Champions, cheerleaders, and mentors – oh my! How they can change a child’s life



Recently, I read the book Cheering for the Children by Casey Gwinn. This is an amazing book, and while not written for church leaders or children’s ministers, it is a worthwhile read to anyone ministering to children, especially those who have experienced early trauma, including the divorce of their parents.

Gwinn is a man who understands that children hurt by those they love can also feel abandoned by the church. In the chapter “Dealing with Trauma in Children of Faith,” he writes that “the church and organized religion have often failed to understand and address child abuse and domestic violence.” [1]

One answer to helping children who have experienced early trauma might lie in how the church quantifies children’s supporters.


Gwinn calls these people “cheerleaders.” He says something to the effect that for every child, having a person who passionately believes in, loves, and supports them changes them and their outcomes in life.

Another name for cheerleaders is grandbuddy

Alicia Stephens, the children’s minister at Joy Lutheran Church, Tulsa, OK, calls these people “grandbuddies,” a term she coined for her church. Every child is assigned a grandbuddy; even her own child has a grandbuddy.

She says her child’s grandbuddy has been an incredible mentor to her. When she was telling me about the grandbuddy idea, her child’s grandbuddy was scheduled to read a passage at church on Sunday. She had invited Alicia’s daughter to join her on the platform and help her read to the entire congregation that morning.

When interviewed for this article, Alicia said, “I am incredibly grateful for the adults who work diligently to love kids and help them grow. I am especially thankful for those in my kids’ lives who walk with me as I raise my children, loving them, supporting them, and helping them become amazing people.”


Educator Rita Pierson in a TED Talks Education says, “Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be.”

Secret Sauce

The secret sauce to helping kids survive in today’s world just might be these important people. This could be people who spur children on to success by

  • Cheering for children at just the right time
  • Loving them at just the moment they need it
  • Reading them Scriptures at a time of joy
  • Encouraging them with a dose of hope when all hope seems lost

This is not to say parents aren’t important. Oh, they are, but sometimes, even the best of parents need a little help from the outside. This is especially true in our mobile world where families don’t live close to extended families and where divorce and the division of cohabiting couples continue to increase.

Ways to inspire a child

  • Shout-out when a kid gets a good grade on a test.
  • Encourage the child to tell you about a specific incident or day at school.
  • Give a big “hurrah” for taking part in a sports event. This doesn’t mean the child did anything spectacular except participate.
  • Cheer on a child who quotes a Scripture verse even it if isn’t on the list, and the child can’t quote any of the verses assigned to be memorized.
  • Make the saying “You did it” your go-to comment for anything a child does. Saying “You did it” gives a child a shot of serotonin, the feel-good chemical in the brain.
  • Give a child hope in any way you can.

In the articleThe Role of Adult Mentorship in Helping Children Deal With Trauma,” writer Jessica Lahey says, “Hope begets resilience because it is the magical force that enables children to adapt and heal emotionally from their adverse childhood experiences.”

Hope is exactly what the cheerleader, the grandbuddy, the champion, and the mentor can give to children. Hope is what Jesus Christ gives to each of us. Can we not pass this hope on to the children in our midst?

Can you begin to comprehend the magnitude of this idea? Can you understand the importance this kind of acknowledgement from the church family in the house of God can bring to these children?


[1] Cheering for The Children, Casey Gwinn (Wheatmark), 233.



This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on July 29, 2015.

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4 thoughts on “Champions, cheerleaders, and mentors – oh my! How they can change a child’s life

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