gunn is, then you’re not a fan-favorite of Project Runway. Its the one show I watch every week where I offer my family money for their 90-minute silence. Even the puppy wants in on the action.

Tim Gunn serves as a coach and mentor to the show’s fashion designers. Last week, my friend, Darren Sutton, and I were watching together through texting. After one brilliant moment on Tim’s part, Darren and I decided Tim had some good YP qualities. Here’s why:

1) He thinks ahead for the designer he’s mentoring – “Nina is not going to like that at all. You might want to re-think that look.” As youth pastors, its helpful for us to warn our students when we see them heading in the wrong direction.

2) He says the hard thing – “Is that the message you REALLY want to send to the judges?” Good coaches are willing to lovingly say what needs to be said.

3) He loves his designers. He cries almost every time one of them gets eliminated especially the further the season moves on. For us, we have to balance the coaching with plenty of transparent love sprinkled in.

4) He defends the designers. He disagrees with the judges on occasion and gives a back story of struggle when appropriate. Our lesson is to do the same and stand up for those we coach with a defense when needed.

5) He gives 2nd chances. This season, he had a save he could use to bring back when he felt the judges had made the wrong decision. Aren’t 2nd chances needed sometimes? Don’t they feel good when we get them and give them? They have to be given wisely, though.

6) He gives experienced advice. Those that take it usually get ahead. Those that don’t, well…lose. But he never says, “I told you so.”

7) He is such an encourager! “Make it work!” is his catch phrase.

OK, that’s all I got.


I started playing the piano when I was 8 years old and continued to take lessons until I was a senior in high school. Throughout the years I had teachers who challenged me and others who just took my money. My favorite teacher was in fact my last one, Rio Clemente. A local jazz musician who worked with musicians like Luther Vandross he was motivating and always called me out when I was slacking. It was him that I learned that if I wanted to get better at something it was going to take persistence and hard work.

When it comes to a special skill or craft like sports or music it’s easy to accept the fact that coaches help you improve. In youth ministry it might seem like an odd concept at first. But, if you think about it, you need a coach because one will:

Give You An Outside Objective: You are constantly in the trenches; therefore, you aren’t seeing everything happening in your ministry. A coach is watching from the outside and can give you the big picture.

Holds You Accountable: A coach is someone who will know your strengths and weaknesses. They will help you improve on your speaking, communication, organization, delegation, etc. You just need to let them in on the details of your ministry and life and they’ll help you follow through.

Provides New Resources: A coach’s job is to constantly improve the person they are coaching. That means always being on the lookout for materials, exercises and opportunities that will help you grow as a leader, communicator, employee and even spouse.

Ensures You Aren’t Alone: Even if you are married, and have a great relationship with your pastor, a coach will be there to help you through the dark periods. Ministry is a long journey and you need someone cheering you on and picking you up. You need someone challenge you and raising the bar. A coach makes sure you never feel alone.

So, how do you go about finding a coach in ministry? Find a veteran youth worker, or a former volunteer. Ask to meet with them monthly, give them your vision and have them set the agenda. Before you ask anyone, make sure it’s someone you trust to speak truth into your life. You might not always like what a coach has to say; yet, if the relationship is good you will grow stronger.

Do you have a coach? How have they helped you in your ministry?

Chris (Twitter)

Rebuilding Your Team

Josh Griffin —  November 2, 2011 — Leave a comment

There’s nothing more painful than losing your dream team…or even one dream player. From time to time, you will be faced with a key leader moving away or a right-hand man being moved up to help with a program for adults. It happens — our adult ministry steals our best people all of the time!

So when this happens — you have a few choices to make: (1) you can wallow in the golden years of what was, or (2) you can get to work on rebuilding a young team and see where God takes you. Honestly, you’ve probably done enough of (1) already, so let’s talk about (2). Here we go:

Don’t compare to the past
Rebuilding a team is difficult enough without making comparisons to the past. You are building a new team now — with different gifts, personalities and passions — embrace it instead of focusing on the frustrating differences.

Adjust your leadership to who you have now
The way you led last year probably isn’t going to work anymore. Different people need to be led differently — the pressure to adjust is on you, not on them. Consider giving everyone a personality test or the 5 Love Languages quiz to see what you’re working with and make a real effort to lead in a new way in the new season.

Become the world’s best coach
Maybe one of the reasons you’re lamenting the loss of your teammates is because you had a whole pack of seasoned, battle-hardened veterans and now you’ve got fresh meat. Become the world’s best coach! Constantly push, nudge and challenge your people in the right direction. Before you know it, they’ll be veterans as well…and prime pickings for adult ministry to swoop down for another batch (not that we’re bitter or anything).

Face the challenges head on
Need a pep talk? We got one: You can do this! Keep your head in the game! Don’t run from the challenge! Rebuilding a team is not an easy task. Hang in there! We know that God is going to use you in new ways in the next season.

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

Coaching Your Volunteers

Josh Griffin —  October 25, 2011 — 1 Comment

Ah, the fall. High School Football. You can see your breath. You’re eating overpriced nachos from the under-staffed school booster club concession stand. There’s nothing better than the crack of the football helmets hitting together. The cheerleaders in the background, the coach barking commands to his team. The team listens then works together in perfect unison to score a touchdown.

The difference between the picture we just painted and your role as a youth worker? You’re not in the stands in the youth ministry game, my friend. You are a coach. Here are some thoughts about coaching your volunteer team in the seasons ahead.

PRESEASON (late summer)
A coach in this season is focused on making sure his team is ready to perform at the highest level. Training and conditioning are the key. Preparation is essential for success on the field. In your ministry pre-season (July/August) make sure your team is trained and ready for the challenges of the season ahead.

