This week I’ve been thinking about the process of teaching children about spiritual gifts. I realized that I probably was getting ahead of myself with ideas, and wanted to go back and review and meditate what the Bible says about spiritual gifts again.
In 1 Corinthians 12, we have both a list of gifts and a discussion about how the gifts were/ are supposed to function.
I’m not going to take a lot of time to talk about the definitions of the spiritual gifts; others have done so adequately. I’m also considering that the Bible makes it clear that God’s good gifts are not limited to this technical “spiritual gift” discussed here. When I use my God-given resources (including money, time, possessions, and intellect) consistent with the fruit of the spirit for the good of the church, I’m not going to worry about what spiritual gift I have. I love the emphasis on diversity, inclusiveness, and edification in both books of Corinthians. (Yes, there are limitations. Pretend we are in perfect agreement about all of them.) I’m going to work with what I know, and not worry about what I don’t know.
For example, the Bible doesn’t precisely explain how a spiritual gift differs from personality or talent. Seems there’s a relationship but they’re not the same thing. Since both talent and spiritual gift can be used by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of the church, I focus on the why and how more than precise definitions. For the purpose of discipleship, I’m treating talent and spiritual gifts interchangeably, with the goal that all of our resources will be used by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up the church body in some way. The metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12 (the church is a body) is an apt vehicle for understanding what I’m working towards.
One strategy that I’m starting to realize is important is that as a mom, I can cultivate a skill as a talent or as a spiritual gift. I can’t create Holy Spirit work in my children, but I can cultivate the soil and trust the results to him. The same is true for teachers of children in the local church. I am thankful for the adults in my life growing up who saw through my awkwardness and encouraged me.
- I can point out ways of serving that are unique to my child. My son commented that maybe he could have a knife making ministry. David’s idea of a knife making ministry is unusual, but I’m especially happy with the thought process behind it. “How can I use this interest for serving the church and God’s people?” As a mom, I ask this question on behalf of my children often. Will the ways my children serve the church change as they mature? What ways are best for a ten year old girl to give? (Hint: it’s not always money. Laurel made some pencil toppers from a sewing gift, and handed them out to the younger girls at our church. A heart that is bent on giving doesn’t need money to give.)
- I can spend time pointing out how God uses individuals to serve in specific ways. I love Paul’s metaphor of the body when speaking of the local church (1 Corinthians 12:12ff). Appreciating the diversity of the body helps us to spend less time wishing for different gifts and more time praising God for his provision. A beautiful memory I have in a past church was a profoundly shy deacon who, although reluctant to pray in public, spent hours working with teenagers building treasures during a vacation Bible school. He was a master craftsman, and had such a gentle, encouraging manner that clearly was evidence of God’s work in him. Another time my daughter pointed out the church candy lady, and said “Maybe she has the gift of giving, but she likes candy so that’s what she gives.” Your church is probably full of people who are serving in very specific ways. Find them, thank them, love them!
- I can redirect their means of serving when appropriate to do so. When one daughter told me she’d rather not be up on stage in the children’s choir, I was really disappointed. I was embarrassed at how it would look if she quit the one activity that ALL the church children participated in. I was tempted to make it a learning lesson about the fear of man, and worrying more about appearances instead of serving the Lord. Then God helped me to consider how I would view her assessment if she was an adult saying those things. I’d probably acknowledge that singing in the choir might not be what God had for her. Joyful singers in the congregation are invaluable! However, we talked about what she could do that was more behind the scenes, or fit what she was comfortable with at the time. Over the years, she’s acknowledged that sometimes it’s good for her to participate in up-front service, but she knows it’s not what she loves.
- Sometimes we cultivate skills outside of church with an eye for serving within the church. A child who loves to teach may need opportunities to practice teaching that might not be available within a particular body.
- My home is a fantastic place for children to learn to practice their spiritual gifts. We spend a lot of time talking about serving younger children. They are the one population in the church that welcomes their service, and there are many opportunities. They can mentor a younger child, play with babies while their mamas sip coffee on my couch. Ministry that flows out of my home is one way that I practice “keeper at home” mentioned in Titus 2:3-5)
- I point out ways where our spiritual gifts work together as a team. David’s gift of hospitality prompts me to invite people over sometimes, and my expression of hospitality makes coffee and talks. The children keep babies occupied by giving time, sharing their toys, and helping make things that they can give to their siblings or parents. We all serve in different ways with same goal of showing hospitality.
- Another ways our spiritual gifts work together as a team is through prayer. When we pray as a family for the church, or people in the church, or projects in the church, we sometimes talk about the passage earlier in 1 Corinthians– one plants, another waters, but God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-10). Praying for others is one way that we support those who have different gifts from us.
- A good check about spiritual gifts is how we respond when our influence is small. When I first starting teaching women, I measured my success by the number of people who came. Over time, I have learned to remind myself that God sends the people to me to serve, and he always knows how many to send. I am not afraid of teaching large groups, but I believe that the majority of teaching and mentoring goes unnoticed by the larger group. (For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Hebrews 6:10)
- Another good check is to remind myself about the relative importance of spiritual gifts. It doesn’t matter what spiritual gifts I’m cultivating, if I’m not spending enough time teaching them how to love one another, how to love their neighbor, then I’m going to be out of balance (See 1 Corinthians 13:1-3). So I ask myself, How am I cultivating a heart of love in my children? Maybe that will be the next series on As4Me.