At the church we’ve been attending, the new members’ class includes a discussion about spiritual gifts. Since David and Bethel are a part of the class, they took the spiritual gifts inventory. (They also completed and discussed a simpler inventory with their youth group.)
Some churches do go overboard with teaching about spiritual gifts, and people can define themselves too rigidly by whatever they got on a survey (“I can’t help out in the nursery, because my spiritual gift is pastor/teacher” or “I need to teach an adult class because the survey said I scored high on teaching.”) On the other hand, good teaching can help people talk about and think about ways they can serve the church that bring joy and community with other believers. I like that.
I’ve never thought about teaching my children about spiritual gifts, so I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
- A lot of the ways that children can serve are “helping” and “practical” jobs, regardless of their spiritual gifts. These jobs are easy to find, and are invaluable for cultivating a love for serving the church. The better these practical jobs fit their own interests, the more they will enjoy serving. I know that’s true for me, too.
- Kids are still developing, and their gifts may not be obvious in seedling form. When they were filling out the inventory, they kept asking “Am I like this?” A bunch of times, even I didn’t know. (Insert mom guilt here: Why don’t you know your children well enough to know these answers?) So I told them to put down a neutral answer (in this case, 3 out of a 5 number scale). Their youth leader told them that because they are kids, their answers might change as they get older. I would add that, just as for adults, you’ll get a better answer if you have one or two people who know you well rate you, too.
- I also told them to rank something high if it was something you would love to do if you could do it. (They had a hard time answering questions that began “I’m good at” and “friends say I’m good at.”) There’s a risk that kids, like adults, will gravitate towards gifts they see as “important,” but if you’ve emphasized how everybody helps in different ways (e.g., like a body), I think looking at their interests is a valuable way of coming up with a tentative direction. Part of spiritual growth involves imagination and vision of what we can do through Christ.
- Spiritual gifts in children look different than spiritual gifts in adults. It’s often mixed with immaturity! For example, a child gifted in leadership may be distressed when adults aren’t listening to his ideas about solving a problem. Adults may correct him for his inappropriate way of criticizing, without recognizing the God-given impulse to solve problems. All three of our children were unsure of how to answer the questions obviously about giving. I told them to answer the questions as though they had money. Actually, the many ways they already give wouldn’t show up on an adult measure, and it would be easy to miss.
- Consider both opportunities to serve that are within their comfort zones, and also ones that aren’t so much. Spiritual gifts are mostly about our “sweet spot” and often result in spontaneous, organic ministry. We often see the needs in a church, consistent with our spiritual gifts. I can do administrative things if needed, but my friends gifted in this area see the need faster, fill the need better, and find much more joy doing it! Our children work the same way.
- Parents may need to go out of their comfort zones to nurture their children’s gifts. For example, awhile back I was starting to get frustrated with David that he was keen to manage MY social life. It took me awhile to notice that his burden to connect people was something that I needed to encourage for God’s kingdom. Likewise, when my youngest started obsessing in September about the Christmas gifts for her siblings, and sobbed when the present for her brother wasn’t going to come overseas in time, I stopped being irritated by her nagging, and realized that her drive to give was a pattern I had been missing. In both these cases, I had to lay aside the inconvenience to help them serve in ways that pushed me spiritually.
- Be aware that it’s possible to be discontent with one’s spiritual gifts (or our children’s spiritual gifts). As mothers, we have an awesome opportunity to help our children have a sense of wonder in how God made them, and can use them! When we are content with their spiritual gifts, we are better cultivators!
- Sometimes parents can find places outside the church to develop their children’s spiritual gifts. When I was a teenager, my mom encouraged me to take a job working as a tutor for a tutoring clinic. I loved every minute of that job, and spent the next several years developing my skills. The time at that teaching job gave me a vision, but it took a number of years to see how God would use that ability to serve in my local church.
Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before His presence with singing.
3 Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;[a]
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
5 For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.