Youth Ministry Mentoring: Students Need ‘Fans’

I have never been a sports fan.  I wasn’t brought up around sports.  I was horrible at them.  To this day I trip over my own feet.

That was until I got into college.  I went to UMass Amherst, during the years that we had a close to amazing basketball team. I got totally caught up in the games, the fun,   and the midnight madness.  I shouted the names of my favorite players along with everyone else.  We became fanatics.  We bought the shirts, and proudly donned maroon and grey in honor of our school.   Players took the court.  Thousands of us were there to let the team know they were loved and we were all in this together.

In my own life, I never experienced the power of crowds calling my name.  However, I remember being in about fourth grade.  My Dad took off work to chaperone a field trip.  I can’t even tell you where we went that day.  I think it might have been Plymouth Rock, maybe.  What I remember vividly was my Dad coming to school with me.  He was the only Dad that came.  All the other chaperones were Moms.    He came in and sat down and looked around, very seriously,  then broke into a smile and declared, “Who wants to be in the most fun group?”  I distinctly recall a classmate whispering in my ear on the way home that day, “You’re Dad was right, this was the most fun group.”  I was so proud.

Recently I heard an interesting quote about teens.  The gentlemen speaking said that most parents do a great job of celebrating our kids when they are babies.  Everyone takes off of work to see the three year old sing, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”  However, the older they get the less we show up.  They tell us they don’t want us there anymore and we believe them.  Yet,  as children we have told them to “look to the bleachers,”  where we will be cheering them on.  We have shown up at the five year old soccer game and told them they were great.  Somewhere along the way we stop.  They are still looking to the proverbial sidelines waiting for us to scream their name.

Sometimes with kids it is as simple as showing up.   I still am not an avid sports fan,  however,  I have become a soccer,  drama, chorus,  Mom.   My kids are waiting for me to be the one in the bleachers,  wearing their team colors and screaming their name.

However,  in the youth  ministry world,  let’s face it, not every parent  we meet is good at this.  In the lives of their kids,  not ever parent is “showing up” much less cheering them on.   I often grapple with my place in these kids lives.   Do I become their biggest fan?  Isn’t it more important for them to have at least one fan as opposed to no fans?  If the parent won’t be there shouldn’t I step in?

Every story is different.  Sometimes there is just one parent with multiple children.  They are so exhausted with life, they forget to cheer.  Others believe it when their children say, “I don’t need you.”   Backing away is how they are teaching them to grow up.  I could sit here and tell scenario after scenario that explains why parents aren’t showing up.  Some just feel inadequate as they attempt to “be there.”

I think the answer is two fold.

1.  I remind the parent’s that their kids want them.  They are saying, “GO AWAY,” with their mouth.  They are saying, “BE HERE!”  with their hearts.  I provide some ways that parents can show up with their kids.  I have family game night,  and family dinner night.  I do all that I can to get as many parental figures in the room.  I might need to use creative communication to get them there.  It starts with me believing they will show up.   I can easily say,  “Well that kid will have no one there.”  They might.  However,  I believe that kid will have someone until they are NOT there.  When I am with parents I pass out easy ways to “show up” in their kids lives.  We forget sometimes it is just as simple as making time with our kids.  In our house every Friday is “Pizza and a Movie Night.”  That’s it.  When we don’t have it the kids revolt.  Even my teens.

2.  I become the “2nd” biggest fan in the life of my youth.   I find out from them what they want people at.  Is there a big game or a show or a recital?  Then I intentionally find out the names of other kids on the field as well.  I become the Aunt to those.  I am cheering for the kid I know as loud as possible.  For others I am letting them know,  “Someone in the stands knows your name.”  They might even have a parent there with me.  That simply doubles the cheering section.

Our youth are “looking to the stands” for those that will let them know they are worth it.  They are listening for their name with excitement above the crowd.

Just this weekend I was dropping a student off of the van after our programs.   I said to him,  “Hey Travis,  I just want you to know how much I appreciate you coming.  You are faithful every week,  and I see you growing into a leader.”  He barely looked at me when I spoke.  It was quick,  less than a 15 second interaction.  A smile flashed across his totally cool and put together exterior.  He jumped off the van with a spring in his step.  Sometimes “showing up”  is as simple as reminding a student who they are in Christ.  They can’t always see their true reflection as  the “Creator’s created,” and we have to show them what it looks like.   It is one of the most powerful ways that we let them see that their true “biggest fan”  has been rooting for them since the beginning of time.  They can always look to the stands,  for all of eternity and he has lost his voice screeching their praise.

If we can be crazy at a sporting event,  how much more do you think its going to be when we see the Lord? We will be ecstatic as we see him.  Yet,  he will be waiting jumping up and down,  screaming our name,  donning our colors,  not able to hold back how glad he is we made it.  Close your eyes and think of it for a second.  Isn’t that what you are waiting for?

When we show up… we are helping our kids learn that is for today.. every day and all time.  They may not be able to imagine that day face to face with the Lord.  Every time you cheer as a parent or a youth worker we can say,  “That was just a shadow of how God feels about you.  Isn’t that awesome?’

I think it is.


  • Aaron Helman

    We can also use our “fan time” to help other students become fans of one another.

    “Encourage one another and build each other up” is best learned when its modeled.

    Several years ago, I stopped going to sporting events by myself and always made sure to invite several students. I’ll never forget the wrestling match where the entire small group showed up with a sign.

  • Phil Bell

    That is a great way to do it. That way you get to minister to several students while massively affirming another! Love it Aaron!