“Support the man with the ball”

Not a phrase you’ll find in Scripture, but one I use often in training courses.

I’ve recently attended an excellent Bible by the Beach in Eastbourne and heard Bishop Wallace Benn quote from Acts. ‘Then Peter stood with the 11, raised his voice and addressed the crowd’ (Acts 2.14). It seems that Peter did not stand alone, but the rest of the disciples stood with him lending support and encouragement. They were ‘supporting the man with the ball’. Football may not appeal to everyone, but the simple principle is that, if you have the ball, you need to know that you have passing options to other team members — you are not isolated.

Isolated youth teams

Increasingly, in training and mentoring situations, I am finding that youth teams feel isolated and unsupported. They are appointed and maybe even publically acknowledged, but very soon the assumption is made that these people will turn up each week, do the job, and keep the children out of the way of ‘real’ church. It is rarely deliberately neglectful. If you have a full-time youth minister you seriously need to look at the way the church handles their support. At the very least they need a group with whom they can pray. Sometimes youth ministers have networks where they meet staff from other churches doing the same job, but they are not that common.


Ideally everyone doing youth ministry should have a mentor — someone who can ask the awkward accountability questions. Ideally this mentor should not be a member of their own church. In more and more of my recent conversations I have listened to youth ministers who feel excluded from church planning, strategy and events. Church ministers have their own networks (Deanery Chapters, ministers’ fraternals, etc.) but seem to forget that youth ministers need training, influence and direction. It is not uncommon to find youth ministers with very little clue about the future of their church.

Visit the youth group

But what about those faithful people who turn up every week to teach and care for the young people. Many of them feel isolated from ‘big church’ life. They look after the young people and, in doing so, isolate themselves from church life. I would love to see every one of this noble band paired up with an adult member of the congregation. An occasional meal or even prayer for that volunteer and his family would be an enormous encouragement. How many times do ministers, churchwardens visit the youth group to see what goes on? It doesn’t need to be every week, but once a term should not be impossible.

These precious people should regularly be mentioned on church weekly bulletins given out to all church attendees. Even an occasional list of team in the bulletin would encourage adult church to pray regularly for those who minister to children. Some churches have found an action group dedicated to one area of ministry (e.g. youth and children) to be very useful to discover dreams and visions. An occasional lunch with the parents of a children’s leader and an assurance that he be prayed for will help keep them going.

Dave Fenton – Training Director of Root 66 which runs training courses for youth ministers across the UK