What led you to coaching at CYMT? 
Lesleigh Carmichael, CYMT Director of Coaching, is a mentor to me in youth ministry.  Back when I was an intern at Woodmont Christian Church in Nashville during my time at Vanderbilt Divinity School, Lesleigh was the Associate Minister in charge of youth ministry. Before enrolling in Divinity School, I was an elementary school teacher, so I had convinced myself that I was a “little kid” person, and I was terrified to work with teenagers. Lesleigh eased me in when she invited me to teach a Bible Study with the two middle school boys that she had coming to high school Bible Study on Wednesday nights. That experience did it for me, and I fell in love working with teenagers and youth ministry. Lesleigh’s belief in me, that, “I could do it if she could do it,” made a huge difference in my call to ministry.
Needless to say, when Lesleigh called me about a year ago to ask me to be a coach, I was eager to join the CYMT team. I was excited to be in a position to be a coach and friend to a graduate resident just starting out. I’m honored to be able to give back in this way. After nine years in full time youth ministry, plus two intern years, not only is ministry to youth an important part of my call to ministry, but mentoring and supporting other youth ministers is also a part of that call.
Tell us a little about working with the church as a coach.
I absolutely love working with Jenn Parrish, Smithville First United Methodist, and their Senior Pastor, John Carpenter. Jenn and I are a perfect match because when I first started at my church I was a young, single woman in a rural community, much like Jenn. I’ve been through a lot of what she is experiencing in ministry and that makes us a good team. I can say from experience that it is nice to have someone who understands where you are coming from when you serve a rural church. I admire Jenn for her courage to move away from her family to follow God’s call.
Smithville FUMC is thrilled to have her on their ministry team. In the few short months she has been there, the youth group has more than doubled in size. While numbers aren’t the only thing we pay attention to in youth ministry, behind each of those numbers is a teenager with whom Jenn has a relationship. God is doing great things with Jenn in Smithville. Rev. Carpenter and I share in Jenn’s coaching and mentoring. He has different areas of expertise than I do, and he is able to help her grow in other areas. When I come to the church as a coach, I see how teenagers and adults both love Jenn and are supportive of her ministry.


Sunny (left) and Jenn having a fun outing at a painting class.

How have you seen CYMT at work in their youth ministry?
CYMT’s tagline is “Because good youth ministry doesn’t just happen.” I wholeheartedly agree with that statement, and CYMT’s curriculum moves each graduate resident through a fantastic structure for excellent youth ministry. Jenn came into the program already being good at working with, relating to, and ministering to teenagers. What CYMT gives her and the church is the structure on which an excellent youth ministry program is built. From working with and training volunteers, to planning a calendar, to having a safety policy for youth, CYMT has all the bases covered. Many of the pieces that CYMT has in the Practicum Pathway curriculum have been useful for me in my own church.
Share a story about the graduate resident and their ministry.
I love hearing weekly updates from Jenn! I love how excited she gets when one of the shy girls in her group opens up to her. She has ownership of this youth program and I love seeing her succeed. I also love sharing with Jenn on a personal level; we love to swap craft project ideas from Pinterest, go shopping at Goodwill, and paint together at the party place in my town. I really enjoy being Jenn’s coach!
Sunny Ridings has served for nine years as the Associate Minister at First Christian Church in Livingston, Tenn. which was her first call from seminary. With a heavy heart but an excited spirit, she will leave after Easter to serve in a support capacity with her husband David, the Facility Administrator for a church camp in rural Nebraska. She is committed to youth ministry and supporting others who work with youth. David and Sunny are in the process of adopting their first child. They currently have two furry children, a beagle named Melanie and a lab/beagle mix named Dolly.