INSEASON (school year)
A coach in this season is focused on winning games. Watching game films, evaluation and adjustments are key here. A youth ministry coach needs to constantly be evaluating services, programs and people to make sure each are working effectively. You can make changes at this point, but they have to be the right ones because the game is on the line.

OFFSEASON (summer)
This season is hardly “off” right? We recently looked back on this past summer and it felt busier than another other season this past year. So forgive us where the analogy breaks down a bit — but a coach in the off season becomes a strategist. They change up the playbook. They toss out what wasn’t working and experiment with something new. They take advantage of the lull and focus on recruiting new talent for their team. They plan ahead and make sure they are ready for when the team is assembled in the preseason once again.

Go get ‘em, coach!

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

This month in the SYM Today we’re focusing largely on your volunteer team — and this week we’re tackling the topics of caring for and training your team of amazing leaders. Today, we want to talk about care. Here are a few practical ways you can add more personal care to your team:

Know them well
I (Josh) remember when a key leader at our church remembered all 4 of my kid’s names without missing a beat. It was a big deal! I stumble over my kid’s name sometimes, so it was totally impressive. It was a reminder to me that sometimes the little things send big “I care” messages. Set up recurring calendar alerts to trigger a reminder about a birthday or important date in their family history. Stalk them on Facebook — whatever it takes. Truly caring for the leaders on your team is one of your primary roles….and you can’t truly care for them unless you truly know them.

Surprise them
My (Josh) wife is shocked when I bring home flowers. My (Kurt) wife is shocked when I pick up my socks. Their delight and surprise is because for most people there are few things better than a “I was thinking of you” gesture. Write an unexpected note, or buy a small “thank you” gift for someone in your ministry, and see how they respond! We recently sent our volunteers fresh-baked cookies in the mail. We’ve shown up to their place of work to deliver ice cold drinks, and we’ve given them an unexpected weekend off…and paid for them to go on a date when they would normally be serving at church. Surprise!

Be there when things go bad
Life is full of good, bad and ugly things. Show up when life takes a rough turn or they get bad news. Caring for your teammates in need is one of our key responsibilities as leaders. You know this feeling all too well — there’s nothing worse than a leader who feels distant when you need them most. Be present. Send a card. Send flowers. Attend the funeral, even if you didn’t know their great-aunt Matilda. Give them time.

Be quick to coach, forgive and restore
One of the final aspects of caring for your leaders is showing them grace. Over time you’ll begin to master the nuances of caring for your team — when to drop the hammer, when to forgive, when to overlook and when to make a big deal out of something. Sometimes the best way to care for a leader is to show them grace by giving them a second chance.

For a whole book-full of ideas to help you care for your volunteers, Check out Full of It…ideas to fill youth ministry volunteers with encouragement by Kurt Johnston and Katie Edwards.
This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

Was thinking this week about the challenge of leading great people – and how we are not only leaders of students as youth workers – we’re the leader of leaders as well. Here are the 4 jobs I think we have as leaders of leaders. Add your thoughts in the comment!

Your team is doing a great job, so cheer them on! Many of us in leadership understand the vacuum of gratitude for what we do, largely from first-hand experience of loneliness at the top. Invisible leaders will soon be invisible altogether. Don’t let this be the case for your people!

Simply put, when you care for people, they’ll be better leaders. They will last longer and endure more under your leadership. The opposite is also true – if they aren’t cared for, when hard times come (and they will) they’ll disappear. Care for your people and they’ll care for your people.

Coaching is the gentle nudge of your leadership to get people back on track. Coaching is the side conversation that helps people see a better way or a different perspective. Coaching is helping people get better every day, rather just when they mess up. Being a leader of leaders means thinking about your people and coaching them every day.

Leaders are going to lead – and occasionally leaders in your care will need to be corrected. Correction goes beyond the earlier concept of coaching – this is the firm conversation or confrontation to make a change. Correction is part of your job description, too.

I’ll unpack each of these in an upcoming Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. What else do leaders of leaders have to do?


Too many youth workers are running at full capacity with not enough margin to care for themselves or their team. Some of it is self-inflicted in our own brokenness, some of it is the product of a church culture skewed to an unhealthy extreme. Either way, we have a responsibilty as a church to make sure that we are healthy and balanced, not screaming down the path to burnout. If we’re not careful, we could model exactly what not to do to our team. If you want to keep your team and yourself healthy and for a long time – here are a few ideas mixed in with more questions than answers:

Every individual is responsible for their personal growth, but the church culture should share in this pursuit. Does your church regularly offer and/or require volunteers to participate in training events? Is there access to plenty of resources to grow on their own? Is there a culture to share what you are learning with others? People who aren’t trained will eventually grow tired of trying without success, will be crushed under the weight of success, or quietly search for someone who will care for them AND care for what they do. Well-trained people stay longer.

Coaches identify unseen weaknesses, opportunities and motivations. To often people are left in isolation when they need the benefits of an actively engaged coach. When was the last time you nudged someone on your team toward an unseen opportunity? How often do you take time from the pace of ministry and poured into your players? You have so much wisdom, use it to pour into your team! People will in return value the coach and the coaching.

If you want to keep your team together and build youth ministry longevity, you have to protect your people. You may need to protect them from an overreacting parent or even from their own destructive behaviors. You have to protect them with sound policies that focus on caring for them and for your students. Some failure is part of the learning process and healthy, too much can drive someone away or disqualify them for good. Knowing how much to give someone, when to press and when to let up, is an art a leader must master to keep his or her people.

These are critically important for your volunteers – but they’re important for you, too! How are you being trained, coached and protected?